Apple's iPhone app moral hypocrisy

The company wants to ensure both technical and moral purity -- a sure path to killing Apple's creative spirit

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If Apple is so concerned about what it considers to be prurient and rude content and believes it has to get involved in what its users do, it should do no more than provide the tools for people to protect themselves. You can't buy an iPhone if you're a minor, but there are no doubt parents who get their kids iPhones and even set up iTunes accounts for them, then let them do whatever they want. That's an abdication of parental responsibility, and a parent who gives a child an unrestricted iPhone (or iPad or PC or TV) is a bad parent. Apple could help well-meaning but neglecting parents by offering parental controls, so their kids get the joys of the iPhone without having access to all of its, ahem, joys. Presumably, these parents also set up parental controls on the PCs their kids use and on the TVs they watch. But we all know that it's likely they don't -- or if they do, the kids have long overridden the restrictions.

Regardless, Apple simply cannot act in loco parentis. There's no standard set of moral guidelines that can be universally applied, and even if there were it's not Apple's place to do so. Does Apple really want to be a Wal-Mart or Blockbuster Video and enforce its personal beliefs on its customers? Plus, once you start on that path, where do you stop? And, no, saying that the Web is where people get to be free when using their iPhones and iPads won't cut it.

What Apple can do is create a wonderful platform and ensure that those whose applications run on it follow the same high-quality technical standards. The closest competitor, Google's Android, still has major issues, from an unreliable app store to poor security capabilities. But it will improve and be at least a good-enough competitor. At that point, as was true in the VHS-versus-Betamax and PC-versus-Mac battles, Apple's attempt to impose moral and behavioral "quality" rules will drive away customers.

In fact, I believe Apple has already started to drive away customers. Apple is offending many of the early adopters who ironically throng to its products because they often marry the best of the humanities with the best of engineering and represent ideals of out-of-the-box thinking and creativity. More and more often, I hear these customers criticizing Apple for acting like the thought police, which they do not at all appreciate. Apple shouldn't be acting like Iran's ayatollahs.

The Apple that has always encouraged a progressive, liberal, open-minded, creative agenda can't coexist with the newer Apple that imposes its moral code on customers. Apple's employees and customers will see the clear hypocrisy and lose the faith that sustains the company. Jobs is a master at tapping into that faith, but we've seen countless times what happens to a preacher or politican who tries to have it both ways: They lose their flock. Apple's brood is increasingly noticing the hypocrisy, and it's beginning to question its faith.

This article, "Apple's iPhone app moral hypocrisy," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Gruman et al.'s Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile computing at InfoWorld.com.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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