Monday, June 7, 2021 [Tweets] [Favorites]

On Walled Gardens

Joanna Stern:

All it takes is some bedtime reading of Epic’s 365-page findings document to see just how aggressive Apple executives have gotten in carrying out Steve Jobs’ 2010 vision to, as the finding document quotes him, “tie all our products together so we further lock customers into our ecosystem.”

[…]

Those of us living with multiple Apple gadgets know the garden is pretty darn nice. We’re suffering no more than that person seated in first class next to the lavatory. But are we missing out?

I set up camp in the increasingly harmonious Android/Windows garden, talked to experts and dug through court documents. In the end, I found three strong reasons to justify Apple’s garden—and three strong reasons we need more holes in its walls.

John Gruber:

The people who use the term “walled garden” in this context typically do so as a pejorative. But that’s not right. Literal walled gardens can be very nice — and the walls and gates can be what makes them nice.

[…]

Better than “walled garden”, I like the comparison to theme parks. People love theme parks. Not everyone, of course, but a lot of people. They’re fun, safe, and deliver a designed experience. They’re also expensive, and the food, to put it kindly, generally sucks.

Point taken, but I think this analogy breaks down because:

Dieter Bohn:

During the Epic v. Apple trial, a new metaphor popped into my head and I can’t shake it. As I was looking at the emails that Apple executives were sending each other and reading their testimony during the trial, I kept thinking I’d seen this kind of behavior and even some of the justifications before. And so here it is:

Apple is a carrier.

I mean “carrier” as in cellular network carrier, as in Apple is Verizon or T-Mobile or (shudder) AT&T. Here’s how the metaphor works: The most important thing to any carrier is feeding the Angry God of ARPU (average revenue per user). That number must go up to please shareholders and pay executives, and the carriers have engaged in any number of shenanigans to make it happen.

[…]

Before the iPhone, carriers could (and did) point to any number of smartphones and rightfully boast about the incredible things those phones enabled. The Blackberry, the Treo, the Moto Q, and more all did things that nobody would have thought possible just a few years before. But the carriers would take credit for them while at the same time making demands that kneecapped those phones’ capabilities. They used their monopoly on wireless customers to dictate phone design, software capabilities, and business models.

Indeed.

Previously:

Update (2021-06-07): Nilay Patel:

Smartphones are not just a nice thing you can have — they are the primary (and often only) computer for vast numbers of people. They are a conduit of culture! Condemning all those people to living in a “theme park” is even worse than a “walled garden” imo

21 Comments

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>“tie all our products together so we further lock customers into our ecosystem.”

I often felt the current executive are still trapped into Steve's dogma on a higher level but not in a deep level. Although he did told Tim Cook not to think what he will do.

Those messages from Steve were written in 2010, some of them even before that. It was the era when iPhone was having a holy war against Android. Nothing in the Smartphone race was set in stone. And Microsoft was joining the race with Windows Phone. Apple, still unsure of whether to go big iPhone or whether it will be a success or not. ( Document in case against Samsung shows Steve is well aware of iPhone 6 size ). iPhone 4 was still in true JIT manufacturing fashion. And Apple was only selling 40M unit a year. App Store barely started and Steve thought it was never going to be as big as iTunes Store. There were lots of uncertainty, to the point Steve even sold tiny amount of his Apple shares.

Steve was still looking at 1% total Mobile Phone market, even if it was bigger may be 10%. But today it is sitting at ~30% in key market and over 60% market share in usage. I dont think anyone on original iPhone team would ever imagine that. So those thinking in Steve's era cant be applied now.

There is another problem with the Carrier analogy. Carrier dont block devices from accessing their Network even if the Phone was absolutely crap. As long as it uses Open Protocol and Standards aka 3G/4G/5G they are fine. Nor do they block business that act not in the interest of carrier. They are also a utility and subject to manat regulation and basic coverage commitment. And if we think Apple, or App Store is a Carrier, then by the same analogy they should have a set a regulations.

Old Unix Geek

Over the last year, Gruber has revealed himself to be quite authoritarian. Be it about vaccines, be it about his dislike of anyone who isn't a Democrat, be it about forcing Apple employees back into the office, be it about the wonderful "theme park" he thinks Apple provides.

