The Orange View (on hiatus) Because Apple is great but it isn't perfect

16Feb/11Off

Is a smart phone more like a theme park or a computer?

Way back at the dawn of the Internet age, when Windows was easily the dominant operating system, a bunch of folks there had a really great idea -- why shouldn't credit card companies pay Microsoft a percentage, or in the parlance of bettors a "vig," out of every ecommerce transaction? More recently, music labels pushed adding a tax on blank CDs and then on all iPods and then on all ISPs. Phone and cable companies still seem to think web sites should be paying extra to reach their customers. Wireless phone carriers have been among the most vocal -- and the most successful by far -- in dictating how their connectivity will be used and grabbing a slice of everything passing through.

My primary objection to Apple's new "vig," which applies to anyone with an app who sells any kind of content even if their sale is outside of iTunes, isn't that it is immoral or excessive or possibly even illegal. It's that it is a really, really bad idea. The personal computing revolution and the Internet revolution have been fueled by the freedom to do your own thing, start your own business, write your own software, build your own web site. Now Apple is effectively tossing a gazillion businesses off the iOS platform that can't work under a 70/30 revenue split, from ebook readers to music and video subscription services to who knows what else.

For a while now, people like Jonathan Zittrain have been warning about the increasing lock-down on Internet freedom coming from repressive countries and big businesses. I didn't pay much attention, but obviously I should have.

John Gruber's tweeting tonight that Apple's app store is just like Disney World. After all, Disney gets a cut of everything sold there. It's a telling analogy but chilling. A theme park is a fun diversion you visit for a few days every few years, laughing off the overpriced tee-shirts and Coca Colas. Your smart phone is a critical tool you use dozens of times a day for work, play, entertainment, communication, research and on and on. Are iPhones and iPads going to be a continuation of the free Internet that's stimulated so much innovation or a big step in the wrong direction towards the Disney-ification of cyberspace?

Posted by Aaron Pressman

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