Use it til it Breaks

I went up to 181st Street today to drop off a return at UPS. A book I ordered from Amazon didn’t arrive in time so I had no use for it and figured I might as well get my money back. I love Amazon’s return policies. The refund was processed as soon as the item was scanned in by UPS.

While I was walking down the street, I overheard a conversation between a girl and her mother. We were standing near each other on a corner while waiting for the light to change. The mother was telling her daughter that she was going to get her a new phone in heavily accented English. The daughter, who spoke English without an accent, told her mother that the phone she has works fine and she doesn’t need a new one. This escalated almost into an argument with the daughter telling her mother that her phone works just fine and she’s going to use it until it’s broken before she gets a new one, because she doesn’t see the point of replacing something that still works.

I had a few thoughts about this. Was the mother a first generation immigrant and the daughter born here? Is it a conflict of identity? What I mean is, does the mother see herself as being American through participation in consumer culture while the daughter doesn’t feel the need to? Is it a result of first generation immigrants trying to accumulate material wealth as a response to a previous life of (by US standards) deprivation? Maybe the daughter is more concerned with the planet or the ecosystem and the mother doesn’t understand or care about those things. Or maybe the mother just really wanted to get something nice for the girl and doesn’t know what else to buy her.

Anyway, I’m glad it’s getting warmer again. This winter was like a long period of hibernation. I’m looking forward to going out and exploring the city again.

iPhone: Open vs Closed

A few days ago I had a really interesting conversation with Sachin Agarwal, co-founder of Posterous, one of the hottest new blogging sites on the internet.  (If you haven’t checked it out yet, you have no idea what you’re missing).  We were discussing Apple, iPhones, and how much control over their iPhones users actually have, especially when it comes to what a user is “allowed” to put on their phones.  The conversation was just so good, I wanted to repost it here.

Bradley Farless said…

I enjoy my iPhone but Apple’s policies annoy the hell out of me too. They’ve given us an amazing piece of hardware but then not allowed us to actually use its full capabilities.

They’ve also told us that we’re not smart enough to make our own choices when it comes to what we want to install. They have to babysit us and make those decisions for us. I’m pretty sure I’m not a dumbass and I’m pretty sure I can decide on my own what I do and don’t want on my phone, and whether or not I want to see boobs in pocket-size goodness. It’s my damn right. I bought the thing. Why can’t I use it the way I want to?

Sachin Agarwal said…

The iPhone is an amazing piece of hardware/software/ecosystem *because* it is closed.

Only by controlling the entire experience can you make it as great as they did.

I love how my parents *never* need tech support with their iphones. If they could do anything with them, it would be a disaster.

Personally, there’s nothing i wish i could have on my iphone that i can’t get through apple’s system

Bradley Farless said…

Then perhaps the answer to everyone’s concerns is an opt-out method.

You either stay onboard with Apple’s “protected” experience, or you opt-out, and your guaranteed satisfaction is no longer guaranteed, not that people are always satisfied with the current iPhone anyway. But you see what I’m saying.

People want choice. They don’t want to feel limited in how they use something that they’ve paid for. This is essentially the same as Honda telling you that you can only drive your car within a 70 mile radius of your house after you’ve bought it and own it.

Sachin Agarwal said…

If Honda wants to set those rules, they have the right to. I’m not saying I like that, but I am saying that it’s their own ecosystem. If you don’t like it, buy a BMW 🙂

It’s really along the same lines as people wanting Disqus and other advanced features on posterous… we want to make the platform as flexible as possible, but sometimes you have to draw lines. It’s definitely hard

Bradley Farless said…

But Sachin, in that case you would have bought a car, not a license. Honda would have no more right to tell you how to operate that car than a home builder has to tell you what you may use each room in your house for. Once you buy it you own it and it’s up to the purchaser to maintain. If, on the other hand, we were purchasing licenses I could totally ‘get’ Apple monitoring what’s allowed on the platform (though they don’t do that with OS X and it’s still great) but this is a physical piece of hardware.

By the way, as far as Disqus goes, good move with keeping it simple and in-house but these days isn’t it more classy to at least support threading? 🙂

Sent from my iPhone

Sachin Agarwal said…

True, you are buying hardware, not a license.

So hack your phone and run whatever you want on it. You aren’t breaking any laws, Apple can’t really stop you.

