Lest you get the impression that my next post will be called “In Defense of Wal-Mart”, I am a member of Apple’s target demographic. I’m a young, affluent, technologically illiterate for the most part, liberal-but-not-radical big-city Democrat. (Well, my city isn’t especially big by some standards, but it has an aquarium, a new “technology park” every twenty minutes, and a chain of stores that sell Valentino and Blumarine “marked down” to three thousand dollars.) And for the inevitable dash of hypocrisy I have an iPod. (But I refuse to go any further than that, because every other Apple product seems like an elaborate practical joke.)
I have lots of little beefs with Apple. I think the Apple store in my local mall looks like a children’s museum. I’ve seen the flagship stores that are always winning architectural awards, and they all remind me of the new building your local art museum just moved into that all your friends and neighbors say is so cool and you just have to go and see, so you do and you spend the whole time wondering what the hell will happen if the sidewalk shifts and then you swear you can feel the building listing slightly to the left but you chalk it up to the mildly disorienting effect of that new contemporary exhibit you just walked through that consisted entirely of narrow passageways lit by different colored neon lights, which you suppose was the point of the exhibit, to disorient you. I groan when I read another slobbery review of their latest product, because I know the word “sleek” is code for “You’ll be paying more for a device that can do less” and I still don’t see what’s so exciting about a rectangle. My iPod gives me the black screen of death every eighteen months or so. (I’m told they’re supposed to last three to eight years, but that must be in the same parallel universe where the battery life is twenty-four hours.) This is more annoying than you’d think; I’m one of the “creative types” that purportedly make up Apple’s customer base, and my “creative process” involves a steady stream of music piped into my ears. They absolutely do not want me fixing it myself. It’s kind of humiliating making an appointment for it at the Genius Bar. I really take issue with them calling it a “Genius Bar” when all the geniuses there ever seem to do is shine a flashlight on my iPod, shrug, and offer me ten percent off a new one. I wanted to switch to a Sansa Clip, but I’ve learned that iTunes is kind of like the Mafia of music files; they can get in but they can’t get out.
All of these grievances sound petty, and most people will tell me they come with the territory. But I got to thinking about how disturbing Apple’s business practices would be if applied to something bigger than cute little toys that keep all our music in one place. Submitted for your approval, or at least your analysis:
The iPartment Parable
I can’t possibly be the first person to say that owning an Apple product is a bit like renting an apartment from an increasingly creepy, overly-controlling landlord. iPartments, I think, would work sort of like this:
You are tired of your current apartment. Its layout doesn’t make much sense to you. You have to go through the kitchen to get to the bathroom, which only contains a shower and a sink; the toilet is in the middle of the living room and covered by a haphazardly constructed tipi. You have a window that is stuck open, and people from all over the world routinely climb through it and flush cherry bombs down your toilet. These cherry bombs are somehow able to steal your credit card information. You have nothing in common with your neighbors. You attended the wedding of one of them, and in a toast to his bride he mentioned that she “really knows her way around a spreadsheet.”
A friend tells you prices in a “sleek” new building across town have dropped considerably since the complex opened. You come to look at an available unit and you fall in love. It’s just so…intuitive. Your new neighbors are much cooler, and your landlord seems like a savvy, self-made man. The rent is on the steep side, but nothing you can’t handle. You move right in. Imagine that this apartment is unfurnished. Did your new landlord mention that he also owns a furniture store? He then shows you the clause in your rental contract that states that you may only buy new furniture for you apartment from his store. You find this odd, but the store has an excellent selection, the furniture is a fair price and your furniture-shopping experience was so refined this way, so you don’t complain. A little while later, you want to repaint your walls. Your landlord is okay with this as long as you buy the paint from his paint store, which he just opened last year across the street from his furniture store. If you aren’t happy with his selection, he offers, you can design a new color to be sold in the store, but only if he approves it first. The next day, you give him some paint chips in the shade of blue you had in mind, but he says it’s too close to a color he already sells. You decide to forget about it.
The next month, your hot water heater breaks. You call your landlord, and he agrees to come by and take a look, but insists that you make an appointment for an hour and a half from now.
Your landlord turns the water supply on and off. Your shower is still producing rust-colored water that smells like these huevos rancheros you brought home from the diner one time and just forgot about. He turns the pilot control valve to the pilot setting. Then he perfunctorily shines a flashlight over the heater, narrows his eyes and asks if you’ve been putting third-party water in the tank. Not knowing what this means, you shrug and offer to pay for a repairman yourself. Your landlord stiffly tells you that won’t be necessary. He will move you into an identical apartment for an additional 99 dollars, but you will not be getting your security deposit back. Not wishing to prolong this, you cut him a check and move next door.
The following week, your landlord knocks on the door of your new apartment, his eyes full of barely concealed rage. There’s a problem with your check, he tells you tightly. Perhaps he is mistaken, but it seems you moved your account from Chase to Bank of America. As he has clearly stated on several occasions, he rents exclusively to Chase account holders. And don’t think he can’t see that can of paint sitting in the den. He knows damn well you’ve been to Home Depot. With a look of concern breaking over his face, he asks if you are satisfied with his services. No, actually, he torches the place. What did you think this was, Googleville?
Two or three years after you’ve thrown up your hands and moved out, you read in the paper that skeletal remains were recovered from the basement of the building. They appear to be those of an Asian male, perhaps a subcontractor who once worked on the complex. You are not especially surprised.