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Google Employee Trashing Apple? Pot, Meet Kettle


Tim Bray's scathing attack ignores his own employer's acts of censorship.


Preparing for a new job can be stressful. You have to straighten out your wardrobe. Get a haircut. Brush up on computer skills. Navigate the office's political landscape. Set up the health insurance plan. Figure out where to eat lunch.

And so on. And so on. And so on.

But Google's (GOOG) brand-new "Developer Advocate" Tim Bray didn't get the memo and instead kicked off his career at Google by trashing Apple (AAPL) in a blog post.

I assume that all Google employees possess serious intellectual horsepower. If you need to know how to escape a blender or how many piano tuners there are in the world, these are the people to call.

However, a sense of perspective may not be on HR's list of job requirements.

The target of Bray's anger is the iPhone, and Apple's highly controlling mobile business strategy:

The iPhone vision of the mobile Internet's future omits controversy, sex, and freedom, but includes strict limits on who can know what and who can say what. It's a sterile Disney-fied walled garden surrounded by sharp-toothed lawyers. The people who create the apps serve at the landlord's pleasure and fear his anger.

Pot, Meet Kettle

To hear Bray describe it, Apple sounds mean! But he's right. The iPhone App approval process is highly arbitrary and clearly favors big companies over little developers. The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit App is cool, but no-name bikini apps got tossed in the garbage.

But what Bray ignores is that Google isn't exactly the almighty arbiter of freedom. Up until this year, Google was very okay with censoring its search results within China. In the company's own laughable words:

The requirements of doing business in China include self-censorship -- something that runs counter to Google's most basic values and commitments as a company. Despite that, we made a decision to launch a new product for China -- -- that respects the content restrictions imposed by Chinese laws and regulations. Understandably, many are puzzled or upset by our decision. But our decision was based on a judgment that will make a meaningful -- though imperfect -- contribution to the overall expansion of access to information in China.

I applaud Google for stepping up now, but we can't and shouldn't forget that it originally chose a jar of shiny pennies over its "most basic values and commitments as a company."

Plus, the iPhone has a web browser, enabling easy access to any material that's not available via an app.

A Reality Check

Bray also delves into the issue of control:

"Apple apparently thinks you can have the benefits of the Internet while at the same time controlling what programs can be run and what parts of the stack can be accessed and what developers can say to each other."

I agree 100% with this statement, but let's look at the realities of the marketplace. According to Bray's own numbers, the iPhone is moving 90K units a day versus Android's 60K. And leading market-research firms like Gartner and IDC indicate that the iPhone is still gaining market share.
If the mass market (a.k.a. the people that actually count) cares about Apple's controlling ways, it's clearly not showing up in the numbers. People put up with Windows computers for decades, so if you're expecting a highly-censored App store to make waves, think again.

The Big Boys Are Destined to Play Rough

Apple does a lot of things extremely well. It makes the world's best consumer-electronics products. It's the world's best retailer. It has incredible customer service. It's among the most innovative marketers.

But at its core, Apple is a company that plays rough and that's not going to change. Walmart (WMT), McDonald's (MCD), and Procter & Gamble (PG) didn't get to where they are by being nice. Apple is no different. When you have a hill to protect -- especially a hill that's growing quickly -- you don't change the formula to appease a small group of critics.

We can sit around all day and complain about the ethics of app censorship, but look at the numbers. People don't give a damn, and they probably never will.

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