Newsflash: Steve Jobs wasn't anti-openess. He was and is anti-sucky products. Since Jobs resigned as CEO last week, and ended his second act at Apple, the usual linkbait articles have sprung up calling on the "new Apple" to embrace openness (or more accurately, openy-ess), and once again proven their dogged determination to misunderstand Steve Jobs, Apple, and the nature of successful consumer electronics products in general.

The thing is -- the world hates extremes. It hates them almost as much as consumers hate extremist products. Because consumers, like the world, understand them for what they ultimately are -- ploys, formed by agenda and molded from BS. They're bills of goods. Kit craft.

Apple observably has little time for that. They're too busy making great products. To them, "open" and "closed" were and are tools, and they tend to pick the right one for the right job in the right context.

Flex your flux capacitor (or turn on your TARDIS) and jump back a few years and you'll see Steve Jobs, barely at the beginning of his second act, talking about Apple's then-licensed Mac OS and the power of open ecosystems.

Flashback to 2007 and you'll hear him talk about the sweet a development solution that is HTML5 (then Web 2.0 + AJAX)

Likewise you need only to surf with Safari to see Apple's open approach to WebKit (which also powers Google's Chrome and Android browsers, HP Palm's webOS, and much of mobile. You need only look at the BSD UNIX underpinnings of OS X and iOS, and their continued developments to see a host of open projects and initiatives from the supposedly closed Apple, including Darwin, OpenCL, and more. You need only look... beyond the rhetoric.

Apple is no more completely closed than Google is completely open. (Seriously, pick up your Neo FreeRunner and search for sometime. Except you can't. Because Openmoko failed as hard as Closedmoko would have.)

Corporations aren't about black and white, they're about green. They closely guard what makes them money and open up what makes their competitors money. They try to dominate where they can and fragment where they can't. Apple keeps their shiny, high-margin boxes every bit as closed as Google keeps their billion dollar ad engine, and Apple keeps their IE-shattering WebKit every bit as open as Google keeps their Windows Mobile-busting Android (ironically, more so -- see Honeycomb.) Even Palm, with their proprietary webOS and BlackBerry with their new QNX-based OS "opened" up to developers in almost every way conceivable.

You need look no further than their reasons for being. Apple wants to make products that delight consumers, with highly commoditized apps and services, enough to own most of the profits in the known universe. Microsoft wants to have a PC running the latest Windows license on every desk, pocket, wall, and robot, that make billions off the backs of commoditized, barely sustainable hardware OEMs. Google wants to serve a lucrative ad to every eyeball, on every commodity box running every commoditized platform.

And each of those approaches comes with some benefits and some drawbacks. 3 star Michelin restaurants aren't diners or vice versa, and we can enjoy them both without either being more like the other. In point of fact we have to. Because nothing can be everything.

Apple no longer licenses their Mac OS to clone makers, and HTML 5 is no longer the primary development platform for iOS because those products sucked and those web apps just weren't good enough.

Sorry, but it's true. Apple tested them and chose them for extinction or demotion. Perhaps, like bellbottoms, they'll get another chance for dominance one day but not today and likely not tomorrow. Apple under Steve Jobs was, and Apple under Tim Cook is, way too smart for that and way too focused. And guess what? Not coincidentally, way too successful. So is Google, which is why, marketing aside, they're not really that open either. (What's the make command for Search again?)

It takes a carefully considered, carefully mixed formula to craft a great product. It takes knowing which elements benefit from open sourced, community driven innovation to make them powerful and robust, and which need a strong, guiding, singularly focused -- and yes, closed -- will to make them truly usable and enjoyable.

So sure, the usual suspects can write the usual manifestos about Apple being closed (and stir up the usual, reliable linkbacks). And why not? Their editors are obviously open to it no matter how much the product sucks.

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments



Agreed with other comment! This is a blog for Apple. Try saying something intelligent Ghost69. With your mindset, you probably use "fanboy" and "gay" interchangeably? Hmmm, "fanboy" - a person whom is a fan? Yup thats me.

Actually, you took it too far. Most people compare iOS to Android openness vs Apple to Google as a whole. Both companies have products that are closed in some aspects of outright but open in others.
So make for search is an invalid point just as make for iOS.
Also, using opensource projects in your closed product doesn't make you or your product open.
I agree with your overall point though.

