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Apple's garden is blooming but the walls are getting higher and inside the shadows are lengthening

Metal and Swift symbolic of proprietary pride
Apple's garden is blooming but the walls are getting higher and inside the shadows are lengthening

Another WWDC, another two hour Apple keynote that seemed overly focused on Mac OS X.

It would be easy to blame the lack of excitement on CEO Tim Cook, but that would be to forget the final WWDC keynotes of the Steve Jobs era were equally prosaic and Mac-heavy.

After all, WWDC is the very definition of preaching to the choir, or (better put in the terminology of the Jehovah's Witnesses) the heaven-bound 144,000.

It's not a consumer conference, and despite the video streaming, nor is the keynote.

Instead it's a time for Apple to talk up its ecosystem to its (randomly) chosen few.

No surprises then that apart from the cross-platform coder shaking his head in the front row (of which more later), the biggest cheer of the day came for the announcement that Apple had come up with a new programming language.

All about me

WWDC is nothing if not a tribal affair.

That's why even the usually urbane Cook was wisecracking about the number of 'switchers from Android' and flashing graphs of Android's 'percent share of the malware market'.

In that context, the fact that some of the new features for the App Store to improve discoverability such as video previews or bundling have been available on Google Play for months isn't an issue.

Apple is increasingly hindering a cross-platform approach.

Let's not fall into a similar trap ourselves....

All platforms have their own strengths and weaknesses and it's no surprise that an Apple keynote focused on aspects such as consistent user experience and lack of OS fragmentation.

Indeed, the reason Apple is happy to 'waste' over half a keynote talking about Macs and OS X is that the entire drive of the company is about encouraging a unified ecosystem, both in terms of use of hardware and software.

That's why you'll be able to use your Mac's microphone to answer your iPhone's telephone calls, share files and in-process emails and document between iOS and Mac devices, or sync all the data on all your family's devices via iCloud.

The family that iPrays together

Ah, yes, the family.

There's nothing more American than the family, and Apple's version of that Norman Rockwell vision is a group of six or less Apple iOS users, all neatly synced and sharing the same credit card on iTunes.

Actually, this new feature is a nice combination of technology and user experience as you'll be able to monitor your children's spending on iTunes as they can send you a push notification to request spending $99.99 on Donuts in The Simpsons: Tapped Out.

But, seriously, like Rockwell's chocolate box imagery, isn't this a rather sentimentalised view of life? Your kids already know your iTunes passcode...

Forget the Stepford Wives. Think the Cupertino VPs.

And perhaps this is the most cutting criticism of Apple's view of life, the ecosystem and everything.

Because it believes it provides the "best experience", consumers are expected to buy only Apple products, only purchase content through those products and keep them up-to-date at the prescribed pace - nothing older than two years, please.

That's why the choreographed onstage bonhomie from its executives over their camping trips or shared photos of karaoke feels so odd. Not only are they all middle-aged, wealthy, white managers, they're all using the same technology.

Forget the Stepford Wives. Think the Cupertino VPs.

The real world

More importantly, though, share a thought for developers, at least the 99.9999 percent of developers not sitting in the Moscone Center in San Francisco.

Developing content for iOS, Android and even Windows Phone is now a market necessity for the vast majority.

Yet Apple is increasingly hindering a cross-platform approach as demonstrated by the new Swift programming language, not to mention what looks like an attempt to replace the industry standard game graphics API OpenGL with Apple's own Metal API. That's the sort of behaviour we came to expect from Microsoft with DirectX.

And Apple seems happy to take on bigger industries too. Its new HealthKit initiative keeps all of your health information in a proprietary format, rather than encouraging an open standard.

Well, everyone who's anyone with a health plan has a iPhone...


Of course, the problem with this 'beautiful chain' approach is when one or two links - Apple Maps, iTunes on the desktop, to mention two examples - tarnish (not to mention if you just want a phone that's wider than 2.31 inches), the whole edifice starts to crumble.

Apple appears to be building an anti-antifragile ecosystem.

Presumably Apple will fix the latter problem later in the year, but there will always been something within its ecosystem that's misaligned with the wider, messier world, especially as the world gets wider and messier.

In the parlance of thinker Nassim Nicholas Taleb, then, Apple appears to be building an anti-antifragile ecosystem.

So Apple's garden may be blooming - I'm not saying it doesn't build beautiful products -  but the continual inward focus and building up of its walls does nothing for the industry, nor in the longrun I fear for Apple either.

In a year where Facebook has bet big on virtual reality, Google's rolling out self-driving cars and kickstarting the wearables industry, and Elon Musk is going into space, Apple has spent modestly on bass-heavy headphones.

To think different, you need to look outwards. Otherwise, you risk lengthening shadows and incestuous behaviour.