The Open Fallacy

We’re seeing more and more criticisms directed at Apple’s iPad design decisions, namely, not implementing Flash on the device and making the official Apple App Store the only way to get native apps. The problem with the App Store being the long approval process and the possibility of having your app rejected if it competes with Apple’s own applications.

The critics point at Apple and call them evil for limiting users’ freedom to use the device as they choose. They say Apple’s motivations are unethical and all they’re after are profits. They call Apple the enemy of “open”.

Every time I read such comments I cringe. The arguments are not only fallacious–they’re unethical. What these “open” proponents want is nothing less than to force a company to implement a product of their desire against the company’s own wishes. In this argument, they are the only ones who are really a threat to human liberty.

Let’s look at what these people actually want. They’re telling you how you should make your product work (implement Flash and make it possible to install apps without the App Store). They claim that this is somehow the only right way to do things–of course they’re “right”, how can they not be? Apple should yield and appease their wishes because “obviously” it would be better for everyone.

Look: if someone told you to implement a feature for your product against your wishes (you think it will be damaging in some way), would you do it? Of course not, why the hell would you? But this is exactly what these people want. They disguise their desire under a veil of ethics to try to raise the argument above what it really is, which is simply to implement something they want against the company’s wishes.

What is Apple doing? They’re releasing a product, a product of their own conception, design and ideas. This product is released on a free market–you can decide to buy it, or not; your choice. Apple doesn’t force you to buy it, that’s completely up to you. The popularity of the said product does not make it some sort of public utility where you get to have your say. It’s not. It’s a private commercial good, and the design decisions for it are all up to Apple, and nobody else. Coercing Apple to yield to your desires under the disguise of ethics is itself immoral, they are free to do as they choose. It’s their right, and the last thing exercising that right does is make them “evil”.

If you think open app distribution and Flash are such a great idea, why not go ahead and make it yourself? You can’t? Well, Apple can, so what? Their ability to produce what you want is no reason to force them to do it. How can that in any way be moral? That’s nothing less than exploitation of talent. If you think there is so much demand for this, then make it yourself, nobody is stopping you.

But, shouldn’t companies be regulated in some way–shouldn’t they do what’s right for the people? Yes and no. If the company is pumping oil out of an ocean and then leaks it out all over your coastline, damn right they’re responsible. Their actions are destructive. They cause damage. These actions impede on the freedom of others–you cannot choose not to be damaged by the oil if you live in area of the spill. In that case, they should be regulated and forced to clean up.

On the other hand, if the actions of the company don’t impede on your freedom in any way–you can choose not to buy an iPad, nobody is forcing you to (indeed, what if Apple never made the thing in the first place?)–so there is absolutely no reason here to force them to do something you believe is right. If Apple forced you to buy their product, then this would be a completely different story–but they don’t, and so likewise you shouldn’t force them to do something you want just because you think it’ll be a good idea. Nobody has an inherent right to a product of their imagination, and especially a right to force another company to create it for them.

May 2010