Beyond the iPhone: getting off the grid


(Above: Nokia 800 running Linux)

A friend of mine bought an iPhone this weekend, and I can now safely say I wouldn’t buy one, even if I had the money. She dropped $600 on the thing, but now can’t use it for anything (except emergency calls) – no music, no PDA, nothing – until her current AT&T contract expires and she can start a new contract with them. Adam Greenfield got his over the weekend too and writes:

On the life side of the equation: it’s the first device that will become as organic and as helplessly necessary to ordinary – i.e., non-Blackberry-wielding – Americans as mobiles have always been to Europeans and Asians. So far this morning, I’ve used my iPhone as an alarm clock, a timer, a phone, a map, and a handy means of getting the answer to a question that came up in conversation. I wondered if there were any laundromats handy, got a map of a few likely candidates, and clicked on the nearest to call them and ask them if they were open yet. (They were.) In other words, it’s performing exactly as intended.


And then there’s the fundamental, underlying, root-deep flaw with the iPhone, the one thing which can and should be laid at Steve’s door, and regarding which it’s impossible for anyone with integrity to pull the wool over their own eyes about. The UI is so seductive and so accomplished that you almost forget it, but in the end there’s no getting around it: this is a closed shop. A locked-down device. What Jonathan Zittrain calls a “non-generative” piece of kit.

You can’t code on it. You can’t hack on it – not without a lot of effort, which is to say, more effort than all but a very few will devote to the attempt. By and large, you cannot make culture with this device, not unless you construct “making culture” as everything you’re doing when you use the iPhone. Consume, yes – painlessly, pleasantly, engagingly. But not produce.

That’s a problem.

Putting aside for the moment how utterly pwn3d I was by the Spectacle around this thing – and that’s not a trivial thing, but it’s grist for a different mill – the iPhone as it stands now is in the end more likely to disempower than to give rise to other outcomes. Despite what I had naively imagined here, I couldn’t even use its WiFi before registering it with AT&T. Registered, it sure seems like a king-hell everyware device, but before provisioning, it was an inert brick. And that sense of playing footsie with the status quo left a nasty, nasty residue.

It sounds like Adam had the exact same reaction to the iPhone that I had to the first Sidekick in 2002. But 5 years later, I’m living pretty happily with a regular cell phone. I guess the Sidekick has opened up a bit since I owned one, so I guess there’s some hope for openness for the iPhone as well.

These days I’m more interested in ditching the Baby Bell cell grid for wifi/VOIP. The Sony Milo and the Gizmo phones, for example. None of these seem quite “there” yet, but I think we’ll be something more worth spending $600 on in the near future.

1 Comment

  1. Looks like there’s already a VOIP workaround for the iPhone:

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