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Adventures in Nomadic Serendipity
Just because there is a beaten path, that doesn't mean you have to take it...
Apple forgets what it means to "Think Different" 
30th-Sep-2007 09:16 pm
face
The iPhone is the most amazing, innovative, and truly inspiring mobile device to come along since the birth of the Palm Pilot. And I should know - I've played with pretty much every mobile gadget there is. Apple did a great job reinventing the phone - and this reinvention is long overdue.

Rather than innovating, Palm has spent the last five+ years chasing after "carrier requirements", ignoring end users, neglecting its once thriving ecosystem, and bandaging an increasingly obsolete operating system.

And Microsoft's Windows Mobile never even figured out what a mobile user experience is all about...

So it is little wonder that once the iPhone was hacked to allow for third party application development, there was an unprecedented flood of excitement and enthusiasm. Over the past two months, there has been more developer activity on the "officially closed" iPhone than on the "open" PalmOS. Some great stuff was starting to emerge - with immense possibilities for the future.

Apple was at first officially "neutral" on the concept - saying they would do nothing to guarantee that future iPhone OS updates wouldn't break iPhone applications, but they would do nothing "malicious" to stop developers either.

Fair enough.

But Apple has stopped playing fair, and has gotten VERY malicious.

The new iPhone 1.1.1 update locks down the iPhone so strongly that even if developers find a new way in, it is now clear that Apple's "neutral" stance is long gone - and every new update will slam the door hard shut yet again.

Where there was once unprecedented enthusiasm, there is now emerging a huge backlash of disgust. I don't think Apple realizes how much damage they have done - it is never wise to piss off your most enthusiastic fans, developers, and influencers. Conservative estimates show that fully 10% of the one million iPhone's sold so far have been "hacked" to install third party applications. The now stillborn Navizon soft-GPS program alone had been downloaded and installed 80k times.

The anti-Apple backlash is making news - it has been a top story on Google News all week. Gizmodo has revised its iPhone review to "Don't Buy" in response, Wired is writing about all the thing you can do with the iPhone 1.0.2 that you can't after "downgrading" to the new 1.1.1, and even the New York Times is taking a real critical look at how Apple has attacked its "most ardent fans".

Apple is certainly taking a hard-line - even a MacWorld editor was told his only recourse after bricking his iPhone by upgrading to 1.1.1 was that he was "screwed" and needed to buy a new one. Egads!

This video really nails the situation by turning Apple's own words against it - taking the audio from the classic "Think Different" campaign and overlaying it on top of a scrolling catalog of the iPhone applications that have emerged:

Apple has forgotten its own advertising - Apple has stopped "Thinking Different" and turned into 1984's Big Brother.

It is rare to see Apple stumble so badly.

And it is interesting to see Nokia trying to take advantage of the stumble - with new posters appearing saying "Phones should be open to anything. The best devices have no limits" and launching an "Open to Anything" marketing campaign.

If only Nokia had a phone even half as exciting as the iPhone...
Comments 
1st-Oct-2007 07:34 am (UTC)
There is a war between "open" and "closed." Closed options are great for vendors and terrible for customers. Open options are good for vendors and great for customers. So I also see it as a war between companies and their customers. In a capitalist economy, the customer always wins that war. Of course, capitalism gets the short shrift when monopolies enter the picture, which is why closed has worked so well for Microsoft. Other companies look at Microsoft's profit margins and salivate. Microsoft has won its monopoly on the desktop PC, but mobile market is still ripe for another vendor to swoop in and establish a monopoly, using Microsoft's famous bate-and-switch lock-in strategy: offer something as "open" and then lock it down once you have people depending on your technology. Apple foretold this when they took their neutral stance of not guaranteeing openness. They took this stance because they intended to lock it down later.

Apple is seeking a monopoly on the mobile market, just like Microsoft has on the desktop PC market. Don't expect them to give a rat's ass about its customers because, when you have your eye on a monopoly, customers no longer call the shots. Apple wants to get to the point where they can piss off all the customers they want and still force them to buy their stuff, just like Microsoft does.

