foobar on computers, software and the rest of the world

Apple demonstrates: With great marketing even the crappiest product can be sold

, posted: 22-Apr-2010 08:44

It amazes me how much Apple gets away with. Their systems are DRM infested, closed and tightly locked down. Yet, go to any developer conference, even an open-source conference, and you will find masses of Apple gear being used.

Likewise, their app-store for the iPhone has become hugely successful. Not because of technical merits or a superior developer experience (quite the opposite, actually), and despite lack of freedom and Apple's well-documented arrogant approach on how to deal with developers and customers alike.

Apple invests a lot into a smooth user experience and they should be given credit for this. Other vendors and the open-source community can and should learn from them. However - and this is of course purely subjective - their products are not better by such a significant degree to warrant this level of irrational loyalty and willingness to subject yourself to Apple's every whim and inflated prices.

So, considering that Apple and especially the iPhone is an overpriced and fundamentally non-free platform with truly Kafkaesque rules (which is my definition of 'crappy') - why do developers put up with this?

It's all in the marketing and brand. Apple invested in the smooth user experience and a 'hip' reputation (see those infamous "I'm a PC..." ads). Now that they have their loyal following and marketing driven mind-share they take whatever they can get away with. By the way, the latter is not a value judgement: They are a corporation and thus will do whatever it takes to make money, which is normal and expected. If this means enticing people to part with their money for overpriced bling then this really is just a statement on how easily people can be duped, it doesn't mean that Apple is 'evil' in some way. They are just very good at pulling money out of people's pockets.

Not surprisingly, developers want to develop for the most popular platforms. Apple managed to make its iPhone popular. So, if you are trying to make money from apps for mobile devices, you need to develop for the iPhone, there really is not much of an alternative. Sure, there is Android which can do basically all the same things an iPhone can do. And it's free and open source. But many of the apps for Android are also free. Now this would be right down my alley (I like 'free' on every level), but if you want to make money from your apps then you need to root for an environment in which there is less free competition.

So, here's a lesson then for everyone else: Make your stuff superficially beautiful, focus on ease of use and style. If you get that part right, the rest of your product only has to be mediocre and you can even be mean to your developers and users. You will have a seemingly endless supply of people who fall for your little charade so you can laugh all the way to the bank.

Update: I just posted one more example of Apple's strange behavior when dealing with its customers.

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Comment by ockel, on 22-Apr-2010 10:18

Spot on.

The key is marketing.  Until Apple there hadnt really been any significant manufacturer based marketing.  Only carrier based and they're relatively careful not to push one product too heavily.

Andriod based phones have jumped on the Apple style marketing and its reflected in the smartphone market share changes for the December quarter.

That Apple can sell 50m iPhones worldwide since launch and are only really starting to deliver a decent phone with the impending launch of its newest model (decent camera, video calling capability, multi-tasking!) is testimony to the power of the marketing machine.

And still after all these years only 5% of the PC market.  Does this imply that the value is in the hardware or the software.  Clearly given the success of the iPhone vs Mac its looking more likely to be the software.  Microsoft might have had something right all these years with its applications for the PC......

Comment by Buttonmash, on 22-Apr-2010 10:53

OS X is exceptionally elegant, user friendly, stable and a certified Unix.  Apple is a pretty big contributor to Open Source, just look at Webkit and the life it breathed into KHTML, OpenCL, etc.  Hell just look at the list:

Now if you're talking about the iPhone OS series you're talking about a platform, not a computer, and they can do what they like with it.

Comment by jhickmott, on 22-Apr-2010 17:35

Overall I agree with your post though I don't feel Apple have duped their customers with crappy products.

Marketing relates to satisifying the needs and wants of your consumers more effectively than your competitors. Years ago Apple identified these needs and developed innovative software & hardware which solved many of the problems users had with Microsoft/Windows software. Their primary market is the average person who wants an easy to use product which is carefully designed  and functional. Their target market isn't a programmer or developer who wants complete control over their hardware and software.

