Tim Cook at D11 (Asa Mathat/All Things D)

Apple’s Insularity Could Get Dangerous

It started with a question I asked Apple CEO Tim Cook during his presentation Tuesday at the D11 conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. Noting that Microsoft and Google offered cloud solutions that provided access to a wide variety of platforms, I asked Cook whether it was time for Apple to broaden its iCloud service to facilitate sharing for customers who are likely to own both Apple and non-Apple gear.

Cook didn’t bite. But Donald Leka, CEO of TransMedia, whose Glide service has provided cloud-based file sharing for a wide variety of devices since before anyone talked about the cloud, jumped in. In a press release announcing the release of a new Glide iPhone app that provides access to Dropbox, Microsoft SkyDrive, and Google Drive accounts, Glide said:

“Consumers really don’t care that much what platform they are on, where their files are stored, or what the file types and file formats are,” said TransMedia Chairman and CEO, Donald Leka. “They simply want to be able to easily access and share a family photo, a letter to a friend, a favorite song or show.”

This drew an email response from a representative from Apple Worldwide Developer Relations (shared with me by Leka):

…We believe the best press releases for a product launch concentrate on that product. Your release is ostensibly for the launch of your iPhone app, but the copy actually references other apps on other platforms more often than it mentions the one being launched.  We think the customers, bloggers, and media who follow app launches are usually quite parochial — quite focused on specific platforms — so we counsel developers to craft press releases tailored to each individual platform.

And that brings me to my final point: the tone of your release and your product positioning is at odds with not just our primary marketing messaging, but the entire reason Apple exists. To wit, you are quoted in the press release as saying “Consumers really don’t care that much what platform they are on…”  Our drive, our passion, our singular focus on creating the best products we can make is rooted in the fundamental belief that customers really do care about the products in which they invest their time, money, and energy.  We strive to make the best products we can because we believe the right product will change a customer’s life.  And customers do indeed care about things that change their lives.

Our experience is that customers are interested in apps that help them get more from their iPhone, that give their cherished, chosen device exciting new functionality that fits their mobile lifestyle.  I’d encourage you to recast your messaging in this positive, affirmative way.

I suspect Apple’s customers are a lot less parochial than Apple is, or than Apple thinks they are. These days, it’s not unusual for someone to own an Android phone, an iPad, and a Windows laptop–and want to share information among all of them. I’m sure Apple prefers that they switch to an iPhone and a Mac, but that’s not the world we live in. By failing to accommodate their desires and instead to promote a closed, Apple-only ecosystem, Apple could be building big trouble for itself.

Published by

Steve Wildstrom

Steve Wildstrom is veteran technology reporter, writer, and analyst based in the Washington, D.C. area. He created and wrote BusinessWeek’s Technology & You column for 15 years. Since leaving BusinessWeek in the fall of 2009, he has written his own blog, Wildstrom on Tech and has contributed to corporate blogs, including those of Cisco and AMD and also consults for major technology companies.

56 thoughts on “Apple’s Insularity Could Get Dangerous”

  1. Indeed! It’s more than insularity. iCloud doesn’t support OS X Snow Lion, which was not too long discontinued when iCloud was introduced, yet iCloud supports Windows XP, which has been around seemingly forever.

    1. Yeah, a lot of my friends got annoyed when they bought iPhone 5’s (with iOS 6) and it couldn;t sync to their old macs. Some inaccuracies you made though; iCloud/iOS 6 is not supported on leopard, but it is supported on snow leopard. That’s why Apple was giving it (the snow leopard upgrade) away for free (if im not wrong) before iCloud was released. But some people didn’t get the memo I think.

      1. Snow Leopard does NOT support iCloud, at least not directly. There are ways that you can trick it into doing things like calendar sync, etc. But it’s not easy. I should know, the only machine in my house that does not support Mountain Lion is still running Snow Leopard and it’s not quite there w.r.t my other Mountain Lion systems.

        1. Hmm…yeah, Apple doesn’t really prioritise supporting older technologies uh. There’s some good and bad points to that, I think.

