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The Right to Read: Macworld's iPhone Wish List

Because you're stupid.


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In the world of the Mac Macworld reigns nearly supreme. But a glance at what's done there irrevocably brings thoughts to what life must have been like immediately prior to the invention of the printing press.

For the past twenty years and more Mac users have reveled in not knowing anything about how their computers work. Back in the days before the printing press no one could read. You want to read? Why? If you need to know anything - just ask your vicar! Just ask Macworld.

The reason it's so difficult to find an intelligent discussion of Apple technology is simple: there are too few intelligent people familiar with the platform to go around. The platform hasn't really got off the ground. All you find are discussions of whether the option key should be called the command key or vice versa. For the pros haven't made it over - and they haven't found each other. Not yet.

In this interim publications like Macworld can thrive. This is no CACM; it's no Dr Dobbs; it's merely trying to hook into the enthusiasm for the platform and those working there are successful at what they do. The question is whether they're actually doing anyone any good.

The reason it's so easy to poke holes in Apple technology is simple: there are too few intelligent people familiar with the platform to go around. Apple are a secretive lot; they neither give nor take from the world outside. They're not going to learn from the experience and mistakes of others. They're always going to want to go their own way. Their file system HFS being the perfect example.

No one except a sporadic few can be found discussing the pros and cons of Apple technology from a professional POV. It's traditionally difficult to get any details and the user base gear themselves against questioning the wisdom of the company. And so far they've been lucky.


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'The iPhone has been on the street and in our hands for a little more than a month now - time sure flies when you can browse the Internet and get email anywhere', writes Dan Frakes for the intro to a new article entitled 'iPhone fixes we want to see'.

One of the most revulsive things a developer or an engineer knows is punters trying to act erudite and discuss pseudo advanced things alongside the people who actually toil and sweat and build the devices - and make no mistake: the iPhone is a totally revolutionary device in terms of its technology. But punters at Macworld don't talk about that. They don't talk about it because they don't see it. And they wouldn't see it if it whacked them upside the head - as iPhone malware might do for example.

'So with a month of heavy iPhone use now under belts', continues Frakes with an attempt at machismo and launches into a 'wish list' for the device - and later in the comments section repeatedly points out that the list is of no consequence to anybody save the Macworld editors themselves. Indeed. One wonders in such case why they wrote the blasted thing. But unfortunately one already knows the answer: it's green on one side and black on the other side and it has this creepy eye atop a pyramid.

For the record - and it's totally unimportant - here's the list.

GPS support, 3G, being able to select text, a search tool, multiple selection, landscape mode in more applications, ESTABLISH INTERFACE CONSISTENCY, a unified mail inbox, a spam filter, aggregate message deletion, marking messages as read, forcing messages to display as plain text, more flexible quoting in replies, send pictures as attachments, export mail images to the Photos app, custom ringtones, custom alert tones, use of iPhone as modem, todo lists, syncing Notes, contact list access from home screen, assignment of events to specific calendars, storage capabilities, editing (and not just viewing) text documents, Flash support, a real IM client, video capture, open for third party software.

[People like the editors at Macworld always talk about things like 'interface consistency' because that's easy to bluff about and they don't understand anything about the underlying technology - if they did they wouldn't be working at Macworld now would they?]

But there it is. The wish list. A lot of this has already been seen on thousands of blogs - even on YouTube. Nothing new here, folks - move on. But wait! There's a discussion too? People can actually read?

Well not quite - and not until halfway through the innocuous comments section does anything actually start to happen. Poster 'rmm', designated a 'stranger' with only 14 posts in the four and one half years since first registration, starts to shake things up - rock the boat and make the waves.

Unbelievable!

Exactly one comment here about security. And not one word in the article to which this topic relates.

The iPhone is of limited value if it can be easily compromised, and that has been demonstrated. Since it runs flavors of the OS X operating system and applications such as Safari, it provides both immense potential for growth and enhanced usage, and significant exposure to identity theft. It might even be usable as a vehicle to compromise desktop Macs or PCs.

Business and government won't seriously consider a system as vulnerable as the iPhone. Individuals with any sensitive information should also be deeply concerned.

Perhaps in the age of MySpace where people 'let it all hang out' these are not matters of concern.

