If you get yourself one of Apple’s iThingies (an iPhone, iPad, or iTouch) you are officially restricted to installing software onto it from the selection in Apple’s App store. Which is hardly news, as is the news that geeky types do not like this – which is why the iThingies have been “jailbroken” to allow the addition of unauthorised software.
At this point I would like to point out that I am not an Apple hater – I own an iPhone 3G and intend to upgrade to an iPhone 4G (when it comes out). I also use a Macbook Pro as my work laptop. I like Apple products. But Apple gets and deserves some criticism …
Much of the criticism of Apple’s software model for the iThingies has revolved around the continual censorship of the applications allowed into the App store. This is fair enough, and indeed Apple has made itself a laughing stock with inconsistency applied standards with applications rejected for breaching conditions not applied to other applications. In addition even Apple’s published standards can be become more restrictive leading to situations where you can find it impossible to restore an application that you have paid for!
But despite these disadvantages, the App Store method of software distribution does on the surface offer something genuinely advantageous to the average consumer. The applications in the App Store have been verified by Apple as being appropriate for use – reducing the malware problem considerably. One of the regulations is that applications should not be capable of interpreting code (approximately) which reduces if not eliminates the damage a compromised application can cause.
But a single source of applications is limiting and potentially dangerous. Indeed it can even be considered to be a restriction on trade as Apple is the gatekeeper (and insists on a rather large toll) for any developer who wants to develop for the iThingies. Perhaps ordinary consumers do not care about this especially when you consider that many applications have a very reasonable cost.
But it is still of some concern. The restrictions make experimentation more difficult.
But perhaps more seriously it prevents tinkering by ordinary consumers. This can be an advantage but is also a significant disadvantage as the very people who developed the iThingies would have tinkered with consumer devices as children on their way to becoming developers. By restricting tinkering by children we restrict the size of possible people who go on to become the techies of the future.
The obvious counter to this are the existence of other devices that are far more open – even equivalent devices to Apple’s iThingies such as the various Google Android devices. But if Apple’s App store model is successful enough (and it certainly seems to be heading that way), we could find ourselves with the same model being extended to not only competitors to Apple’s iThingies, but to more general purpose computing devices – netbooks, laptops, desktops, or even servers.
We could end up in a situation where the only devices you can buy are devices that can only run software sanctioned by the vendor. A dangerous possibility.