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ATPM 13.10
October 2007



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by Wes Meltzer,

Harden your SIM

When my little brother spent a semester abroad in Scotland, during his junior year of college, I was reintroduced to the wonderful European world of handsets sold freely without regard for provider. We Americans don’t always appreciate how nice it would be to go off and just purchase a phone, plug in whatever SIM you want, and go. (There are still locked phones in Europe, but they’re the exception rather than the norm.)

I’m starting to wonder if Europeans appreciate that freedom. Apple announced that O2 is going to carry the iPhone exclusively, and from the buzz I’m hearing, this is a very hotly anticipated release. A lot of Britons are going to find themselves switching to O2, I suspect, in order to get the iPhone.

But the larger question is, will they avoid switching carriers at all?

On August 24, Ryan Block at Engadget reported that was claiming they’d unlocked the iPhone. John Gruber doesn’t exactly believe Block, who has some credibility issues. I have no reason not to believe Block, but—like with the old fool-me-once Maynor and Ellch dog-and-pony show—I found myself wondering whether it would be easily replicable. I haven’t heard a peep from anyone about the “installer,” other than some mostly anonymous commenters on Engadget and an extra-rocky attempt chronicled by Jesus Diaz at Gizmodo. Unless you’re easily parted with $50, I might stay away for the time being.

As it happens there is a completely free, hardware-based and mostly guaranteed way to unlock your iPhone. A 17-year-old from New Jersey, George Hotz, cracked his iPhone with 500 hours of soldering and software hacking, as reported by CNBC. (Those guys, I trust.) If soldering’s not your forté, though, or you’re nervous about ruining a $400 device the size of the palm of your hand with a little butter-fingers action, you may not want to try to follow Hotz’s step-by-step instructions.

And on September 12, a free and relatively easy solution—if you’re a tech geek—became available. It appears easier than Hotz’s solution and, although probably harder than iPhoneSIMFree’s, you don’t have to worry about someone not delivering the goods. Dave Shea at Mezzoblue has all the details; suffice it to say he says:

If you’re an American iPhone owner, you probably still remember what June 29th felt like. To a lesser degree, that was what today felt like for the rest of the world.

Now comes the interesting question: will unlocking, more common in Europe than the US, benefit O2 as much as it appears to have benefited AT&T?

I don’t have an answer. What do you think?

All the Other iPhone News You Can Stand

  • When the price of the iPhone went down by $200 this month, a lot of people who waited in line for days to get one screamed and wailed that they’d been left out. Now, my sympathy is limited, since I don’t even have an iPhone, but Apple was blind-sided by the outcry. Leander Kahney of Wired’s Cult of Mac blog has an astute analysis:

    The secret of the iPhone’s success is that it isn’t designed for the kind of early adopters who first bought it—and then whipped into a frenzy when the price dropped…The big problem was in not anticipating the howling of the early adopters—the kind of hyperloyal customers who tend to buy anything and everything Apple releases.

    Robert X. Cringely writes:

    Why did he cut the price? I have no inside information here, but it seems pretty obvious to me: Apple introduced the iPhone at $599 to milk the early adopters and somewhat limit demand then dropped the price to $399 (the real price) to stimulate demand now that the product is a critical success and relatively bug-free. At least 500,000 iPhones went out at the old price, which means Apple made $100 million in extra profit.

    Then we have two highly unorthodox takes on the entire situation, at least from a techie’s perspective: marketing and economics. Carl Howe of Blackfriars Marketing writes:

    By bundling “free” and generic phones with cell phone service, mobile carriers have devalued both the brand values of the handset makers and their own services…What Apple has done is inverted the value proposition.

    And Steven Levitt of Freakonomics notes that starting with a high price and working your way down is textbook economics. “[W]hy did this strategy blow up in Apple’s face?” he asks. “What economists (and Apple too, I guess) ignore is that consumers hate it when companies follow practices that look like they are designed to maximize profits.”

  • Craig Hunter and Craig Hockenberry have two completely different takes on developing applications for the iPhone. Hunter’s concern is the limitation of developing Web-based applications for the iPhone, since Safari’s interface intercepts direct input that would go straight to the host application if it were a native application. He says:

    [I]t has become clear to me that the Web application path is very limiting, mostly because Apple has not actively expanded our capabilities much beyond creating generic Web apps…If we really want to come up with great Web apps for the iPhone, they need to look better than Web pages in Safari, and Apple should be the one leading the charge.

    Hockenberry, on the other hand, has written the figurative book on Web development for the iPhone. His two-part guide for A List Apart, called “Put Your Content in My Pocket” (parts one and two), is the definitive guide so far to how to make your applications iPhone-friendly. “Millions of visitors accessing your content on a small display with very high resolution,” he writes. “You’re going to want to take a look at your current site design to make sure that it looks good and works well on this new device and its Mobile Safari browser.”

