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wall street journal welcomes the iphone overlords
The Wall Street Journal has raised the spectre of smartphones replacing laptops, not even realising, it seems, that it is a spectre. Apple's "cutting-edge" iPhone is held up throughout the article, without a hint of irony, as the prime example of the sort of device that the author sees one day bumping your main mobile computer into a Sarlacc Pit. No mention at all is made of the completely closed and capriciously-controlled nature of application development through the iPhone's App Store (practical unofficial alternatives to which, in a 180-degree turn from its tolerance of MP3s on an iPod, Apple specifically blocks or limits from its playground).

Apparently, the Journal finds perfectly agreeable the prospect of herds of formerly free-range computer users being corralled into an unholy pen where they will not be permitted to download any new form of software without Apple's express, case-by-case approval; in fact, the financial rag breathlessly anticipates that the old regime (which happens to safeguard our increasingly unfashionable ability to choose what we can run on our devices) will be willingly relinquished. Perhaps they'd like to volunteer to close and lock the gates when the deed is done?

Now, here's the part of this Wes Craven nightmare where self-satire turns to horror...

The Journal's prediction — while ethically tone-deaf — might be right. Apple has already blown right past its widely ridiculed '10 million phones' target for 2008, and shows no signs of letting up. So, if you are feeling at all 'no-big-deal'-ey about this, before you retire to a remote forest cabin to have sex with other clueless teenagers, be forewarned: this rough beast indeed slouches toward Bethlehem to be born.

Advocating a boycott of the iPhone at this point (or of any companies that try to emulate its obviously successful business model: and they will, cf. Zune) is probably a lost cause. By all means, if you feel like doing something, look into Google's much-talked-about, freedom-loving G1 — or even a Windows Mobile phone would fit the open-platform bill.

But this won't be enough. It's the independent application developers themselves who are going to have to bust out their Obi Wan Kenobis here; they're our only hope. And there are some signs that there may be significant resistance among them to the idea of signing up as complicit contractors aboard Apple's anti-rebel-coder mobile death star. Not only have some well-regarded formerly iPhone-friendly developers refused on principle to submit their code to Apple's casual disregard, but a highly touted developers' conference called 'iPhone Boot Camp' in New York simply failed to happen due to lack of interest, and another conference, called 'iPhone Live', was cancelled as a "necessary business decision" — a euphemism that Ars Technica interprets as, 'We built it but they didn't come.'

That's exactly what developers (and bloggers: yes, this means you) need to be saying about the iPhone; yeah, they built it, but we won't come. Not until Apple gets its head on straight, or sticks a pin in it, or whatever it is it has to do to stop Vadering out and start rediscovering the Anakin within. Then we'll all be able to enjoy the iPhone and its inevitable emulators in the smartphone space, without tattooing Lando Calrissian on our asses and handing the rebels among us over to some traffic-directing, techno-earmuff-wearing dude from the Wall Street Journal.

To be clear, this is my message to Apple: Quit with the ominous mouth-breathing. Open up the App Store to all comers, and institute a store-wide ratings system through which to indulge your elitist tastes. Either that, or allow developers to distribute their creations, independently of the Store, without limit. Most preferably, both.

If you do this, I'll be the first in line thereafter to sell my stuff for your phone, and I will trumpet your Jedi-like mastery of the touch interface, far and wide. But until that day, my sympathies are squarely with the younglings. They are the future, and for them your smartphone virtuosity may come at a terrible, dark price.


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