Do we need a smartphone bill of rights for iOS?

Do we need a smartphone bill of rights for iOS?

Summary: The EFF called Apple devices "beautiful crystal prisons" because they have a wide range of restrictions. EFF's call was to let people tinker.


The Electronic Frontier Foundation has ripped Apple and told it to open its platforms for those folks that just have to tinker. That Apple jab, which started with Steve Wozniak, will garner the headlines, but the EFF also pitched a mobile computing bill of rights.

Do we need one?

The EFF called Apple devices "beautiful crystal prisons" because they have a wide range of restrictions. EFF's call was to let people tinker and Apple can lead the way.

Hell will freeze over before Apple goes with the EFF's call. After all, it's pretty clear from the sales figures that Apple's restrictions aren't exactly a deal breaker. For good measure, the EFF takes on Microsoft for its embedded operating systems. The EFF noted:

In many ways, the Windows ecosystem has been more open than iOS's since it began. People have always been able to install whatever software they want in Windows, and whatever operating systems they want on their PCs. It's common for tinkerers to dual-boot their PCs with GNU/Linux and other operating systems, and some users choose to completely remove Windows.

However, this is going to change, at least for Microsoft's mobile and embedded OSes. Microsoft recently announced that in order to be Windows 8 hardware certified, personal computers must implement the "secure boot" option in the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) firmware interface specification, which is a modern replacement for the traditional PC BIOS.

The punch line from the EFF is a mobile bill of rights. The idea is interesting even though the ultimate market of tinkerers may be limited. The EFF proposes that users should be able to:

  1. Install arbitrary apps on the device. Kill the proprietary app stores already.
  2. Access the phone OS at the admin level. People should be able to run anything they want and tinker with the OS.
  3. Install an OS completely. Yes, the EFF says you should be able to run any Android you want on your phone and install Linux on the iPhone. Android on an iPhone? Why not?
  4. Hardware and software warranties should be separated. Again, the EFF calls out Apple for jailbroken iPhones.

The EFF has some valid points, but don't expect a groundswell of support---especially from hardware and software vendors and wireless carriers. Perhaps a march is needed---tinkerers unite!

Topic: Operating Systems

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  • An iOS Bill of Rights concept would never be adopted in America.

    However, the Europeans have some very strange concepts regarding consumer rights. I would expect that such a concept would have an 80 percent chance of being adopted in the Euro zone countries.
    • Yes...

      ...the Europeans actually care about the consumers.
    • We used to care.

      The U.S. used to base most of its laws around the central concept of property rights. Reinforcing our property rights would go a long way in solving these problems. It was thought, if you buy something, you own it. If you own it, then you can do anything with it you dang well please.
      Sometimes we have to look back to go forward.
  • Why stop with Apple???

    I want a USB port on my car's processor so that I can diddle the firmware if I want. So what if it screws it up?!?! I demand the right to tinker, %)*$& it!!!
    • I don't disagree so don't take this the wrong way

      What is the difference between a car's processor, a smartphone / tablet / pda, and a desktop?

      I ask because there has always been this thought that a walled garden in iPhones is fantastic because it keeps the user safe (and I don't disagree) but a walled garden on a PC is bad because "insert reason here". No one is ever able to give an "insert reason here", the argument is always just "because".
      • Well, not sure this is what you're looking for, but....

        I'll expand on the car example, and it will be left to the student to apply that to computery stuff.

        Let's say a person gets a new car and dinks with the processor firmware to the point that the car becomes a wheezing, jerking basket case. So the person takes it to the dealer for repair. The dealer spends time (money) to diagnose the problem. After it becomes apparent that the firmware isn't "stock", the dealer suggests that the customer find another service shop. So the car lurches out into traffic, becoming a safety hazard and less-than-ideal brand advertisement for all those near it.

        Bottom line: "Thou Shalt Not Mess With It" warranties (and walled gardens) are intended to: 1) keep service costs down, 2) keep the product operating safely (applies to phones--and cars), and 3) prevent a modified--and perhaps screwed-up--product from being representative of a stock one (true for ANY product).
      • I'm not looking for anything in particular

        I'm honestly just wondering why we treat PCs (including Macs) differently from smartphones, PDAs, tablets, and car chips?

        If Apple released Mountain Lion without the ability to install applications from outside the Mac Store, I know the die hard Apple fanbois would find a way to apologize for it but most people who support the walled garden for iPhone (as I do) would feel uncomfortable with the iMac being locked to the Mac App Store. Why?

        PS I'm using Apple as the example because if I used MS then the immediate response would be MONOPOLY. So let's leave the question of a monopoly out of it by asking why many people would be uncomfortable with iMacs locked to an App store like the iPhone is.
      • The problem is... one has ever been able to justify the "keeps the user safe" claim. This would be the only feature ever developed by a corporation solely out of benevolence if it were true. It exists to hold those within prisoner so that the owner of the garden can charge a fee at the gate to anyone who wants to sell anything to those in the garden. Think about it... is the Kindle's proprietary format for the purpose of keeping people safe?

        It's no more acceptable to have restrictions placed on your phone, tablet or PDA (particularly since they exist to enrich someone else) than it is to have it on your PC. It's YOUR device, and you should be able to do whatever legal thing you want to do with it.
    • I can't believe no one pointed this out...

