The Apple Paradox: How a Company That’s So Closed Can Foster So Much Open Innovation

[Corrected and clarified, 1:30 p.m. 1/25/10, see page 2] Come Wednesday, we’ll learn a lot more about Apple’s presumed slate device. What we know right now, first hand, is a big fat nothing. Apple keeps a famously tight lid on its employees, suppliers, and partners, the only exception being the occasional strategic leak designed to spur excitement around its product launches. Even after products come out, the company controls who gets to see and monkey with them; I remember my frustration back in the spring of 2008, in the months between the announcement of the iTunes App Store and the actual launch, when I knew that dozens of local developers were writing apps for the iPhone but none of them were allowed to show their apps to journalists, on pain of ejection from the program. To this day, there’s still a rigorous and unpredictable process for getting an app into the store (though there are signs of relaxation in that department).

And yet millions of designers, artists, musicians, writers, programmers, and other creative professionals love their Apple products, myself included. The Apple brand is almost synonymous with free-thinking creativity. The programs people are inspired to write for the Mac OS X operating system are routinely more elegant and useful and less annoying than their Windows counterparts. And the advent of the App Store, which allowed thousands of third-party developers to exploit the iPhone’s exceptional capabilities, has fostered a stunning amount of experimentation in software design, dramatically increasing the expectations we place on our mobile computing devices.

In short, there’s a big gap between the way Apple sees the world and the way most of its customers see things. This is especially true when it comes to the relationship between power and knowledge. To all outward appearances, Steve Jobs believes that knowledge and information confer power only if they are carefully guarded. But for most of the creative types who use Apple products, the big rewards in life—the opportunity to gain reputation, advance professionally, and earn money—come from sharing knowledge. The reason I use Apple hardware all day long is not so that I can be like Steve, but because the company makes the best technology I’ve found for staying informed, synthesizing what I learn, and passing it along to others.

A blog post this month by photographer, designer, and career coach Tasra Mar, who spent a year working at Apple, puts the attitude gap in stark, visual terms. Mar shares several photographs of a simple length of rope. In one picture, the rope is tightly coiled; in another, one end of the coil is unfurled; in a third, the coil has been loosened into a spiral, opening a path to the center.

The tight coil, for Mar, represents the belief many people hold “that there is scarcity of knowledge or that they will be harmed or impacted by sharing that knowledge.” Having worked at Apple, Mar writes, “I know firsthand about the tight hold that is placed on knowledge and information—basically everything is on a need to know basis. No open discussions, forums or free conversations.”

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, Mar hastens to add: there are times, she says, when guarding information is appropriate. That’s why we have NDAs and laws protecting trade secrets. Mar is absolutely right when she points out that this closed philosophy has “paid off handsomely” for Apple.

The paradox—and it may be one that goes to the heart of digital-age capitalism—is that Apple’s style of closed innovation results in technology that is so conducive to open innovation. Even more conducive, in fact, than its makers may have intended. Shortly after the iPhone was announced in January 2007, Steve Jobs told the New York Times: “We define everything that is on the phone. You don’t want your phone to be like a PC. The last thing you want is to have loaded three apps on your phone and then you go to make a call and it doesn’t work anymore. These are more like iPods than they are like computers.” By 2008, though, Jobs had apparently realized that in its quest to “define everything,” the company was leaving a lot of money on the table. The 120,000 apps you’ll now find in the iTunes App Store—with Apple collecting 30 percent of every paid-app sale—are testimony to the wisdom of the shift.

Given the smashing success of the App Store, you have to wonder why Apple has reverted to its black-ops secrecy culture for the iSlate (or the iPad, or whatever it’s going to be called). Presumably, Apple wants the device to be part of the larger ecosystem it’s building around digital content—music, movies, TV shows, apps, and soon books and magazines, if all the reports of Apple’s talks with publishers are to be believed. Wouldn’t the company have been better off working with its existing community of developers to figure out what features a tablet-style device should have? Couldn’t it have given iPhone developers a few hints about how the iSlate will work, allowing them to … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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65 responses to “The Apple Paradox: How a Company That’s So Closed Can Foster So Much Open Innovation”

  1. ChesserCat says:

    ” . . . all Android phones put together still claim less than 30 percent of the smartphone market, compared to the iPhone’s 55 percent.”

    Tell me, when the did hype machine kick in on the iPhone? Years ago. When did the hype machine kick on an Android phone? A couple months ago. Sure, T-Mobile had the G1, but how many ads did you see for that? Until the Moto Droid hit the market, most people never heard of Android (outside the truly geeky). Going from basically zero market share to 30% in just a few months is pretty damned good, if you ask me. Continue in this trend, and Android phones will outnumber iPhones within a year. Why? Because iPhone is only available on one carrier (soon to be 2) and produced by one company (Apple). All four of the major carriers now have Android phones; at least 4 different companies make them (Motorola, HTC, Samsung and LG).

