Deconstructing Jason Calacanis’ “Case against Apple” article piece by piece

Sun, Aug 9, 2009

Analysis, News

Jason Calacanis, of Mahalo, Weblogs, and TWIT fame, recently penned an article titled “The Case against Apple in 5 parts” where he details why his long love affair with Apple is coming to an end.  From what I’ve seen and heard of Calacanis, he seems like an alright guy, but much of the reasoning in his most recent article is completely off-base and flawed, if not downright idiotic.

Chief among Calacanis’s complaints is that Apple is in violation of anti-trust regulations for “destroying MP3 player innovation through anti-competitive practices.”

There is no technical reason why the iTunes ecosystem shouldn’t allow the ability to sync with any MP3 player (in fact, iTunes did support other players once upon a time), save furthering Apple’s dominance with their own over-priced players. Quickly answer the following question: who are the number two and three MP3 players in the market? Exactly. Most folks can’t name one, let alone two, brands of MP3 players.

Just because there’s no technical reason doesn’t mean that there’s no reason at all.  Apple’s goal with the iPod was to create an easy to use MP3 player via a seamless integration with iTunes.  Why, then, should Apple be forced to support a multitude of third party MP3 players when the tight integration with iTunes is what made the iPod so popular in the first place?

And as for not being able to name the number 2 and 3 MP3 players in the market, who the hell cares?  MP3 players existed long before the iPod came around, and if third party players weren’t able to create a dent in the market place on their own, why should Apple be blamed for actually manufacturing a product that people enjoy?  It’s not Apple’s responsibility to ensure that competing products from rival companies do well in the market place, especially when you consider that the assortment of MP3 players pre-iPod were pretty shitty.  Just because Xbox Live is a great service, for example, doesn’t mean Microsoft is under any obligation to make it compatible with the Sony Playstation.  Seriously.

On my trips to Japan, China and Korea over the past couple of years, I made it a point to visit the consumer electronics marketplaces like Akihabira. They are filled with not dozens, but hundreds, of MP3 players. They are cheap, feature-rich and open in nature. They have TV tuners, high-end audio recorders, radio tuners, dual-headphone jacks built-in and any number of innovations that the iPod does not. You simply will not see those here because of Apple’s inexcusable lack of openness.

Seriously?  If a phone comes with a TV tuner and a radio tuner, is access to iTunes really that important?  And didn’t Calacanis say that iTunes was stifling innovation right before he mentions how amazing the MP3 players in Japan are?

There are many MP3 players that work just perfectly without iTunes, and it’s perplexing that Calacanis views the dearth of these feature rich MP3 players in the US as being the result of Apple keeping iTunes closed.  A more compelling reason would be that the majority of consumers don’t want gadgets tricked out with all sorts of extras like TV-tuners and radio tuners.  They want a simple and easy to use device that plays music, and that’s what the iPod delivers.  If the features mentioned by Calacanis were really so great, and thoughtfully implemented, consumers wouldn’t care about not having access to iTunes.

Think for a moment about what your reaction would be if Microsoft made the Zune the only MP3 player compatible with Windows.

Calacanis is comparing apple’s and oranges here.  Windows is an operating system with 90% of the OS market.  iTunes is a piece of software available for both PC’s and Macs.

Why, then, does Steve Jobs get a pass?

Steve Jobs gets a pass because we are all enabling him to be a jerk. We buy the products and we say nothing when our rights are stripped away. We’ve been seduced by Steve Jobs: he lifts another shiny object over his head with a new eco-friendly feature and we all melt like screaming schoolgirls at Shea Stadium in ‘65.

This is a common misconception often held by the technologically inclined.  Truth be told, the masses don’t care one iota about Steve Jobs.  What they care about are products that enrich their lives and work as advertised.  For as much as people talk about Steve Jobs and his reality distortion field, the fact of the matter is that if the iPhone, for example, was an average smartphone, it simply wouldn’t sell.  If the iPod experience wasn’t the best there was, it wouldn’t have become the top MP3 player on the market.

