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Apple and Steve Jobs… Evil?

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Author Tim Wu of the book “The Master Switch”, in a recent interview with the New York Times (s NYT), gives some sobering, yet controversial thoughts about Apple’s (s aapl) role in information control that prove much more interesting than Apple’s announcement today. Wu finds Apple just a little terrifying.

Paved With Good Intentions

Wu, a professor of copyright law at Columbia University, writes about business “in the way that writers have traditionally written about war,” in his own words. His work focuses on the ways that power permeates commerce, sustaining some firms while destroying others.

Wu takes aim at companies like ABC (s dis), NBC (s ge), AT&T (s t) and Google (s goog), that started as firms focused on serving the public, but turned to “evil” when they began to suppress technologies that could possibly interfere with their market dominance.

When asked which company is the most threatening, Wu has a ready answer: “Right now, I’d have to say Apple… Steve Jobs has the charisma, vision, and instincts of every great information emperor. The man who helped create the personal computer 40 years ago is probably the leading candidate to help exterminate it. His vision has an undeniable appeal, but he wants too much control.”

Data, Packaged and Sold

The iTunes Store, founded in April 2003, was perhaps Apple’s first major foray into changing the way we receive data. Over time, it became the foremost means for acquiring digital music legally, and changed the face of the industry forever. The Beatles coming onboard is one of the final dominoes to fall in Apple’s effort to provide access to the entirety of popular music.

Apple also spearheaded the rise of the app. Downloading apps is now commonplace, thanks largely to iOS. More and more, we don’t go to our favorite website to view that snippet of news or buy that hot product, we instead use apps designed for the purpose that wall off access to the rest of the web, and often charge us for the privilege of doing so.

While there are many other app stores in existence with other companies, with the success of the iOS App Store and the coming Mac App Store, Apple is positioned to remain a dominating force in the arena of intermediation between information and audiences. While this serves as a great opportunity for many technology creators, how long will Apple retain its position of trust in its current curatorial role?

Rotten to the Core?

When asked about the possibility of Jobs leaving Apple before long, which could happen due to health and increasing age, Wu states, “I think it may not matter…the mark of Steve Jobs is firmly placed on that firm, that it will continue long after he passes from leadership.” His core values may indeed remain, though I doubt his personality-based idiosyncrasies will carry on.

Whether or not we agree with Wu’s opinions, his assertion that Apple isn’t our little darling from Cupertino anymore is a reality that must be grappled with.

What do you think? Does Apple have too much control over how information is distributed? If so, what’s the best way to go about limiting its power?

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32 Responses to “Apple and Steve Jobs… Evil?”

  1. Wu acknowledges SJ’s role in developing the pc, but why does he deserve criticism for going beyond the pc today. If he continued to maintain his 40 year old vision, he would be deserving of the more than a slap on the hand. It takes leadership to put aside yesterday’s monumental achievement without regret. SJ’s genius seems to me to be in creating open-ended experiences, i.e., SJ commented recently that they didn’t dream of the possible uses of the iPad. It’s the users who are creating value. Extraordinary.

  2. Richard Margolies

    No the charge of Apple having too much control does not bother me, though it seems to bother Mr. Wu and others. I wonder whether they are people who consciously or unconsciously value control. And then denounce others they actually secretly envy.

    Is it control, or an insistence on the quality and beauty of the product and user usefulness that is the object of Mr. Wu’s perception? ‘Facts’ for one person may be something else for another.

  3. 2010 is like 1984.

    There is nothing “evil” in it; the Ministries of Oceana didn’t think of themselves as evil because they were doing everything in the best interests of the proles. But whilst Steve Jobs would have regarded himself as the Winston Smith character back in 1984, he is now significantly closer to Big Brother with ever increasing control of what we do with our information and computing devices.

    OpenSource was seen to be the way ahead just a few years ago but given products with enough appeal (akin to the “appliances” that Steve has been on about for so long), it is frightening how quickly we are prepared to forgo our liberties and privacy.

