iPhone: Open vs Closed

A few days ago I had a really interesting conversation with Sachin Agarwal, co-founder of Posterous, one of the hottest new blogging sites on the internet.  (If you haven’t checked it out yet, you have no idea what you’re missing).  We were discussing Apple, iPhones, and how much control over their iPhones users actually have, especially when it comes to what a user is “allowed” to put on their phones.  The conversation was just so good, I wanted to repost it here.

Bradley Farless said…

I enjoy my iPhone but Apple’s policies annoy the hell out of me too. They’ve given us an amazing piece of hardware but then not allowed us to actually use its full capabilities.

They’ve also told us that we’re not smart enough to make our own choices when it comes to what we want to install. They have to babysit us and make those decisions for us. I’m pretty sure I’m not a dumbass and I’m pretty sure I can decide on my own what I do and don’t want on my phone, and whether or not I want to see boobs in pocket-size goodness. It’s my damn right. I bought the thing. Why can’t I use it the way I want to?

Sachin Agarwal said…

The iPhone is an amazing piece of hardware/software/ecosystem *because* it is closed.

Only by controlling the entire experience can you make it as great as they did.

I love how my parents *never* need tech support with their iphones. If they could do anything with them, it would be a disaster.

Personally, there’s nothing i wish i could have on my iphone that i can’t get through apple’s system


Bradley Farless said…

Then perhaps the answer to everyone’s concerns is an opt-out method.

You either stay onboard with Apple’s “protected” experience, or you opt-out, and your guaranteed satisfaction is no longer guaranteed, not that people are always satisfied with the current iPhone anyway. But you see what I’m saying.

People want choice. They don’t want to feel limited in how they use something that they’ve paid for. This is essentially the same as Honda telling you that you can only drive your car within a 70 mile radius of your house after you’ve bought it and own it.


Sachin Agarwal said…

If Honda wants to set those rules, they have the right to. I’m not saying I like that, but I am saying that it’s their own ecosystem. If you don’t like it, buy a BMW 🙂

It’s really along the same lines as people wanting Disqus and other advanced features on posterous… we want to make the platform as flexible as possible, but sometimes you have to draw lines. It’s definitely hard

Bradley Farless said…

But Sachin, in that case you would have bought a car, not a license. Honda would have no more right to tell you how to operate that car than a home builder has to tell you what you may use each room in your house for. Once you buy it you own it and it’s up to the purchaser to maintain. If, on the other hand, we were purchasing licenses I could totally ‘get’ Apple monitoring what’s allowed on the platform (though they don’t do that with OS X and it’s still great) but this is a physical piece of hardware.

By the way, as far as Disqus goes, good move with keeping it simple and in-house but these days isn’t it more classy to at least support threading? 🙂

Sent from my iPhone


Sachin Agarwal said…

True, you are buying hardware, not a license.

So hack your phone and run whatever you want on it. You aren’t breaking any laws, Apple can’t really stop you.

But you can’t complain to apple because they aren’t welcoming you to mess with their device.

it’s like if you modify a car, you void the warranty. Granted you are right, at least you *can* modify the car if you choose to do so


Bradley Farless said…

Good analogy with modding the car. I shouldn’t have to “void the warranty” on my iPhone to add the apps I want to use on it though.

I still don’t feel good about having the Apple thought police telling me that I shouldn’t, let’s just use this as an example, have an app on my iPhone that acts as a remote control for a remote uTorrent program because it could possibly be used for copyright infringement. That was their argument with an ebook reader recently as well. They also won’t add apps that have any nudity because it doesn’t fit the company’s wholesome…. oh hang on while I close this porn site on Mobile Safari… anyway, it doesn’t fit the company’s wholesome values.

When you mod a car, you’re replacing parts to make it work in a new way. When you want to put whatever app you want on the iPhone, you’re just trying to use what’s already there to its full potential.

Now that I think about it more, there should be an app approval process, but the only tests done should be to make sure the program itself is sound, not the content.


Sachin Agarwal said…

Installing apps on an iPhone is more like adding a turbo charger to a car: you are trying to use what’s there (engine etc) to its full potential. But then when your engine explodes, your transmission dies, Honda is the one who gets the bad reputation. That’s what Apple is trying to avoid.

1. Yes there should be an app approval process. And yes, it should mostly be to make sure the apps run and don’t do anything malicious. I wouldn’t mind if apple was more lenient in what they allowed

2. It’s their platform and it’s an amazing experience. They should have the right to control it. Just like I have the right to control how Posterous works.

Bradley Farless said…

Well, I guess we both agree that there should be an app approval process, but only for keeping out malicious ones.

Your comparison between Apple’s right to control a piece of hardware and your right to control Posterous is a bit flawed though. Posterous is a platform. It’s free even. It’s not a physical product that I can hold in my hand and claim ownership of. The iPhone on the other hand is a piece of hardware (albeit with an OS inside) that, just like the MacBook Pro I’m typing this comment on, I have purchased and fully own. However, unlike my MacBook, it’s not left to my discretion as to what I put on my iPhone. It should be.

Do you think Apple would get away with it, or stay in business, if they had tried to keep a choke hold on the applications that are installable on Macs the way they’re doing with the iPhones?

They have no more right to say what I put on my iPhone than they do to say what I can put on the laptop they sold me. Once I own it, I own it. And the ability to freely install the software of my choice, even if it’s sometimes the wrong choice, hasn’t tarnished Apple’s image. There are always going to be stupid people, but the vasty majority know that if something goes wrong with a Mac, it’s 9 times out of 10 a user error, and that’s not Apple’s fault.