I don't want to work and live in a "Theme Park". I prefer my reality objective. And although this theme park might look shiny from the outside, the working conditions inside them leave much to be desired. It's not just the food.

Somehow this theme park idea reminds me of the Visitors from V: Apparently friendly somewhat good-looking authoritarians with ulterior motives. The analogy even matches the food problems. (Come back here, stay on my plate, you pesky human!).

I think it would be of benefit if Apple were to be regulated like carriers, and required to provide access to their "network" to all, just like any other public carrier which cannot pick and choose.

Kevin Schumacher

@Old Unix Geek
While Gruber certainly has his issues (he's elitist, pedantic to a fault, and for someone deeply engrossed in technology for most of his life, seems oddly clueless about some things), the examples you claim show him to be authoritarian are quite absurd.

About vaccination? Anybody who can get it (that is, does not have actual medical problems preventing it) needs to get it. That's both science and common sense. Public health measures, when backed by clear, transparent science carried out in a rigorous, standards-based way, should not be up for debate. If that makes one authoritarian, then so is everybody who's ever argued that everybody who can be needs to be vaccinated, and that list is too long to even start here.

About "forcing" employees back into the office? Apple has every right to decide how their company operates on something so basic as whether you have to work in the office or can work from elsewhere. Is it good for them to listen to voices who may disagree? Of course. And they can listen, but ultimately make a different decision, without being authoritarian. By saying Gruber is taking an authoritarian stance regarding that, you seem to be confusing voluntary employment at a company, where one who does not agree with the decision can leave at any time, with something like conscripted military service, where one cannot.

About his dislike of anybody who isn't a Democrat? That's not accurate, from anything I've ever seen him write. Gruber's issue is with people who think Trump is a great person who did nothing but great things for this country, and who are part of the cult surrounding him. For some reason, a lot of Republicans continue to fall into this camp. Conservative is not a dirty word. Republican has fast become one, and it's a problem entirely of their own making.

This is not to say that he (or anyone else) is right or wrong about Apple or the "theme park", of which I take no stance here.

@Ed
> There is another problem with the Carrier analogy. Carrier dont block devices from accessing their Network even if the Phone was absolutely crap. As long as it uses Open Protocol and Standards aka 3G/4G/5G they are fine.

I don't know what country you live in, but in the US (not intended to be a sarcastic intro, just saying in case you are not aware of how the US major carriers operate), carriers often have to be forced to allow "uncertified" (read: phone manufacturer has not paid us a bunch of money) devices to operate on their network. Verizon sued the US Federal Communications Commission in 2007 after the latter announced that an upcoming spectrum auction would require "open access" rules to try to force carriers to allow devices other than the ones they sell. As of 2013, Verizon was still playing games with activating non-Verizon-sold devices. In the last few years BYOD, or Bring Your Own Device, has become a lot more common, but it would not shock me at all to learn that all of the big carriers still routinely pull crap like this.

Old Unix Geek

@Kevin

"Everyone who can get it needs to get it" is an authoritarian position. You believe you know better than others, and therefore they should do what you say.

It's also not scientific, despite your claim that it is. Science is anything but authoritarian. The whole point is that there is no authority. Instead there is a method. Any hypothesis only stands until it is disproven. The only reason to have any certainty in a hypothesis is because it has been attacked and was not disproven by those attacks. I happen to know plenty of non-anti-vaxxer scientists who have concerns about how new the mechanisms used by these 1st generation DNA/RNA vaccines are.

What is new involves many unknown unknowns. One of the key developments that made mRNA vaccines possible was N1-methyl-pseudouridine ( https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0168365915300948 ) which was discovered to make mRNA vaccines less prone to attack by the immune system 5 years ago. That's pretty new. You might not have noticed, but many governments, such as the Danish government have banned various vaccines, which suggests they think testing was inadequate.

