Thursday, September 27, 2007

Apple is at war with its own uber geeks

When Apple last returned from the grave, for the second or third time, geeks were important. OS X is a respectable piece of software, and geeks made it work. In several domains, particularly in communications and knowledge management, OS X now has a better range of solutions than XP.

Today, however, Apple is at war with its uber-geeks -- because of the iPhone. Saul Hansell describes the mood in the NYT, though he's confusing the unlockers with those who want the best possible iPhone on AT&T...
Steve Jobs Girds for the Long iPhone War - Bits - Technology - New York Times Blog

... This afternoon, Apple did release the update. And the gadget blogs confirm that it does indeed wreak havoc on modified iPhones. Some phones have indeed been “bricked.” In others, unofficial applications have been disabled. And there are worries that hacking the updated phone will be harder.

The result: Serious hackers will keep find new ways to break in. Less technically inclined may well find themselves chastened into technological submission, assuming they can get their pricey toys to work at all. Will Apple really refuse to help people with iBricks?

Speaking in London last week, Steve Jobs, Apple’s chief executive, said the company is in a “cat and mouse” game with hackers.

“People will try to break in, and it’s our job to stop them breaking in,” he said.

There is something futile about the way Apple appears to be fighting some of its most ardent fans, those who want to use the full capabilities of the iPhone...

... Since the iPhone is a very sleek, capable handheld computer, people are going to want to run programs on it. They are going to want to hack and see what they can build. It’s a law of nature. And Apple might as well be fighting gravity.

Many other cell phones are locked down, of course. But few other phones capture the imagination of programmers the way the iPhone does.
There are two loosely allied groups of Apple geeks now at war with Apple. The unlockers want to use the phone with other providers; but most of Apple's geeks are willing to respect Apple's deal with Satan -- especially if the iTouch is improved. Everyone, however, is now united for at least a partly open iPhone and iTouch native development platform.

Geeks don't trust Apple to put the solutions we need on the iPhone. Apple's aiming at the mass market, and we're not mass market. We understand Apple can't justify investing in the solutions we need, but that's ok. There are lots of small, low overhead, high quality OS X development shops that will be able to make a very good living off the markets Apple doesn't want. Would it really kill Apple to have a 3rd party bluetooth keyboard added to the iPhone? How about the PIM/Outlook solutions Apple won't build? FileMaker Mobile? The list is long.

If Apple keeps the iPhone closed they'll alienate their uber geeks -- not just from the iPhone, but from the entire OS X platform. Maybe they're ready to run that risk, but I don't think the gain outweighs the likely costs. Keeping the iPhone virus free is a good reason to have a software certification program and a signed secure installation package, but it's not sufficient justification to close the platform.

Apple doesn't need to open the iPhone today, but they need to provide a roadmap in the weeks to come. Otherwise the Apple blogs are going to turn mean ...

Update 9/28/07: Wired has a brilliant summary of what Apple is failing to do -- the iPhone pre and post bricking. Some Apple employee ought to paste the Wired graphic to Steve Jobs door.

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