Apple-free: Step 1

Posted on June 1, 2010 6:41 pm by | Brands | Business | Technology

Shel HoltzI have made the decision to go completely Apple-free.

This is a personal decision. I have no intention of trying to start a movement or get others to join me. Personally, though, I have enough problems with Apple and the way it conducts business that I’ve concluded that I simply don’t have to support these practices with a nickel of my money, nor do I need to show tacit support when I’m seen using an Apple product.

It shouldn’t be that difficult. I stopped using Apple computers a couple years ago after the hard drive failed in my PowerBook Pro. With only a couple days before I had to leave on a business trip, Apple refused to replace the hard drive and give me the failed drive so I could send it out for data recovery. The fine print, I was told, gave Apple possession of any hard drives they replace. In order to recover the data, I had to send the entire computer to an authorized data recovery service (anything else would void the warranty), have the computer returned to me, then bring the laptop in for a swap.

I didn’t have that kind of time to go without a laptop, so I left the Apple store and bought Sony VAIO. I’ve never looked back.

But I do own several other Apple products, including an iPod classic, an iPhone and an Airport Express.

I have no interest at all in an iPad; I’ll wait for a tablet that lets me view the content I want to view, not just that which Steve Jobs deems appropriate for me—that is, only content that doesn’t rely on Flash. The Flash audio player allows people to listen to my podcast, along with thousands of others. As a colleague pointed out to me yesterday, virtually every restaurant website relies on Flash. While I appreciate the issues with Flash, simply cutting off access is an unacceptable solution.

So the iPhone is the first piece of hardware I need to address—and address it I have. The good folks at Sprint sent me an HTC Evo, the new 4G Android phone that will be released to the public this coming Friday. After putting the phone through its paces over the last several days, I’m thrilled to report that it is a far superior device to the iPhone, even after reviewing the list of features that will comprise the next iPhone release. To top it off, HTC has announced that the Evo is among the phones that will receive the Android 2.2 (Froydo) update, the elements of which should be causing shockwaves at at Apple.

In case you missed the news, Android phones are outselling the iPhone in the U.S., and for good reason. Here’s a video look at the Evo which, so far, is the best smartphone I’ve ever seen:

Dropping the Airport Express is an academic issue. The Evo serves as a WiFi hotspot, so I’ll be able to get online via my laptop at a hotel using my phone instead of the Airport Express.

The iPod is another matter. Not only do I need to find an MP3 player that will hold all my music (I have the 160 GB iPod, and it’s packed to the gills), but I’ll need to find one that will give me the least grief transfering my existing music from iTunes to a different platform.

A request for information I put out through Twitter revealed that everybody who owns a Zune loves it. I’m leaning that way but still exploring.

As for my issues with Apple, the list is long. The highlights, in addition to the business-unfriendly approach to repairs and the staunch refusal to provide access to Flash content I mentioned above:

  • The App store—Once I’ve bought a piece of hardware, it’s up to me what software I install on it. This is true even with an Apple computer. But a group of employees determine which apps will be cleared for use on the iPhone. When my podcast co-host, Neville Hobson, developed an app for FIR through an online service, it was initially rejected because somebody didn’t like one of the graphics. Pardon me, but the graphics we elect to use are nobody’s damn business but ours.
  • Not only are apps rejected because someone didn’t like the graphics. Overt censorship is fairly routine, too. For example, Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist Mark Fiore’s iPhone app was rejected because it violated that rule against ridiculing public figures. I was confounded by this. What part of “political cartoon” didn’t Apple understand? When an uproar ensued, Apple reversed course and approved the app, but as I understand it there are several other political cartoonists whose apps continue to be withheld. Censorship sucks and Apple seems to be one of its leading proponents. Once I buy a device (as I mentioned before), it’s up to me what software I put on it. Imagine buying a Sony TV and having the shows you watch restricted to those that Sony approves. You’d be outraged.
  • Openness—Apple can choose to be as closed an organization as they like. But the cynicism underlying that choice was clear when the company launched a blog to keep customers informed of efforts to fix the MobileMe debacle. In the first post, the author noted that Steve Jobs had asked him to “write a posting every other day to let everyone know what’s happening with MobileMe, and I’m working directly with the MobileMe group to ensure that we keep you really up to date.” The blog ultimately contained exactly three posts before it went dark. There’s commitment to the customer for you.
  • iPhone customers have been waiting on the edges of their seats for the exclusive deal with AT&T to end so they could at last get their beloved phone on a network which would allow them to make actual phone calls. In a display of contempt for its customers, Apple extended the exclusivity until at least early 2011.
  • Apple’s legal department is busier stifling free speech than the ruling government in Iran. Badgering the San Mateo district attorney to seize Gizmodo editor Jason Chen’s property while the guy wasn’t even home was a Gestapo-like tactic that left me wondering just how much power a company should have. Take a look at Apple PR shut down a TV news interview when the questions veered into territory the company didn’t want to address:
  • While Apple lawyers aren’t breaking down doors, they’re filing lawsuits to inhibit competition, such as those lodged against HTC to try to keep the company’s Android phones from being sold in the U.S. You may believe Apple’s patents give them all the justification they need, but many of these patents are just downright silly. (Of course, the U.S. Patent Office deserves some blame here, too, for issuing such patents in the first place.)
  • The developer agreement for the operating system that will power all of Apple’s mobile devices includes a clause that bans apps from transmitting data third-party ad networks would use to track the performance of their ads. In other words, if a company wants to advertise on an iPhone or iPad, you have no choice but to use Apple’s recently-announced proprietary ad network. Prefer to use Google’s Ad-Mob because you’re using it in advertising on other platforms? Tough.
  • The lock-in to Google’s ad network is no different than its lock-in to the iPod. The iTunes store may be the best service for buying music, but if you don’t want to use an iPod, you’re out of luck. Imagine 10 years ago buying a CD at Tower Records only to find that it would only play on a Tower-branded CD player.