I find DNA/mRNA technology totally fascinating, but we must remember that we're a species who can't even code bug-free hack-proof code on simple Turing Machines. To think that we understand something as complex and irregular as the human body and its immune system is an extraordinary display of hubris. There is also a difference between a vaccine approved with an Emergency Use authorization, and a normal vaccine developed using well understood mechanisms. Despite fewer unknown unknowns, the latter usually involve up to 10 years of trials: https://jpharmsci.org/article/S0022-3549(20)30737-1/pdf . These ones got 6-8 months of trials. Pfizer only got around to asking for normal approval in May. So to say that this situation is comparable to every other vaccine is not accurate. And like any other tool, using a vaccine involves a risk-benefit calculation. For this one the long-term risk, given the unknown unknowns, is higher. Risk does not mean known danger, but possibility of danger.

Authoritarian: favoring or enforcing strict obedience to authority, especially that of the government, at the expense of personal freedom.

You'll notice the "especially". That does not mean "only". Companies can also be authoritarian. Ultimately it's a mind-set. If many of your employees do not wish to go to the office, after a major pandemic, the authoritarian stance is make them, or make them quit. The non-authoritarian stance would be discuss it, and determine a compromise. Of course it helps to have functional unions, something sorely lacking in the US. Germany, which is hardly a bastion of communism, does that it way.

I do find it fascinating how many people feel that those who actually create the "magic" Apple sells should have no say. There's a certain ingratitude to those who spent years perfecting their craft which seems to have pervaded society. You got paid, now shut up, and go be a technician. But you seem to think that's A-OK because people could just go work somewhere else at another company which also has that exact same attitude. I find that an odd definition of freedom.

Of course my view is also affected by the fact that I have doubts about whether the pandemic will be over any time soon. Until the entire world reaches herd immunity, having lots of people behaving if nothing were happening is a fertile ground for any variant that develops an S-protein that is sufficiently different that the antibodies produced by the current vaccines do not recognize it. And what with 6 billion non-vaccinated people on the planet, people starting to travel again, and 30% of Americans who remain unconvinced by "I'm right, do what you're told" type arguments, COVID will continue to evolve for a long time. New vaccines for new variants will take time to produce during which time new lockdowns can be expected. I hope I'm wrong, but I don't see a fault in my logic.

To conclude, I now perceive both you and Gruber as having authoritarian tendencies. I commiserate. But there are lots of you, so at least you won't feel lonely. I guess it must have been evolutionary successful in some unfathomable way in our long lost past. ;-) More recent history, however, does not suggest that such tendencies lead to greater happiness. Something perhaps to consider?

Kevin Schumacher

> "Everyone who can get it needs to get it" is an authoritarian position. You believe you know better than others, and therefore they should do what you say.

I don't believe *I* know better, I believe that the scientific community's consensus knows better than people who think not getting vaccinated is good because "omg personal freedom".

People can get vaccinated because that's what science is telling us is the best solution we have right now, or we can just have 10 years of lockdowns while we complete all the long-term studies. Which do you think is more authoritarian?

You are correct we don't have long-term data on these vaccines, and that there may be some unknown issues long-term. I think you might find there is an obvious reason for that. The alternative is to let the bodies continue to pile up while we wait for those long-term studies.

As far as Pfizer only "getting around" to getting permanent authorization in May, they have to meet certain longevity requirements for their studies in order to get permanent authorization, which time frames they only met recently.

> You might not have noticed, but many governments, such as the Danish government have banned various vaccines, which suggests they think testing was inadequate.

Is there a vaccine available in Denmark? (Yes.)

From a Danish government website:
> The Danish Health Authority recommends vaccination because it protects you from becoming infected and ill from COVID-19. The more people get vaccinated, the better control we have over the epidemic.

So even in Denmark, where they have apparently banned some vaccines, word from the top is you should get vaccinated.

The irony in all of this is one person's personal freedom to not get vaccinated can very easily impinge on another person's personal freedom to, you know, not die. So we should favor those who are willingly saying "I am OK knowing that I might cause others to die?" It's the mask thing all over again.

> Authoritarian: favoring or enforcing strict obedience to authority, especially that of the government, at the expense of personal freedom.

A union is authoritarian, too, in that it "favor[s] or enforce[s] strict obedience to authority [in the form of the contract] at the expense of personal freedom."

You seem to be reading that definition to be black and white, all or nothing, either 100% personal freedom or it is authoritarian. But that's simply not supported by the definition. Even in a compromise, which you suggest, at least some people are going to be at least partially unsatisfied.