One gets the feeling 'rmm', whoever it is, is a fish out of water. Or more accurately: swims in waters the likes of the Macworld staff have never been in contact with. [Think oceans instead of ponds or brooks.]

Frakes is back almost immediately. He has a pea shooter in his back pocket - the kill piece his colleague The Dalrymple published in response to NASA's condemnation of the device. Now who's out of water?

'There's been a lot of noise about this', writes Frakes, naturally citing the colleague's bullshit piece, 'but has anyone actually compromised a real, live iPhone in the wild?'

No of course not. It's not necessary to put your seat belt on until you crash or worry about meteors until one hits you. This is professional thinking in the world of the 'Mac' - by the most professional the platform has to offer.

'rmm', who has evidently done the homework and then some, is back.

Charlie Miller demonstrated a serious exploit at the Black Hat conference. OK, so that's not in the wild. And he and his coworkers gave Apple advance notice and a code fix. Read the paper at:

http://securityevaluators.com/iphone/exploitingiphone.pdf

which describes the vulnerabilities they found in something like two weeks of effort.

And these are the good guys.

The iPhone differs from other devices because it uses a genuine mainstream operating system and a widely available web browser. Stripped down to be sure, but capable of running serious software. And capable of being exploited.

So, if the iPhone hasn't been exploited in the wild yet, are you prepared to hang around waiting until some hapless iPhone user shows up on a CitiBank commercial as the victim of identity theft? How long do you think it will take? As noted a couple of posts back, the iPhone has only been in the marketplace for a month. But it has attracted the attention of the hacker community like honey attracts flies. And not everyone's intentions are benign.

Whoa! What are comments like this doing at Macworld? DOES THE VICAR KNOW!!111one? Frakes back.

My point is simply that as much FUD has been thrown around about the iPhone's 'lack of security' the only actual exploits are stuff like the one you noted - security researchers discovering things and reporting it to Apple. Apple has already released one security update to the iPhone, and I expect them to release others in response to such reports. This is how it's supposed to work.

That's not to say there won't ever be a real world exploit; there's not a single computing platform that I'm aware of that hasn't been compromised. But let's give the iPhone and Apple a chance before claiming that the iPhone 'provides significant exposure to identity theft' and 'might even be usable as a vehicle to compromise desktop Macs or PCs'.

'rmm' is back too. And now it becomes apparent Frakes is being outclassed. Whoever 'rmm' is we're not dealing with a 'Maccie' here - this person's been around, perhaps managed major software projects - this is the experience the platform lacks.

Actually, how it's supposed to work is that design is engineered in properly from the start. The thing about quality is that it's 100 times easier to prevent defects from occurring in the first place than it is to remove them.

'FUD' is what I expect competitors and Apple bashers to leak about the iPhone. When someone gets up in front of an audience and demonstrates a hole big enough to drive a truck through, you've left FUD behind.

As columnists and technical advisers ('gurus') you should be looking critically at products, so it would have been appropriate to raise the issue of security along with the 20 'wouldn't it be nice' features. But maybe I'm expecting Macworld to act too much like Consumer Reports.

As Frakes has now been KO'd it's time for his replacement to take over, enter the ring, wave the white flag, and throw in the towel. Presenting Rob Griffiths of Mac OS X Hints who will now scramble to the defence of his esteemed colleague.

Since it was a list of things to change based on our iPhone experiences, and none of us have had a security issue with the iPhone, it's hardly surprising it didn't come up.

There ya go. 'rmm' still gets the last (sarcastic) word - thankfully.

In that case, I'll be looking forward to the more critical article in the next issue of Macworld.

[This 'rmm' is a real card: there are several levels to that quip. Think about it.]

And on the less sophisticated more superficial level it reads like:

Oh thank you vicar! You're going to give us reading lessons? WHEN? Oh - real soon now? Oh how wonderful! We'll so look forward to it!

At least one person in the security illiterate world of the Mac knows how to read and enjoys it.

Postscript: Not in Isolation

It's not unusual to find 'Mac' publications trying to stop Apple customers from learning how to read. Several of these publications - known by this site but which shall remain unnamed to protect friends and colleagues - have excellent people working and writing for them. And they'd love to raise the bar and at times they try. But they're continually knocked down by owners and senior graybeard editors who want to keep everything 'dumbed down' as it's always been.

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