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US Government swaps to Apple because it's not user friendly

Editorial Staff

It might sound an odd thing to say about the iPhone that it's not user friendly but it's true. As soon as you want to do something Apple doesn't want you to do. you are on your own, you have to void your warranty, and you might find you are locked out of some of the services you bought the phone for in the first place. In short, the iPhone is user friendly if you use it as Apple want you to.

Apple has succeeded where Microsoft has failed: it's managed to lock its users into its so-called ecosystem against which it defends all comers. If you want to read The Economist on your tablet, better by an iPad. Want access to iTunes? Get an iThingy.

Several years ago, when a technical hitch broke Research in Motion's Blackberry platform, Microsoft was quick to try to break the company. The reason was simple: because of its encrypted messaging systems, BlackBerry had become the de facto standard for all government agencies. When the platform broke, there was pandemonium: it turned out that the Secret Service was so dependent on the system that there were real fears of security breaches around high value targets such as the President.

The extent to which the US government depends on BlackBerry around the world became clear when information leaked that CIA operations had been compromised by the blackout.

But there is another problem: BlackBerry in several countries, notably in the Arab world, has had to agree to give its encryption keys to government agencies as a condition of continued operation in those countries. And in the UK, there was talk of banning the use of encryption through the BlackBerry system in the wake of riots in which the platform's messaging system (BBM) was identified as having been a primary medium for arranging what had originally been thought to have been flash riots.

Gradually, RIM decided that its consumer division was not generating the kind of profits it wanted for the costs of running it. Recently it announced that it planned to close the consumer unit. That led to a flurry of activity as users in, for example, Singapore came up to renewal and wondered if the service would last for the term of the contract they were signing up for.

BBM is especially popular in Indonesia where packages allow free messaging between users and allow families who are often scattered across the country to keep in touch at reasonable cost, especially given the creaky infrastructure of land-lines.

So, with its focus on government and corporate accounts, and some new products announced or in the offing, RIM said that it was reshaping itself.

But then the rearguard action by US companies against Canadian RIM started to pay off. The leader in the attacks, Microsoft, which seems to be in some kind of hiatus in its attempts to take over the messaging world, is busy with Windows 8 which it hopes will bring it up to speed in the mobile and tablet markets - although whether it's enough to save Nokia remains to be seen. That company is having to go to the market to raise the money to produce the phones it hopes to sell in the Christmas period.

The surprise competition has come from Apple. The USA's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (it's got an enlarged name but is still known by its former initials of ATF) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that they were both switching from BlackBerry to the iPhone. Yesterday, Reuters reported that the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) had written to all of its staff telling them that ICE is doing the same because RIM "can no longer meet the mobile technology needs of the agency."

The reason? Apple keeps a tighter control over the hardware and software and the distribution of apps.

So there you have it: the US government won't move to Android (itself a product of a US company) because it wants it to be difficult for its staff to make the phones do what they want to do and because Apple makes it easier for the government to control what its staff do with their phones.

Two of our people spent over two hours last night trying to get iTunes data accessible on a (Windows) pc after a hard disk replacement, made even more difficult by Apple's insistence on encrypting all kinds of stuff and converting file names to gobbledegook, so, after a morning's moaning by both of them, we fully understand the US government's decision: it's buying the iPhone because it's a nightmare as soon as you want to go off-piste.