Apple and Microsoft Chart a Smut-Free Future for Smartphones
BY Thomas L. McDonald
July 4-17, 2010 Issue | Posted 6/28/10 at 11:00 AM
SAN FRANCISCO — Technology pundits like to point out that “porn drives new media technologies.” Like much common wisdom, many accept this without evidence.
And, like much common wisdom, it is flatly untrue.
For every example of new technology that flourished partly due to pornography (such as VCRs in the 1980s and the Internet in the 1990s), there are dozens that made their impact with little to no dependence upon pornography: the printing press, photography, film, radio, television, cable television, personal computers, compact discs, portable music players, video games, mobile phones, DVD, Netflix, iTunes, Facebook and so on.
In order to make their “media technology needs porn to succeed” arguments, critics make questionable claims. These range from the patently absurd, such as the notion that Chaucer and Boccaccio are examples of medieval porn, to the merely irrelevant, such as the existence of obscure “stag” films from the early days of cinema.
The Internet is full of heavily annotated articles that make just such claims, but they simply don’t hold up to scrutiny. VCRs are the only technology with a solid link to porn, but that particular technology had as much impact on porn as porn had on it.
Revenue from “adult” films shifted from movies to video tapes. Neighborhood “adult” theaters and shops vanished into the videocassette deck, which in turn vanished into the Internet.
And now we are told that the future of mobile phones and handheld devices, known as “smartphones,” will be tied to pornography, despite significant evidence to the contrary.
When Apple CEO Steve Jobs proclaimed that Apple products like the iPhone and iPad would provide “freedom from porn,” the man regarded as the most savvy tech visionary of the last 30 years was suddenly derided as a “puritan” and a “censor.”
Jobs’ surprising statement came in an e-mail exchange with tech blogger Ryan Tate of Gawker.com. As the back-and-forth grew increasingly testy, Jobs added, “You might care more about porn when you have kids.”
“It’s not about freedom,” Jobs wrote. “It’s about Apple trying to do the right thing for its users. Users, developers and publishers can do whatever they like — they don’t have to buy or publish or develop on iPads if they don’t want to.”
In a separate exchange with TechCrunch.com, Jobs reiterated, “We do believe we have a moral responsibility to keep porn off the iPhone. Folks who want porn can buy an Android phone.”
‘We’re Not Going There’
He brought up the subject again at the iPhone 4.0 question-and-answer session on April 8, saying, “You know, there’s a porn store for Android. You can download nothing but porn. You can download porn; your kids can download porn. That’s a place we don’t want to go, so we’re not going to go there.”
Google — the developer of the Android mobile operating system — and Apple are bitter rivals in several spheres of business. When the CEO of Apple repeatedly stresses his intention to yield a lucrative market sector to a chief competitor, it’s news. Although some claim that Apple’s ban on porn may be merely a smart business decision to keep their brands “clean” and thus more mainstream, Jobs himself used the phrase “a moral responsibility.”
In fact, Google Android doesn’t seem to relish its new reputation as the technology of choice for porn, but it doesn’t have a choice. Android was designed as an “open standard” mobile OS. This means that anyone can develop any kind of application to run on an Android phone.
Apple, on the other hand, requires users to download their “apps” through the iTunes store, maintaining a strict criterion for what they will and won’t carry.
Users could once buy some fairly tame “adult” apps through iTunes, but Apple tightened its standards in February and purged almost all mature content from the store. The only risqué material is Playboy and Sports Illustrated apps (neither contains nudity) and a selection of “Kama Sutra” apps.
No Official Sanction
Meanwhile, a company called MiKandi (pronounced “my candy”) has set up shop for Android-based phones. MiKandi bills itself as the “World’s First App Store for Adults,” and allows third-party developers to sell their products using the MiKandi storefront. Right now, those apps are little more than generic collections of pornographic pictures and videos, racy card games, and conventional apps (such as calculators or calendars) designed around sexually explicit images.
Microsoft’s Windows Mobile platform has been in use for various devices since 2000, and its market share continues to decrease steadily. With the new Windows Phone 7, due to be released at the end of the year, Microsoft is making a determined effort to compete against Android and iPhone.
In addition to a new phone design and a more powerful operating system, they will launch a revamped mobile marketplace. Their guidelines specifically state what won’t be allowed: “Images that are sexually suggestive or provocative, content that generally falls under the category of pornography, or content that a reasonable person would consider to be adult or borderline adult content.”
This means that another major player in the smartphone market is opting out of adult content. While Microsoft and Apple are refusing to be party to the sale of pornography, many experts continue to insist that pornography is essential for the growth of new media technologies.
Unfortunately, Jobs is wrong: Neither the iPhone nor any mobile device can provide complete and reliable “freedom from porn.” Pornographic websites, including those specifically designed for mobile users, are quite easy to access from the devices’ built-in Web browser, and it’s unlikely that Apple will make any heroic (and ultimately futile) effort to lock out these sites.
Barring adult apps and content from the official iTunes store is one thing, but attempting to police the entire Internet is quite another.
But their determination to deny official sanction to this content is an unexpected, and heartening, turn of events.
Thomas L. McDonald has covered technology for the past 20 years.
He is also a catechist in the Diocese of Trenton, New Jersey.
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