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The ugly side of Apple

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Most people think of Apple's slick products, clean lines, must-have devices that work well but, and strangely more importantly for some, that can make people look good, too.

The Apple design ethos was echoed in the software - operating systems that worked well and looked great, hiding the wires and joints behind the slick interface just as the products did.

But there's an ugly side to Apple. To me, it physically manifests everyday in Lion (OS 10.7x). Generally, the Lion interface is clean and hews to and refines Apple's OS X look, but at the same time, it is somehow duller. The icons in sidebars are grey and can't be customised, which reduces glance-recognition.

Apple's vaunted human interface had a misstep in flags in Mail. Before, you could flag or unflag an email with one orange flag. The seven flags available in the latest Mail is great, allowing you to categorise and mark emails differently.

But the flags themselves are ugly. They look like they're from a 1950s children's book. It doesn't go with the rest of the interface ... apart from the Address Book and iCal.

And the new Address Book is, frankly, ugly. It has a faux leather look that jars with the clean lines of most of the other software in Lion. We have a Germanic, Bauhaus chic most places - but not with Address Book.

Worse still, it's harder to use, requiring many more steps to add an address, even via the Mail app's data detector. That's because it only has a two-column view, which you'd think would be easier to use - but the previous three-column view let you add groups and individuals, and edit and order your addresses, all without having to flip back and forwards in virtual 'pages'.

iCal also looks ... well, bad. It also has the faux leather, and it's less intuitive to use, with features hidden away and no handy sidebar.

App ugly

But personally, I believe the ugliness at Apple goes further. Like the feeling app developers get when their apps don't get approved for seemingly arbitrary reasons. Sure, there are reams of guidelines to adhere to, but some can't help a suspicion that these are sometimes used as excuses to refuse apps that just offend Apple, somehow.

For example, a game app that implied criticism of Apple via its controversial China-based device assembler, Foxconn. Phone Story was a "game for smartphone devices that attempts to provoke a critical reflection on its own technological platform.

Under the shiny surface of our electronic gadgets, behind its polished interface, hides the product of a troubling supply chain that stretches across the globe.

Phone Story represents this process with four educational games that make the player symbolically complicit in coltan extraction in Congo, outsourced labour in China, e-waste in Pakistan and gadget consumerism in the West."

That's from the developer, Molleindustria's, blurb. The unit has the tagline 'Radical games against the dictatorship of entertainment'.

All of the revenues raised were to go directly to workers' organisations and other non-profits working to stop the conditions represented in the game.

The game appeared briefly on the App store this week, then it was gone. You would presume that Apple has the guidelines and vetting procedure to stop anything it dislikes - I mean, that doesn't fit the guidelines - from ever actually appearing on the Store, though developers report that Apple is more helpful on getting their apps up to speed than originally.

Did Apple ban the game based on its description? The title does not explicitly criticise Apple's iPhone manufacturing process, just the state of the entire smartphone manufacturing industry. (This story comes via < a href=" http://www.cultofmac.com/apple-bans-game-supporting-foxconn-workers-rights-from-the-app-store/113494"target="new">Cult of Mac.)

Apple did get in touch with Molleindustria, and explained that the game is in violation of the following guidelines:

15.2 Apps that depict violence or abuse of children will be rejected.

(Irony alert! The game depicted the abuse of children that smartphone manufacturers were complicit in.)

16.1 Apps that present excessively objectionable or crude content will be rejected

(Again, irony.)

21.1 Apps that include the ability to make donations to recognised charitable organisations must be free; and

21.2 The collection of donations must be done via a website in Safari or an SMS.

Molleindustria contests the violation 21.1 and 21.2, "since it's not possible to make donations through Phone Story. Molleindustria simply pledged to redirect the revenues to no-profit organisations, acting independently."

Molleindustria is currently considering two steps:

To "produce a new version of Phone Story that depicts the violence and abuse of children involved in the electronic manufacturing supply chain in a non-crude and non-objectionable way."

Do you get the arch irony of that statement?!

Secondly, Molleindustria is considering releasing a version for Android and jailbroken iOS devices - in other words, for non-iPhone users and iPhone jailbreakers so they can play a game that depicts the perfidy of Apple's manufacturing partners, for devices most likely manufactured in the same conditions, if not at the very same plants.

The users who managed to buy the app before it went offline "are now owners of a rare collector edition piece", says Molleindustria. The Italian developer will be posting further updates on Twitter.

Molleindustria's site makes it very clear what their politics are - humanist, basically, pro union, pro atheist, pro gay... what I want to know is what Apple has against that, having weighed in a couple of years ago on gay rights? (See below, on Proposition 8.)

Well, they do say Americans don't get irony.

But Apple pulled a controversial gay cure app this year. The app was intended to 'help' gay people become heterosexual, which should sound like a tragic joke to anyone with any sense. But it was only pulled from the App Store after over well over one-hundred-thousand people signed an online petition to shut it down.

Prior to being removed, the app had received a '4' rating from Apple, indicating the company considered it to have "no objectionable material."

Apple did not comment on the app's initial rating, according to the report. What I find ironic about this whole story is Apple's public opposition to Proposition 8 three years ago. The measure added a new provision, Section 7.5 of the Declaration of Rights, to the California Constitution, to provide that "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized (sic) in California." This had implications for workers rights, insurance, partner inclusion in employment conditions etc.

Apple publicly opposed Prop 8, joining many other high-profile companies in doing so. Apple Inc opposed Proposition 8 as a "fundamental" civil rights issue, and donated US$100,000 to the 'No on 8' campaign. I think that's about ten minutes wages for CEO Tim Cook who is, coincidentally, gay.

United States district court Judge Vaughn R Walker overturned Proposition 8 on August 4, 2010 in the case Perry v. Schwarzenegger (the then Governor), but this was only a stay and the situation is not yet been fully resolved.

Contradictory stances and rulings in the developer world and elsewhere don't help the impression that Apple is a cold and distant entity. Apple, if you're going to be monolithic and unapproachable, at the very least, a clear stance that is clearly adhered to would be greatly appreciated.

- Mark Webster

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