    When someone produces a laptop with the same design and build qualities as Apple I’m joining the Brotherhood Resistance. No iPhone, iPad or iTunes for me…

  4. Principal2

    “Wu, a professor of copyright law at Columbia University”
    Does this guy have a screwy mind? Avoid sending your children to a school where the professors are crazy or paid smear artists. I find WU a LOT terrifying.

  5. Principal

    “Wu, a professor of copyright law at Columbia University”
    Does this guy have a screwy mind? Avoid sending your children to a school where the professors are crazy or paid smear artists. I find WU a LOT terrifying.

  6. Since when does the sole popularity of one or two unique
    product lines necessitate ‘the death’ of another?
    A ‘buzz’ drift or mentality does not permeate culture in it’s entirety nor signal to anyone but its immediate adherents of anything except it’s own popularity. Largely this is a phenomenon more akin (using physical metaphor models) of inertia rather than force.

  7. Wu and so many others are just jealous.

    who cares if Apple or Steve Jobs is controlling or not controlling whatever.
    Simply because:
    1. QUALITY:
    Only Apple makes hardware/software products that are use-able, easy, powerful, flexible, stable, gorgeous inside-out. Apple products just work. so let them control.

    Is it not ironic that the IT departments exist solely on handling crappy products – otherwise or if using easy and reliable Apple products, there would be no reason for their existence? Historically, they control all corporations as their expertise could never be checked by laymen managers. IT people lied to management about what to purchase etc., lied to journalists about what products were good. That is who controls, not Apple or Steve Jobs. Thanks to the internet invention, fooling the public is no longer as easy, though lying en masse is possible nowadays. Nowadays, increasingly more corporations are seeing Apple products finally penetrating…as IT have been found out and no longer can fool managers due to the sheer quality…as employees demand it!

    2. SALES:
    Apple got to that position of control, not because of an evil agenda! what is this paranoia. Or is it Wu’s pure controversial theory just to get attention to his writings? Apple’s success of unbeatable products got them into a market controlling position on their own, just because they’re outselling all competition. why call it monopoly or tyranny or anything else it’s not really.

    3. FREEDOM:
    Apple deserves it all. After all, they never touched electronics or cell phones. Every bloody expert in the industry, market analysts etc. was negative about the iPhone and yet look at its sheer popularity. Who cares what so-called experts or Wu thinks.

    Anyway, the cell phone service providers and manufacturers totally abused users with their product choices, features and prices. We overpaid for junk too. Why is it that for decades, and only after Apple showed them how, they suddenly all cry foul, when it is Apple that democratized the industry in the name of the consumer for once!?! Every cell phone since Apple’s 2007 iPhone has been a copy of the iPhone. Everyone is tumbling over, but always coming out short even though they only have to copy. No one can even produce a single or decent phone that’s successful in its own rights. What does that mean?
    A. None of the others know what they’re doing, despite their life-long experience in the industry vs. Apple which is in its infancy. – they are all incompetent!
    B. Everyone else is going bankrupt with their stupid decisions.
    C. Everyone else is claiming foul or that they have the next iPhone killer product and falsify their success rates or manipulate the headlines just to beat Apple, instead of working hard and producing real stuff, thereby, if anything, cheating to win – though they never win.

    A real example is this weak’s HP Slate tablet whose headline lied to the world “exceeded expectations”; in reality, HP planned to sell no more than 5,000 units in 1 month, so setting the bar low – any idiot can outsell that standard! Meanwhile Apple sells over 46,000 iPads daily!!

    If anything, non-Apple products sell, it seems, due to nothing more than human curiosity at novelty stage – every Apple “killer” product against iPod, iPhone, iPad, Mac, laptop, AppleTV etc. has failed and over many years! So, calling Steve Jobs a control-freak, is unfair b.s.

    Why kill Apple’s perfection? They are constantly striving to make better products for the user, whilst the competition tries their best to complicate life. We should be thankful, not regret control.