          And thanks for clarifying about iCloud and Snow leopard! But I think iCloud on Snow Leopard is at least better than iCloud on Windows, right..?

  2. I think that you have a point, and that the Apple spokesperson has a point too. The point she was trying to make was that being ‘platform agnostic’ is something that is, in a huge way, at odds with what Apple is about. Apple has always been about ‘the whole is more than the sum of it’s parts’; and one of those parts is their own software, their own hardware. If iCloud, iMessages, etc was just as good on Android as it is on iOS, then what’s the point of making iOS devices anymore? I think that was her point. So to be TOTALLY platform agnostic, is something that goes against the very soul of Apple, if I may use such a cliche.

    But, you too, have a very good point. Not everyone wants to be all Apple, all the time. And in this new Post-PC/PC-Plus age, people are going to have many many devices. And so Apple devices, and its services, definitely have to learn to ‘play nicely’ with other devices/platforms. It HAS to improve a lot in that area. But NOT to the point of being platform agnostic. In short, yes Apple devices have to ‘learn to play more nicely’ with other devices, but they MUST STILL play BEST with their own fellow siblings (other Apple Devices). That’s the middle ground.

    I’m a person who has a Macbook Air, an iPad, and an iPhone. Why? Well one very huge reason is BECAUSE they all “play so well” with each other! I LOVE how my earpods can cantrol the volume, pause/play etc on ANY Apple devices I plug it in. I love creating reminders on a super simple platform on my iPhone, and have it appear also on my Macbook Air, where I can add more complex instructions to the same reminder. Etc2. With the merging of software management in the Apple exec. commitee (both iOS and OS X under Craig Fedherigi) I look forward to even more greater advantages of owning all Apple products; advantages which can ONLY be possible because Apple controls (almost) every aspect of each device.

    1. I just find the whole idea of Apple attacking an iOS developer over the way they chose to announce a new version of an app bizarre and more than a bit disturbing.

      1. Hm. I guess that’s because, Donald Leka’s PR statement that “consumer’s don’t really care what platform their on” went deeply against Apple’s ethos, I think. That’s a message that is too platform agnostic for Apple, and since it was a PR statement for an iPhone App, it’s understandable they wouldn’t be too happy about it. Apple would have preferred maybe something like “Enjoy the use of your files that is stored on your windows/android devices, right here on our amazing iPhone app” (pardon my lousy example of a marketing message). Basically a message that does tout the cross-platform abilities of the app/service (glide), but at the same time promoting the advantages of the platform (iOS).

        Regardless, I do agree with your main point that Apple services/software need to be a bit more cross-platform friendly; just not to the point of being entirely platform agnostic. And they have to do it by making their own apps BETTER. For example, let people choose their own broswer, but make safari so good that people would WANT to use it as their default browser. Although that example could be a bit divergent from this discussion aha.

        1. It is because Apple discourages good cross platform services that I will not be using them. If they’re not willing to support me (their customer) wherever I go then I’m not their customer. Either they care for all my needs or they don’t. There’s a few billion people on the planet that have something other than 100% Apple devices and we should all expect their “best” effort on all fronts. Apple can do much better but they choose not to. Don’t be an apologist for a company that doesn’t stand by you.

          1. One of Apple’s main strengths – one major thing that has always set Apple apart – has always been their tight integration between hardware, software, and services.

            Yes, Apple needs to recognize that a lot of people have more than one device now, and those devices are from various platforms. And so, yes, Apple needs to make their services more cross-platform, to cater to their users who own other-platform devices. I agree with that.

            But the day that they cross the line to be totally platform agnostic – when iCloud, iTunes, iLife, etc work exactly as well as they do on other devices – then Apple is gonna go bust. Because they would have lost their main strength: integration of technologies.

            There’s a difference between being a cross-platform service provider, and a platform agnostic one.

          2. I don’t see Google/Microsoft/Dropbox/SugarSync/Evernote jumping to embrace competitor’s platforms either. Remember, companies, first and foremost, are in business to be a business, if they aren’t eating their own dog food and crowing about it they won’t be a business very long.

            Am I shocked that Apple sent this sort of message? Not really. Am I faulting them for it? Nope. It’s what any other smart business would do.