> I do find it fascinating how many people feel that those who actually create the "magic" Apple sells should have no say.

I did not say they should have no say. I said that Apple should listen to what they have to say, but ultimately, somebody has to make a decision. And in an organization like Apple, that is the person at the top of the food chain. That is how the vast majority of businesses on this planet operate, and it doesn't make all (or even most) of them authoritarian.

And based on everything I've read, two days remote work per week is already a huge compromise compared to Apple's past workplace culture. The Apple employees who want to continue all-remote work want Apple to move past the current compromise and make a different compromise--or, well, they seem to be asking for Apple to capitulate to exactly what they want, not a compromise.

> But you seem to think that's A-OK because people could just go work somewhere else at another company which also has that exact same attitude.

Or instead of getting a job filleting red herrings down at the canning factory, they could work at a company which allows full-time remote work, of which there were already some pre-pandemic. And there are quite a few more who have already said they will be post-pandemic, whenever we get there.

Everything is a trade-off. Some companies offer X benefit, some offer Y, some offer X and some of Y. You make a decision on where to work based on what you want to work on, on where you think the culture fits you, and on where the combination of compensation and benefits works for you.

If you want to work at Apple, there are certain trade-offs, like you can't go home and talk about the secret project you're working on. Is it authoritarian to say that, too? What if the letter was not about remote work but about being able to freely talk to the press about whatever an engineer was working on at any given time?

Gruber actually has a point when he says that employees who joined Apple knew the strong in-office work culture (just as anybody applying there has zero basis for not knowing about their culture of secrecy of unreleased products). For them to be saying now "Except wait, we don't want that anymore, we want this other thing" is fine for them to say it, and again, Apple should listen to what they have to say. But to assume that "listen" means Apple must immediately change, and that it's somehow unfair and authoritarian to go to a modified version of what they had before, is libertarianism, which has not worked well in past experiments.

> Of course my view is also affected by the fact that I have doubts about whether the pandemic will be over any time soon.

Join the club. But for every person who has legitimate concerns about the vaccine's long-term effects or "unknown unknowns" not getting vaccinated, that gives cover to dozens of people who aren't getting vaccinated because it's all a secret plot by the new world order to implement mind control.

Old Unix Geek

FWIW, I think to assign it to a caricature of "personal freedoms" is far too simplistic.

The vast majority of the African American community has not been vaccinated. My understanding is that this is due to various barbaric experiments that were undertaken on them by governmental entities in the not so distant past. https://www.politico.com/news/2021/06/07/vaccine-equity-black-americans-biden-491973

If governments banned certain vaccines, it means they had unexpected side-effects that testing didn't catch. That means testing was sub-optimal. If other vaccines are still available, that doesn't mean testing was good enough: testing finds failures, not successes.

I think a good compromise could be reached, such as: those who want to go back to the office, go for it. Those who don't feel comfortable yet doing so, don't. Some people may need to do different work to make that possible, and some people may need to take sabbaticals. Sure, the janitors may not be able to do that, but many engineers should be able to be able to contribute a lot in either situation.

Also, we didn't need to lock down the way we did. Forcing people to wear masks while jogging outside was stupid. Many Asian countries next to China such as Taiwan didn't lock down the way we did and yet had fewer deaths than us. Instead they followed basic precautions, had a population which understood what needed to be done, and quarantined those who tested ill. Basic precautions, including wearing masks inside. It was the democratic West which insisted on unnecessarily draconian measures. I found that to be rather an eye-opener. Perhaps it was that Asians had been through the drill before with SARS-COV-1. But, I also think there was more effort to explain things properly to the population, rather than authoritarian mandates, and political partisanship. I'm concerned we didn't learn very much from this pandemic. Frankly, most people probably just learned "wait until the scientists fix it with a vaccine". That's pretty pathetic. And worrying since there are good reasons to expect more pandemics in the future.

>Of course my view is also affected by the fact that
>I have doubts about whether the pandemic will be
>over any time soon.

It won't, because there are too many people who won't get vaccinated.

