Foot, Meet Bullet

Another good flip-side argument regarding the iPhone’s no-background apps policy, from Ian Betteridge:

But more importantly, since when was it the responsibility of the maker of an operating system to prevent poorly-written applications?

What’s wrong with “since now”? A new platform can’t be innovative if it isn’t different.

Of course, you could argue that the phone is a “mission-critical” piece of equipment and you can’t afford for it to perform badly. But that argument is bunk: all you need to do is allow users to uninstall applications if they find them slowing things down.

Betteridge is correct, but that doesn’t make it bunk. That’s why it’s a trade-off. Yes, there are all sorts of cool things that are possible on a platform where users can install third-party software that enables them to potentially screw up their system. But there are other completely different cool things about a system like the upcoming 2.0 iPhone OS, primarily the fact that no matter what you install from the App Store, you can’t screw up your system.

Imagine a scenario where background apps are allowed on the iPhone this summer. Some typical user buys and installs 10 apps from the App Store. Three of them are background-capable apps, and two of those three are so resource hungry that they have a noticeable drag on battery life. How are typical users — not Ian Betteridge, not me, and probably not you, but typical users — supposed to know which apps are causing the problem? How are they even going to know which apps do continue to run in the background? They won’t. A likely reaction would simply be to regret ever having junked up their iPhone with any third-party apps at all.

Or imagine a situation where a user installs five background-capable apps, none of which, on their own, significantly affect system-wide performance or battery life, but which in combination all running simultaneously, do. They’re all using RAM, all using the CPU, and all periodically using the network. What’s the advice for the typical user supposed to be? “Have fun with the App Store, but don’t install too much crap”?

If you truly demand the right to be able to shoot yourself in the foot with the software you install on your phone — which is a perfectly reasonable desire, and is how things work on the Mac — then the non-jailbroken iPhone isn’t for you.

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