First time poster but wondering if you have been imbibing a bit - to which I say may be good, even encouraged.
However, let us not forget NEXt. Attempts made, attempts broken. I applaude your hidden distain; even in your seeminly drunken stupor.
None of the pilars on which we stand today are without fault, but to minimailize or engratiate any pisses on those whos shoulders they stand on.
I am not disagreeing with you - on the contrary I support you - but without patents and lawsuits we could be in a much different world. With or without Mr. Jobs.

Apple keeps "their" WebKit open?
1) Apple forked WebKit off of KHTML. They didn't start it, nor did they write the bulk of the rendering engine. They did clean up the internals a lot.
2) For over 2 years now, Google has outpaced Apple in WebKit contributions.
But hey, why let facts get in the way of a polemic?

And of course no bias at all in giving Apple's "delight" motive the only position, with the profits a barely relevant consequence, whereas for MS and Google the money is first, and no mention made of any underlying motive or mission. I am sure Sergei was working in the bowels of Stanford on how to better serve text ads, and just could not think of a better way to squeeze out another impression except by finding order in the planet's accumulated knowledge and making information retrieval accessible to an everyday user.
grow up.

On five occasions in my life I wanted to get an Apple product and either couldn't or wouldn't.
When the first Mac came out I saw one and wanted it SO MUCH, but simply could not afford it. I bought an Amiga A500 because it had a 6800 chip in it - (really sad). Around 95 I wanted a proper computer, but a Mac would have cost me £7500; and everyone I worked with used Windows PCs. So I bought a Gateway, running Windows95 - (a truly terrible decision and I truly suffered for it). Six years ago I wanted a MP3 player and this time I could afford to choose. I didn't buy an iPod, mainly because of the iTunes straight jacket. Three months ago I wanted a proper smart-phone, to replace my Nokia 5800. So I bought a Samsung. Same reason really, iTunes; and I still only buy CDs.
I understand why Steve made that Faustian deal (probably the most audacious pitch in history, it is a legend); but the closed ecosystem puts people like me off. I really love Apple equipment, like the iPad, but being locked into systems I see as oppressive always stops me. Perhaps Apple doesn't want someone like me as a customer - which is sad; I still respect their design and clarity of thought.
One more little thing. Whenever I hear Jobs talking about things, it's such fun and feels so right. Boy - if I had an opportunity to work with a company run that way, I would jump in a second. So often, companies are limited by the fuzzy, or just plain half baked vision of the guy at the top. In Apple, your big problem is keeping up with the man.

To each his own, I suppose. But you do realize that iTunes has become the media center hub for a VAST majority of end users. Sure there's better, and more specific, media players for each type of media you may own. But iTunes "just works". If you're not using iTunes to store your media library, then I completely see your point (don't understand your choice, but I see your point). But if you do, I think the "iTunes straight jacket" argument is irrelevant, because you're already wearing it. And it's only a straight jacket if you don't have a portable media player to access it; however, it works beautifully as a stand-alone media player on a PC or Mac.

You must not have wanted those Apple products bad enough. I've been using Macs only since 1987, and have never once owned (or used) a Windows computer. I simply gave up other things I didn't need in order to have Macs.
There are way too many clowns out there buying new golf clubs, hunting and fishing gear, and then complaining about Apple's prices.
Frankly, I'd shoot myself first.

I guess you do not want to read my post (where I pointed out Apple did not "start" WebKit) but you could at least read the article you are defending:

you need only to surf with Safari to see Apple’s open approach to WebKit

Apple keeps their IE-shattering WebKit every bit as open as Google keeps their Windows Mobile-busting Android (ironically, more so — see Honeycomb.)

You do not "have" to keep anything open, but, if you want to use "Apple's" project to claim that Apple is open, then you might want to check the facts and see that it is first Apple's project, and second, you know, actually open.
Then again, you are defending an article that says Apple is open by saying Apple is not open, so you may just want to go back to your corner before you hurt yourself.

When Rene consistently refers to himself as a "journalist," he owes it to his craft and his readers than to dribble out this crap which places Apple above petty corporate concerns and portrays every competitor as motivated only by the basest concerns.
Especially when writing a piece that pretends to hit some reasonable middle ground. It is either pathetically poor writing or insulting to the readers...not sure which.

A bit harsh but I do agree. As a journalist, bias should be removed or lowered as much as possible to provide an objective point of view; regardless of the domain/site name.