iOS Is A “Beautiful Crystal Prison” And OS X Is Becoming One


Apple creates walled gardens, but we choose to live in them.
Apple creates walled gardens, but we choose to live in them.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has been challenging Apple to higher standards for quite some time. Carrying the slogan “defending your rights in the digital world,” the EFF frequently calls out tech companies and related policies when it thinks ramifications could be negative for consumers. The EFF challenged Apple to defend its third-party developers against the Lodsys patent troll, has repeatedly addressed the company’s “anti-competieve” strategies, and so on.

In a new post today, the EFF has proposed that Apple let users of its iOS platform break through the “beautiful crystal prison” and have more control over the OS. The EFF also argues that OS X is becoming more of a restricted platform on the Mac, and that Apple should pave the way for a more open culture leading into the future.

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak recently went on the record to say that he wished Apple had a more open approach to its platforms, allowing tinkerers and pro users (like Woz himself) to get under the hood and change things at the system level. There has been longstanding tension between this mentality and Apple’s. The strain is most evident in the jailbreak community, a large group of users who prefer to have access to modify and tweak iOS beyond what Apple allows. Apple is constantly playing the cat and mouse game with jailbreakers, patching new jailbreak exploits while hackers desperately scrounge to find more vulnerabilities for the next version of iOS.

The EFF believes that iOS is a “beautiful crystal prison,” and that OS X is slowly becoming one too:

Apple changed the way we think about mobile computing with the iPhone, but they have also lead the charge in creating restrictive computers and restrictive marketplaces for software. You may have purchased an iPad, but unless you’ve exploited a vulnerability in iOS to jailbreak it, there are many things you cannot install on it. The App Store has thousands of apps to choose from, but your choices are limited to apps that both Apple has approved, and which can function without “root” or “administrator” privileges.

In OS X, Apple now touts the Mac App Store, a similar environment where developers can only publish apps that meet Apple’s guidelines. Apple also takes a 30% cut of all revenue in the iOS and Mac App Stores. OS X Mountain Lion will introduce Gatekeeper, a security tool that will serve to keep unapproved apps from being installed on the average user’s Mac. Apple has already created a safe, controllable experience for mobile, and the company is slowly and deliberately bringing that environment to the desktop.

Launchpad brings the iOS Home screen look to the Mac.

According to the EFF, mobile and desktop computer owners should be given these 4 rights:

  1. Installation of arbitrary applications on the device.
  2. Access to the phone OS at the root/superuser/hypervisor/administrator level.
  3. The option to install a different OS altogether.
  4. Hardware warranties that are clearly independent of software warranties.

Apple did not invent the culture of imposing restrictions on what kinds of programs people could run on the computers in their pockets. Mobile phone manufacturers and carriers were making life miserable for programmers long before Apple entered the smartphone market, and writing code for phones in those days was described as “a tarpit of misery, pain, and destruction”. If anything, Apple’s innovation was to show that it was possible to have a computing platform that was simultaneously useful, successful, and deeply restrictive of what people were able to do with it.

The idea that Apple will totally reverse its approach to creating platforms is frankly silly. iOS devices are flying off the shelves faster than ever, and consumers are proving that they want what Apple has to offer: a usable, stable, beautiful, safe computing experience. There were always be power users who want their own “bill of rights,” but you’re fooling yourself to think that Apple will be the company to offer such a thing. OS X will continue becoming more iOS-like, and many, many people will welcome the changes. We all seek familiarity, Apple is providing that by methodically weaving its different platforms together.

So yes, iOS is a “beautiful crystal prison,” and OS X is becoming one. Unless Apple becomes a radically different kind of company, don’t expect that to change.

And remember, no one is forcing you to stay in Apple’s prison. If you don’t like the neighborhood, you’re welcome to move out.

  • Bobby Autrey

    I don’t understand this push to force Apple to be something that it’s not. There are other options if you feel the Apple ecosystem is too restrictive. Go with MS or any of the numerous builds of Linux if you want to tinker under the hood. It’s a must to have at least one major tech company that basis it’s systems on security and stability. The “nerds” already have plenty of other toys to play with. 

  • Johan Rolwen

    If you want a lot of stuff —> Microsoft

    If you want to almost build your own OS —> Linux
    Stop complaining. 
  • mr_bee

    Isn’t that a pretty bad metaphor?  A crystal prison would be the easiest prison to bust out of in the world. I think they mean the classic ….”gilded cage.”