    Oh, gee. An open-source system which is compelling enough to pass Windows Mobile’s market share (over a decade in the building) in just a couple months, and is over halfway to the iPhone’s market share in the same time frame (which took them years to build, as well). Still, Google controls Android, guiding its development. That still fits with your thesis of needing SOMEONE with vision at the top, controlling the development.

  2. gus says:

    if you want people to read the entire article, change your font, layout, grid… the current does not offer a pleasant reading for such big text

  3. Mark19960 says:

    Story is a troll.
    They built everything they have on top of free, open source software, yet it produced nothing useful I suppose.

    I suggest you run out and educate yourself.

  4. Joel Bresler says:

    For those interested in a great discussion of Apple as a product company vs. Apple as a platform, see:

    “Technology strategy and management; The puzzle of Apple”, author Michael Cusumano; MIT Sloan School of Management


    Joel Bresler
    Bresler Associates

  5. Tony says:

    Altho’ I am a big fan of FOSS, we bring some ideas of our own to a big corporation and wonder why they don’t do it our way. Try asking a big pharmaceutical company what products they have in the pipeline? Want to know what Toyota’s next-year Prius will look like? Only the well-planned leaks come out. It is called competition, and in many (but not all) situations it is good.

  6. anon says:

    I think you’re probably right about a closed system being necessary to develop a great product, at least initially. Large groups with no strong leadership tend to lose focus.

    However, I disagree with your assessment of Apple users. I don’t see them as particularly free and creative thinkers. Apple’s marketing paints an overwhelming picture of them as being such, but it’s not real.
    Most Apple (and particularly iPhone) users don’t care at all about freedom. They’re far more concerned about keeping up with the latest fashion.
    To use the ever-popular technology/cars comparison: The typical Apple fan is the kind of person who ‘thinks different’ by buying a Porsche, or a Prius. Not by walking, or building their own car.

  7. Matt says:

    how the company fostered so much innovation? Answer: It didn’t.

    We already had smartphones chagning before apple, it’s just apple manipulated the market with their hype-machine to get everyone to buy (lots of people didn’t – especially techies).

    Look at when the E61i and N95 came out as a precursor to the iphone, and it was merely the logical next step. However, they made it sound exclusive and hard to get (remember those apple “We paid people to stand in line to gather hype” controversies?)

  8. Joe says:

    A lot is made about “Genius Design” which takes place at Apple. Maybe, the only thing genius about Apple’s design is as the author states a coherent vision is maintained through product development. They didn’t just make a phone they created an experience which was far more comfortable and pleasing for people than any phone before it. Apple has had a view of the experience and sustainability in their products from their beginning. I think because they put people at the center of their design process rather than technology they provide a better product.

    A lesson for Open Source communities would be to acknowledge people use their software not just other technology geeks. Have you tried to find a free peice of software which converts a wav to mp3 lately? Did it take you all afternoon just to find out said software could not do the job because you don’t have the correct codecs. Open source tends to feed peoples desire to do things their way and the desire to start over to make something better. I think open source is great. But I also think there are very few in the open source community which care about the users instead of the code. Maybe that is not true. Any one who makes their product available to others cares about how it is used. However, I have not met many coders who care about thier fellow coders much less end users to make them central to their work.

    So why then do creatives gravitate to Macs? Its the experience of course. The Mac product universe is smaller than Microsoft. (You don’t need to know about Windows on Windows, or .NET versions, or TCP/IP stacks) Fewer choices can lead to greater creativity. (Remember creativity is usually judged on the experience people have, not the work or tools which took to make something) Most creatives I know just want something to do what it promises. Apple products seem to be far better at accomplishing a clear user experience than most others.

  9. parv says:

    You could argue that linux was originally closed but open.

    Closed in the sense that only source code approved by linus was accepted. However, it was open because you had the source code and you fork it if you wanted.

  10. bfwebster says:

    Go back and read Fred Brooks’ discussion of the critical need for ‘conceptual unity’ in system design (_The Mythical Man-Month_, Addison-Wesley, 1975). Jobs fills that role as a product architect (vs. an actual software/systems architect) and does so with a combination of charisma and intensity that tends to use up the people around him. You may not like Jobs or his products, but it’s hard to argue against the conclusion that he has been perhaps the single most influential and copied person in consumer computing/electronics in the last 30 years (Apple II, Macintosh, NeXT, iMac, Mac OS X, iPod, iPhone, etc.).

  11. People love the mystery that Apple creates around their products. Thus the unending speculation about the table.

    But they love the mystery, because they love the products. And Apple makes great products. If you have something in your hand that does what you want, who cares if they operate in a secretive way or if you can customize it? No one gives a damn as long as it works well. Apple gets the details right.

