For all the good Apple has done in the world - the iPhone, iPod, MacBook and MacBook Air - the company has a dark side.[rssbreak]
While Microsoft and now Google face consumer backlash and antitrust action from international governments, Apple has escaped that wrath almost effortlessly. This is, in this columnist's opinion, because the types that should criticize Apple - Internet activists, bloggers and the media - are the same creative, trendy iHipsters that make up its user base.
But an increasingly iron-fisted, hard-thrusting and close-minded approach to the mobile Internet is finally getting Apple the scrutiny it deserves.
The almighty iPhone is the most user-friendly smartphone, hands down. But that's the only kind of friendly it is.
Last week, Apple rejected Google Voice from its application store and abruptly showed a bunch of other Google apps the door. A smaller company called Riverturn similarly had its app VoiceCentral ripped out of iTunes.
Riverturn posted a transcript of Apple's reasoning, which has been accurately described as a Kafkaesque roundabout. It says that these phone apps mimic the functions of the iPhone and therefore cannot be allowed.
Meanwhile, Apple has 50-plus pages of applications that duplicate the phone's camera functions and more than 100 pages of music apps that duplicate the phone's iTunes.
Now the Federal Communications Commission is looking into Apple's rejection of various applications, especially Google Voice.
Microsoft's fatal mistake in the 90s was proprietary software; Internet Explorer was an arrogant, problematic browser forced upon users. And IE still doesn't conform to internationally agreed upon standards for browsers. (In Europe, Microsoft recently "solved" this problem by offering their operating systems without browsers, a move so crazy it's certifiable.)
But Apple is no better. It's the Gordon Gekko of mobile Internet - dominant, and sometimes unfairly so.
Just as Microsoft did with IE on Windows, Apple doesn't allow other browsers to compete with Safari on the iPhone. For example, Opera, a gorgeous browser with a cult following and few problems, is iPhone-ready but barred from the apps store.
The independent Norwegian developer is in good company, though. Apple has been nothing less than abusive toward the open-source community. Besides mimicking Unix and other crowd-made Internet developments without so much as a credit, it is now going after users who jailbreak their phones, or unlock iPhones to enable unofficial, homemade code. Apple filed a complaint to the U.S. Copyright Office saying jailbroken phones could hide terrorists and crash cellphone towers, dangers that are by most accounts bogus.
But this week, there are signs of a shakeup. After the rejection of several Google apps, Google CEO Eric Schmidt resigned from Apple's board of directors, a position he held for almost three years.
Is Apple doomed to follow the dead-end path of Microsoft? Or will it learn from its predecessors' past failures? For the sake of its brilliant devices, all hope is for the latter.