Monday, September 03, 2007

Should we care about the iPhone?

Interesting article from the always relevant John Naughton at The Observer. Much has been written about the iPhone's sleek design, it should be flying off the stalls and become the mobile industry's equivalent of the Wii. Yet, it has not, it is selling well, but not as well as some expected. Why is that? The answer is clear, Apple has shackled the iPhone with an AT&T contract, a simple fact that has demonstrated a staggering lack of foresight from the company that has told the industry that DRM is dead. Yes, DRM is dead, but then we will still constrain how you want to use your technology by making sure that we choose the phone network for you. Don't these people eve learn?

Anyway, there have been legal concerns with the iPod because an enterprising American teenager has already cracked the hardware in order to connect to his network of choice (T-Mobile), and another company has managed to crack the software and now sends iPhones anywhere in the world.

At the heart of the question is not only the legality of the locks, and the potential infringement of the circumvention of such locks. I believe strongly that there is a growing legal case to be made against pervasive technological protection measures. But the question that we have to ask, is why has the copyright law been used to back some seriously flawed business models? If Apple wants to make a commercial decision and wants to lock their hardware, that's their choice, but they should not be surprised if users all across the world will say "frack that, I want to use my own network", which generates a huge incentive to break the built-in protection. The evil of TPM legislation is that it hard-wires these nonsensical decisions into the law. It is up to consumers to say no, or to fight back when possible.

For now, I'll stick with my already-cracked iPod.


John N said...

Thank you for the link to my Observer piece, Andres. Another interesting thought is whether Apple would use the iTunes software to reset any iPhones that had been cracked!

feneuk said...

In the US I think that the issue of the legality of the crack to use it in a different network is quite clear and legal (not in the mood for shameless self-promotion so I don't put the links to my posts about it), but again you are right, it seems that the success of iPod have made Apple to forget why we all use PCs...

Andres Guadamuz said...

Hi John,

Interesting thought indeed!

Fernando, cracking with software is indeed one of the exceptions is section 1201, but there are several issues. The first crack was a mod chip welded into the device, which falls outside the exception. The other problem is that the unlocking of the phone seems to do more than cracking the network capabilities, it could unlock the DRM.

odessa said...

It must be Devil's Advocate time again... 

Seeing Apple's original mission statement: 

"Apple is committed to bringing the best personal computing experience to
students, educators, creative professionals and consumers around the world
through its innovative hardware, software and Internet offerings." 

This reminds me of Apple's motivations as a company.  Apple consistently notes
that many of their customers truly value the quality of user experience they
perceive when using their products. Apple asserts that as they design the
computer, the operating system, and many built-in applications, their products
offer a truly integrated system with a superior level of support.  

As it was unlikely that Apple were going to start their own Mobile Telephone
network, the choice for one network partner in their initial serious entry into
the highly competitive phone market makes sense (please lets forget about that
Motorola E790 Apple iTunes phone
), particularly when developing features
that require tight collaboration of development with the network partner, such
as the Visual Voicemail

This reason may also show how Apple relies on a small set of providers to
provide a clear and ambitious roadmap for their product. The combination of
being in an inexperienced market for Apple and the potential for an ambitious
set of features to distinguish the iPhone from its competitors would perhaps
suit the company in terms of developing a consistent quality of service and user

Apple does not seem to relish hacks of their products, nor do they seem to have
taken many extreme measures to prevent their products being hacked. However, they
do care that when they offer a product, a lot of effort appears to go into
ensuring they can offer a rigorously high level of support. Like when Mac OS X
version 10.4 "Tiger" x86 was hacked to enable installation on non-Apple PCs,
Apple's unofficial response was to suggest that although they would not actively
force people not to do it, they had no intention of offering support for users.   

I am not really in the mood to be an Apple Fanboy, but by just casting a cursory
glance over Apple's history it seems to me that the majority of the company's
development and engineering decisions have been based around the ambition of
offering the "best personal computing experience". Even this has shifted
recently, in announcing their
recent name change
, the emphasis seems to revolve around converged consumer
devices much more than around personal computers. I believe that with the
unexpected explosion in popularity of the iPod, the quality of user experience
has never been a higher priority for Apple, and it does seem that the majority
of its practices revolve around this motivation. 

Oh, and in case anyone wonders what Apple will do with the unsold iPhones, as of
this month they will simply offer what many people probably wanted in the first
place - a ‘phone-less’ touch iPod!