The last time I criticized Farhad Manjoo it was because I disagreed with his opinion. Now I have to criticize him because he has clearly boarded the train to Crazy Town, and not the local, the express.
The backstory goes like this. You’ve heard of the Palm Pre, right? Palm’s iPhone competitor, the one being advertised with a Cylon spokesmodel? Well, one of the Pre’s most-touted features is that it can sync seamlessly with iTunes, an ability that no media player except iPods can claim. Palm wrought this miracle by spoofing its USB vendor ID. Essentially, Palm is masquerading as an iPod by using Apple’s vendor codes. The legality of such a move is unclear, but regardless, it’s resulted in a classic game of cat and mouse. With each new version of iTunes Apple breaks Palm’s hack, and with each update to the Pre, Palm restores it. This culminated in Palm sending a letter to the USB Implementers Forum (the body that distributes vendor IDs) asking that Apple be stopped from breaking the Pre’s functionality. Since the Pre works by registering some variant of Apple’s vendor IDs, and the IDs are supposed to be unique to each company that receives them, the USB-IF has sided with Apple.
Enter Manjoo in Slate today, arguing that Apple should stand down, open up iTunes to more hardware, and moreover, that to do otherwise makes Apple a hypocritical, obdurate monster smashing all things free and good with limbs made from money and power. Let’s hop aboard the Crazy Train and follow along!
“Palm simply copied Apple’s USB codes. It’s the digital equivalent of telling a bouncer that you’re McLovin.”
What an adorable analogy. McLovin, heh, I remember that kid. Oh wait, possession of a fake ID is a misdemeanor. Comparing activity that is possibly a crime to something that is definitely a crime is not exactly the best way to establish the rightness of your argument.
“But by blocking non-Apple devices from its music app, Apple is violating a more fundamental principle of computing—that unalike devices should be able to connect to one another freely. The principle underlies everything we take for granted in tech today…”
Farhad, stop being ridiculous. Computers were never about connecting freely. Initially they were about secrecy. Even the internet isn’t as free and open as we in the West think it is; China and Iran are able to censor it easily enough. The freeness and openness to which you refer only exists because of regulatory bodies that clearly delineate the standards that make these connections possible, bodies like the USB-IF. In fact, one could easily make the case that by subverting an established standard, Palm is actually harming the openness of electronics.
“I am not claiming that Palm has the legal right to hack into Apple’s software, nor am I calling on any authorities to compel Apple to let Palm in; if the cat-and-mouse game turns into a courtroom brawl, it’s very likely that Apple would win the fight.”
Right. If by “very likely” you mean certain.
“What’s more, the iTunes block is hypocritical. Like every other tech company, Apple has benefited enormously from the spirit of interconnectedness that pervades the tech industry. The iPod would have fizzled if Microsoft had blocked it from hooking up to Windows PCs.”
Yes. Microsoft has always and forever been a paragon of fairness and free spirit. I wonder how Microsoft would have reacted if Apple had debuted a browser back in 2001 instead of a music player. An iPod is just a USB device, and Microsoft had neither the legal right nor any technical reason to block it. Conversely, Apple does have the legal and technical rights to determine who can connect to iTunes.
“Indeed, you could argue that Apple, once left for dead on the periphery of the tech industry, managed to come back only because it skillfully marketed Macs as the most promiscuous computers you could buy. Around the turn of the century, Jobs began touting the Mac as a ‘digital hub’ for your home. You know what he meant? That the Mac would hook up with anything.”
You could make that argument, but you’d be wrong. Macs have risen in popularity because they are meticulously designed, sport an operating system far superior to Windows, and are all but immune to the Pandora’s box of viruses the plague Windows machines. That’s why people are switching to the Mac in droves. The fact that Macs are better at recognizing your digital camera is an ancillary benefit. Stop rewriting reality to fit your stupid theory.
“Hacking was Palm’s only option.”
Clearly not. Palm’s first option was to do nothing, a path taken by countless other music player makers (prior to the slow, slow rise of the Zune HD, Apple’s primary competitor was Sandisk). Palm’s second option would have been to make its own iTunes equivalent, as Microsoft has. Instead, Palm decided to go out and buy a Hawaiian driver’s license.
“If Microsoft began preventing rivals’ devices from connecting with Windows, the tech industry would go ape.”
Funny you should say that. Microsoft’s Zune software doesn’t allow iPods to connect to it, and what’s worse, the software isn’t available on the Mac, period. I’m looking at the tech industry right now, Farhad. I see neither freshly husked bananas nor any flung feces.
“If Google gave preferential treatment to its sites on its search engine, European regulators would threaten a lawsuit.”
You’re hilarious. And really, editors of Slate, how hard would it have been to fact check this?
Somewhere in all this Manjoo does make one good point. Apple should offer a way for third-party hardware to interface with iTunes. I agree that it would be beneficial for hardware companies to have access to software as good as iTunes, and in the long run, it’s probably good for Apple as well. The problem is that virtually every sentence that Manjoo writes in support of this idea is dead wrong. Apple isn’t obligated to open up hardware and software that it created for a profit.
Of course, if I really wanted to play Devil’s advocate, I could point out that opening iTunes to third parties could create a hardware ecosystem where iTunes is the de-facto standard around which all players are built, giving Apple a huge and possibly anti-competitive advantage over other similar programs. In that fairly plausible case, Manjoo’s would-be paradise becomes the mirror image of Microsoft in the heyday of Internet Explorer. You know what? Never mind. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.