How Important Are Apple's Updates to the iPhone and iPad? Very.


Photo illustration: Newsweek; Photos: Matt Sayles / AP (Jobs); HBO

Maybe you thought it was nuts the way some folks in the media—myself included—went nuts over Apple's iPad. But guess what? Today Apple announced a new version of the operating-system software that runs on the iPad and the iPhone. To any sane person this was not a life-changing event. For one thing, the operating system is pretty geeky stuff. For another, this operating system won't even arrive until this summer.

Nevertheless, a pack of foaming-at-the-mouth bloggers and journalists arrived at the Apple campus for the press release this morning. Some even live-blogged it. Because how could the world be expected to wait until the event was over to find out what happened? Who could stand such suspense for two whole hours? Sadder still, presumably people actually stopped what they were doing to read one (or more) of those live blogs. If you are one of those people, let me just say this now: I will pray for your soul.

Meanwhile, here's the news. The next version of the iPhone OS will support multitasking. Yay. Leave aside the fact that other mobile-phone operating systems already do this, and that Apple should be embarrassed to be so far behind everyone else. Apple instead brazenly claimed that they just took longer to develop multitasking because they're just such super-duper perfectionists and wanted to create a kind of multitasking that's, like, waaaay better than everyone else. Which is, of course, what everybody says when they're arriving late to a market.

But come on. You're keeping more than one application running at the same time. It ain't rocket science.

The larger implication of this move is that Apple is morphing its phone operating system into something that looks more like a regular personal-computer operating system. Only, unlike a personal-computer operating system, with Apple's iPhone OS you can't load and run any application you want—you can only buy apps from Apple.

In other words, Apple is inventing a new kind of personal computer, one that it can control completely. And people are pretty much falling for it because, well, the hardware is so darn cool.

The other big piece of news today: Apple is going into the advertising business. They're going to embed ads into the apps you use on your iPhone and iPad, and they will keep 40 percent of whatever revenue the app makers generate. Apple will sell the ads, and host them and deliver them.

In other words, not only is Apple building a walled garden where they control the software and get a slice of everything that's sold, but now they're also putting themselves in charge of running all the ads in that garden, too. Thus Steve Jobs continues his quest to see that nobody else ever makes any money on anything, ever, unless they get his permission and give him a piece of the action.

Seriously, imagine that Tony Soprano was running Disney World. That's what this is starting to feel like.

Of course, Jobs didn't put it that way. As usual, he presented Apple's latest scheme as a kind of philanthropy: "This is not a get-rich-quick scheme for Apple. This is to help our developers survive."

In other news: Apple still has no intention to support Adobe Flash. No explanation why. Perhaps none is needed, because think about it: when Apple blocks Flash-based sites like Hulu, users get "incentivized" (as Tony Soprano might say) to buy content instead from Apple's iTunes store. You got a problem with that?

Another reason for Apple to hate Flash is that Flash lets developers build games and other apps that run in a browser. Therefore those developers could sidestep the App Store, which would deprive Apple of the chance to take 30 percent of the money people spend buying the app itself and then 40 percent of any advertising revenue that gets generated when people are using the app.

See, Apple is all about keeping things simple. And it is much more simple if Apple controls everything and makes all the money.

I'm a huge fan of Apple products. I have a house full of them, including a brand-new iPad. But more and more, this company scares me.