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the problem with the iPhone

by Ward Vandewege Contributions Published on Jan 12, 2007 05:53 PM
The iPhone will be a walled garden.
So Apple announced the iPhone on Tuesday. It looks beautiful with its big screen, and it sounds exciting - both from a user interface perspective (those multi-finger touchscreen commands sound fascinating) as from a technology perspective: it runs (a stripped down version of) Mac OS X, which implies that the hardware is quite powerful and versatile.

In an interview with Newsweek, Steve Jobs made some very disturbing comments about how 'open' the device will be:

“You don’t want your phone to be an open platform,” meaning that anyone can write applications for it and potentially gum up the provider's network, says Jobs. “You need it to work when you need it to work. Cingular doesn’t want to see their West Coast network go down because some application messed up.”

This is complete nonsense. There's this other network out there called the internet. People install '3rd party software' on the machines that are hooked up to it all the time. And guess what - the West Coast part of the Internet doesn't crash and burn every other day. I wonder why that is, if '3rd party software' is oh so dangerous.

Also, this quote is particularly disturbing coming from Jobs - a large chunk of Mac OS X is 3rd party software. The kernel was derived from BSD, which was not written by Apple. BSD is all about openness. It pains me to see that codebase used to build a completely crippled and closed environment. With software under the GPL, this would not have been possible...

I suppose the community will have to start working on a port of an entirely Free operating system to the iPhone before it will be useful. Given the existance of Rockbox, that hopefully won't take too long.

In the mean time, it's probably a good idea to let Steve Jobs know that we want telephones that are more open and that support Free Software better than what exists currently, not yet another walled garden. Be polite but firm - there is a rumor that he actually reads and responds to e-mail coming from addresses...

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