Too many developing countries are unable to take collective action due to economic and infrastructural reasons, and too many liberal democracies are unable to take collective action due to political reasons. There are too many people who value their personal concept of "freedom" so highly that they would rather let the world burn and die than tell anyone to do anything (unless, of course, it's inline with their political ideology, in which case: bring on the abortion laws, censor sex ed in schools, prevent minorities from voting, force social networks to not apply their content rules to right-wing content, and make sure teachers aren't allowed to talk about evolution).

This is turning into a bit of a problem: capitalism has been so effective at externalizing costs that these costs have now become so big that only collective action can counteract them. But that same system prevents us from taking collective action.

>Until the entire world reaches herd immunity

This will never happen (for reasonable values of "never").

Of course, countries like China will be able to control the spread inside their own populations, but everybody else is stuck.

>Gruber has revealed himself to be quite authoritarian

Everybody is authoritarian on some issues, and libertarian on others. Everybody draws different lines for different topics. It doesn't really matter whether Gruber is "authoritarian" (and it's also difficult to establish where exactly he falls, given that he only talks about topics that get him riled up, topics where he's more likely to have extreme views), what matters is whether he is correct on the individual topics he raises. I think it's more useful to keep the discussion to the validity of what he says, rather than his mental state.

And I do think that his Disneyland analogy is perfect. That's exactly what iOS is. It's a perverse system where workers are exploited to create the illusion of a perfect world for the company's fanatical supporters, all while extracting as much money as possible from these fanatical supporters.

Old Unix Geek

> I think it's more useful to keep the discussion to the validity of what he says, rather than his mental state.

That's probably true, although authoritarianism is associated with less openness to new facts, and therefore less good quality reasoning.

Also there is a spectrum. Some of us are authoritarian on many issues and some of us are authoritarian on very few.

I'm concerned that the whole of society, both Republicans, some of whose more bizarre ideas you listed, and the Democrats, whose more bizarre ideas you didn't list, that everyone is becoming more authoritarian and polarized. Again, periods of history when that happened were not happy ones.

I try to understand where people are coming from, rather than reject them because of the tribe they belong to. The authoritarian mindset goes against that.

The problem with an analogy sometimes is that people will latch onto it and argue about all of the little details that make it not applicable. "iOS is not like Disney World because it's too far from Interstate 75." Umm... yeah?

The thing about a theme park is that it has to be managed, planned, designed. Adding new attractions is a process, with rules. You can't just pull your Winnebago up next to the fence, tie a rope to the top of the castle, and start operating your own zip line. The rules about rides (apps) are designed to do things like keep the rides (apps) from crashing into each other (crashing into each other). You can't build a sewage treatment plant (malware) inside the theme park (phone), or do things that will keep the theme park (phone) from operating as a theme park (phone).

Or, for the old Unix geeks among us, you don't give sudo access to your users just because they think they really, really, really need it.

>While Gruber certainly has his issues (he's elitist, pedantic to a fault, and for someone deeply engrossed in technology for most of his life, seems oddly clueless about some things)

Yup. His pedantry sometimes works really well (it's good to have someone who criticizes when the Lightning port isn't aligned with the screws!), and sometimes doesn't. His blind spots are often strange. Like doing an iPad Pro review and saying "this iPad Pro display is the single best display, desktop or portable, I’ve ever used" — then proceeding to compare it to Macs, but not to any device (such as an iPhone!) with OLED.

>About vaccination? Anybody who can get it (that is, does not have actual medical problems preventing it) needs to get it. That's both science and common sense. Public health measures, when backed by clear, transparent science carried out in a rigorous, standards-based way, should not be up for debate.

Agreed. Let's not go full death-cult-libertarian and debate "well, if people don't want to wear seatbelts, they shouldn't have to!".

> About "forcing" employees back into the office? Apple has every right to decide how their company operates on something so basic as whether you have to work in the office or can work from elsewhere. Is it good for them to listen to voices who may disagree? Of course. And they can listen, but ultimately make a different decision, without being authoritarian.

They can.

My issue with Gruber's that, as someone who has worked from home for almost two decades, he frankly doesn't know what he's talking about and has little to add to the discussion.

There are lots of nuances to having to work at the office that I'm hoping Tim Cook looked at, but may not have. Like accessibility. Or the environmental impact of commuting. Or housing costs. I think there is merit to the idea that being in a room scribbling on a whiteboard leads to creative output, and that running into someone in the hallway can lead to ineffable moments, both of which are hard to imitate with video conferencing, digital whiteboards, etc.

