Last weekend, Steve Jobs revealed that Apple has built a “kill-switch” into every iPhone to terminate any “malicious or inappropriate” programs that somehow got through their application screening process. Of course, nobody but Steve Jobs knows what “malicious or inappropriate” means, or who decides what qualifies, but this is just another way that Apple is showing the possible downside of a highly centralized and proprietary platform.
This revelation by Steve Jobs shouldn’t surprise anybody, as it’s in line with the traditional Apple walled-garden philosophy, but it still represents a major step in the wrong direction. By asserting absolute central control over iPhones in the wild, Apple has solidified the iPhone’s status as a “tethered” device, and mark Jonathan Zittrain’s words, tethering is like DRM but worse.
There are a lot of things that are appealing about the iPhone for both users and developers: it’s a beautiful, shiny device, it’s in a lot of people’s hands, and it has a lot of killer features that aren’t in any other popular devices. But really, allowing this tethering to happen without protest strongly sends the wrong message to tech manufacturers. And if we’re quiet about tethering now, it will be a lot harder to kill it later.