Next, Calacanis address’s what he calls Apple’s “monopolistic practices in telecommunications” industry.

Telecommunications choice is gone for Apple users. If you buy an Apple and want to have a seemless experience with your iPhone, you must get in bed with AT&T, and as we like to say in the technology space, “AT&T is the suck.”

AT&T does suck, and I’ll be the first to admit it, but the reason why the iPhone is as “revolutionary” as Calacanis mentions is because Apple had to agree to exclusivity in exchange for an un-precedented amount of control over the device.  From the sign-up process on iTunes, to visual voicemail, and even to the fact that there’s no AT&T logo on the iPhone, Apple wanted to make the iPhone a uniquely Apple product, and in order to do that, it had to make certain concessions to AT&T.  This doesn’t speak to Apple, but is rather a reflection of just how much control carriers were used to wielding in the pre-iPhone era. Moreover, carrier exclusivity is common in the cell industry – just take a look at the BlackBerry Storm and the Palm Pre, available exclusively on Verizon and Sprint, respectively.  Besides, it’s in Apple’s interest to have the iPhone working on as many carriers as possible, and they probably can’t wait until their exclusive contract with AT&T expires and Verizon gets their 4G network rolled out.  Carrier exclusivity isn’t Apple’s doing, and has absolutely nothing to do with monopolistic practices.

And also, does anyone really say “AT&T is the suck”?

Simple solution and opportunity: Not only let the iPhone work on any carrier, but put *two* SIM card slots on the iPhone and let users set which applications use which services. (Your phone could be Verizon and your browser Sprint!) Imagine having two SIM cards with 3G that were able to bond together to perform superfast uploads and downloads to YouTube.

Unless I’m missing something here, and I don’t think I am, this is an absurdly horrible idea.   How in the world does managing 2 SIM cards, and paying 2 monthly bills (1 to Sprint and 1 to Verizon) make any sort of sense?  Nevermind the fact that CDMA phones don’t use SIM cards.  Does Calacanis actually think this is a good idea, or is he just looking for publicity at this point.

Next, Calacanis complains about the lack of third party browsers in the app store and demonstrates an inability to actually research the topics he’s writing about, or at the very least, fact-check an article he admittedly began writing months ago.

Opera’s mobile browsers are “full of WIN,” as the kids like to say these days. If you’re a Windows Mobile or Blackberry user, you’ve probably downloaded them and enjoyed their WINness. The company started an iPhone browser project but gave up when faced with Apple’s absurd and unclear mandate to developers: Don’t create services which duplicate the functionality of Apple’s own software. In other words: “Don’t compete with us or we will not let you in the game.”

Another misguided point.  There are actually a number of third-party browsers in the app store that have been available since January.  And as for Opera, it’s been reported by the well-connected John Gruber of DaringFireball that while Opera developed an app for the iTunes App Store, it was never “even submitted.. to Apple, let alone [rejected].”

Next up, Calacanis sets his sites on Apple’s admittedly confusing app store policies.

Like lemmings, we fell for your bar charts extolling the openness of the iPhone App platform and its massive array of applications. We over-paid for your phone–which you render obsolete every 13 months, like clockwork–and then signed our lives away to AT&T. The way you pay us back is by becoming the thought police, deciding what applications we can consume on the device we over-paid for!

First, since when it is a bad thing for a company to come out with new products that render previous iterations “obsolete.”  Isn’t that what we want from our high-tech companies?  Otherwise we’re left using products like Internet Explorer.

Second, there are tens of thousands of available apps on the iTunes app store, and not every banned or rejected app falls on Apple’s shoulders.  While Apple’s handling of the app store has been far from perfect, it has contractual obligations with AT&T that often get ignored by the media.

Yes, every application on the phone has to approved by Apple, and if you were interested in something adult in nature…well…you can’t do that.

