A Cautionary Tale: Rogue Amoeba and Apple

At the OUCE people were teasing me because I kept saying “Apple is Evil”.

Now I really don’t believe in good and evil as absolute constructs, but the phrase gets my point across. If you are a casual user of Apple’s products you probably don’t care, or more likely just don’t notice, how tightly Apple is trying to control both the information you create and what you can do with it.

[Note: for those of you who point out that Apple is a fine example of capitalism, they aren’t. In functioning markets, profits like Apple’s are not sustainable because competition will arise to drive prices down, to the benefit of consumers. With the double edged sword of stupid software patent lawsuits and a hegemony on components brought about through having container ships full of cash, Apple is preventing this from happening, or at least slowing it down, but I guess that’s a topic for another rant].

Some people think that I hate the idea of paying for software. Not true, I spend a lot of money each month on software. I prefer free alternatives, but I am more than willing to purchase commercial software as long as the vendor looks out for my privacy and the software works (or better yet, I prefer spending my money supporting free software).

One company I’ve spent money with over the years is Rogue Amoeba. They write wonderful audio-focused utilities for OS X. Recently I used Audio Hijack to digitize a collection of vinyl albums and then processed them through Fission. Through their Airfoil products I could stream music to any of my devices (well, before I started using Ubuntu – I really wish someone would work to make Linux tools that can leverage Apple’s Airplay/Airtunes technology or create a free alternative). The apps were inexpensive, easy to use, and got the job done.

Yesterday on the Rogue Amoeba website, they posted the following: “Apple Has Removed Airfoil Speakers Touch From The iOS App Store”

Airfoil Speakers was a little app that allowed you to stream music from your computer to any iOS device. It had been around since 2009. No reason was given for why this application was pulled and nothing had recently changed to act as a trigger for its removal.

Rogue Amoeba isn’t some little flight by night software company. They’ve been around a long time, been very focused on OS X (even when it wasn’t cool) and are all around good guys. While they are probably somewhere down the list of Apple business partners from, say, Samsung, my guess is that they are much closer to the top than most. The fact that Apple would just yank their app with no justification shows how little Apple cares about those who develop on their platform.

Think about it – Rogue Amoeba, and thousands of other software companies – have bet the farm on being able to supply software for Apple devices. These are good companies employing smart developers who have mortgages to pay. Now, to a large extent, their livelihood is being threatened by Apple’s fickle control of its marketplaces.

The rumor is that Apple is creating a similar product in the next iOS release, and apparently the terms of service prohibit applications that duplicate Apple-provided functionality.

Control is the main point here. One reason I left Apple last summer was that I saw that company taking more and more control over what I could and could not do with the devices on which I create. I could envision some point in time where Apple would make a decision I didn’t like, and then it might be too late or too expensive for me to back away.

I could see Apple moving to standardize everything, including their personal computers, on an iOS platform. With terms that prohibit competing products to anything Apple itself creates they are stifling competition, and I could foresee a future event where their policies might arbitrarily screw me over, although I didn’t really have a concrete example.

I do now, even if it didn’t happen to me directly.