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Apple and the Scalability of Secrecy 155

Posted by Soulskill
from the ask-the-government-about-that dept.
RobotsDinner writes "Anil Dash has a thoughtful exploration of Apple's notorious devotion to secrecy, and argues that not only is there a limit to its feasibility, but that recent events show Apple has reached that limit already. 'If the ethical argument is unpersuasive, then focus on the long-term viability of your marketing and branding efforts, and realize that a technology company that is determined to prevent information from being spread is an organization at war with itself. Civil wars are expensive, have no winners, and incur lots of casualties.'"
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Apple and the Scalability of Secrecy

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  • I PREDICT (Score:5, Interesting)

    by linhares (1241614) on Saturday August 01, 2009 @02:27AM (#28906515)

    That after the FCC probing into Apple's nasty rejection of Google Voice, from now on we're gonna have to live with Michael Arrington proclaiming how, in his modesty and disregard for material things he [techcrunch.com] saved the world from tyranny.

    May god have mercy on us all.

    Yet, as I mentioned in the other [slashdot.org] /. submission, here is one tiny shred of reason to think that a government entity might, just might, have a tiny shred of value. And the FCC made it clear that a "blanket" of confidential docs concerning this would not be accepted, which means at least *some* info concerning the latest brouhauha will be public. Seriously, for once, kudos to the FCC.

    • Re:I PREDICT (Score:5, Interesting)

      by icebike (68054) on Saturday August 01, 2009 @02:48AM (#28906617)

      I would have rather had the FTC or the DOJ, lauching this probe rather than the FCC.

      I doubt the FCC can tell Apple what they can and can't put in their app store. The FCC simply has no standing in this area. Apple may not want to piss off the agency that approves new handsets, but realistically the FCC has little leverage on Apple.

      The FCC does have jurisdiction to hold ATT's feet to the flame.

      If it turns out that ATT told Apple not to accept these apps, citing some boilerplate non-compete clause in their contract, that would be a Microsoft Moment. (Microsoft ordered Compaq to restore IE to prominence on the desktop, or lose the right to sell windows. Justice department saw it differently).

      There is always the possibility that Apple quietly leaked to FCC that ATT was violating some rules/regs. Apple would make sure they too get called on the carpet at the same time as ATT for plausible deny ability reasons.

      And we can't overlook the possibility of Google quietly putting its oar in.

      Who ever made the decision to block Google Voice, picked the absolute worst time to do so. Congress has already sent the FCC on a slash and burn mission into the cell phone market.

      Of late, the FCC has actually seemed to be on the side of Joe Average Citizen, compared to 10 or 20 years ago. Yes, they might come out with another Janet Jackson ruling, but it is equally likely something good will come of this.

      We can only wait and see.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      FCC: 1. Why did Apple reject the Google Voice application for iPhone and remove related third-party applications from its App Store?
      Apple: Because they didn't meet our standards for iPhone applications.
      FCC: 6. What are the standards for considering and approving iPhone applications?
      Apple: We do what the hell we want.

      • by prockcore (543967)

        Those answers would be surprising.. since Apple has been trying to blame AT&T for rejecting apps like GV and Sling.

  • by Dutch Gun (899105) on Saturday August 01, 2009 @02:37AM (#28906563)

    I happen to work in the game industry - there is a lot of secrecy in our industry too, by absolute necessity. Most games would get crucified if they got leaked to the press or the public too early in the dev cycle. Most people are not used to filling in the blanks - ignoring the rough edges, or even disregarding the aspects of an early product that just plain suck. That's all part of the development process, but consumers are used to seeing just the slick, final product (well, even that's not guaranteed nowadays unfortunately).

    There's also some other very good reasons not to go blathering on about features that haven't even been developed yet: those features might get cut for budgetary, creative, or technical reasons, and then you look like an ass for not delivering on what you promised.

    I'm not defending Apple's business practices necessarily, but I'm just saying that throwing your doors open to the press and public isn't the panacea that this guys is making it out to be.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by icebike (68054)

      Most games would get crucified if they got leaked to the press or the public too early in the dev cycle.

      And you know this how?

      Id software was great for putting out "Technology previews" which crashed a lot, but sure built sales.

      If you produce crap, and people can see its crap, they tend to step around it like a dog-pile on the pavement.

      But a good concept demonstrator with wide appeal, even if rough around the edges, will draw customers like flies.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Dutch Gun (899105)

        And you know this how?

        Because I've been developing video games for over a decade, and I'm well aware of the reactions people have to seeing unfinished games, having seen it many, many times.

        Id software was great for putting out "Technology previews" which crashed a lot, but sure built sales.

        If you produce crap, and people can see its crap, they tend to step around it like a dog-pile on the pavement.

