7 Reasons Why Keeping the iPhone Locked Down is Stupid and Arrogant

by Hadley Stern Aug 13, 2007

Apple has done this before. And they have done it with a product that redefined the company (even made it change its name), the iPod. The iPod is a locked down device when it comes to easily adding software. I say easily because if you’d read my book (iPod and iTunes Hacks) you’ll know that with some trickery (ok, a lot of trickery) you can do things like install Linux on the iPod, and customize the interface somewhat. But all of these changes are hacks, outside the purview of the typical Apple consumer.

Which leads us to the iPhone. Steve tells us it runs OS X, and the number of inventive hackers out there have confirmed that this thing does indeed power itself with all the glory and sparkle that is OS X. Like on the desktop, this is a tantalizing discovery, an operating system powered by the rock solid Unix combined with the user interface (UI) prowess that is Apple. But, even with all this power, or in spite of it, Apple has still decided to keep the iPhone locked down. Which is stupid. And arrogant. So, without further adieu I present to you the 10 7 reasons why locking down the iPhone is, well, stupid, and arrogant.

1. Stupid Reason #1: It alienates developers

Developers are the most imaginative and powerful users any platform can have. They are passionate advocates who are an extension of the corporate family. By not allowing the numerous creative and innovative developers out there in the Apple community access to the iPhone Apple is simply stifling innovation. There is a lot of work that could be done bringing the desktop experience to the iPhone. Off the top of my head:

- FTP (Transmit is my favorite)
- Chat (Yes, FlickIM is a good work-around but imagine Adium on the iPhone!)
- Third-party calendars that people actually use (Now-Up-To-Date)
- The office suite
- Any number of interesting iTunes add-ons and additions
- Social software, ie, tie-ins to Facebook, Digg, Macitt, etc. that Apple would never do

2. Arrogant Reason #2: Coverflow

Remember coverflow? Thought that little gem of UI goodness came from the Gods at Cupertino? Think again. Even Steve couldn’t imagine up coverflow. Rather it came from a developer. A one person shop who, because Apple gave him access to the various API’s underpinning OS X could take what he imagined and bring it to the Mac. It was so good that Apple acquired the company, sucked the whole thing into iTunes and has even made it a darling of Apple’s upcoming Leopard. Wait, iTunes. Apple must have developed the applications that defined the software side of the iPod and iTunes?! Thing again. iTunes was an acquisition. Apart from the numerous examples of Apple acquiring software there are also numerous examples of brilliant software that Apple hasn’t acquired. By shutting off 3rd party development Apple shuts off an innovation channel that could produce the next Coverflow, iTunes, or Omnigraffle.

3. Arrogant Reason #3: Its like Verizon. And people hate Verizon

From a brand experience standpoint nothing beats the arrogance of Verizon. Verizon is so wonky that they take any interface designed by any mobile device (including the much-lauded Blackberry) and make it their own. How? By painting everything blood red, and mucking up the interface wherever they can. And, to top everything off Verizon locks down the device harder than a maximum security prison. Sound familiar? Well, thankfully the iPhone is a delight to use, and is lacking in the color red. But the locked down part is the same. And, people hate locked down. They want to (in the words of a past editor of mine, Rael), twiddle with a device. Stretch it, personalize it. And by not even allowing people to change, within reason, interface elements Apple risks becoming a Verizon.

4. Stupid Reason #4: Niche markets and use-cases are lost

Apple has shown a bizarre indifference to the corporate market over the years. I truly believe that Apple just doesn’t care about the corporate market. Which is fine, I suppose (except for shareholders of which I am one). Macs and traditional corporate America (and the corporate world, for that matter) are like oil and water. Which is very unlike the Blackberry experience. The corporate world loves Blackberries, and for good reason. They are reliable in a rock-solid kind of way, and can be customized to meet the needs of corporate security. The idea of customized iPhones, stripped of certain functions probably makes Steve quiver in his sleep. And because of that Apple is missing a huge market. Is there any reason why iPhones couldn’t be used in hospitals, by UPS Fed-ex, etc, by professionals in the workplace as their primary mobile device, etc. The only reason right now is that the iPhone is locked down, and until companies can customize the iPhone and, shiver-me-timbers, write custom applications for it, the iPhone will miss out on a plethora of niche markets and use-cases.

5. Arrogant Reason #5: No one else will come along and do it

OS X is marvelous. It is hands-down the best user-experience of any modern operating system out there. But yet it garners but a minority of market-share. Why? Arrogance. Arrogance was the reason Apple didn’t have the business vision to do what Bill Gates did, divorce the operating system from the hardware that it was running on. Arrogance and, I think, a little bit of greed. Turns out this was the wrong decision. Woefully wrong. No matter though, say the Apple fanboys, OS X still rocks. And it does! But not from a business standpoint. Why did the lack of business foresight happen with the Mac in the first place? Simple. Arrogance. The Mac experience was too good. There was nothing else like it! All true. Until Windows came along. Sure, Windows 95 sucked (and Vista still, arguably does). But for the majority it provided access to the real innovation behind the Mac operating system, a WYSIWYG interface.

