The iPhone, Open Systems, and Leaving Sun

Lots of people have opined on Apple's iPad, many deriding it's closed nature and lack of features. The thing is, those problems don't matter to most people. The iPad isn't for you or me. It's for everyone else. I've spent the last 20 years hoping we would have the technology to build such a device, even though I knew it was a device I would not personally use. But that doesn't matter..

Make no mistake, the simplified and locked down iPhone OS (running on both the iPhone and the iPad) is the future. Eventually at least 90% of people will use an iPhone, Chrome Pad, netbook, or similar device as their primary computing interface. Don't focus on the form factor. A netbook will simply an iPad with a built in keyboard. The point is the simplified computing experience that leaves a lot out. It does what 90% of people want to do and without 90% of the headaches you get from a general purpose computing device.

The iPad doesn't represent something that augments your laptop. For 90% of people, this will replace their laptop. It's the end of carrying many pounds of textbooks. It's the end of segfaults, finding files, navigating 20 overlapping windows, dreading system upgrades, and network configuration. It's the end of general purpose operating systems for the masses.

Sure, Apple may say it's occupying a 3rd space between the phone and laptop. And the iPad may currently be slaved to a master computer, but one day it won't be. And I bet that day will come sooner than we expect. Apple is just waiting for the right time to make the iPad go independent.

The problem? So let me ask you this: What if Microsoft in 2000 had decided that WindowsXP would only be available on a Microsoft PC, and the only apps, videos, and ebooks you could install on it would be sold by a Microsoft online store, and developers could only write apps in Visual Studio with .NET, and certain APIs and features would be reserved only for Microsoft's own apps, and certain kinds of apps will not be allowed at all. Would we have accepted this? Certainly not. Yet Apple is doing the same thing, and the world will love them for it. Because a simplified computing experience is what 90% of people really want.

In the long run, this is good. Apple is pushing forward the state of the art and will force the industry to follow it. I don't begrudge Apple their winnings. What they've done in the last 10 years is astonishing and we are all better off for it. They have worked incredibly hard and earned their success . But there's a downside. In their quest to put the user experience first over all else they have created a locked down system where Apple controls everything. We put up with this from the iPhone because it was still more open than the typical feature phones that preceded it. But when we see something that will replace the laptops we have today, and the nice open general purpose computing environments we take for granted, then it starts to be worrisome.

The answer, however, is not to bitch on mailing lists and blogs. Most people don't care about the 'openness' of their devices. It provides no tangible benefit to they, so we shouldn't expect them to care. They simply want to get stuff done with a minimum of fuss. And be snappy. Complaining about Apple's lock-in or lamenting the lack of iPad features won't change anything. There's only one thing that will make a difference: create a alternative that is more open but still provides a good experience; starting with a viable competitor to the iPhone.

And that's exactly what I've decided to do:

Talk to me about it on Twitter

Posted February 4th, 2010