New wiki page - Problems of typical "closed" phones

Al Johnson openmoko at
Mon Feb 4 10:17:39 CET 2008

On Sunday 03 February 2008, JW wrote:
> Hi Openmoko community
> I created a new page to list the problems of typical "closed" phones with
> the intention of informing potential Openmoko phone buyers.
> Please add your examples to the 4 I included as a starting point.
> Feedback welcome! :-)
> JW

The 3 examples currently there are all operator issues, and may apply equally 
to 'open' and 'closed' handsets.

* Being locked to 1 operator is because the operator provides a customised 
firmware version on the handsets they subsidise. Changing this is possible 
for a shop or a technical user, but depending on jurisdiction and contract 
may not be legal. There is nothing to stop the operators doing the same with 
an 'open' handset since the restriction is legal rather than technical.

* Crippled phone features are very much like the locking example above. A 
firmware update to the manufacturer's default firmware will get all the 
features working again, but may not be legal. Again the legal restriction 
could be applied to an 'open' handset.

* Data plan restrictions prevent the use of certain types of application, and 
are controlled by the operator's network. Typically in the UK there are 2 
levels of 'unrestricted' data plan. The cheaper one allows web browsing from 
the phone handset and not much else. The more expensive one allows more or 
less open access. Again the restrictions are operator-imposed and will apply 
equally to the 'open' handset.

Here are some examples where 'open' and 'closed' are really different.
* Manufacturer introduces hadset with seriously buggy firmware, and 
discontinues support before the bugs are fixed. See for a 
smartphone example. An older example is the Nokia 5210 where most firmware 
versions had a noncompliant IrDA software implementation for phonebook 

* Manufacturer introduces a new handset model that is essentially the same 
hardware with a firmware update, but firmware to enable this on the old model 
isn't available.

* Manufacturer doesn't allow running of 3rd party apps. It may be possible 
with a hack, but the next firmware update may brick the expensive handset. 
iPhone anyone?

* Manufacturer doesn't implement hardware functionality in firmware. See 
recent threats of class action suit against HTC:

* Phone behaves in a way you consider braindead - wouldn't it be so much 
easier if it just did X?

With a 'closed' phone you are at the mercy of the manufacturer for fixes and 
updates. With an open phone a sufficiently technical user can fix it 
themself. The average user is probably at the mercy of the community, but the 
community is generally more responsive to requests than handset 
manufacturers, and can be induced to fix things with offers of money, beer, 
pizza etc.

More information about the community mailing list