Gruber doesn't really allow for any of that nuance, mocks the authors (including for brevity, which is hardly his own forte), and unlike you, doesn't seem to acknowledge at all that employee input is important. Even and especially after a decision that may be flawed has been made.

Old Unix Geek

@DR: No you don't give them root (turn off the sandbox), but you work with them to ensure that you don't impede their work... (review the software properly and install it if it is ok).

This theme-park contains rides that scam you out of your money even once you have left the ride, government apps to surveil certain guests (Uyghurs), etc in it. The management only does a cursory review of rides, but provides a map that highlights the way to rides that pay them money, but makes finding rides that don't pay them hard. They also constantly break the infrastructure, requiring one to change one's ride to work with new wires, new electricity voltages, xenon gas instead of CH4, moved roads, etc. It's not a great theme park. But there are only two of them on the planet. Because there are two, people claim neither is a monopoly.

I am actually shocked a grown person would want to be trapped in a theme park, what a terrible analogy. Then again, complete coincidental occurrence, I just saw a Disney theme park commercial which almost completely featured adult visitors. It was clearly geared to adults, not necessarily adults with children given the dearth of young people present. Again, redundantly expressed for emphasis, I am actually shocked people like such things, but I suppose variety is the spice of life.

@OUG: See what I mean about staring too hard at the analogy? It's only meant to give people a general way to compare something they don't know to something they do know.

Anyway... The managers of the theme park need to keep updating the rules to meet expected standards (you must add lap bars to the seats on the roller coaster). They must also get better at making sure the ride operators are following the rules (yes, use of the lap bars on the roller coaster is NOT optional). Of course, they shouldn't gouge the ride operators by charging too much for ride space, although they should be able to recover their costs and make a little profit for providing the location and infrastructure.

Most people (users, not developers) don't care that there are really only 2 smart phone ecosystems. They want their apps to work, and they want their phone to work as a phone when it needs to. And when they want to buy a new app, they want as little friction as possible.

Old Unix Geek

@DR : Whoosh.

[…] The arguments expressed on the blogs of many developers — from Marco Arment to Becky Hansmeyer to Michael Tsai — are the norm, not the […]

Old Unix Geek

More collateral damage from Apple's Walled Garden: "fanhouse", a nudity-free Onlyfans equivalent.

https://www.theverge.com/2021/6/9/22525904/fanhouse-apple-tax-app-store-creator-fees?utm_campaign=theverge&utm_content=chorus&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter

Its cofounder has this to say:

https://nitter.eu/jasminericegirl/status/1402691047940100100

I was the first creator on Fanhouse. I grew up on food stamps, my family has over six figures of debt, and we live paycheck to paycheck. I single-handedly provide for my family, and I rely on my Fanhouse as a crucial revenue source to do so. To date, I've made over $20k as a Fanhouse creator. 30% of that is $6,000. That's months of rent. That's my mom's medical bills. That's my brother's tuition. When Apple insists on taking 30% of all transactions, they're taking it from the pockets of people who need it the most. I told Apple this story, and how there are many more creators like me, some in even worse situations than I am in. They didn't care.

But Apple "deserves" this cut because it pays for all the APIs good developers neither need nor want. Sure.

@OUG: Yes, I could sense you were getting lost. Thank you for playing.

Old Unix Geek

@DR: I meant you. But good repartee.

Old Unix Geek

For those interested, here is what the inventor of mRNA vaccines has to say on the topic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U1pEtrEr2_s

Moving back to Joanna's post rather than Gruber's commentary on it… I think it's a pretty good summary of: why would you pick Apple? When should you not pick Apple? Why do some people feel so strongly for or against Apple?

Like, picking just her bold sentences:

>What keeps us in the garden
>
>Everything plays well together.
>Everything keeps improving.
>Privacy and security are top priority.

And:

>What we’re missing out on
>
>It’s hard to choose alternative apps.
>We pay more for services.
>Fresh ideas and innovation get stifled.

That's basically it right there. YMMV on how these weigh, individually.

(I would argue con 1 and 3 are kind of the same thing.)

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