7 Reasons Why Keeping the iPhone Locked Down is Stupid and Arrogant

by Hadley Stern Aug 13, 2007

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.


  • Heck, if Apple made bed sheets, they’d wrap themselves in them and never come out. -Bbx

    Ohh…Apple bedsheets with the smiling Mac logo on one side and the uber silver/black logo on the other.. then I wake up all cold and sweaty at the same time.. wink Nice business plan, Bbx.

    From the locked down Mac, to the locked down iPod/iTunes combo, to the iPhone, they’d love nothing more than having every single aspect of their lives controlled by Steve Jobs. I guess it is like the way your Mac mini, MacBook, iPod, iLife, iMovie, and soon-to-be MacBook Pro are vertically locked down by one vertical vendor, Apple? C’mon Mac heister. Why so bipolar when it comes to Mac reality?

    As for the initially “closed” development environment for the iPhone and the 5-year locked-down deal with Ma Bell, I have to add that those were necessary evils to had.

    The first, “closed” development SDK, will need maturing and stability and that takes time. I was one of the earliest to point out the iPhone’s lack of SDK the day it was announced and why it needs one. Developers will be rewarded for their patience around when the iPhone completes its product offerings down the lower-end and mid-range.

    Second, the 5-year lockdown, which is keeping me and most CDMA cell users from migrating, was a necessary deal for both Apple and AT&T. Otherwise, the iPhone does not get the widespread cellular footprint that AT&T provides. And I believe AT&T bent over backwards to accommodate Apple’s conditions more than the other way. All Apple had to give was a “lock down” condition for 5 years and the deal was set.

    Someone mentioned “lock-downs” are illegal? Here? Where? Perhaps in the Euro zone but not in the States. Otherwise, we would not have these subsidized shell games with a multi-year lock-downs by all cellular providers.

    And last, this iPhone “lock-down” will be the last you will ever see. Jobs will see it his way and in 5 years, the iPhone will have been so huge a success, he will literally rewrite the cellphone rule book HIS way, not AT&T’s or Verizon’s.

    Robomac had this to say on Aug 13, 2007 Posts: 846
  • Mmm, the iPhone is, just maybe, the start of a cell phone industry whose actions are not wholly geared to shafting the consumer.

    Benji had this to say on Aug 13, 2007 Posts: 927
  • Mmm, the iPhone is, just maybe, the start of a cell phone industry whose actions are not wholly geared to shafting the consumer. -Ben

    Less Vaseline on my wallet is all I ask.

    Robomac had this to say on Aug 13, 2007 Posts: 846
  • Robotech, I mentioned the unlocking thing. Yes it is legal in the US just not advertised. I’d point you to an article on it but I can’t copy and paste on the iPhone. Just Google “Arstechnica phone unlock” with no quotes and it will be the first article.

    Tanner Godarzi had this to say on Aug 14, 2007 Posts: 70
  • without third party apps palm would be pathetic . I don’t miss palm I miss the great apps like dateBk and zlauncher directory assistance and Butler to name a few . With apps like these popping up iPhone would be unstoppable with out some fancy footwork iphone could quickly be up-staged If apple stays locked down for to long a lot of people will start looking around . And any way it seems obvious there’s going to be third party apps with or without apples blessings so any king worth her salt would command it so. So ,

    byronchurch had this to say on Aug 14, 2007 Posts: 1
  • Yes. But there will be an SDK.

    Benji had this to say on Aug 14, 2007 Posts: 927
  • Good cases for it all above [applause]

    Here’s the thing with Closed vs Open_

    OS X itself - sitting on Laptop or Desktop Hardware is stable_ When you install reputable 3rd party Apps - M$ Office - Adobe/Macromedia Products - AutoDesk - etc… OS X remains stable_

    The only times I’ve ever come across OS X instability is when I am:

    - testing a 3rd party App that only 6 people on the planet have ever heard of

    - testing non-Final Release Software - Beta’s - Alpha’s or other pre-release [since it is usually a given that these are not stable to begin with]

    -  running “hacks’ or “patches” to make the software do things it was not originally intended to do_

    Apple - 3rd Party Developers and Consumers can all have their cake and eat it too - This Closed model of OS X only running on Mac hardware works well for Apple_ They allow 3rd Party Development [which attests to the choice of running UNIX] and Consumers have many options to customize their systems and still maintain stability_

    Why can’t this same appraoch be applied to the iPhone as well ??

