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Is Apple Onto Something?

Last week, Apple surged past Google with a market cap of just over $157 billion. I suppose now is an appropriate time to make a confession: I never liked Apple Computer.

For all the fantastic industrial and consumer design, slippery-smooth hardware and software integration, and tightly evolved product development, Apple to me has always been a company that just can't quite get it right. And by "right," I mean not demand complete control over everything on its platforms.

We got a nice reminder of that habit when it was alleged that the new 2.x firmware for the Apple iPhone includes a provision to call home and check for unauthorized applications on the handset. As reported in Engadget, iPhone hacker Jonathan Zdziarski said the firmware features a blacklisting system that may be able to remotely disable applications.

Never mind that Apple says the blacklist is to identify apps that should be denied access to the iPhone's CoreLocation framework, which provides support for GPS and other geo-located applications. The company's long history of rigidly controlling its ecosystem has people assuming the worst. And honestly, even after Apple's statement, it's hard to blame them.

The culture of control is etched into the DNA of Apple executive management. Consider the fate of Power Computing, a clone-maker that built a humming business in the mid-1990s selling Mac OS-compatible systems. The company was in the midst of its best year when Steve Jobs returned to Apple in July 1997. By September, Apple had bought up key Power Computing assets and shut down the clone business.

Now Apple is making a splash in the arena of mobile application development, with its AppStore service that gives developers a one-stop shop for making software available for iPhones. You can read about this in our Aug. 15 cover story by Senior Editor Kathleen Richards. If AppStore can do for mobile apps what iTunes did for digital music, we'll be looking at a dramatically changed marketplace in the next few years.

And honestly, I'm not sure how I feel about that. Because as slick and compelling and inventive as Apple the hardware and software company can be, I worry about the culture of control in Cupertino.

Do I worry too much? E-mail me at [email protected].

Posted by Michael Desmond on 08/19/2008

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