It seems Zittrain was on to something. As I watched Apple’s announcement of the iPhone 3.0 OS, I was happy as an iPhone user and developer that they were making definite strides in their SDK and user experience. However, I sat there and thought “Zittrain was right”.
At one point the Apple presenter talked about a thorny issue for iPhone users and developers, the inability to run non-apple applications in the background. For example, if you use Fring for IM, you have to quite the app to go and check your mail, then come back to Fring. This infuriated many people when they first got their iPhone as it seemed to be a weakness in the device, however, Apple worked around the problem by putting in a notification service that runs through their SDK and servers. Apple made the decision for its millions of users for their own good that background processes will not be allowed but notification services will remove the need. I must admit that the solution they made is elegant and will work for the vast majority of applications/services but what if Apple had not addressed the problem or had a bad solution?
Zittrain says that he fears closed non-iterative systems may one day be the choice of the masses because of their stability and ease of use. It appears the iPhone is the first popular device of this form. Nokia is currently on the other end of the spectrum and allow their users to do almost everything they want except installing their own operating system. However, only power users seem to be attracted to a phone like this. It appears that the fact that a phone is a device which we expect to work 100% of the time, we are willing to give up some freedoms. I know many linux and open source enthusiasts who would never use a closed and controlled computer but are more than willing to use an iPhone.
Google has taken a different approach, allowing the user more control over their phone and what it can do but not full control. It will be very interesting to see how things go.
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