    What makes it so different that Apple has to lock it down ?

    uberfu had this to say on Aug 14, 2007 Posts: 1
  • uberfu,

    When it comes to software development, a phone is not a computer by a long shot.

    There are development difficulties working with a low-power processor, limited memory and the kind of mutlitasking a phone requires that don’t occur in the desktop/laptop world.

    Bad software on a desktop might chew up a few more cycles, or a small memory hole might eat up a little more ram than you’d like, but for the user it’s basically unnoticeable. Most desktops and laptops have tons of available memory and processor cycles to spare.

    Not so on a phone. Extra cycles eaten up on a phone means your battery life goes down the drain. Lost cycles to a power-hungry app means that other processes on the phone may not get the required processing time and could crash. Lost memory in a small memory device will, at best, cause recoverable “out of memory” errors—at worst will crash the phone.

    When you are working on a constrained device like a phone, you really *really* need to be aware and optimize to avoid these issue.

    The fact of the matter is, most developers write crappy code. We all do it. Either the project is rushed; there’s not enough QA time; or there isn’t as rigorous architecture/design up front… Or, as I’ve seen on more occasions that I can note, the developer just doesn’t have enough experience to write tight optimized code.

    On a computer, this isn’t really an issue because we are given lots of latitude to screw up. On a phone, there is no room for a bad algorithm, bad memory management or mediocre speed optimizations.

    The software development field for small or embedded devices is a completely different discipline than typical computer application development.

    Not only do most people not get that, many developers don’t either, and therein lies the problem.

    vb_baysider had this to say on Aug 14, 2007 Posts: 243
  • That’s exactly why the Apple II became such a good success. With a good floppy drive and easy to use programing that’s what made the user flock around it. If Apple doesn’t do this with the iphone some company will do an IBM and try to take over the market.

    Plus with 3rd party applications the iphone experience can reach higher levels than just google maps.

    andreas had this to say on Aug 14, 2007 Posts: 1
  • Yes it is legal in the US just not advertised. -Tanner

    Ah, “unlocking is legal” per latest DMCA exemptions but not “locking is illegal” as it is allowed under same bad DMCA law.

    There is a difference there. AT&T, Apple, nor every cell providers in the States are not prohibited from locking-down their firmware to a particular network. This is, unfortunately thus far, has been happily allowed by the U.S. Congress and I believe it is about damn time to re-evaluate the exact provisions of the DMCA.

    Write to your Congressman or Representative. You know, I will. You don’t realize how receptive they are when it is election time.

    Robomac had this to say on Aug 14, 2007 Posts: 846
  • there’s going to be third party apps with or without apples blessings… -Byron

    No hacked applications will be allowed to run without a blessed iPhone SDK. Reason #1: each valid iPhone app will need authentication via digital signatures not just on boot-time but all the time it accesses OSX sublayers - let alone the kernel (if even allowed).

    Remember, the iPhone is a “phone” and not a desktop. Apple is obligated to the service provider (AT&T presently) that under no condition an iPhone must not bring down the network.

    The iPhone is an “always-on” internet device accessing such a network (EDGE now, HSDPA and/or EVDO/WIMAX in the future) and there is a REAL threat of DDoS when this SDK is improperly implemented. There are very smart kids out there with iPhones, mind you. wink

    What makes it so different that Apple has to lock it down? -Uberfu

    Just to add to VB’s excellent explanations. Like I’ve already mentioned, this is only temporary. Apple has already given developers a little taste by allowing development thru Safari (AJAX style).

    Even Apple is new to this “phone” environment that the mobile OSX is on. Apple is carefully evaluating the risks and rewards as we speak. It will take just a matter of time to release the much-vaunted iPhone SDK. Give or take within 2-3 years when the whole iPhone product line is completed.

    Robomac had this to say on Aug 14, 2007 Posts: 846
  • Apple has already given developers a little taste by allowing development thru Safari (AJAX style).
    It would be fairly extraordinary if they had prevented that.

    Benji had this to say on Aug 14, 2007 Posts: 927
  • I agree with your assessment, though, that baby steps are what’s needed here. Unchartered waters.

    Benji had this to say on Aug 14, 2007 Posts: 927
  • *uncharted

    Benji had this to say on Aug 14, 2007 Posts: 927
  • Chat on a phone doesn’t work.  Have you tried it?  It’s a pain.  SMS, especially the way the iPhone UI has rendered it, is much better.

    drchuck had this to say on Aug 15, 2007 Posts: 1
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