Apple Infantalizing Customers with iPhone 4 Response, Censorship

Picture this. You're a grown adult who's perfectly capable of making your own decisions, but she still treats you like a child. It's cold outside and she calls to make sure you're wearing a sweater. She sees you cough one time and starts dialing 911, insisting that you might have some rare form of Ebola virus. When you're not looking, she starts rifling through your DVD collection, tossing anything rated PG-13 or higher in the trash.  It always seems like she's in the sky watching everything you do and stopping you from doing certain things "for your own good."

No, I'm not talking about my mother or even Woody Allen's infamous mom in New York Stories (if you haven't seen the film, this dubbed-over clip should give you the jist). I'm talking about tech companies like Apple that try to protect you from harm by slapping digital diapers on your all-too-grown-up behind and scolding you if you ask too many questions about, for example, why your phone's signal drops like a rock when you hold it left-handed.

From antivirus vendors who warn you about obvious scams -- I would have given my bank account number to that Nigerian prince without you, Mcafee -- to operating systems that pop annoying alerts in your face when you try to install a software update, infantalizing technology is everywhere these days. But in a world full of tech vendors who want to be your mom, Apple has the longest apron strings. When it comes to the iPad and iPhone in particular, Steve Jobs and Co. just won't give us a "grown-up mode."

When you were a kid, if you got stomach cramps after you went swimming, mom would always remind you that she told you not to jump in the water after eating. So is it any wonder that, when the new iPhone 4 loses bars when hold it by the bottom left corner, Apple is right there to tell you that "gripping almost any mobile phone in certain ways will reduce its reception by 1 or more bars?"  If you had just listened to mom, you would never have held the phone that way in the first place. The weaker signal is as much your fault as the poison ivy rash you got after playing in the bushes when mom told you not to.

On Monday, Consumer Reports said it could not recommend the iPhone 4, because its lab tests prove that, when gripping the phone with your finger covering the lower left side, "the signal can significantly degrade enough to cause you to lose your connection altogether."

If Apple had its customers best interests in mind, it would level with them, admit there's a problem, and deliver a fix like giving away iPhone 4 bumpers. But like an angry parent who screams at the kids to just "do it because I said so and that's why," the Cupertino-based company just won't admit that it could be wrong (at least so far).

Unfortunately, its response to the iPhone 4 reception problems is only the latest and not the most egregious way Apple infantalizes its users. Let's not forget about its censored app store and the alleged censorship taking place on its forums.

Just last Friday, a judge granted class action status to a lawsuit that claims among other things that "Apple monopolized the aftermarket for third party software applications" (see filing). ZDNet's Jason Perlow writes of the claim that "while the complaint presumably applies to 1st generation iPhones that only had pre-loaded Apple applications, it could be argued that the App Store 'Walled Garden' where Apple fully controls what Apps can and cannot be installed on an iPhone is also a form of monopolization."

Remember kids, for your own good, you can only install iPhone / iPad applications from the app store, apps that have been vetted for adult content, sensitive content, or, in many cases, functionality that might compete with Apple. Good children don't want apps that defame public figures or take controversial political standsBad children use Android, a platform Steve Jobs has described as the right choice for porn fans, just because Google treats its users as adults and lets them -- not a corporate nanny -- decide what they want to install on their phones.

Mom always told you not to watch TV while you do your homework so multitasking must be bad for you. After all, if you surf the Web in one window and play a game in another, you might drain your battery and be stranded in the cold somewhere, unable to call the house and ask dad to come pick you up. Good thing iOS 4 allows only limited multitasking  to keep you from draining your battery, even if you want to. You want to use Flash too? What do you think this is freedom hall?!

And mom taught you to be respectful; she always said "if you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all." Apple probably feels the same way. Perhaps that's why PC Mag is reporting that the company deleted or hid discussion posts about its iPhone 4 reception problem.

In stark contrast to Apple, Google is like the cool uncle that took you to R rated movies and let you stay up late, because he saw you as a little adult. With Android, everyone has both the right and the responsibility to make choices, from handset-makers who can choose to put their own UI on top of the stock OS to users who have the ability to install any apps they want, even apps that aren't listed in pretty much unmoderated Android Market. And just this week, Google released its App Inventor software, which is designed to make it easy for anyone to produce apps.

To celebrate this freedom, I'm rooting my Motorola Droid and installing an unofficial Android 2.2 ROM on it. While I might be able to jailbreak an iPhone, Apple views that as illegal and would like to punish me for that as surely as mom would ground me for breaking curfew. Cool uncle Google,  on the other hand, makes its ROMs available as open source so anyone can play with them. Sure, I'm voiding my warranty and taking the risk that my phone will turn into a plastic brick, but that's my prerogative as an adult.

Avram Piltch
Online Editorial Director
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master's degree in English from NYU.