          3. Dropbox, SugarSync, and Evernote are in the business of providing cross-platform services, but there’s no particular reasons for them to support each other. I used them all for different purposes and don;t actually want them to connect to each other.

            Google and Microsoft are both companies that support their own hardware platforms. But Google Drive and Microsoft SkyDrive offer apps for Android, Mac, and iOS. On My Macs, my Google Drive and SkyDrive show up as folders in the Finder.

            iCloud just doesn’t cut it in this company.

          4. But, iCloud isn’t meant to be Google Drive or SkyDrive. You can’t mount and use iCloud like some disk space. For what iCloud is designed to do, sync data, it works well (ignoring the issues developers have with it). I have documents in several applications, 1Password, iTerm, Pages, Numbers that are available on my Macs, iPad and iPhone. It’s confined within Apple’s devices, for the most part, but Apple never marketed it as a product for other OS platforms.

            Dropbox, SugarSync and Evernote are cross platform, but they aren’t cross-service, which is what this Glide application does (lets you merge multiple services together and use them on one platform, iOS). Neither Dropbox nor SugarSync let you mount each other’s space and use it within their service. A side note, OwnCloud lets you mount and use other services just fine.

            Bob’s complaint is Apple doesn’t support his non-Apple devices well, my point is, why should they? They’re a business, they want you to buy and use their products. You want the best support from Apple, then use their products. Google doesn’t give the best experience on non-Google platforms, and the same goes for Microsoft and the others.

          5. My thoughts exactly. The whole point of being vertically integrated is to tighten integration between hardware/software/services on devices where you control those things. So it’s normal for each company to give their best support for their software/services on their own platform.

            Actually, we don’t even have to consider it from a business point of view. Let’s look at it from a consumer point of view: Can Apple devices work well with other devices? The answer is a resounding YES. Google’s services, which syncs contacts, calenders, email, and many many more, works perfectly well on all Apple devices. So do Microsoft’s Exchange service. So if you want to have devices that are from different companies, go ahead. Just don’t use iCloud; iCloud is reserved as an EXTRA benefit for customers who own more than one Apple product. Should Apple be faulted for that? Of course not! In fact, Apple should be faulted if they DON’T provide any benefits to people who own multiple Apple devices.

            Tim Cook, in his answer to Steve’s question, actually said that ‘if it made sense’ for them to port an app (service) to other platforms, then they would. The keyword there being “if it made sense”. Does it make sense to port iCloud to other platforms? As of right now, its not clear. Maybe it could be in the future, and when they need to port iCloud over, they would: just like when they ported iTunes over to Windows. And let’s remember: iCloud is not merely an App: it is something that is built deep into the OS. If it was merely an App, then surely Apple would have supported it on earlier versions of OS X and iOS, but they don’t.

          6. Exactly right.

            I too caught that “if it made sense.” It’s the key and it depends on where these other companies want to go. Will they cross over into and attack Apple’s business, or will they stay in their own lane, so to speak, and partner/coexist with Apple? Back in 2006, Apple/Jobs thought Google was a partner – Apple focused on selling hardware devices with an integrated software/services platform/ecosystem, and Google supplying services to Apple’s ecosystem. But Apple was wrong; Google was much more paranoid (given it’s previous experience with platform owner Microsoft) and developed a competing software/services ecosystem, and gave it away to Apple’s direct competitors. I don’t think Apple will ever allow such a wrong assessment to harm it again.

            Similarly, Verizon is likely rueing the day it got into bed with Google, and helping to launch Android into success. Apple may have cut Verizon off in terms of adding monetized services on top of the pipe, but Google might be coming after all the pipes.

          7. Exactly right.

            Except for the last sentence. Some of Google’s services seem to work better on iOS than Android (possibly only until the Android versions are updated), which may be because in the post-Rubin Google, it has become more focused on its primary goal, and no longer sees Apple as its direct competitor.

          8. If Dropbox, Sugarnote or Evernote had a plugin architecture for service interoperation, and an Plugin Store for those, I’m pretty sure they would want the marketing message to emphasize their own platform too. Apple is neither Google nor Microsoft.