And the list goes on.

As a believer in an open environment, continuing to use Apple products, for me, would be endorsement of the most closed organization this side of Halliburton. Closed, anti-competitive, contemptuous of customers (like those who want to pay cash for an iPad)’s more than I can stand.

Yes, Apple makes cool products, but (contrary to what some would have you believe) there are competitive products that are as good, if not better. (Okay, maybe not for the iPad, but give it a couple more months.)

Again, I’m not trying to start a movement. I’m just stating my own belief and taking action to walk the talk.

The only question that remains for me is what to do with my iPod classic once I replace it. One suggestion: autograph it with a Sharpie and give it away in an FIR contest. What do you think?

06/01/10 | 13 Comments | Apple-free: Step 1



  • 1.I love my Zune devices. Their store and shopping experience is bad, but the sound and video quality on the player is fantastic. Library management is decent too. I think you will be pleased.

    George faulkner | June 2010

  • 2.A walled garden, no matter how pretty is still walled. Apple has done great things - but I think the best thing they did was nudge the market forward. If not for OS X, we'd all still be running XP and swearing.

    The thing is, they've become cocky, and the closed ecosystem bothers me. I'm a big fan of using the best tool for the job, and just because I dig one piece doesn't mean I should lock into the whole stack.

    There are more alternatives now, and to be noticed, they need to be able to play well with others. Thankfully, this is happening. I love my Android phone, and don't feel like I'm missing out at all. Did I mention I can change the battery without breaking the phone?

    One of the great things about my MacbookPro is how well it runs windows (and other OS's) virtualized when I need it to. In a Jobsian gated community, I may not be able to do things like that for long...

    I'll sit back now, and watch the fanatics from both sides take your decision personally :)

    Bob Goyetche | June 2010 | Montreal

  • 3.I agree with what you are saying. They have grown almost as closed and problematic as Microsoft. Funny how things change.

    I am not sure if I am willing to drop Apple all together, but I have been considering switching to the HTC Incredible when my phone contract expires in August. I skipped the 2G, bought the 3G, and skipped the 3GS. Unless the 4G has some amazing features, I likely will return to Verizon with an Incredible or maybe back to a Blackberry Bold.

    I might not be so fast with the computers with photo and video editing suites to transfer.

    Mike Brice | June 2010 | Salt Lake City, Utah

  • 4.Shel, I think you should frame and/our mount the Ipod Classic and turn it into an annual award for the company that most acts to the detriment of communities and customers while appearing as though they are doing the opposite. The Apple Ipod Classic will remain as a reminder to us all of the trendsetter that created the framework for this behaviour, and we can use this Apple example to develop criteria for the award. Finalists to be announced each year on FIR and online voting!
    Cheers, geoff

    Geoff Barbaro | June 2010 | Melbourne, Australia

  • 5.Thanks for the post, Shel. Your case for dropping Apple is grist for the mill for all of us who are unamused with Jobs and his personal vendettas. That company needs to start making more PR decisions, less legal ones. Also, pertaining to the hotspot functionality of the Evo: Is that available out-of-the-box? I ask because I run Android on my Motorola Cliq and purchased it as an add-on application. Again, thanks for the post. Cheers.

