Theme Parks and Public Parks

Good column (and video) from Joanna Stern on Apple’s “walled garden”. The people who use the term “walled garden” in this context typically do so as a pejorative. But that’s not right. Literal walled gardens can be very nice — and the walls and gates can be what makes them nice. That’s been a recurring theme in the testimony from Apple executives in the Epic trial. Asked about rules and limits on iOS that Epic presents as nefarious — nothing but tricks to lock users in — Apple witnesses typically responded by presenting them as features. That iOS is wildly popular not despite the “walls”, but because of them.

It’s a trade-off, for example, that anything you can install on iOS can be trivially uninstalled just by deleting the app icon from your home screen. The downside is that iOS doesn’t support any third-party ideas that would require system-level background agents or extensions. I can name dozens of great Mac utilities that I’d enjoy, if not love, on iOS, but which can’t exist on iOS because of the rules. That sucks. But those same rules mean there’s no way to mess up your iPhone or iPad by installing something you don’t like and which is difficult to uninstall. That’s great.

Better than “walled garden”, I like the comparison to theme parks. People love theme parks. Not everyone, of course, but a lot of people. They’re fun, safe, and deliver a designed experience. They’re also expensive, and the food, to put it kindly, generally sucks. Public parks are great too — in very different ways. We should have great public parks, and we should have great open computing platforms. But not every park should necessarily be public, and not every closed computing platform would be better off open.

Sunday, 6 June 2021