  • Part of the big announcements this month had to do with mobile ringtones on the iPhone. I haven’t figured out yet why people want most of these ringtones (and I’m not alone), but the ol’ Gruber has a great article on the silliness of treating ringtones any differently from regular songs:

    This false notion that ringtones are something in and of themselves is an anachronism, an artifact dating back to the time when mobile phones existed in their own ecosystem, wholly separate from the PC or the Internet…A fair, free “just use the songs you already own as ringtones” policy wouldn’t generate revenue directly, but it could be used as a powerful marketing bludgeon. Consumers know what ringtones are, and they know that mobile providers want them to pay through the nose for them.

    Fake Steve took the time to agree with Gruber, and I agree, too. Maybe Real Steve could agree and make our lives easier?

  • Mike Elgan, of PC World magazine, wrote an interesting opinion piece asking whether Apple has become the new Microsoft. “Apple not only ‘bundles’ iTunes with multiple products, it forces you to use it. At least with Internet Explorer, you could always just download a competitor and ignore IE,” he writes. This inspired a lot of heartburn—perhaps he’s just the new Dave Winer—and I have a hard time understanding what he’s saying. You certainly can go without iTunes, although you can’t use an iPod without iTunes, but that’s not a monopoly lock-in, I don’t think, since virtually every MP3 player I’ve ever used has some kind of proprietary synchronization interface. Anyway, John C. Welch had a nice response in the middle of a good, old-fashioned fisking: “Mike, you’re so full of shit here that it beggars the imagination.”

  • MacThoughtCrime follows up on last month’s spate of Numbers reviews with a very good review of the application’s functionality, from top to bottom. His conclusion? “[T]hat’s just about the best thing you can say about an application. It gets out of the way, and lets you do your thing.”

  • Peter Merholz got his hands on an original Macintosh manual. Not only is it astonishingly awesome, but it has a weird fixation on white men dressed in preppy upper-class clothes. (Apparently my parents’ description of the Reagan era was more spot-on than I knew.) Anyway, it contains, among other things, what may be the first visual description of the metaphor of scrolling.

  • Steven Poole wrote a long essay about why he doesn’t use Microsoft Word anymore. These days, he uses Scrivener, having transitioned there via WriteRoom, both of which store their data in a completely transparent format. He observes that Word, which hit its zenith in 1991 (at about the same time as WordPerfect 5.1, which I believe may be the best piece of productivity software ever written), has grown more and more bloated over the years, almost to the point of excess. “I was still somehow brainwashed, though, as perhaps many people still are today, into believing that Word was the ‘serious’ word-processor: the professional tool for anyone who did heavy lifting with language,” he wrote. “Microsoft Word still uses the metaphor of the page, the computer screen that imitates a blank, bounded sheet of physical paper. For me, this is outdated and unimaginative. It has become a barrier rather than a window.” It’s very astute.

    On the other hand, I renew my objection to his, and many journalists’, insistence on word count as one of those marquee features of a word processor. I’m sorry, guys, but I’ve just about reached my breaking point. See, you’re journalists, but most people who use word processors are writing one-page memos to circulate around the company, or a 10-page essay for school. Why would they care how many words there are? Fixed space counts are really rare outside the world of journalism.

  • Lockergnome’s Chris Pirillo and the New York Times’ Randall Stross are at opposite ends of the debate over the Macintosh, it seems to me. Pirillo, early in September, wrote about his amazement at the way that OS X just plain old works, and the future he sees for the Mac looks bright:

    The hardware and software were designed to go hand in hand with Apple—whereas, the traditional PC’s greatest strength and weakness is in its level of configurability flexibility…People don’t necessarily want to buy brands anymore—they want to buy interoperability.

    But Stross’ headline really says it all: “A Window of Opportunity for Macs, Soon to Close.” Now, that’s classic Headlinese in some ways, but Stross believes that Apple’s opportunity is the seemingly endless foibles that Vista has—and that they’ll soon be resolved:

    However, the opportunity for Apple that has been opened by Vista’s introduction is temporary. Mr. Kay, of Endpoint, described a Microsoft operating system and its thousands of certified supporting hardware vendors and the two million device drivers as forming an enormous flywheel.

    ”It takes a lot of energy to spin it up,” he said, “but once it gets going, it’s virtually unstoppable.”

And that’s the news that was.

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Reader Comments (2)

Steven Poole · October 2, 2007 - 18:29 EST #1
Well, the point was just that (live) word count is a marquee feature for me. I don't think I insist that everybody needs it. ;)
Mark Hughes · October 3, 2007 - 20:07 EST #2
Many students also have minimum-word-count essays to write. It shouldn't really be a difficult thing for a program to show the word count here in 2007.

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