On my daily slog through the grand stream of news, and it flows like a mighty river, I came across an article regarding how the Android mobile phone operating system has its first trojan horse. It’s a rite of passage for operating systems, to be exploited, the authors hard work lampooned by some clever other who finds a way to trick users to perform some really comically bad tasks on their device, often without them even being aware. This particular trojan horse is an otherwise innocuous Android app that does something simple, like wallpaper changing or something, but in reality what it does surreptitiously is send SMS messages to pay-for-SMS sites, the guess is that the trojan horse is sending SMS traffic to the right people so the writers of the trojan horse benefit financially from the trojan horse and it’s spread.
When I saw this story, I immediately started to re-compare the iOS system that Apple uses and the Android system that Google uses. Along with this I can’t get Cory Doctorow or Richard Stallman out of my head. These two were the ones who lambasted Apple for their closed approach to software, closed device, a curated application creation process and restricting what the device can and cannot do. Both Mr. Doctorow and Mr. Stallman have railed at length, declaring that the only real computing platform is one that is utterly open and utterly free. I have to register that I respect both of these men, as much as I respect Steve Jobs at Apple, but to their point I feel I must point out a thin sliver of bullshit. While having a system that is perfectly open and perfectly free is very attractive, it is also wide open to the nasty aspect of computer science, the malware authors and their creations.
If we lived in a perfect world without the people who created these bits of malware such an open system would be an utter utopia, it would be level, easy, efficient, and wonderful. We do not live in that sort of world. This is where I differ from Mr. Doctorow and Mr. Stallman. What system do I prefer, which one would I want my family to use? It has to be iOS from Apple. That applications are curated by Apple is partially the value, the other is that the devices are firmly locked so that there is no possibility for a certain kind of clever creativity. The devices work according to a logical plan set forth by Apple and nobody is allowed to stray from the path. This grates against the tenets of Free Software, that if you own a thing you should be able to do whatever you wish to the thing. I respect usability and the non-expert nature of users too much to accept that this is a good thing for the consumer. It’s a good thing for the clever like Mr. Doctorow and Mr. Stallman, but these devices weren’t built for them, they were built for regular folk. Having the walled garden, the curated applications, and having Apple as a firm overseer to everything that is done with these devices is an absolute value that only enhances iOS. You accept that some things won’t ever appear on an iOS device for the protection that the overseers provide. Regular folk don’t care to be clever with their technology, they want their technology to be rational, useful, safe and looked after.
Android’s trojan horse is huge. It illustrates this exact point that I am trying to make. If my family were using Android and downloaded this app and used it, they would have an SMS bill to pay and the maliciously clever app writer would make off with their limited resources. I would rather have them living in a gilded cage of Apple’s making than the wild west of Android because I know that they would be happier in-the-cage than out-west.
People come to me and they ask me quite often for guidance on which platform they should adopt, Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android, and the other two, which would be Palm’s WebOS and Microsoft’s Windows Mobile. The latter two don’t even exist to me, Microsoft has been dead to me for several years now, and Palm spent most of their time waffling into a ditch. The real competition, the real money is between iOS and Android. Before I had respect for the Android system and my only beef with it was that it was way too new and that older devices may not support updated versions of the Android OS and the risk that people could be trapped with an older piece of software because they couldn’t afford to break their two-year committment to the carrier. Now I can say, with a clear argument, that iOS is superior to Android simply because it is safer. What would I have my loved ones use? I’d rather they all use an iOS device from Apple. It’s not only the right choice, but it’s the only choice.