4. Installed Software and Extra, Unwanted Apps
Apple has a history of taking advantage of its iTunes-iPod/iPhone headlock to promote its other products and services. For example, in March 2008 many Windows users were surprised to find Apple's Safari browser installed on their systems--a little gift left by the latest iTunes update.
At the time, Mozilla CEO John Lilly lit into Apple for the practice. "It undermines the trust relationship great companies have with their customers, and that's bad--not just for Apple, but for the security of the whole Web," Lilly wrote.
After enough people complained, Apple made an infinitesimal change, creating a "new software" category in its update app but leaving installation as the default.
In July 2008 Apple's iTunes update began quietly installing the company's MobileMe online data-sync service without any notification to the user.
In September of this year, Windows blogger Ed Bott noted that again Apple tried to use updates to an existing software program (Boot Camp) to install an iPhone Configuration Utility, even though he had never used an iPhone. Apple subsequently removed that program from its Windows Update utility. To this day, if you update the QuickTime video player, it will also look to install iTunes, regardless of whether you've ever owned an Apple device.
With the exception of MobileMe, which costs $99 to $149 a year, none of these software programs generate revenue for Apple. But they do serve to pull users further into Apple's ecosystem.
5. Shoes and Spies
In March 2007, Apple applied for a patent on technology that allowed it to pair a garment with an electronic sensor, as it had done with the Nike iPod Sport Kit. That kit allowed owners of Nike shoes to track their speed, mileage, and other data on their iPods. Apple's objective in the patent: to prevent users from removing the sensor from the Nike shoe and putting it into shoes from a different manufacturer--what New Scientist's Paul Marks called "DRM for your wardrobe."
Two months later the company filed for a patent on technology that would prevent Apple devices from accepting a charge during certain circumstances. This tech would prevent a thief from recharging your iPhone or iPod, but it could also keep you from charging the device if you tried to sync it with an "unauthorized" PC. And last August the company filed for a patent on sensors that would record "customer abuse events" on Apple products; the data from these sensors would presumably be used to deny warranty repair claims by documenting damage that was the customer's fault.
Apple is certainly within its rights to patent such technologies; what these applications show, though, is that there is seemingly no limit to what the company wants to control.
Many such lock-in examples exist, to be sure, and we'd like to hear yours, in the comments below.
The question is, do Apple fans care? Widman, for one, says, "Choice is overrated. As a consumer, I'm more interested in something that works."
It's a reasonable argument--but also a costly one. Is it really worth it?
When not outraging the Apple faithful, Contributing Editor Dan Tynan tends his geek-humor empire at eSarcasm. He would also like to point out that, no matter what you might think, he is not a Microsoft Fanboy.