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The Route Of All Evil

Apple's iPad & The Threat To Net Neutrality

With the recent announcement

Apple would begin selling its runaway hit iPhone through Verizon Wireless (likely prompting a stampede of customers away from problem-plagued AT&T), Apple seems poised to completely dominate the Internet in ways service providers have only dreamed about. Having moved from desktop to laptop to netbook to iPhone (too small) and, finally, to the iPad (just right), the average consumer no longer accesses the Internet via desktop PC’s or, for that matter, via Wi-Fi. The average net surfer these days is connecting through mobile networks provided by cell phone subscriber services. The Galaxy Tab makes a brave stand for better portability in its trimmer package, but fumbles the ball by pricing its 7-inch screen the same as iPad’s 9 glorious inches. Neither device is particularly appealing to people needing to do actual work as in both cases the virtual keyboard covers most of the screen. Apple has released a Bluetooth keyboard for its iPad that nicely and elegantly turns the iPad into an effective netbook—a kind of knockout blow for the Tab which, even with a nifty set of Bluetooth keys—would still be too small for squint-free computing. I am, nevertheless, a big fan of he Tab for one reason: its Google Chrome browser displays my websites properly and it runs Flash. Apple’s MacIrritant iPhone and iPad do not. iPhones, iPods and iPads are, hands down, the hottest toys of this current generation, embraced by millions approaching billions of consumers. But the devices’ fans seem unconcerned by the fact Apple’s marketing and technology strategy poses a credible threat to our basic civil rights, rights most i-Users simply hand over to Apple and its mobile partners without a second thought.

Most people I know have their noses buried in their iPhones and Droids and this concept—Net Neutrality—just bores them. They dismiss it and me with a hand wave and continue plunking away on their slave-toys. The apps are so cool, it doesn’t seem to bother anyone I know that Apple is practicing censorship and getting away with it. And, unless either government or the private sector (competition such as the Galaxy Tab) force Apple’s hand, the mobile computing giant will continue to lay down the law of who’s in and who’s out of the mobile net.

Thank God for Samsung.

The first iPad challenger out the box is the Galaxy Tab, a leaner, more compact version of the iPad. Its smaller size may be a good or bad thing depending on who you are, but all I care about is it runs Flash. Which means, when you surf the net on a Galaxy Tab, you actually see the web, not a bunch of blank screens as you do on an iPad. I am shocked and amazed no smart marketing agency has exploited that major flaw in iPad, running a series of humorous commercials featuring hapless iPad owners attempting to surf the web on it and encountering blank screen after blank screen. By allowing Flash to run, the Galaxy Tab keeps the Internet, to whatever extent, competitive and does not force everybody to build or buy apps. How long that will last is anybody's guess, but I'm hoping there will be a stampede toward devices like the Galaxy Tab and away from the proprietary and ridiculous blank-screen web surfing on the iPad. This will hopefully force Apple, the 800-pound gorilla of mobile internet, to stop endangering the entire future of communication by putting up toll booths on both ends of the information superhighway. Of course, Apple is so deeply entrenched, this may not be likely. but I, or should I say "i," for one, will be skipping the iPad until something comes out that doesn't bait-and-switch me on the promise of mobile web surfing. iPad offers a quality mobile web surfing experience only via apps from their store: YouTube app, New York Times app, etc. Considering the fact that everything is moving from the desktop and laptop to your back pocket, Apple and Verizon and other carriers' little app store mess is a real threat to the whole point of the Internet: that there are no big guys or little guys, and that we are all connected. Thanks, Samsung, for hurling the first stone.

Free speech is a precious commodity,

yet most people I know—young and old—don’t understand it and don’t fully appreciate it. Further, they don’t seem to understand what happens to us as a society once that speech is taken away. Blocking sites, slowing sites down, stripping sites of content—these are things China does. Russia does. Deciding what is and what is not appropriate or suitable is fascism. The rules of the Internet road have been vague at best, but I believe providers should have the right to open or close the door, but not to decide what comes through it. Connect to the Internet or don’t. Apple’s strategy is mostly about making the Internet pay, something content providers have strived to do for years. By making a deliberately crappy browser, the iPhone experience is greatly enhanced by the user Apps. Yes, you can go to the New York Times website, but you’ll enjoy the read more on your iPad with the NYT app. Most of these apps, including those for the Android operating system, provide a far better experience for the mobile devices than traditional web surfing. This is mainly due to the limitations in screen size on these devices and the fact we have to use our big, fat fingers to navigate the websites. Traditional web links tend to seem microscopic on teeny-weeny web pages as displayed on mobile phones. The apps, on the other hand, are custom-designed for the phone (or tablet) interface.

The added benefit of these Apps (squint less) is certainly worth the small premium they charge, but that choice should be ours to make. Surfing the web on Apple’s idiotic mobile browser brings up a host of sites with big black holes in them where Flash content would normally go. It is irritating and frustrating, this very site coming up in jigsaw pieces. Am I a bad coder? Probably, but that’s not the point. The point is, I am convinced Apple deliberately provides a fairly crappy web experience on their devices in order to convince you to head to the App store and look for the PraiseNet App, for which they (Apple) will receive some small fee. Even if we provide that App to you for “free,” please understand Apple charges the provider a fee for each and every download, whether you the end user pay for the app or not.

This is smart for business, but it is dangerous to our most critical civil rights. Apple should show us the whole Internet or not at all. AT&T and now Verizon, along with Sprint, have all implemented varying versions of a fee structure for web content providers. The more the content provider pays, the higher the priority their site receives and the faster their site will load. Which means the guy with the most bucks speaks the loudest. The entire point of the Internet is that there is no big or small guys. Your website speaks just as loudly as MSN or even Google. The web is a level playing field, a place open to free speech and an open society. But It’s been polluted, not only by porn and spam, but by an utter disintegration of our privacy as we, well you people, continue to stupidly publish lists of names, addresses, phone numbers, birthdates, favorite colors, and other personal info to social networking sites and even online “back-ups” of your phone’s address book. My name, address, birthday, phone and other personal info is all over the net because of friends and business associates who use online back-ups and/or social networking. Without my permission, they’ve loaded my info somewhere, trusting some website or network’s privacy policy, without stopping to consider that site could go out of business or, as we see all the time, be hacked into. Every single time you load personal information—yours or someone else’s—onto a server somewhere—including (I can’t believe people actually do this) these “free online backups” of your hard drive or cell phone data—you are literally handing over your privacy and the privacy of anyone whose name and information you’ve stored. This idiocy—people just typing personal info into the wind like this—is so pervasive, my suspicion is our privacy rights are now all but meaningless as, I promise you, there is a server out there with your name on it.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ sudden departure for medical leave kind of rattled the cages in the Apple continuum last week, but there seems nothing but horizon ahead for the i-devices. The closed, controlled environment of the app is quickly challenging the open environment of the web, as even laptops and desktops are getting into the App swing. Business loves it because, finally, there’s a way to get paid for producing web content. End users love it because Apps are optimized to provide a superior experience than web browsing. So who loses? You do. I do. Because, while it may not yet seem so, all the hammering of tool booths along the web will ultimately determine what you can and cannot do or say, and all of your thoughtless typing of names—yours and your friends and family—into the Internet mushroom cloud will, I promise you, come back to haunt you as you realize that stuff is nowhere near as safe as content providers promise you it is. All of which is something literally none of my friends even think about as they clack away on their handhelds, indifferent to the very freedom and rights they are handing over, gleefully, ignorantly and stupidly.

And, yes, there's an app for that.

Christopher J. Priest
23 January 2011