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January 12, 2007

Steve Jobs and the Orifice

David Pogue posted a sarcastic list of questions people have been asking about the iPhone over at the NYTimes.  David is apparently a true believer and he has actually held an iPhone in his hand.  But I submitted this response for posting as a comment on his blog:


This is unnecessarily snarky to those who have good questions to ask about the iPhone.

According to the Times, It was Steve Jobs who claimed that he was “reinventing” the telecommunications sector as well as the smartphone.  He may have reinvented the smartphone.  He sure DIDN’T reinvent communications.  If anything he reinforced the broken model of phones that are locked to a single provider. It’s fair to call him on this claim.  After all, it was Jobs who said “"we're not very good going through orifices to get to the end users" when asked about an iPod phone back in 2005.

In several ways the iPhone is a step backward in openness even if it is a step forward in GUI.  It doesn’t allow third parties to add apps; it is not only locked to a single provider network; it is ONLY available (in the US) for use with that network; the initial version is locked to the SLOW data option on Cingular’s network.  Treo has plenty of faults but it does allow third party apps; it comes in versions (still locked) for different networks; and it can use EVDO which is much faster than Cingular’s edge.  To be fair, Treo does not support WiFi while iPhone does.

But the support for WiFi is much less important if apps can’t freely be written to take advantage of the connectivity and the use of OS X is meaningless if it is not a way to encourage a wealth of innovation on the platform.

Despite his genius, Job’s biggest failures come when he forgets the value of letting other brains in.  The first Macs were closed to 3d party hardware extensions (but very open to 3d party apps) and the brilliant OS only ran on hardware from Apple.  Apple might well have owned the PC space had it been more open then.

iPod/iTunes is a successful closed systems but will break if iPhone is not successful as well.  A closed music system is an annoyance; a closed communication system is an oxymoron.  Yes; most other handsets today are locked to networks; No, Apple didn’t reinvent the telecommunications sector.  Too bad in my view because they are one of the few companies with the ability to do so.

Hat tip to friend Bob Frankston who reminded me of Steve’s “orifice” crack.

Meanwhile, the orifice is talking probably more than it should if it wants to avoid a culture war with Cupertino.  In a post in PC Mag titled “Cingular: We Made Apple Bend”, Sascha Segan quotes Glenn Lurie, Cingular’s President of national distribution “I'm not sure we gave anything… I think they bent a lot.”  Later in the article Lurie says “If you want an iPhone, you are going to get the luxury of being on the Cingular network” and “there are bad guys out there that unlock phones.”

I won’t buy an iPhone until I find a “bad guy” to unlock it for me.  Funny view, by the way:  I buy a product with my money and hire somebody to fix a brain dead manufacturing limitation and that person is a “bad guy”.

Previous rants on Apple’s missed opportunity to reinvent the telecom sector:

Apple’s iPhone Strategy - Machiavellian or DOA? – Readers Comment

Apple Fails to Reinvent Telecommunications Industry – Too Bad

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