    Apple is able to create innovation in a closed environment because they have talented people in an organization that knows what it’s doing, and they have high expectations for their products.

  12. Jerry says:

    The real contrast between Apple and the open-source movement is not about closed development vs open development — it is the contrast between a company run by a non-engineer and a movement for engineers, by engineers, and with engineers. As Joe said above, Apple is more people-centered. People who are non engineers are far less interested in technical details than what they can do. Jobs’ ruthless simplification, secrecy and temperamental artist pose are all devoted to hiding technical detail from the user so the user can focus on what he want to do.

    Geeks, on the other hand, love technical detail.The problem with open-source software is that the technical details are always right in front of the user, forcing him to make fatiguing choices that are irrelevant to his task.

    The root contrast is that an artist’s idea of creativity and an engineer’s idea of creativity are two very different things and they don’t necessarily work together.

  13. Kevin says:

    “Free-thinking creativity”? Are you kidding me? There’s nothing creative about a Mac – they all look exactly the same and the people who buy them will buy them regardless. If I wanted to be seen as a creative free-thinker, I’d buy something that no one else has or that at least sticks out from the crowd.

    All these “free-thinkers” do is buy what Jobs tells them to.

    Plus, I’ve seen much more innovation come out of the *nix side of the camp, and that includes GUI features (multi-desktop, as a quick example).

  14. If you really knew anything about the hardware in your Apple products, you would cry after realizing how much you spent on them. We saved tons of money by switching to cheaper networking chips and using soft lead screws in our laptops. Ditch the lame iPhone, get an android phone. Put Linux on your Mac and use it until it’s poorly designed system board fails on you and your warranty is gone. If enough of us stop buying apple stuff, we won’t continue making it and people like you wouldn’t bitch anymore. I like how Apple has a hackerish/Phone phreak history in our early beginnings.. it helps in our pursuit to be kings of hypocrisy.

  15. veggiedude says:

    @Kevin – “Plus, I’ve seen much more innovation come out of the *nix side of the camp, and that includes GUI features (multi-desktop, as a quick example).”

    Multi-desktops? You mean virtual desktops? In 1985, Amiga was the first platform to introduce multi-desktops as a hardware feature. A year later, virtual desktops came to Mac – via software (a first for any platform), and then later *nix picked up on it.

    Better think of better examples.

    Did you know the Mac was the first personal computer to implement virtual memory? (Third party Connectix Corp did it). That and the virtual desktop was done not by Apple, but by third party companies – which proves the point the author of this article is saying.

    And do not forget it was Apple that introduced the idea of running video on a PC without the use of additional hardware. Quicktime was one of the greatest innovations of computing history.

  16. ksaunde says:

    I want a cookie!

  17. MikeFM says:

    Android sucks not because it’s built on free software but because Google doesn’t lock down the interface. It changes to much from device to device. It’s whole free to be free theme is just bad engineering and it makes the devices harder to use and harder to develop for. It’s the same problem Linux as a desktop has. There are two major Linux desktop environments, lots of lesser ones, parts can be mixed and matched, and things are constantly changing and frequently don’t work well. That is why Linux has failed on the desktop and why Android isn’t the iPhone. Maybe the Nexus is a first move to fix this problem.

  18. “It’s whole free to be free theme is just bad engineering and it makes the devices harder to use and harder to develop for”

    Completely idiotic. The “styling” that each vendor does has virtually no impact on apps that developers develop for the Android, which is exactly the point. My HTC has the Sense UI, but underneath it is pure Android and no one has to care at all about this layer.

    Apple faithful really are digging deep for FUD to further their cult. The iPhone is a glorious device, but save your breath the next time you want to slother the net with some nonsense.

  19. haha says:

    so, you admit to knowing nothing about the iSlate (or whatever it is) then admit that you’ll “be in the line” to buy it when it comes out. this is the number one problem with apple users. you blindly buy whatever it is they sell. my guess is you won’t need an iSlate as it’s probably like any other tablet computer out there that isn’t selling good. wake up and stop buying everything some company is trying to sell you.

  20. Toxic says:

    “… all Android phones put together still claim less than 30 percent of the smartphone market, compared to the iPhone’s 55 percent.”

    This is a flat-out lie.

    No, not the part about Android phones having only a fraction of Apple’s market share… the rest of it.

    Not only does the iPhone not have 55 percent of the smartphone market, it’s not even the market leader. That honor (still) goes to RIM’s Blackberry, which as of October 2009, had a 40% share, compared to Apple’s 30%. (cite: ).

    It’s a shame that an otherwise decent opinion piece is sullied by your use of completely fabricated numbers.

    The term “fanboi” is thrown around a lot, and the reason that it stings so much is because of actions like this — every time someone falsely claims that Apple is the market leader in anything except online music sales, those of us that know the truth just roll our eyes and IGNORE EVERYTHING ELSE YOU SAY. Don’t be that guy.

