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Author Topic: A rant against the SmartPhone ecosystem.  (Read 3833 times)
superboyac
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« on: October 17, 2011, 09:59:13 AM »

This is a comment in some blog I was just reading.  I thought it was a good description of why people like us don't really prefer to use these phone gadgets:
Quote
This is a "how" begging for a "why".The downside of hacks like this will always be the hardware.

Today's "smart"phones and "tablets" almost exclusively look to ARM platforms which derive their significance from the world of embedded computing.  The fact of the matter is that the natural setting for this hardware, and indeed where it flourishes, is vertical integration.  With vertical systems:
* You're not SUPPOSED to be able to update your operating system or software when and how you want to.
* You're not SUPPOSED to be able to upgrade your operating system or software when and how you want to.
* You're not SUPPOSED to be able to install the operating system or software of your choosing when and how you want to.

It is intended to be a curated experience through the vendor, or the whole, delicate ecosystem breaks.  The vendor has integrated your device as part of a larger ecosystem (and "ecosystem" doesn't refer to the stupid collection of crAPPS that you can download through a crAPP Store).  It is setup this way for the convenience of your vendor, and in actual vertically integrated systems this makes a lot of sense.  For example, I don't think anybody wins if some UPS courier decides to "hack" her digital signature tablet or handheld code scanner to put a different operating system of different software on it.  Those devices are just a small part of the overall ecosystem of package tracking and delivery for the company, and the courier's devices are just one of many. 

For some reason, people think that their “tablets" are personal computers because they’re theirs.  That’s a nice application of grammar.  They are “personal” computers.  However, they are not “Personal Computers" because they’re built on hardware and with software and operating systems that REQUIRE vendor and operator intervention for them to achieve and maintain their perpetual usefulness.

In reality, hardware intended for vertical integrations is, has been, and always will be a pretty lousy fit for consumers.  Whereas it makes a lot of sense for UPS to demand that devices are EOL'd and replaced on their command (cause you can’t work efficiently if you have to inter-operate and support multiple generations and species of devices), it's pretty dumb for vendors to be able to do that consumers, which is essentially what happens when the newest software won't be brought to your "outdated" hardware.  So, a hack likes this will work as long as it works, and then it simply won't work anymore.

If it's really important for you to be able to run Ubuntu, you might want to either buy a supported device or pressure hardware vendors to open up their drivers.  As is, this hack doesn't really solve any problems, it just makes it easier for the problems to persist without anybody really caring.

If NOBODY bought hardware that was ONLY supported by proprietary drivers then NOBODY would try to sell them.  It’s hard to blame companies for wanting to install such leverage points against consumers when consumers are dumb enough to fall for it, and I’ve made a lot of money thanks to that exploitation of your stupidity.  Still, I’d be a poor man living amongst the wise than a rich man living amongst idiots.  I’m not sure if money can buy happiness, but it certainly doesn’t quell frustrations over absolute, reckless, uncaring ignorance.
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Renegade
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« Reply #1 on: October 17, 2011, 10:18:35 AM »

It's much worse than just that.

The manufacturers make deals with the telcos.

etc. etc.
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Eóin
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« Reply #2 on: October 17, 2011, 11:22:20 AM »

Android OS is outselling iOS in smartphones at least and with companies like HTC offering a service to unlock their bootloader those phones truly are open.

As and example, I currently run CyanogenMod on the 2 year old HTC HD2, a phone that originally shipped with Windows Mobile 6.5. I bought it SIM free and have been able to go to foreign countries, pick up a pay as you go local SIM and use the phone without hassle on their networks.

BTW - It can also run Ubuntu, MeeGo and Windows Phone 7.
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mahesh2k
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« Reply #3 on: October 17, 2011, 11:55:41 AM »

I hate cloud services for the same reason. You're locked with them forever and many services make it hard for you to switch to another service. In case of carrier locked phones, they don't understand the fact that people do have issues with carriers customer service, after-sales support and troubleshooting. They just force it on users thinking that popularity and coolness factor will get them more sales. And in case of tech dumb, mojo paralyzed, pocket rich folks they do get enough sales with this tactics. This is the reason Sony tied up with 3 Mobile in UK, Apple with verizon and T-mobile and other international carriers. RIM was always locked to some carrier and even their OS is so closed that there are very few external apps coming up these days with BB support.

One thing is for sure, android is popular in market because they have both locked and unlocked phones in the market, which is very hard in case of other popular brands. I'll not be surprised if apple starts shipping unlocked iphones in next few months, that's what they need to do in the absence of Steve and to sustain the android attack.
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Eóin
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« Reply #4 on: October 17, 2011, 12:41:49 PM »

I'll not be surprised if apple starts shipping unlocked iphones in next few months, that's what they need to do in the absence of Steve and to sustain the android attack.