Come on now, this is just absurd.  I don’t see adult oriented apps available for the Wii either, and lord knows the possibilities would be endless!, so who cares about not having a full breadth of available apps on the iPhone.  I can more than manage without Slingplayer and iBoobs as the iPhone’s functionality extends far beyond a handful of apps that Apple and/or AT&T has chosen not to support.  That said, Apple’s handling of the app store approval process leaves much to be desired, and there’s a ton of room for improvement, but lets not get carried away and talk about how Apple is stripping our rights away.  Perspective, people.

Imagine for a moment if every application on Windows Mobile or Windows XP had to be approved by Microsoft–how would you react? Exactly. Once again we’ve enabled Steve Jobs’ insane control freak tendencies. This relationship is beyond disfunctional–we are co-dependent.

Imagine for a moment if the app store instantaneously doubled in size and every other app on the iTunes app store was sex related.  Imagine how users would react. Imagine how Calacanis and other tech pundits would react.

Apple doesn’t have to draw a line in the sand, but it chose to, and I don’t think that it’s acting unreasonable in not allowing every and anything under the sun into iTunes.  If Apple doesn’t want to support adult or violence themed apps, who’s to say that it has to?  And again, Apple is partnered up with AT&T and must take their interests into consideration as well.  Moreover, since all iPhone apps are sold exclusively on iTunes, Apple must be more vigilant as to what it allows on the iPhone since it’s Apple’s name and reputation on the line.  Think about it – are there any restrictions for developers coding apps for the Mac?  No, because third party software may run on a Mac, but is not in any way affiliated with Apple.  Software downloaded from Apple, on the other hand, is a different story.

Also, ever notice how the people who lambast Apple for not allowing everything into the app store are often the same people who criticize Apple for allowing questionable apps into the app store?

Calacanis continues..

Apple took Google’s innovative and absurdly priced phone offering, Google Voice, out of the App Store and is currently being investigated by the FCC for this action. This point is similar to the browser issue, in that Apple wants to own almost every extension of the iPhone platform. How long before Apple decides to ban a Twitter client in favor of an Apple Twitter-like product? Seems crazy, I know, but by following Apple’s logic you should not be able to use Firefox or Google Chrome on your desktop.

For the ten billionth time, the removal of Google Voice apps was most likely a move demanded by AT&T.  So even if it’s later determined that Apple was the guilty party, it seems a bit premature to of a sudden start accusing Apple of rejecting “almost every extension” on the iPhone until we have more information.  Seriously, in a sea of thousands of apps, how many app rejections from Apple are that significant and noteworthy?

That’s the joke of this: you’re paying for the data services that Apple is blocking. You pay for the bandwidth and Apple doesn’t let you use it because, you know, they know better than you how you should consume your data minutes.

The joke is on Calacanis. You’re actually paying Apple for the iPhone, and AT&T for the bandwidth, which is just more of a reason to assume that AT&T is behind any app rejections (Slingplayer, Google Voice) that involve either bandwidth or carrier issues.

Calacanis finishes with this:

Apple will face a user revolt in the coming years based upon Microsoft, Google and other yet-to-be-formed companies, undercutting their core markets with cheap, stable and open devices. Apple’s legendary comeback ability will be for naught if they don’t deeply examine their anti-competitive nature.

People don’t care about open devices if that openness comes at the expense of the user experience, and there’s no reason to believe that Apple will face a user revolt anytime soon, aside from a few self righteous tech folks like Michael Arrington who try to make ill-conceived “statements” by publicly declaring their intentions of switching cellphones due to “moral” concerns.  Like anyone cares about their phony and publicity seeking “causes”.

In the end, Calacanis’ diatribe against Apple was a poorly thought out, if not typical, anti-Apple article that seeks to lay blame for all problems at Steve Jobs’ doorstep.  Apple is a company like any other, and from time to time, it makes idiotic mistakes.  That’s not in dispute.  But jumping from that to “Apple is destroying innovation and stripping away my rights!” is lunacy, and quite frankly, odd coming from someone as into the tech scene as Calacanis.