    Apple’s products inspire a passionate response in a certain class of very vocal users. All too frequently, that passion gets in the way of facts (or gets warped by some sort of unexplained reality distortion field :) ). That’s fine if you’re an annoying hipster kid feeling smug about showing off your luxury purchase at a coffee shop… but it’s not remotely OK for someone writing for a company that wants to… “become the authoritative voice on the exponential economy”

    Part of authority is getting your facts straight.

  21. Wade RoushWade Roush says:

    @Toxic: I didn’t fabricate those figures, but I definitely misinterpreted them, and I have made a correction in the article. Thanks for pointing out the problem.

    The 55 percent and 30 percent figures actually represent the proportion of mobile-ad requests coming from iPhone owners and Android owners respectively, as measured in November 2009 by AdMob, a mobile advertising network now owned by Google (see

    You are correct that RIM still leads in the smartphone market, with a 40 percent share. My point about the relative popularity of the iPhone and Android phones still holds, however. The iPhone’s market share of 30 percent vastly overshadows Android’s share, which is about 2 percent, according to a Gartner study cited by Computerworld (

  22. Dave M. says:

    Kevin said – “There’s nothing creative about a Mac – they all look exactly the same and the people who buy them will buy them regardless. If I wanted to be seen as a creative free-thinker, I’d buy something that no one else has or that at least sticks out from the crowd.”

    He is confusing what one DOES with a tool with the tool itself. If I am an artist or a musician, my creativity is not measured by the color of the box I used to make my music or my art. It’s measured by the art or the music I create with it. Saying that Macs are not creative because they all look the same is like saying you’ll make a better painting if you use some kick ass AlienWare carbon fibre brushes that don’t look like anybody else’s!!

    Creative people use Macs because Macs make it easier to create. Less time fussing with the computer equals more time creating with the computer. The end.

  23. Richard James says:


    It doesn’t matter what kind of company Apple is. I could care less if it was open, closed, semi-open, semi-closed, whatever.

    I am not a creative type but a business type. All I care about is that I can do whatever I want to do on the computer with MINIMAL hassle, time, and thinking.

    For those of you who are promoting Linux/Windows or bashing Macs because they are “toys” or whatever, I promise you that I will use any computer of your choice IF AND ONLY IF you agree to pay me for the difference in the time spent in getting anything done on the computer vs. the time spent in getting anything done on a Mac. The going rate will be $250 per hour.

    So for example, if I plug in a printer into the USB port of a Linux box and it takes me 30 minutes of downloading drivers, codecs, etc. and configuring the printer to make it work vs. about 5 minutes on the Mac, then you agree to pay me ((30-5)/60)*250 = $105 for the extra time I spent on the Linux box getting the printer to work.

    Windows will be a bit cheaper than Linux since it takes less time to get work done on Windows than on Linux but it is still more than on the Mac. So are you guys up for the challenge? Are you willing to put your money where your mouth is?

  24. Sean says:

    “haha 1/25/10 12:27 pm
    so, you admit to knowing nothing about the iSlate (or whatever it is) then admit that you’ll “be in the line” to buy it when it comes out. this is the number one problem with apple users. you blindly buy whatever it is they sell. my guess is you won’t need an iSlate as it’s probably like any other tablet computer out there that isn’t selling good. wake up and stop buying everything some company is trying to sell you.”

    You mean like Windows 7?

  25. Sean says:

    I love how all the PC cows get in an uproar when Apple is ever mentioned.

    It’s called jealousy. :o)

  26. davesmall says:

    I think Apple is secretive about new products for a very good reason.

    Their products are so widely copied. Every computer company and handset company is working on one or more iPhone knock-offs. Where do you think Motorola got the ideas for the Droid? Palm for the Palm Pre? Microsoft for the Zune? etc. Microsoft for Windows?

    Apple is the leader when it comes to innovation and product direction for several product categories. A very important aspect of their business is to hold onto their lead. Competitors are anxiously awaiting release of the tablet so they can tear it down and copy it.

    After being ripped off again and again by Microsoft and others, they’ve naturally learned to pay attention and protect their intellectual property.

  27. “Where do you think Motorola got the ideas for the Droid? Palm for the Palm Pre? Microsoft for the Zune? etc. Microsoft for Windows?”

    I truly pray that you are being ironic. If you aren’t, you have drank so much of the kool-aid that it has distorted your perception.

    The iPhone was Apple’s me-too copy of Windows Mobile/Palm when they saw that their MP3 player market (which they came to very late, making a player that succeeded in spite of itself) was in serious peril. I could go on with every other example but it just seems almost comical at this point.

  28. Brian says:

    The reason Apple is ‘closed’ is simple. The rest of the market will copy them relentlessly, why let them get a head start?

