iPhone – Part Deux

There’s been a lot of overreaction in the press regarding the latest iPhone firmware. Thankfully it’s beginning to die down as reporters are realizing they’re standing up for hackers and unlockers, and people who generally aren’t interested in supporting the corporate interests of their sponsors, but I digress.

Lots of articles were published slamming Apple for “bricking” iPhones that have been modified. The reality of the situation is quite different. Apple issued a press release announcing their concerns about third party SIM unlocks; they created unmanageable incompatibilities and issues with the firmware upgrade process. Nowhere did they say they were going to intentionally disable iPhones.

When you’re about to update your firmware, you receive a confirmation dialog with the following warning:

 

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So if you managed to “brick” your iPhone with the latest firmware update, you should consider three things.

  1. You were warned about the modifications you made creating compatibility issues Apple can’t support
  2. If you know how to modify your iPhone such that you can unlock it, you should know enough to wait on updates until there are known methods of unlocking _them_ or known methods of safely updating.
  3. Your iPhone is not bricked. If you knew how to unlock the iPhone you should know how to restore it to working condition. If you don’t, you shouldn’t have tried unlocking it. Welcome to being “on your own”.

The update also removes all your custom apps. I’ve learned a couple of things about the custom apps, and have come to some conclusions about custom apps for mobile devices in general.

  • The RSS reader is useless. No documentation in the world will explain how to get it to import an RSS feed. The fact that it can’t get them out of Safari is bad enough.
  • Both the IM and IRC clients succeed only in disconnecting all the time or crashing the iPhone outright.
  • I haven’t found a practical use for the file manager, as it doesn’t do anything meaningful except let you look at the filesystem contents. You can’t use it to copy files onto or off of the device.
  • The eBook reader only takes plaintext.
  • The VNC client is useless, not sending mouse events properly or at all.
  • The UNIX and OpenSSH stuff is pretty cool and useful for exploring but that’s about it.

Basically, all the custom apps are crap so far. This shouldn’t be a surprise, as there’s no official support or documentation. But it does raise another interesting point.

Interestingly, almost all the third party apps for other mobile operating systems are crap too, even with documentation and developer support. On Windows Mobile for example, you can’t get away with installing more than maybe 3 apps before the system is so starved for resources and destabilized that you need to restore the device. I bought “Agile Messenger”, an IM client for Windows Mobile for the hefty sum of about $65 as it was the best IM client I could find, and it caused me to have to reboot Windows daily, would interrupt calls by crashing the handset, you name it. Money well wasted.

As I mentioned in my last post, Palm has nothing innovative to offer. It and all its custom apps are out of the running (though some of Palm’s custom apps were nice, considering the devices have the capabilities of a computer from the late 80’s).

Blackberry has a similarly small selection of decent software. Everyone will want to reply to this with their pet app, but remember, run your app in combination with everyone else’s pet app and your blackberry will become a brick too.

Basically, only a select few of the thousands of custom applications for every mobile device are worth using. I usually settled on 2 or 3 apps that didn’t crash my device and whose clumsiness I could put up with when I owned Palms, Blackberry and Windows Mobile devices.

Not to mention, the majority of blackberry users (a large demographic of non-geek users) don’t even care about custom apps. The functionality built into the device is just fine with them (and the iPhone possesses almost all of this).

Apple has been very insistent on web apps being the preferred direction for application development on the iPhone. So far I’ve replaced 2/3 of the custom applications with web based ones and have actually gained extra functionality as a result.

So my opinion on custom apps on the iPhone is changing. It’s meant to be used with unlimited data plans, so it’s designed to be practical for use with web apps.

Man Up

This is a shout out to all you geeks and tech press editors whining that Apple bricked your iPhone. Man up, you were warned about the incompatibilities you introduced. Don’t blame Apple for a situation you created.

What, the iPhone was designed to be used with AT&T, and now that you tried to change that fundamental aspect it won’t work anywhere? Shucks. Better get to fixing that.

And to everyone (including myself a few days ago) who think the ability to install custom software is the key to the iPhone’s future success, I no longer agree. Check out some of the high-quality web apps out there before jumping to conclusions.

2 thoughts on “iPhone – Part Deux”

  1. Overall I tend to agree with you on your views regarding Apple but this is something that I simply can not accept.

    The very fact that Apple went with AT&T is an _issue_, it should _not_ be accepted and defended in the first place. Apple have nothing to do with any of the telecoms, and they should not have anything to do with them. Apple are an independent developer of the device and they should be sold as such. If whatever company wants to approach Apple and offer some kind of contractual agreement where they will sell Apple’s iPhone for say $100 cheaper but to get the deal the customer has to sign up with that particular carrier would be acceptable.

    Even from financial perspective of Apple making money from every AT&T contract, Apple would have made by far more money by not alienating users from every other major provider (Sprint, Verizon, T-mobile, and other _huge_ companies), not to mention the rest of the world. I obviously want the device, and so does my sister, the problem is I am currently on Verizon with a family plan that has 4 lines. For me to switch to AT&T I would have to pay $175 per line to end the contract ($700), and on top of that buy the actual phones. I am fucked out of $700 because Apple pursued an _unnecessary_ contract with AT&T.

    The people who actually went and bought the phone on different providers and different countries are the biggest Apple fans who are willing to take the blind risk. Apple _fucked_ those people.

    The fact that Blackberry, Windows Mobile, or Palm devices/software suck is not good enough of an excuse for Apple sucking. The reason the 3rd party applications suck is because no legit company will put money into developing something that has no legal security at all. Not only that but the developers are getting no help or API’s to work with at all. The people who actually attempted to develop apps for the iPhone are the buggest Apple fans who are willing to take the blind risk. Apple _fucked_ those people too.

  2. Well, your first problem with Verizon is that it’s CDMA, which is a fundamentally different technology from GSM/EDGE. Even if the iPhone were unlocked, you’d be paying the line disconnection charges and buying the handsets.

    An interesting fact about CDMA handsets is they’re also provider locked, and while they can be unlocked the difficulty level is rather high. Also, SIM locking is a common practice among GSM providers and the practice of allowing the handset to be unlocked in the United States is fairly recent.

    Further on the quality of third party apps, mobile app writers never put forth the QA effort required to create an app that doesn’t drastically destabilize the device. However, I agree, I’d prefer high-quality native apps over web-based ones.

    However I do agree. Locking the handset to a particular provider was unlike Apple, which usually prefers to stand apart as a technology company, and has made it less available to consumers locked in with competitors and who don’t want to pay exhorbitant contract cancellation fees.

    The applications front is a giant question mark. Nobody knows why Apple won’t allow native apps. Whatever the reason is, there are at least three companies which have expressed an interest in developing for the iPhone but won’t, as you mention because Apple doesn’t support it.

    All told, the current selection of apps and the limited (but increasing) international coverage of the phone seem to place it at some sort of beta stage in its operational lifetime.

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