Marco Ament has his own teardown of Calacanis’ attempt to sound like he knows what he’s talking about over here.


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15 Comments For This Post

  1. Robert Says:

    Well, yeah, everyone’s right about this.

    No question Apple’s doing really well.
    No question people are lovin’ it.
    That’s what it’s all about right?

    Point being, there’s about a million things Apple could be doing differently — and everyone would still be lovin’ it, stock would be great (as it is and will), and that’s what it would be all about. Apple has choices, man.

    It’s weird when you realize that people just don’t see something, but, hey — that’s not a bad thing depending on how you look at it.

    Google’s going into this thing to change it, Apple’s going into it to impress. And that’s fine. Good for them.

    But still… taking that attitude one step further — it’s like saying who cares if the $100 bill is wrinkly or not (especially if it’s a stack of them).

    OTOH, new money smells real nice, especially combined with leather, perfume and other things. But money is money, right?

    Which would you prefer?

  2. Blad_Rnr Says:

    For every blogger who thinks they know better than Apple there are 100,000 iPhone users who don’t care. They love the iPhone and love the functionality of the device. Apps are a bonus.

    It never ceases to amaze me how tech pundits think they have all the answers and yet in reality they won’t put their money where their mouth is and start up their own company. Steve and Steve (Woz) did it in a garage. Calacanis is just jealous.

    Strange. First it was that the iPhone would never succeed. Now it’s too successful. Give me a break.

  3. Jocca Says:

    Success breeds envy and discontent in some people. Obviously Calacanis is mistaking Apple’s wildly successful line of iPod/iPhone products for monopolistic and anti-trust practices which it is not. The success of a the iPods is due to the ease of use, elegance and brilliant ecosystem that Apple has provided to this platform in the form of the iTunes software. Other MP3 players just cannot compete because their products just did not catch the public attention, even mighty Microsoft could not make a dent in this market with its Zune MP3 player. Is Apple breaking anti-trust laws by not allowing other competitors to use its iTunes store to sync their products to? Certainly not. This is a capitalistic society and competition is healthy. To force Apple to share its crown jewel with its competitors is not going to foster competition, it is only going to favor parasitism and stall innovation in it tract. Right at this moment, Palm is looking more and more like a parasite rather than an innovator, if it continues to try to hack its Pre-phone to behave like an iPod clone. Calacanis needs to go back to the dictionary to straighten out his vocabulary knowledge, ASAP.

  4. Jim Thompson Says:

    The two SIM thing is possible in other phones, but you select (by hand) which SIM is ‘active’, and its one-at-a-time. Its hardly an ‘any charrier’ solution.

    Further, the bits about simultaneous operation on bonded connections is nearly impossible without a back-end infrastructure and some sincerely high battery usage. So even if you get past the political/technical hurdles with the carriers, the implementation would suck

    Now, if somene (Intel, cough cough) were to press Apple into making an 802.16e / WiFi device (because they have the chipsets) and someone (Intel, cough cough) were to help invest a ton of money in an 802.16e-based buildout, nationwide, and the non-phone / phone had an included VoIP (nee: google voice) app and otherwise was *only* an IP-connectivity device, then I think you would see some progress.

    Now go back and substitute ‘Android’ and “Google’ for ‘iPhone OS’ and ‘Apple’, and you’ll have what I see coming.

  5. Ryan Grelck Says:

    I have a correction for you, Mac’s are PC’s.

  6. AlfieJr Says:

    good analysis of a silly diatribe. i’ve no idea why calacanis is taken seriously at all, but his piece is basically the childish rant of a teenager whose been grounded by his parents.

  7. Michael Says:

    I’m glad I read his case against Apple here, with someone thinking logically in between all the idiotic rambling, otherwise I might have cried myself to sleep, convinced that humanity is doomed.

