An IPhone Revisit

“Call Harold Fox home,” I’ll say. “Subway State Street work,” the phone will reply.

It’s been about a year since I got my iPhone. That’s long enough to form an opinion, right?

I love/hate the phone! No middle ground. Some things are spectacular while others leave me scratching my head.

Recently a friend told me he was shying away from a touchscreen phone because he was scared he wouldn’t be able to hit the keys correctly. That fear, which I shared before getting the iPhone, is overblown. You get used to touching correctly to achieve your goal in a hurry. Even when you miss the auto-correction is mostly good–not always!

There’s so much the phone does… so many reasons to use it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been at dinner with co-workers or even talking to a friend and pulled out the phone to find the answer to a question. That’s powerful!

I don’t own a GPS unit for my car, but the iPhone is a more than passable stand-in using free software from MapQuest.

It’s beautifully built. The iPhone is Swiss watchlike in its fit and finish.

What irks me is what the phone won’t do. I can’t sync to my laptop without getting a cable and plugging the phone in. Is the phone capable of syncing wirelessly? Yes, because apps exist to do just that with a jailbroken&#185 phone. Apple just won’t allow it!

The same goes for streaming audio. If I listen to NPR’s streaming programs Apple says they must go through the iPhone’s tiny speaker which is hardly audible in my car. I know I can stream to my Bluetooth earpiece because I have a program which does that, but only on phones which are jailbroken.

Some of Apple’s moves are unexplainable. Others are to protect its revenue stream. That seems stingy considering I’ve already bought the phone.

I like to use the handsfree dialing capability. With my earpiece in one it’s just one press of a button away. It is by far the least dependable part of the phone!

“Call Harold Fox home,” I’ll say.

“Subway State Street work,” the phone will reply.

Then I have to scramble to cancel the call before it goes through.

Once when calling my parents it couldn’t figure out which phone.

“Harold Fox, home or mobile?” it asked.

“Home,” I replied.

“Mobile,” the phone confirmed and off it went to ring up my parent’s cellphone.

I guess the true test of any product is if you’d buy another?

Yes, I would.

&#185 – Jailbreaking refers to unlocking the phone so software which hasn’t been approved by Apple can be installed.

The More Things Change The More Money Talks

If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.

There is a quote attributed to Andrew Lewis (who sells t-shirts emblazoned with it):

If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.

Keep that in mind. Things are changing in the tech world. They’re probably not changing for your benefit. As products evolve the user is more-and-more the product being delivered to others. You are less lkely to be in control of your digital fate.

The Times had a big article this weekend about HTML5 the new iteration of the language that runs the Worldwide Web.

In the next few years, a powerful new suite of capabilities will become available to Web developers that could give marketers and advertisers access to many more details about computer users’ online activities. Nearly everyone who uses the Internet will face the privacy risks that come with those capabilities, which are an integral part of the Web language that will soon power the Internet: HTML 5.

Marketers and advertisers are paying for access and they’ll call the shots! You are more valuable to them when they’ve probed into things you might consider private.

The same goes with your cellphone. My iPhone is jailbroken which means I’m not limited to installing programs Apple approves of and profits from. Jailbreaking is to my benefit not the benefit of the cell providers or operators of app stores.

A cautionary story circulating this weekend told the tale of T-mobile’s new tact to stop jailbreaking of its Android phones. Basically the phone will ‘cleanse’ itself of unapproved files you’ve loaded at regular intervals.

… when unsuspecting members of the public buy The “T-Mobile G2 with Google” phone at a T-Mobile store, they aren’t getting a customizable mobile computer or phone but are instead getting a device where the hardware itself dramatically limits users’ right to make changes to their computers and install the operating system of their choice.

Some tech sites have taken to calling the G2’s hidden program a ‘rootkit.’ That’s a scare tactic. However, to say this ‘feature’ acts the same way a difficult to cleanse computer virus acts isn’t far off point.

I saw early signs of this trend when I bought this Dell 640m with Windows Vista a few years ago. The ability to record audio that’s being sent to the speakers had been removed. The hardware to do it was still in the laptop (since it does it in its Windows XP version) but the functionality had been stripped from the operating system. This wasn’t done for end users but for content producers who are Microsoft’s more important customers.

If you’re used to surfing to anything on the Internet or fast forwarding your DVR through commercials be prepared to see those features fade! You’re benefitting to the detriment of those who really pay the freight.

The digital golden age might already be over.

Jailbreaking My iPhone

Jailbreaking is against at&t’s/Apple’s policies. End of story until last week when the Librarian of Congress ruled it’s actually OK.

I performed a jailbreak on my iPhone Sunday night.