            It goes back to them making products, not services (features, in SJ parlance). Of course Google and Microsoft want their services on Apple’s products. What better (single) place could they possibly get them?

          9. From Google’s point of view, Apple is not a direct competitor (Apple’s ad business is very small). If Apple had however locked up mobile devices, they would cause Google trouble.

            Microsoft doesn’t seem as if it’s sure that Apple is a direct competitor. In one respect, Apple is not since Microsoft makes a very profitable Office for Mac. But in choosing not to make Office for iOS, they are signaling that they see Apple’s devices competing with them (such as Surface), so they will not help the competitor.

            From Apple’s point of view, both Google and Microsoft have become competitors, because they are hardware device companies (Nexus, Surface) or they are creating competing platforms that are to used by other hardware device companies (who are Apple’s direct competitors). Since Google and Microsoft are competitors from Apple’s point of view, there’s no reason to help them.

          10. In what way do they actively discourage them? After Opendoc, I kind of don’t recall them doing anything in particular.

            The case of Safari/Chrome on iOS is a bit particular: if you make your platform *open* (a whole other argument, one would think), you’re in for some serious security challenges. Open at any cost is a very sharp tool to cut yourself on – it’s partly the homogeneity of iOS that makes the App Store a success.

            For what it’s worth I think Apple’s priorities are not all wrong: if you emphasize being available to others’ apps you can become only the provider of a common denominator (almost Microsoft’s position with Windows), and forget moving forward, developing your platform’s inherent value – that’s very dangerous for a product company (Dell can’t move without Microsoft, and vice versa, or can they?). Or, you can give your developers a very fast-moving and quite fragmented target, like Google does with Android. If you make an API available, it’d better stay available for a while – so that makes it a matter of priorities.

            Meanwhile: interoperability is not precisely in right now with Google Calendar apparently shutting down CalDAV support, no built-in RSS feeds in Google+/Facebook/Twitter, and i’m sure I’m missing some things…

          11. How does Apple “discourage good cross platform services”? Apple does not provide them itself, but are they blocking cross platform service software from the App Store? Does Xcode have code to mess up developers working on cross platform services?

            As a device company, why should Apple make a platform (designed for competing devices) work great on its iOS devices? Why isn’t that the responsibility of the competing platform owner, who wants iOS users to use its platform’s services? After the breakup with Maps and YouTube, Google hasn’t complained, instead they’ve closed their mouths and focused on what’s best for their business model, which is, making the best software they can for iOS, in some cases even better than for Android, in an attempt to persuade iOS users to use Google services.

            Facebook and Twitter, and soon if rumors are correct, Vimeo and Flickr, are not competing platforms, we find Apple to be open and accommodating. But Google, Microsoft, and Blackberry have chosen to make platforms for competing devices. It’s kinda naive to think Apple would work to make its competitors better.

          12. You said it perfectly – if you aren’t on thier platform, you are no longer their customer. Apple gets that perfectly. Why should they waste resources pleasing people who are just using apple advantages while supporting opposing platforms?

      2. It seems to me you’re investing all of your empathy in the developer and none of it in Apple.
        It’s pretty clear by now that being big and successful made them everyone’s punching bag and scapegoat for all sorts of ills real and imagined, but shouldn’t we at least try to look at things rationally?

        Why are you calling Apple’s reaction an “attack”? It is simply a reminder and reaffirmation of Apple’s position and values.
        They care, so they expect everyone else to care too.
        It’s as simple as that.

      3. Steve,

        Do you imagine Microsoft would praise a company saying “nobody cares if our program runs on windows?”

        When you don’t own a platform, of course the developer is desperately hoping all the major platforms hand over consumers to the developer.

        If you ask ballmer how he feels, I guarantee you he will say basically what apple said. Ballmer would say people love windows and want it above all platforms.

        1. Microsoft realizes it can no longer dictate an all-Windows world but is apply to exploit its advantage in back-end services. This s a game where Apple will eventually have t play when differentiation will increasingly be in software and services.

