Fanboy, interoperable, free: pick one or two

I’m one of the iPhone early adopters. Been an Apple fan, mostly, for a very long time. I really appreciate the innovation, and willingness to lead not follow, that Apple has shown. However, as iOS evolves, and MacOS starts to evolve into iOS, I’m feeling less “lead” than “herded”. In our constantly connected world, many of us have some device that’s always connected. No matter where we are, we can read email, get text messages, tweet, update our Facebook status. But, there’s a conflict with all the technology that links all this together. Everyone wants to own the user.

The iPhone was such a disruption because cellular carriers had built walled gardens to keep their customers confined to getting only applications, ringtones, music that was provided through the carrier. This enabled them to get a cut of everything that went on devices on their networks, and control everything their customers saw. An entire ecosystem developed around this business model. I even remember borrowing a friends SIM card to use a different carrier, because AT&T didn’t carry a game that ran on my device, so I bought and installed it from my friends carrier. Crazy.

The iPhone broke that garden wall. That’s why all the carriers initially said NO! But, it really broke the old walled garden by creating another (prettier and more modern) garden. Now Apple controls what appears on their devices (with some input from the carriers, of course). Just like the carriers garden, Apple initially kept out anything that competed or improved on anything Apple provided. Although they’ve had to loosen that a bit, it’s still there.

With iOS 4, and more so with iOS 5, we get technologies that only interoperate between Apple devices. Facetime, which Apple has promised to make an open standard, still isn’t, and still only works via Wi-Fi (and from my experience, is spotty on 1.5MB DSL). With iOS 5, we’ll get iMessage, so now we’ll have SMS/IM/MMS, but one that uses Apple’s backchannel between iOS devices. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. Google and Facebook want us to move all our communications within their walls via Google Voice, G+, Facebook messaging. A key difference is the software platforms don’t care if I use iOS, Windows 7, Android, or WebOS. Apple’s technologies may have some interoperability, but we’ll see. And this from the company that didn’t support MMS (and still doesn’t unless you buy a newer phone) until just recently, although I had it on my cheap feature phone before the first iPhone ever hit the streets.

I’m finally bidding my iPhone farewell as my primary portable device, instead using an Android device. I can run applications that would compete with Apple, so won’t be available, like Amazon Music, or buying Kindle books on go, or Google Music, just to pick some obvious ones. I’m keeping my iPhone 3G, already use it as a heavier iPod Touch, but after 2 months, I’m now weened off the iPhone, and can do everything on my Android device now.

Yes, iOS looks and operates better, but reminiscent of the MacOS vs. Windows debates of old, Android gets the job done, and has more useful apps on it, although it requires you to manage it more than the iPhone does. In those days, I was vehemently in the MacOS camp. Now, I want a device that will interact with multiple services, not tie me down to services provided by one company. Had an iPad for a while. A great device, as long as you didn’t mind the horrible email client, inability to use a mouse (without jailbreaking), spotty calendar integration with Google Calendar.

Android isn’t perfect either. I run a private VPN for higher security when I’m using public/airport/Starbucks access points. Works great with my laptop, but not with an iOS or an Android device, unless I jailbreak/root the device.

But, as a developer, that finally turned the tide, put the last nail in the coffin, broke the camel’s back. I wrote a few simple apps for the iPhone, back in iOS 1/2 days. You could at least get the development kit for free, write an app, and deploy it on the emulator, to decide if you wanted to really build apps. But, then I had to pay Apple $100 for the privilege of putting that application on the device I ostensibly owned. Now, I have to pay a $100/year tithe just for the ability to write an app.

Android is a far friendlier developer platform. I grabbed the Android Development Kit, grabbed Eclipse, wrote a program, plugged in my DroidX, and put the application on my phone. Didn’t have to pay anyone money, didn’t have to jump through hoops to create authentication certificates. I can send that application to my friends, and they can just, get this, put the application on their phone and use it. Pretty radical, huh? Oh, yes, you have to enable external apps, a built-in checkbox setting on Android devices. I’ll leave it to the reader to find out you simply can’t do that with an iPhone. Unless you have less than 10 friends, and don’t mind jumping through the hoops you have to jump through.

I’m hoping Apple continues to push the envelope with iOS and what can be done with software and mobile computing, but I’m going to have to get off the Apple fanboy bandwagon now, and go with interoperable and open.