Apple recently rejected the official Google Voice iPhone app. This app would have enabled iPhone users to make free or cheap calls on their iPhones using Google Voice, and also use free SMS. This comes on the heels of other apps being rejected by Apple, and more apps hanging in limbo. For example, the developers of Lastpass have reported that their iPhone app has been in approval limbo for an extended period of time. Apple’s handling of the App Store approval process, and the tech community’s response to it, raises a bigger question- is there a double standard in the way that the tech community responds to Apple, versus how tech geeks respond to other companies, such as Microsoft?
Photo by Nir Nussbaum. This issue isn’t about legality. I’ll leave it to corporate lawyers and the courts to determine whether a company’s actions cross the line into monopolistic behavior. Just because companies are within their legal rights to behave a certain way, though, doesn’t mean that we can’t take them to task for it. In fairness to Apple, the App Store issue could be all about Apple’s relationship with AT&T. We don’t know all of the terms of that relationship, so Apple might have no choice but to reject applications that cut into AT&T’s profits, as an app like Google Voice would do. But the App Store issue isn’t the only time that the public seemed to view Apple’s actions differently than it viewed the actions of Apple’s competitors. Apple has recently been in a battle of sorts with Palm over the Palm Pre’s access to iTunes. Palm had developed a way to allow the Pre to sync with iTunes, by in essence tricking iTunes. Apple promptly released an update to iTunes which broke that functionality, such that the Pre could no longer sync with iTunes. Palm has since released an update to restore that functionality, and it remains to be seen how Apple will respond. On the sites I visit, some people have sided with Palm, but even more people seem to spew venom in Palm’s direction, and defend Apple’s right to lock down iTunes (again, we’ll leave for another day the discussion of whether Apple’s hold on the digital music download business constitutes a monopoly, such that it needs to worry about running afoul of the laws that prohibit a company from using dominance in one area to muscle its way to dominance in another market) . The differing standards could also be seen in the public reaction to the advertising campaigns of Microsoft and Apple. Both Microsoft’s "Laptop Hunter" ads, and Apple’s "I’m a Mac, I’m a PC" ads contained advertising "fluffery," and, arguably, outright lies. Microsofts fudging was met with venom and hostility by much of the tech community, while Apple’s fudging was met with amusement and was thought by many to be "cute." Last year, Apple also tried to push its Safari browser onto unsuspecting QuickTime users, by making the installation of Safari the default option for those users updating QuickTime. This was met with a minor furor, yet quickly died out (and Apple later backed off of these attempts). Microsoft is guilty of similar conduct with the way that it previously attempted to foist its search engine onto users when upgrading Internet Explorer, by making it harder to select another search engine as the default. Despite all of these similarities in conduct, the public seems to perceive Apple (or so it seems to me) as being "for the consumer." What is the reason for this perception, especially when most of Apple’s products are locked down much more stringently than Windows products? Is it because Apple was (and probably still is) the underdog? Is it because Apple’s past good behavior has earned it a grace period, or "brownie points," such that some mistakes can be overlooked? Or is it because Apple products are so elegant, that people are willing to look the other way and accept Apple’s "do it our way or the highway" business model? I’m guilty of this, as I love my iPhone to the point that I swallowed my resolve and accepted Apple’s closed platform. I think Apple has just been much better with PR, and the elegance of its products has fostered a much more enthusiastic fan base. Microsoft doesn’t generate the same amount of love from many users, likely because of the problems for which Windows is known, and the clunky nature of some Windows products (don’t get me started on my old AT&T Tilt, running Windows Mobile, which I was able to tolerate for about three months). I think that these factors breed a more fanatical Apple community, and lead to the greater tolerance shown towards Apple. In the end, though, Apple is a for-profit company, just like Microsoft, Google, and others. I’ve never understood being a "fan" of a business. Whether it is fans of Apple, Microsoft, or others, I just don’t get those who follow a tech company the same way some people follow sports teams, right down to stickers on their cars. What do you think? Is my perception of the way Apple is treated completely off base? Since I love my iPhone, maybe I’m subconsciously drawn to sites that are pro-Apple? If Apple does get special treatment, why do you think that is so?