I was about to say that'll never happen. But actually, now that jobs is gone maybe such a miracle is possible.
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« Reply #5 on: October 17, 2011, 03:13:20 PM »

They did it already ...I guess i was few days late to get this news  Grin

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Eóin
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« Reply #6 on: October 17, 2011, 03:35:01 PM »

I was thinking unlocked as in jailbroken, doh embarassed
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superboyac
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« Reply #7 on: October 17, 2011, 03:41:10 PM »

I was thinking unlocked as in jailbroken, doh embarassed
I will freak out the day Apple actually formally allows unhindered access to their OS files/folders.
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Renegade
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« Reply #8 on: October 17, 2011, 07:03:12 PM »

The lock-down in iOS is more than just with carriers.

The API itself is locked. This is true for a lot of APIs with different mobile OSes. Some make sense while others do not.

For example, on bada, you must have Samsung's permission to use certain APIs because they are sensitive and expose personal information or they consume a service that has to be regulated to make sure that it maintains operations.

So some things make sense to lock down.

On iOS, the media library is locked with no file access at all. Zero. So you cannot open, for example, an MP3 file that is in the user's library. At all. Instead, you have to use their player API to access the media library through URLs. So, if you are interested in using a pre-made crappy player, then it's ok. If you want to do anything, you're hosed.

This is not reasonable. They could very easily simply make the media library read-only. But they don't.

The extent to which iOS is locked-down is just nutty.

"Oh, but somebody could write a program that gets around DRM and..."  undecided

I don't see Apple changing things.

Remember, Apple only opened up hardware access on OS X within the last year to allow Adobe to get certain things running properly instead of having to do it all in software, which wasn't working very well.

Inside the walled garden of iOS, there are more walled gardens...

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JavaJones
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« Reply #9 on: October 17, 2011, 07:57:18 PM »

Do you all actually agree with what this person is saying? It's retarded. ARM is a generalized CPU architecture, based on RISC, that essentially has as much flexibility as x86. All the components that go into your average smart phone or tablet are no less capable of end-user update/modification/whatever than their PC counterparts *except* when it comes to *physical* upgrade. But in this sense they are much like a laptop. Few laptops let you switch out the graphics card or CPU, for example.

This person seems to be making the argument that because ARM CPUs and the related hardware used to be used almost exclusively in embedded devices that were entirely "managed" (i.e. the end user is not in control), that this is the way it *must* be. That this is somehow intrinsic to the hardware, or even the software/OS. iOS as one example, yes it's built with "lock down" in mind, but this is a conscious choice, and the mere fact you can jail break shows that the fundamental underlying OS is not so deeply locked down that it's not relatively easy to bypass. In other words the lock down is a layer on top of the OS. True "locked down" systems are embedded and actually have only the minimal functions necessary to support their intended purpose. iOS is relatively general-purpose, as is Android (also running on ARM).

In short, there is noting intrinsic to the hardware or software that makes things this way. In the case of Android that is especially so. Look at "Google Experience" devices and you see they're pretty open; look at the Cyanogen ROMs and similar Android OS branch releases and you can see it even more so. There is tremendous power, flexibility, and openness possible. It's the carriers and, I think to a somewhat lesser extent, the hardware manufacturers that demand lock-down. This is a business problem, not a technical one.

The whole quote seems painfully ignorant to me. Am I missing something?

- Oshyna
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Carol Haynes
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« Reply #10 on: October 17, 2011, 08:16:23 PM »

FWIW I recently threw out a 1980s PC based entirely on an ARM chip - it had been sitting up in my roof for years unused and unwanted and it finally took its last trip to the dump.

In its day it was a brilliant PC - it was the birthplace of the Xara graphics package (not called Xara in those days - changed its name when it was ported to Windows) and Impression (a brilliant DTP package by the same authors as Xara - I still miss Impression).

In those days ARM stood for Acorn RISC Machine - Acorn being the British company that developed RISC architecture in PCs, it ran an OS called RiscOS - which provided many features for Bill G and Steve J to steal for their products.

Unfortunately a small UK company developing PCs primarily for the education market had no chance of surviving but the ARM chips were salvaged by a consortium of companies (including Acorn who are still involved).

There is nothing about ARM chips specific to handheld devices that require a 'managed' environment it is purely a limitation imposed by manufacturers of handhelds for greed!
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Renegade
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« Reply #11 on: October 17, 2011, 08:16:31 PM »

The whole quote seems painfully ignorant to me. Am I missing something?

Well, yes and no.