But you can’t complain to apple because they aren’t welcoming you to mess with their device.

it’s like if you modify a car, you void the warranty. Granted you are right, at least you *can* modify the car if you choose to do so

Bradley Farless said…

Good analogy with modding the car. I shouldn’t have to “void the warranty” on my iPhone to add the apps I want to use on it though.

I still don’t feel good about having the Apple thought police telling me that I shouldn’t, let’s just use this as an example, have an app on my iPhone that acts as a remote control for a remote uTorrent program because it could possibly be used for copyright infringement. That was their argument with an ebook reader recently as well. They also won’t add apps that have any nudity because it doesn’t fit the company’s wholesome…. oh hang on while I close this porn site on Mobile Safari… anyway, it doesn’t fit the company’s wholesome values.

When you mod a car, you’re replacing parts to make it work in a new way. When you want to put whatever app you want on the iPhone, you’re just trying to use what’s already there to its full potential.

Now that I think about it more, there should be an app approval process, but the only tests done should be to make sure the program itself is sound, not the content.

Sachin Agarwal said…

Installing apps on an iPhone is more like adding a turbo charger to a car: you are trying to use what’s there (engine etc) to its full potential. But then when your engine explodes, your transmission dies, Honda is the one who gets the bad reputation. That’s what Apple is trying to avoid.

1. Yes there should be an app approval process. And yes, it should mostly be to make sure the apps run and don’t do anything malicious. I wouldn’t mind if apple was more lenient in what they allowed

2. It’s their platform and it’s an amazing experience. They should have the right to control it. Just like I have the right to control how Posterous works.

Bradley Farless said…

Well, I guess we both agree that there should be an app approval process, but only for keeping out malicious ones.

Your comparison between Apple’s right to control a piece of hardware and your right to control Posterous is a bit flawed though. Posterous is a platform. It’s free even. It’s not a physical product that I can hold in my hand and claim ownership of. The iPhone on the other hand is a piece of hardware (albeit with an OS inside) that, just like the MacBook Pro I’m typing this comment on, I have purchased and fully own. However, unlike my MacBook, it’s not left to my discretion as to what I put on my iPhone. It should be.

Do you think Apple would get away with it, or stay in business, if they had tried to keep a choke hold on the applications that are installable on Macs the way they’re doing with the iPhones?

They have no more right to say what I put on my iPhone than they do to say what I can put on the laptop they sold me. Once I own it, I own it. And the ability to freely install the software of my choice, even if it’s sometimes the wrong choice, hasn’t tarnished Apple’s image. There are always going to be stupid people, but the vasty majority know that if something goes wrong with a Mac, it’s 9 times out of 10 a user error, and that’s not Apple’s fault.

Sachin Agarwal said…

“the vasty majority know that if something goes wrong with a Mac, it’s 9 times out of 10 a user error”

I’m not sure sure that’s true. People always blame the platform. I know, based on questions I get about Posterous 🙂

Ok, so back to the main point:

When you buy an iPhone or a Macbook Pro, you are buying hardware. You can do anything you want with that hardware. I agree with this. So if you want to wipe your iPhone and install Android on it, go for it.

But by owning OS X on the Macbook Pro or iPhone, that’s a software license you own to run that software. You have to abide by the rules of that agreement. If that agreement says you can only run Apple software, then that’s how it is.

Now, please understand that I don’t necessarily agree with this. As you point out, this might be the downfall of the iPhone. If after a few years the Palm Pre improves, Android gets better, maybe the fact that the iPhone is closed will be what causes people to switch away.

Or maybe Apple will be forced to adapt and open the platform up (remember back when there wasn’t even an iPhone SDK? Now that’s closed!)

But for now, I’m quite happy with the closed Apple ecosystem, just as I’m happy with the Posterous ecosystem, or the fact that my BMW runs all the parts and software created by or approved by BMW, so I don’t have to worry about anything at all. Could they be more powerful? Yes. Is it worth it to me? No.

Bradley Farless said…

Well, user error usually gets blamed on something else, because no one likes to feel stupid. ^_^

I guess I can’t really argue with what you said about the license agreement. I think you’re right in that Apple may be forced to reevaluate its game plan when or if Android and Pre become more popular.

I guess it all just boils down to people wanting to feel like they actually own what they bought.

This argument is really starting to drag out to the point of almost being annoying. I won’t argue anymore for my side of things, as that’s basically what this whole post is about, but if you want to weigh in on it, feel free to do so in the comments here, or on the original post by clicking this link.