After taking over as Apple CEO for the second time, Steve Jobs pulled the plug on a program to license the Macintosh operating system to clone makers. No surprise, as that was consistent with his approach since the debut of the Macintosh. Keeping everything under one roof worked to Apple’s advantage, and it found later expression in the development of the iPod and iTunes.

So it is that in the run-up to Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple’s App Store is going to be the only way to get official third-party iPhone applications onto your device. We’ll find out more next week, but you can expect some predictable baying in certain corners of the blogosphere. My hunch, though, is that most customers are going to be fine with all that.

The conventional wisdom these days has it that most tech companies shouldn’t get away with being closed–Apple, of course, being the exception. Since so much of the conversations around technology these days concerns social media, I thought it was interesting to recall the collective howl which met Facebook’s decision to block Google’s Friend Connect last month. Social networking is obviously a different sphere of computing, but shouldn’t the same standard apply?

That’s an important debate, but being “closed” has allowed Apple to integrate its hardware and software in ways that have delighted customers over the years. As a consumer, I want my technology provider to make these as easy as possible for me to use. I don’t want to waste my day tinkering with a screwdriver, downloading software patches, or praying on one leg to a four-eyed ancient deity in order to get the damned thing to work.

That really irks rivals. Remember this ad from Nokia last fall tweaking Apple for its closed-door policy toward iPhone development? Around the same time, a BBC contributor equated Apple’s business practices with Microsoft’s and suggested that the European Union launch an investigation. Apple went on sell 4 million units by the end of last year. The EU still hasn’t opened that investigation–nor should it.

If it’s going to attract new customers, the high-tech industry will need to behave more like the consumer electronics industry. That means simplicity. I want to plug in my stereo, turn it on, and listen to a CD. I don’t want to first download the CD-enabling software. And when it comes to tech companies, Apple is the closest to providing that sort of simplicity, be it for music or photos. The company’s “closed” behaviour, you can argue, is what makes that simplicity possible. What limited Apple’s appeal is now working to its advantage.

— Posted By Charles Cooper