    You that think Unix or Windoze is better are out of your minds, quite literally. You think we haven’t tried your stuff? Bizarre. And remember, we can run ALL your sw on the Mac. Literally ALL of it.

    Don’t generalize about all Apple users, many of us moved here from your camps because we have an OPEN mind. And we will never forget your howls, and your obstinate refusal to acknowledge anything Mac in any argument.

    Once you go Mac, you can even pick up a computer magazine (other than the many Mac themed ones) and keep a straight face regarding all the incredible hoops you jump though every day.

    My money is on Apple to take back the entire computer industry at this point. What is going to stop them?

  29. Toxic says:

    “I didn’t fabricate those figures, but I definitely misinterpreted them”.

    Fair enough, and thank you for the correction. The problem is that sometimes it seems like many people who write about Apple wilfully and blatantly misinterpret or fabricate data… which then gets repeated over and over again as if it were an obvious truth. For the investor, the signal to noise ratio of Apple-related news is not an insignificant problem.

    Later this week, we’ll certainly hear about how the iMesa (or whatever they call the worst kept secret in Cupertino), despite being just days old, is already North America’s most widely used tablet. Fujitsu and HP might have something to say about that… they have already sold more tablet PCs than Apple is likely to manufacture in its first cycle.

    Now, most of HP/Fujitsu’s units are not used on the living room table, browsing ad-supported sites or using ad-supported applications. Like Blackberries, they’re used primarily as a business tool: in warehouses, on factory floors, and by building inspectors, delivery services, and meter maids. Hundreds of thousands of patrons have been handed a standard tablet PC containing an epic wine list/guide (most famously the eWinebook that’s featured at Aureole in Las Vegas and Manhattan). Many of these machines will go through their entire life cycle without ever displaying an advertisement. Some will never connect to the Internet. To doubleclick, these machines don’t exist. To Fujitsu investors, they’re quite important.

    And right now, they’re _most_ of the market for tablet devices.

    Apple is (likely) taking a formerly business-targeted product, and is building a sleek, sexy, high-end consumer targeted device. They did this to great success with the iPhone — but (and this surprises many people) they have not yet taken the lead in the market, three years later.

    The iPhone changed the game by selling smartphones to a new segment of users. They changed the market by expanding it, not by overtaking it. There is no reason to believe the tablet will be any different — if it’s successful (and that’s a pretty big if).

    On a related note, the AdMob numbers don’t smell right, for some reason. Even though they include iPod Touch traffic (and the touch has been selling at nearly the same rate as the iPhone), the AdMob reports suggest that an individual Android user is 7.5 times more likely than an iPhone/Touch user to use an ad-supported application, or otherwise be served an ad from an AdMob server. (I’m assuming Gartner’s 2% Android penetration and 30% iPhone, and AdMob’s 24% and 54% ad counts). Does that smell right to you?

    AdMob’s ownership might give it incentive to overcount Android users, or Android’s default integration with Google services might make it more likely to retrieve ads from AdMob, or some combination of the two. But no matter how you slice it, it’s hard to classify AdMob’s numbers as impartial (at the least) or accurate (at the most). They’re open about their methodology, at least… but that methodology produces numbers that are stunningly easy to misinterpret.

  30. merzbau says:

    Richard James is right. His argument holds even if you put your time down for $25 per hour versus the $250 he lists. If you take that into account, Windows and Linux are far more costly than Mac. In addition to the amount of time, there is the issue of quality of time — the notorious “experience” category. Some people seem to be completely unable to value high quality experience over low quality experience. That’s their prerogative, I guess. I just wonder why more people don’t understand the value of their own time, both in terms of quantity and quality. I can’t make sense of it, but I sure am happy that Apple gets it.

  31. “the AdMob reports suggest that an individual Android user is 7.5 times more likely than an iPhone/Touch user to use an ad-supported application”

    That smells right to me. The Android Market in its current form is broken (for instance here in Canada we can’t buy apps on it. We’re limited to free apps), so a much greater percentage of apps build revenue models based around ads rather than the $0.99 sales fee or what have you.

    The numbers really don’t prove much, though. We know that the iPhone has a much bigger marketshare than Android, though that is bound to change in the coming year.

  32. aduck says:

    Apple products are the computer equivalent of the model T Ford – standardised out the wazoo, and are effective for the same reasons. Most people simply wanted a car to take them from point A to point B reliably – in the terminology of one of the above comments, they make the “best” (easiest to use ? – that’s anther debate) technology for that specific purpose. “Creative types” usually want something that will get their art/writing/coding done, with a small array of options, without annoying them about things they don’t NEED to know about to get that job done.

    Windows (god help me, I’m defending MS) is not that sort of tool. Imagine if you’d wanted to tie down your model T to only allow you to drive between two specific points – it wasn’t set up to do that. In the same way, the effort to configure a Mac to be tied down in that way is MUCh greater than for Windows. Same thing with any number of use cases – as a server, automated but still tailorable software updates, file storage locations, file replication,…..the list goes on – Windows has a setting for just about anything you can think of – unfortuantely much of it is visible to the generic user who doesn’t need it.

