Dear Apple: Free the iPhone!

Dear Apple,

I’ve been a Mac user since 1986 or so, and a Mac owner since 1990. I stuck with you through the bad years of the late 90s, when everyone thought you were doomed. I live in a multi-Mac multi-iPod household. I even have an AppleTV. Yet I don’t have an iPhone.

I like the design of the iPhone. You’ve fixed all the major functionality shortfalls, like lack of MMS and instant messaging. But your insistence on controlling what people are allowed to run on the device is slowly stifling it.

I write software for myself, and sometimes for other people. I would like to write software for whatever my next phone is. I also have a small Internet tablet I’d like to replace, a Nokia N800. The iPhone could be a contender, if you’d let it run whatever I want. (No, jailbreaking is not a solution. I don’t want to get into an adversarial relationship with you.)

You’ve got a big event coming up on January 27th. It’s probably going to be the launch of the iSlate tablet. It’s more than likely going to run iPhone OS 4. It’ll be your last chance to win me over.

Like many other people, I currently rate Google Android as the OS I’d most like to run on my next smart phone and my next Internet tablet.

See how the preference for the iPhone has dropped dramatically on that graph? See how the preference for Android has almost quadrupled? Sure, some of that is because of AT&T’s network, but a big chunk of it is the direct result of your user-hostile policies.

Even AT&T can see the writing on the wall.

Your iron grip on the iPhone is strangling the device. It’s time to free the iPhone, before Android takes over. You’ve still got the best UI, and you’ve got almost all the functionality–but that isn’t enough. You’re facing a multi-vendor OS anyone can develop for; you won’t beat that with a locked-down single-vendor appliance only you can approve software for.

By all means keep the iPhone lockable to a particular wireless provider. Keep the app store. Maybe even make people turn on “developer mode” or click through a warning to run unsigned software. But don’t keep trying to stop people from running the software they want to run on their iPhones. You’re driving away developers and driving away users.

If you won’t free the iPhone, at least free the tablet. I’ve wanted a Mac tablet for years–but that’s the point: I want a Mac-like tablet. A real computer that will run whatever software I want, not some locked-down piece of hardware that you control. If a giant iPod Touch is all you have to offer on the 27th, I’ll go with an Android tablet and Android phone, no matter how amazing your new UI is.