iPhone - Part Deux

There’s been a lot of overreaction in the press regarding the latest iPhone firmware. Thankfully it’s beginning to die down as reporters are realizing they’re standing up for hackers and unlockers, and people who generally aren’t interested in supporting the corporate interests of their sponsors, but I digress. Lots of articles were published slamming Apple for “bricking” iPhones that have been modified. The reality of the situation is quite different. Apple issued a press release announcing their concerns about third party SIM unlocks; they created unmanageable incompatibilities and issues with the firmware upgrade process. Nowhere did they say they were going to intentionally disable iPhones. When you’re about to update your firmware, you receive a confirmation dialog with the following warning:

111   So if you managed to “brick” your iPhone with the latest firmware update, you should consider three things.

  1. You were warned about the modifications you made creating compatibility issues Apple can’t support
  2. If you know how to modify your iPhone such that you can unlock it, you should know enough to wait on updates until there are known methods of unlocking _them_ or known methods of safely updating.
  3. Your iPhone is not bricked. If you knew how to unlock the iPhone you should know how to restore it to working condition. If you don’t, you shouldn’t have tried unlocking it. Welcome to being “on your own”.

The update also removes all your custom apps. I’ve learned a couple of things about the custom apps, and have come to some conclusions about custom apps for mobile devices in general.

  • The RSS reader is useless. No documentation in the world will explain how to get it to import an RSS feed. The fact that it can’t get them out of Safari is bad enough.
  • Both the IM and IRC clients succeed only in disconnecting all the time or crashing the iPhone outright.
  • I haven’t found a practical use for the file manager, as it doesn’t do anything meaningful except let you look at the filesystem contents. You can’t use it to copy files onto or off of the device.
  • The eBook reader only takes plaintext.
  • The VNC client is useless, not sending mouse events properly or at all.
  • The UNIX and OpenSSH stuff is pretty cool and useful for exploring but that’s about it.

Basically, all the custom apps are crap so far. This shouldn’t be a surprise, as there’s no official support or documentation. But it does raise another interesting point. Interestingly, almost all the third party apps for other mobile operating systems are crap too, even with documentation and developer support. On Windows Mobile for example, you can’t get away with installing more than maybe 3 apps before the system is so starved for resources and destabilized that you need to restore the device. I bought “Agile Messenger”, an IM client for Windows Mobile for the hefty sum of about $65 as it was the best IM client I could find, and it caused me to have to reboot Windows daily, would interrupt calls by crashing the handset, you name it. Money well wasted. As I mentioned in my last post, Palm has nothing innovative to offer. It and all its custom apps are out of the running (though some of Palm’s custom apps were nice, considering the devices have the capabilities of a computer from the late 80’s). Blackberry has a similarly small selection of decent software. Everyone will want to reply to this with their pet app, but remember, run your app in combination with everyone else’s pet app and your blackberry will become a brick too. Basically, only a select few of the thousands of custom applications for every mobile device are worth using. I usually settled on 2 or 3 apps that didn’t crash my device and whose clumsiness I could put up with when I owned Palms, Blackberry and Windows Mobile devices. Not to mention, the majority of blackberry users (a large demographic of non-geek users) don’t even care about custom apps. The functionality built into the device is just fine with them (and the iPhone possesses almost all of this). Apple has been very insistent on web apps being the preferred direction for application development on the iPhone. So far I’ve replaced 2/3 of the custom applications with web based ones and have actually gained extra functionality as a result. So my opinion on custom apps on the iPhone is changing. It’s meant to be used with unlimited data plans, so it’s designed to be practical for use with web apps. Man Up This is a shout out to all you geeks and tech press editors whining that Apple bricked your iPhone. Man up, you were warned about the incompatibilities you introduced. Don’t blame Apple for a situation you created. What, the iPhone was designed to be used with AT&T, and now that you tried to change that fundamental aspect it won’t work anywhere? Shucks. Better get to fixing that. And to everyone (including myself a few days ago) who think the ability to install custom software is the key to the iPhone’s future success, I no longer agree. Check out some of the high-quality web apps out there before jumping to conclusions.