Blog - Unity Behind Diversity

Searching for beauty in the dissonance

Tagged: iphone

I’ve Pad Enough — It’s 1984 for Apple

Defective by Design -- Apple Restriction Zone

Just hours before the iPad announcement yesterday, I wrote the following:

When we think of mobile computers as merely “phones,” we tolerate restrictions that we would otherwise reject on our computers. How many iPhone users would come to Apple’s defence if they instituted the same strict policies and arbitrary limitations on third-party applications for a Macbook as they do on their mobile computer?

The iPad is a general purpose computer with precisely those restrictions.

Today, Apple launched a computer that will never belong to its owner… By making a computer where every application is under total, centralized control, Apple is endangering freedom to increase profits… Their record of App Store rejections and removals gives us no reason to trust them. The iPad’s unprecedented use of DRM to control all capabilities of a general purpose computer is a dangerous step backward for computing and for media distribution.

Talk about lockdown. I’m still waiting for them to ban third-party apps on Macbooks that haven’t been approved through the app store. The Vista bodyguard may be annoying, but with new Apple products, there’s simply no “allow” button. Apple has become what it sought to destroy.

It’s worth quoting the rest of that paragraph from yesterday’s blog post:

Recognizing that these devices are really mobile computers is an essential step to gaining control over our mobile computing. Carriers and handset makers control our phones. We should control our own computers.

The same goes for tablets (and for “TVs” for that matter). Say no to computers that can’t be ours.

Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Permalink | Comments (2)

It’s Not A Phone, It’s A Mobile Computer

Nokia N900
Credit: mackarus [CC BY]

People keep asking me about my new “cell phone,” but the Nokia N900 isn’t a phone. It’s a handheld, mobile computer. Calling it a phone is like calling a house a bed—sleeping is just one thing you do inside a house.

I became interested in the Nokia N900 in the fall, and after a several good reviews, I ordered one off eBay earlier this month. The N900 is the first from a series of Nokia Internet tablets to have cellular capabilities, but the SIM card doesn’t overshadow all the other things you can do with the device—it just frees you to connect to the Internet on the go. The day after it arrived, I signed up with WIND Mobile (another contributing factor to the purchase: leaving Rogers). The combination of a powerful mobile computer, and unlimited 3G data for just $35/month has changed the way I use the Internet.

Yes, it can handle phone calls and SMS messages, but it’s totally arbitrary that a call is a cellular call as opposed to over Google Talk or SIP / VOIP, or that a message is SMS rather than IM; the same applications are used in either case. I can use it as a cell phone, but I can also use it as an Internet tablet, GPS, digital audio player, camera, etc.

Maemo, the operating system that comes installed on the N900, is a fully-featured GNU/Linux distribution. Android shares a common (ish) kernel with other Linux-based distributions, but Maemo has much more in common with the operating system running on my laptop. It uses the same system for finding and installing new software, and it has a lot of the same applications available, since it’s easier to port from other GNU/Linux distributions. Rather than forcing developers to write Java “apps,” Maemo makes a variety of common development environments available. Thus, it’s the first platform to see a Firefox mobile release.

It’s a computer, not a phone. And it’s not just semantics. When we think of mobile computers as merely “phones,” we tolerate restrictions that we would otherwise reject on our computers. How many iPhone users would come to Apple’s defence if they instituted the same strict policies and arbitrary limitations on third-party applications for a Macbook as they do on their mobile computer? (Update: I spoke literally hours too soon.) Recognizing that these devices are really mobile computers is an essential step to gaining control over our mobile computing. Carriers and handset makers control our phones. We should control our own computers.

Google has tried to replace the term “smartphone” with it’s own buzzword — “superphone” — but it’s not just the “smart” part that’s become inadequate. It doesn’t make sense to call these devices “cell phones” anymore than it would make sense to call the buildings we live in “beds.” I have a handheld computer, and my carrier is my ISP.

ps I wrote and edited this post on my N900 using MaStory

Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Permalink | Comments (3)

Unlocking An iPhone Is Not Freedom; Zittrain Argues For Civic Technologies

Cato Unbound has an outstanding online debate going on right now about Lawrence Lessig’s book Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace as it hits 10 years. Declan McCullagh started things off with a post entitled, “What Larry Didn’t Get,” offering a libertarian critique of Lessig’s approach and accusing him of favouring “technocratic philosopher kings.” Jonathan Zittrain has the latest post, “How To Get What We All Want,” which focuses on the similarities between McCullagh and Lessig and takes a middle ground between libertarianism and government regulation, arguing for civic technologies. Adam Theier has a post going up on Friday, and Lessig himself will have the last word on Monday. I highly suggest you check it out, if you’re at all interested in these issues and haven’t seen it already.

