Sunday, February 19, 2012

Double Standard

I’ll admit it, I’m an Apple fan; but I’m no fanboy. Apple has and does disappoint me in many ways, and I’m not afraid to admit it. But often I feel that at least some of my disappointment stems from the fact that my expectations are just so darn high. When Apple does things well, it’s spectacular, so when one of their products is merely good or, rarely, mediocre, it’s normal—though perhaps not entirely fair—to feel betrayed.

However Apple’s critics are another matter indeed. Something about Apple attracts the sort of hostility—stoked to a white-hot hatred by the company’s skyrocketing success of late—that no other company I can think of must endure. Maybe it’s a necessary balance to the absolute devotion of a certain type of Apple lover.

But what I find frustrating about the coverage of Apple by tech journalists is the double standard that is so often applied. Take for instance the “controversy” over the recently announced Gatekeeper function of Apple’s forthcoming OS X update, Mountain Lion. Gatekeeper offers users three security settings for downloading software. The most secure setting limits you to applications from Apple’s App Store. A middle ground lets you download apps outside the App Store as long as they are from “identified developers” (with developer certification being free of charge). And a third option allows you to download apps from anywhere, with no restrictions. 

I think it’s quite an elegant solution that provides an extra layer of security for those who want it but still gives those who wish to download “unapproved” apps the freedom to do so. So I was dismayed to hear certain prominent tech journalists (Tom Merritt, for instance, in the TNT podcast), rather than praising Apple for working to make its OS more secure, instead musing that they hoped this wasn’t the start a slippery slope toward Apple locking down the Mac OS completely in the future. Seriously?

A few years ago, tech journalists were all over Apple because of Safari's default setting to automatically open “safe” files, such as pictures and movies, after downloading (I'm not sure if this is still the case). They were right to do so; this was a highly insecure default setting. If Apple is deserving of criticism, I’ll gladly lead the charge, and in matters of security, the criticism has often been deserved. Which is why it’s so maddening when Apple gets bad press for doing something right in security! 

I’ll give Merritt the benefit of the doubt, since he often plays devil’s advocate. But really, why does the role of devil’s advocate even need to be played in this case? Because of something Apple might do? In the unlikely event that Apple were to lock down OS X to limit where users can download apps from, it would surely bring the mother of all firestorms of criticism down on its head, and rightly so. But until that happens, why not offer praise where praise is due? 

The obvious answer is that tech journalists are under so much pressure to not look like fanboys that they bend over backwards to be objective, even when that “objectivity” creates a double standard. 

With all of Apple’s recent success, I suppose its a problem a lot of other companies would love to have. 

From The Doghouse Diaries

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