Operating System as Religion – A Surefire Argument Starter
- iOS - Jubudu?
- Android - Pax Googla?
- Windows Phone - only Microsoft is great?
I am not the first blogger, writer or smartarse to suggest that the fierce loyalties pledged by techies to their operating system of choice is akin to religious competition. Sure there’s less death (SO FAR), but the passion by which an Apple loyalist will defend themselves against an Android user, and vice versa, comes loaded with the same apocalyptic fear, hatred and mistrust that must have been present at the Council of Nicea.
So what’s behind this? First of all, it’s not entirely unjustified. The dominant operating systems in the public eye are no longer Apple and Microsoft. It is iOS (Apple’s mobile operating system for iPhone and iPad) and Android, Google’s operating system that is trying to be on everything from phones to refrigerators. So there is a duality, which is already a potent theme in religious bickering – whether it be God and the Devil, Heaven or Hell, Good vs Evil, or Christians vs Muslims. It’s good fodder. A third choice messes things up (I’m looking at you, Windows Mobile).
Secondly, there is a proper philosophic distinction between these two positions. Apple’s operating system is underpinned by an almost fanatic attention to detail. Despite the occasional slip, the operating system works perfectly, with each application bended and shaped to fit into Apple’s framework. This means it’s hard to break, because there’s not a lot of mucking about you can do that wasn’t intended by the people who built it.
Android, on the other hand, is more of a community work in progress. It has changed dramatically from its original incarnation. It can be molded to fit the device. It comes with an ecosystem (Google Play) that can host other ecosystems within it. It’s based on the idea of openness and user input But it’s also a goddamn (Google-damn?) mess. It attracts criminals (people who write malware apps that feast on your data, rare now but once common) and it has plenty of blind alleys full of garbage.
The other distinction with Apple is the role of hardware. The ‘body’ to the ‘spirit’. With Apple, the body and spirit are one, which leads to a feeling of harmony. Of course, once you shake your head and remember that we’re talking about gadgets, for sale, then you realize that merging the body and the spirit means ‘vertical integration’. In other words, you can’t get one without the other, meaning Apple have you ‘locked in’. Of course, the thing you’re locked into is pretty nice, but a prison is a prison, right?
So you might go looking for the more purely spiritual shores of the Android ocean, which can exist on any of several devices. Of course, a huge amount of those devices have specifically been built cheaply and quickly to take advantage of this free love model, and these are the ones that the uninitiated gravitate towards – which then sours them on the whole enterprise because the thing breaks, or doesn’t play nicely with the software. But again- once you shake your head and realize THIS IS A STUPID PHONE AND NOT A RELIGION, you end up just going for a more expensive handset that works better- which goes somewhat against the grain of going with something open like Android to begin with.
Here’s how to start some arguments.
I’ve long seen iOS and the entire Apple Universe as something akin to Judaism. It has a surprising conservatism about it. It’s a locked in hardware and software paradigm that you either get, or you don’t. It’s less concerned with what’s expedient and more in favour of what works. It evokes resentment and suspicion in those not within the ‘tribe’, and a calm smugness in those who are (note – your writer is in both tribes, so make of that what you will).
The Apple and iOS ecosystem is also welcoming to converts, but doesn’t proselytize. Well, that might be a stretch – Apple certainly goes looking for converts, but they do so in a way that convinces the new adherent that they came to Apple, and not the other way around. But the effect is the same – far from the ‘walled garden’ that people are quick to ascribe to the world of Apple, there’s a ‘tent with no walls’ quality, with a smiling Abraham in the middle (let’s call this Abraham an iPhone), waiting for thirsty passers-by to stop in and ask questions.
Of course, there’s a touch of Zen Buddhism and Hinduism deep within Apple’s DNA too, and not just in metaphor. Steve Jobs was infamously fond of Eastern religions and incorporated a spirit of minimalism and harmony into the firm he founded. Also Jobs, and other Apple luminaries like Jony Ive, have the qualities that make for good charismatic leaders.
Like with Microsoft, there’s a Christianity to Google’s software universe. In the same way that Christianity is a spiritual framework that can be grafted onto any hardware- whether that hardware be Mediterranean, European, Levantine, Russian, Greek, Vietnamese, etc – so too can Google’s framework be incorporated into the design philosophy of almost any manufacturer. This can lead to an apparent homogeneity – LG, Samsung, HTC and Motorola can all be accused of churning out indistinguishable ‘shiny black rectangles – but there’s room to incorporate the hardware makers own personality and history into the Google framework. Just as Christianity can be worked and molded to fit cultures with almost nothing in common – save for the concept of grace – so too can a Korean family-owned juggernaut that does everything from shipping to medical equipment (Samsung) use Android as well as an American radio company with a long public history (Motorola).
The difficulties come when the hardware owners are still invested in their own culture to a degree that they don’t want Google’s supplanting theirs. This might be why Sony has always been discomfited with Android – Sony might famously see such things as ‘culture’ and ‘software’ as secondary to the man’s work of building stuff – but they definitely had something before software became king. To be told by some ‘upstart’ that their way of doing things, when they were so powerful for so long, was incorrect and that they would have to share space with these newcomers – that would have stung, and not just because of supposed Japanese xenophobia.
That goes double for Nokia, who were the company of the future well before Apple , HTC, Samsung and Google came along to supplant them. Nokia did both hardware and software, and did it well. They had a pedigree not dissimilar to other Northern European champions of design and engineering – they shared DNA with Ericsson, Siemens, BMW and IKEA. It’s no surprise then that when the walls started closing in, they went with a (not very) surprising third option.
Windows Phone and Windows 8
Microsoft’s play for the mobile computing world has a touch of the Islam about it. Like Islam, which was branched from the tree of Judaism and Christianity, Windows Phone aims to take the best from both of these worlds- Apple’s ascetic design philosophy, Android’s openness – and create something wholly new.
But Islam has also made up for its relative ‘newness’ by claiming to be the originator of the Abrahamic faith, the original faith practiced by Adam in the Garden of Eden, and that contrary to, um, the chronological record, Judaism and Christianity were instead flawed half-remembered versions of this pure faith. Islam was not new, it was a return to the original.
Likewise, Microsoft could genuinely claim itself as a returning hero, rather than the new kid on the block. Not only was Windows the dominant operating system for everything before Apple sidestepped them into the mobile world, but Windows was also the first comprehensive smartphone operating system, with Windows Mobile. Sure, Microsoft tries to distance itself from Windows Mobile by naming their current portable OS Windows Phone, but there’s a sense that Microsoft is less a third option than a temporarily embarrassed King, ready to reclaim its rightful throne.
There is no conclusion. This is pure navel-gazing. But the next time you feel tempted to engage in a heated exchange on the merits of one mobile (or desktop) operating system as compared with another, stop and consider, from an objective point of view, what most religious adherents ought to do. Find common ground to agree on, marvel at the diversity of ways the divine/technologically excellent manifests itself, and embrace.
Sidenote: Angry Birds is like funny hats. All religions can agree on some type of funny hat, as all OS can agree that Angry Birds is essential to their platform.
Sidenote 2: BlackBerry is the devil. Peace.