No, iOS is not a prison

No, iOS is not a prison – Technovia:

I too wish that Apple would introduce an optional ability to install unapproved apps. Although, when you think about it, jailbreaking provides that ability right now, which means that the world isn’t all that far from Lee and Eckersley’s desired state.I also share the authors’ alarm over Microsoft’s decision to allow the distribution of Windows 8 Metro apps only through its own Windows Store. Microsoft would never, ever have made that move without the App Store’s example, so sure, let’s go ahead and blame Apple for it.

 This was something we talked about a lot back in webOS land. 

When it comes to consumer products — in other words, things built to be sold to your mother and your sister the hairdresser, not to you the geek — you have to stop thinking about how to make them usable for geeks. Not that you will, because geeks are like that, and geeks tend to think everyone OUGHT to be geeks. (This is one of Apple’s core advantages in the market. They get consumers and that they’re different from geeks, and aren’t afraid to tailor their products for consumers instead of geeks. But I digress….)

With a phone, you really have two options; you can create an infrastructure that protects a user from the malware and jerks out there (that’s your walled garden, your “only through the App Store” model), or you can let users install anything. And as soon as you do the latter, the hackers start playing the identity theft, steal-your-info game, and as soon as that hits the press (which it will), the vendor is put under immense pressure to fix it. And the way you can fix it is to build walls around your garden. Seriously. 

Here’s the other challenge: if you let “just anything” on the phone, it’s typically the PHONE’s fault when things start crashing, at least in the eyes of the consumer. And if the consumer decides the phone is unreliable or crappy, guess what happens? It goes back to the phone store and is replaced by a different model. And if enough phones get returned to the stores, the stores stop pushing your phone. And if enough stores stop pushing your phone, your friend the carrier stops returning your phone calls, and you suddenly realize their TV commercials now feature someone else’s phones. And then you’re screwed. 

So a practical reality is that geeks like open, but only a tiny percentage of a phone’s audience is geeks. Most of the market likes simple, but really, what they want is for it to work. And once you open it up to outside code (aka, third party apps), you lose a lot of control over just how reliable it’s going to be. So as the vendor, now you’re figuring out which set of compromises you have to make to allow for diverse app ecosystems — without that ecosystem creating situations that cause your platform to fail, either because the users return your phones, or because the carriers stop selling them, or because the developers stop writing for it (killing the ecosystem). 

If you can navigate that set of ulcer-creating compromises, THEN you can start worrying about how to also keep the geeks happy. Apple’s choice seems to be to tolerate (sort of) the jail breakers, as long as jail breaking isn’t TOO easy (meaning too many consumers start doing it and then screaming when bad things happen as if it’s Apple’s fault); with webOS, we went with homebrew and more openly embraced it. And yes, we did have have long talks about whether to enable homebrew with a big red flashing button that says “if you do this,  we can’t protect you from the big bad world any more”. 

The problem comes when people want both the openness of an unregulated ecosystem — and for the vendor to be responsible that nothing bad happens when they go unregulated. Apple forcing you to jailbreak IOS more or less limits jail breakers to people technically savvy enough to understand “on your own”, although nothing’s perfect or 100%. 

Stop and think about it. How do you have an open phone — and protect that phone from the kind of apps we’ve seen on Android; Google was a lot more open about it’s app market to start, and had to figure this out the hard way.

Consumers don’t think like geeks. Nor do they want to. They want it to work. They want it to do the things they want done. they don’t want to have to jump through hoops, and they aren’t really tolerant of a phone that doesn’t do that. They will replace the phone if it messes up too often, and you live or die with a carrier on your sales AND your return rates. When that return rate goes up, bad things happen. (or so I’ve heard).

So the question of limiting access to only vendor approved apps through a vendor approved app store is never really a question. A phone is a lot more limited environment than a desktop computer, with a lot of sensitive user data to protect. And users are a LOT less tolerant of their phone randomly crashing than they’ve been conditioned to be about their Windows XP system crashing… 

I thought we struck the right balance between the walled garden and giving users an open alternative in a way where they knew what the tradeoffs were. I definitely like the webOS approach of enabling homebrew more than the IOS model of  tolerating jail breaking; but no vendor has delivered a phone that is truly open and unmanaged that’s sold more than a token number of units, nor will they. That’s the nature of the mobile device. 

Think about it: if anyone thought that being unwalled was a competitive advantage against Apple, don’t you think someone would have gone up against them with that strategy by now? Yet everyone emulates Apple’s setup. There’s a reason for that: it works, and the alternatives don’t. 

They sound good, until the first time you find out that tip calculator you downloaded shipped off all your credit card info to Moldova, and the phone vendor and the carrier can’t do anything about it because the garden has no walls. People love to complain that the walls hinder their view of the landscape — until the Huns come over the hill and flash their swords as they move towards the village… 

But by bringing up the prison thing, the EFF’s authors aren’t making their case more compelling. Instead, they’ve giving readers a convenient opportunity to roll their eyes and reject their argument. 

When you take extreme, no-compromise positions and use extremist rhetoric like this, you do a disservice to your cause in a couple of ways. One is that as noted, you make it easy for people to write you off and write off your position (good points and all). the other is that you get minimized out of the discussion because you’re simply unpleasant to deal with. It’s the more moderate voices that tend to sway and move, not the zealots. think about it. As much as I’ll give credit to Stallman and company and the early editions of the GPL for bringing forward the open source movement, in the last decade, most of the real innovation and energy in the movement has been because of more moderate positions and voices (especially the people driving the BSD license, or instance).