The Camel’s Back Broke: 1984 Days of Bad PR for Apple

I think I’d like to start an internet movement. Due to Apple’s recent actions regarding the Google Voice app, I intend to criticize Apple every day at OSNews for 1984 days, or until they perform a very subtle and simple act of contrition. I’d like to enlist the help of every tech journalist, blogger, twitterer, Facebook denizen, and person who ever talks to another person. I’m that girl in the running shorts with the hammer, people! I’m throwing the hammer at the big creepy guy on the screen! We don’t have to be slaves anymore! Read on for the full manifesto.Like many people, I’m fed up with the way that Apple is handling the iPhone. The release of the iPhone will go down as one of the pivotal turning points in computing history. It upped the ante for mobile computing. Pre-iPhone, mobile computing devices were crap, and that was largely the carriers called the shots. Smartphone handsets were all about generating big monthly fees for the carriers and not treading on their crummy overpriced ringtone and lousy ancillary service offerings. The carriers didn’t want a truly useable, open handset, and without mobile networking, the PDA market was in the doldrums and unlikely to generate exciting innovation. Apple raised the bar with a powerful, elegant device that had the potential to do for mobile computing what the personal computer did for computing in general. Even if the iPhone ultimately fails, its existence will mark a turning point that may ultimately eclipse the Apple II’s.

Now they’re cocking it up. And there’s some suspicion all about the carrier again. If you’ve been living under a rock for the past few days, the straw just broke the camel’s back. We’ve all been complaining for years about Apple’s App Store follies. First, there was no App Store, and we complained about that (and their stupid protestations that native apps weren’t needed). Then there was an App Store, and in between fawning over the various apps, we complained about the apps that were conspicuously absent, and particularly about the shoddy treatment of developers who wanted to release the apps we wanted. Now, there are a zillion other complaints about the iPhone, but deep down most of us are understanding people , and we’re grateful that the iPhone is as good as it is, and we realize that it may take time for Apple to get around to fixing all the little gripes. But the lack of openness and transparency around App Store approvals is the big one. And it’s inexcusable. That’s pure shortsightedness and territory-protection at the expense of the customers.

Apple needs to pay a price for coddling AT&T, and they definitely need to suffer some fallout for all the other crap they’ve pulled with the App Store.

And here’s the thing. If Apple wants to throw AT&T under the bus, they can. Apple is the power player in this relationship. If Apple wants to, they can blame this whole problem on AT&T, move forward, and all AT&T can do is take it. In fact, screwing over AT&T would be the smartest move they could make since they launched the App Store. AT&T sucks.

But Apple apparently does not have the will to do the right thing. They’re complacent. Apple’s loyal fans have been too loyal and too forgiving. The tech media has been too fawning, present company included.

My proposal:

For the next 1984 days, OSNews and every other technology news site and blog should write something negative about Apple. Let’s throw some sawdust into Apple’s carefully lubricated PR machine by initiating a daily stream of petty online complaints against Apple and its products.

I, for one, am committed to spending some time each day to telling inconvenient truths about Apple. If I accidentally miss a day, I’ll be sure to post two gripes the next day to make up for it. And I’m going to contact as many other tech sites as I can and see if I can get them to do the same. OSNews is a relatively obscure niche publication, but if I can garner enough support from my more mainstream brothers-in-arms, we can get Apple’s attention. I know all the rest of you are fed up too. I’m looking at you, TechCrunch! I If you don’t want do give me credit for fomenting this rebellion, steal my idea. Or start your own rebellion and vow to poop on Apple’s lawn every week for a month. I don’t care.

I’ll try not to be boring and repetitious. Once I run out of serious contemporary complaints, I’ll reminisce about old complaints from the past, like the one-button mouse and the the original mac’s lack of cursor keys. Man, do you guys remember how expensive the Lisa was? What were they thinking! But I’m going to see if we can get a tide of bad PR to wash over the tech-centric corner of the internet, and our one simple demand will be this:

Throw AT&T under the bus.

That’s all we ask. Here’s how it works: Apple can save face here. All they have to do is release the Google voice app (and not cancel GV Mobile) and announce that they had been getting pressure from AT&T but they decided to tell them to suck it and they approved the App anyway. They can even pretend that the whole thing was a misunderstanding, and they’d never actually denied the Google Voice app. They were just thinking about it and it all got blown out of proportion. They can throw this whole thing down the memory hole.

But we’ll know. The general public will never know there was a controversy. The shareholders will soon forget and go back to wondering what happens when Steve finally kicks the bucket. (May he live long and prosper).

But we, the leaders of the bad PR rebellion, will take this miniscule act of public contrition as a stealth representation of Apple’s commitment to quietly make some substantial changes to the way it manages the App store and stop mistreating its developers. And we’ll keep watching, to make sure this understanding between gentlemen is enforced.

