Saturday, June 14, 2008

John Gruber’s “Daring Fireball”

The mainstream tech media has always had plenty of pundits and prognosticators. And now with the Internet, anyone with an opinion and a Web site can play along.

The good news is, amid a spectrum of awful to awesome, the best amateurs can be as good or better than most pros. Case in point: John Gruber, a Web developer and technical writer whose Daring Fireball blog tracks the world of Apple.

You’ve got to care inordinately about the Appleverse to read everything Gruber writes, and there’s no shortage of people who do. Me, I rely on tech-news aggregator sites like Techmeme and Hacker News to link to Gruber’s more general-interest stuff. Having clicked that direction many times over the years, I’ve been conditioned to expect insightful, well written, and righteously right (as in correct) views.

I was reminded of this with Gruber’s take on this week’s iPhone 3G announcement. His opening line is roughly what others said, but he then nails the story behind the story.

Today’s message is pretty simple: Apple is going for iPhone market share in a big, big way....

So, step one: sell a ton of iPhones and grab a huge chunk of worldwide smartphone market share. That’s the new $199 iPhone 3G. Step two: introduce features that people and companies love but which tie them to the iPhone. That’s the SDK — games and apps from App Store, and custom in-house apps for the enterprise market.

The physical phone is not the story. A year from now, the iPhone 3G will be replaced by another new model. The platform is the story. Platforms have staying power, and, once entrenched, are very hard to displace.

Although that was good, where Gruber really gets interesting is when he dissects others’ Apple coverage. For example, check out his prosecution of a Fast Company cover story on Apple that, to put it kindly, Gruber found lacking.

Here’s a sample, with quotes from the Fast Company article in italics and Gruber’s mix of intellect and umbrage in normal text:

In an age increasingly defined by interoperability and technical collaboration, Jobs still refuses to license Apple’s operating system.

Because there are so many companies making so much money “licensing their operating system”, other than Microsoft. Worked out great for Apple the last time they tried it a decade ago, and it’s worked out great for Palm now, right?

(Note also that all these decisions are, again, solely attributed to Jobs’s personal whim, rather than to Apple as a company.)

He won’t allow music and videos downloaded from iTunes to be played on other MP3 players.

Except for all those iTunes Plus tracks that have no DRM, and which Jobs has stated explicitly, in a widely-publicized open letter, he’d like to see the entire iTunes Store switch to, if the music labels would allow it.

He won’t permit music downloaded from competing stores to play on the iPod.

Except for all the music from any store that sells DRM-free music, like Amazon’s or eMusic’s. Otherwise what’s being argued here is that Apple should support Microsoft’s DRM platform, formerly known as PlaysForSure, recently renamed to “Certified for Windows Vista”, which Microsoft itself doesn’t support in its own Zune players. There’s a lot of stupid packed into the above 13-word sentence.

Maybe he could be more polite, but being a self-appointed messenger of truth takes its emotional toll—the title of Gruber’s Fast Company critique being, “Yet Another in the Ongoing Series Wherein I Examine a Piece of Supposedly Serious Apple Analysis From a Major Media Outlet and Dissect Its Inaccuracies, Fabrications, and Exaggerations Point-by-Point, Despite the Fact That No Matter How Egregious the Inaccuracies / Fabrications / Exaggerations, Such Pieces Inevitably Lead to Accusations That I’m Some Sort of Knee-Jerk Shill Who Rails Against Anything ‘Anti-Apple’ Simply for the Sake of Defending Apple, and if I Love Apple So Much Why Don’t I Just Marry Them?”

Whether you find his attitude entertaining or annoying, don’t let it distract from his ability to marshal facts to puncture others’ flimsy assertions. For this, as well as his own original analyses, Gruber is a welcome addition to the tech-media landscape—so much so that after years of doing Daring Fireball in his spare time, Gruber now makes enough income from the blog to have it be his primary job.

Good for him, good for us.

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