    4. CHOICE:
    Apple sells what people want like no other firm in history. If you think Apple only sells because of their marketing genius, you’re saying that people or users or buyers are dumb drones and can not think for themselves. We are so bombarded by ads these days, none of them are effective anymore. Who listens to ads anymore?! Apple makes the most fun, innovative, aesthetic, simple, not convoluted and manipulative ads. If you see subliminal messages in Apple’s ads, you’re just paranoid.

    And as they say, don’t like to give Steve or Apple your hard-earned money, fine, go buy the competitive product and see how you’ll feel after a few minutes only with a mediocre product! There is no alternatives in any category Apple touches. But if you like the competition, great for you. Stop whining about Apple taking over. Buy the rest and be happy. Let other buy what they want. Apple never forces people at gunpoint to buy their wares, do they?!

    The most controversial example of Apple’s controlling nature they say is the iTunes + iOS, which are “closed” systems. That’s true on the surface, but not the whole truth. Try to get rid of your FaceBook account – that is nearly impossible! iTunes is NOT the only way to get digital music. iTunes downloads are not confining your choice to only Apple iPod music players! It’s all a myth spread by the competition! iOS’s App Store for iPhone iPod Touch and iPad, is closed or the only official way to get your apps, yes, but for good reason: look at what plagues Google Android phones – the open source nature! Users can choose Android, Apple does not manipulate them to choose iPhones?! Users can choose to have a gorgeous, reliable experience with iOS or a very inconsistent one with Android. That is it. No need to theorize and accuse. This is as silly as people complaining about what’s on TV – change the channel or shut it off or don’t own one! The latest fud is Apple’s Mac App Store – the equivalent of iOS app store for their PC: theories, probably manufactured by competitors or simply ignoranus journalists, are flying around that scare people into believing MacOSX will kill user choice by only allowing closed ways to download their software from January 2011 onwards.
    What a load of shit. Apple is only giving users an ideal, easy, fast, automatic Choice! Users will still be able to use their other favorite download sources from any web site or physical store.

    5. NEUROSIS:
    Is it not ironic, that Apple gets blamed for every little thing, when the competition those people defend is what abused the market for decades?! Apple freed user’s choices damn it. Yet is is human nature to turn on them, to be jealous, to wish to see the underdog succeed, but fail thereafter or once they reach a certain size. That is neurotic.

    How can the real market monopolizers, liars suddenly become holy, when they did nothing to change their bad ways, whilst Apple works their butts off every single minute to produce heavenly products people actually use? How is it possible that the others get credit or are looked upon as underdogs whilst they’re doing nothing to save themselves? It’s that humans are fickle, jealous, neurotic and have increasingly shorter memories – though excused as ADD – which by the way, is not a disease, but simple caused by malnutrition.

    Much more can be said in favor of Apple. Apple is not God or perfect. What is in life. Who cares. Why focus on destroying Apple when it’s always the least manipulative firm out there, looking out for us users?

    6. MONOPOLY:
    Whose monopolizing or controlling? Microsoft still owns more than 90% of the OS market. Google still owns that much of the online search market. Yahoo still owns…Samsung owns most digital TV market…Nokia owns the majority of the cell phone market worldwide…FaceBook is the world’s biggest web site with over 500 million users!! FaceBook is the worst proponent for privacy as is Google who is working with the CIA on a new search engine to that will forever kill any privacy you have!!! But Apple is the control-freak?! Huh? What logic is that?!

    Google is a bad loser too. a cry-baby who got out of China because they don’t agree with their policies. Stop whining. Blaming. Using scapegoats. Do it better. User your head. Think Different. Apple has all the right moves. Stop being jealous and write FUD.

    Who does not monopolize, whether with intention or through sheer luck of sales? Theorizing that Apple is evil – or has plans to do what exactly – is paranoid and silly.

    Yeah, everyone but Apple tries their best to whine. What a bunch of wusses or losers. Get real. Get a life. If you can’t beat Apple, it’s obviously because you simply can not. That’s it. No excuses. But you can always opt to blame Apple for buying all the material supplies, right – leaving you with none competitively priced?

