“Apple’s iPad: New device, old restrictions” - 1/28/10
“Apple bans the word ‘Android’ from App Store’ - 2/5/10
“Apple says ‘No’ to Manhattan Declaration 2.0″ - 12/23/10
“VLC media player app pulled from Apple App Store” - 1/10/11
As a Palm user, I’ve wanted to join the next stage of the mobile revolution for years. I bought a Palm Centro when they were just being phased out, and used it for three years without a data plan. In the meantime, my iPod Touch was usually with me as a substitute for a true smart phone. Whenever I could get a WiFi connection, I had the best of both worlds: connectivity and low cost.
But I wanted to converge that old phone, with its wonderful Calendar, Contacts and Notes, always completely synced with Outlook, and the new iPhone style of computing. I wanted a real smart phone with a data plan.
The only question was which one to get. The Palm Pre was interesting, and I liked the slide out keyboard, but despite being and old time Palm user, it never seemed like a contender. I hated the small screen after getting used to the iPod Touch.
That left Apple and Android.
Apple had every advantage. I had won an iPod Touch as a company prize, the first year they came out. So I had a three year head start with the iPhone ecosystem. I had bought apps, I had played games, I had surfed the web. I liked the platform. (My wife just bought the iPod Touch 4, so we’re still in that game too.) The one think I could never get iPod to do was become my PDA. It didn’t seem to be built for people to organize themselves. The calendar was not much good, the contacts were not good, the notes were extremely pitiful, even by Palm’s low standards (no categories). Most of all, you could barely sync to the PC. All syncing had to happen through iTunes… which foreshadows the sinister problem that leads me to Android. (I had to buy a whole new PC to eventually run iTunes at an acceptable speed.) So I ended up using the Palm Centro for the PDA for years, while using the iPod Touch for all the fun data stuff.
But now, in late 2010, it was time to make that jump. The Apple iPhone 4 almost pulled me back in, but in the end Apple has some huge obstacles to overcome.
Not a problem: AT&T. I was already an AT&T customer. Check.
Not a problem: cost. Any decent Android phone was going to cost me as much as the iPhone. Might as well get used to it.
Not a problem: Apps. Apple has the advantage in apps. Android is going very well (another blog post), but Apple is clearly ahead.
So what are the problems with iPhone?
CLOSED SYSTEM. It all comes down to this, but this one beast has many different tentacles.
CLOSED FILESYSTEM. The iPhone has an internal filesystem, but unlike most other computers (handheld and otherwise), it is basically not accessible. (I am assuming in all cases that the user is not “jailbreaking” the phone.) This means that different apps have different filesystems that are internal to themselves, and not visible to each other. This is why iPhone apps either “support DropBox” or they don’t. Android apps all support DropBox, because they all write to the same filesystem. I know that with iPhone Explorer you can finally get to the files, but this doesn’t mean that apps can see each other’s files.
CLOSED MEDIA. Apple hasn’t forgotten they are selling you a music player. Try replacing the music player on your iPhone or iPod Touch. Can’t be done because Apple won’t allow it.
CLOSED SYNCING. I hated this for three years. iPhone and iPod Touch tie you to iTunes. Enough said. iTunes is a good music player. It is terrible at everything else. I never trusted it to sync my contacts, notes, or calendar.
CLOSED APP REVIEW PROCESS. Apple has a mysterious, and slow, application approval process that often hinders updates for weeks. Worse, it exercises complete control over what can, and cannot be, an app for the iPhone. Entire classifications of software are banned, such as emulators, music players, Flash, etc. Many detailed exclusions exist. But much more sinister is Apple’s control over content. I had already turned against apple when they banned all software developed outside their software development kit, specifically Adobe kits built with Flash (they have since relaxed this ban), but the last straw came last fall when they banned a previously approved app, the Manhattan Declaration.
Now the Manhattan Declaration is a document, and an organization, which exists to promote Christian cooperation in the political sphere to defend traditional marriage, the right to life, and religious liberty. Some Christians believe in signing it and others don’t. But Apple banned it because gay activists targeted it as “homophobic” because it promotes traditional marriage. This exposes the ugly and dangerous side of having a single corporation become our e-reader and music player and media presenter. You get to live with whatever their worldview is, instead of practicing your own. I choose not to participate in this Big Brother scenario.
Android is more like Palm was, and it is more like the PC has always been: open. You write an app, you install it. You can sell it in the Android Market (i.e. their app store), or you can sell it on Amazon or just distribute it yourself. This is how computing should be. This is how information should be.