My friend William Hurley (whurley to most) has a post up on his blog about opening up the iPhone. This has proven to be predictably polarizing as is often the case when opinions regarding Apple or Open Source are voiced, for reasons I can’t say I fully understand. Don’t worry, it’s a harmless robot, see? I do think the the topic is an interesting one, though. It seems inevitable that Google’s Android, being open source, will propagate to a wide variety of devices from various manufacturers that will function on many different carriers’ networks. This broader market penetration will back Apple into a corner and force them to open the iPhone platform to some degree.
The interesting aspects to watch are Apple’s choices about timing and methodology. Will they pre-emptively open up or dig into their proprietary position, only to be dislodged when there’s no other alternative? What aspect of their platform will they open — will it be possible to buy applications from alternative publishers, or for unlocked iPhones to be sold legally, or will they actually open source aspects of the phone’s software stack, hoping to extend the ecosystem to other devices? jailhouse rock
Given Apple’s seeming preference for maximum control, the most likely path is one of very conservative moves made incrementally, each one spun as radical steps towards openness. A surprise announcement about DRM, for example, or additional carriers licensed to sell the iPhone. Still, Jobs has proven himself capable of springing genuine surprises on the market before, so anything is possible.
What seems certain is that mobile computing is truly beginning to come of age. The App Store, with 10,000 applications and 300 million downloads, is undeniably a breakthrough. Achieving what no wireless carrier or handset manufacturer could accomplish before, Apple has opened the door to a new era where a mobile client is becoming a standard feature of every up and coming new Internet application.
That’s openness from which we all benefit.