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Like many relationships, iPhone love can sour

In an era of tinkering, crowdsourcing, mashups and open software, Apple doesn't want to relate so much as be desired. I'd hoped to love my iPhone. Instead I'd fetishized it.
Duane Hoffmann /
/ Source: contributor

When I first got my iPhone 3G in that trendy Apple store in New York City's West Village, I was as entranced as anyone.

It was as if I'd wandered into an exclusive Meatpacking District bar and successfully picked up an attractive model. And not the congenitally insecure type with crushing daddy issues, but the hip, sly, beautiful sort who knows cool places to go and incites envy among my associates.

As with any infatuation, I irked my friends by carrying on at length about my new love. "It comes with YouTube and Google Maps! Isn't that awesome? Sigh. Oh, look at that screen! And those curves!"

My PDAs with my new PDA were just as disconcerting as the canoodling of any new couple: "Um, did you ask what the capital of Mongolia was? Let me just check the Googlepedias and ... Ulan Bator. Wanna look at keyboard cat on YouTube again? Awesome."

Put the damn thing away, said my friends. They didn't get it. They didn't get us.

Then came the inevitable bumps as the honeymoon drew to an end.

Me: "Whadya mean you won't copy and paste? Everyone copies and pastes these days!"

iPhone: "Yeah, well you never asked, and what are you going to do anyway, break your contract? I'll copy and paste when I'm good and ready."

We got copying and pasting worked out, but only when Apple saw fit to add it as a software feature that coincided with the third — yeah, that's right, third — release of the iPhone.

I'd gotten the Russian mail-order bride of the gadget world: Hot, sexy, totally intractable. Oh, you can dress it up in a lot of apps, particularly if you toss some cash about. But even there the rules are set by Apple, and two-way communication isn't the company's strong suit.

In an era of tinkering, crowdsourcing, mashups and open software, Apple doesn't want to relate so much as be desired. I'd hoped to love my iPhone. Instead I'd fetishized it.

It rapidly became clear the bloom was off the rose. I may or may not have experimented by bringing jailbreaking (loading unauthorized software) into the mix to see if third-party developers could help satisfy my needs.

And I may or may not have had the sort of success you'd expect if you carry this tortured metaphor to its logical conclusion. Jailbreaking's great if you're a bigger geek than I, but it can complicate your life and phone.

I started talking bad about the phone to my friends. Little things stacked up, like the phone's insistence on always downloading mobile versions of Web pages instead of the regular ones I'd bought all that extra pretty screen for.

I'd curse the tiny problems, frustrate myself trying to fix them and give up or wait until I got home to browse the Web on my computer.

And that's where it happened. As I installed a useful add-on in my computer’s Firefox Web browser, I had an epiphany: I am in an emotionally abusive relationship with my iPhone!

The iPhone's pretty and charming, and I love it and hate it in about equal measure. But one thing's for sure about the iPhone: It doesn't compromise. It's an Apple product, after all. You get what Mr. Jobs thinks is best for you. Mostly, he's pretty much on the money, but it's clear that when Apple's wrong, the issue's not open for debate.

But here's the thing. Leaving the relationship conceit aside for a moment, I paid a chunk of change for this thing. I also put up with AT&T. Finally, and most important, not only were certain promises made in breathless ad campaigns (like the tacit promise that the camera wouldn't suck), consumers of technology now have certain expectations vis-a-vis freedom and flexibility.

All of everybody wasn't on the cover of Time for nothing, you know. Some of us know a thing or two about computer phone software 'n junk. Whether Apple likes it or not, the time of crowdsourcing and open source is here, and even those of us who don't know a compiler from an interpreter are getting used to it.

My little chunk of curvy tech is great strictly on its own terms. However, if you want to use the 16 gigs of memory you paid for and the accompanying USB cable as a portable hard drive, you'd better get a Mac to go with it. If you yearn for the MP3 player to play files you drag and drop from your hard drive?

Well ... have you heard of iTunes? It's terrible and restrictive and Apple encourages you to learn to love it. For all their talk of customization and the App Store, Apple sets pretty restrictive boundaries. And you know what else you can't do? Install a good browser.

If you'd prefer Firefox over Safari on your iPhone? Well, there is definitely no app for that. Like any good lunatic girlfriend, the iPhone doesn't want you hanging out with reliable old pals.

And Firefox does have the qualities of a good friend. It's dependable, adaptable and basically up for anything. If you and Firefox can't work out a solution to your problems, Firefox will introduce you to add-ons that might be able to help.

You need your browser to be an FTP client? There's an add-on for that. You need a color-picker, a screen-capture application, a Twitter client or any of a host of other extensions? There's almost certainly an add-on with your name on it, and Firefox will help you find it — for free.

Of course, Apple's trying to help here and there. And why wouldn't they? Sales of iPhones are growing a lot faster than Apple's Mac market. Apple recently released new firmware for existing iPhones to coincide with its launch of the new iPhone 3GS hardware.

The software upgrade finally adds copy and paste (thank goodness), includes Dictaphone software and tweaks a number of things that should probably have been in the last software release.

It's appreciated, but it leaves me flat. It's like your crappy significant other finally getting it together to remember your birthday by helping with laundry, or asking what you want for dinner.

You're SUPPOSED to help with laundry, you jerk! And for dinner, I'd like to use this glorified external hard drive as, you know, an external hard drive. Dropping fewer calls would be keen too.

Does the software upgrade let you use the video camera and hard drive that came with your old phone to record video? No. Buy the 3GS!

Did they include a browser setting so you don't have to tell the Internet you're browsing on a mobile device? Nope. Can you view Flash videos or Web sites? No, the iPhone doesn't want you looking at that sort of stuff.

And can you use the App Store to fix the various annoying problems still causing hiccups and annoyances? Well, sometimes, but not reliably. Things like browsers and Flash seem to be right off the table.

There are plenty of cool games, but when you want to copy and paste a phone number from a Web site into your phone app (remember, this thing is supposed to be a phone) rather than chanting a string of numbers like an autistic Gregorian, the whimsical distraction of games might just escape you.

The iPhone remains a great piece of hardware. It's attractive, powerful and comes with GPS, a great touch screen and an accelerometer. It is however, nothing like the open-source beauties we're getting to know. Firefox is at the top of the heap right now, but plays in the browser field. Android, however, is coming on stronger every day.

Google's open-source mobile operating system already does some crazy things. I just hope they don't mess up the market for developers as convincingly as Apple seems to have done quite successfully.

Daniel Harrison is frequently frustrated by his iPhone on Twitter and Facebook.