The iphone’s closed but no one seems to mind

I don’t know that the average mobile consumer knows or cares but the iPhone is a surprisingly closed platform. You’d think with the massive volume of applications and sales that it would naturally be open, but like all Apple products there are rules and the best oportunities are left for the house.

As I mentioned on my previous post, there is no way to get native multitasking going with a 3rd party application. For most people this is a non issue, but the more advanced consumer will definitely find limits with push notices. There is no way to stream or pandora while web browsing or emailing … No way to upload a picture through ShoZu or pixelpipe while snapping another. These are things I have been accustomed to for years yet are completely blocked on the iPhone. Apple’s solution is to email a reduced size picture from the camera roll instead of allowing 3rd party apps to help out. On the music side of course you have your iPod which plays anywhere.

Application amd network limits are another point of interest. Sling and Qik have yet to make an appearance yet MLB was able to offer 3G as well as wifi access to the games of your choice. The iTunes application will not let you download over wifi yet tap tap revenge is quite happy to let you download new tracks over 3G as I experienced last night. These network blocks seem to be the result of a carrier deal by AT&T here in the US and it’s definitely a cop out on a less than ideal network rollout. The fact that the new iPhone happily seemlessly switches to AT&T wifi at starbucks and other locations is no miracle … It is providing relief to the network strain the iPhone has brought.

The iPhone truly does offer a remarkable experience for a handheld device yet it also seems to be blocked of things other devices have either long been capable – even those offered by the very same AT&T. I know similar blocks exist in other markets as well …

While we all accept the “Apple Tax” on pricing of hardware the limits on the software and services side are unique to the iPhone. The basic BS limits you find on carrier delivered devices have simply been switched around for a new set offered by Apple instead. It’s curious how most tend not to be bothered by these restrictions … Presumably based on the superior level of finish and user experience no one wants to give back.

I’d really just like to have it all.

(btw I tapped this out in the wordpress iPhone app)

13 Replies to “The iphone’s closed but no one seems to mind”

  1. Wow, great article. I think with the iPhone, as with all Apple products, you trade openness for aesthetics, stability, and ease of use. I agree with you that I had phones 4 years ago that did some things the iPhone does not… but the stability and reliability of those features was not always as solid as I would have liked. With the iPhone, I know that *what does work* will work when I want it to, and work well. Also, there is the issue of complexity. The iPhone is simple and it simply works. With some of the other handsets and services, the features and options are sometimes too varied, and often confusing.

    Now, having said all that, one thing that bothers me about the mobile market today is how anti-competitive it is, both from a corporate and a user level. We all want to find the “one phone to rule them all, and one phone to bind them.” You read tech news and everyone wants a clear winner to come out that is better than all the rest, and in doing so we miss the opportunities that each of these devices has to offer. We need an iPhone for ease of use and the G1 as an open platform, and the Palm Pre with its keyboard and alternate user experience, and Windows Mobile for folks that want a seamless experience with Windows. Each of these devices is unique and wonderful and keeps competition with the others so that we all get continued improvements all the way around.

    Anyway, I love your post here, you obviously got me thinking… I always appreciate your POV and the tech info you share 🙂

  2. good thoughts! I doubt we'll see it all in a single device soon … the marketplace is still carrier led. Apple blasted some doors open but they have their own closed rules too. It's all about power and control – you know the usual stuff. The user only gets to think they are in control. You have to pay to play … 😉

  3. Agreed! I would love to see an honest free market in the mobile industry where we could use any device on any carrier without the carriers being allowed to place any restrictions on sites or services that our devices were capable of. I guess as long as the “aesthetic” folks like me keep supporting Apple and AT&T, we will never get there… I just can't *help* myself!!! 😉

  4. I might say that the Palm Pre is closed to me because I can't use it to paint a natural looking water colour for the front cover of a magazine. Or I might say that the N97 is closed because it doesn't allow me to focus the camera before shooting video.

    I guess every device has its restrictions. If they're not imposed by the carrier or the manufacturer, then they might be 'imposed' by poor industrial design, incomplete services, poor component choice or just good old user ignorance! ^_^

    Clearly this 'openness' debate is going to run and run. Meanwhile, people will increasing pick the iPhone over every other device because Apple are allowing them to do things that they never thought possible (see above). I count myself as a first class geek with honours, but if Nokia, HTC, LG, Samsung and Sony Ericsson think I'm going to waste my evenings trying figure out their half-baked offerings they can think again. I pay good money for the device because I expect it to be a refined product *before* I get to use it.

  5. I get your point, but don't agree with your examples. The Pre “problem” can and will probably be solved with an app. The N97 lack of autofocus is clearly a technical issue as there has not been an autofocus video phone since the N93. At least my guess is that it's technical … or perhaps just something that the sense on demand was not high enough. I honestly don't know but don't think this makes it closed.

    I accept the tax as noted here … it's the arbitrary differences that Apple's apps get over 3rd party as well as the limits on who gets to use 3G vs having to use Wifi that I am calling out.

  6. Good point regarding arbitrary differences.

    … Perhaps the point I was trying to make was too broad (and too vague!). I always think of that excellent TED speech-can't remember who gave it-the speaker gave an excellent illustration which I think applies perfectly to the current state of technology. He said, “Without the glass bowl, the goldfish would die.” In effect, the restrictions of the goldfish bowl create a safe environment in which they can thrive. The goldfish bowl is a closed system that works well. I don't think we will ever witness a completely open computing system that will work well for 90% of the population. It goes against human nature, and against the very essence of the laws that govern growth.

    Anyway, thanks for listening to me ramble on… Interesting post.

  7. I just bought the iPhone 3G S after using my aging N82 (which I still have a special place in my heart for). Like most of us would know never had a NAM. After 3 attempts Apple finally won me over. Johnathan, that void that apple it leaving in the market for openness is there for Android and WebOS to fight for (winMo and s60 are already mature platforms). Like we all know there is no perferct device. every platform has got some apple envy and why wouldn't they? I'm still rooting for S60, its just that my Ovi store experience was not what i had hoped it to be.

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