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Planet Calacanis

I’ve seen a lot of people quoting and linking to Jason Calacanis’ recent article, The Case Against Apple—in Five Parts, in a positive light. But I can’t. It’s ridiculous.

Let’s start with an easy one:

Sure, everything on the Mac platform costs twice as much …


I over-pay for Apple products because I perceive them to be better (i.e. Windows-based hardware is 30-50% less–but at 38 years old I don’t care).

I don’t need to get into this very much with this audience, but for the people standing in the back who just came in and missed the last few years of one of the internet’s favorite arguments, Apple simply doesn’t have a low-end lineup. Their hardware is very competitively priced to similar hardware from other vendors. They just don’t compete in the ultra-low-end market, which is better for their shareholders since nobody makes any money there.

But that’s OK, reality doesn’t seem to apply to this article. His first main point is that Apple should open iTunes to media players from other manufacturers:

Another radical visionary, Steve Gillmor, has been hosting this discussion since Apple’s draconian iTunes updates led smart people to downgrade their software. Think about that mind bomb for a second: people downgrading their software to maintain their freedoms—is this a William Gibson novel?

Where are all of these “smart people” who are downgrading iTunes to maintain their freedoms? And which freedoms? The freedom to break Apple’s DRM? The freedom for Palm to violate the USB spec by identifying the Pre with a different vendor ID?

Steve Jobs is on the cusp of devolving from the visionary radical we all love to a sad, old hypocrite and control freak—a sellout of epic proportions.

Why is the entire company attributed to Steve Jobs, personally? When was Jobs ever not a control freak? What significant change are we “on the cusp” of? Are any of Apple’s recent actions surprising to anyone?

Of all the companies in the United States that could possibly be considered for anti-trust action, Apple is the lead candidate.

Really? Have you seen the food industry recently? How about retail? No? Were you just focusing on technology? What about the sorry state of broadband and local ISP monopolies that defraud the FCC for millions every year?

The truth is, Google has absolutely no lock-in, collusion or choice issues like Apple’s,

…unless you’re an advertiser or a small web publisher…

and the Internet taught Microsoft long ago that open is better than closed.

Yeah! Microsoft is much more open than Apple. Let me just get this homebrew app to run on my Xbox 360. And I better not scratch that game disc when I take it out of the drive, because I can never back it up, which is just as well since I could never play a backup copy. Oh, and I hope I never switch away from the 360, because it’s full of TV shows I bought from the Xbox Live Marketplace and their DRM prevents me from watching them on anything else.

There is no technical reason why the iTunes ecosystem shouldn’t allow the ability to sync with any MP3 player (in fact, iTunes did support other players once upon a time),

iTunes supported other players before the iPod existed because it was based on SoundJam, which supported them, and it would have been difficult to be competitive in that space without supporting any devices.

Once the iPod became the only highly demanded MP3 player in the U.S., the demand for iTunes to support other players vanished.

And there’s a big technical reason why modern support for other devices is a bad idea: Apple doesn’t have the rights from the music and movie publishers to allow the DRMed files from the iTunes Store to play on non-Apple devices. Sure, they could license their DRM to other manufacturers, but Microsoft did that with PlaysForSure. Look at how well that turned out.

Without support for iTunes Store purchases, customers could rightfully get very angry with Apple for saying that iTunes “supported” their new Zune before they bought it and realized that they couldn’t play any of their purchased media.

save furthering Apple’s dominance with their own over-priced players.

The best competition against iPods right now are Zunes.

Where price differences exist for comparable models, they’re minimal. And their respective sales volumes seem to indicate that people are willing to pay the ~7% premium for the Apple devices. I’d hardly consider that difference large enough to call iPods “overpriced”.

On my trips to Japan, China and Korea over the past couple of years, I made it a point to visit the consumer electronics marketplaces like Akihabira. They are filled with not dozens, but hundreds, of MP3 players. They are cheap, feature-rich and open in nature. They have TV tuners, high-end audio recorders, radio tuners, dual-headphone jacks built-in and any number of innovations that the iPod does not. You simply will not see those here because of Apple’s inexcusable lack of openness.

I live and work in New York City. We see stores selling those around here all the time. Calacanis is from Brooklyn. He knows about these, too.