  8. arafat kazi Says:

    God, why even bother responding to something as poorly thought-out as that argument? It’s a waste of time. Nerds will never understand how a markets work. (Well, some nerds do, but I think that understanding consumer behavior negates the fact of being a nerd the way I mean it.)

    And Ryan Greick, if you gots to be correctin’ people, then please learn how to pluralize words.

  9. Stannyc Says:

    Thanks for your analysis. Calacanis’ article cause a brief flurry in the tech press, but it won’t matter one bit. Apple just finished a blow-out quarter — how is it they’re teetering on the edge now? As its name change implies, Apple is building dazzling consumer products. Apart from a few techies, consumers aren’t looking for an Android phone, don’t care about open source — they want the best. Even if Calacanis’ points were valid, consumers just don’t care.

    I second the author’s view about Calacanis knowing nothing about antitrust. I studied antitrust law at Harvard Law School and, believe me, all of his antitrust “analysis” is junk.

  10. David H Dennis Says:

    One peculiarity of Jason’s argument is that it seems like the case against the iPhone, not Apple. I’m guessing Jason isn’t giving up his MacBook Pros any time soon.

    To make the market move, the case against Apple has to be paired with the case for something else.

    I think it would be interesting to know, in this market, what his something else is. The Palm Pre is interesting, but the app market is not even set up yet and so any comparison will be misleading. And I don’t think Android has even 10% the apps iPhone does.

    It’s not unreasonable to complain against absurd App Store policies and the like, but I don’t think it’s proven that they are any worse than what others are proposing. What are Android’s like?


  11. F.M. Engleton Says:

    Jason Calacanis is an idiot. Ask anyone who has ever worked for him. Ask him about how he gave away iPhones, iPods and iMacs to Mahalo freelancers the first six months the company was under construction… The only thing I can think of is like everyone else who’s ever come into contact with the man, Apple didn’t do what Calacanis wanted them to do, and now he’s wiping his backside with them.

    If Calacanis says Apple is bad, what the world needs to do is run out, buy and support Apple like it’s going out of style.

    This man can barely even run a company and he knows absolutely nothing about people or what they want/need. Why anyone would trust his opinion on tech products is a mystery I don’t think the world will solve anytime in the near future.

  12. Partners in Grime Says:

    The mainstream loves their iPhones. They don’t care about this behind the scenes stuff. They only care that their phone works.

  13. originalgeek Says:

    Dear edibleapple:

    Why do you offer any legitimacy at all to Calacanis by your retort? He is scheduled to be ejected from the industry, as all human ballast is, during a downturn. Don’t give his little human/barnacle hybrid body anything to hang on to.

    Thank you.

  14. basak Says:

    You don’t exactly buy a MacBook, or an ipod, you buy into a brand called “Apple”. And it’d be really stupid to get a Netgear Wifi router instead of an Airport. Or a funky looking MP3 player instead of the over-used ipod. Or perhaps even try installing opera. Apple don’t make products. They sell a computing solution which works the way ‘he’ wants. Not yours.

    Seriously. It’s your silly mistake so don’t blame Apple.

  15. gagravaar Says:

    I’ve read through his diatribe and I’ve read a lot of the deconstructs of it as well, and I’m left with the question, why is he doing this?

    Calacanis is a smart guy, (or a guy who thinks he’s smart, it doesn’t matter which), so there’s a reason why he’s putting forward the idea that he’s turned against Apple.

    His arguments are vague at best and easily dismissed. With these arguments you can at the very worst, say that Apple have made a few mistakes and maybe need to change a few policies.

    He must know this.

    His recent rant along similar lines on Twit got quite personal with Steve Jobs (which I found to be in very poor taste), so I don’t think that the content of his rants are actually the point.

    What he’s trying to do is make himself relevant again. He’s openly criticizing Apple and SJ and he’s making headlines.

    That is the point – he’s got something up his sleeve and he’s prepping the media.

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