Friday, April 02, 2010

An iPhone Book by an Open Hardware Advocate

I was surprised a few days ago when someone pointed out that as an open hardware advocate it might be viewed as, well, odd for me to write a book on iPhone programming.
Intrigued by a open hardware advocate that has written an O'Reilly iPhone book: @aallan
@erikevenson via Tweetie in reply to @aallan
A couple of years ago there was a great hue and cry about the death of the desktop, and the end of the Internet. Mostly brought on by Johnathan Zittrain's book, "The Future of the Internet: And How to Stop It."

Jonathan argued that today's technological market is dominated by two contrasting business models: the generative and the non-generative. The first model, general purpose computers, allow third parties to build upon and share through them. The second, non-generative model, is more restricted, with appliances that can only be modified by the vendor. He is very much afraid that the second model, where we are locked in by vendors is coming to predominate.

I don't think my opinions on this have changed much in the last two years. The iPhone, and now the iPad, are held up as being evil for being closed platforms. I don't think that's a problem. There is plenty of room for closed platforms.

Cory Doctorow argues that the next generation of kids won't be able to grow up and become programmers. That buying an iPad sends the wrong message to your kid, that the world isn't yours, it's something you have to leave to professionals.
Buying an iPad for your kids isn't a means of jump-starting the realization that the world is yours to take apart and reassemble; it's a way of telling your offspring that even changing the batteries is something you have to leave to the professionals. - Cory Doctorow
I think he's dead wrong. Technology has moved on, and the world is changing. What is changing is that we’re in the transition phase away from one model of computing and towards another. I’d argue that the underlying trend is towards more openness, not less. It's just the things that are open and the things that are closed are changing, and with that the skills you need to work with the technology.

We're moving away from general purpose computers towards more purpose specific devices. Amoung these are the iPhone and the iPad. However the passing of the desktop computer, and the Web, is not the problem people should be worrying about. The important thing for people to hang onto is the infrastructure, the pipes themselves. The Web isn't the Internet, the Internet existed before the Web and it'll be around a long time afterwards. So long as we have the pipes the content flowing across them is really rather irrelevant. I'm far more worried by threats to network neutrality than I am by the death of the general purpose computer.

The only thing that's changing here is that the tools and skills you need to play with the next generation of technology; ubiquitous computing, embedded devices, mobile devices. So you'll need different skills than you might have used to play with the last generation of technology? The fact that you have to go out and learn some electronics to take part in the next big thing isn't such a big deal. You're supposed to like learning new things. Go buy a soldering iron and stop worrying about vendor lock-in so much...

...and even if you don't believe me? Stop worrying, the kids are going to be just fine.


  1. Nice post Alasdair -- and a great book too.

    The point I tried to make in my tweet (limited to 140 characters...) was that I think there is great potential in the intersection between open hardware and mobile computing. The iPhone/Touch/iPad and, just as importantly, the App Store has created a market and an ecology for open hardware providers.

    I won't go into details here, but I see these devices potentially providing a widely available front end to slews of open hardware ideas. Yeah, Apple has built in some closed aspects to their platform. But this is far outweighed IMHO by the ecology that they have made possible.

  2. Absolutely, my next iPhone book is going to have at least one (or possibly) two chapters dealing with using the iPhone (and iPad) and the center of a distributed wireless sensor network. The building blocks of the network? Arduinos of course...

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Just found this place as I was searching about more information on your second book. Any idea when it might be finished?

    btw. I already have your first iPhone book and I like it.

  5. Should be out as a Rough Cut some time in June, and expecting the paper copies in the shops around Christmas...

  6. December!?

    Oh, at least there's a chance you'll have a Gyroscope chapter?

  7. I think that's now a fair bet...