Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Open vs. Closed System.....

This afternoon was a pinnacle moment. One that will remain etched in time for me because of a decision that I made a year ago. It has proven to be the correct decision without a doubt.

I was on a journey in 2006 when my wife purchased a Lifedrive for my birthday. I couldn't decide when or if to stay with Palm, but all of my previous software would run on the Lifedrive (most of the time) and I was entrenched in the Palm ecosystem for at least another year or two I figured. At the time I thought that Palm would come out with a new operating system by 2006, then 2007.... but Nothing emanated! The system was old. My old software just wasn't cutting it anymore. I wanted more. Even the wonderful audiovisual beauty of the Lifedrive lost its luster. "Buy a TX," came the cry from others, "...it's just like a Lifedrive, but without the drive. So it's faster." But I became extremely cautious. I wondered whether transporting an old system to another new device was worth it. The more I read, the more I became worried. Another $300 on a legacy device was not worth it. As I read more blogs, I started discovering that the TX was a lot like the Lifedrive, with one exception: It could restart a lot quicker! But it still had a lot of restarts because of the same operating system failing to work well with the NVFS. So I waited.

The wait grew longer and longer until Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone. My mind became clear. This is what a device was supposed to do. I never liked convergence devices because of the battery life, but this was something else. It was stylish, elegant, light, carried more capacity than a Lifedrive and just worked! But it had very little Medical Software. So, I waited. But I waited in awe. I saw the device at an airport terminal once and I asked the man in front of me if I could look at his device. It was amazing. Even my wife was amazed by its sheer simplicity. No stylus, just your finger.

Due to the lack of software, I stayed with Palm until finally in 2008, I purchased my first iPhone- The iPhone 3G. It carried 16 gb, 4x the size of my Lifedrive (You always want to trade up). Again the app store was sparse, but rudimentary versions of some important programs started to surface: Epocrates, HandBase, TealDocs (Which I have since erased - no need for this sort of thing anymore), but no Smartlistogo (what a wasted opportunity). I was also being introduced to Cloud Computing with the iPhone through several different websites. I was able to keep many documents in the cloud without a problem (by the way, let me give credit to Mobisystems for being one of the first to successfully introduce this in their Mobi suite on Palm. It worked well there too).

What has followed has been a steady stream of legacy programs updated, but more importantly there is now an entire ecosystem for programs that are not costly, and appear to generate more value for the dollar than on any system that has arisen before it. The App store has changed everything. And perhaps, if not because, this is due to Apple controlling almost everything that goes into the App store.

This is the major bone of contention however. For many, this gatekeeper is a sore and miserly figure who traverses the App Universe saying "Yes" or "No" at a single notice. Apps have been known to have been held in limbo for months before getting approved. The Google Phone App, which by the way has nothing to do with Google making it, but an independent programmer, has been held in limbo for months. The Facebook programmer Joe Hewitt actually quit the App store. He left parting quotes to the news media: "My decision to stop iPhone development has had everything to do with Apple’s policies,” “I am philosophically opposed to the existence of their review process.”

Locally, this has been quite a problem for some other people too. A drug rep showed up to my office 6 weeks ago to introduce a new device. We got to talking and after his presentation, he looked at my iPhone. He liked it, but he was with Verizon. He couldn't wait for the iPhone to come to Verizon, but was very excited that the Android was going to be available. I told him about how pleased I was with my iPhone and the entire Apple ecosystem. He felt that it was a little controlling and wondered whether open source would be better and quicker. However, I could tell that he really wanted an iPhone, but did not want to leave Verizon. I told him that I didn't mind the ecosystem. It enabled me to have a small amount of confidence that the software being installed would actually run and not wreck my entire device, ie. CaslBasic for the Lifedrive. I have had maybe two wayward apps that did nothing to the iPhone because the applications were confined to a sandbox. They could not ruin the address book or any of the system files, because they are not allowed to enter that realm. If faulty, they are removed without consequence until the developer updates the program.

3 weeks ago he came back into the office with a second round of devices to show me. After our business discussion was over, he was gleaming about his Android. Its buttons, its incredible screen, its incredible apps. Well, some apps which were actually not bad at all. I liked the multitasking, it was quite nice, but I didn't like the scrolling and the brief pause after hitting the icons. But I was biased. I love my iPhone. But he was in la-la- land and with the Google going full steam ahead in the advertising department, along with Verizon belittling the iPhone and AT&T, why shouldn't he? He was very gracious in his criticism about the iPhone, mainly the closed nature of the App store and the approval process, whereas he could download software from almost anywhere. I warned him about rogue software, but he was in la-la land. And who could blame him?

This afternoon it happened! He came back in to get a signature for a device for a patient. He was extremely sad. I asked him what happened. He told me that he downloaded a program for his Android called "Weatherbug." After a few clicks, it worked once, but then it completely shut down his system. He turned it back on only to find that he could run none of his apps and above all else, unable to make any phone calls at all. I couldn't believe it. This was no laughing matter! He had important calls, some life saving calls for his equipment and he couldn't answer them back. His entire phone was bricked !!!! He began panicking, but luckily he had done a backup of his system and his music and photos were still intact and many A/V files were stored on the SD card which was preserved. But the settings for programs and individual files were gone! Unless they were backed up. He was able to do a fresh install of the software, but settings and other file attributes were gone. Of course he did not reload the Weather Bug software.

After calming down to tell me about it, he performed a Mea Culpa: "I really want an iPhone!" He admitted that the closed system of Apple was probably responsible for something like this not happening with the iPhone in the first place. I told him that the gatekeeper system has its flaws, but it has kept millions of iPhone owners safe. It's the so-called Uber-Geeks who want freedom at any cost, even if the cost is destroying the very device that they are trying to save. I witnessed the process first hand with Palm. I am certain that many Lifedrive programs just crashed because of faulty software addressing nonexistent memory locations. Some companies programmed better than others.

Open vs. Closed? Most of the time I would choose Open, but when it's done correctly, a Closed system can have its benefits too. In this case, I am very happy that I chose to enter and stay in the walled garden of Apple.