Does a magazine like New Yorker need smarter tech coverage?

Does a magazine like New Yorker need smarter tech coverage?

Two of the dumbest memes in recent history are "Apple is closed. Google is open. Apple deserves to lose." and "Steve Jobs is gone. Apple will finally start loosing." Sadly, the New Yorker of all places chose to merge-for-the-kill, Transformers-like, and feature these particular brands of dumb in astonishingly disappointing form. John Gruber of Daring Fireball has gone through the entire fit-the-facts-to-the-thesis argument presented in the piece, and finds, not surprisingly, it's fallacious and flawed to an embarrassing degree.

I'm deeply conflicted about linking to people who say dumb things about Apple. I dislike rewarding negative attention seeking, and hate validating their click-bait business models. Yet every once and a while, when something is so dumb, and is published in so mainstream a venue, that I'll get a call from my mom about it, exceptions need to be made.

Most for-profit companies guard and keep closed what makes them money, and open and try to fragment what makes their competition money. That's how for-profit companies work. Like the Wall Street Journal, the New Yorker is held in high regard. Their technology coverage, just as much as their news and politics coverage, should live up to that trust.

I'm not linking to the New Yorker, not rewarding their link-bait. Just read Gruber's piece.

Via: Daring Fireball

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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

Does a magazine like New Yorker need smarter tech coverage?


The headline is unfortunate, because it obscures the actual content of the story. Gruber misses a few points here, though not nearly as many as does Wu.

It is hard to argue with Gruber's main thesis, because it is almost a tautology; good products win because they are good. The argument Wu was failing spectacularly to make is not that openness itself is good, but that openness can help make better products. This holds true for Apple as much as anybody else. Even as Gruber asserts that Apple was most successful at its most closed, he ignores or at least minimizes Apple's dependence on open tools to get there. Safari does not exist without taking the core from KHTML. OSX does not get off the ground in usable form without Samba (which Apple, to their credit, has since replaced out of respect when Samba's license changed). Versions would not exist without sqlite. The list goes on and on - check your iPhone or OSX license pages. Even the most closed companies depend on open foundations. You could even make a case that Apple does not survive into that "closed" era without leaning heavily on openness.

Where Gruber gets it absolutely right, and Wu wrong, was that just because these open foundations were *necessary* for Apple's success does not mean they were *sufficient.*. Apple put in a lot of hard work aside from what they took, and deservedly reaped the rewards. That *execution* determined their success.

Open and closed methodologies confer different advantages for that execution. A closed company tends to be more nimble where they choose to be -- think how much faster Apple got AirPlay usable compared to the still-not-to-par DNLA. Conversely, an open company can move faster in multiple areas, because, unlike a closed company, in an open environment no one firm dictates what can be created, and at what pace. In a similar time period, Google Now jumped way ahead, HTC introduced different form factors, and Samsung made an actually useful stylus, all primarily because nobody had to wait for one player -- they could just go ahead and do it.

So both closed and open methodologies confer advantages. Wu might argue openness' advantage mean they inevitably win, whereas Gruber might argue for closed focus. But all that matters is what companies *do* with those advantages, and history is doggedly non-committal about which is superior. Certainly companies both closed and open have squandered huge technical and financial leads in the past, and will do so in the future.

(I do wish Apple would be more "open" in Wu's sense, and not just as a philosophical bent -- FaceTime would be actually useful had it been opened as promised so other systems could implement, iMessage might not be so frustrating on multiple devices had Apple used or at least learned from xmpp, and the entire Lightning Cable switch could have gone better. And, of course, allowing default apps or transparent app store guidelines would go a long way towards addressing common complaints.)

I'd heard, and I'm not sure how accurately, that the litigation surrounding FaceTime -- Apple being sued over parts of it -- was what had held back their desire to make it an open standard.

And agreed, lots of places where openness could lead to better experiences for Apple users.

Wow. Wu lost me within the first paragraph by being so pretentious as to spell out "nineteen-nineties" and referring to the 2000's as the "aughts".

Can we have stocks in the public square back to lock all the hipsters in for shaming and general breaking of spirit?

And seriously dragging AOL into the fight as a comparison to Apple? Does he not even realize that comparing a data pipe to a content server for that data pipe is not equivalent to discussing the merits of two different operating system paradigms?

Public stocks? Please?

Gruber's dissection of Wu's story is perfect. The word "open" is so heavily overloaded with various meanings that it can be used to attack or defend almost any tech company.

Wu claims that Microsoft is "open" because Gates managed to force PC OEMs to sign Windows licensing deals. Really? Closed source plus anticompetitive behavior equals "open"? What a joke.

And Wu says "Google was boldly open in its original design, and sailed past the selective pay-for-placement design of Yahoo." As if Google's search engine code were open. As if boldly whoring their search results out to pay-for-placement ads somehow makes Google more "boldly open."

"Open," in some or all of its meanings, works just fine for some tech companies and their products. "Closed," in some or all of its meanings, works just fine for other tech companies and their products. Yin and yang.

I said "works fine" because Wu's use of "beat" is sloppy and also subject to the irrational spin that pervades his entire piece. Of course, if Wu had precisely defined "open" and "beat," then his article might have generated fewer clicks. Cardinal sin there.