I think the only solution to this battle is to use the only power we have as customers and refuse to buy their product, which is hard to do when it's so damn compelling. Hopefully now that the iPhone has demonstrated the possibilities with mobile technology, another company, maybe Nokia, can imitate it fast enough and sell an open version. Of course, if that company has the same dreams of dominance that Apple has, then the whole cycle starts again. The best we can do is refuse to buy what we don't want to support, and then just wait patiently.
1st-Oct-2007 07:35 am (UTC)
Music:Chimes of Freedom - Bob Dylan

Remind me to play you my version of this song next time I see you, which I expect won't be until Burning Man 2008. :( I hope we have a good memory!
1st-Oct-2007 09:10 am (UTC) - Apple isn't all Wrong.. Think about it.
Anonymous
When Ipods get all hacked up and returned to their owners and then something go wrong.. How does one know who caused the problem? Do we take the Ipod back to the hacker who set me up with some nice tricks or whatever? Will the hacker give me product warranty?

More than not the unit will go back to apple meaning apple will spend lots of time and money in support costs for problems that were created by someone else. Quality control is hard enough without someone hacking into your products.

Perhaps.. the hackers could get together and make their own perfect product.. then let other hackers break into it.. then they can receive all the hacked products and spend their money to repair.. Dont' forget you need to know all about "customer service"... customer is always right.. just fix it and return it to me at your costs... Let's see how long you'd last in the market place.

Of course you could shut it down so that no one would ruin your product for your... .

Oh... you got it now?
1st-Oct-2007 09:45 am (UTC) - Re: Apple isn't all Wrong.. Think about it.
Apple is taking a reasonable course of action for a consumer electronics company - and they are getting a backlash because there is so much desire and expectation for Apple to act like a computer company.

Replace "hacker" with "developer" in your rant above. Quality control is indeed hard enough without developers creating software for your operating system - but would you buy Windows if only Microsoft was allowed to develop software that could run on it?

There is a massive hunger in the market for a great open phone. I know - I've seen the raw research. Palm has failed to evolve to satisfy this hunger, and Apple is shooting themselves in the foot by ignoring it. I honestly don't think they realized how much interest there would be in open iPhone applications. I don't think I've ever seen Apple so caught off guard before.

Apple was "neutral" when a small collection of hackers were creating cool toys to show off to each other with. But serious developers started to get involved, and some professional quality and even commercial software was in the works. When David Pogue starts reviewing and showing off upcoming iPhone applications in the New York Times - suddenly its a whole different ballgame that Apple never signed up to play. And suddenly Apple is running scared, making mistakes, and missing opportunities.

I think the wise course of action would be for Apple to create an "opt in" screen in iTunes that users will have to read and agree to before they can "open" their iPhone. The screen should warn that Apple is not responsible for ongoing future compatibility, crashes, incompatibility, death, whatever...

Only once an educated users chooses to get on board should Apple allow them to unlock their phone. And if the user does screw it up - iTunes can just wipe the phone back to default state.

There is a middle ground that Apple can take between being a computer company and a consumer electronics company.

It can be done. It is the smart thing to do.

And I really hope Apple is working on it.

- chris
2nd-Oct-2007 01:51 am (UTC) - Hi there, snide astroturfing coward...
Perhaps.. the hackers could get together and make their own perfect product..

Too late. If you're going to be this f'ing sarcastic, you could at least do some research.
2nd-Oct-2007 02:57 pm (UTC) - Re: Hi there, snide astroturfing coward...
I've been following the progress of Openmoko for about 18 months now, and briefly considered becoming a developer since I write OS internals for mobile platforms professionally. I didn't because it's a joke of a platform and suitable only for those who've drank too much Open Source Kool Aid. As is usual, though, it gets defense and promotion by those whose zeal is their primary asset. In five years, it will be in the dustbin of history, right next to Loki Games.
1st-Oct-2007 10:07 am (UTC)
Surely you had to know their neutrality stance was an unsustainable one from the start, especially when it could circumvent vendor lock. I fundamentally see their failure here as a failure to take a stance from the beginning.
1st-Oct-2007 10:29 am (UTC)
Apple has successfully managed to remain "neutral" around alternative firmware and hacking of the older model ipods for years. But then, that was only ever of interest to a small fringe group of tinkerers. Those hackers certainly weren't getting features written about them in the New York Times.