See how reasonable this is? I’m not asking for a miracle. I’m not going to ask for what I really want, which is a truly open iPhone platform. I’ll live with the submitted-for-approval App Store. I’ll be understanding that sometimes there will be delays and screw-ups. But I won’t stand for Apple fooling itself into thinking that it doesn’t answer to its customers.

So, for the next five years I will criticize Apple. Throw AT&T under the bus as a sign of your conversion, and I’ll go back to (mostly) singing your praises.

Why do this?

So why get so bent out of shape over a gadget and a gadget-maker? I guess it’s because I think of the iPhone as more than a gadget. It’s a turning-point. It’s also a point of leverage against the tyranny of the mobile carriers, who have strangled innovation in mobile computing for too long. The carriers desperately want to forestall the fate of becoming a dumb pipe and want to keep their “value added” features. Some of their more frivolous value adds are clearly soon to be swept away, but they’re going to cling to voice calls and text messages with all their might. But this is a battle for survival, and it’s them or us. As long as the carriers get to differentiate between different kinds of data going over their network, mobile computing will fail to reach its potential and developers will have their hands tied. For a short window of time, customer demand for the iPhone is so intense that Apple has the power to dictate terms to the carriers and establish some important precedent. This could be a huge win for mobile computing users.

Apple is under the delusion that this present situation should be seen as merely an opportunity for them, and they need to be reminded who they work for. In the big picture, the Google Voice app is quite unimportant. But so was the tea tax. And Apple is dependent enough on a constant stream of good PR, that a sustained torrent of bad PR will get their attention. One person boycotting Apple or writing an impassioned blog posting may not get the job done, but if all of the thought leaders online pull together and do this, Apple will take notice.

And, as a reader so astutely pointed out, this isn’t, of course just about AT&T. Right now, AT&T is the most influential carrier, but as the iPhone moves across the globe, Apple has a chance to set the carriers straight all over the place. They should make an example of AT&T and put the world’s other carriers on notice.

Let’s tell a story

Before I step off my soapbox, I’d like to revisit a familiar story and draw your attention to a new moral of that story:

Remember that cornerstone of techno-mythology about how IBM created the PC architecture but failed to grasp its revolutionary potential? That they valued their designs so little that they allowed themselves to get bamboozled by some punk kids into a partnership wherein the aforementioned punk kids would be able to ship a non-IBM operating system with the device and therefore co-opt its amazing potential and ultimately garner most of the profits from its popularity? Well, I bet Steve Jobs and Apple remember that story pretty well. Problem is, they’re learning the wrong lesson from that story. They think that they’re IBM in the story, and that by recognizing the potential of their new platform, they won’t let Microsoft and Compaq and WordPerfect and Lotus jump in and get all the glory and make all the money. But they don’t realize that they’re not IBM in the story. They’re bizarro-IBM. They’re the alternative universe IBM, where IBM executives do recognize the PC’s potential, and they make sure not to partner with Microsoft, and they don’t open up the PC hardware spec, and they carefully control software vendors’ access to the platform. In this world, bizarro-IBM keeps a tight lid on the PC, and they sell thousands of PCs to large businesses at thousands of dollars each, and after a few years, these large businesses realize that mainframes and dumb terminals really are where it’s at. Meanwhile, bizarro-Apple is creating a much-more open personal computer, and succeeds in completely revolutionizing computing. At some point, bizarro-Free Unix and bizarro-Linux enter on the scene to keep Apple on its toes, but the upshot is in 2009 most people are using Apples and “Micro-soft” never releases an operating system.

Hey, dumb-asses, don’t be bizarro-IBM. IBM never would have been able to control the PC platform. By trying to, they would only have ensured that someone else’s PC platform would have succeeded instead. As we all know, IBM’s PC didn’t succeed because it was the best (or even that good). It succeeded because it was flexible, affordable, and accessible to developers. Apple, you’re famous for your refusal to compromise on your ideals about how the computing experience should be. Though the Mac isn’t as closed as it used to be, it also isn’t as open as it used to be. You probably feel like you’ve hit the sweet spot on hardware-openness. But guess what, if Apple computer users had never been able to install any app they wanted on their machines, you would have been out of business in 1976.

And thus concludes my story, and my revolutionary clarion call. 1983 days to go. Tell your friends.

David Adams is Publisher of OSNews, a die-hard Apple fan and Mac user, a devoted iPhone devotee, a daily Linux-on-the-server user since 1994, a former Palm user who misses Grafitti, a sad sack who’s still upset about the Newton being discontinued, and a guy who uses Windows every day and doesn’t think Vista is nearly as bad as everyone makes it out to be. He also realizes that if Apple proves to be intransigent, and nobody joins his revolution, there’s no way he’ll bother to keep this up for 1,984 days, but it’s just such a perfect number to use, and instead he’ll keep it up for a few months then give up in disgust and ultimately sell his iPhone when his AT&T contract runs out.


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