For a company that made its name fighting for the little guy, it's a surprising reversal. In the past, Apple touted itself as the computer company for nonconformists who "Think Different." Now the company is making moves that make it look like the Big Brother it once mocked.
First Apple tightened its iron grip on the already-stringent iPhone developer policy, requiring apps to be made with Apple-approved languages, which disturbed some coders and even children.
A short while later, Apple rejected some high-profile apps based on their editorial content, raising journalists' questions about press freedoms in the App Store.
Then, police kicked down a Gizmodo editor's door to investigate a lost iPhone prototype that Apple had reported as stolen. Even Ellen DeGeneres and Jon Stewart have mocked Apple's heavy-handed moves.
Plenty of us love our shiny iPads, iPods, iPhones and MacBooks — state-of-the-art gadgets with undeniable allure. But it's tough to imagine customers will stay loyal to a company whose image and actions are increasingly nefarious. We want to like the corporation we give money to, don't we?
Here are five things Apple should do to redeem its fast-fading public image.
Publish App Store Rules
As I've argued before, the App Store's biggest problem is not that there are rules, but that app creators don't know what the rules are. As a result, people eager to participate in the App Store censor themselves, and that hurts innovation and encourages conformity.
The least Apple can do is publish a list of guidelines about what types of content are allowed in the App Store. After all, Apple has had nearly two years and almost 200,000 apps to figure out what it wants in the App Store.
Tell people what the rules are so they know what they're getting into, and so they can innovate as much as possible. That would also tell us customers what we're not getting on our iPhone OS devices.
Formalize Relationships With Publishers
Publishers are hypnotized by imaginary dollar signs when they look at the iPad as a platform that could reinvent publishing and reverse declining revenues. But after recent editorial-related app rejections, journalists are slowly waking up to our forewarning that Apple could control the press because news and magazine apps on the iPad are at the mercy of the notoriously temperamental App Store reviewers.
If Apple wants to look a little less like the Chinese government, it should work with publishers to ink formal agreements regarding content to guarantee editorial freedom to respected brands.
Tweak iPhone Developer Agreement
Apple's stated purpose of its revised iPhone developer policy is to block out meta platforms to ensure a high level of quality in the App Store. Also, from a business perspective, there is no lock-in advantage if you can get the same apps on the iPhone as you can on other competing smartphones.
Fair enough, but Apple would be silly to think it can keep the mobile market all to itself, and its developer agreement comes off as a piece of literature holding developers hostage.
It's hard to create new rules, but it's easy to abolish existing ones. Apple should loosen up its iPhone developer agreement by snipping out a part of section 7.2, which states that any applications developed using Apple's SDK may only be publicly distributed through the App Store.
That implies that if you originally create an app with the Apple SDK, you're not allowed to even modify it with different languages and sell it through another app store like Google's Android market. In other words, iPhone apps belong to Apple. This rule is basically unenforceable to begin with, and Apple should just remove it, along with other similar policies.
Apologize to Jason Chen
Reasonable people can disagree over whether it was ethical for Gizmodo to purchase the lost iPhone prototype, but the police action — kicking down Jason Chen's door to seize his computers — was overboard. It was self-evidently a clumsy move: After damaging Chen's property, the police paused the investigation to study whether the journalists' Shield Law protected Chen.
The proper action would have been to issue a subpoena to get Chen to talk about the device first. Apple, which instigated the police action by filing a stolen property complaint, should publicly apologize to Chen (no relation to the author of this post) and reimburse him for the damages.
Get Gray Powell on Stage
When Apple accidentally leaked its PowerMac G5 a couple of years ago, Apple's legal team forced MacRumors' Arnold Kim to pull down his post containing the information. But a humbled Steve Jobs joked about the slip during his WWDC 2003 keynote, calling it a case of "Premature specification."
He should do a similar thing when he officially unveils Apple's next phone, by having Gray Powell — the engineer who misplaced the next-generation iPhone prototype — make a stage appearance. Powell could walk out and hand Jobs the phone, saying "Hey Steve, I found your lost phone," or something similar.
Some comedic relief, provided by the engineer who lost the iPhone prototype in a bar, can remind us that Apple is still a company guided by a man with a sense of humor.