The Great iTunes Conspiracy

Posted: 31/08/2011 in General, IT-centric Articles

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. For every runaway success there is an equal and opposite backlash.

So it is with iTunes. Despite being the structural hub of a suite of products that has, without any exaggeration, revolutionized media distribution, telecommunications, home computing, and skateboarding with headphones, there are those that revile it. Most of the complaints are quite vague, some are specific. The chief complaint I hear is that you have to have iTunes to update your Apple devices, and to copy data to and from them. This is too controlling, too restrictive. How dare they tell us how we can copy data to and from our own devices?
The same basic rhetoric spews forth from app developers complaining about the restrictions placed upon their app development.

I am not an Apple fanboy – I lost the love after Sculley ousted Jobs back in ’85. I still love everything they built prior to that – a small part of me still thinks of the Apple ][e as the most advanced thing I’ve ever seen. I look at their later creations objectively and critically. And it is in this spirit that I felt I had to step in to put a few words forward in defense of iTunes and the iDevice ecosystem.

It is quite empirically true that the Apple ecosystem is a fairly prescriptive – that is not to say restrictive – one. But to accuse Apple of maintaining tight control for the sake of that control is quite incorrect.

As anyone who has ever worked in IT support, and in particular in support of corporate desktop fleets, knows, if you don’t design well and then maintain some level of control over the fleet you’re charged with supporting, it will go to hell in a hat box in about five minutes, and then it is All Your Fault, and you are expected to fix it in half the time it took the users to wreck it.
The answer is the Standard Operating Environment, or SOE. Everything is built to a tight specification, which hopefully meets the company’s requirements, and things are locked down to maintain the standard. Support and maintenance structures are built into the background to keep things running. There is a standard way of doing most things, and if it has been built correctly, it just works. At least, that is the utopian ideal. To go into why many SOE implementations fall short would take me the lifecycles of at least a couple of laptops, and despite my accustomed in-print peregrinations, even I will not deign to digress that far.

The point is, Apple are merely doing the same thing. They have set themselves the task of producing products that Just Work(tm), that are very easy for non-technical people to use, and which are easy for them to support successfully across the world. Ultimately this benefits their customers just as much as it does Apple; it’s not some conspiracy designed to rob people of their freedom of choice. It’s this symbiosis that has made the Apple product suite a commercial leviathan and the envy of every other tech company that ever existed.

So the next time you feel like complaining about how Apple does things, you need to remember that there would be no enormous upside to the Apple product in front of you without the extremely well-thought-out supporting infrastructure, of which iTunes is a huge part, that you take completely for granted and in fact complain about. They know what they’re doing and they make it so that you don’t have to. Be grateful someone has gone to all that trouble.

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Comments
  1. Bill says:

    And you say you’re not an apple fanboi?

    I was given an Ipad recently, and I find it detestable. Out of the box it is a brick, it will not work until it is plugged into a computer. There is no user manual at all, and despite many claims that the apple environment is intuitive, I found it wasn’t.

    Once is was plugged into a computer it kept demanding that I provide it with a credit card number. It took me some time to get it working without the provision of a credit card number. Itunes would not initially load properly, but after getting it running on a windows machine I tried to set it up with videos and music. The sync system is counter-intuitive, it will sync music easily, but not videos. I found I had to manually load the movies through the file system in Itunes. And of course I had to stuff about getting files converted so that they would play on the Ipad.

    Other problems crop up that are probably tablet generic, lack of a mouse makes it a challenge navigating web pages with close together icons. It made accessing web mail frustrating. Of an apple specific problem, when using the Ipad email interface, there is no way to manage mail settings, eg leaving mail on the service.

    Overall I found the Ipad to be a money scamming device with little practical use, except perhaps, as an oversized Ipod.

    I shan’t be buying any further apple products based on my experience with the Ipad. Closed systems suck. My limited exposure to android tablets suggests a much more flexible, and user friendly, operating system.

    My two bobs worth.

    Bill

    • sjb351 says:

      Bill,

      Thanks for your comments. Sorry it’s taken me so long to respond.

      I confirm that I am not an Apple fanboi, at least not by my definition. I like to think I take an objective approach to these things.

      Like you, I prefer more open ecosystems. For that reason I eschewed the iPhone in favour of an Android-driven HTC which I love. I also prefer to have my own Linux machine rather than a Mac. My wife however is a gadget enthusiast and has latched onto Apple’s wares. She had the Mac-iPod-iPhone trifecta (how the hell can “trifecta” not be in my computer’s dictionary?? Weird. But I digress) and on that basis insisted that when we get a tablet it be an iPad. I had actually set my sights on getting an Android tablet, but hadn’t settled on a particular one at that point. So I acceded on the basis that I didn’t really care all that much.

      On the other side of the coin, I have been working in IT for over 15 years, and have seen what it takes to make systems easy enough for your average end user to use. Far more effort than simply making the stuff work in the first place, I can testify. And I therefore recognise a familiar pattern in the way Apple have set up their ecosystem. It’s locked down so as to be very easy to support, and ideally, by extension, to use. Perhaps not entirely turnkey, and I concede your point that perhaps some of the setup steps may be onerous – I wouldn’t know, to be honest.

      I’m not trying to change your mind about Apple stuff – to each his own, and excepting an early iPod I have never bought any of it. But they have decided to do things in a certain way, and I feel that I can understand their reasons for doing it, and to some extent applaud their focus. People can form their own opinions of the end result – I’m not here to fight that sort of ideological battle. But the thought that has gone into the whole thing deserves a bit of credit.

      All that said, best of luck with the Android stuff. I am a fan of it and I am sure I will have more Android stuff as time goes on.

      Regards,

      Steve.

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