Strong opinions, weakly held

Analysis and iPhone

It strikes me that “that’s stupid” is just about the most self-defeating thing you can say if your goal is to analyze, well, anything. I’m seeing “that’s stupid” a lot lately with regard to Apple’s iPhone. Unlocked iPhones being rendered useless by the 1.1.1 upgrade is stupid. Charging extra for ringtones is stupid. Locking out third party applications is stupid. Not selling an unlocked version of the phone is stupid. Not supporting 3G data networking is stupid. I could go on.

The thing is, while all of those things may be stupid, that’s not analysis. People, companies, and countries do things for a reason. Analysis is figuring out the reasons for behavior in the absence of transparency or in the presence of dishonesty.

Let’s take one example. Why are iPhones being “bricked” when people try to upgrade them to version 1.1.1? Perhaps Apple wrote their software maliciously so that it would kill phones that customers have unlocked. I don’t think that’s the case. I’ve read that some iPhones were bricked by the upgrade even though they had not been unlocked. The rumor is that the bricking happened when phones were connected to the computer through a third device like a hub or a keyboard with a USB port.

What this indicates to me is that Apple’s upgrade procedure can brick iPhones, and Apple was unwilling or unable to test all the cases where phones can be bricked, or to fix all of the issues that cause the phone bricking. So they made the decision to go live with the update knowing that some phones would be bricked and that they would have to replace them under warranty. That’s a pretty standard sort of business decision. What’s cheaper, spending the time and money to catch all the edge cases or going live and dealing with the consequences in support?

To save themselves money, they made it clear that bricked phones that had been unlocked would not be covered.

That may have been the wrong decision on Apple’s part, or perhaps that’s not even how things went, but it is a form of analysis. Rendering expensive gadgets purchased by your most loyal customers completely useless with a regular software upgrade is bad business and bad public relations. Announcing that no remedy would be offered to affected customers in advance was a PR disaster. Figuring out the reasons why Apple went that route requires more thinking than just dismissing the company as stupid.


  1. It’s not the company; it’s the phone that’s made them like that.

    Just about the best and most succinct analysis of where we’re heading was by Susan Crawford a couple of weeks ago:

    It takes a lot of work to change an open system [like the internet] into a cellphone system. But a cellphone system would put the network operators (and their friends in Hollywood, and law enforcement), back in charge of communications. They’d be able to charge whatever they want, outlaw whatever they want (eg, unwanted P2P communications, non-CALEA-compliant communications), and generally run the show they way they used to in the old days.

    It’s not the ‘i’, it’s the ‘Phone’ that makes them behave that way.

  2. Why are you curious about why they did any of these things? I don’t think their motivations are relevant.

  3. Well, if I’m going to do business with Apple (I’m an iPhone owner), it’s useful to try to figure out why they behave as they do, and whether I should stay in business with them.

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