Why a Linux Aficionado Uses an iPhone

Monday Feb 28th 2011 by Matt Hartley
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A Linux expert realizes that blind loyalty to a platform has its limitations.

(Editor’s note: Matt Hartley is a Linux expert who has written articles such as 20 New User Misconceptions about Linux and Open Source Alternatives to Google. Why does he carry an iPhone in his pocket?)

What drives some people to use one mobile platform over another?

Although I’m a diehard Linux advocate, I happen to be a reasonably happy owner of an iPhone 4. You didn't just misread this, I actually prefer using the iPhone over countless Android phones I’ve tried in the past.

With each smartphone tested, I kept finding myself comparing the Android phones to my iPhone. Maybe this is because the iPhone was providing me with the kind of experience I wanted from my smartphone. Why switch something if what you have already works?

So what would motivate a Linux enthusiast to use something not produced by the open source community, to instead embrace a walled garden of restrictions and boundaries? Oddly enough as an end user, I simply never experienced anxiety from this issue. Instead, I found the iPhone just did what I wanted it to do: it provides me with a stable, usable smartphone experience that I can rely on.

Initial motivation examined

My relationship with smartphones began long before Apple ever hinted at building a phone of their own. We're talking back when your choices were either BlackBerry, Symbian-based or Windows Mobile phones. Since, I wasn't interested in Windows Mobile, this led me first to a Symbian-based phone, and then later on to BlackBerry.

For years, I had a love affair with my BlackBerry. It was the first smartphone I could operate with one hand. You might think this is a silly thing to point out, but for multitaskers, being able to operate a smartphone effectively with a single palm grip is invaluable.

Yes, the BlackBerry was fantastic for using my calendar, email and keeping everything synced up nicely. What else could I possibly ask for? As it turned out, something pretty darned important! The mobile browser provided on my BlackBerry was terrible. I wanted a browser that didn't make Web surfing a painful experience.

The Web browsing experience brought me around to the first version of the iPhone. While I loved my experience on the BlackBerry (for the most part), the iPhone easily topped the BlackBerry in Web browsing. There wasn't even a contest between the two devices in this space.

Unfortunately I was locked into my BlackBerry for a while with no upgrades available. And to be honest, I'm simply not an early adopter with my mobile devices. I rely on them too much and couldn't afford to wait while any potential “bugs” were being fixed. So I waited. Once my upgrade was available, I switched my BlackBerry to the iPhone 3G.

Obviously, the lack of open source software or even the fact that I could have switched to T-Mobile at the time and purchased an HTC G1 crossed my mind. But after trying the G1, I was convinced that I'd be sticking with the iPhone despite what everyone in the media was saying at the time.

To be honest, the G1 was a terrible phone. That was my earliest impression of Android. I wasn't impressed in the slightest with the G1. That experience left me feeling quite skeptical about Android's development from that day forward.

What about Android and Open Source?

You might think that I'm walking around with an Apple logo tattooed to my forehead. Nothing could be further from the truth. I can't stand OS X.

I find it irritating to use despite many attempts. My wife has an iMac in her office, while my own office is full of Linux PCs, plus one iPhone. I simply find that iOS meets my expectations while OS X makes me want to break things. I am unable to offer any deeper comparison than that.

Remember, this has nothing to do with brand loyalty. I don't use iTunes for anything short of upgrading my iPhone and I stay clear of all other Apple products. The iPhone is simply a tool that allows me to do what I need to do. Owning the iPhone 4 is simply an extension of this access to the functionality I want in a smartphone.

Now today's Android phones are looking sharp. And it wouldn't be impossible to see myself using an Android 3.x+ phone in the near future when my next upgrade comes around.

After all, both the iPhone and Android offer many of the same apps. Some of the apps available are even exclusively designed for Android. Yet sadly, nothing has proven compelling enough for me to simply drop a working iPhone 4 and gamble that my experience with some random Android phone is going to be a positive one.

Even with the annoying locked-up nature of the iPhone firmly in my grasp, it's providing me with the expected experience I want from it.

See, the beauty of open source software is that I'm not limited to products taking this approach to licensing. When a product works for me, I openly embrace it. Much like I do with the Linux desktop and utilizing Linux servers.

But this doesn't mean that I'm going to use everything out there with a Linux kernel just because it's got a Linux kernel. In my case, means relying on the Apple iPhone line of smartphones because it fits my needs. As stated previously, I don't know what tomorrow holds. Android is likely to be in my future. That is, it can become something I use – if some additional things are added.

Getting me to switch to Android – Today

This is bound to come up, so I'll address the question now. What would make me switch to Android, right this very minute?

One of the missing pieces for me personally is already being addressed. We now have Amazon Kindle for Android. But where Android is still falling short is the lack of a music and/or movie store. I personally don't listen to music on my iPhone. I do however, watch video content on my iPhone.

The iPhone’s video choices are rich: Hulu Plus, iTunes movies, Netflix, you name it and the iPhone has an app for it. And despite the clear need for it, Android has no real "movie store" where I can seamlessly purchase great mainstream movies. This is a real let down for a casual user like me.

Hulu Plus or Netflix on Android then? Nope, although it's been reported that Netflix is going to be pre-bundled with select new Android phones. As for Hulu Plus, it's still in perpetual "pending" status it seems. So unless you want to install Play-On, run a separate PC (using MS Windows) back on the home front to "stream" content to your Android phone, you're just out of luck.

Before the spiteful comments start seeping in about how I’m nuts for allowing something stupid like VOD content availability to dictate which mobile platform I use, please re-read this article. Why? To reiterate, I use my iPhone because it provides me with the experience I want, not one that works for the "masses."

Most of my family is perfectly fine with Android. It's meeting their needs, so the beat goes on. The key take away here is meeting my needs, not theirs or yours.

Technology need not be a one way street

I genuinely hope that this article will help others see that the technology in your world doesn't have to be bound to a single brand. There is life outside of blind brand/platform loyalty.

For me, this translates into being a full time desktop Linux enthusiast who is content using an iPhone 4. Not because it's better than the open source alternatives, rather because the phone is fulfilling its duties just fine, based on my own expectations.

I encourage you to check out the latest Android phones from your current mobile provider, in addition to the iPhone. Make an informed choice not based on blurred loyalty, but rather because it's offering you the functionality that makes the most sense for you.

Clearly, should my role move into that of an application developer or someone who had to deal with Apple in another capacity, my focus would likely shift sooner to something running Android. Unfortunately though, I merely need to handle my email, calendar and entertainment needs. And this has led me to the device I use to this very day, my Apple iPhone 4.

Tomorrow, who knows, this may very well change.

ALSO SEE: Open Source Software: Top 59 Sites

AND: Ubuntu: Where Did the Love Go?

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