Five Reasons Apple Should Open Source the iPhone


You know, BusinessWeek asked me about Apple potentially open sourcing the iPhone over a year ago.  Since then: nothing out of Apple, despite mounting pressure from projects like Android that are vying for Apple’s throne.  With Christmas only days away, I’ve only got one thing I want to ask Santa Jobs for, and it ain’t a Red Rider BB Gun.

All I want from Apple is a more open platform.  Sure, the odds are slim as long as they remain dominant.  That’s why I’m not asking them to completely open source the iPhone.  I’m just asking them to crack the door and let the breeze in.

It’s Good for Devvies, Non-devvies, and Apps Alike

Open source is becoming the default way to develop software in many industries.  Why?  Because a properly-managed, open environment leads to targeted, robust features and helps developers share code in a healthy coop-tition that helps everybody in the iPhone ecosystem.

Developers love working faster, cheaper, and more effectively.  More importantly, many folks that aren’t traditional developers are starting to develop apps for platforms like the iPhone.  He who satiates that audience wins the war.

Customers Love Choice

Open sourcing the iPhone gives customers a much broader selection of applications.  Customers faced with a plethora of attractive applications when they visit the app store will spend money.  More money make Apple happy.

Quash choice, on the other hand, and people revolt.  No amount of legal wrangling or slick marketing will bend today’s consumers to the will of “rights management.”  Doesn’t matter if it’s a 99-cent song in iTunes or the ability to co-develop software in an open environment—boxing people in will be the iPhone’s undoing.

It Will Solidify Apple’s Dominance

Apple’s got a rare opportunity to solidify dominance in a market by killing the competition in the cradle.  An open source iPhone dulls some of Android’s luster.  Given Google’s similar storefront approach, the open development environment is Android’s key differentiator.  Ol’ Steve can level the playing field—he holds sway over a loyal following of diehard developers.

If They Don’t, Someone Else Will

If you haven’t heard of OpeniBoot, check this out.  That’s right, Linux on the iPhone. Earth to Apple: if the iPhone had been open sourced, this probably wouldn’t have happened.  I’ll say it again.  Open source solutions come from lots of places, but the most frequent is a dissatisfied customer base.  Don’t like the feature set?  Write your own.  Don’t like the functionality?  Mod the device.  Price too high?  Wait it out.  In the Internet age, consumers are makers.

iPhone Linux Demonstration Video from planetbeing.

They’re Gonna Have to Eventually

Regardless of Santa Jobs opinions on open platforms and iPhone dominance, Apple’s on a collision course with Google, and open source would be a big gun in Apple’s arsenal.  Don’t think the average customer cares?  I’m blogging from Wahoo’s Fish Tacos.  Today’s inspiration was a manager at Wahoo’s, Jordan, who asked me as soon as I walked in about options for the two iPhones he bought and modded to work on tMobile’s network.

Tech customers are savvy.  You don’t have to be an uber-geek to hack your gear any more.  Innovative networks of customers cooperating with companies to build products will be the norm before long.  Open source is just a step towards that future.  My 12-year old is sharing mod tricks with his classmates over Skype, for cryin’ out loud.  Customers want participatory rights—they want to be involved in the goods they consume.  Letting them in just ensures that you give the people what they want.

Five Reasons Apple Should Open Source the iPhone