A “walled garden” or a grocery store?

Walled Garden
Walled Garden by recursion_see_recursion on flickr, used under Creative Commons license.

There is much debate about whether Apple’s ecosystem (iTunes/App Store/iPhone/iPad) is an attempt to control your life or simply offer you a good consumer experience. The Unofficial Apple Weblog has a link to a post and commentary suggesting that the iPad and the whole Apple system is akin to AOL. You remember AOL, the old AOL I mean, who offered you all the internet without any of the muss and fuss. Of course that AOL died out once folks realized they could use Netscape for themselves.

John Battelle’s post cited by TUAW is titled, “Is The iPad A Disappointment? Depends When You Sold Your AOL Stock.” He argues that the iPad will fail

in the long term, in particular if Apple doesn’t change its tune on how the iPad interacts with the web.

He then goes on to say that the iPad does not really interact with the web, or at least apps cannot link to the web. And this, he argues will be the downfall of the iPad. Except I can get access to anything (non-Flash, granted)1 on the web through my iPad. OK maybe a programmer can’t always get at what she wants directly within the app, but many apps I use (newsreaders, twitter, BBC) link out to the web via Safari. So I think that this prediction of John’s like his earlier prediction that the iPad would fail, is likely to be wrong.

TUAW, however, phrases the question differently and made me think of a different metaphor.

AOL was a “walled garden” of their content, and as long as Apple maintains its grip on the App Store, it’s that same garden; each app works within its own flower pot, almost completely independent of the others.

I have often heard people, as alluded to in my introduction, say that they object to Apple controlling so tightly what can go into their app store. Last night Steve Jobs apparently referred to this as the “curated” approach where 95% of the apps are approved, so long as they don’t crash and use the public API. Those less generous say that it is a walled off place, hidden and protected, BUT what we really want and need is open and freely available software. Now I won’t get into the religious wars of open source software. Instead I offer a different metaphor, that of an old fashioned store.

The App Store is not so much a garden as a grocery store or, to be more direct, computer store, with items clearly labeled, boxed, and vetted. Remember when you used to have to buy software in a box, with floppies and maybe even a manual? One of the benefits of that system was that you knew where the software was coming from, you had some assurance that this copy of Fox Pro was actually made by Fox Software and was not, in fact, a trojan horse designed to bring your system down.

Some may say that I am being an Apple apologeticist, it has happened in the past, but this seems to me the best of both worlds. I can download my software without having to go to a brick store, but I have some assurance that what I am getting is legitimate and will not harm my machine. Yes, it is a controlled environment, but as with food, medicine, and motor vehicles I think quality control is a positive, not a negative.

 
  1. In my day to day use I rarely find myself saying, “Darn! If only I could access this Flash content on my iPad.” I just don’t miss it. []

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