For example: I would regularly use Linux as my os of choice though compared to OSX/Windows it doesn't have any decent graphic design/photo editing software (Gimp, lol). Linux doesn't satisfy my needs.

A large portion of Apple's marketing is the product themselves. The reason Apple has such high customer loyalty is because their consumers are purchasing the brand rather than just their hardware. Their brand has strong consistant values and Apple is passionate about ensuring the customer experience is flawless. Unlike many other Windows manufacturers who sell their PC's with bloated trialware doinging "whatever it take to make money".

Their products are expensive though they're not overpriced. Demand & Supply - even at their current prices Apple still has customers waiting days outside stores for the new iphone or ipad. Apple's pricing is just the equilibrium.

Please don't mis-interpret my response as being heavily pro-Apple. As consumer's we all different brand loyalties, needs/wants and preferences for various reasons. I simply feel it's unfair to judge & stereotype people simply by the products they chose to buy.

Comment by Linuxluver, on 22-Apr-2010 17:42

Apple appeals to the herd instinct, so a lot of people are ready for it. For people whoknow what's at stake and are less inclined to do what everyone else does, Apple has little appeal.

I can't see why anyone would buy a phone you can't swap a fresh battery into. Or an empty sdcard if you run out of space but don't want to delete things.....and you can't delete a lot of stuff anyway without having to connect to a Windows or Mac PC and use iTunes. This is the kind of inflexibility-by-design that means Apple's products are completely unappealing to matter how nice they are to use. Other systems, like Android v2.1, are just as nice to use, if not nicer, and 200% more flexible. I can swap in a fresh battery, swap sdcards, copy any files to it from any networked source or delete any file off it that I don't want (protected system files excepted, of course).

The Android Market is a rollocking free-for-all cmopared to the buttoned-down, censoring Apple version. They removed all the wifi discovery apps from the market because THEY decided they were unethical....leaving an iPhone user at a loss to diagnose wifi issues on their home networks.

My iPod Touch was all the Apple I needed. The battery appears to be fading on it....and I'm not too sure how I'll get that sorted out as I can't just swap a new one in. But my Nexus One has two batteries...and I use them both regularly as I like to actually USE the features on my phone instead of rationing them all day long lest i run out of juice.

Apple appear to be one more example among a legion of examples of how the briadly ignorant masses follow each other into some vendor's fenced eco-system because it's easier than thinking. Of course this happens in all facers of life. Religion and certain kinds of politics are also excellent examples of herd instinct winning out over evidence and thought.  

Comment by alasta, on 23-Apr-2010 08:16

Who is to say what is "overpriced"? For some people it might be worth paying a premium for ease of use, but for the more tech savvy it's not. It's merely personal preference.

People who are fiercely pro or anti Apple tend to take a one size fits all approach to technology which just doesn't work in the real world. Marketing is all about driving the success of a product by identifying and taking advantage of a market segment that is likely to show demand for the product, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Comment by Chris, on 23-Apr-2010 10:02

It's like this:
Microsoft target business types.
Apple target sheep.
Linux/Android/Nokia/HTC target intelligent users who have made a real choice to use an OS that respects them, their property and their rights.

Author's note by foobar, on 23-Apr-2010 10:18

@alasta: Sure, but I did say that my statements were subjective and that this was MY definition of 'crappy'. So, I'm not exactly seeing the point of your post. Besides, I also said " doesn't mean that Apple is 'evil' in some way. They are just very good at pulling money out of people's pockets."

I think that's pretty clear, isn't it?

Hey, a luxury car tends to be 'overpriced' by any reasonable definition and yet, people are buying them. Nothing wrong with that: The brand and associated prestige wins.

I just expressed astonishment that a company who is so restrictive, locked down and rude to its developer community gets so much love from that very community that should be most aware and bothered by those restrictions and this attitude.

