opus

jc


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Why I won't be buying an iPhone or iTouch just yet
opus
jc
I suppose you could call me a fan of Apple products. I keep an exclusively Mac household (albeit with one or two Parallels installs) and I work in a virtually exclusively Mac school, so a lot of my time is spent using them. I own three iPods, two of which I don't listen to regularly. My current mainstay is a black 8GB second-generation iPod nano. In the past I've managed to convert my fair share of friends and family toward the Mac side of life. And perhaps most importantly for Apple, I'm actually earning a decent wage since I left M&S, so I have enough disposable income to treat myself to various items of gadgetry.

And yet I'm not the rabid type of fan: yes, I did buy my PowerBook G4 the day it was announced in Paris in September 2004, but to this day I consider that a sound purchasing decision - it's the machine I'm typing on now. Yes, I did spend seven hours in line for the grand opening of the first UK Apple Store, but only for the chance to buy a £300 bag containing £900 worth of mystery software and accessories. (I left disappointed due to the utter lack of crowd control, thanks to the Metropolitan Police.)

But. I've been following all of the news and hype surrounding the iPhone and now iPod touch since January, and yet I still don't own either device. Worse, I'm not planning to buy. The iPhone technically doesn't count since it doesn't go on sale here until early November, but still knowing all the details about O2's new contracts I still don't want one. At one point I faced a dilemma between buying into an iPhone and buying an iTouch, but I eventually came to the realisation that I didn't really want either of them. I might end up asking myself for the latter come Christmas, but maybe not.

I am tempted by the iPhone because of its capabilities. Bluetooth, 802.11, internal speaker, Safari, iTunes store access, etc. For those who don't yet know, the O2 contract comes with EDGE access that I'd hardly call unlimited, but it's that much more attractive because it also includes "unlimited" access to The Cloud's network of 7,500 UK hotspots, normally worth about £7/mo. I could use it at work, to a certain extent. I'm not bothered about 3G that much, but perhaps most importantly I would be happy to stick with O2, my current service provider, as it's still the only network that works in the immediate vicinity of the cottage.

iPod touch (look ma, no "The"!) tempts me because of its one-off cost. It does all of the things I'd expect from an iPod, with the wireless Internet goodies thrown in. I could opt for the same "unlimited" access the iPhone gets from The Cloud's network for a reduced-price of £4/mo. I can use my existing headphones (I eschew the iPod-user-identifying white earbuds, mainly because my ear canals hate earbuds) without having to use a clunky adapter, as it doesn't have a recessed headphone jack socket like the iPhone's. Hell, I'd go out right now and buy one just to have a play with it.

Yet I'm avoiding both of these devices, not because of what they can't do, but because of what they won't readily let me do. I can count on one hand (maybe two hands) the number of people on my friends list who own an iPhone, and nearly every one of them has hacked it, either to use a non-AT&T SIM card, and/or to add additional capabilities. What I've seen the iPhone do so far in its "jailbroken" state is truly amazing and useful: with one I could modify the home screen to my liking, remote control any computer I have Secure Shell access to, add instant messaging, IRC and FTP capabilities, make custom ringtones from any MP3 I own without paying an additional 79p, and play any number of games. Should I wish I could turn my mobile device into an NES emulator, or a fully-featured web development platform. By all accounts the iPod touch is capable of similar feats, albeit those that don't require a speaker, bluetooth or phone capabilities to work.

I say "by all accounts", because the iPod touch hasn't yet been successfully unlocked to my knowledge, certainly not as quickly as the iPhone was. With the introduction of iPod touch Apple has really gone out of its way to make it really, really difficult to open up the device to third-party modifications, and the difference is that this time no contract with a mobile phone carrier says Apple has to. The latest rumour from the Apple camp indicates that the latest major iPhone/iTouch software update from Apple, which included the all-important iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store app, was delayed by a week while engineers worked overtime to write subroutines that would deliberately "brick" (ie render useless) devices that had intentionally been unlocked to work with another carrier, or non-Apple applications. Again, Apple is going out of its way to warn honest customers that iPhones that have been modified without Apple authorization are not eligible for any kind of service or replacement, warranty or otherwise.

This is technically legit under the Software Licence Agreement that exists between Apple and its users, but it just isn't very nice. It's one thing to say to a paying customer that you won't repair their purchased device if they did something to it at a very low level that, in essence, makes it a different product altogether; it's entirely another to engineer your product in advance so your customers can't make these modifications in the first place, and it's just mean to (allegedly) engineer an official software update for these products so it deliberately renders modified devices useless.

No doubt we'll see the odd frivolous lawsuit brought against Apple over so-called "bricked" iPhones in the near future, as well as news of a successful "jailbreak" solution for the iPod touch that would render it 75% as useful as an unlocked iPhone, until it's inevitably rendered 0% useful by the next major software update from Apple. As it turns out, the deciding factor in my buying an iPhone or iPod touch with my own money would be the assurance, from Steve Jobs himself, that I can easily do what I want to it without the fear of future update-induced retribution.

Ah, who am I kidding. I might still go out today and buy an iPod touch just so I can play with it.

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