Against Appification

Submitted by Jon on Fri, 01/20/2012 - 09:28

Jail App

My wife and I bought a new TV for ourselves this holiday season. Well, to be more accurate, we bought a large monitor (which happens to be a TV) for our media computer. We long ago gave up on our local cable monopoly, so its use is split between digging through the increasingly meager offerings of online video rental services and watching a screensaver-ified flow of our travel favorite photos. Sometimes maybe using the live 2D->3D conversion thing. I never said we weren't both dorks.

That being said, the TV comes with, as most new TVs seem to, an app store. And it sucks. By gods, the offerings are horrible, the interface is via the clunkiest of all possible remotes, reminiscent more of an 80s-era cellular phone than a 21st century Internet-enabled TV control device. Once you manage to navigate into the app store, there are but a scant few useful apps and a smattering of crappy games and info apps.

Don't get me wrong - I'm excited about new form factors of devices, and computational power showing up in more devices - but give me a device that I can use and that is multifunctional at its heart. It may have a nice skin and intended purpose, but technology changes rapidly, and I don't want to churn through hardware devices at the speed of change in software.

Part of this is that companies must accept failure -- or at least change -- as a possibility. Your framework, support, upgrades and management of a walled garden app store may be fantastic, but what if you ditch your entire business unit? (HP, I'm looking at you).

Apple has provided a solid model of the benefits of the app path, but few companies can match Apple in their abilities to keep up with the store - and even then, it suffers from being a disneyfied (, tightly controlled and kid-friendly store. The Android market is certainly a bit more wild and wooley, but that creates a new foothold for innovation.

This disneyfication is unavoidable for any centralized store, since that centralization focuses responsibility on to the ones who make decisions about what goes in to the store and what stays out - which ends up being increasingly restrictive and eventually anti-competitive.

As Dave Winer points out at Scripting News, this is a classic cycle in technology over control ( This trope affects the continuum between being able to compile your own software to being able to download whatever software you like all the way to only having access to pre-approved app-store apps, but its influence also is seen in web services and consumer electronics.

There's a value to the app store model, as there's a value to Disneyland. You know everything is tailored, tweaked, padded and sanitized. If something goes wrong, it won't be your problem -- but the cost for this level of safety is freedom. Your iPhone works great, but just try to swap out its SIM card for an affordable local provider in another country, or, really, do anything that Apple hasn't approved of, despite if it would be useful or not to you. It's not called jailbreaking for nothing.

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