Breaking the chains 

Following up on my discussion of the auction of the wireless spectrum: Google had asked the Federal Communications Commission to impose four requirements on whoever won the use of the 700Mhz bandwidth: open applications, open devices, open services, and open networks. Of those, the FCC accepted open devices (e.g. unlocked phones) and open applications (such as Skype).

If you can’t join ’em, sue ’em: The wireless carriers — our great benefactors — are obviously unhappy with any of those requirements; the end of their inflated fees and shackling contracts may be nigh. Verizon has petitioned the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit to make the FCC ditch the open-access mandates altogether. Google has expressed disappointment at Verizon’s move; Google’s head of special initiatives, Chris Sacca, blogged, “Once again, it is American consumers who lose from these tactics.”

Apple has reportedly been “studying” the ramification of joining the auction itself. Having finally acquired an iPhone, I can envision all the more clearly a near future for the clever devices — from different manufacturers, all unlocked, and many installed with open-source Linux — roaming a giant gas cloud of wireless internet.

Meanwhile, Google the Instigator has reportedly been collaborating with mobile-device-maker HTC on the rumored Gphone. HTC has already released the HTC Touch, a very sleek Windows Mobile smart phone with specs similar to the iPhone. I would be stunned if Google wants to put the terribly clunky Microsoft operating system on their first branded hardware; I will hope for a very hackable G-flavored Linux.

Speaking of, I’m well pleased by the hackability of the iPhone’s OS — you know, the one that Apple has supposedly blocked from accepting third-party applications? Just in the last couple of weeks, these hacks have come into their own, involving a simple initial “unshackling” or “jailbreaking” procedure. I’ve hacked the heck out of my iPhone with freely available apps, including games (not that I want them sucking on my precious battery), a Flickr uploader, a task list (which the iPhone so far lacks), and a simple word processor. One also gets access to the Ringtones folder to upload any MP3 in one’s collection.

I’m hoping all of this spells the beginning of some real and significant changes to the iPhone’s software. It’s an amazing device — it took my Treo out to the back shed and spanked it till it squealed — but there’s so much unrealized potential.

Finally, my personal chain-breaking story: In July, Palm released a software update for the Treo 700p. I followed the slightly Gordian instructions to install, and it promptly broke the phone’s internet connection. Meh. I had to take the Treo offline and then back online every time I wanted to use the speedy internet, the one I pay an absurd fee for every month. Oh, yeah: The Treo was also still hanging periodically (what the update was supposed to fix) and it synched all my calendar events into the wrong time zone.

Seven hours of tech-support calls later, and I was out of my Verizon contract with no termination fee … and back in another two-year contract with AT&T. Hello, iPhone. Hello, shackles.

Jonathan Marcus publishes online at


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