I saw this showdown coming from the moment Apple announced that the iPhone was going to be a closed device. But even I didn't expect how quickly such a range of quality applications would emerge. And particularly - how easy the end user installation experience would be.

It is actually easier to install software on an iPhone than on a Palm - and that is really an impressive achievement indeed. I am certain that Apple never expected it to be so easy for "average" users to play around with third party apps.

But I think we agree - the biggest failure here was one of not taking a proactive stance to manage this better from the start.

Any predictions on how this will play out over the next few months? I think Apple's dug themselves a pretty deep hole - I am curious to see how (if?) they dig out.
1st-Oct-2007 12:54 pm (UTC)
I may have some time to gaze into my cracked crystal ball this afternoon. It's hard to write that much on my MotoQ 9h at the ATL airport.

Even if it has the best keypad in the industry. *wink*
1st-Oct-2007 07:20 pm (UTC)
Okay...I'm going to warn you that this response is going to be fractured, partially because it's coming out of the opinions of someone who has read more on the chipsets of the iPhone than anything else, partially because my crystal ball is badly cracked, and partially because I'm going to be writing this in pieces throughout the afternoon.

I want to first stop and respond to a thing or two in your response, though...

Apple has successfully managed to remain "neutral" around alternative firmware and hacking of the older model ipods for years. But then, that was only ever of interest to a small fringe group of tinkerers. Those hackers certainly weren't getting features written about them in the New York Times.

It's also very important to realize who the stakeholders are here. If someone hacks iPod firmware, as long as it cannot circumvent DRM, the only stakeholder is Apple. I'd say that, in the case of iPod hacking, it's generally mostly Apple that will win or lose on it, so they can pick the stance they want. In the case of the iPhone, there are more stakeholders, and some of them maintain a fair amount of power in the situation. When you consider that an iPhone hack breaks vendor lock, Apple may not have a choice with respect to "neutrality". IIRC, unless their agreement with AT&T is different from most, they have a responsibility to antagonize a hack that can lead to subsidy lock violations.

I saw this showdown coming from the moment Apple announced that the iPhone was going to be a closed device.

Ditto. They made a smartphone. Smartphones run apps or they're crippled. Shit. My RAZR runs some rather interesting apps, and it's a pretty basic phone. IMHO, this was a catastrophic failure on their part, and it's been one of my biggest reasons for wanting to cut the hype.

This is where I start peeking in the crystal ball. Between various sources, some on the Internet and some not, I have a pretty good picture of the iPhone's chipset. To no surprise, its hardware smells a lot like a next-gen iPod with an EDGE chipset slapped in it. In fact, there's a lot of signs that nobody even considered the manufacturing process when they designed the thing. One report I got from a unit dismantlement said it was full of RF shielding tape that is, in other devices where it appears, known to be cut and laid by hand.

I have a suspicion that the iPhone was not...well...entirely intended. I think the iPod Touch was the item that was well on the roadmap, and someone got a great idea to exploit some extra resources available on the new AP to support a BP. It turned out to work really well, and the iPod Touch was already going to have a lot of great software that could be leveraged in this new product. I even think that Steve Jobs alluded to this in a comment he made about supporting third-party developers. He didn't call the phone "closed". He said it was "different"..."like an iPod". I think that, given the hardware platform the two devices share in common, that the iPhone was a highly successful experiment launched off the iPod Touch project.

