The Electronic Frontiter Foundation (EFF), an electronic rights activist group, has recently labeled the iPhone and iPad app ecosystem as a "crystal prison" for developers and end-users. The EFF's main justifications for this conclusion include Apple's content filters, restrictions on code usage (like ones tapping into AirPlay uninvited), and limiting developers to using Apple's payment infrastructure (though some devs seem pretty happy with the current set-up).
Much of the essay harps on the necessity to jailbreak an iPhone to have full control of the device. The EFF posits that Apple's primary motivation to maintaining this degree of control is to lock down their 30% cut from sales, but I have trouble agreeing with that since Apple openly admitted that they pretty much break even on App Store costs. To amend the situation, the EFF proposes that four core rights are granted to end-users.
- Installation of arbitrary applications on the device. If the user wishes to, they should not be limited to what is included in one particular proprietary "app store."
- Access to the phone OS at the root/superuser/hypervisor/administrator level. If consumers wish to examine the low-level code that is running in their pockets, to check for invasions of privacy, run the anti-virus software of their choice, join VPNs, install firewalls, or just tinker with their operating systems, phone and device companies have no legitimate basis for preventing this.
- The option to install a different OS altogether. If people want to install Linux on their iPhones, Boot to Gecko on their Windows phones, or just run a different version of Android on their Android phones, the company that sold them the hardware must not prevent them. Using a cryptographic bootloader to defend against malware is a fine idea, but there must be a way to reconfigure this security mechanism to (1) allow an alternative OS to be installed; and (2) to offer the same cryptographic protections for the alternative OS.
- Hardware warranties that are clearly independent of software warranties. Apple denies warranty coverage to users who have jailbroken their iPhones. While nobody is asking Apple to support jailbroken or modified software, it is inexcusable that the company threatens not to cover, say, a faulty screen, if the customer has chosen to modify the software on their device.
For all of its criticisms, the EFF openly admits that Apple may not be the worst perpetrator in closed operating systems, and that writing software for mobile before iOS was considerably worse, but that Apple is still in a position to raise the bar. After all, "no place, and no system, can be perfect if it denies its citizens the freedom to change it, or the freedom to leave."
This issue doesn't come as much of a surprise to anyone who has become involved with Apple products; it's hard not to get an iPhone and Mac and not know that from here on in, you're expected to do things The Apple Way.
To be honest, this attitude is exactly what traditionally turned me off from Apple products, but as we all know, a crystal prison is still a pretty nice place to hang out.
I'm mostly interested in the idea that Apple necessarily has to be the restrictive (but safe and polished) option, and Android is by default the free, open, and chaotic developer playground. I get the distinct impression that developing on iOS isn't nearly as bad as it's made out to be by folks like the EFF, and that Android isn't as open as Google might like you to think. Devs, care to weigh in? Jailbreakers, how happy would you be to see Apple formally adopt something like this digital bill of rights?
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