  • Whodakat

    Once again. What are these so-called power users missing from OS X?  If you have the know how you can still get under the hood and do whatever you want.  Did they make it easy for the pretenders that just wish they were power users? No.  Which just makes sense since Apple sells to millions of people with all different skill sets.  

    Spell it out for me please, what is missing?  Not what do you not like that they included, but what is it that is now missing that makes OS X so terrible?

  • Ilia Stark

    I personally liked Snow Leopard better,at least i could freely navigate inside and my new apps did not install themselves like i’m retarded. 

    But i guess for a lot of users  cute sandbox of IOS world is another opportunity to have everything being taken care of.
  • mr_bee

    These guys are still hung up on the past.  They refuse to see a computer as an integrated device and insist on seeing it as “hardware” that you “run software on.”  All those rights already exist on the Mac anyway. 

    They will probably never exist (because they make no sense anymore), on mobiles. 
  • WardC

    You can clearly see the direction Apple is headed with this — they have dumbed down Mac OS X to the point that is almost silly. By default, Hard Disks are not visible on the desktop, You have to confirm a dialog before emptying the trash, or changing an extension, and Apple wants you to use a “pop-up” window on the dock to navigate your Downloads folder….along with another 100 things I can name.

    System 7, Mac OS 8 and Mac OS 9 were much more user-customizable, tweakable, and frankly more FUN to use — OS X is getting dull, boring, and Apple believes most users are too dumb, or not smart enough to use any of the power features (hence they are hidden and not activated). In the days of classic, ResEdit, Control Panels, and Extensions allowed you to do a variety of things to customize the user experience, including THEMES and other tweaks which in 2012 Apple still hasn’t added to Mac OS X. Lion may look pretty, but it is rather dull and boring compared to using a Mac in the 90s. Those were the fun days! I miss Classic dearly.
  • monstermasten

    There are options. Mac is Mac, you have windows and linux for the other things.

  • Jason Moorman
    Shut up and build your own, personal flavor of Linux and Friends if OS X doesn’t do it for you. It’s pretty simple, “power users”.”

    It was creative professional power users that supported Apple through the dark ages and they’re the reason Apple still exists, so don’t be so quick to belittle them.

    Many Apple customers chose the Mac as a platform because it perfectly combined elegance and power.  We don’t understand the push to castrate our platform of choice by removing that power.  While we’re perfectly happy with OSX, in its current state, we worry when we see useful chunks of the OS removed completely or purchase a program from the App Store, only to find that it can’t even be modified.
    By all means, Apple, continue to improve the UI, streamline the design, and improve workflow navigation, but DON’T REMOVE PERFECTLY GOOD CAPABILITIES.
    I like iOS on my phone and OSX on my computer.  iOS is simple and convenient on the go, but it seriously lacks the capability for anyone who does real work on a personal computer.  When I pay close to $3k on a system, it damn well better DO something.  While alive, Steve Jobs saw the distinction between an integrated, appliance-like phone or tablet, and a computer.  Let’s hope Apple doesn’t misinterpret his vision, or iOS’ consumer success, in an erroneous fashion by turning computers into phones.
  • Terra Evony

    Wow Alex, you are really ignorant aren’t you? No one is forcing you to upgrade to OS X Mountain Lion, no body is. Do you even know why Apple is starting to simplify its systems? Its because they are getting the tech-illiterate ‘my computer is hot so i took down the firewall’ kind of users that are migrating from XP and Windows 7 over to OS X and have installed Gatekeeper as a preventive measure from these techno-idiots install oodles of virus-ridden tool bars/pirated apps and having their system more virus ridden than a inner-city public access computer. If you are not fond of how Mountain Lion and OS X is becoming then simply either remain on Lion/Snow Leopard or change to a different platform. Dont go on this site and start whining about how Apple is ruining everything blah blah blah

  • Joseph Krasnov

    K.I.S.S = Keep It Simple Stupid

    Thats what Apple is doing and it is working, dont change a thing, who ever does not like it, dont get it (Apple) products.  I used MS, Linux(Ubuntu) for years got tired and now I totally love it (iMac).
    There are always people who love it and people who hate it.  Thats just life.  But Apple dont change a winning thing.
    Keep up the great work.
  • lowtolerance

    If the App Store is a prison, then Cydia is a junkyard. But nevermind that.

