Open Standards

I’ve seen quite a few blog and Twitter posts complaining that the live video stream of today’s Apple media event is available on Mac OS and iOS only. Moreover, some people seem to be upset because Apple claims to be using “open standards.” Most of these complains are something along the lines of “What good are open standards if you can only access them from Apple products?”
Apple is the first to admit that the live stream is only available on Apple devices, and only a subset of them at that:

Viewing requires either a Mac® running Safari® on Mac OS® X version 10.6 Snow Leopard®, an iPhone® or iPod touch® running iOS 3.0 or higher, or an iPad™.

But that’s not the end of the argument. I think what people are complaining about is the use of the word “standard.” Surely, anyone can comply with the open HTTP Live Streaming specification, though it is probably not 100% finalized. It is not, however, standard. The word “standard” implies wide use and acceptance, and although HTTP Live Streaming will probably become a true standard eventually, it’s not yet a standard today.

I think Apple is using the term the way most people understand it, however. “Open standard” has come to mean something more along the lines of “not closed and proprietary.” The point is not how commonly it is used, but whether it could be used by anyone who wished to develop software using the proposed specification. The more widely it’s used, the more “standard” it becomes. Applying the word “standard” only to software already in wide use does little more than make “standard” synonymous with “old” or “outdated.”

One last note about Apple’s choice of HTTP Live Streaming for the media event today: streaming live video is a tricky business. Back in the day, Apple had all kinds of trouble with video streams of keynote addresses – they’d break down from high traffic, and were often of fairly terrible quality. Especially since this is the first live stream they’ve done in a while, I’d expect Apple to pick the technology they were most confident would work well. In fact, that’s always Apple’s MO: use the best technology available to deliver the best user experience. If there are side effects of those choices that people don’t like, tough. That’s just how Apple works.