iPhone's single point of failure

by Volker Weber

Apple has created a single point of failure. It's the activation process.

If you purchase an iPhone, you essentially get a bricked phone. You first need to connect it iTunes which in turn connects to the iTunes store. Then you need to establish an ID for the store, or provide the credentials for an existing one. Apple then activates the phone.

How delicate this system is became apparent last Friday. Not only was the new iPhone 3G available in stores, but also the 2.0 software. And after installing the 2.0 software you need to activate the phone again. Apple simply could not deliver what it had promised.

Why all this nonsense? Control. You actually have to ask permission to use the device you bought. Does this look familiar?

Repeat after me: DRM is bad for the customer.


You're right of course. I'm looking forward to get my iPhone Tuesday/Wednesday, by then I hope the process will be much smoother. As long as there is no benefit at all for me having Apple know that I bought an iPhone, there is know reason for the hassle of the activation.
Maybe one day in the future there will be any benefit, like special offers to iPhone customers..?


Sascha Mohr, 2008-07-13

Perversely, here in the UK it seems that you were better off buying your iPhone in a non-Apple store: Apple’s connection to the O2 activation service failed miserably, whilst O2 had a back-up plan. So if you bought from O2, chances are you were OK (or at least, you got a phone number etc.). If you bought from Apple, sounds like you had an expensive paperweight for the weekend.

And didn’t this happen with the original iPhone launch too? Tsk.

Ben Poole, 2008-07-13

That is a completely different story. The activation process you mean is for the SIM.

Volker Weber, 2008-07-13

Ah OK. So the thing has to be activated twice? Yuck!

Ben Poole, 2008-07-13

No. The thing has to be activated only once. Or, for original thing owners, again after the upate.

The SIM is a separate thing. That has to be activated with the carrier.

Volker Weber, 2008-07-13

Well, everyone here knows that Apple both has the whip and the sugar. The problem is, the sugar tastes so good.

Philipp Sury, 2008-07-13

In English, that would be stick and carrot. ;-)

Volker Weber, 2008-07-13

My iPhone is activated now ok, but it may as well be an iPod touch. Why? Sim activation from O2 uk is still not caught up with demand. I drove to the store where I bought the phone today, as it is supposed to be open. They have the doors locked and were refusing to answer calls or knocks, but they are in there (its glass windows - all the staff were working on terminals but not opening the doors). My guess is that O2 are manually entering in all the details from the users that registered on Friday. I have been told it could be up to Wednesday before I get my number.
Press to say that O2/Apple are under straing due to demand is a good thing... Press to say it is a complete mess is not.

Paul Mooney, 2008-07-13

I missed your "DRM is bad for the customer" in connection with the iphone for a long time ... first enthusiasm gone now? Whilst a WM6 based smartphone is sometimes crappy to use, you can do almost everything you expect to: copy files as you like, install programs as you like, develop programs as you like, buy and sell a device without being handcuffed ...
We'll see soon what Android can deliver - maybe then Apple has to withdraw some of their restrictions.

Axel Koerv, 2008-07-13

I am sure there will be again a colletion sue against Apple because of this in the USA. And Apple will get out of it by offering a bonus to their customers .-(

Thorsten Ebers, 2008-07-13

I have been an enthusiastic OS X user for the last 6 or 7 years, and I've loathed MS for much longer than that. However, after using Nokia phones for years, when I recently decided to get a new phone I opted for a HTC Vario instead of an iPhone, and as much as I despise MS, I think the HTC is really very good, much better than all the different Nokia phones I owned. Apple's tyranny with regards to the iPhone really puts me off it.

Bernard Devlin, 2008-07-13

Yeah, Android will be much better than the iPhone, similarly to Linux being superior to OS X.

Apply/don't apply irony disclaimer according to your personal ideology :-)

Stefan Tilkov, 2008-07-13

If I hear someone trump Android as being the panacea for all ills one more time, I shall scream.


It’s not going to happen. No carrier wants something as open, consumer-friendly and battery-punishing as an Android device! Think about it. When we eventually see the Google phone, it will be a fundamentally crippled, one way or the other.

Ben Poole, 2008-07-13

I can understand the requirement for there to be an activation, and it has little to do with Apple control. It has everything to do with registering your device to your ID so it can pick up your mail.

BlackBerry devices do the same thing -albeit I as a BES administrator can initiate the activation process.

If this were not in place, then I could conceivably activate a new iPhone against your me.com mail account.

This does not excuse Apple however from underestimating the demand for this service, or O2 for instance still not SIM activating the devices.

In terms of O2, having had direct experience with them, and knowing them to be badly organised and unable to actually execute something as complicated as SIM activating a handset, I'm unsurprised at their lack of delivery. However, it is depressing to consider that one of the major mobile phone networks in the UK can still screw up this badly. I also have little faith that any of the other UK networks would fare much better.

Whilst there is a *lot* of DRM built into the apple model - iTunes especially, I dont think the activation process as it stands is necessarily a dilution of our consumer rights.

---* Bill

Bill Buchan, 2008-07-13

Bill, the iPhone activation has NOTHING to do with your mail. There are no similarities with the BlackBerry architecture where the PIN registers the device on the infrastructure. Activation is only necessary to control the channel.

Ben, there will be Android phones. There will be many Android phones. And they will have different feature sets. Stefan has described it well with Linux vs. Mac OS X. Android phones will most likely suffer from standardization issues. Only the stuff important for Google will work on all phones. Applications will not.

Volker Weber, 2008-07-13

I do not expect Android to serve its user with hefty shafting or artificial restriction at all.

Every application compiled from Java-code is supposed to run against a well defined set of APIs on all implementations and future versions of Android.
It is even allowed to do load own native programming, which will just not execute on different architectures naturally.

Roland Leißl, 2008-07-14

Like I say, I’ll judge Android when we actually get a handset. The theory is great, but let’s see the execution.

Ben Poole, 2008-07-14

If the iPhone becomes a business phone: Does iTunes now becomes a standard business application for employees? :-) Sorry, just kidding.

Rene Werth, 2008-07-14

It's not a bad question. Interesting quote from the Enterprise Deployment Guide:

Setting iTunes Restrictions You can restrict your users from using certain iTunes features. This is sometimes referred to as parental controls. The following features can be restricted:

Parental controls is a good word for how enterprises like to look at their employees. They can be trusted with expensive decisions, but they are not allowed to [fill in your favorite app]

Volker Weber, 2008-07-14

While I understand scepticism against Android - Linux is indeed not as smooth as MacOS - there are examples in the market where OpenEmbedded Linux was modified by free software developers and the result is absolutely competetive and comparable (if not superior) to proprietary ("protected") solutions. The Dreambox (Sat receiver and PVR/Mediabox) is such an example. You will have to wait a bit longer maybe until everything is working smooth and stable. My prediction is: 2nd or 3rd generation Android devices will compete against iphone and alikes.

Axel Koerv, 2008-07-14

Excuse us if you use stuff that has matured until that happens. :-)

Volker Weber, 2008-07-14

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