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.