    7. SECRET:
    is it not ironic that everyone desperately tries to beat Apple but with all the money and manpower and expertise and talent and theories and whatever else….can not?! is it not amazing that all these brains can not succeed?! doesn’t anyone ask themselves why that is? journalists, analysts too, can’t figure it out. hello?! Apple’s success is due to the simple fact that they are the only ones who control both hard-and-soft-ware and their secret ingredient is Software! NOT hardware – whose parts anyone can assemble! Yet none of the manufacturers get it as they still produce mediocrity. What does that show about human intelligence or flexibility or ingenuity – it is scary! Apple has moo, indeed.

    much more can be said in favor of Apple’s ways. There will naturally always be those groups that do not understand Apple or are too stubborn to accept the truth. There are those who will always complain about life. Those that lie to sell through controversy. Those that seek attention. Neurosis or PHD-accepted Stockholm Syndrome ( is a common human trait. Live and let live. Apple has a place just like every other firm – Love them or Hate them.
    But hate yourself too for being silly and change your ways or cause your own ulcer over nothing. There is no evil in Apple. Waste time on your own. Get a life. Enough already about spreading nonsense. News is not real anymore. Facts are missing. The most we can do is not be evil to ourselves, evolve!

  8. Apple is no more or less evil than the next big media mogul conglomerate…. which means they are very evil.

    Always trying to kill any and all competition, and tie consumers solely to their brand. Any company does that. Apple just does it very well.

  9. HUH???

    How is Apple “suppressing” anyone’s technologies by doing their own thing instead of following the herd? Other companies are free to make whatever the hell they want to make, and consumers are free to buy whatever they want to buy. The author of this questionable article is imagining things!

  10. Okay, the part about Apps is crap … there’s a standards compliant Safari browser on every iOS device … ppl can still go direct to the websites if they want to … they have the choice !

  11. GigaOm is becoming more and more the National Enquirer of the internet. Nothing useful to say let lets dill some space with silly articles like this one. make it about Apple and Steve Jobs. That always gets attention. It doesn’t have to make sense, we just need the page views to report to our advertisers.

  12. FUD articles are boring and worthless. There are so many important business practices and behaviors to analyze that are critical to the future of capitalism. How about the horrible results of Marketing-As-Management that significantly contributed to the ongoing depression? How about the leadership drought? How about the dearth of qualified scientists and engineers in parallel with the decline of innovation and acceleration of fraud and customer abuse in the marketplace? No, let’s write a FUD article about the one company that has thrived during the ongoing depression. (o_0)

  13. Investigate WU

    Wu is coat tailing on Apple making negative unwarranted PERSONAL comments to get controversial and gain notoriety. He sounds like a socialistic modern day Robin Hood.
    “Rotten to the Core?” Is this slanderous? It certainly is demonizing to make Steve Jobs seem evil even if he isn’t. Is he an Apple hater? Is he stipend by hedge funds short selling Apple? Is he paid by Apple’s competitors? These are questions that need to be answered before these kinds of “opinions” are published and circulated by viral media.
    I think Wu needs to be investigated. His comments are harmful not only to Steve Jobs, but ALL of Apple’s shareholders. I suspect WU is the EVIL ONE giving his negative interview on Apple when the market hits a bad time to accelerate an Apple share price downdraft. It is ONLY his biased “opinion”.

  14. I’d say he has it a bit wrong. Apple doesn’t seem to have any true desire to own or collect your information or the worlds information. If they did they’d be so much better at “the cloud” and that’s the area everyone criticisms them for, even as they state Apple has too much control.

    Google, Facebook, others… they want your information. They want all your information and they want to use it however they want to use it. Apple wants to control your experience while you are creating, using, or giving away your information. Content is foremost, but secondary to them. Apple knows it needs content, but Apple’s primary customer is still the consumer. That works to our benefit, for now.

    Google, Facebook, others… their primary client isn’t the consumer. They want your data to make them more attractive to their primary customers—advertisers and other vendors who want to know as much as they can know about you.

