Apple’s iPhone – Modern Day Indentured Servitude

Apple is in a unique position. It controls the OS of the most popular phone ever and is also the creator of the device (hardware). More importantly, Apple plays the gatekeeper of the content that is allowed onto it through the management of the App Store. The only thing Apple does not control are the pipes, with AT&T being the sole owner of cellular service in the U.S.

As consumers, we have given Apple a tremendous amount of power. The key word is “given.” In exchange for a highly fashionable, highly useful, and highly fun mobile device, we have agreed to a scenario where we in fact have little rights and few opportunities to legitimately gripe about how Apple treats us. That means if Apple decides to pull or ban Google Voice apps from the App Store, under their advisement or coercion from AT&T (or other cellular providers), the only credible response consumers have is, “Thank you sir, may I have another?”

It is important to recognize that Apple is not in too dissimilar a position as its iPhone users. Namely, in most markets, it too is in a relationship dominated by a single partner. As consumers yield to Apple’s will because we absolutely must have an iPhone, so Apple must have the pipes for its device. Until exclusive contracts expire, Apple will be locked into the whims of its partner.

That doesn’t get Apple or consumers off the hook though. Apple has shown time and time again that it is happy to waive a tyrannical, competition-killing hand on apps that want to mimic (but really improve) iPhone functionality. It goes farther than that. Many of its OS 3.0 features were essentially usurped from apps that had already solved problems that Apple didn’t, couldn’t, or hadn’t thought about.

Sorry landscape emails programs, voice memo recorders, and the entrepreneurs and engineers who spent countless hours answering similar market demands — your apps will become obsolete with the next OS release. But thanks for giving us a head start!

Love,

Apple

Let’s be honest with ourselves. We weren’t that angry that Apple yanked those apps into core features. With OS 3.0, we didn’t have to pay for them and the experience overall was much more seamless. Yes, if Apple opened up more of its OS, maybe the latter point is moot — but it hasn’t and it likely won’t (for now).

And now for some more honesty. No one is forcing us — forcing you –to stay on the iPhone. Digerati like to write long-winded, soul-searching posts about how they are so tired of Apple and AT&T and are really — this time, this time for sure — ready to leave. If I worked at Apple or AT&T, I’d bookmark those posts under a folder called “veiled threats” and read them when I wanted a good laugh.

But it’s “not fair,” you say, “Apple controls everything.” Yes, they do. And if you don’t like it, go support an open source initiative like Android or try the Pre. After all, competition is the only thing that is going to make Apple more honest. In the meantime, more power to them. They’ve built a killer product, set up the rules for how they want to operate their business, and have millions of customers freely agreeing to those terms. Until there’s something better or consumers start voting with their wallets, let’s stop getting tears on those fingerprint resistant screens.