Let's just say it: Nobody has changed the way we interact with technology like Apple has over the last 10 years. Even if the iPad turns out to be the disaster that many are anticipating, Steve Jobs will still be seen as the hero who turns top-end technology into friendly little gadgets even your grandma can use.
But recently, a faint chorus has been growing--thousands of tech geeks suggesting that if you look under Apple's shiny white veneer, you'll find some practices that are less than user friendly. In fact, some of the things Jobs and Apple are being accused of are so over the top, Lex Luthor would have to take off his hat ... and then use it to cover the dark stain spreading across the front of his pants.
When you buy Apple products, you don't just buy computers or gadgets. Apple sells iPods and iPhones that play music purchased in their iTunes store. It's all part of Jobs's sales pitch to people who pride themselves on individuality. Even before there were ads featuring the kid from Die Hard 4 bickering with John Hodgeman in heaven, the message was been the same: PCs are for those people who follow the herd, but you choose Mac because you think differently.
The prototypical Mac user: Thought differently, didn't know how to use a computer.
And the message seemed to take. In the court of public opinion, Apple is the hip, young underdog challenging his competition. Who have fared... less well.
The "Hitler Test" is a widely accepted yardstick of public opinion.
But there's an unfortunate catch with Apple products. Even after you spend your hard earned money on fancy Jobsian wonder-toys, you still don't really own them. Turns out Jobs might have literally been speaking in the first person when he started slapping I's in front of everything he sold. As in, "I am Steve Jobs and I just sold you suckers a gadget that iDesigned, iControl and iBreak if you break my arbitrary rules."
Think we're exaggerating? Say you want to buy an iPhone. If your town isn't on one of the postcards Luke Wilson reads in the AT&T wireless commercials, you're going to have to "jailbreak" your new gadget. Don't worry; you won't need any digging spoons or defensive sodomy. Jailbreaking is just a term for modifying your iPhone in order to make it do what every other gadget on the market does: Whatever you tell it to. For instance, without jailbreaking you can't install unapproved third party applications, customize your user interface, or unlock your phone for use with another carrier.
More like fascistphone, right?
Again, manufacturers of other cell phones and gadgets generally don't care what customers do once they've paid for their products with good, honest credit card debt. But Apple goes beyond complaining. They will actively break your shit for disobeying their arbitrary rules.
Yes, Apple has sent out updates specifically designed to disable phones that have been modified to work with carriers other than AT&T, or to run Microsoft Office. Seriously now, we'd be inventing new, fluorescent shades of berserk if, say, a PC manufacturer broke your computer for installing Linux.
So how come Apple gets away with it?
Jason O'Grady writes a column about Apple for the tech news website ZDNet. One day O'Grady came across some inside information about an Apple product. He posted it in his blog and then got back to whatever tech journalists spend their time doing. Masturbating while fondling digital cameras, probably.
Upon finding out about the leak, Apple could have taken the free publicity and ignored the whole thing or simply asked O'Grady to remove his article. Instead, they went absolutely batshit crazy and hulked out on some poor nerd who gives them free advertising for a living.
They subpoenaed his ISP, tried to get them to take down his website and source of employment, and also subpoenaed O'Grady himself in order to get the name of the source who leaked the information. Staring down the barrel of Apple's 14 billion dollar legal shotgun, Jason went to the Electronic Frontier Foundation for help, causing a legal cluster fuck that went all the way to the state appeals court before a judge finally convinced Apple and Jobs to act like a couple of Fonzies and be cool.
By now you're probably pretty curious to know just what sort of leak Apple thought was worth attempting to destroy O'Grady's career over. Was it a new iPod? Leaked code for an upcoming version of OS X? The iPhone?
Nope. It was a FireWire breakout box for GarageBand.
What's that? You have no fucking clue what a FireWire breakout box is? Neither do most people. It's a minor peripheral product. Sort of makes you terrified for the poor bastard who leaks something important like ...
Apple is famous across the world for having some fairly strict policies on information security. On the transparency spectrum, Apple's corporate policy makes the CIA look like one of those sliding glass doors toddlers always run into on YouTube. Beyond the usual security doors and guards, according to the New York Times, "Some Apple workers in the most critical product-testing rooms must cover up devices with black cloaks when they are working on them, and turn on a red warning light when devices are unmasked so that everyone knows to be extra-careful, [former employee] said." The article didn't outright say that Steve Jobs has been implanting his employees with psycho-receptive "pain chips" designed to inflict unbearable agony upon the disloyal, but it was pretty heavily implied.
So what's wrong with the secrecy? Absolutely nothing. Except when it indirectly leads to torture and suicide. Then it's probably time for management to throttle things back just a smidge. It was reported earlier this year, that Apple reached that point over a possible leak of an iPhone prototype.
Sun Danyong was a young engineer who worked at the Shenzhen factory of Chinese electronics manufacturer, Foxconn. His job had something to do with handling new iPhone prototypes, one of which was lost or stolen while in his care. Apple has a zero tolerance policy for corporate leaks from the companies it works with, so Foxconn knew Danyong's slip-up could potentially cost them tens of millions of dollars in future business once Apple dropped the hammer.
Caught between a rock and a hard place, Foxconn did the only thing a self-respecting sociopathic megacorporation could: torture the crap out of their employee. Facing another session over the missing iPhone prototype, Danyong leapt to his death from a 12th floor apartment building.
Apple didn't torture Danyong themselves, but their maddeningly intense security policies set the mood. Prototypes and specs of other company's next generation devices leak out all the time, and no one gets hauled into interrogation chambers by corporate police over it.
Employees being forced to work weekends and holidays without being allowed to tell their families; spy cameras inside of offices; engineers being forced to work under sheets... isn't this going a bit too far for consumer electronics? We expect this kind of security around, say, secret government bases and hidden volcano lairs, not from the makers of the Pippin.