Comment by MikeyPI, on 23-Apr-2010 12:04


Supply and Demand doesn't really apply here, as Apple specifically manipulate both

Comment by Kiwipixter, on 23-Apr-2010 14:41

LOL. Whats cr@p is this blog.  If great marketing all you need, then tell that to Telecom about XT.  You are assuming customers are dumb enough to fork out $1k for a crappy product? Have you used the iPhone and other smartphones, like Android or Symbian, to form this opinion?
Btw, what marketing have you seen for the iPhone? Thats right, not much.  Thats because, apart from the odd Vodafone bus stop campaigns, there hasn't been much advertising of the iPhone. The stuffs that you hear about the iPhone are in the form media coverage, internet coverage, word of mouth through social media like Twitter.  They are all free coverage for Apple and would not have happened if their products are crap.  No amount of great marketing can make a crappy product a sales success, not these days.

Disclaimer: I don't own any Apple products currently, but i have used an iPod shuffle, iPhone, as well as Macintosh and Apple IIe back in uni days. 8)

Comment by stuzzo, on 23-Apr-2010 17:20

"A rant or harangue is a speech or text that does not present a well-researched and calm argument; rather, it is typically an attack on an idea, a person or an institution, and very often lacks proven claims."

 We need a section for rants!

Comment by lurker, on 23-Apr-2010 21:14

As long as Apple looks after the needs of their userbase, I think the users are happy to sacrifice some of their freedoms, kind of like a benevolent dictatorship I guess. Is it harmful? If they were so successful as to eliminate all alternatives then maybe, but I think we'll be safe. Maybe that's just blissful ignorance, I don't know.

Coincidentally, saw this on BoingBoing today: Evil Witch

Comment by Linuxluver, on 24-Apr-2010 01:26

alasta: You say people who object to iPhone tend to be one-size-fits all?

I can't agree...and for staringly obvious reasons:

Apple iPhone: One look. One Apple Store. Two kinds of phone (3G and 3Gs) with varying amounts of storage. But they ALL support ONLY Quad-band GSM and WCDMA 850/2100.

Whereas.....(for exmaple - just using one competing OS) there are over 120 Android phones on the market now, with at least one for every known cellular network type on the planet. They come with physical qwerty keyboards and wthout. They can swap batteries and sdcards. Their screens range from 2.8 inches to 7 inches. There is so much variety there I can't describe it all in just a few words. Android users can download apps from almost a dozen alternative markets..... seem to imply Apple offer variety? 

I'm not seeing it.....and that's because it isn't there. Compared to Android, Apple's iPhone looks like one-size fits all. There are onlly two type to choose from, they look the same, and you MUST use iTunes.

Author's note by foobar, on 24-Apr-2010 05:57

@Kiwipixter: Sigh. You don't seem to understand that marketing is not the same as advertising. Want to study up a little on that subject before again publicly ridiculing yourself?

Author's note by foobar, on 24-Apr-2010 06:00

@stuzzo: Calm down. No, we don't need a section for rants. Or rather: We have those already. They are called blogs. This is my blog and I write whatever I want here. If you have a problem with it then don't read it.

Besides, if you would have bothered to read what I wrote you would have noticed that I clearly stated this to be my subjective opinion.

Comment by Kiwipixter, on 24-Apr-2010 20:57

LOL mr. Foobar.  Its you that need to study up before writing unsubstantiated claims without any reasonable proof or decent explanations. Fyi, i used to work in marketing, in the same team that markets the iPhone in NZ in fact.

Iam not here to defend Apple or flame anyone, but your blog is full of holes (actually, full of it to be more accurate) because you haven't provide decent information to backup your opinions. Everything from DRM infested, to openness of the iPhone OS.  Have you ever considered DRM is enforced by recording or movie studios?  Can you explain why Symbian, BlackBerry OS and many other mobile OSes all based on Java J2ME thats open and free standard, yet their derivatives are not? Is Android really open, or is it more open than iPhone OS?

One piece of "factual" info i can provide you is this.  Market research have shown smartphones users/owners are of high income, usually males but increasingly females, they are more likely to have had tertiary education and are in the age group between 20-40 yrs old.  Now, would you like to sell your crappy product to this audience at $1k a pop? 

Comment by Linuxluver, on 24-Apr-2010 21:55

Kiwipixter: I can help you with the question about whether Android is more open than iPhone OS. The simpel answer is "Yes".

