Forum: whose world do you choose to live in?

Apple's walled garden is a turn-off

The other day on radio I was discussing aspects of the iPhone, which is perhaps the most heavily over-reported piece of technology of all time.

Having to ad lib sometimes produces interesting results, a bit of a riff even. I found myself describing the iPhone as a smartphone that can’t send MMS messages, a handheld computer that can’t cut and paste and a 3G phone that has trouble receiving 3G.

And that’s before we talk about the lack of Flash support or Java.

All of that should give enough pause for thought before you even get to the cost (though I must note that Vodafone has recently come up with some more affordable plans). But the technical flaws with the iPhone are actually the least of my worries.

Just when it looked as if the walled garden mobile internet was about to break down to a new level of freedom for users, it looks as if apple is building a new one, one in which what you can do is controlled by Apple.

The tight linking of the Apple OS, the device and the iTunes store is a beautiful thing from a convenience point of view and — barring some annoyances such as huge update files and constant misleading prompts to upgrade your Safari browser when you don’t run Safari — also for usability.

But you do make some sacrifices in terms of freedom. Apple decides what content is in that store, and recently pulled an application for reading comic books because the free comic provided with the application was considered to violent.

Considered by who? On what criteria?

On Apple’s sole discretion.

The application concerned is one of several that have been pulled or arbitrarily disabled. Others include the dopey “I am rich” application that cost US$1,000 and does nothing. More useful was a copy and paste application that filled a gap in the iPhone’s capabilities but had to use a loophole to do so. Apple closed the loophole.

Then there is Apple’s ability to nuke an application from afar. As always, this is justified on the grounds of protecting the user. It’s for their own good, says Apple.

Well, maybe. But some of us want to look after ourselves. Some of us are grown-ups.

Now Apple has every right to decide what goes in its store. And it has every right to be totally arbitrary about that, making handsome profits from selling violent films but not allowing customers to read a free violent comic. It has every right to treat its customers like children.

Even with all of that, I like the iPhone. It’s a classy, device that breaks a mould that really needed to be broken.

But I won’t be buying one. Not until I can use it the way I want to use it. Not until Apple has to ask my permission before it nukes my applications. Not until I can get my applications from somewhere other than the iTunes store. And not until it can cut and paste.

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