By: Alice Bonasio, guest blogger
As the hundreds-strong queue developed outside of my local Apple shop in Bath, England, smug blue-shirted assistants looked on as the giant iconic logo of the worldâ€™s most popular brand glowed above them all.
I found myself staring into its soft white light, as it appeared to beckon me to a world of technological passion bordering on fanaticism.
â€œI see youâ€ as the voice of Sauron (The Lord of The Rings reference for those who have been living underground for the past half a century or so) resonated in my head, I tore myself away, leaving the legions eager to part with Â£400 to Â£600 behind.
Whenever I do go in that shop, the zealous fire in the eyes of the assistants and modestly-named â€œgeniusesâ€ always makes me slightly uneasy.
I have a suspicious feeling theyâ€™re deciding whether Iâ€™m good enough for Apple. Once, when I bought one of the new iPod Shuffles for my father-in-lawâ€™s birthday, the salespersonâ€™s parting greeting was a confident â€œwe will see you again.â€ I was one of them now, it seemedâ€¦.
There is no way around it.
Apple is a cult, and every purchase takes you deeper into its grasp.
Their products will not work properly, if at all, with anything but their other products, and the financial commitment quickly builds up to the point where you cannot justify it without passionately advocating that everything the brand produced is the best thing ever, until they produce the next best thing ever; the iPad 2 being a case in point.
Add to that the fervent devotion to the prophetic figure of â€œThe Leaderâ€ (the Simpsons episode, you know the one I mean, comes to mind) and youâ€™ve got yourself a cult.
But heâ€™s NOT the Messiah, really, heâ€™s not.
Apple has made its system so closed, and capitalized on the glassy-eyed loyalty of its following to such an extent that it has become one of the most entrenched companies in the world.
Is this sustainable in an age where connectivity is ceasing to be a buzz word, and becoming an in-built expectation?
So far, by giving users ultra-cool design and interfaces, together with exclusive content, they have stayed on top, but there are stirrings that suggest that the â€œWalled Gardenâ€ approach might not continue to work into the future.
A rebellion is brewing amongst content providers and users alike, according to some commentators.
Professor Paul Bradshaw from City University London, for example, says
â€œThere has been growing dissatisfaction from app developers and also Apple users.”
Appleâ€™s draconian decision to take a 30% cut from all publishers who sell content through its apps is dangerous in a world where smartphones and tablets are fast catching up to it in both functionality and looks.
They might not be there yet, but the market is so attractive that the bets are, they soon will be.
Marketing Consultant Martin Thomas makes a strong case against closed systems in his book, Loose: The Future of Business is Letting Go, saying that companies need to let go in order to thrive in the new economy:
“The one big exception is Apple, where it’s a highly closed and tight model; they are not collaborative and employees don’t blog about the business.”
One of the reasons why Appleâ€™s content had been so popular is that its exclusive community acted like a filter, with users being able to personalise their setting to get both the looks and content that suited them best.
Why go out into the wider world of endless clutter and substandard content when, as a member of the Apple club, you could get the best apps and content cherry-picked just for you? But what happens when a lot of the juicy cherries are growing just outside your walls?
More and more users are choosing to put up with the clutter of open systems in order to avoid these restrictions.
The crux of it is that consumers are becoming more and more impatient with the stumbling blocks that closed systems throw up.
If I want to watch a video, I should be able to do so quickly and seamlessly, and to be told that an extremely expensive piece of kit is not up to the job has proved to be the final straw even for some of Appleâ€™s notoriously loyal customers:
“I’ve been a consumer of Apple products for a while,â€ says Bradshaw, â€œand I’ve very definitely decided not to get an iPad. There are so many things that you can’t do with content on an iPad that it makes for quite a poor user experience.”
The most obvious example of this is the incompatibility of the iPad with Flash, which effectively cuts its users off from 70% of games and 75% of video on the Web, says Adobe Group Manager Adrian Ludwig.
Thatâ€™s a whole truckload of cherries by any standards.
Add to that the fact that an iPad 2, which costs on average twice as much as a good netbook, does not even come with USB or SD card slots, forcing you to buy a frankly ugly appendage in order to connect your camera or any other device to it.
Frankly, this takes me back about 15 years, to a time when you had to carry portable disk and CD drives for your laptop.
Surely weâ€™re beyond that?
The only thing about the unveiling of the new â€œJesus Tabletâ€ that was really, genuinely cool was the magnetic cover.
Its sharp, crisp design, and the seamless way it folded to prop up the device, to me represent the best of Apple â€“ simplicity, sharpness, coolness, and pretty colours.
I went back into the Temple (I mean shop) to play with it, but the covers were all locked in a silicone display case.
Not only that, but they also do not come with the iPad.
Silly old me.
They cost another Â£50 or so.
Ah, and their mice look like soap bars, and using them for long makes your hand hurt.
And they also brand the apple symbol into your palm, marking you as one of their own.
You canâ€™t see it, but itâ€™s there.
Still, I did find myself caressing the rounded aluminum loveliness that is the MacBook Air, lifting it with one hand because I could, and marveling at what is really a very pretty object.
Then I paid a quarter of the price for a great little netbook with twice as much memory, which is compatible with everything.
It came with a free case.
Personally, I do not like being forced into things, and Appleâ€™s strategy makes no bones about the fact that they are so confident that you want (need?) their product that you will just put up with anything they choose to dish out.
The speed of technological advances, from broadband speed to smartphones, cheap computers, endless free storage and incredibly high resolution has spoiled us all, and it would be surprising if a company that seems to pride itself on limiting its products for no apparent reason continues to thrive in a borderless world.
** All images from WeHeartIt and TumblR. **
Alice Bonasio is a Brazilian/American/Italian writer specializing in Digital Cultures. She has been published in Gamestm, Edge, The Escapist and 360. She is currently finishing an MA in Creative and Media Enterprises at the University of Warwick. She lives in England and is a PR Executive for one of the UKâ€™s hottest tech start-ups, The Filter. Contact her on LinkedIN.
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