The reason that's the answer is equally simple. Everyone who puts Android on their phones has to produce the source code for their implementation of it. They can have proprietary drivers for specific pieces of hardware, but the system itself is wide open down to source code level. Even with proprietary drivers, they must provide blobs (drivers) for those devices to work. Those blobs requires standard interfaces to talk to...and we have the source code and APIs for those.

This is why it's possible to get Android running on an iPhone, as was demonstrated this week. But you can't get iPhone OS running on anything else because you don't have the source code.....and you're probably violating your EULA, too. Android has no such EULA. You have the source code....make it run on whater you can make it run on.

Totally open.

That's why almost every Android phone there is also has a shadow version built by alternative developers that both provides additional function, but also brings to users of these devices the very latest code releases from the source tree.

My Nexus One runs CyanogenMod v.5.0.6. That version of this custom ROM includes source code updates from Google as recent as march 31st, just 4 weeks ago. It looks like this weekend may see a release from Cyanogen that includes the new source code for enabling Wireless N support in my Nexus One.

That's "Open".

You just can't do that on an iPhone. You can't even swap the battery. No wonder they don't let people customise the interface. When your battery dies you have to swap the phone like a gas bottle at a petrol station. That's not open. Not even close.

Author's note by foobar, on 25-Apr-2010 06:51

@Kiwipixter: Now that I know that you worked in marketing (and the iPhone marketing no less), your comments are either sad or begin to make sense in a disturbing sort of way.

Maybe you should try to read up on the iPhone a little before 'LOLing' in my blog here?

Here's a quick start for your reading, but there is more.

And did you notice how I talked about 'crappiness' as a combination of product and the way the company treated their developers? I guess not.

Comment by jhickmott, on 25-Apr-2010 09:38

"Supply and Demand doesn't really apply here, as Apple specifically manipulate both"

@MikeyPI: My comment referred to Apple's pricing not being 'overpriced' but the equilibrium between their supply and demand.

Regardless if they manipulate their supply and demand it is still relevant to how their price is determined. Like any businesses they will price their product so that they can maximise profits.

If they decreased the iphone price their would be a surplus of demand, if they increased the price their would be a surplus of supply.

Comment by kiwitrc, on 26-Apr-2010 06:34

This blog should make the  iPhreaks go iPheral.

Comment by Zeddicus, on 31-Jan-2011 00:09

When iPad first came out, I thought it was going to suck, but then my friend got one and was actually really fun. Being a programmer, I saw the huge potential for useful apps and games. I love F/OSS, and I couldn't wait to put some free Apps out there for my friends to use, so I looked into it...

(Some of this information might be old, as this was a while back). You have to join the "Apple Development Group" (Secret Society with goat raping hazing), which means you fork over $100/year to Apple just to put an App up. Next, if you're serious about developing an App, you'll have to use Xcode and their libraries, which means you basically have to fork $1000+ for a Mac. Finally, their iPad Simulation software sucks, so you're probably going to have to buy an iPad as well and fork another $600+.

Thanks Apple, really appreciate it. And of course, do I need to mention how hard it is to backup files (if at all) and the non-replaceable battery?

I agree with your post 100%, but the big thing is getting their first. Apple got there first, and that's all it comes down to. And if they didn't get there first, then they just do a tiny bit better than the competition and throw their money and weight around.

Of course, I hate Microsoft too.

Luckily, I know a better, similar product will be out after Apple does something, like phones with Android. I've also heard good things about the Galaxy Tab, which also uses Android. And, Android is open source, which is awesome.

The open source community needs to be patient and spend their money appropriately. System76 (Ubuntu pre-installed) computers and phones/tabs with Android.

foobar's profile

New Zealand

  • Who I am: Software developer and consultant.
  • What I do: System level programming, Linux/Unix. C, C++, Java, Python, and a long time ago even Assembler.
  • What I like: I'm a big fan of free and open source software. I'm Windows-free, running Ubuntu on my laptop. To a somewhat lesser degree, I also follow the SaaS industry.
  • Where I have been: Here and there, all over the place.

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