Almost nobody buys them. Not because of Apple’s “inexcusable lack of openness”, but because they aren’t very good and don’t come anywhere close to the quality of Apple’s offerings.

Think for a moment about what your reaction would be if Microsoft made the Zune the only MP3 player compatible with Windows. There would be 4chan riots, denial of service attacks and Digg’s front page would be plastered with pundit editorials claiming Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer were Borg.

Why, then, does Steve Jobs get a pass?

He doesn’t. Neither does the rest of his company. Any device manufacturer is welcome to make MP3 players compatible with Macs and OS X — they just need their own sync software. That’s hardly unreasonable.

On to the iPhone:

Apple’s iPhone is a revolutionary product that has devolved almost all of the progress made in cracking—wait for it—AT&T’s monoply in the ’70s and ’80s. We broke up the Bell Phone only to have it put back together by the iPhone.

No, we broke up the Bell Phone only to have it put back together by deregulation and mergers that happened many years before the iPhone existed.

And I think Verizon Wireless would dispute the implication that AT&T has a monopoly on wireless telecom today.

Simple solution and opportunity: Not only let the iPhone work on any carrier, but put two SIM card slots on the iPhone and let users set which applications use which services. (Your phone could be Verizon and your browser Sprint!) Imagine having two SIM cards with 3G that were able to bond together to perform superfast uploads and downloads to YouTube.

This concept is so completely ridiculous that I question whether Calacanis lives on the same planet as the rest of us.

For this to even happen would require that:

I am absolutely stunned at how awful of an idea this is.

This is where I stopped reading the article during my first pass, but enough people kept linking to it that I figured I’d give it another shot. It didn’t get better.

We over-paid for your phone—which you render obsolete every 13 months, like clockwork

Over-paid? Value judgments aside, whose fault is it if you paid a price you considered too high for something that you didn’t need?

Render obsolete? The original iPhone, now two years old, runs every application just as well as the iPhone 3G and has nearly all of the same capabilities except for the handful of features that the 3G explicitly added (e.g. 3G radio, true GPS). The iPhone 3G is so good that Apple’s still selling it. The 3GS is such a relatively minor update that almost no 3G owners are paying the premium to upgrade yet.

I haven’t yet met an original-iPhone user who felt that their phone was obsolete. “Obsolete” means something very different than “no longer the newest model.”

And what if they didn’t do this? What if they didn’t release a new iPhone this summer? Imagine the bad press and negative speculation they’d get.

—and then signed our lives away to AT&T.

Your life is a 2-year phone contract — like every other carrier offers with the subsidy for every other phone — that, as of this year, is now optional if you don’t want the subsidy?

Opera’s mobile browsers are “full of WIN,” as the kids like to say these days. If you’re a Windows Mobile or Blackberry user, you’ve probably downloaded them and enjoyed their WINness. The company started an iPhone browser project but gave up when faced with Apple’s absurd and unclear mandate to developers: Don’t create services which duplicate the functionality of Apple’s own software. In other words: “Don’t compete with us or we will not let you in the game.”

Where’s all of this demand for Opera? (And where are those “kids”?) They’ve seen success on other mobile phones because every first-party mobile browser before Mobile Safari was terrible.

Now, I agree with Calacanis on this point: that particular App Store policy is terrible, and does stifle competition. I’d love to see alternative browsers and email clients on iPhone OS.

That said, Opera is a poor example because the demand for alternative browsers on iPhone OS is close enough to zero to be considered a rounding error.

Apple took Google’s innovative and absurdly priced phone offering, Google Voice, out of the App Store and is currently being investigated by the FCC for this action.

Yes, but I wouldn’t be so quick to jump on Apple for that one. It could very well have been AT&T’s demand. Hopefully the FCC investigation will shed more light on how and why that decision was made.

Calacanis was almost making a point… then this happened:

How long before Apple decides to ban a Twitter client in favor of an Apple Twitter-like product? Seems crazy, I know, but by following Apple’s logic you should not be able to use Firefox or Google Chrome on your desktop.

Simple solution and opportunity: Let people have three or four phone services coming in to their iPhones and perhaps charge a modest licensing fee for those types of service.

I think we’re on that other planet again.

This, unfortunately, is the fate of Calacanis’ piece: he has some good points, but they’re buried in so much off-base ranting and misplaced frustration that it’s difficult to take any of it seriously.