At the D Conference in May, 2006, Apple CEO Steve Jobs, explaining why Apple would not get into the handset business, famously denounced wireless carriers as “orifices” that choked the flow on choice and innovation. Yesterday, Apple completed its conversion into an orifice.
The company released an update to iPhone software that not only relocks phones whose software had been modified to allow use with carriers other than AT&T but also disables any third-party applications that iPhone owners had installed. Relocking phones was unfortunate but understandable. Apple’s deal with AT&T gives it a share of the revenues the carrier gets from iPhone owners. furthermore AT&T was undoubtedly putting a lot of pressure on Apple to crack down. Breaking third-party apps, however, was simply unconscionable. Apple had warned that they might do this and having done it, offered no explanation.
Apple almost certainly acted within its legal rights and threats of class-action lawsuits are mostly angry hot air. But just because you can legally do something doesn't make it a good idea and Apple may come to rue this action. For reasons that are not entirely clear to me, Apple enjoys fanatical loyalty from its customers despite behavior that sometimes borders on the thuggish (in my book, the kind of great products that Apple has been turning out wins them respe3ct, but no love.) The company had already irritated its most loyal customers, the sort of folks who would stand in line for hours to buy the first iPhones, by slashing the price by $200 barely two months after it went on sale. This latest move to stamp out the sort of choice and innovation that Apple claims to want, is likely to alienate the loyalists even more.