Now, I haven’t yet read Zittrain’s book, The Future of the Internet — And How To Stop It, but from the sorts of things I’ve read about it, I don’t think I share his pessimism. However, one line in his contribution to the debate really resonated with me. After talking about the dangers and limitations of proprietary technologies controlled by vendors (e.g. iPhone, Kindle, Facebook), he remarks:

This is the future of the Internet that I want to stop, and it’s small solace that geeks can avoid it for themselves if they can’t easily bring everyone else with them. [emphasis mine]

I get so frustrated when people rationalize the locked down nature of the iPhone by saying that they can just unlock it. Unlocking an iPhone is not freedom. (1) It still rewards Apple, the maker of the chains, through the purchase; (2) it’s a disservice to the vast majority of people who don’t have the skills to unlock their devices.

I strongly believe that if geeks want to do something useful to solve the problems that Lessig and Zittrain identify, it has to involve supporting free (libre) technologies that don’t have any chains, instead of just buying into proprietary technologies and removing their own chains.

The counterargument to Zittrain’s thesis isn’t a jailbroken iPhone; it’s an OpenMoko Freerunner.

This is why Zittrain holds up Wikipedia as an example of a civic technology; he notes the fact that Wikipedia is licensed freely. Free culture and free software are what produce civic technologies.

I don’t share his pessimism, but I sympathize with his argument for civic technologies.

Civic technologies seek to integrate a respect for individual freedom and action with the power of cooperation. Too often libertarians focus solely on personal freedoms rather than the serious responsibilities we can undertake together to help retain them, while others turn too soon to government regulation to preserve our values. I don’t think .gov and .com never work. I just think we too easily underestimate the possibilities of .org – the roles we can play as netizens rather than merely as voters or consumers.

Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Permalink | Post a Comment

Why I Won’t Buy An iPhone

I thought I’d celebrate the official launch of the iPhone in Canada by noting a few of the reasons I won’t be caught dead with one.

  • The iPhone isn’t free software, like the Android or OpenMoko. As the FSF points out, why take a device you can’t control when there are devices you can?
  • The iPhone is extremely hostile to GNU/Linux. For previous iPods, developers already had to reverse engineer a proprietary iTunesDB file to sync with programs that aren’t iTunes, but Apple decided to throw a security hash on the iTunesDB file for the iPhone and iPod touch. To help a friend sync her iPhone to her Ubuntu laptop, I needed to unlock the phone (so she could use it in Canada), jailbreak it, install an OpenSSH server, mount the iPhone to the laptop over ssh via WiFi and then sync. If it sounds ridiculous, that’s because it is. Not caring enough to support GNU/Linux is understandable, but throwing up roadblocks for those that will do it for Apple is dumb and insulting.
  • The iPhone is not a truly open platform for developers. There are technical and contractual problems, including apparent incompatibility with free software. The app store seems like a great idea, except that it’s the only way Apple wants developers to create software for the iPhone.
  • Rogers’ ridiculous pricing plans and lame attempts to appease the “very small group of early adopters,” because, you know, no one else wants to browse the web. Though, apparently Rogers didn’t get many phones, in stark contrast to the absolute frenzy here in Australia with three GSM providers all getting healthy stocks of the new device. Serves Rogers right.
  • From a purely technical perspective, it’s not quite there yet. I have three devices: phone, pda, digital audio player. By “there,” I mean that I’d love it if I could reduce that to one device, or even two. It’s a phone, not quite a PDA (I couldn’t use it to take lecture notes like I do with my Palm Pilot), and not quite the digital audio player I’d like (my collection is ~27GB and I use Ogg Vorbis). I’d rather try to get another few years out of my current hardware and let Moore’s Law work a little bit more magic.

However… that FreeRunner is looking pretty good.

Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Permalink | Post a Comment

Canadian Telcos: The Battle of Who Could Care Less

This is getting just a little bit ridiculous. Rogers’ rates are already insanely high since they have a GSM monopoly in Canada. Their absolutely unrealistic pricing plans for the iPhone appear to have even got the attention of Cupertino. Now, despite the ongoing investigation by the CRTC into Bell’s throttling practices (which is generating enough bad publicity), Bell and Telus are in a race to the bottom in the value they offer customers through their mobile pricing plans. They want to start charging customers 15 cents per received SMS message.

Even at 10¢, a text message already costs the customer sending it almost five times more than it does to send the equivalent amount of data to the Hubble telescope. 15¢ per text message means that any time a customer sends or receives a message (which can’t be bigger than 140 bytes), they are paying the equivalent of at least $1,101 per megabyte—and, if they are, say, Bell customers sending a message to other Bell customers, Bell makes the equivalent of at least $2,202 per megabyte. And we’re, uh, guessing that some of that’s profit.

Bell unsurprisingly tries to make this somehow seem necessary.

The growth in text messages has been nothing short of phenomenal. This volume places tremendous demands on our network and we can’t afford to provide this service for free anymore.

Somehow, I find that hard to believe. This is like the postal service charging you to receive mail, despite the sender already having paid the postage. (In which case, when ordering something online you’d have to pay shipping and “receiving”.)

What are they thinking? So unapologetically greedy… yet the only alternative is Rogers.

Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Permalink | Post a Comment