Apple’s Dumbing Down of Computers a.k.a The End of Super-User Computers

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Warning: Hyperbole and blind speculation follows.

Apple was always touted as having the more user-friendly computer. At a high level, they aren’t any different than PCs. You click around, install software, plug in some hardware, configure some system preferences and download programs from wherever you want. Macs have a few less buttons and subjectively prettier UI – which I guess lends to its ease of use. However, from Grandma’s point of view, it’s not much easier to use than a PC. There are lots of confusing icons, menus, and tiny text. Click the wrong thing, open the wrong app – how do you get back? Grandma is lost. In the end, it’s still hard to use for the layman.

I’d often wonder, in 50 years will everyone be a computer expert? A lot of our parents were around before 8-Tracks existed. So, it makes sense that understanding USB, HDMI, Gmail, or Playstation is not second nature. In 50 years, will Moms know how to get rid of spyware and install a new harddrive?* Will the general population’s knowledge of computers increase? Then I thought of cars which were a technical marvel at one point. Nowadays, most people have no idea how their car works but if they’re lucky, they can change the oil themselves.

Back to Apple. When iPad rumors were floating around, a lot of people were thinking it would be a tablet with OS X and USB ports and expandability and good times – like a “real” computer. Then it launched and Jobs was so excited to show us it ran iOS and had access to the App Store. Something clicked in my mind when that happened. I knew that when you own a Mac (I don’t) you pay the Apple Tax. You pay for more software, you pay for over-priced accessories and you pay to buy a new computer every year or two because of Apple’s slowing-dripping must-have features. We always knew Jobs was a control freak and perfectionist. However, Jobs’ want for total control was never as clear as it was when the iPad launched with iOS and the AppStore.

Apple doesn’t want you use your computer to control an Arduino, write custom printer drivers, run a game server or control your house lights. They want you to shut up and consume. Us nerds? We’re fine with our Space Station Control computers. But everyone else? Apple wants them to have their iPad, bag of Cheetos and credit card handy. You want to watch 30 Rock on your iPad? Apple gets 30%. You want to buy the latest BedazzleMyAngryBirdGemLoop game? Apple get 30% and could not be happier.

But let’s not get carried away. Everyone still has their Mac laptops and towers and they’re free to do what they want with them – for now. Apple’s announcement yesterday signifies another big leap forward in the controlling and dumbing down of consumer computers. The AppStore will now be running right on your lovely desktops and laptops! Please do not go elsewhere for software. AppStore software is safe and Steve-Certified. Stop going on the internet. Stop visiting websites. Just get the app, pay for the subscription and live merrily. Can you see where this is going? Really, the majority of computers should be running something like iOS and us nerds should have our super-computers. The problem is that Apple is in control and what can that mean?

Firstly, I think it means Apple could shift towards selling desktops with iOS – this is all the functionality that most people need. The rest of you, you’ll have to pay for an expensive “developer” or “professional” computer and a license to be in the “professional” program to have your open OS X operating system. Your computer will also cost a lot more because you’re a professional. So Apple can bump up the profit margin that it once lost because of the commodification of fast computers.

Second is the problem that Bit-101 brings up. The AppStore will be the defacto place to go to get any software. You know Apple will promote the shit out of it. Your new mac with have a Safari icon, an iTunes AppStore icon and an icon of Steve Jobs’ head that will tell you want to eat for lunch (and he gets 30% for the referral). So now, as a developer, if you want to sell your software it better be in the AppStore. If not, Mom will never find it and Mom wouldn’t trust it if she did. So, please pony up $99 for Apple’s developer program and start learning Objective C. Well, since you’re now in the AppStore – how does your app work on the iPad? The iPhone? The iPod touch? (What was Jobs saying about fragmentation?) Better go buy all 3. Jobs loves fragmentation if it means you have to buy all his devices.

So, while I don’t like Apple’s general direction, I do think that an iOS-like OS is great for consumer computers. I’m just not sure it’s great for the rest of us and everyone’s wallets when Apple is in control.

*We probably won’t have spyware or harddrives in 50 years, eh?

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