    The EFF is just being a bully. Apple shouldn’t be expected to change their ways just because a group of pious nerds feel that they are entitled to some “rights” that they themselves made up. Not that I wouldn’t like these things to happen on my iPhone without a jailbreak, but demanding or even expecting it is absurd.

    iOS has managed to ward off the proliferation of malware and piracy, which benefits far more users and developers than the ability to run arbitrary code or running as root would. And no, these goals cannot coexist, as evidenced by every open platform ever. If you want these abilities, iOS is not for you. Alternatively, you can jailbreak your device. Stop bitching.

    Expecting Apple to open their hardware platform up to alternative OSes is like expecting CBS to play your YouTube videos. It’s never, ever going to happen. And no, you’re not entitled to run Ubuntu on your iPhone, no matter how badly you neckbearded morons want it.

    This ties into my last point — Apple’s philosophy regarding the interplay of hardware and software is the same now as it is has been since Day 1. Apple’s hardware and software aren’t two separate components that are interchangeable, they are designed holistically to provide a complete experience out of the box. Asking Apple to change their warranties in order to allow people who buy Apple hardware to intentionally break Apple software is never going to happen, and it doesn’t make any sense at all from their POV. This would drive up customer support costs while benefiting an extremely small minority of hackers.
  • ApplePr0n

    I don’t understand why this is such a huge idea. Like others have stated if you want something different, then choose something different.

  • zilluss

    I do as some of the comments here suggested: I use a GNU/Linux based OS along OSX on my Mac Mini (which can be a pain in the buttocks to install btw). As OSX becomes more and more 1984ish, anyone who is serious about working with computers should have a usable and open (in terms of tinkering) OS as a backup. I can’t be sure that the system will someday be totally closed for modification. I suggest the same for Windows users, but it’s not as critical yet.

    On the other hand, it is totally okay for me that the hardware is hard to modify. That is a physical restriction that enables the hardware to be so sophisticated in the first place. Software doesn’t underlie such restrictions. There is no reason why Apple shouldn’t allow power users to open the system at their will. Except if they strive for control. 
  • Alfiejr

    EFF lives in a fantasy world, where it believes everyone else should also live, and in compliance with EFF’s ideology.

    that isn’t “choice,” which is what “freedom” is about. that’s absolutism. EFF has blinders on. the “one true way” hangup. 
    of course we all have real “choice” now – anyone can opt for Linux desktop world, and its bastard child, Android, for mobile.
    where EFF gets totally silly is whining about Mac OS. Geeks already have access to the guts of its Unix OS via Terminal. What does EFF want, to let them re-write the kernel too? and of course you can run Windows or even Linux on your Mac via Boot Camp.
    the iOS variant of that Mac OS is an intentionally simplified and less powerful version for basic “computing everywhere” use by consumers. its distinguishing feature is the tightly integrated Apple “ecosystem” that seamlessly links it with Mac desktop and, now, cloud software and thus all your other Mac devices. so things Just Work. and Geeks keep jail breaking iOS anyway. Apple does not support it, but obviously it doesn’t actually make it impossible either.
    EFF wants to break all that apart, so all the pieces of the Apple ecosystem, hardware and software, become interchangeable commodity items. which would ruin what makes iOS unique, and instead turn it into just another Android miss-mash. why? how would that make human experience better? you’re losing something valuable, but not gaining any more good possibilities.
    we need EFF. we need EFF to focus on where our digital rights to “choice” are truly threatened. like Net Neutrality for crucial example. i just wish they could get over their hangups.

  • technochick

    The EFF like Greenpeace is a FUD spreading attention whore using Apple because it’s good hit bait. 

    As for Woz he is like every other jail breaker etc. He thinks that Apple should do what he wants because he wants it. Without thought for anyone else. that he was part of Apple once upon an age ago doesn’t change that. He’s not the core focus for Apple and what that group needs is not more power to F up their stuff. Most of them do it well enough already. 
  • jpolk84

    The problem is that Apple would be stupid to abandon OS X for iOS or merge them to the point that working on OS X becomes crippled. Microsoft is doing this now by relegating the desktop and it’s likely to kill Windows 8. Without a desktop you lose the business market, audio/visual market, programmers, and may other high-end users that need to work, not play. It is impossible for me to edit audio in full-screen, single-app mode. It simply cannot happen. I have to move files from app to app because one app may be great for one thing and another for something altogether. This is what Apple needs to balance.