Apple's iPhone -- not the home of the free

Apple’s iPhone has a great user interface, lacks some needed enterprise features and maintains an old business model

Apple’s iPhone, for all its good features, would be a lot better if it could work on different networks, columnist Scott Bradner writes.

Last week my mother admonished me for having published two columns about the Apple iPhone before it was released, but not a word since. She, of course, is right. I should have said something, but I’ve been trying to figure out what bothers me so much about the product.

I have not bought an iPhone — I may, but I’m not sure if or when. I have played with them and am astonished at their quality and ease of use. I expected a lot from the Apple designers, but until I held an iPhone and played with it, I had not internalized just how good a consumer product could be. The iPod should have given me a big hint.

Apple also has surprised most of its possible competitors in the advanced phone business. A few are trying to put out iPhone clones, and a few of these devices look good, but I expect it will be a long time before products appear that show that other vendors understand anything about what Apple has done. Making a clone does not require understanding; you only have to look at the iPod to see how hard it has been for most vendors to “get it.” Apple introduced the iPod in 2001, and to me, even today, there are no other products that come close to it in user-interface design. (And there are rumors that we may be just weeks away from a whole new iPod design, maybe something like a phoneless iPhone.)

So, the product itself is — as far as I can tell without living with one — great. According to the surveys I’ve read, most of the people who actually bought iPhones are very happy with them. The network managers in their companies may not be as happy because the iPhone is missing some things that such network managers see as required for an enterprise phone, including high-quality interaction with Microsoft e-mail systems and remote-device lock and erase.

There is a lot that bothers me about the iPhone, however, mostly about Apple’s business decisions. Back in January, I wrote about some of the technology I’d like to see in the iPhone. Most of what I wanted is not there. Lots of other things are, but the functions that would make the device complete are missing, at least from Apple. Some of the missing parts already are available from third parties. It is hard to blame Apple for not being able to lock out the hackers, especially when they have your device in their hands, but to me, it would have been far better for Apple to sell a version of the iPhone that admits it is a computer running a good operating system and lets customers use it openly.

The worst part of the iPhone is that Apple is treating the iPhone just like another cell phone. Apple, the company whose innovative and compelling business model forced the music business and some of the TV and movie business to deal with the Internet, has done none of this when it comes to the iPhone. The phone, as sold in the United States, is locked into a particular carrier and cannot even be used for non-phone functions without agreeing to the lock-in.

The locks, predictably, were quickly overcome and now Apple is retaliating by trying to block the exploits. If it were true to its image, Apple would have sold unlocked phones to people who wanted them. It may have to in Europe. If so, it will be sad indeed if customers in Apple’s own country can’t be free.

Disclaimer: Harvard predates the “land of the free” but has not expressed an opinion about Apple’s refusal to be part of it in this case. Thus, the above review and lament are mine alone.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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