The AP of the iPhone isn't quite something I can get a TRS for. So, I don't know all of its capabilities. I know that the AP I work with has a security system baked in, so it's very easy to separate trusted code from third-party stuff, enforce access control, and even encrypt and sign important parts of the software. It's an environment built for taking third-party stuff. It's possible that someone at Apple noted the iPod doesn't have to deal with this issue and that, because the iPhone is so whiz-bang and breaks Apple into a new market, that they would just skip the third-party apps issue and ship with the same model as the iPod. That means taking an anti-developer stance. Whereas you object to this on the moral grounds of what Apple stands for, kid cynical over here notes that it basically means entering the smartphone space on a crippled device.

It's interesting to note, too, that Jobs tried to backpedal on this by basically claiming that AJAX was the "new model" for app design and that people can write apps for the iPhone in AJAX.
1st-Oct-2007 07:20 pm (UTC)
The problem here is with being neutral. "Neutral" in this case boils down to a realpolitik of leaving security holes in a device on AT&T's network and also not fighting for the vendor lock in your contract. So, they don't have a choice. They have to be antagonistic to the hacking community, just like every other mobile devices manufacturer. They always had to do this, and they should have known that. If my guesses have even a partial truth, there was a lot of naivete that went into this product.

I don't know that this will play out to be a whole lot, though. Apple might come up with some AJAX devkit that lets you better exploit iPhone features and maybe even help you forget you're programming in AJAX. Ultimately, most people I've talked to who own iPhones don't care about third-party applications because they feel that the iPhone already does everything they want it to. To boot, so many people are so Yellow Dog about Apple that they don't see it as a big deal either way. I think Apple ultimately hopes that most people will buy an iPhone because other people buy them, and won't mind the complaints from a subset of its community.

I think the even bigger question to ask here is what has driven so many people, most of them folk who should have known better about the risks involved, to do things that can lead to bricking their phones. I've bricked a couple of my prototypes before, and that's precisely why I ignore the hacker community for every device I actually pay for. I have too much respect for my own money to ruin the utility I purchase with it. Buying an expensive iPhone because you intend to hack it as part of its general use sounds to me like a very losing proposition.
2nd-Oct-2007 10:00 pm (UTC)
Qute honestly, I do not see how Apple's latest firmware for the iPhone represents a departure from their neutral stance toward hacking the iPhone.

The new firmware is not designed to disable hacked phones; that's merely a side effect. Remember that "firmware" in this case means, essentially, a full-fledged operating system.

Te new firmware may be only a point-release, but it affects very large swaths of OS X. It's essentially a near-complete replacement of the operating system. If you take a complex operating system, modify it, and then replace most of it, you can reasonably expect that the modifications won't work any more, and it's not outside the realm of possibility that the whole shebang won't work any more.

That's "neutral." They do not actively take steps aimed at the sole purpose of disabling hacks...but they also don't test hacked phones and don't care if a firmware update plays nicely with the hacked versions or not. Seems pretty neutral to me.
3rd-Oct-2007 01:51 pm (UTC)
"Neutral" would have been updating the OS - perhaps changing and breaking some API's, and certainly the update would overwrite everything currently installed.

What Apple did was much more extreme than neutral - they significantly changed the way the device is locked down, making it much harder / near impossible to access the device file system and make changes.

They also detected devices that have been SIM unlocked and overwrote their IMEI numbers with an invalid code that disables the phone function, and says to Apple support "this phone has been hacked - warranty void". That is certainly not a "neutral" move.

Amusingly - this IMEI overwrite also seemingly killed phones legitimately using AT&T prepaid SIM's.

As roadriverrail points out - Apple may have contractually had no choice but to take a hard line. But it still sucks, and the move is going to hurt them.

- chris
3rd-Oct-2007 02:16 pm (UTC)
BTW - here is an interview with one of the leading Mac developers, discussing how Apple has been anything but neutral:

TUAW Interview with Ambrosia Software

Apple is upsetting a lot of their most ardent fans, supporters, and developers with how they have been responding lately. I don't think Apple expected this. I hope they wake up and change course.

- chris
5th-Oct-2007 07:16 am (UTC)
Oh those silly iPhone buyers.
No one believed me when I said Apple was evil & it was all part of their scam to get people to drink the Kool-Aid.
Now they all see.

*hugs my Dash*
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