    The genius Jobs has is to recognise that the majority of the domestic (and this includes creative types) market wants just that sort of simplicity – they don’t need the additional configurability, and don’t want to pay the cognitive price to support it. They want a tool that does there small number of tasks well and effectively – not something that can also make the coffee.

  33. David says:

    There are none so blind as those who will not see. This is an ancient adage that is as true today as it was 4,000 years ago when the great Socrates spoke those words. Ok, so maybe it was John Hayward in 1546, but that makes little difference to its truth.

    How can anybody be so blind as to insist that the only reason Apple has the loyal following and dominant market now in two different fields is their marketing? How is it even conceivably possible that if Apple’s products were anything less than what they are, marketing would keep those products on top for as long as they’ve been so far? You want Hype and Marketing, look at the late Billy Mays. Look at all the old carny barkers. They were hype. They were the ones who created instant desire for their products. Where are those products now?

    No, Apple’s products are where they are because they were engineered and designed to do exactly the job they’re doing, no less and no more. Moreover, they’ve been designed to do that job well for a long time. I’ll grant that a few lemons leak out; this is true of any brand–but on the average, Apple’s products last twice as long as their name-brand competitors. Oh, I know it’s easy to fix your generic PC. I know it’s easy to replace the battery in your generic cell phone or MP3 player, but strangely enough, it’s not necessary for the average Mac, iPod or iPhone. I have a first-gen iPod whose battery still works after 9 years. Admittedly the hard drive failed after only 7, but how many other 9-year-old MP3 players are still working? How many of them even lasted 4 years? That first-gen iPod spent 4 years in the dashboard of a Camaro as the primary music source, then moved to another car when the Camaro died. It wasn’t babied, it worked and survived in pretty extreme conditions of both heat and cold.

    The point? If you believe that the [i]only[/i] reason Apple has succeeded in the industry, then you really don’t understand how things work. You don’t understand people, even if you are one of them. Never has marketing and hype been the sole cause for a company’s success.

  34. cArlos says:

    The debate will go on and on, comparing macs and windows. It is interesting to see the discussions spread to mobile computing, and soon to whatever these tablets will be.

    I am a mac user, but not a fanboy. I’m an engineer and an artist and I have friends in both worlds who use both systems. I have creative friends entrenched in both camps for sure.

    I’m a mac guy b/c of all the little extras built into the os.

    I can’t remember the last time I plugged anything into my mac (that says it’s mac compatible) and had it not work. When I make a system preference change, it’s immediate, I don’t have to approve the change. I like having the system-wide undo command (including accidentally renamed files and folders). I appreciate the way text and cursors are crisply rendered throughout the GUI. I enjoy the highly integrated drag and drop. I constantly use expose and multiple customizable work areas (and I like the cool little sliding effect as they change). I am a big fan of an application switcher that organizes programs based on recent use. And the ability to scroll through applications forward AND backward. When I plug in an external monitor or 2 my MBP automatically recognizes it and sets an appropriate resolution (without distortion), there’s no key command. OSX even remembers the finder windows I had open in those spaces when I plug a monitor back in.

    These are just a few of the tons of little time savers and tweaks that greatly increase my productivity. Are these little tweaks worth the minimal price premium above a comparable PC? To me, absolutely.

  35. Eugene says:

    “It’s whole free to be free theme is just bad engineering and it makes the devices harder to use and harder to develop for. It’s the same problem Linux as a desktop has.”

    Absolutely. add to that the decoupling of the OS releases from any product, the uselessness of the simulator, the fact that an android phone can have a physical keyboard, or not, or be in landscape mode, or not, or allow portrait and landscape, or not – and it is a developers nightmare. Vertical systems will win out here, unlike in the the PC.

    I dont even like the lack of a controlled store. Frankly if I release an application for the Android I could not tell you on what machines it actually works on besides the one I coded it for.

  36. davesmall says:

    @ Dennis Forbes – Dennis – do you really believe that the iPhone is a copy of Windows mobile?? That’s like saying that a 2010 BMW is a copy of a stagecoach. I guess the old saying is true: ‘Ignorance is bliss.’

    @ aduck – You’re right that the market does want simplicity. That’s why they’re leaving Windows and switching to Macs. That’s why they’re dumping Windows Mobile and getting an iPhone. Windows throws up all kinds of strange messages that no one understands. Windows users have to worry about malware. Mac users don’t know what it is because they’ve never seen it — only heard about it from Windows users. I know quite a few Windows users who have switched to Macs. I don’t know a single Mac user who has switched to Windows. The Windows->Mac switchers are the most fanatical of all the Mac fanboys (as you call them).

