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Musings on the iPhone, Google, Nerds and Brand Identity Part 1.

I’ve been taking in all the wailing and gnashing of teeth from the tech pundits regarding the so called “bricking” of hacked iPhones with the 1.1.1 update; and I came to a realization about just why the Nerdistanis get so fucking worked up over every last thing that Apple does; and as a corollary why they tend to give a free pass to the bullshit that Google pulls. It’s all about Identity and Branding.

Here’s the deal. There are certain companies that really aren’t in the business of selling a product. Oh, to be sure, they produce products or services; and they damn sure want you to consume those products and services. But the method that they use to induce that consumption is not to sell the product, but to sell the brand. Apple is absolutely one of those companies; so is Google which I’ll get into in Part 2.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m in no way trying to say that Apple doesn’t make superlative products. I’m an Apple fan-boy though and through. My only computers are Macs, the only PDE devices I intend to own are iPods, and I will very likely buy an iPhone at some point (cell phones in general are a market that I have almost no interest in). What I’m proposing is that delivering a superior product is part of the way that Apple sells the brand. And have no doubt, it is the brand that Apple is selling.

Case in point, the advertisements for the latest revision to the iMac. Do we get some twit nattering on about the power of the mighty Core 2 Duo, or all the wonderfulspreadsheetsthat you can whip up at the office? Do we even get a dissertation on the wonders of iLife? Nope, we get thirty seconds of the iMac spinning in circles. Imagine if Dell did an ad with an Inspiron spinning around…dude, you’re getting vertigo. But yet for all that the ad is, by Nerdistani standards, fucking retarded, iMacs are selling likehot-cakes. Another example is the latest crop of iPhone ads. These take a slightly different tack by actually getting into the features; but not in any sort of technical way. Instead of babbling about data transmission speeds or any of that crap you get a guy, obviously a hip young professional, talking about how he was able to go online and find out his girlfriend’s bosses’ fiancĂ©’s name and make her look like a rock-star and presumably get a promotion. What’s the take home message here? That guy is so getting anal tonight, and I’m cold and lonely. Also, Porches come equipped with super-models as a dealer installed option, and if you drink Captain Morgan hot chicks will perch upon your mightily upthrust knee. To put this in terms of an outmoded meme from earlier this year (you nerds love your memes)…This is insanity? No, this is Marketing.

And this is where Apple has done something that is simultaneously a masterstroke of marketing, as well as a righteous pain in the ass. With the introduction of Mac OS X and it’s open source core. Apple is selling a brand, a very lifestyle, where nerds can play with the cool kids. This is something that I believe that Steve Jobs understands intimately. Let’s face it, Steve is a nerd that went cool. Cringely touched on this in an ancient article. Here is the relevant quote:

In Steve’s mind, he has the best of everything. Apple software is cooler than Windows will ever be. Palo Alto, where Jobs lives, is trendier than Seattle. Even Jobs’ plane, a Gulfstream V, is cooler than Gates’ Challenger 604. It goes on and on. Gates has never even considered this latter point, but I’ll guarantee you that Jobs has, and he revels in it.

This idea completely changed how I thought of Apple. What Apple sells isn’t PCs, or iPods, or an OS. They sell “cool.”

The problems start when Identity comes into the picture. I believe that the core of selling a branded lifestyle is getting your target to conflate his or her identity with the brand. I’m cool, because I own cool stuff. You see this at its absolute worst in the Mac-zealot class of fan-boy. You all know the type, the ones that have an ungodly hissy fit at the least suggestion that an Apple product is anything less than the second coming of Elvis.

The thing is, it’s very easy to begin to project one’s own identity back on to the brand. Because I love open software and hacking, Apple should, nay must, love them too. Here’s the reality kiddos: Steve Jobs hates open anything. He hates open software, he hates user configurability, he hates “hacking,” and he hates your cat. I’m just joking about the cat, Steve doesn’t know your cat; but if that furry fucker keeps installing haxies all bets are off. If anyone had the slightest doubt on this point, look at some of the machines that have come out of Apple during the various Jobs regimes. Mac Plus: that fucker is practically welded shut. iMac: yeah, lots of user serviceable parts there. iPhone: well, we all know how that turned out.

Of course, at no point has Apple ever claimed that they support “hacking.” True, it’s always been relatively easy to hack at the Mac OS and non-iPod Apple hardware; but the difference there is that your talking about a general purpose computing platform vs a specific use embedded system. Gruber over at DF lays this out in a much better, and presumably less hung-over manner than I can. This is the core of one of the points I want to make here.

The outrage over the iPhone 1.1.1 update and it’s effect on “hacked” iPhones is merely a manifestation of the cognitive disconnect between what most of the population of Nerdistan wants Apple to be, versus what Apple actually is. The bottom line is if you want to use an OS that actively supports and encourages hacking, Ubuntu is right over there. If you want a “smart” phone that has a large community of 3rd party applications, the Treo is waiting for you. You probably won’t be able to use it to get anal sex; but you may get a hand-job, and that’s really not so bad, is it.

I have to pause here for a digression on the Treo, actually on Palm in general. These chuckle-heads are the perfect example of how not to run a supposedly open platform. Yeah, you can write apps for the Treo, if you can deal with their gods-awful development toolset and if you run Windows since they killed the dev kit for MacOS years ago. And Linux? Bwahahahaha…they don’t even support syncing the damned thing on Linux. But don’t be at all surprised when each and every hardware revision has a slightly different, undocumented database structure that manages to break major features of any application that deals with the calendar, Address Book, Tasks or Notes (you know, the core fucking functions of the device). Oh, and different undocumented API’s to deal with the hardware on every hardware rev makes for a brisk game of whack-a-bug.

Back when I could still stomach using a Palm device I was subscribed to the mailing list for the DateBk6, an amazing replacement for the built in calendar app; developed and supported single-handedlyby a guy who sees it as a hobby to get away from his real job of saving fucking gorillas. Seriously, if you use a Palm device and aren’t using DateBk6 get your sorry ass over to Pimlico Software and buy a license…he’s saving gorillas! At any rate, I watched development stall for over a year while the developer tried to keep up with the never-ending series of fucked up hardware releases, each one introducing a different API or database structure. And what was Palm’s stock answer to anyone complaining that shit didn’t work right? “The built in applications work fine, so it must be a bug in the 3rd party application.”

Is this what all the whiners want from the iPhone? Because right now, that’s what your precious openness buys you. And that’s a far cry from “It just works.” Frankly I’m glad that Apple is just fucking honest about it. Bottom line, the iPhone is a closed platform. Will it ever get opened up? Who fucking knows, and frankly I don’t care. And I don’t fucking care if the reason is that the API just isn’t ready; or if it’s just that Steve Jobs is a douche and wants to line his pockets with filthy, filthy lucre. If you don’t want the iPhone, as it exists today, don’t fucking buy one. How hard is that?

And one last thing, to the fucks suing Apple because you were somehow tricked into buying an iPhone…suck a dick. You all need to take your horrible, evil iPhones, rotate them to landscape orientation, and ram them clear up your asses.

Next in Part 2…The Angry Drunk Takes on Google. I’d be worried about ruining my PageRank, but you can’t get any worse than non-existent!