Open Source – The Real iPhone Killer
The iPhone is the king of the hill when it comes to smartphones. Everyone knows that, right? Well, that isn’t exactly true – in North America RIM (the Blackberry) holds about half of the entire smartphone market. Globally, Symbian-based devices (primarily from Nokia) are the most popular, followed by the Blackberry and then the iPhone (with Windows Mobile and Android getting small portions of the pie, followed by the once-mighty Palm).
More accurately, the iPhone is the king of the web-browser smartphone in North America, and its share of the market has been growing steadily due to its popularity. Its functionality, beauty, simplicity, and wealth of applications have had tech bloggers the world round wondering if another mobile platform will ever be able to unseat Apple from its throne. Names like Google (Nexus One) and Motorola (Droid) are speculated to be true iPhone rivals, but so far the jury is out.
But the Real iPhone killer isn’t a device. It isn’t even an operating system, though Android does seem poised to start taking large chunks out of the iPhone’s lead. The killer is Apple’s philosophy; closed source, closed marketplace, tight controls. Recently Apple made the news (in a bad way) by choosing to censor (most) sexually-themed applications out of the marketplace. By restricting choice as to what applications are available, even for (ostensibly) safety reasons, Apple is shooting itself in the foot.
Many people have pointed out Apple’s hypocrisy in allowing applications from Playboy, Penthouse, and Sports Illustrated (swimsuits) to remain available while restricting the applications of smaller developers and publishers that provide much less racy content. A personal example can be found in the little video I created a regarding a so-called “sexually explicit” application from one of the sites I work for, SuicideGirls.com. The Flip Strip app showed sexy SGs fully clothed at first, but when the phone is turned upside-down the ladies strip down to their underwear. For some reason Apple deemed this application to be less appropriate for public consumption than, for instance, one depicting nearly-naked Playboy bunnies.
Here’s a video segment on G4 with me displaying the now Banned Flip Strip application:
It is not hard to conclude that if you pay Apple enough money they will allow your app to remain available for download, regardless of content or appropriateness. I am not suggesting that Apple is going to be harmed more than trivially by this particular gaffe, but it is representative of a much larger problem for the company.
That problem, growing larger day by day, is an open market, open source philosophy supported by companies such as Google with their Linux-based Android OS, and Nokia with their Symbian OS (which was closed-source, but the source code was opened/released earlier this month).
The issue here is choice: While the iTunes marketplace has an incredible variety of developed, mature applications, all of those apps have gone through an Apple evaluation process.
If they don’t meet the requirements they aren’t offered for download (unless you jailbreak the iPhone, but that’s another story), and as we’ve seen recently those requirements may change on a moment’s notice, causing untold damage to small developers and publishers. Other offerings such as the Android marketplace also contain a huge number of applications, a number which is growing day by day, without Apple’s restrictive, arbitrary limitations.
Because an OS like Android is open to all, it is being launched on more and more devices, on more and more providers’ networks. Instead of just one company (Apple) providing a handful of nearly identical (i)phones on only one network (AT&T) for a fixed price (too much $$$ per month), Android will soon be seen everywhere on devices from every manufacturer. Android smartphones can already be found in many different form factors and styles, and even different versions of the OS itself; HTC launched certain Android phones with a retooled user interface called Sense (Which is what I have on my Droid Eris).
We are already seeing some features on Android that we don’t see with the iPhone…
…such as Android 2.x’s Google Maps Navigation, which I find to be just as accurate as my old Magellan GPS (as long as I don’t leave 3G coverage areas for too long). I also love the Google Sky application, great for playing around while lying in bed looking up toward the stars.
I am a big proponent of free and open source software, so Android excites me for many reasons. However, the bottom line for me is choice. Open up the marketplace to everything. If there is a call for it, the first thing parents will download is an application that gives them greater control over their children’s own choices. If people want porn on their phones (*raises hand*), let them have their mobile pr0n! Someone is going to provide an application for every conceivable need, and we shouldn’t have to install new firmware to gain access to it.
With free choice comes possibility, and with possibility comes the future.
Apple, that sound you hear is the iTunes death knell.