    The most amazing thing is that most Windows users are running XP – a nine year old antique of an operating system that is more than a little long of tooth. And some of those folks have the audacity to criticize Macs. They’re so far behind the curve that they truly don’t know what they’re talking about. Once again: Ignorance is bliss.

  37. Steve says:

    It’s worth pointing out that the Gartner report you cite was reported in a Computerworld article dated Oct 6, a month before the Moto Droid and several other Android based phones were released.

    I’d suggest that those Gartner figures are not even remotely accurate after Nov 6.

  38. James Katt says:

    The reason Apple is “closed” is that it only talks about products that it can ship and that work.

    Other companies, like Microsoft, like to talk a lot about vaporware. These are products they would like to create but have not. These are products that will never ship but they like to talk about such that people think they are innovative and creative.

    Apple does the opposite. It only talks about products that are going to ship. Period. Thus when Apple talks, people listen. People are even more interested in Apple’s products because they know they can have it soon and that it will work and that it will be the best product of its kind in the world.

    Within Apple, there are a lot of innovative and new ideas being floated about within each department. But the ideas stay within each department and are only known to the managers above them. Anything goes within each department. But again, this knowledge stays within that department unless the department can ship a product containing those ideas.

    As Jobs said, real artists and engineers ship product. They walk the walk and talk the talk.

    Apple never talks about anything it cannot do or will have no impact on its customers.

    Why talk about pie in the sky ideas? Anyone can do that. And anyone can steal that idea – though Apple can certainly give out that idea after patenting it.

    In fact, if you want to know what Apple is doing within closed doors, all you have to do is look at its patent portfolio. That will tell you what ideas Apple has up its sleeves but hasn’t created a product yet. The patent system does force Apple to be open about some of its ideas – at least the ones it wants to protect.

    Thus Apple does give out ideas – the ones it patented. And it isn’t totally closed.

    But again, it will only talk about things it actually has products to ship. Apple DOES NOT DO VAOPORWARE. That’s a simple thing to do.

  39. Toxic says:

    Apple does vaporware: Copland, Gershwin, Pink.

    Apple does vaporware more recently: ZFS.

  40. I especially appreciate, among these highly entertaining comments, the one 5 comments earlier from cArlos. He explicates the many little pleasures of a Mac, which do add up to the many minutes of savings Richard James rightly claims. It’s not all about the pretty logo and slick hardware. In fact I prefer my old PC keyboard anyday. But when it comes to real utility, it’s just no contest with a PC…and I only switched two years ago so I am no die-hard Mac user.

    I’m also an industrial designer and I deeply believe in the sheer power of a forceful person and his/her vision behind a product. Not that many people have that gift and some of the people commenting seem to somehow resent it. It is rare and special.

    Finally, rowdsourcing has its place…I employ it every day in my own business…but does anybody remember what bubbled up when Obama organized a huge crowd-sourced outreach to determine the most pressing issue in the US? The one burning problem that the wisdom of crowds determined had to be addressed FIRST? Before health care, and schools, and Iraq, and roads. It was… legalizing marijuana.

  41. Wade RoushWade Roush says:

    This is apropos — I just found it tonight (I swear I didn’t read it before writing the above column). It’s Jaron Lanier’s 1/8 essay in the Wall Street Journal (

    “There’s a dominant dogma in the online culture of the moment that collectives make the best stuff, but it hasn’t proven to be true. The most sophisticated, influential and lucrative examples of computer code—like the page-rank algorithms in the top search engines or Adobe’s Flash— always turn out to be the results of proprietary development. Indeed, the adored iPhone came out of what many regard as the most closed, tyrannically managed software-development shop on Earth.”

    Lanier argues that “If you want to foster creativity and excellence, you have to introduce some boundaries. Teams need some privacy from one another to develop unique approaches to any kind of competition…Making everything open all the time creates what I call a global mush.”

    I don’t agree with Lanier’s overall thesis, which seems to be that open culture is sapping our livelihoods and our economy. For one thing, I don’t think think a belief in openness and information sharing automatically translates into the “collectivism” and sameness Lanier decries (Caterina Fake of Hunch has a very nice rebuttal of Lanier, over at

    But I think he has a point that creative thinking requires quiet, solitude, boundaries, and perhaps even secrets, at least in its early stages.

  42. I Switched says:

    I switched from Mac to Windows and I know 2 other people that have switched as well.
    I needed software that was not available for Mac.
    No regrets.

  43. Erik says:

    Toxic, you’re really reaching.

    Copland, Gershwin, and Pink. Pink was killed in 1995. Copland was killed in 1996. Gershwin was never really even a project; it was a name on planning charts. Since these projects died, Clinton was sworn in and served for a second term and Bush served for two full terms. Google went from a research project to a $175B company with a market cap.

