Jun 18 2011
Apple will distribute OS X Lion only through their own Mac AppStore. This announcement shouldn’t really have surprised anyone, it was rather obvious that this had to come.
Thus far, the Mac AppStore is still lacking professional software – you won’t find the Adobe Creative Suite, Microsoft Office, Ableton Live, Propellerhead Reason or development tools like REALbasic in Apple’s online shop. Unless you’re looking for certain Shareware products or casual games or some of the home user software products from Apple themselves, the AppStore doesn’t give you much of a compelling reason to use it.
So since seducing their customers into using their online shop didn’t work, Apple had to come up with something rather aggressive to push its customers into using the AppStore. Selling the next generation operating system only through the AppStore is a move that a couple of years ago would have written “Microsoft” all over it. Apple’s strategy is as anti-competitive and monopolistic as it gets. Not only are they showing all of their former retail partners to the door, they are at the same time locking-in all of their existing customers to the AppStore.
Soon, you will no longer be able to use your Mac without having a valid AppStore account, because you cannot even get the operating system without using the AppStore. With this move, OS X will become almost as closed as iOS has been right from the start.
Of course, this also fits perfectly to the announced iCloud idea. The fact that Apple’s most successful products – the iPhone, the iPad and the iPod Touch – and ever their less successful products like the MacBook Air don’t have optical drives and in case of the iOS devices don’t even allow access to the file system, make sure that all the essential information flow on any Apple device will be controlled by Apple’s data centers. It’s the perfect lock-in, the perfect Walled Garden. 1984, anyone?
I once made the sinister joke that you can only use a Mac when you insert your credit card into it. With Lion, the AppStore and iCloud, this is not even a joke anymore. According to Apple, most iTunes accounts are credit card accounts and they pride themselves with having the most credit card accounts of any online shop on the planet.
Where will this lead? I guess that all forthcoming Macs in their default setup won’t even have optical drives anymore – just like Apple refused to put BluRays into their Macs. You can download movies from iTunes, remember? And once they’ve trained their customers to even obtain the OS from an online source only, there is no need for a CD/DVD/BluRay drive anymore. Because, you know, even your backups are now done by iCloud for you – and free of charge, too. What do you need an optical disc drive for?
In the Apple ecosystem, everything will move to the web. Their web, mind you, which is called iCloud, and where your credit card buys you a temporary membership. (I’m not referring to the non-free parts of iCloud here; in order to use iCloud, you have to buy an Apple product, and that translates to paying an entrance fee to iCloud.) Once you’re in this new iCloud ecosystem, there is no easy way out for you. Your investments in form of content and software purchases are stored in the iCloud, and they are not transferrable to any other online service. If you don’t want to lose what you bought, you have to stay in Apple land. Sure, you can safe your content, but your software is dongled to the AppStore/iCloud/iTunes. If you decide to no longer use Apple’s services, you implicitly decide to no longer use the software that you’ve bought from or through Apple. It’s a clever trap, one Microsoft would be proud of if they could get away with it.
In the iCloud landscape, Apple will be able to collect a tax on most digital purchases that are done on an Apple device. Sure, you can still buy software for the Mac on Amazon, but since you are already an AppStore customer by definition, and since the AppStore is on your computer’s desktop, why would you want to go somewhere else? Especially since all of your purchases will “magically” re-appear on every new Apple device that you buy – courtesy of iCloud.
Yes, this is going to be a simple world for simple users. Buy a gadget, login with your iCloud/iTunes/AppStore account, wait a bit and all your stuff will be pushed to your new toy.
It’s totally worry-free.
Or isn’t it?
What happens if Apple for some reason cancels your account?
What happens if for some reason you no longer have Internet access?
What happens if you decide to leave Apple land and move to a different platform? You know, there are countries whose laws explicitly allow people to transfer software licenses. In Apple land, you cannot sell the software that you no longer want or need.
What if the data center in North Carolina gets hit by a terrorist attack or if somebody manages to hack into it and wipes out all the hard disks just for kicks?
What if Apple decides to no longer allow a certain app and pulls it from their AppStore? Apple has done this before, so it’s not an unlikely scenario. What happens to your license in that case and how will you retrieve that software if it didn’t make it into a backup?
All of these points are also a problem with Valve’s Steam platform, at least when we’re talking about licenses. But there are some major differences here: Steam does not want to be a backup for your digital life’s data. Steam only sells games, not operating systems, not tools that you NEED to do your job, to make your living. Steam is also a multi-platform solution, they are not trying everything to keep you on a specific hard- and software platform. While Steam’s DRM only causes minor inconveniences in comparison, Apple’s approach has much more serious implications.
Apple has a track record of being a sue-happy patent troll with an anti-competitive attitude to the core, they sued people who dared to write negative stories about them, they censor and restrict software developers and content providers and I’m simply not convinced that a company that recorded its customers’ GPS data for no apparent reason can even be remotely trustworthy.
So while Apple builds and sells beautiful products that are most of the time a pleasure to work with, all those dark and evil 1984-features in them make me very uncomfortable.
[Update July 20, 2011]
“Somehow, ‘I told you so’ just doesn’t quite say it.” — Will Smith in I, Robot
Lion has hit the AppStore today, and the new Mac Mini that was also introduced today no longer has an optical disc drive in its default configuration. Customers who need a DVD drive have to purchase an external SuperDrive.