      ...You DO have such a thing, except it's not a USB port. It is, however, a standardized interface. People can and DO reprogram their car's processor to change shift patterns, torque response, do things like disable the feature that turns off cylinders at cruising speeds, etc. Most people, of course, pay other people to do it for them or send them a new firmware file or a preprogrammed chip.
  • At the end of the day; why?

    Cell phones are NOT toasters. They come with a service tie in. And that's where the "install anything you want including a different OS" breaks down. Or you get to pay more for the service and/or support. But that would be discrimination some will yell. OK. So yell.

    Or jailbreak it and do what you want. If there's a hardware problem you can restore the iOS and take it in for repair.

    A key point here is Apple isn't selling iOS devices like companies sell PCs or even Macs. They are selling a device that will act as a phone on a carriers network with certain extra features. You don't want that feature set? Mod it and loose support or buy something else.
  • What's wrong with the current system?

    As long as manufacturers aren't sabotaging your hardware if you dare "jailbreak" (I'm using an iOS specific term but I mean it in general) your device, I don't see what is wrong with the current system. As far as I'm aware, you can't be thrown in jail for jailbreaking, you can't be sued by the manufacturer so it seems to me that everyone has the right to do this already.

    Now, if you are talking about the manufacturer making it "easy", we are talking about something different but in what way don't people currently have the right to jailbreak their iPhone and root their Android?
    • Apples and Oranges

      I can root my SGS2, decide if I want specific upgrades, do something different - I have a lot of options - I can even roll back to a prior version. Not difficult in most cases. If I want to use an alternative market, or markets, I can.

      On my iPhone I have to jailbreak to get some basic functionality I want and meanwhile Apple will do everything in it's power to ensure that this will be extremely difficult and everything it can to legally close off that avenue. Another market? Never!!! Add some altenative app that works better than the Apple function? No!!

      It's like scaling a mountain. On Android I can pick my mountain to scale. On Apple they insist on Everest - no sherpa's allowed.
  • Yeah when the EFF signs up to support every user whos phone gets messed up

    then what they have to say will become interesting. Until then they are just making noise.
    Johnny Vegas
    • That's where it gets fun

      The poor customer gets the run around till they give up. The software vendor points the finger at the hardware, and the hardware vendor claims it's the software.
      Jumpin Jack Flash
    • Support? Why?

      EFF would not support. No need.
      With a BoR the requirements fall back onto the OEM to provide the basic rights and general support. Some rights if selected amy be user risky and not supported except for restoring your device to original out of the box - provide the user the ability to do that.
  • The one thing the EFF doesn't clearify, is the "why"

    Why should Apple (or anyone) create and support a device that allows you to remove their OS, and replace it with another? Just because you can do it, doesn't mean they should go out of their way to help you do it.

    for some reason, people view computers as a product totally different then they do any other product in the world. They continue saying Dell should be [i]forced[/i] to sell a computer with Linux (even if it doesn't make finacial sense) yet understand why Chevrolet doesn't sell their cars with a Ford engine, and would never make that demand of them. Sure you can swap it out yourself, but that doesn't mean that GM is in anyway obligated to design the car to make it easy for you to do so.

    They claim Apple should make it easy, or even part of the the design to allow the phone to be reprogramed with some other OS, yet totally understand why they can't do that to their TV, and would never demand that from Samsung or Sony. Sure you can try it out yourself, but that doesn't mean that Samsung or Sony is in anyway obligated to design their TV's to make it easy for you to do so

    Same with a Cell Phone. It's a product designed to make money for a company, designed to run their OS, designed with the same concepts and goals as any other product.

    So why is a cell phone viewed in a totally different context then every other device ever created? That's the "why" I'm curious about.
    William Farrel
    • Same Ol' Excuses

      Why do we always se "Why should...." instead of looking at the idea and not just dismissing out of hand. We know why Apple doesn't want something like this - it can impact a fairly predictable revenue stream; control is key. User req's not allowed.
      • Excuses or necessary requirements?

        [i]rhonin: We know why Apple doesn't want something like this - it can impact a fairly predictable revenue stream; control is key. User req's not allowed.[/i]

        So which 'freedom' ought to prevail in an ostensibly free market? Apple's freedom to make money for their shareholders or the consumer's freedom to install WP7.5 or Android on Apple hardware while maintaining warranty coverage?

        I don't know how you'll reply, but I do know that if you support the EFF then you're essentially challenging the one Serious Article of Faith current in the Western world - the alleged efficiency of free markets.
  • Opportunity and Demand

    Open technologies and software are not rights, but features and are to be assessed on a basis of benefit and cost.

    If a tablet or smartphone maker can design the product and find the customers who want it to be open, right on, and more power to them. Should enough people endorse the feature with their dollars, then it will become a feature universally.

    Devices are purchased because they solve a problem and, frankly, the ability to change the internal hardware or original software and then reconciling modifications sounds like a problem not a solution to many people. The general processor as blank slate no longer is interesting, except to those on the waiting list for or who got a Raspberry PI. Were we ever concerned about the right to put a more powerful light bulb in our Easy-Bake ovens or mod it up to a laser or landing beacon?

    Clearly, I don't have much sympathy for the doctrine. As far as engagement with those who insist condescendingly that hearing and not following their clarion call is proof of my stupidity, not going to happen.
    • Spot on

      The EFF seem to view iPhones and Android phones and tablets as Universal Turing Machines, and regard it as self-evident that every UTM must be free to do everything!

      In contrast, Apple and Microsoft view these devices [i]as consumer products[/i] and feel no responsibility to uphold the 'Universal' part of UTM.