The specifics of the ARM deal is a bit silly as you point out. However, the general mentality that goes into embedded devices, like in the FedEx example, is being carried over in part to consumer devices. That's the part where the beef is. The "walled garden" of the embedded world is spilling over into what has traditionally been a pretty free world in the consumer-computing space. So, that's where the discontent is. Or at least as I read it.

For the technical details, as you stated, yeah... Can't argue with you there.

Quote
This is a business problem, not a technical one.

Boom! Nailed it!  Thmbsup
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Eóin
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« Reply #12 on: October 18, 2011, 04:00:05 AM »

One thing I really do wonder about is how warranties would work if phones shipped unlocked. For example once you root an android phone you can overclock the cpu with ease. You can also do things like mess with drivers and just generally push the hardware beyond it's limits.

Asking a company to replace an entire phone because you burnt it out messing with cpu voltages feels difficult to justify.
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« Reply #13 on: October 18, 2011, 04:40:15 AM »

One thing I really do wonder about is how warranties would work if phones shipped unlocked. For example once you root an android phone you can overclock the cpu with ease. You can also do things like mess with drivers and just generally push the hardware beyond it's limits.

Asking a company to replace an entire phone because you burnt it out messing with cpu voltages feels difficult to justify.

True. It's little different than purchasing a sailboat, then running it aground trying to sail up a shallow river and complaining about it. They're not meant for rivers. Overclocking has it's hazards, and it's not fair to put those concerns on the manufacturer.

Using any product beyond its specified operating range should render the warranty void.

Computers are a tough situation because you have both hardware and software to think about. I can't say as I'd blame HTC if I put on some OS and things got messy. But if I'm using their stock OS and all that, then that's a different story.

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Eóin
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« Reply #14 on: October 18, 2011, 05:02:32 AM »

Following the forums I've heard reports that HTC run a kind of don't ask, don't tell policy. If you void your warranty installing custom roms they still tend to repair genuine hardware faults like a faulty screen which weren't related to your software messing.

But that's not an official policy.
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JavaJones
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« Reply #15 on: October 19, 2011, 10:40:32 PM »

The walled garden isn't much like the FedEx example because it's being done for completely different reasons in a different business/client relationship. In the case of FedEx, they are a homogeneous business purchasing a device for specific purposes, requesting the vendor to implement this "lock down". It is the customer asking for that control, not the vendor, or their hardware or software provider, or even their service provider. In the case of the mobile phone market you have at least 2 major entities vying for control, the hardware/software manufacturer (not always the same, but often essentially so) and the carrier/service provider. Usually the service provider wins, at least in the US, because they are the main way to get the hardware/software manufacturer's product into the hands of consumers. But one look at how this stuff works in other countries shows that this has nothing to do with the hardware or software or even the fundamental nature of the cell phone business. It has everything to do with how the USA treats businesses and the skewed balance it allows in business vs. customer.

- Oshyan
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Carol Haynes
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« Reply #16 on: October 20, 2011, 05:34:26 AM »

Actually the walled garden has a lot to do with hardware manufacturers.

It is in their interests to get good deals with carriers and get their products into the hands of consumers.

The way this is achieved (at least in the UK) is that the service locks you in on the understanding that they supply you with a product at vastly below the artificial 'retail price'/'SIM free price'.

Imagine if this didn't happen - how many people would pay the full price for an iPhone?

Example prices for an iPhone 4S 32Mb:

UK Apple Store: SIM Free phone only £599 - you then have to find a SIM and pay service fees

orange.co.uk: Phone Price: Free
(based on 24 month contract of £61 per month plan which includes unlimited free calls, texts and WiFi and 2Gb of mobile internet per month)
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« Reply #17 on: October 20, 2011, 06:01:39 AM »

@Carol - I think you and Oshyan are coming at the issue from slightly different perspectives there.

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It has everything to do with how the USA treats businesses and the skewed balance it allows in business vs. customer.

+1

If it were a movie, it'd be a snuff flick.
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« Reply #18 on: November 03, 2011, 07:06:58 PM »

JavaJones is right!

(...)"lock down"(...)is a conscious choice

ARM, as many architectures out there, are quite open and so are their possibilities. Yes, some upgrades can be hard or end badly. Many times it's not even fault of "the upgrade" but of "the upgrader" who messed it up along the way. And on the other hand, many users will actually live in a somehow "locked-down mode" as they won't care much about installing many/any apps or upgrading their OS.

I certainly don't want the UPS guy to hack his handheld, and yes, it doesn't belong to him but to UPS's process.

On the other hand, I paid for my smartphone to use it as I want. And yes: it IS a personal computer; maybe as personal as it gets. I want to hack it and the architecture is up for the challenge. If it's not, it should be. So, if you are up to the task and aware of the risks, hack away!
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