        But a good concept demonstrator with wide appeal, even if rough around the edges, will draw customers like flies.

        id's "technology previews" are relatively polished pieces of code, despite crashes (crashes are just indicative of beta code, nothing more). I'm talking more about pre-alpha stuff, very early in development.

        Let me give you a real-life example: I'm currently working on *insert name of popular game* version 2. We have millions of fans of ver

        • Why would the lay person have been rummaging around rumour sites for leaked alpha builds anyway? And don't you think they might have re-evaluated when the final awesome product came out, they play demos, read reviews etc?
    • by christoofar (451967) on Saturday August 01, 2009 @03:11AM (#28906755)

      Agreed. Apple is no different than game developers justifying its secrecy. This isn't about AAPL's technology. We already know what they use for technology ever since Steve left NeXT and turned AAPL into a BSD Unix shop.

      It's all about their marketing arm. Their entire branding is all about total ease of use from every angle from hardware to software and the sleek, elegant design. This is not like MSFT where the entire industry cuts them slack for turning out a totally unfinished, buggy or otherwise complete failure (WindowsME, Vista).

      Apple's clique in life has always been young, urban, chic, sexy. Anything that peels away all that makeup and reveals the sausage underneath is seen in Cuptertino as a potential catastrophe to Apple's public image.

      Microsoft's culture never painted itself into a corner this way. Bless their hearts, they're still plugging away at the Zune.

      • by jcr (53032)

        ever since Steve left NeXT

        You're a little fuzzy on your history, there. Does the word "merger" mean anything to you?

        -jcr

      • by tkrotchko (124118)

        "Bless their hearts, they're still plugging away at the Zune."

        The problem with the Zune is primarily that it has too many competing interests, the same thing that spoils Sony's products these days.

        Imagine a product that had to do the following:
        1) Compete with an established brand leader (iPod)
        2) Start a new proprietary music market, which was different than Microsoft's proprietary old music market (Plays for sure)
        3) Make sure it locks down content pretty tightly to appease the record companies
        4) Innovate, b

    • They are open about it and people get along fine with products in a beta phase.

      The game industry could learn some lessons from that.

  • by stms (1132653) on Saturday August 01, 2009 @02:40AM (#28906579)
    I'll be the first of the (of course) many people to say I will give my life on the front lines against apples secrecy.
    • If it's true, as TFA suggests, that the Chinese guy who killed himself for losing an iphone prototype was involved in passing it on to knockoff manufacturers, then no you're not the first.
  • by tgibbs (83782) on Saturday August 01, 2009 @03:04AM (#28906697)

    The article seems kind of stupid. For example, he dismisses the motive of withholding information from competitors who might want to create rush knock-offs on the grounds that "no amount of secrecy will stop it." This is a like arguing that nobody should lock their doors, because houses get burgled anyway, and no amount of locks will stop it. He argues that copying is "a normal part of the business cycle," begging the question of whether it is beneficial to the company that is copied--and ignores the fact that trade secrets are also a normal part of business. He implies that Apple might somehow be culpable in the suicide of an employee, even though there is no evidence whatsoever that Apple drove him to suicide, and the apparent motive (to the extent that anything is known)--failing in one's responsibility--can be and has been a motive for suicide in many contexts that do not necessarily involve secrecy.

    Even if there are some valid grounds for criticizing Apple's policies (and it is hard to defend some of their litigious actions), the obvious bias behind such obviously fallacious arguments undermines the case

  • by SeaFox (739806) on Saturday August 01, 2009 @03:05AM (#28906703)

    There has been some recent discussion [macrumors.com] on Macrumors about Apple's discontinuation of their video composting software Shake. And several of the posters point out that Apple's "cloud of secrecy" around products and their roadmaps is one of the major contributing factors in people migrating away from Shake. In the consumer space, such secrecy is allowable and even generates hype. But in a business where production software needs to be STABLE, both in the technical and support sense, the idea that "we can't tell you what will happen next" simply doesn't fly.

    • by prockcore (543967)

      People were forced to move away from Shake. Apple killed the Windows version, and the prices for the Linux version are ludicrously out of touch.

      Shake is dying because Apple seems to have given up trying to compete with Affer Effects and Combustion.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Apple announced that Shake was end-of-life a couple of years ago. Large users were even given the opportunity to buy a source code license of the last build so they could keep it going in house. However, talk of the replacement (Phenomenon?) product has been pretty quiet of late.
  • by aussersterne (212916) on Saturday August 01, 2009 @03:08AM (#28906729) Homepage
    Apple's customers are not the same customers as those of other computing companies (a silly, obvious statement, but apparently not so obvious that it doesn't need to be said).

    Things that are clear:

    Apple is doing very well right now.
    Apple is doing very well as a very secretive company.
    Apple's current customers, which are the reason it's doing very well, support Apple while it's a very secretive company.