    There’s a pretty big difference in regards to Apple’s control freak tendencies. They exert control over the people who want your data—Developers, Media Moguls, Advertisers, etc. Some may just want to sell a single app to you, but most want Apple to sell you to them, so they can try to gain as much money from you as possible. That’s capitalism and marketing as a cornerstone.

    I think Apple could do “the cloud” much better, but I think in general, they don’t want to. They don’t want your content; they want to help you be able to create it. They want to give you the devices and software that makes creating it faster, better, easier. They want you to explore the power of making your own DVD, music, a movie, a good presentation. The simple power of “I can” whether its uttered by your 3 year old, your grandma, or you. That’s Apple’s target and I think that’s why they push on both the hardware and software fronts.

    But what you create? How you communicate, who you communicate with, your social graph, Apple hasn’t really done anything there. Even with the creation of Ping, why was the initial experience so bad? Because Apple refused to leverage your personal data. People were begging for Apple to do so, and even with current improvements, it doesn’t leverage your data nearly as much as it could.

  15. Easy 2 judge but hard 2 do it better. Remember the decades of microsoft domination. Now is the time 4 apple to show what can be done if the Technology both hardware and software is developed under one umbrella and key innovations become milestones in the change of our lifes into what we Gould only dream of since the iphone rocked this planet 4 the first time… The ipad was the next big step forward… And 2 be honest we are all looking forward 2 the next wonder made in cupertino ! Wu is well respected and of course it is necessary 2 discuss market domination and possible threats …

  16. I think it’s “evil” to tell someone what product their company has to make. Why can’t Steve Jobs and Apple make whatever they want and then it’s up to people if they want to buy that or not? What kind of weird communist version of capitalism is the professor promoting where people dictate the technologies that Apple must use?

  17. Wu knows what most media types know: if you’re writing a book about technology, say something bad about Apple or Steve Jobs and you will get noticed far beyond the relevance or intelligence of your overall offering.

    It’s already been noted that Wu’s analysis is completely off-base with other companies being far more interested in control over media and markets than Apple is. Windows, Amazon and Google. Those companies have sought to create real walled gardens that restrict growth and opportunites. Apple’s garden actually grows things. Apple pushed DRM-less content and the iTunes store created a venue where artists can push back from the music monopolies and actually make money off their product.

    Apple created the App Store that created opportunities for small developers to hit it big while maintaining security for end-users. The so-called “open source” -ness of Android is mostly a recipe for viruses and scams and the fractured nature of the market makes it harder not easier for the end-user to really be in control.

    Unlimited choices end up being no choice at all sometimes, Android, Word and Windows have shown us that. Sometimes simple is powerful and Apple knows that as well.

    Is Apple perfect? No, but for now, no other company speaks as clearly to the end-user, geek or not geek, than Apple does. Real personal freedom comes from the power that easy-to-use tools impart to the user.

    Atlanta, GA

  18. “The man who helped create the personal computer 40 years ago is probably the leading candidate to help exterminate it.”

    If his analysis is as accurate as his history, I would say that Apple is all hugs and puppies.

    For the record, it was only 34 years ago that Apple introduced the Apple 1 (July 1976.)

  19. Oh come on, not another “zomg Apple are evil” nonsense. Jobs is not obsessed with control for the sake of having control to have some sort of “evil dictatorship”. They simply want to provide what is best created under a controlled environment. The success of their products simply confirms this experience. There’s of course always a danger to having too much control but until there’s proof that such a danger actually exists, I’ll leave this as a rhetorical issue.

  20. I think he gives Apple too much credit. Apple has been successful but it faces many threats.

    For example it couldn’t persuade Facebook to work with Ping. That should be a sobering reminder that Apple can’t always get what it wants. Not that I know the details of the event. Perhaps a solution is in the works.

    Never the less I don’t agree with academic from Columbia. Maybe we can pool our money and buy him a stuffed Orange or something to help him sleep better at night.

  21. Synthmeister

    Is this guy even listening to what he is saying? He needs a serious reality check.

