By now the interweb has several articles and opinions on the new iPhone from Apple. It looks like a sweet device ;-)

Silly iPhone Prototype from EngadgetAside from wanting to use this picture from Engadget, the reason for this post is to question the value of open source during a consumer purchase decision.

We all know that a key benefit of open source is the freedom and choice that the consumer/user/purchaser is granted.

But if we look at arguably one of the most successful consumer electronic device marketed in the past 5 years, the iPod, you quickly see that freedom and choice are lacking. Apple considers the iPod a closed platform, and along with iTunes and its DRM “protection”, Apple may as well send along a pair of handcuffs with every iPod purchase. And yet, over 70 million units have been sold since inception in 2001.

Back to the iPhone:
First, Apple & Cingular/AT&T entered into an exclusive multi-year agreement around the iPhone. So, it’s only available to Cingular customers for some period of time until the exclusivity agreement runs out. One should be able to unlock the iPhone and use it on another network, but some features (like visual voicemail) will likely not work. Score another point against freedom & choice. As Cingular’s CEO said in the keynote:

“iPhone owners will be Cingular and AT&T customers…”

Second, the iPhone runs OS X. A logical decision for a company that develops their own operating system, namely, OS X. (Where have we seen this story before?). But the following quote from Jobs makes it sound like OS X was the only answer. Linux would have been another answer. But that would have meant duplicate development effort and cost, even if greater freedom and choice would have been a customer benefit

“Why would we want to run such a sophisticated OS on a mobile device? It’s got everything we need. Multitasking, networking, power management, graphics, security, video, graphics, audio core animation…”

It’s a little funny that the people who back open source and sing its praises are usually very happy Apple iPod or Mac (and future iPhone?) customers. I started to wonder why considering that Apple has historically been such a closed entity, and most of their products limit customer freedom and choice. Is software freedom and choice only important during our work day and unimportant during our consumer lives? Are we willing to trade software freedom and choice for coolness, usability and enjoyment? I’d say that the latter seems to be the case not just for open source backers who are Apple aficionados (to varying degrees), but definitely for the average consumer that is not very technical. If so, then can we not make a case where open source doesn’t “take over” the software world. Instead we see is a software ecosystem in which open source and traditional software co-exist in some (happy) balance?


Disclosure: I do not own an iPod. My wife does and I used to use it when I was traveling for work (which I don’t do anymore). I’ve been waiting for the iPhone before buying an iPod. I don’t know when the iPhone will come to Canada or which network it’ll be on….but if you’d like to send me one in the summer, I’d be your friend and write you a glowing recommendation on LinkedIn ;-)