    If you want to talk about the Apple of today (hint: it’s the one run by Steve Jobs, not the one run by Gil Amelio), dredging up these ancient treasures is a stretch.

    As for ZFS, it was a feature, not a product. The term “vaporware” is not generally used to describe a feature, particularly when the feature in question was just one of many enhancements that were going to be added to Mac OS X.

    If that’s all you can dredge up, I think you’ve only reinforced Mr. Katt’s point.

  44. zato says:

    This article is possibly the rottenest anti-Apple propaganda I’ve seen in months.

  45. “@ Dennis Forbes – Dennis – do you really believe that the iPhone is a copy of Windows mobile??”

    Did I say it was a copy? Is the Droid a “copy” of the iPhone? Hardly.

    Apple zealots have some bizarre belief that everything Apple does is innovative and original. Yet there isn’t an Apple product that I’m aware of that isn’t standing on the shoulders of countless products that came before. Ooooh, a table computer…gee, I believe Microsoft was pimping those 10 years ago.

    Apple executes very well, but they seldom blaze a path. There was a very strong smartphone market long before Apple came along. Apple made a utility into a trend, which I suppose they should be thanked for…

  46. costas says:

    Apple is so great that in 2010 can’t provide garbage collection in their programming language. Sure they’re innovative but they’re also over-hyped and in some areas their products are simply pathetic.

  47. Jerry says:

    @Dennis Forbes: You really don’t get it. Apple isn’t innovative because they do things no one else has done before — they’re innovative because they take product concepts that other companies have executed poorly and turn them into products that real human beings want to buy and use.

    Does anyone like Windows Mobile? In all the years that Windows Mobile has been out, have Windows Mobile phones ever sold as well as the iPhone?

    Yes, Microsoft has been pimping tablet computers for years … to what effect? Who do you know who has a Tablet PC? Do you want one? Whereas the expectation from Apple, based on their track record, is that Apple simply would not produce a tablet unless they had a compelling idea of how and why ordinary people would use it.

    Apple-bashers deride Apple for putting as much thought into design, interface ergonomics, and marketing as into engineering — which is like complaining about a general who puts just as much thought into logistics and supply as into combat tactics. You can’t have a successful company without considering every factor that affects sales, and Apple is successful because it sweats about factors of consumer psychology that other companies are only dimly aware exist.

  48. “Apple-bashers deride Apple for putting as much thought into ”

    Strawman. I even said before that Apple executes well. Apple knows how to polish a product and make it something that people lust after. Only a fool would deny that.

    Executing very well (extremely well, even) is not the same thing as being innovative or original. Yet Apple-boasters always seem to fool themselves into thinking that Apple (which is the company that had to abandon their whole platform as a failure and “execute well” on top of PC hardware and FreeBSD) is some grand innovator.

  49. Philos says:

    As an artist who has been a mac enthusiast since the first one, I see Jobs’ “vision” for his product is much like an artist’s creation. He has an artist’s sense of protecting his work, not wanting to be copied. And unlike some artists (DaVinci, Warhol, etc.) he can’t just let some collaborator paint and then sign it. Jobs wants to do the underpainting, mix the colors and lay in as many brushstrokes as possible in his creations. What some see as odd, I see as perfectly sensible. Sharing leads to stealing. As for the way other creative types embrace his vision, I still don’t see why you can’t expand your viewpoint to see how his vision, his obsessive creative pursuit of excellence, fits perfectly with other art tools. You want the best brushes, or other tools, why not want the most visionary and obsessively perfected computing tool, as well?

  50. Jerry says:

    @Dennis Forbes: Defining innovation depends on your viewpoint. From the view of marketers, consumers, the press, and the general public, “execution” (building a sellable product that actually changes what people buy and what they use)” IS innovation, and building a prototype or an uninspiring product that no one wants to buy is NOT innovation.

    Apple has a huge reputation with non-engineering, non-technical people precisely because Apple works and speaks more directly to their concerns.

  51. Wade Roush says:

    Here’s another example, post-iPad announcement, of someone who apparently has the same queasy, ambivalent feelings I do about Apple’s need for control:

  52. The writer finds it incomprehensible, perhaps even tragic, that my
    main computer is a netbook that gives me the freedom I have striven
    for since September 1983. His conclusion reflects a lacuna in the
    values that the whole article is based on. It values innovation and
    creativity, but not freedom.

    The article describes Apple as “closed”, but praises the “open
    innovation” in the apps that Apple chooses to permit users to install.
    I doubt the term “open” fits the censorship of the Apple app store.
    But I think “open” vs “closed” is a secondary issue anyway. I want my
    technology to respect my freedom; I want to use free software,
    software that the users control. Apple is the pioneer in putting
    chains on its users, and the only ethical use I know of for an iBad is
    reverse engineering.

    If the idea that freedom is at stake in our choice of software piques
    your curiosity, see
    and for more information.