Wednesday, July 22, 2009

    The Walled Garden

    Let me hereby declare that I love my iPhone. It is useful and wonderful and keeps me connected all the time. I have been using it in lieu of my computer at home for quite some time now. I write emails on it, craft witty 140 character tweets on a regular basis, listen to books on iPod and even play extremely enjoyable games. It is a great experience.

    I have, however, begun to chafe under the strictures placed on my iPhone by both AT&T and Apple (often in conjunction with each other).

    My gripes against AT&T are especially aggravating. I pay them enough money as it is for the privilege of using my iPhone, why do I need to pay them even more in order to use my iPhone as a modem? It does not seem fair that I will have to shell out an additional $30/month to do what is freely available on other, older and less capable smart phones.

    What's worse, if AT&T sees an app as competitive to it's business model, it will limit that app, or flat out deny it! Consider Skype: Skype offers free calls over the Internet to other Skype users, yet AT&T will not allow Skype to make calls over its 3G or Edge networks. They pull the undue competition card.

    On the Apple front, a nifty app came to my attention recently that I thought was a truly innovative and awesome use of the iPhone. Given an iPhone 3GS (with its video capabilities, compass and GPS) an "Augmented Reality" app has been developed called TwitARound.

    TwitARound looks at the tweets from Twitter in your area and plots them on a map. The AR part, though, comes when you hold your phone up. The app takes your GPS position and your bearing from the compass and lays the tweet on the screen. So, as you move in a circle with your iPhone in front of your face, you can see the actual locations on your iPhone of the tweets as they would appear if the tweets were layered over real life. It's quite awesome and I would like to see more apps like this.

    However, because TwitARound accesses APIs which Apple has not, but should have, made public, it cannot be published in the iTunes store.

    Apple plays the non-public API card too much. For instance, they did not make their "find my phone" APIs public so that they could charge you a monthly fee through mobileMe. There are already jailbroken apps which can do this, but since they didn't make the APIs public, you won't see legitimate apps show up in the app store.

    Call me naive or non-business-savvy, but all of this seems like bad business to me. As a consumer, I want freedom. It's my device, I should be able to do with it as I choose.

    So, while I love my iPhone, I chafe. Yes, I chafe.

    Update: (on 7/29/09)

    First off, it turns out that Apple will release the video camera APIs with iPhone OS 3.1 (per Ars here). Yay for Apple on this one. It's good to see that some of the "hidden" functionality is being exposed. Now, let's see if they expose the "find my phone" API or if they milk it for more money.

    Secondly, the app denial shenanigans continue. In a story here (also on Ars) it appears that all apps relating to Google Voice are being pulled and any apps which feature Google Voice are being denied. The scuttlebutt is that AT&T is pulling the strings here. Some disagree, but my vote goes towards AT&T.