    2. Apple knows there are many who don’t want to be all Apple, all the time, though they’d like to persuade them to become all Apple, all the time. But if one doesn’t, that’s fine, too, because iOS devices and Macs can load and run third-party software that allows one to operate that way. Like, for example, Glide. One can use Dropbox, Google Drive, Skydrive, or Amazon Cloud, or WhatsApp, Pinger, or Google+, whatever, on iOS. (I use all of them.) And one can run Windows on their Macs.

      But iCloud, iTunes, Messages, iLife, and iWork are Apple software, which by virtue of being designed to work best for Apple devices, only work on and across Apple devices. (With the historical exception for Windows PCs for some elements, since at one time Apple devices had to be tethered to computers, and 90%+ of computers ran Windows.)

      The issue with the Glide PR, is that it didn’t stay focused on what capabilities the product brings to the user, but instead took a shot at Apple’s belief that platforms matter. For example, Leka could’ve said: “Many iPhone and iPad users want to easily access or share a family photo, a letter, a favorite song or show, with their friends or family who, for whatever reason, aren’t iOS or Mac users. They don’t want to be concerned about where their files are stored, or what the file types and file formats are. Glide allows them to easily do this.” And I’m sure Apple would’ve had no problem with it.

  3. If Apple builds the best online sync service, Apple will win this argument. In other words, a service as good as its hardware so that people feel inclined to “switch.” Let’s see what happens at WWDC.

    1. Apple defines the best online sync service, as the one that is easiest and most reliable across all of Apple’s devices. But Wildstrom and others think the best online sync service is the one that is easiest and most reliable across devices from all platforms, which Apple’s will never be. Until a standard arises, and a sync service can no longer be used as a differentiator.

      Apple firmly believes that a service syncing devices across multiple platforms, where each platform has a different owner, will inevitably face compromises that make it harder and less reliable to the user than one controlled by a single entity (all other things being equal, and both executing to its potential). In theory, Apple is correct. In practice, if the single entity doesn’t execute, then no. If the single entity executes well, then people become more likely to switch and have all their devices come from the single entity.

      1. No, I would in fact argue that iCloud is too limited even within the Apple universe. It’s the most reliable and simplest (from a user point of view) to sync contacts, calendar items, and photos among Apple (and desktop Windows) devices.

        1. I would completely agree. I still use thumb drives and email in my Apple universe.

          But that’s Apple’s way – slow but good. Each iteration provides a little more capability, but usually a high-quality, highly refined little more.

  4. screw apple… cant wait to see that monopoly broken… their arrogance is beyond that of hitler.

    1. What monopoly? Android is bigger than iOS. Do you mean that you want Android’s lead broken? Or are you referring to the duopoly of iOS and Android combined? Please search a dictionary and find out what a monopoly actually is before making a comment about it.

  5. Steve, Great column

    I think the point that the Apple guy misses is that although *I* may choose to use Apple products, my son, my parents, my friends, etc who I do want to share with use other services. The singular platform approach and the walled garden will hurt Apple as these ecosystems grow unless they embrace standarts that will allow their customers to play with other people.

    1. “unless they embrace standarts that will allow their customers to play with other people.”

      No, … unless they allow other apps that their customers can use to play with other people, and at the same time, make their Apple device-only system work more easily and reliably than those other systems.

  6. Disturbing, but not unexpected. Apple now behaving like previous hi-tech behemoths IBM and Microsoft – good products, but once you have run out of ideas, revert to crushing opposition and innovation.

  7. In this case I don’t think it is as much that the customer doesn’t care what platform they are on, they just want what works for them. With regards to the cloud, if Apple provided a solution that worked, even when I am on all Apple devices, then I wouldn’t need Dropbox, Evernote, et. al. I would use all Apple’s services. I believe people who are device agnostic are so because they went with the device that they believe serves them best for the things they need each device. It has been said before, and I don’t think it is as bad as some of the press makes it out, but if Apple services were as usable as their devices, their wouldn’t be a need for a service like Glide.


