I‘m a long-time Apple fanboy, so I’ve long rooted for Apple’s world domination. But over time, I’ve grown wary of the irony of Apple’s Orwellian hegemony.
When the first iPhone launched in 2007, its operating system was a closed ecosystem that did not (and might not ever) support third-party native apps.
Apple literally invented the iPod. Its iconic accessory - white earbuds - were a fanboy marker & elitist status symbol back in 2001, but it wasn’t long before the iPod was everywhere and Apple’s earbuds (later refreshed as EarPods) were commonplace.
Back in those days, digital music was like the Wild West - full of outlaws & sheriffs - with renegade teenagers & criminal grandmothers illegally downloading music on Napster and being slapped with absurd lawsuits by The Man. There were “Indians” too, of course - the artists that created the content being stolen. But just like the story of the American West, those indigenous artists were exploited & abused by the new settlers.
When the iTunes Store opened in 2003, it established “law & order” in the nascent digital music industry by creating a new marketplace.
It’s worth noting that Steve Jobs chose to call the iPhone an “internet communicator” rather than a “computer” or a “camera.” Relative to the “flip-phones” & “camera-phones” of the time, the first iPhone had some powerful general computing functions & impressive photographic features. Yet, again, Apple chose to brand it as an “internet communicator.” Why?
Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook in his college dorm room, and I was among the few early adopters with a .edu address to access it during its inaugural year. It took off like wildfire, and although I appreciated its ability to connect people, I proceeded skeptically & cautiously. I certainly didn’t feel the adulation for TheFacebook that I felt for Apple.
It’s been 18 years since Facebook was founded, and it has matured quite a lot since its birth.
You might say that Mark Zuckerberg’s October unveiling of Meta was something of a graduation speech to the global student body he helped mold. Zuck’s generation, myself included, may have made countless mistakes in the sandbox, but we’ve long outgrown the playground and are now prepared to lead.
Apple, of course, is already a global leader, chief among the top of the Tech Titans and comparatively long in the tooth. It has lost the only two generational visionaries it ever had, and it seems more intent on enforcing top-down decrees than homegrown innovation. The oldest trick in Apple’s playbook is to wait for others to pave the way, then steamroll them in order to dominate the maturing market.
While the music industry was reeling from worldwide petty theft, Apple expanded from “Apple Computer” to Apple. It made a killing on its sale of mp3 players and its cut of digital media purchases. Although it dropped jaws and revolutionized the world, I doubt that the iPhone really surprised anyone. It was the product Apple was destined to make.
During the 2007 launch of the iPhone, the vision for developers was to launch “web apps,” meaning third-party content & services delivered through Apple’s mobile browser, Safari. The developer community immediately saw the flaws in this, and Apple quickly pivoted to launch the App Store in 2008.
There’s no app for equity.
In 2020, Apple’s App Store generated approximately $64B.
Sixty-four billion dollars.
Much of that revenue, if not all, is generated from the 30% commission that Apple charges developers to host their content & services on its closed platform. Price of admission to the Walled Garden. For years, it didn’t matter if you were a high school kid living in your parents’ house or a fellow behemoth like Facebook - all paid the piper 30%.
Starting in 2021, potentially in response to crisis-level inequity across the globe, Apple reduced its commission rate to 15% for app developers that make less than $1M a year. $1M a year may sound like a weighty salary for an individual, and it is. But it’s a mere 1/99th the annual salary of Apple CEO Tim Cook. Perhaps more importantly, $1M annual revenue isn’t necessarily a whole lot for an app-based startup company with employees & bills to pay. Besides, an unnecessary 15% tax isn’t exactly creating an equitable ecosystem.
Let’s step back in time again, before the iPhone, before the iPod, to the introduction of the Macintosh.
Now imagine a dystopian world somewhat like Orwell’s 1984, where Apple’s newly introduced personal computer becomes quickly iconic and easily dominates its competition due to the introduction of a new closed ecosystem:
In this dystopian alter-Internet world, Apple establishes and cultivates a Walled Garden for the benefit of the world. The Information Purification Directives are issued so that each internet developer “may bloom, secure from the pests purveying contradictory thoughts.” The cut for Big Brother? 30%.
Virtual Reality has had its fits & starts, and I have my personal opinions about how the scales balance between VR, AR, & MR. But the future is clear and hindsight is 2020.
We must create the future together, not inside Walled Gardens.
I told you I’m an Apple fanboy, right? So I freely admit to rolling my eyes every time I text a new contact and see green instead of blue.
No iMessage? 🙄
In fact, one of my friends in the neighborhood is excluded from our neighbors’ group thread because he opted for Android instead of iPhone. This is a small but relevant example of the divide that technology can create between people when interoperability is not prioritized.
We all access the same Internet. Whether a computer, a smartphone, a tablet, a smartwatch, we all access the same Internet. Whether from an Apple, Google, Samsung, or Xiaomi device, we all access the same Internet.
As our world dives deeper into a dangerously polarized division and inequity tears at the fabric of global society, we ought to think very carefully before we design a multi-metaverse.
As we grow increasingly disconnected in the universe, the last thing we need is to occupy independent virtual worlds in the metaverse.
As the wealth gap grows increasingly wide, the last thing we need is for large corporations to exploit their workforce and tax their developers while concealing abuse and evading corporate taxation.
A Walled Garden has its place on the grounds of elite estates, but it is intentionally unnatural. It’s time to return to our roots, and connect with each other in a more open, natural, human way.