Live by the Meme, Die by the Meme

How Arrington and Calacanis Make Android's Point

In recent days, two major tech pundits, Michael Arrington and Jason Calacanis, have come out swinging against Apple's tactics with respect to the iPhone App Store, iTunes integration, and related topics. Long-time Apple fans appear to be scratching their heads, wondering what has changed, and making statements like:"It’s not Apple’s responsibility to ensure that competing products from rival companies do well in the market place."

(Geek-themed Meme of the Week Archive)

is so slick and, well, nobody else seemed to grouse much about the openness problem.What is happening right now is the formation of a meme: that Apple is closed and closed is bad. It's not that Apple's tactics changed, but that Apple's tactics resulted in a bunch of negative public events, from the big-ticket Google Voice brouhaha to the less-publicized bits about how Apple wants jailbreaking to be made illegal. This appears to have been a “tipping point” that led to the formation of this meme. Mr. Calacanis and Mr. Arrington may not be market-movers, but they are meme-movers, and the “Apple/closed/bad” meme will likely continue to grow in part due to their publicizing the meme itself.Memes are fickle beasts. Apple rose from doldrums to prominence on the backs of two memes: “rip/mix/burn” (leading to the iPod revolution) and “smartphones for the rest of us” (bringing forth iPhone). The “Apple/closed/bad” meme probably will not stop Apple cold, but it may erode its foundation, making people who were unhappy with Apple's openness more comfortable with alternative products, and causing some to question whether to “go Apple” in the first place.Android's very purpose has been to provide the alternative for “closed is bad”. Android may not be perfectly open, but it is a far cry more open than Apple has been willing to stomach since the days of the Apple IIe. This is not to say that Android will uniquely benefit from this new meme — far from it. But it is reassuring to see that openness, which many in the Android community cite as their reason for being in the Android community in the first place, is valued and may be increasingly valued in the coming months and years.Apple, with a few quick moves, could slow this meme: make the App Store decision process more transparent, stop blocking iTunes integration with third party players, etc. Hopefully they will counter the “Apple/closed/bad” by becoming more open, not by trying to to fool people that closed is somehow good.Of course, I'd make an allusion to 1984 with “closed=good”, but, alas, my Kindle doesn't have 1984 on it.

But, perhaps it will need to be their responsibility.

I think a lot of people miss what these pundits are pointing out. It's not that Apple's tactics have been, tactically, bad for Apple, or even bad for a large chunk of consumers who buy Apple products. They have been bad for the percentage of consumers who value openness. Some of those consumers simply never bought Apple stuff; others justified it because Apple's stuff

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