The walled garden is the future of computing.

These days it seems like almost everybody (at least almost everybody in the technology world) has made bashing Apple their new favorite past time.

One of the complaints I hear again and again is that Apple's mobile operating system that runs every iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch are designed based on the “walled garden” philosophy – meaning that you can only install approved apps on the device from Apple's App Store unless you throw all caution (and your warranty :)) and jailbreak your device.

Compare this to Google's Android OS where the user can install anything they want, from wherever they want from wherever they want, including some fairly insidious malware. I know I've been spammed two or three times by friends who had their Android phone's address book compromised. However even Google is making moves in more restrictive directions of late, but only in their app store, which you can ignore completely if you prefer.

What these geeks are missing is that for 99% of the population, the jail is a good thing! People want their devices to be appliances. They want to browse the web without fear, write their documents and spreadsheets unfettered by things like virus checking, file systems and storage devices, and play their games secure in the knowledge that they're not pulling in a Trojan that will send Nazi supremacist hate mail to their grandma and their boss.

The hard truth for many geeks to accept is that for end users, this represents pretty much the ideal computing experience. This goes way beyond Apple and iDevices and into the realm of general purpose computers like laptops mad desktops.

All one need do is examine the marketing blurbs for the latest OS versions from Apple and Microsoft to validate my claim. Windows 8 features required code signing for installed apps, effectively the beginnings of a walled garden of their own.

As I mentioned previously, Apple lead the charge into the walled garden future I'm predicting with IOS, but with tithe release of MacOS X Mountain Lion, they're filing the rough edges from the computing experience for desktop and laptop users as well.

Honestly it's been rather amusing to,watch the geek-o-sphere practically tremble with rage over this issue, ranting and roaring on about Apple's new found tyranny.

In truth I just don't get it. Gatekeeper can be bypassed with a single key press. What's the big deal? I predict that there will always continue to be trap doors and escape hatches for those who know enough to seek them out.

Apple is in fact not trying to impose some kind of Orwellian new world order and declaring a Jihad on geeks, they're just doing what they've always done, innovating the tech in ways that will improve the quality of life for the majority of users.

Simply put, geeks need to get over themselves. Computing has become such a part of the mainstream of every day life that people don't want or need to be beholden to the techno-priesthood any longer. To my mind, this is nothing but win. Over the long haul, it means we can get out of the business of being family tech support, and get back to playing with technology and having fun pushing the envelope!

8 thoughts on “The walled garden is the future of computing.

  1. The walls are good because of so many past mistakes, ranging from legal mistakes (granting software greater copyright permissions than warranted by past uses of copyright law) to design mistakes (not ever developing a clear concept of responsibility in the context of running software).

    From my point of view, we need secure software, and that means that the person that is running the software needs to be responsible for what the software does, and that means that software needs to be designed differently than it’s currently being designed.

    The “Walled Garden” is a coping mechanism, to deal with the utter insecurity of the underlying system. Yes… it’s better than immediately available alternatives. But it’s also a shrink-wrapped mess.

    Put differently, “both sides are right”. But we’re attacking molehills on a mountain.


  2. Totally agreed. I think that making it clear to end users what “responsible use” entails is a real challenge in good design.

    What’s crystal clear to me is that vendors are recognizing that end users are generally having a crappy experience with their computers because of the constant threat of malware, the difficulty of wrangling with things like disks and storage, and the legacy of things like drivers and arcane hardware configuration (although that last one is diminishing these days).

    What will be interesting is to see how the warez community reacts to this change. Much harder to crack and torrent warez when code signing is in force – although again perhaps those folks fall into the “if they need an escape hatch they will find one” category.


  3. So, Apple has a walled garden, and Android has a walled garden. Android leaves the door open, and sometimes doesn’t do a good job at the weeding and the slightly grumpy gardener may arrange the flowers artlessly from time to time, but he’ll put in any kind of plant or garden furniture or statuary you ask for if it isn’t already there. Apple weeds very well and the garden is very tasteful, but there’s no door and if you get tired of their quite lovely roses and ask for some begonias or maybe a bench the smiling gardener just pretends he didn’t hear you.

    Google needs to do a better job of scanning for malware. But seriously, I’ve used A LOT of apps on my three android devices and haven’t had a problem yet, and Google is working on the problem. And you can see what permissions the app gets before you install, so if you don’t want your wallpaper to have rights to read all your contact data and the contents of your SD card and transmit everything to the internet, you can see that it wants to and choose not to install it. But I’m willing to deal with their systems, because I have choice, I can leave the garden if I want to. I haven’t wanted to often, but I have wanted to.

