The Electronic Freedom Foundation wants you to be able to load and run any software you want on your new iPhone, or any other smartphone for that matter. It’s your phone, and your risk, the EFF argued with the US Copyright office last year
Jailbreakers install software and modify the iPhone so that iPhones can run software not necessarily sold directly by Apple. Apple’s earlier arguments focused mainly on the risk of breaking the phone, making it unserviceable and so on. That argument lost credibility when an estimated 2.3 Million iPhone users so far have taken this step without much sign of harm. Apple also argued that jailbreakers violate Apple’s intellectual property and the DCMA by so doing.
Of course, you can install anything written for the Mac whether purchased at an Apple store or not without violating Apple’s intellectual property. Not so iPhone games or utilities. Either buy directly from Apple or you have broken federal law, according to Apple attorneys. Jonathan Zittrain of the Berkman Center at Harvard Law School explores the effect of these kinds of policies on innovation and creativity in his excellent, “The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It.”
With the support of the Mozilla Foundation (maker of Firefox) and other technology companies, the EFF filed legal motions saying owners should be able to install software outside of the App Stores without violating the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).According to press reports
, Apple now claims that “jailbreaking” an iPhone could lead to the crashing of cell phone towers, adding and abetting drug dealers, and even threats to national security. Yikes!
It is hard not to chuckle when reading the news reports of dire threats to our infrastructure and security from owners installing things Apple has ruled off of its App Store. There are lots easier ways to use cell phones anonymously than jailbreaking an expensive iPhone. (Just watch HBO’s the Wire).
Yes, Apple is entitled to preserve the success and profitability of its App Store. And yes, it is entitled to do what it can to enforce its exclusive marketing agreement in the US with AT&T.; We should just recognize these for what they are.
Apple and AT&T; for example have refused so far to let iPhone users in the United States install software that will let you use the iPhone as a modem for your laptop. Using a cell phone in this way comes in handy when you don’t have a free WIFI signal. I have done it regularly with my Nokia E71, and before that my E62, on my AT&T; account. So we know it’s not a technological limitation of the AT&T; network. And new edition iPhone users in other countries can use their phones in this way. So it’s also not a limitation of the phone. It’s a business decision between Apple and AT&T.;
Likewise, Apple has also blocked use of Google Voice on iPhones. (I hope to explore Google Voice in another column). It even retroactively removed a utility called Voice Central previously approved that enabled iPhone users to integrate Google Voice.
So far as I can tell, both these moves are partly about protecting AT&T; while it slowly upgrades its infrastructure—and figures out a premium price! Yet it is also seems partly to blunt competition by keeping rival services off the iPhone.
Whether or not you use an IPhone or other smart phonex, if you work with technology or advise others on it, these issues matter. Our work succeeds when organizations can exercise choice about their systems and software, when issues of intellectual property and licensing are out on the table, and where organizations and consultants preserve long run ability to modify and adapt the technology they invest in.
The mobile technology world, along with showing the power of innovation, also shows the fragility of intellectual creativity at the hands of the major carriers, phone makers, and commercial technology giants generally.
Looking at the mobile technology world, it’s easy to be dazzled by the pace of change. Even when we think ourselves pretty sophisticated, it’s easy to imagine that free market competition serves social progress.
In the first half of 2009, we have seen quite a wave of cell phone innovation. We have the new Apple iPhone 3Gs from AT&T;, Palm Pre at Sprint, new Google Android myTouch no at T-Mobile , Blackberry Storm touch screen at Verizon--and Nokia 5800 and amazing N97 if you happen to live outside the United States. The power of new smart cell phones and mobile software is changing what we use for our daily on-line business and fun, from email to search.
From a global point of view, the prevalence of mobile technology, even if the phones carry a premium price, tends to reduce the gap between those who live or work in countries with extensive broadband Internet access and the bulk of the world who does not. Cell phone access is more pervasive than DSL or cable. Mobile tech also lessens the gap between those with full bore desktops and laptops at home and those who need to rely on their phone. Taking the T (public transit) in Boston, it is remarkable how many teens have Sidekicks or other youth-marketed phones with keyboards for communication.
The battle over the restrictiveness of Apple’s App Store and exclusive agreement with AT&T; in the US, which has now reached the attention of Congress, shows the limitations of corporate driven innovation. I don’t mean to pick on Apple here. The fact that Blackberry offers different styled and featured models for each of the carriers it works with is another example of the same issue. The Google Android phone software will only reach its full potential when it too becomes more entirely available. Nokia’s limited presence in the US yet dominance in edgy emerging markets in China, India and elsewhere reflects deal-making.
The gap between the wireless technology used by AT&T; and Verizon (with others lining up on one side or the other) is pretty much unparalleled in the rest of the world. It would be as if your TV could only work on signals from cable or DSL but not both.
The mobile industry appears to be a huge arena of innovation in the US. Yet, it also exemplifies the power of lobbying and business alliances to hold back the pace of change and the public interest. So, in addition to affecting personal choices about your phone, look at these conflicts over the openness of the iPhone and related battles as skirmishes over what will really drive innovation and creativity in technology in the years ahead. The EFF and the Berkman Centre and others are on to something.