    1. I believe Windows is still running on around 90% of the world’s PCs.
    2. Amazon music can sell virtually any song or book that Apple sells and I can load them on my iPhone. Or my Kindle. Or my PC. Oh wait, Amazon uses a proprietary e-book format, but Apple uses an open e-book format.
    3. Anyone can make an app and sell it through Android or WM7 or Apple. Anyone can set up a website viewable by anyone on the internet with any kind of web device.
    4. Apple has yet to buy Time/Warner like AOL or buy Universal Studios like Sony. Google is still busy trying to digitize the entire printed output of mankind, copyrights be damned.
    5. Apple’s open source webkit has become the mobile industry browser standard–except for the new WM7 phones–and done as much as anything to push open standards and stymie the IE monopoly.
    6. Apple almost singlehandedly removed DRM from digital music–much to the chagrin of the record companies, MS, Real and their delusions of eternally, locked down subscription based music.
    7. Apple’s app store has done more than anything else in the last 30 years to democratize and revolutionize software development, distribution, reimbursement for 12 year olds and Fortune 500 mega companies.
    8. Every single media company in the world can/could set up websites to sell their own content and completely bypass Apple’s distribution systems yet still take advantage of Apple’s growing universe of iDevices by using open standards and formats.

    Sure, Apple might have a closed garden but it allows plenty of 3rd parties to make lots of money off the closed garden. And if you don’t like that idea, you can set up shop in the HTML 5 public park across the street and still make a lot of money on the Apple playground.


    • Really? As a company built in a free society they have every right to control content, code and developer tools. It is there product and software they are protecting. If you want to have a free-for-all (read:worry about the security and content of what you and your family downloads), use Android or Windows.

  22. Apple is no more evil than any other tech company. When it drops all browser support, it will be. But that won’t happen. You can surf freely. When it makes no bones about its belief that you have no privacy, it will be. But that won’t happen. Unlike Google, Apple wants you to buy what they are selling, not sell you to someone else. So Apple has strong motives to protect rather than exploit its customer relationships. Apple is guilty of removing the layers of abstraction between user and computer. This inevitably involves exerting tighter control. Installing, deleting and updating software has never been easier. There is a dark side to control, of course, too much restriction. But those restrictions, I would argue are an effort to protect the company from extinction. Apple is not perfect. But while they are famed for product secrecy, they are pretty open with their market intentions. You may not like their control, but they are not shy about it. They don’t feint openness. And unlike other companies, they have a thirty year track record of taking care of customers. I trust that they want my money for their products. Google wants my information. They want me to put all of my data into their hands, yet show no interest in protecting it. You get what you pay for. They want far more from me with no evidence that they will treat that information well. So Apple is a convenient target, but Google is the new Evil Empire.

  23. Michael Sidoric

    Wu should be concerned, rather, with Google’s wanting unbridled access to scan all books without regard to copyrights. Apple’s leadership in bringing digital pirates [downloaders] into the paying fold has rescued digital music, and may do so for many magazines and newspapers. If Wu is worried about risks in the information age — he needs to consider ‘net neutrality’ and bandwidth purveyors who exercise control to content. Content is useless if you can’t access it.

  24. Yes it may be “evil” but such is capitalism. If people find a person/company sufficiently evil, go somewhere else with your business. Basically all he is saying is that once you become large enough to be nationally recognized, you are evil because you care more about your bottom line then the good of the customers/industry. People generally complain about this when they are not successful.

  25. “The man who helped create the personal computer 40 years ago is probably the leading candidate to help exterminate it.”

    The extermination of the personal computer has its good and bad points. I’m not seeing how this makes a company or person evil.

    • Not to mention the fact that Steve Jobs isn’t destroying PCs so much as redefining them and how we use them.
      Like Steve Jobs said years ago, Apple lost the desktop wars and needed to move on to the next big thing which turned out to be digital media and mobile computing.
      Steve was visionary enough to see at least two revolutions coming and figure out how to ride them before anyone else. He’s not destroying anyone per se, he’s just outrunning and out gunning everyone else this time.