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Apple's iPhone - not the home of the free

 

By: Scott Bradner

 

Last week my mother admonished me for having published two columns about the Apple iPhone before it was released but not a word since.  She (of course) is right - I should have said something but I've been trying to figure out what bothers me so much about it.

I have not bought an iPhone -- I may but I'm not sure if or when.  I have played with them and am astonished at the quality and ease of use of the device.  I expected a lot from the Apple designers but until I held one and played with it I had not internalized just how good a consumer product could be.  The iPod should have given me a big hint but I have to admit Apple still managed to surprise me.  (Will Apple’s iPhone walk on water? http://www.networkworld.com/columnists/2007/061207bradner.html)

 

Apple has also surprised most of their possible competitors in the advanced phone business.  A few of them are trying to put out iPhone clones, and a few of them look good but I expect it will be a long time for products to appear that show that the vendor understands anything about what Apple has done.  Making a clone does not require understanding.  You only have to look at the iPod to see how hard it has been for most vendors to "get it."  The iPod was introduced in 2001 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kN0SVBCJqLs) and to me, even today there are no other products that come close to it in user interface design.  (And there are rumors that we may be just weeks away from a whole new iPod design - maybe something like a phone-less iPhone.)

 

So the product itself is, as far as I can tell without living with one, great.  According to the surveys I've read, most of the people who actually bought iPhones are very happy with them.  The network managers in their companies may not be as happy because the iPhone is missing some things that such network managers see as required for an enterprise phone including high quality interaction with Microsoft email systems and remote device lock and erase.

 

But there is a lot that bothers me about the iPhone and it is mostly in Apple's business decisions. Back in January I wrote about some of the technology I'd like to see in the iPhone (Apple iPhone: Almost all of what I wanted http://www.networkworld.com/columnists/2007/011007bradner.html).  Most of what I wanted is not there - lots of other things are but the functions that would make the device complete are missing.  At least they are missing from Apple.  Some of the missing parts are already available from third parties.  It is hard to blame Apple for not being able to lock out the hackers - that is a very hard task when the hacker has your device in his hands and under his control. But, to me, it would have been far better for Apple to sell a version of the iPhone that admits that it is a computer running a good operating system and lets customers use it openly. 

 

But the worst part of the iPhone is that Apple is treating the iPhone just like another cell phone.  Apple, the company that forced the music business and some of the TV and movie business to deal with the Internet by an innovative and compelling business model, has done none of this when it comes to the iPhone.  The phone, as sold in the US, is locked into a particular carrier and cannot even be used for non phone functions without agreeing to the lock in. 

 

The locks, predictably, were quickly overcome and Apple is now retaliating by trying to block the exploits.  Apple, if it were true to its image, would have sold unlocked phones to people who wanted them.  It may have to in Europe.  If so it will be sad indeed if customers in Apple's own country can't be free.

 

disclaimer:  Harvard predates the "land of the free" but has not  expressed an opinion about Apple's refusal to be part of it in this case, thus the above review and lament are mine alone.