There’s such a thing as TOO open

From the Register, by way of Broadsight, it seems that Google has patched an issue with Android that interpreted text you type as commands. So you can type “reboot” and reboot the phone.

Really? Really?

I mean, I’ve heard Android is supposed to be an open platform. But if the tale is true — and there isn’t some kind of double-backflip configuration knob you have to fiddle with to make this work — it’s a big deal.

Consumer electronics don’t like to be open. Openness breeds complexity. The iPhone is criticized for being closed, but it’s usable (despite this post to the contrary) in part because it’s locked down. The button-bar iPhone resembles nothing so much as the old Compuserve menu. It took us years to move from consumer adoption of buttons to comfort with the open web.

If you let humans play with the guts of things, they tend to break in new and creative ways. Social engineering is the new hacking; now that many operating systems are patched and scanned, hackers exploit human weaknesses to send drive-by malware links to Facebook users. (Good thing the bad guys are after Warcraft passwords, then.)

But back to Android. Apple locks it down; Google opens it up. One approach delivers a seamless experience, the other so much flexibility you can hurt yourself. Apple assumes people will use its devices on a busy New York subway, jostling for handholds and bouncing in purses. Google assumes people will hack together scripts and plug-ins, finding new ways to use tag clouds and APIs. Apple partners with monopoly-scale carriers; Google lobbies for free spectrum.

The two philosophies couldn’t be more different. It’ll be fascinating to see whether integration trumps flexibility, or vice-versa.

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