Sachin Agarwal said…

“the vasty majority know that if something goes wrong with a Mac, it’s 9 times out of 10 a user error”

I’m not sure sure that’s true. People always blame the platform. I know, based on questions I get about Posterous 🙂

Ok, so back to the main point:

When you buy an iPhone or a Macbook Pro, you are buying hardware. You can do anything you want with that hardware. I agree with this. So if you want to wipe your iPhone and install Android on it, go for it.

But by owning OS X on the Macbook Pro or iPhone, that’s a software license you own to run that software. You have to abide by the rules of that agreement. If that agreement says you can only run Apple software, then that’s how it is.

Now, please understand that I don’t necessarily agree with this. As you point out, this might be the downfall of the iPhone. If after a few years the Palm Pre improves, Android gets better, maybe the fact that the iPhone is closed will be what causes people to switch away.

Or maybe Apple will be forced to adapt and open the platform up (remember back when there wasn’t even an iPhone SDK? Now that’s closed!)

But for now, I’m quite happy with the closed Apple ecosystem, just as I’m happy with the Posterous ecosystem, or the fact that my BMW runs all the parts and software created by or approved by BMW, so I don’t have to worry about anything at all. Could they be more powerful? Yes. Is it worth it to me? No.


Bradley Farless said…

Well, user error usually gets blamed on something else, because no one likes to feel stupid. ^_^

I guess I can’t really argue with what you said about the license agreement. I think you’re right in that Apple may be forced to reevaluate its game plan when or if Android and Pre become more popular.

I guess it all just boils down to people wanting to feel like they actually own what they bought.

This argument is really starting to drag out to the point of almost being annoying. I won’t argue anymore for my side of things, as that’s basically what this whole post is about, but if you want to weigh in on it, feel free to do so in the comments here, or on the original post by clicking this link.

Asian Shower Design (Much Different From American)

There are some things that you just somehow expect to be commonplace, regardless of where you go in the world, one of which is showers.  Well, that’s how it was for me anyway.  I’ve spent my whole life, up until I came to Singapore, believing that all showers were created equal.  What I mean is that the shower or shower / tub combo are definitively separated from the rest of the bathroom, so that the water stays in the shower area and the rest of the bathroom stays dry.  The water drain is located in the bottom of the shower or in the tub and the water doesn’t flow across the floor.

Water and drains on the floor?  Wondering what I’m talking about?  Check this out:

This is a bathroom in Singapore.  As you can see, there’s no real distinction between the shower area and the rest of the bathroom, other than a slight depression in the floor.  There wasn’t even a shower curtain in this one.  Now that I think about it, two of the three places I’ve stayed in Singapore haven’t had shower curtains or curtain rods.  The hose on the wall in this picture goes up to a wall mounted (or optionally hand held) shower head.

Yup.  That’s it!

The downside to this is that whenever you take a shower, the whole bathroom generally gets wet from spraying water.  The drains for the water are set into the floor, but oftentimes, for no apparent reason, the drains are on the opposite side of the bathroom from where the shower is.  Also, the buildings have sometimes settled and are no longer level, so the water winds up pooling before it runs to the drain.

On top of that, spraying your butt with water rather than using toilet paper is a common practice in Singapore from what I’ve seen, which leads to this sort of problem:

Every time you go to the bathroom and you want to sit on the seat you have to wipe it down.  Honestly I should be wiping it down with a disinfectant each time too, because that’s not just water.  That’s someone else’s butt water.

You expect to miss things when you move abroad, but a dry bathroom and toilet seat just weren’t on my list of things I thought I would be missing.

Half-Height Safety Doors at Singapore MRT Stations

I read an article on ChannelNewsAsia’s website saying that by 2012 Singapore will finish installing half-height screens (or safety doors) along the lengths of above-ground MRT stations.

They’re doing this in an attempt to make the stations more safe for passengers.  There have been 92 instances since 2006 where people have fallen onto the tracks, accidentally or otherwise, and it causes a serious disruption to MRT traffic that can last up to an hour while police do investigations.  That may not seem like much, but there is only one line going in most directions, so it can cripple public transportation. Not to mention it’s just not that cool for people to be killing themselves.

Here’s a map of Singapore’s MRT lines, just so you can get an idea of what I’m talking about:

So anyway, this all seems like a good thing right?  It’s gonna cost some cash (S$126 million for all 36 stations) but in the long-run it will save lives and prevent costly disruptions.

When polled, most Singaporeans were in favor of the idea, quoting safety reasons.  Some even wanted to see the entirety of the outdoor stations enclosed (and I’m guessing air conditioned, though it wasn’t stated).

However, you can’t please everyone!  Here’s a quote from the original article:

Most commuters 938LIVE spoke to welcomed the addition, as they believe the doors can prevent accidental intrusion onto the tracks.

“When it’s too crowded, and people start to push each other around, then it can stop that from happening,” said a passenger.

However, some raised concerns about ventilation. “I think it’s very unsightly. It just blocks the flow of… the air. (The air) doesn’t flow from left to right. Mainly it’s unsightly,” said another commuter.

They were nice enough to make it sound more like the woman was concerned about ventilation, but as you can see, she mentions first, and then again at the end, that it is “unsightly”.  She even says that it is “mainly” unsightly.

I mean, come on.  What’s more important?  Preventing the loss of human life or aesthetics?  It’s a train station, not an art gallery, and not the Prada or Louis Vuitton store.

Personally, I think these screens are a fantastic addition to the above-ground train stations and will help to prevent accidental loss of life and suicide attempts.

According to the article they were installed at the Pasir Ris MRT station, but I haven’t been through the MRT station since Tuesday, so I’ll have to get over there and check it out!