The iPhone is not on the side of the angels — May 24, 2010

The iPhone is not on the side of the angels

One of the very infuriating things about reading Jon Gruber is his constant “Apple rocks, open-source sucks” mantra. If you didn’t know that constant refrain, it might seem as though he links to “open is for losers” without comment; knowing Gruber, you know that he’s either doing it approvingly, or as a stick in the eye of his non-Apple-fanboy readership. He’s, honestly, a dick like that.

Paul Graham says in the linked piece that “Of course [he would invest in] iPhone. Im talking about what I hope will set us free, not what will generate opportunities.” This is a perfectly sound point, and doesn’t take away from the fact that *the iPhone is an anti-freedom device.* I say this as a happy iPhone owner. Or rather, I say it as a *conflicted* iPhone owner: I realize that by using this device, I am harming the cause of freedom. But it’s also a spectacular piece of consumer technology.

The open-source movement has always treated software as speech: if it’s not free, it doesn’t matter how good it is. If all the books that you could read had to be personally vetted by Barack Obama, you’d never stand for it. Open-source advocates feel the same way about software that needs to pass through a censor first to make sure it doesn’t conflict with what Apple is trying to sell.

That said, I used Linux exclusively for years, and no longer use it as my everyday computing environment; I use a Mac. Macs and iPhones are designed with a level of polish that you don’t appreciate until you suddenly realize that your computing experience has been painless for the first time in decades — that everything works as it should, and that you’re actually giddy at your ability to experiment without fear.

So I’m conflicted. And I’m not going to take the (as it has always seemed to me) lazy way out and say “Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)” I think one is actually obligated to bring one’s life into harmony with one’s principles, so long as one has principles. I’m the first to admit that I suck at doing this. But it’s a conflict, and it’s an *obvious* conflict: I believe in free speech, I believe that regulated speech is not speech worth having, and it’s obvious that Apple peddles regulated speech. Yet they make operating systems that are head and shoulders above everyone else’s, despite the fact that they’ve been *sitting out there*, just *begging* for someone to make a comparable interface. No one has. Surely Apple deserves to be rewarded for making the best product.

When my iPhone contract expires in September or October, I am seriously considering switching to an Android phone of some sort. Maybe an HTC Incredible, maybe a Nexus One, maybe something else. Before I do that, I will probably pick up an Android device purely for development purposes. It may turn out that I love Android devices, and the contradiction in my life melts away. I hope so, because in the meantime it is uncomfortable.