hold the iPhone

January 12th, 2007

behold the messiah

Buzzkill.

That’s the only way to describe the growing revelation among the geek community that Apple’s new iPhone will be a closed system (like the iPod) and not an open one (like the Treo). Excitement is high for the iPhone, and when Jobs first referred to the software running on the iPhone as “Widgets”, I — probably along with every other nerd — imagined he was referring to the bundled combination of HTML, JavaScript, CSS and occasionally compiled binaries that comprise Mac OS X’s Dashboard Widgets. Visions of rapidly developing my own custom widgets to control my appliances and check on my dog danced in my head, but apparently according to Jobs this would be verboten, and the official reasons are weak:

“You don’t want your phone to be an open platform,” meaning that anyone can write applications for it and potentially gum up the provider’s network, says Jobs. “You need it to work when you need it to work. Cingular doesn’t want to see their West Coast network go down because some application messed up.”

Weak. But on the other hand: I can kind of understand their position. I’m one of the first people to want to tinker with any gizmo I buy — I have a modded XBox, a PSP that plays homebrew emulators, a Yamaha P-120S electric piano I’ve opened and fiddled with many times. I like to fiddle with things. My brother, however, goes even further than I do: he often fiddles with things to the point where they don’t work anymore. I actually know a lot of people like this. I think, for those people, having the iPhone and the iPod being a closed system actually might save them a lot of grief, “saving them from themselves”. Apple Inc. is increasingly in the business of making appliances, and very few people outside of the sweaty geeks from Make Magazine hack their toaster. That’s probably a good thing, because at the end of the day, you really just want your phone to work.

However, primarily I suspect the reason for the “closed” nature is not because of reliability issues — even on the incredibly spindly and crashtastic Palm OS third-party apps are allowed — but instead because pretty much any gizmo that touches Apple’s DRM is going to be a closed hardware platform from now on. If you release an SDK, the first thing people try to do is crack your DRM. Apple is now (surprise surprise) the world’s leading producer of DRM encrypted media, and it’s not actually in their best interest to give the hacking community clues on how to strip off the FairPlay DRM that protects their media from file sharing networks.

So will we ever see third-party/homebrew apps on the iPhone? My prediction is “not as long as it plays iTMS media”… so, no.

~jeff

10 Responses to “hold the iPhone”

  1. cubeXpert says:

    With iPhones strong support of fully functional web content, custom applications won’t even be necessary. Put the application on the web instead and access it through the iPhone.

    As long as the browser is modern and standards compliant, web applications are the way to go…

  2. Jeff says:

    Right, but, there couldn’t be any special support of the hardware, so while web apps are nifty — Google Documents in particular would be killer on the iPhone — they couldn’t take advantage of the particular advantages of the iPhone hardware.

  3. Luke says:

    Wasn’t FairPlay already cracked? I vaguely remember 2 or 3 different occasions in the last 2 years that someone had a working implementation. One of these cracks was connected to DVDJohn I think…

    Meh..

  4. Joshua says:

    Yeah, but Apple’s end-run them each time pretty handily.

    It’s odd, but this fact has completely squelched my enthusiasm — and that was a lot — for this device.

    I mean, it’s a supernice phone, but I’m not spending that much of a fucking phone. I’d spend it on a computer. But not a phone.

    I mean, I use iChat and I like it a lot as a chat client. But Safari falls down on some sites that I use a lot, so I use BonEcho (a Firefox).

    I mean, I can’t believe that I’m saying this, but after two years of sweaty-palmed anticipation, I don’t care about it anymore. My Treo has yet to fuck up Sprint (although there are a million overpriced ways to fuck up my Treo), and it’s got a pile of apps.

    I mean, shit, if there’s a way around Apple’s DRM, don’t you think it would be applied to, you know, computers? Or are they planning on removing iTMS support for computers altogether? (hint: no.)

    See, real widget support would be enough to get me excited about it. I could use any of the bazillion that exist and could hack away at one to make it what I want. But apparently that won’t fly.

    So, no, I think this is just “we know better than you”ism, and they figure it’s cool because it’s not a computer (though clearly it is).

  5. cubeXpert says:

    Remember that this is the Apple iPhone shown at Macworld Expo we are discussing. There is nothing that says the one shipping in June will be exactly like this one when it comes to included software.

    Apple has all the options to tweak the iPhone platform along the way. If they will offer support for any sort of third–party software, my bet is that widgets are the way to go.

    If you need a tricked out company phone, don’t buy an iPhone.

  6. Joshua says:

    Oh, I realize that. The odds seem against me, though.

  7. Jimmy says:

    I just think it’s funny that a company who considers itself so new school and cutting-edge would spend so much time and money trying to pry the seven-year-old rights to the name “iPhone” from Cisco’s grip, only to fail to negotiate a deal in time for the big unveiling and have their stunning proclamation scarred by a lawsuit. I guess they did enough market research to prove that affixing a lower case “i” to anything would be enough to get the pepsi generation to empty their pockets. I can only imagine how bad some of the other suggestions were that it made the expense worth while.

  8. cubeXpert says:

    The iPhone fight is just a big publicity stunt. When the real deal emerges in june, I’ll bet the name is changed to Apple Phone or something similar (as long as it has an Apple logo in front). Nowhere on the iPhone prototypes can you see the name iPhone.

    Bob Cringely has published an interesting article on this topic.

  9. Joshua says:

    Cube, that’s a good point; I don’t know if “publicity stunt” is an accurate name for what’s going on — no one cares about it —, but I suspect you’re right: the easy way around the issue is to change the name.

  10. cubeXpert says:

    If you want more iPhone RDF, check out this video I just put together…