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The Lockdown

By Matthew Yglesias  

"The Lockdown"

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Apple has adopted a very locked-down model for their iPhone and now for the iPad as well. This creates some additional revenue streams for Apple, but makes the product less desirable for consumers than it otherwise might be. An alternative business model would be for Apple to give those revenue streams up and instead just charge more for the iPad. An alternative to that would be to hold price constant, give those revenue streams up, and instead just hope to sell more iPads. But Apple has decided that the mix it’s chosen is the profit-maximizing mix, and it’s also betting that its combination of innovative lead-time, firm-specific industrial design abilities, and marketing savvy will let it avoid being overtaken by competitors offers a more open and flexible approach.

Maybe it’ll work and maybe it won’t, but that’s business—different firms trying different strategies to make money. Weirdly, though, a bunch of people in the tech press seem determined to pretend that all of Apple’s various efforts to lock the product down are actually features. So we get things like this from Joel Johnson:

I don’t prefer a closed ecosystem for applications without a way to unwall the garden.

I don’t like that it’s illegal to install a different operating system on an iPad.

[...]

The old guard has The Fear. They see the iPad and the excitement it has engendered and realize that they’ve made themselves inessential—or at least invisible. They’ve realized that it’s possible to make a computer that doesn’t break, doesn’t stop working, doesn’t need constant tinkering. Unlike a car, it’s possible to design a computer that is bulletproof. It just turns out that one of the ways to make that work is to lock it down. That sucks, but it certainly appears to be a better solution than design by committee gave us for the last couple of decades.

But this is silly. If you think about the iPhone, it’s been known for years that there are various ways to “jailbreak” or “unlock” the device. Executing the jailbreaking is, however, moderately difficult, violates various Apple rules, etc. What’s more, with its successive software updates Apple always tries to foil earlier iterations of jailbreaking. If the real purpose for locking the phone down was to enhance its performance by making it more “bulletproof” then the phones could just come loaded with a jailbreak option. You’d hit the button, the phone would say “are you sure?” and detail various potential problems, and if you hit yes then away you’d go.

Instead, they did the reverse. Which is fine. It’s a business strategy and businesses need to try some different strategies. But it’s silly to pretend that it’s anything other than what it is—a calculation that making the device somewhat less useful to its users will help Apple make more money by locking customers in to specialized stores.

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