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Tuesday, August 05, 2008, 06:00 am PT (09:00 am ET)

Inside iPhone 2.0: iPhone OS vs. other mobile platforms


Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose

However, Apple clearly forbids background apps for good reason. The iPhone 3G can already run itself dead in a short few hours while playing a game, receiving push messages, remaining on phone and SMS standby, and playing background music. How many more background tasks could it be expected to run? There are also a long list of known and unknown "unknowns," from security issues to privacy-violating or adware-induced spyware scenarios that Apple simply doesn't want any developers to be able to exploit or accidentally expose. 

Apple has already taken action against developers who have somewhat innocently attempted to communally message users' contacts or transmit users' sensitive data back to their own servers without encryption. Open to all possibilities also means open to all risks, and Apple doesn't want the iPhone to become the next Windows malware crisis or the next unfinished, DIY "at your own risk" Linux project.  

It would simply be irresponsible for Apple to delegate away its role as a trusted platform manager to the wide open development community and then blame third party developers for intentionally or accidentally causing problems in the way Microsoft did with its desktop and mobile Windows platforms, or blame less savvy end users for allowing things to go awry in the manner that open source advocates do. Apple sells the iPhone as a device that "just works," and so it has to manage that environment to make sure it continues to do so. That often requires making unpopular decisions and setting policies that uninformed end users might not immediately understand the rationale behind. 

Apple's efforts to protect users from themselves is also often a bone of contention for technically savvy users who want free reign to do anything and think they know better than to hang themselves with all that extra rope. However, those users are also a tiny minority that is virtually insignificant to Apple, and of course are among the first to complain after they do manage to hang themselves. These users were flashing the firmware of the original iPhone, only to bawl about being "bricked" after realizing that Apple wasn't interested in individually bailing them out from their own mess at its own expense.

Advantages in the iPhone platform

The company's forward thinking stewardship of its iPhone platform, combined with its more modern operating system foundation; more sophisticated and elegant development tools; its attractive and polished user interface; its consistent hardware support for multitouch screen, accelerometer input, resolution independence, and location services; and far better integration between its hardware, software, online services, and its iTunes sync software all combine to create a product that no amalgamation of hardware manufacturers, mobile providers, and other partners can hope to match anytime soon. 

That's not to say rivals aren't trying. RIM's BlackBerry Thunder (which eschews the BlackBerry keyboard to emulate the iPhone as closely as possible) will attempt to partner with the Rhapsody music service and to deliver something for Verizon Wireless this fall that at least looks more like the iPhone. Verizon's current partnerships with the LG on the Prada/Vu, Voyager/Venus, and now Dare have failed to ape the iPhone close enough to fool many users.

Nokia similarly tried to create its own iTunes equivalent in Ovi, folding it its music store, GPS map sales, and NGage gaming efforts. A more recent rumor (from a non-reputable Zune fansite) suggests Nokia will now partner with Microsoft's Zune Marketplace. However, it makes little sense that Nokia would jump at the opportunity to funnel profits toward a rival mobile platform in order to clean out the cobwebs currently choking Microsoft's own iTunes copycat rather than just continuing with its own partnership with Universal. Either way, it appears Nokia will end up with a third rate rival to iTunes. 

The iPod phone

It's also useful to point out that blockbuster sales of the iPod remained untouched despite worldwide efforts to copy it over the last half decade, from PC software platform giant Microsoft, to the existing former leaders in MP3 players such as Sony and Creative, to RAM component giants Samsung and SanDisk, to purported assaults on the device from phone leaders Nokia and LG. How are these companies now going to turn around and suddenly find the competency to duplicate Apple's far more sophisticated iPhone platform? 

Incidentally, the iPod touch has already kicked Nokia's fledgling Internet Tablet in the face, and the iPhone itself matched sales volumes of Nokia's flagship N95 last year even while only being sold in the US. Things don't look good for the current industry titans, who are all trying to look calm while clearly demonstrating signs of desperation in their response to the iPhone.

Apple now has five revenue engines supporting its hardware sales, and lacks many of the issues facing rival mobile software platforms; Apple's rapid and significant updates to its software platform have quickly outpaced the slow advancement of its smartphone rivals. Another critically important aspect in the feature balance between Apple's new iPhone and the now decade or more old mobile platforms of Palm, RIM, Symbian, and Microsoft is the iPhone's new support for third party applications, which has already created an ecosystem that rivals will find hard to match. The next segment will look at Apple's SDK, Apps Store, and the third party apps that have been release in its first month, with further comparisons to the mobile software available for rival platforms.

iPhone 3G