    Apple needs to put a door in the garden and give the users a key, and tell the gardener that visitors should be able to have ugly flowers in the garden if they want to, as long as they’re not actually weeds. I got sick of not being permitted to have software to do perfectly reasonable things that Apple doesn’t choose to allow. I got sick of Apple telling me what I’m allowed to do with my device that I paid a great deal of money for. They want to stop me from installing a virus? Great! They want to stop me from installing a camera app that lets me use a hardware button instead of a virtual button to take a picture? Boo!

    I recognize that Apple has done the same thing with MacOS that Google has done with Android: they have an app store, but you can choose not to use it, and you can flip a switch to allow the user to install third party apps. Great. But as Apple has not only stubbornly refused to unlock their iThings to allow the owner to install whatever they like, but even go so far as to actively try to sabotage the owner’s ability to do so after the owner has figured out a way, Apple has pretty much lost my trust that the Mac app store won’t become mandatory any moment now.

    I’m concerned about what MS is up to, at the same time as I appreciate that they’re at least trying to get better than what they’ve done before and actually innovate a little for a change. I’m going to have to wait and see. But if they start trying to make Windows into a walled garden with no doors, I may start running a Linux desktop at home.


    1. Well said Tom! I am with you right up to the part where you say “Apple needs to create a key”.

      The way Apple sees it, every jail broken device represents reputational risk – in their eyes, every iPhone, iPad, and iPod out there in the world is the embodiment of their brand and a particular user experience they want their customers to have. While you or I might, as geeks say “That’s silly” in reality it’s actually a solid business decision and is at least in part responsible for why they sell such a staggering number of iPhones, iPads, and iPods.

      In short, I don’t think they “need” to do any such thing – uber-geeks like you and I who are comfortable with such things will either choose another vendor (you) Jailbreak (plenty of other geeks 🙂 or decide that the walled garden is actually quite nice (me). It’s their bat and ball, if anyone doesn’t like it, they can simply choose not to play, go somewhere else, or bring their own 🙂

      As to Android and malware, you haven’t had any trouble because you’re a very intelligent person in possession of prodigious technical acumen. Clearly, based on the amount of phone address book spam I’ve received over time, everyone’s experience is not so idyllic.

      This is exactly my point in this discussion and in the post I wrote – people with highly refined technical skills are *not* Apple’s target audience for iDevices, and for 99% of the potential users on the planet, such a thing is not only not “needed” but entirely undesirable.

      We’ve been over this before, and I’m afraid that as always, while I welcome any further thoughts you may have, we might need to agree to disagree on this.


  4. I enjoyed your post Chris. I don’t necessarily agree but I like where you’re coming from.

    You’re absolutely right. The vast majority of users don’t care about the technology; don’t hold holier-than-thou notions about an open tech society; and simply want a product that works well. No doubt that Apple delivers and others are attempting to follow in their success wake.

    But I wonder how far in the future walled gardens will play a predominant role in computing. They will face a number of challenges.

    1) Walled garden environments are only as good as its hosts allow them to be.

    Again, there is no doubt that Apple does it very well. But how can we say with certainty that they will continue to provide a quality product. And if they slip in the next 10 years getting from one garden to another could prove to be a problem, mostly because….

    2) Walled gardens create data silos.

    So let’s say you’re committed to Walled Garden A. You like it for a while, but Walled Garden B comes along and has more bells and whistles, more functionality, more usable etc. Everyone and their dog is getting onto Walled Garden B. One problem, Data transfer is sooooooooo painful (for a joe schmo user, maybe not you). And walled gardens make it extremely difficult for you to transfer. Losing a user means losing a revenue stream. Which leads to……..

    3) Data silos turn a company’s focus from creating great stuff to attracting more users.

    This usually ends badly for everyone. See Microsoft, Salesforce, Quickbooks and countless others.


    I have a firm belief that the value of any product is in the data, not the device. Right now walled gardens will work because mobile is relatively new and there isn’t much data trapped within the walls. But as soon as more and more data is created and kept in mobile walled gardens, there will be much more demand for data liberation from developers and users.

    It’s the way I see things anyway.

    I hope I didn’t sound too preachy. 😉


    1. Hi Mike! Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. I love it when I can engage smart people I’ve never met in discourse and maybe learn a thing or two while I’m at it 🙂

      I couldn’t agree more about data siloing, and I feel like this is one area where Apple really needs to improve.

      I wish they’d get out of their iCloud and start supporting industry standards like Dropbox. Many IOS apps already have Dropbox support, but none of the apps from Apple do, and in some cases Apple policy forbids apps from adding Dropbox support (like Codea, Kodiak PHP, etc.)

      One silver lining in the data siloing cloud is which allows data interchange between programs that process audio.

      To my mind a rich set of data interchange protocols like this is essential if the platform is not only to survive but thrive, and Apple should be doing everything in its power to embrace and encourage such efforts.


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