7 Reasons Why Keeping the iPhone Locked Down is Stupid and Arrogant
Apple has done this before. And they have done it with a product that redefined the company (even made it change its name), the iPod. The iPod is a locked down device when it comes to easily adding software. I say easily because if you’d read my book (iPod and iTunes Hacks) you’ll know that with some trickery (ok, a lot of trickery) you can do things like install Linux on the iPod, and customize the interface somewhat. But all of these changes are hacks, outside the purview of the typical Apple consumer.
Which leads us to the iPhone. Steve tells us it runs OS X, and the number of inventive hackers out there have confirmed that this thing does indeed power itself with all the glory and sparkle that is OS X. Like on the desktop, this is a tantalizing discovery, an operating system powered by the rock solid Unix combined with the user interface (UI) prowess that is Apple. But, even with all this power, or in spite of it, Apple has still decided to keep the iPhone locked down. Which is stupid. And arrogant. So, without further adieu I present to you the
10 7 reasons why locking down the iPhone is, well, stupid, and arrogant.
1. Stupid Reason #1: It alienates developers
Developers are the most imaginative and powerful users any platform can have. They are passionate advocates who are an extension of the corporate family. By not allowing the numerous creative and innovative developers out there in the Apple community access to the iPhone Apple is simply stifling innovation. There is a lot of work that could be done bringing the desktop experience to the iPhone. Off the top of my head:
- FTP (Transmit is my favorite)
- Chat (Yes, FlickIM is a good work-around but imagine Adium on the iPhone!)
- Third-party calendars that people actually use (Now-Up-To-Date)
- The office suite
- Any number of interesting iTunes add-ons and additions
- Social software, ie, tie-ins to Facebook, Digg, Macitt, etc. that Apple would never do
2. Arrogant Reason #2: Coverflow
Remember coverflow? Thought that little gem of UI goodness came from the Gods at Cupertino? Think again. Even Steve couldn’t imagine up coverflow. Rather it came from a developer. A one person shop who, because Apple gave him access to the various API’s underpinning OS X could take what he imagined and bring it to the Mac. It was so good that Apple acquired the company, sucked the whole thing into iTunes and has even made it a darling of Apple’s upcoming Leopard. Wait, iTunes. Apple must have developed the applications that defined the software side of the iPod and iTunes?! Thing again. iTunes was an acquisition. Apart from the numerous examples of Apple acquiring software there are also numerous examples of brilliant software that Apple hasn’t acquired. By shutting off 3rd party development Apple shuts off an innovation channel that could produce the next Coverflow, iTunes, or Omnigraffle.
3. Arrogant Reason #3: Its like Verizon. And people hate Verizon
From a brand experience standpoint nothing beats the arrogance of Verizon. Verizon is so wonky that they take any interface designed by any mobile device (including the much-lauded Blackberry) and make it their own. How? By painting everything blood red, and mucking up the interface wherever they can. And, to top everything off Verizon locks down the device harder than a maximum security prison. Sound familiar? Well, thankfully the iPhone is a delight to use, and is lacking in the color red. But the locked down part is the same. And, people hate locked down. They want to (in the words of a past editor of mine, Rael), twiddle with a device. Stretch it, personalize it. And by not even allowing people to change, within reason, interface elements Apple risks becoming a Verizon.
4. Stupid Reason #4: Niche markets and use-cases are lost
Apple has shown a bizarre indifference to the corporate market over the years. I truly believe that Apple just doesn’t care about the corporate market. Which is fine, I suppose (except for shareholders of which I am one). Macs and traditional corporate America (and the corporate world, for that matter) are like oil and water. Which is very unlike the Blackberry experience. The corporate world loves Blackberries, and for good reason. They are reliable in a rock-solid kind of way, and can be customized to meet the needs of corporate security. The idea of customized iPhones, stripped of certain functions probably makes Steve quiver in his sleep. And because of that Apple is missing a huge market. Is there any reason why iPhones couldn’t be used in hospitals, by UPS Fed-ex, etc, by professionals in the workplace as their primary mobile device, etc. The only reason right now is that the iPhone is locked down, and until companies can customize the iPhone and, shiver-me-timbers, write custom applications for it, the iPhone will miss out on a plethora of niche markets and use-cases.
5. Arrogant Reason #5: No one else will come along and do it
OS X is marvelous. It is hands-down the best user-experience of any modern operating system out there. But yet it garners but a minority of market-share. Why? Arrogance. Arrogance was the reason Apple didn’t have the business vision to do what Bill Gates did, divorce the operating system from the hardware that it was running on. Arrogance and, I think, a little bit of greed. Turns out this was the wrong decision. Woefully wrong. No matter though, say the Apple fanboys, OS X still rocks. And it does! But not from a business standpoint. Why did the lack of business foresight happen with the Mac in the first place? Simple. Arrogance. The Mac experience was too good. There was nothing else like it! All true. Until Windows came along. Sure, Windows 95 sucked (and Vista still, arguably does). But for the majority it provided access to the real innovation behind the Mac operating system, a WYSIWYG interface.
Right now Apple has the advantage with the only mobile-device with a true multi-touch interface. But that market advantage will inevitably erode. And who ever comes through next will no doubt have an open system that developers will flock to.
6. Stupid Reason #6: Its bad for the user
We all know Steve likes to control. But it’s kind of like that Police song, if you love someone, set them free. We know you love the iPhone, Steve. We know only someone like you could have overseen the creation of it. But your blind love is getting in the way of the end user. You’ve got to let that end user free. Free to experience mobile computing applications in a way they have never been experienced! As we proved in Reason #2, there is no way Apple can think of every innovation, and meet every use-case out there for the iPhone. Keeping the iPhone locked down right now is simply bad for the end user. It will limit choice in the long-run, and, inevitably, another company will come along with that choice.
7. Stupid Reason #7: Money
The iPod accessory market is a billion dollar ecosystem of cases, chargers, water-proof speaker sets, bluetooth headsets, and way way way more stuff than one can even imagine (even a toilet-roll speaker set!). And Apple makes a mint of it thanks to the, “Made for iPod” tax than anyone with a smidgen of a reputation (and a desire to be distributed at Apple Retail stores and sold at Apple.com) has to buy into. It’s a license (literally) to print money. Now, I am not suggesting that Apple start charging a fee for the right for companies to develop on the iPhone (although that could be an interesting model). I am just making the point that because of 3rd parties Apple has an auxiliary income for which it does little to nothing for! Same with the iPhone. If you let developers develop for it there will be more users, more people hooked into the product which means more money.