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Hackers are an Insignificant Minority

Most people don't care that the iPhone is closed. They don't even know what the difference between open and closed is. And they most certainly don't care.

The iPhone is a phone. It was designed to address problems with phones. The problems it tried to address mostly had to do with the fact that cellphones are almost unusable. For example, I have no idea how to use most of the features on mine, and I'm a geek. It doesn't bother me.

Apple is not interested in hackers. No one is. There are only four of them in the world, but they write in blogs all day, so it seems like there are many more. The main people people who read the blogs are the other three hackers. These four people say the same things to each other for months straight, while companies like Apple and Microsoft rake in billions by serving the other 6.5billion people on the planet.

All the Apple bashing for closing down a piece of hardware that they designed to make money for them misses the point; they don't care about you. Not any more than they have to to get your money, anyway. The way Apple has found to get your money is by limiting options on their products to just what most people want to do. This is how they deliver ease-of-use and stability. Hackers/makers/copyfighters/freetards get angry at the company instead of at themselves for wanting the toys anyway.

But nobody cares what the hackers think. There are only four of them in the whole entire world. They are an insignificant minority.


The fact that hackers are a minority is certainly true. However, you could just as easily argue that, as a proportion of society, doctors are an insignificant, irrelevant minority. Except if you need one. The point being that hackers are a small but necessary component of technological society. Hackers are the innovators that glean ideas and innovate the way that monolithic corporations and marketing campaigns cannot. It is their individual desire and dreaming and personal commitment that keeps those four guys (three of whom, a few generations back, founded both Apple and Microsoft) innovating and generating world-changing ideas. While locking down the iPhone seems like a trivial and microcosmic example, it was also simple hacking of other phone systems (ones based on analog tones and physical switches) that lead to the breeding ground (Homebrew, anyone?) of ideas that made our current techno-fetish lifestyles so fashionable. If we continue to close the systems that offer the most promise for innovation, then the hackers lose out on a new playground, but all the rest of us (who apparently neither know or care about the hackers) lose the fruits of their labors.


It was the graverobbers and torturers who founded modern Western medicine.

Obviously, there's no "ewww" factor to hacking (well... devices anyway), but it is basically a fair analogy. The argument that hackers created modern computer and communication systems has no bearing on the current situation. They are new industries, but they are old enough to be totally and completely established. Apple pulling this in 1979? HOW DARE THEY??? But it's 2007.

Apple doesn't owe anyone an open toy. They owe themselves a product that makes money. If it turns out that open products make more money, companies will open them. But thus far, that really isn't the case. Apple products are pretty locked down. That's how they achieve "It Just Works." I have a Mac laptop, and I'm happy to say that it really does just work. But I am technical enough to know they are sorta cheating. It's freedom within a cage.

But it still feels like freedom.

We don't have iPhones over here in Japan yet. But when they come, I'm tentatively planning on getting one (well, we'll have to see what the plans look like--I can totally see these idiot companies putting a "touchscreen" monthly charge on your bill--they pretend the most random things are services that cost them money, but Japanese consumers are technologically illiterate, so they get away with it). I've played with them in the states, and they're awesome.

And that is what matters to 99.984% of the population, if not more.

Moreover, closing something down simply enables hackers. Ma Bell didn't particularly want people stealing long distance (that whole phreaking argument has always made me uneasy--these people were fraudsters and theives!), but they did it anyway. Why should locking a phone (ONE particular phone) have any effect on hacking it?

It comes down to the fact that the iPhone is a sexy little device that hacker-types want, but want their way.

Wanting something you can't have? Good lord, that sounds like a fundamental part of human existence.

If enough people want it opened up that it would generate money for Apple and AT&T, it'll be opened up (see the recent proliferation of DRM-free MP3s--the market has spoken). But that is not going to happen with the iPhone. People just want the damn thing to work. And it does! Mission accomplished.

To say something similar to what Batty alluded to at the end there: Where did all these wimp-ass hackers come from? All the examples cited-- Apple, Ma-Bell Breakup, Microsoft (which is NOT really that hacky)--took many years of diligence and work and fighting with corporations that JAILED some of these guys before the dust settled. So Apple closes the first round of hacks? You just gonna pick up and go home? It's THAT attitude that would have prevented the modern computing age, not corps doing what they always do: looking after themselves.

By the way, it's important to note the two different things going on here: one is Apple's reticence to allow third party applications and the other is Apple's exclusivity with AT&T. While Batty is right that Apple's tool in the marketplace is stability through limitation, the former issue seems a bit odd, in that you can install all kinds of apps (including ones that break everything) on your Mac. But Batty is also right that this is a consumer phone, and fulfills the same sort of niche as the iPod (which you ALSO can't really install whatever you want to on).

The second issue--exclusivity with AT&T--is stickier. Apple did NOT want to get into the business of providing and selling and supporting (!) mobile phone service. That's a full-time job, right there, and I don't blame them for deciding to partner with someone for that. And do you think a partner working with someone new to the marketplace isn't going to do everything they can to get exclusive rights to it? Of course not. And to offer all the features Apple wanted to offer, they had to be right in bed with's not like they could just throw a piece of hardware out there for all the providers. Even Samsung and Nokia and all the rest tailor hardware for providers. And you'll remember that the RAZR was Verizon-- or somebody-- only, for awhile at least. Perhaps once Apple has some experience with a SUCCESSFUL phone (unlike the partnership that brought us the ROCKR), they can start working with other providers as well. It's not like Apple WANTS to limit the number of potential customers by only being with one carrier, but they were over a barrel...and I can't blame AT&T for putting them there, sucky as it might be.