Jailbreaking is a process that allows iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch users to run third-party unsigned code on their devices by unlocking the operating system and allowing the user root access. Once jailbroken, iPhone users are able to download many extensions and themes previously unavailable through the App Store via unofficial installers such as Cydia. A jailbroken iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch is still able to use the App Store and iTunes.

Jailbreaking is against at&t’s/Apple’s policies. End of story until last week when the Librarian of Congress ruled it’s actually OK. The Library of Congress is the keeper of copyrights and this is an exemption they can issue… and did.

The jailbreak itself was incredibly easy. That’s a problem. All I did was visit a website and click one link. Too easy–seriously. It makes me very uneasy.

Someone found a security hole in the iPhone’s Safari web browser wide enough to drive a truck through. The jailbreak worked because an improperly formed pdf file was able to gain access to the ‘root’ of the iPhone’s operating system.

It was OK this time because I consciously downloaded the file. Unfortunately someone could fashion a drive-by attack using the same method (and here are some examples already tried!)! Go to a website, get infected invisibly!

This is a weakness caused by Apple’s programming. I’m astounded they haven’t immediately fixed the problem.

Obviously I have crossed purposes here. I want to jailbreak, but I don’t want others to have similar access without my permission.

I’m also upset with the writers of this jailbreak code. By openly exploiting this weakness they created a roadmap for those with less noble purpose.

A lot of the responsibility rests on Apple because their policies have limited the inherent capabilities of the iPhone. People just want to unlock what the phone can actually do. There is an incentive to delve into grey areas which Apple could easily fill.

There’s lots of blame to go around. There’s lots that’s troubling.

Apple And HTC: Let The Suits Begin

By keeping programs like Dragon Dictation separated from other functions Apple has made a powerful feature nearly worthless. I love the app. I never use it!

apple-iphone-3g.jpgAs a geek these are exciting times. Smart phones like the iPhone, Androids and Microsoft’s still-to-be-seen efforts are putting major computing in your pocket. They’re powerful enough that I’ve sometimes been guilty of disregarding my dinner companions as I work the phone (actually everything but the phone).

Of course nothing like this happens in a vacuum. Everyone tries to protect their territory. There’s so much my iPhone can do, if only Steve Jobs would say yes!

Seriously, my phone is purposely crippled in many ways.

An example is the Dragon Dictation app. It does an amazing job of translating spoken words to text. Unfortunately Apple says it can’t speak directly to the email or SMS programs. In order to use DD you have to cut and paste.

Though approved by Apple this applet is hidden from the iPhone’s most powerful features. It’s not that the software can’t perform this task, it’s been prohibited from performing it!

By keeping programs like Dragon Dictation separated from other functions Apple has made a powerful feature nearly worthless. I love the app. I never use it!

This is totally Apple’s choice. They could let it happen tomorrow and I’m sure Dragon would have the updated software waiting.
This is just one in a series of arbitrary or puzzling decisions.

Some friends say I should just ‘jailbreak’ the phone–remove Apple’s grip with a simple unauthorized software download. Good idea, though jailbreaking alone will not make this particular software work as it should.

Maybe I own the iPhone, but only under a strict license which says what I can and can’t do, what I can and can’t load into it. It’s as if your Ford was only allowed to use Ford gasoline and could only be repaired with Ford parts. Maybe you should only be able to chill GE water in your GE refrigerator.

Don’t get me wrong, this phone is killer. I love it. I am frustrated though because I can see what is being done to keep Apple as gatekeeper.

Now Apple is reaching out to keep competitors from competing. Yesterday they sued HTC, who makes smartphones under their own name and for others. This has to do with HTC’s phone that use Google’s Android operating system.

“We can sit by and watch competitors steal our patented inventions, or we can do something about it. We’ve decided to do something about it. We think competition is healthy, but competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours.” – Steve Jobs

Apple is enforcing its software patents. That itself is pretty controversial as software patents are a recent ‘innovation’ seemingly granted broadly and with little scrutiny. A software patent case is on its way to the Supreme Court right now.
Though companies with these patents say they are (and probably are) just protecting their investments in research and development, others say patents on software limit innovation.

It’s interesting to hear organizations perceived as liberal, like the Electronic Freedom Foundation use concepts normally reserved for the right.

Software innovation happens without government intervention. Virtually all of the technologies you use now were developed before software was widely viewed as patentable. The Web, email, your word processor and spreadsheet program, instant messaging, or even more technical features like the psychoacoustic encoding and Huffman compression underlying the MP3 standard—all of it was originally developed by enthusiastic programmers, many of whom have formed successful business around such software, none of whom asked the government for a monopoly. So if software authors have a proven track-record of innovation without patents, why force them to use patents? What is the gain from billions of dollars in patent litigation? –

None of this seems to be happening for our (my) benefit.