    Matt Kelly | June 2010 | Bloomington, IL

  • 6.Completely agree. The reasons you outline are exactly why I bought an Android phone as my first "smartphone" last month, and not the ubiquitous iPhone. The Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 has been a joy!
    Replacing an iPod though is harder, especially in the Zune free "rest of the world". So for the moment I soldier on with a 160gig Pod, and wait for something comparable to come along from another company.
    Enough is enough Apple!

    Mark Finney | June 2010 | Sweden

  • 7.Good luck Shel. I have a few observations I'd like to share.

    1. Flash is optional for playing MP3s in a browser. One could argue that a simple link is the most "open" approach for distributing audio via a website.
    2. The App Store is a store like Target is a store and Best Buy is a store. As such, stores get to decide what customers will see on their shelves.
    3. I hear people talk so much about "open" when in fact they really embrace closed more often than not. This site, for example, is built on ExpressionEngine I believe. EE has an "official" add-on repository, which approves new apps much like Apple's app store. And the EE code is not open source. Yet it seems to work well.

    I say have a go at going Apple free if that's what you prefer. I also think that a lot of this "must have Flash", "must be open" talk is hype in itself.

    Rob Safuto | June 2010 | Albany, NY

  • 8.Thanks for the comment, Rob, but I need to respond.

    1. We do offer a link to download our podcast. The player is so people can listen or sample before making that commitment. However, our podcast stats coincide with what studies seem to indicate: Most podcast "listens" are from the site's Flash player. With most listens coming that way -- people listening at their desk based on the simplicity of clicking a "play" button -- I'm not quite willing to drop the option.

    2. Stores like WalMart and Target decide what music will be put on the shelf based on what will sell the most because of the limitations of physical shelf space. They don't choose what to sell based on whether or not they like the album art. Terrible analogy.

    3. ExpressionEngine is a content management system like any other. It produces non-proprietary HTML. People write plugins and modules all the time that don't need to be approved. I once remarked on a post that I needed EE to do something, and some guy wrote the code for the plugin overnight, no approval needed.

    If Apple doesn't want Flash in its products, that's fine. That's their choice. If I want to be able to access content that's presented in Flash, I simply have to choose a different company to provide me with it. That ain't Apple. Ditto their business practices. As far as I know, they're not breaking any laws (although they ARE under investigation by the FTC), so they can do business any way they like. But I don't have to support those practices. Like I said, I'm not trying to convince anyone else, just staying true to my own values.

    Shel Holtz | June 2010

  • 9.Well.
    I found this via twitter and was quite shocked! I literally did the old double-take when I saw the red line through the Apple logo. Just a few minutes before, I was trying to explain my decision NOT to rush out and buy an iPad. I've been a pro-Mac user for ten years now, but I too have been quite a bit turned off by the company's growing arrogance. But I still refuse to go back to Microsoft.... so.... Linux anyone? :D

    David Weedmark | June 2010 | Ottawa Canada

  • 10.David, you might be amazingly surprised at Windows 7. It's been running flawlessly on my desktop since I had it installed several months ago, is intuitive and sleek. Don't deprive yourself of at least the opportunity to take it for a test drive!

    Shel Holtz | June 2010 | Concord, CA

  • 11.Thanks Shel. I was afraid someone might say that! LOL

    David Weedmark | June 2010 | Ottawa

  • 12.Admirable. There's a lot about apple that is confounding. I'm an iPhone and iPod user and really love both devices. I've played with an Android device extensively, but it just couldn't replace my iPhone, particularly as a podcast playing device.

    The iPod is an older model than yours, but it is still a great device. I get around the iTunes library problem with a little app that I install on the the iPod itself called Sharepod. It's come in handy as a backup when the HD with my iTunes library failed. You can use it as an alternative to iTunes, though I don't.

    David Jones | June 2010 | toronto

  • 13.I have used Macs for 20 years and would not want to try to run my business without them, but I totally agree that their ever-more-closed system approach is hurting customers & business partners as well. I felt that they have put my satisfaction on at least equal priority with their bottom line with the Mac. I am hoping the Flash/Apple battle will lead to a better behaving Flash and a better behaving Apple. I may automatically buy Macintosh, but I will take a hard look at alternatives before I buy other Apple products.

    Lou Bradbard | June 2010 | Lake Sunapee, NH

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