    Things that have been the subject of much speculation:

    Apple's customers buy in many cases for non-technical reasons.
    Apple's customers buy in many cases for social, identity, or personality reasons.

    Things that are also clear:

    It cannot be ruled out that Apple's secrecy contributes to the loyalty of its customer base, which is not congruent to the customer base of other technology companies.
    It cannot be ruled out, therefore, that a reduction in secrecy would alienate some current customers.
    It cannot be guaranteed that a reduction in secrecy would gain Apple an equivalent number of new customers.

    Synopsis:

    If I'm Apple, and I'm having the best few years in a very, very long time for the company, I am not . changing. a . thing .
  • by christoofar (451967) on Saturday August 01, 2009 @03:21AM (#28906807)

    The day that a blackhat finds a hole on a virgin iPhoneOS image that gets exploited to spread a nasty worm will be the day that millions of AAPL fans will feel sunk and betrayed that Apple didn't coddle and protect them.

    For the private domain, that might be the only thing that throws much of Apple's secrecy policy out the window. They would have to in order to save their unblemished reputation.

    Either that, or AAPL installs iNortonAV for free on all mobile devices much like what Windows users deal with (an AV client that takes up 2GB of flash and steals 50% of your CPU cycles while it scans for trojans in your 3G packets while taking a call from your grandma)

  • by valen (2689) on Saturday August 01, 2009 @04:40AM (#28907139) Homepage

      So, this is bullshit. You can keep secrets as long as the people involved think secrecy is warranted.

      Google have an astonishing track record of not leaking projects to the press. They've worked on some incredible stuff, and the vast majority don't get leaked at all, or get leaked accidentally. Huge numbers of internal/infrastructure projects never get told about outside the company. Sure, some projects are pre-announced because by working with outside companies they assume there will be leaks (ChromeOS, Android).

      Internally people get told "Please don't leak unannounced projects. A leak could cause your co-workers to have to launch an unfinished or unpolished project ahead of time, reducing the impact of months or years of their time".

      The problem with Apple is that they work with a lot of outside agents, all of whom can leak without thinking of the personal consequences to friends, just financial/legal ones (which can be avoided). Their own engineers have a pretty good track record of keeping quiet about 'important' things.

  • From TFS,

    "If the ethical argument is unpersuasive, then focus on the long-term viability of your marketing and branding efforts, and realize that a technology company that is determined to prevent information from being spread is an organization at war with itself. Civil wars are expensive, have no winners, and incur lots of casualties."

    This analogy relies on one assumption: that the natural inclination of people is to be open and vocal.

    What if people simply do not care about sharing what the "next big thing" happening at Apple is. What if the only one who really does care is Mr. Steve Jobs himself. Then perhaps the war he is fighting isn't really all that awful. And the employees at Apple may not be at all as interested in their work as the media projects.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by linhares (1241614)

      What if people simply do not care about sharing what the "next big thing" happening at Apple is.

      Then there shouldn't be appleinsider and macrumours and macnn and theunofficialappleweblog and fakestevejobs and all those sites, right?

      • Have you ever seen J J Abram's talk on the Mystery Box [ted.com] at Ted.com? Apple is one big mystery box and so long as the box is kept closed, everyone wants a peek inside. But, if we ever did see inside... I'd suspect we'd find that it's not so mind-blowing as we once supposed.

  • The art of war... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by UBfusion (1303959)

    ... (by Sun Tzu) is probably the only holy (non-red) book that Jobbs was/is reading everyday before sleep. Secrecy is a fine weapon. Energy efficient and non-violent too.

    I will reluctantly counterpoint ancient wisdom with a quote from the former Greek lunatic dictator George Papadopoulos (1967-1974): "Please allow me to worship surprise attacks, and therefore prepare to get surprised".

    Don't get fooled by this 'surprise theater', if I may coin the term. Is it really different from the complementary strategy?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I see English words that I recognise, but I can't actually understand what this post is saying.

  • by Daniel Weis (1209058) on Saturday August 01, 2009 @05:26AM (#28907297)
    I work at Apple and I know exactly how scalable our system of secrecy is.

    Thing is, I can't tell you about it since it is, itself, a secret. Sorry! :D
  • Civil wars have no winners. That's why the United States is a British colony.
    • by mjwx (966435)

      Civil wars have no winners. That's why the United States is a British colony.

      That wasn't a civil war. Remember that America lost the war it fought America itself back in the 1800's

  • Apple's policy keeps details of the upcoming products out of the popular press while simultaneously allowing the blogger / technophile communities to obsess about every rumor and alleged detail that does leak out. So it whets the appetite of the hardcore fans while still allowing Apple to "surprise" Joe Consumer (who doesn't read macrumors et. al.) when it comes out with something "new".

Philogyny recapitulates erogeny; erogeny recapitulates philogyny.

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