Right now Apple has the advantage with the only mobile-device with a true multi-touch interface. But that market advantage will inevitably erode. And who ever comes through next will no doubt have an open system that developers will flock to.

6. Stupid Reason #6: Its bad for the user

We all know Steve likes to control. But it’s kind of like that Police song, if you love someone, set them free. We know you love the iPhone, Steve. We know only someone like you could have overseen the creation of it. But your blind love is getting in the way of the end user. You’ve got to let that end user free. Free to experience mobile computing applications in a way they have never been experienced! As we proved in Reason #2, there is no way Apple can think of every innovation, and meet every use-case out there for the iPhone. Keeping the iPhone locked down right now is simply bad for the end user. It will limit choice in the long-run, and, inevitably, another company will come along with that choice.

7. Stupid Reason #7: Money

The iPod accessory market is a billion dollar ecosystem of cases, chargers, water-proof speaker sets, bluetooth headsets, and way way way more stuff than one can even imagine (even a toilet-roll speaker set!). And Apple makes a mint of it thanks to the, “Made for iPod” tax than anyone with a smidgen of a reputation (and a desire to be distributed at Apple Retail stores and sold at Apple.com) has to buy into. It’s a license (literally) to print money. Now, I am not suggesting that Apple start charging a fee for the right for companies to develop on the iPhone (although that could be an interesting model). I am just making the point that because of 3rd parties Apple has an auxiliary income for which it does little to nothing for! Same with the iPhone. If you let developers develop for it there will be more users, more people hooked into the product which means more money.


  • Phew! Talk about arrogance - you have it in spades.

    Had you substituted ‘short sighted’ for arrogance I’d have been more likely to go along. But still, as a Treo owner, I can think of one good reason why Apple, in the short term, wants to keep the iPhone locked down.

    I like my Treo 650 and have no intention of replacing it with the iPhone in the near future. The main reason is because there are certain programs I need/want that the iPhone doesn’t have. Aha! That supports your entire thesis doesn’t it?

    But the flip side is this: While I like my Treo it also infuriates me by crashing at least once a week while I’m on the phone or getting a call..and then it takes about a minute to reboot. A minute isn’t long…except when you are waiting to return to an important phonecall.

    Now here’s the kicker…with no added software my Treo is rock solid stable. Several times in frustration I’ve wiped it clean and used only the default applications and each time it has plugged away with nary a crash. Its only when I start adding software that the problem occurs. Kicker number two: try as I might, I cannot establish what pushes my Treo over the edge.

    In the short run, locking the iPhone down is best labeled SMART. But you are arrogant.

    davidwb had this to say on Aug 13, 2007 Posts: 32
  • Two Reason Why A Closed System Is Often Better

    Reason #1: Security

    A closed system is (usually) harder to hack than an open one. Without access to the APIs, hackers have a harder time breaking into iPhone. Not that it’s impossible, just harder. When hacks do occur, the company can move quickly to close the hole.

    Reason #2: Stability

    Third party applications mean unknown code with unknowable bugs. By opening the iPhone, Apple can’t control the user experience from end to end to ensure the phone doesn’t crap out unexpectedly. The phone may crash for unknown reasons and complaining customers will fill up your customer support lines.

    You can’t have it both ways—if you want a flawless user experience, you have to be able to audit every line of code and push out updates as soon as flaws are found. With 3rd party software, you can do neither.

    vb_baysider had this to say on Aug 13, 2007 Posts: 243
  • The articles on this site have been becoming so ridiculous lately.

    This article takes the cake. Mr. Stern, this article is absurd. People want reliability. It’s why more Macs are being sold then ever. The Windows/PC UNRELIABLE paradigm is what people are running from.

    Apple/Jobs understands this. The iPhone is a reliable phone, iPod and PDA. Better than what is in the cell category now. Reliable.

    Mr. Stern you think bringing the iPhone into the ureliable sphere is progress. Very strange.

    Apple/Jobs has gotten this right. And over time will update the iPhone.

    But Mr. Stern, everything you want you can have right now. Buy a laptop. Actually by a MacBook or MacBook Pro and get everything you list with reliability. That’s what you want, you just want it in the iPhone size. Why?

    mozart11 had this to say on Aug 13, 2007 Posts: 35
  • Locking the ipod and iphone are dumb. Hmmmm…, interesting. Given the dominance of the ipod and the fact that the iphone was one of the most successful consumer product launches ever, I can’t wait until Apple does something smart.

    Jim Stead had this to say on Aug 13, 2007 Posts: 10
  • The SDK will be released when it is ready.

    Of course, what apple SHOULD have done is release a half-baked pile of crap instead of taking the time to create a good development environment.

    Benji had this to say on Aug 13, 2007 Posts: 927
  • Davidwb, that is just because the Treo is shite.

    I do not agree that not offering 3rd party development is on balance the right thing to do.

    I do think given Apple’s secrecy we should learn when to have some patience and not jump the gun with our righteous indignation.

