Why I sold my iPhone

My one year iPhone contract with Sonera ended recently and I had a chance to reassess my mobile phone situation. I had long been unsatisfied with the iPhone because of two reasons, one practical, one philosophical.

The practical problem was that since I had switched to use only Linux I had no way of synchronising with my computer, or even simply copying over some files. I partially overcame the last problem by using a podcast application on the iPhone which downloaded new podcast episodes directly over WiFi. But if I wanted to transfer new music I had to borrow my girl friend’s Windows-laptop and use iTunes.

There are some efforts, partially successful, to enable free software systems to talk to the iPhone, however Apple seems to actively prevent any third parties from syncing with their devices, so any successful syncing might break in the next iPhone operating system (iOS) update. Contrast this to most other phone companies, who generally do not support Linux, but also do not actively prevent the use of third party software.

My second gripe was that of controlling the software on the device. As a programmer I often wish to solve a problem by making my own programme, e.g. I could never find an alarm clock application to my liking and wanted to make my own. In order to make an application for the iPhone, I would need to pay Apple $99 each year for the iPhone developer programme, even if only to run it on my own device. I might afford that sum, but it is a matter of principle that I should be able to control the software on a device that I own without any further permissions or payment.

This kind of control is frightening, especially in combination with Apple’s efforts to bring the same controlled environment to more general purpose computing devices such as the iPad. This was one of the reasons which got me thinking more seriously about software freedom and switching all my machines to Linux. (At the moment my Thinkpad and my Mac mini both run Debian “squeeze”.)

The iPhone was kind of the “last hold-out from the old era” for me. For economical (and partially ecological) reasons I just didn’t want to throw it away — so I stuck with it for some time. Then a co-worker offered to buy if from me since it was unlocked now (officially by Apple, since my one year contract had expired).

So now I’m back to my old Nokia 6290. It runs the horrible S60 variant of Symbian, and I consider it mostly as a “dumb phone”. The operating system on the device is probably as non-free as the iPhone (even if Symbian itself has been open sourced recently), but at least it works with my Linux system, and I can develop and install free software on it.

I intend to use this phone temporarily until a suitable, more open and software freedom-friendly phone turns up. Hopefully one that runs mostly free software. At the moment I am waiting for the upcoming MeeGo operating system, and the first devices based on that. Nokia is said to be working on one for this year. If that turns out badly, I’ll probably start looking at Android-based phones. There is a project called “Replicant” which tries to create a 100% free software stack for Android phones.

Finally, below, I have listed some nice free software that I have installed on my new (old) S60 phone:

Symbian OggPlay is a GPLv2 licensed music player that supports ogg and flac and many other formats. It scans the phone for supported music files, very handy.

Mobidentica is an identi.ca client for S60 under the Apache License 2.0. The author, Tommi Laukkanen, has a lot of other cool free software for S60 on his website.

Feels great that I can at least install software now without first asking permission from Steve Jobs!

Posted by Mats Sjöberg.