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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
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...
4th-Oct-2007 04:47 am (UTC)
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.

Indeed. And I think that may be what happened here. I imagine Apple may have been "neutral" and actually even fairly pleased to see the hackers creating apps for the iPhone. They probably started to get nervous when the AT&T activation was bypassed - but with the iPod Touch coming - all bypassing activation got you was a more expensive iPod Touch that still couldn't make calls.

I don't think Apple expected the SIM unlock - particularly an open source tool with an easy GUI anyone could use. Not this quickly. Seeing that emerge is probably what freaked out Apple and AT&T, and forced Apple to jump.

With the SIM lock broken, suddenly iPhone's were showing up in France and China and all sorts of other markets Apple was trying to negotiate exclusive deals with massive revenue cuts.

No wonder they jumped to squash things.

I really do expect that they intended to eventually open the iPhone, but things happened faster than they were ready for.

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.

That sort of hand tweaking may not be common for the experts like Moto and Nokia, but it is actually fairly common for the first production run of devices from pretty much all of the smaller makers, if I recall. I expect that the second million iPhones built will have the manufacturing process nailed. If not - shame on Apple.

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.

I am pretty sure it is actually the other way around. Apple has been working on an iPhone for years - and they've been through several internal-only iterations that never made it out the door. The Touch on the other hand shipped with an OS that still had errors saying things like "please disconnect the iPhone" and such. There were lots of other iPhone tweaks in the shipping touch OS image that have only just been cleaned up in the 1.1.1 release.

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.

The iPhone (and iPod Touch) are running Mac OS X, with all the unixy goodness of user accounts and permissions. The iPhone could very easily support a security model to properly sandbox apps. And I think Apple intended to eventually expose this. The iPhone also runs a widget engine that is essentially identical to the WebKit driven Widget engine for OS X's DashBoard feature. It is trivial to get OS X Widgets running on the iPhone, some without even modification. (They are just HTML, CSS, and Javascript after all)

I expect Apple intends to role this out as the safe sandboxed environment for local apps at some point. The hackers just moved WAY more quickly than Apple ever anticipated.

- chris
4th-Oct-2007 02:40 pm (UTC)
Hm...interesting. It would seem LJ ate a giant response I made to you here.

So, the short version.

I'd actually previously believed the iPod Touch was a quick spinoff from the iPhone, but was told by another insider that "there is absolutely no way that's true" and got laughed at a little bit, so I guess I'd reversed my position. I'm glad to find out I was right after all.

As for the security model, I'd be interested in really getting to know the filesystem and other parts of OSX to see if they truly kept the user-based security model. I've seen small-space ports of OSes where that's thrown out because there's only one user. Either way, my point wasn't that they couldn't make a proper sandbox but that perhaps the one they planned didn't please AT&T. They've asked us for some very specific hardware support for different classes of software, from digital signatures for certain packages on down to a very strong hardware-backed encryption for critical components. Apple might not have gotten all the things AT&T wanted, resulting in a conversation that went:

AT&T: "...and so the result is we can't accept third-party software on this phone."

Apple: "Not even widgets?"

AT&T: "No."

Apple: "But the exact same code for a widget could run in the browser?"

AT&T: "Yes. That's not third party software."

Apple: *mute button engaged on phone* *laughter*
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