    1. Even when I am working entirely within an Apple system, I find iCloud woefully inadequate. For example, at Tech.pinions we use a stock photo service called Fotolia. Fotolia has very nice Dropbox integration to get big photo files from its servers to your computer or even iPad. Can’t do that with iCloud. I also cannot keep Word files or PowerPoint presentations in sync between my iMac and my MacBook with iCloud. I could use Pages and Keynote, but they don’t suit my needs.

      1. Steve, let me ask you a question– how much do you pay for iCloud? Nothing? Exactly. It’s just repetitious for people to keep acting like apple is somehow losing out by not giving you services that don’t benefit the platform or apple. You say you don’t use pages. Fine. They why should apple worry at all about you using Dropbox for your Microsoft documents? You don’t pay Dropbox either.

        Apple makes iCloud for apple services and products. It wonderfully syncs their documents. Heck, you can log onto any browser and edit pages documents from the browser version of pages.

        If Microsoft would stop blocking it and put office on iPad, then its documents could sync through iCloud.

        Why not focus on why Microsoft is still playing these games?

  8. Because if its a Shitty app their developers won’t care about it since it is meant to transfer files to your loved ones Only, I think we have text and email for that!”

  9. Well, a lot of things could get dangerous with Apple, they’re setting themselves the task to do dangerous things, going against much of the questionable received wisdom of the tech industry – danger at least appears to always be near.

    In that respect there’s nothing strange about the quote from the AWDR person – Apple is setting themselves the task of making their platform matter – Somebody cared enough about the message sent to Apple customers in the App Store (probably accessible through the Developer link?) to write a multi-paragraph e-mail to a developer explaining how they see the App Store’s role and appropriate messaging in it.

    What’s remarkable about the quote is the way it is phrased: “the entire reason Apple exists” – it’s flame bait, as one can see here.

  10. One can juxtapose the teenagers in the Pew report on Teens, Social Media, and Privacy. The girls excluded friends (not maliciously) who didn’t have Messages because they didn’t have iPhones. They could’ve easily used a different cross-platform app, or just stuck to SMS, but they didn’t; I don’t know why. The teen who didn’t have the iPhone eventually went out and bought one, and rejoined the group.

    That’s what Apple would like to see happen all the time.

  11. Wow. I just want to step in an thank our commenters for providing a great debate on the purpose and future of iCloud and cross-platform services. All too often on the web, comment threads quickly deteriorate into name calling and playground insults. We at Tech.pinions are looking for a grown-up audience and I think maybe we are succeeding. Again, thank you.

    1. Thanks for the opportunities at Tech.pinions. Your (you, Ben, Tim, John, Avi, Brian, Patrick) interesting pieces provide much good food for thinking through different theories and strategies. (I do have to say, though, that I also enjoy the sport of parrying with trolls.)

      Now, back to the real life of chauffeuring kids all over.

      1. Well, you will certainly get more chances with mix it up with the trolls. Just hopefully its only every now and then.

  12. While there are obvious financial reasons for Apple to have a rather “closed” ecosystem, it’s also a core part of their DNA. Apple can *control* iOS and Mac OS X and iCloud. Thus, they can optimize these for one another. That’s what they do.

  13. seems more than odd, to me. It’s completely out of character for Apple to react to some developers press release, no matter what it states.

    Did you double-check if this email is authentic? Did you reach out to Apple’s DevRelDept for further comments on this incident?

    I find it hard to believe this really happened and isn’t just a PR stunt by Glide.

  14. Yeah, not like forcing swine to use google everything to get any ecosystem benefits. It’s ludicrous to equate that with cross platform. Microsoft doesn’t sync many of its services with anything not Microsoft. The sole exception is its file storage. Google only supports cross platform caldev in one direction — into google calendar. Good luck asking google to sync its events back to iCal or anything not google owned.

    I’m sick of this nonsense being repeated ad nauseum.

  15. The only technology products that can change a customer’s life in a positive way are medical devices. Apple makes some great products, but they flatter themselves if they think they matter that much.

    1. Without challenging the importance of medical devices (tough the value of personal medical devices is still, at this point, largely theoretical because we don’t have good outcomes data yet) I don’t accept the notion that only medical stuff is important. Technology has changed my life, and the lives of many others I know, in positive ways and this has been going on for many years.

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