Is Apple evil? Maybe, but not the way Wired says

I was going to take a shot at ripping apart this Leander Kahney article in Wired magazine on how Apple is the anti-Google and therefore evil, but I figured if I waited long enough that John Gruber at Daring Fireball would do it for me. Gruber didn’t disappoint, noting that “by Kahney’s logic, any company that is different from Google – and clearly most companies are far more different from Google than Apple is – is evil. I can’t tell if Kahney is being willfully obtuse or is simply a shithead.” Heh.

The accompanying list of 5 ways that Apple “breaks the rules” makes me wish that Gruber had gone after it as well. Software should be decoupled from hardware, huh? So it can run on just any phone or computer? We have a name for that kind of application. It’s called a web application. You know, the kind of application that Apple encouraged people to develop for the iPhone, and that all the pundits said wasn’t sufficient. Now Kahney slams Apple for encouraging people to build apps that run on the iPhone natively. What does he really want? Maybe Kahney is really asking for the iPhone OS to run on any old phone hardware platform. I can tell you that I can think of no surer way to ruin the user experience, and the brand, than to cram the iPhone software onto a piece of crap like the Sony Ericsson phone I just got rid of, or even onto my wife’s Blackberry Pearl.

The third point, that every Mac is preloaded with Apple software, makes me laugh. You think PC users like having a bunch of crap applications preloaded on their machines? Windows Media Player, which is preloaded on Windows everywhere but the EU, is an OK media player and it’s the default, unless the OEM changes it. But that has nothing to do with the OEM’s concern for the end user’s experience, and everything to do with the revenue they get from the partner from whom they are bundling the software. To be fair, Apple chooses not to bundle competing products, but they have bundled third party software, notably Quickbooks and trials from the Omni group. On both Windows and the Mac, the user can change the default music player (or any other default program) very easily. Would Kahney prefer that Apple shipped with no default player and made the user download one?

And the whole point about the iTunes/iPod closed loop is such a piece of crap. One word: MP3. Available on every platform. You can rip your CDs to MP3s, using iTunes, and put the MP3s on your iPod. One point in favor of this argument: iTunes for Windows doesn’t support syncing to non-iPod players, but there’s a free plugin to fix that.

The fourth point, love your customers, sounds like a page from the Good Product Manager blog. How to be a bad product manager: give your customers whatever they want and ask for in your product, regardless of the cost of support and regardless of whether the resulting product actually does what your customer wants it to do. How else to explain Kahney’s inexplicably picking on the “no floppy drive in an iMac” decision, which in retrospect was not only one of the smartest things that Apple ever did but also created the market for USB thumb drive storage? And the MacBook Air “no optical drive” situation has been covered over and over again. It’s called making intelligent trade offs. It’s what every product manager does.

I enjoyed the Fake Steve Jobs smack-down on Kahney, and wish that he had gone farther. There’s a lot of good lessons to learn in the article for a product manager with half a brain; you just need to dig in and question every assumption that Kahney makes.