Despite the groovy image Apple has cultivated since day one (confession: I was at the Apple "Us" festival in 1983), the irony of the decades-long Apple vs. Microsoft competition has always been that Microsoft was the more open platform, encouraging experimenters and third parties to dabble in ways that Apple would never allow. Microsoft, at least initially, was pure software, while Apple always sought full vertical integration. Today, the European Union is challenging Apple's iTunes service for not allowing competing MP3 players to use it.
Against this backdrop, news that Apple is shutting off the iPhones that have had unauthorized applications added, and/or have been modified by their users, comes as no surprise. (See
Apple turns some iPhones into "iBricks" with lockout patch .) The iPhones become permanently disabled.
What scares me, though, is what may happen in the future. Apple justifies their extreme action with the sanctity of the network, but let's not forget, as Steve Jobs told us several times, it's more than a phone. It's also a media player.
Combine Apple's hard-line lockout philosophy with DRM, and one can only shudder to imagine what may be next: DVD players that shut down and stop working if a consumer plays an unauthorized copy of a movie? iPods and other media players that permanently shut down if you play a single MP3 file downloaded from an unauthorized source? TV sets that stop working, permanently, with the display of any unauthorized material?
Apple is offering no refunds on the iPhones they've deliberately disabled. There's a class action suit in the works. Hopefully, the significance of this will prove to be nothing more than Apple being up to their old control-freak tricks again. Then again, history may prove it to be an unfortunate turning point in the muscle-flexing of DRM technology.