A year ago, things seemed so much clearer regarding mobile operating systems. Things seemed very black and white to me then. Apple was clearly in the wrong, autocratically locking down its mobile OS and hardware in order to control every aspect of the user experience. The apps you installed on your iPhone had to be approved by Apple and even the look and feel of your own handset was under their control, right down to the wallpaper (or lack thereof). Apple was clearly saying that the iPhone was just a purchased instrument to access software which still belonged to them, much as you may buy a television, but the content belongs to HBO. That was just wrong, bordering on eevvviillllll.
On the other side, Android was the inheritor of Windows Mobile’s “open” methodology. In fact, the fact that Android was Open Source software took it one step further into user empowerment since the OS was free, from Source Code and SDK on up. Each user had full freedom to hack, tweak and customize the software on phones they bought, each carrier and vendor could roll out whatever software they wished on the phones they sold. Power users could dig down to the registry level if need be to make the phone their own. The world of applications was just as wide open as the OS, and if you should happen to install an app that was actually a virus, or your latest tweak bricked your phone…that was your own lookout, sailor. Natural selection. Devil take the hindmost. Just the way it should be.
A year ago I knew that Android had the right idea, while I was certain that Apple was on the wrong path…now, I am not so sure anymore.
Over the last year Android has become the darling of most carriers. As such, they have been loading it on their flagship phones but burdening it with all of their various GUI “enhancements”, branded crapwear, “free limited time demos” and proprietary software. Google apparently doesn’t much care what anyone actually does with the current version of Android, as they are always looking two versions down the road. Many carriers are still rolling out Android 2.2 but Google could care less about old news and is busy with Android 3.0 and 3.5. They have to be since the Android releases are coming out several a year at this point, there is no time to worry about what you have already released. Like many companies these days, Google is mainly concerned about the software and customers in their future not their present. Support just ain’t sexy baby, while getting up in front of fanbois and talking about exciting features just around the corner is hawt, hawt, hawt.
Apple, meanwhile, has been loosening up a bit despite itself. iOS has been allowing users more freedom, bringing some of the features jailbreakers have been longing for into the authorized release while easing the restriction on the App Store. More applications are being approved, more quickly then a year ago. Though I don’t always agree with their reasons for rejecting many apps, they are slowly becoming more consistent about it at least…and there is no question that the App Store has become very easy and pleasant to use.At the same time, Apple’s choice to limit their software to their own handful of devices is suddenly looking smarter and smarter. Apple’s refusal to make their software available to third parties nearly killed the early Macintosh, but seems to be the saving grace of the iPhone. This way, no one else can screw it up, only Apple can. Even as Android software and hardware begins to outclass the iPhone in many ways, with iOS you KNOW what you are getting, and how to get it easily and securely. With Android? Not so much yet.
I think it is indicative that the Android Market, which was designed to be for the Android OS what the App Store is for iOS, the place you go for all your software needs, is being marginalized by the carriers and vendors. Each major player is creating their own Android App stores and locking their phones into it (and out of the Android Market)…and Google is letting them. Google doesn’t care because, DUDE, Android 3.5 will be frickin’ AWESOME…just ask them.
I still cannot consider myself an Apple fan or buy into the wisdom of a totally locked down device, and I am still pulling for the open universe that Android promised to be even while I am a bit horrified by how brightly it is burning while Google fiddles.
However, I am feeling more and more that some kind of compromise needs to be found..a happy median. Open Source has many good points, but without more control they are often lost or overshadowed. What we need is an open, accessible OS that is protected, so that the carriers and vendors can’t distort it completely. I guess I am learning that Open and Closed may just be two sides of the same blade.