There’s no denying that the departure of Steve Jobs as Apple CEO is the end of an era. It’s difficult to think of any other leader as synonymous with a brand as he has been.
There’s also no denying Apple’s contributions to technology and, indeed, Western culture in recent years.
Now that Jobs has stepped down, however, Apple has a great opportunity. Rather than maintain its completely closed and locked-down approach to the technologies it makes, the time is right for Apple to open up. Besides creating a more sustainable strategy for Apple, such a move would perform a great service for consumers, businesses and the world.
Transparency and accountability, for instance, are now expected by consumers and citizens of the corporations and governments that exist to serve them; just look at Wikileaks for proof. On the corporate side, consumers are now demanding that companies open up about everything from product quality to pricing.
Apple’s long-standing paternalistic and often arrogant approach flies in the face of this new “transparency tyranny (PDF),” as it’s been called. The company’s longtime reliance on secrecy and its “we know what’s best for you” attitude isn’t going to be a sustainable one over the years.
That’s had significant security implications, as we saw with the arrival of MacDefender, which made it clear once and for all that the company’s “security through obscurity” strategy just doesn’t work.
Apple’s relatively small desktop market share has protected it there so far, but if it hopes to grow in the future, it will increasingly find itself a target for malware, just as Windows has. Unfortunately, because both are closed source, only the companies themselves–with the inevitably finite set of resources at their disposal–can fix any vulnerabilities that arise.
Again, that closed strategy just isn’t going to be sustainable over time.
For business users, the company’s extreme vertical integration has not only created a daunting case of vendor lock-in, but has worked against the compatibility and interoperability that are most needed in this global and collaborative world.
Then, of course, there’s the matter of the software patents Apple currently uses to protect its “black box” technologies so aggressively. Patents have apparently become a central part of Apple’s strategy, costing the company–and its customers–vast sums of money and inevitably delivering a blow to innovation.
The bottom line here is that no organization can be an island anymore. Apple may still enjoy a religiously devoted fan base, and it certainly does a lot of things right. For the future, though, it needs to recognize that closed, secret, locked-in and locked-down is unlikely to be a winning strategy in this increasingly open and global world.