    That said, I also think Apple might still have some things to learn about what to pre-announce and what not to.

    Remember when many people on this site were up in arms that Apple had come out as anti DRM but wasn’t offering indie labels a sans-FairPlay option? Remember how they later did so?

    Benji had this to say on Aug 13, 2007 Posts: 927
  • While I too would love to see 3rd party apps available on an iPhone, this argument(complaint) has become tired and useless.
    Why, you might ask?
    Well, being the Apple fan that you obviously are, this behavior of controlling the user experience, is what Apple has always stubbornly done. It’s this behavior that has relegated Apple to such low world wide market share in operating systems. It is also this behavior that has given them dominance in the digital music player market. This control over user experience has been Apples’ game for all of it’s existence. This stubbornness is paying off now because, consumers want things that just work. They don’t want to have to configure and tinker to accomplish things. The only people that really care about all the things that are usually complained about are geeks like you and me and developers and Apple haters and others that know what the possibilities are.
    Yea I hope to see the iPhone opened up, and Apple may do so but not until feel like they’ve got full control of the user experience.
    This should not come as a surprise to any Apple fan that writes an article on an Apple centric site.

    DLW365 had this to say on Aug 13, 2007 Posts: 1
  • if you love someone, set them free is by Sting, not The Police wink

    But getting to your point - yes, Apple needs stability, which they need to improve 1st on the iPhone. Surfing the web can kill your iPod listening, and I have had the phone part crash once. SO even WITHOUT 3rd party apps, there is room for stability improvements.

    Eventually, they will release an API and then allow the apps to be vetted and ONLY APPROVED apps will be allowed to be sold through the iTS. Any other apps you find a way to download and install they can wash their hands of…

    To be honest, I am looking for a “vetted” apps approach like there is for the iPod (the iPod games). While some may say this is not in the spirit of the open software industry, I like the idea that Apple will certify that apps will not corrupt my phone - and still be able to throw crapware on it if I choose to through some 3rd party hacks.

    We are at the beginning of the iPhone eco-sphere. Give it time.

    Eytan Bernet had this to say on Aug 13, 2007 Posts: 15
  • Patience.

    magicg had this to say on Aug 13, 2007 Posts: 8
  • Reason 5 shows you still have little understanding about Apple, and I think we’ve been there before. Which is quite sad, as some of your arguments do have some point. Nevertheless, the prime objective for Apple regarding the phone is that it works, works, works. It is what makes an Apple product, and the most important bit to 98% of people buying one. The truly bad thing is the provider lock-in (even though it might also be partly due to the “works” aspect) as it limits sales, but you do not even mention that.

    mozart11 is right when he states that the articles here are a bit on the weak side lately…

    Bad Beaver had this to say on Aug 13, 2007 Posts: 371
  • Ah but you forgot one very, very important thing Hadley. What Apple is doing by locking down the iPhone to one carrier even for 5 years is illegal. By law it is legal to take a phone and have it unlocked for use with another carrier not matter what phone or carrier, CDMA or GSM.

    But here is where Apple gets off, AT&T pays Apple a fee for every iPhone user on their network every month. If a user wanted to take their iPhone to T-Mobile they wouldn’t support it all due to this revenue sharing. So if Apple is questioned about this they can get off on the face that no other US carriers wanted to pay this fee but AT&T.

    Tanner Godarzi had this to say on Aug 13, 2007 Posts: 70
  • And, people hate locked down.

    Correction: NON-fanboys hate locked down. 

    But as evidenced by the sputtering apologists above, fanboys LOVE being locked down by Apple.  Heck, if Apple made bed sheets, they’d wrap themselves in them and never come out.  From the locked down Mac, to the locked down iPod/iTunes combo, to the iPhone, they’d love nothing more than having every single aspect of their lives controlled by Steve Jobs.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Aug 13, 2007 Posts: 2220
  • I should add, btw, that I agree with your argument, Hadley, although I think points 1 & 2 are kind of the same.  smile

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Aug 13, 2007 Posts: 2220
  • “I am looking for a “vetted” apps approach”—Eytan Bernet
    I agree this model may have merit.

    “The truly bad thing is the provider lock-in”—Beaver

    “Heck, if Apple made bed sheets, they’d wrap themselves in them and never come out. From the locked down Mac, to the locked down iPod/iTunes combo, to the iPhone, they’d love nothing more than having every single aspect of their lives controlled by Steve Jobs.”—Beeblebrox
    If you haven’t got anything to say that is even bordering on sane, shut the hell up.

    Benji had this to say on Aug 13, 2007 Posts: 927
  • It seems to me like Apple wants to have their cake and eat it to - there are hackers creating iPhone apps. They can see how much interest there is. THey can snap up the good developers for themselves. They can refine the API and fix some of the bugs they expose. Then they can release the API with much fanfare and claim they are listening to their users, and STILL wash themselves off the stability issue and just say “We’ll let you blah, but we told you so!!!”
    I predict the API will be announced around Macworld…

    Eytan Bernet had this to say on Aug 13, 2007 Posts: 15
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