The iPhone is pretty nice, but here’s the phone I’m really interested in: Neo 1973. It’s the first totally free-as-in-freedom open-source, hackable phone. Building in openness means that we can escape the mess of crappy phone software and proprietary systems. The cell-phone industry in the US is grossly distorted by contract lock-in, phones sold through service providers, and proprietary services– it’s why almost everyone hates their phone. A few months ago, I switched to Verizon to get better call reliability and ended up with a Motorola Razr with Verizon’s custom software installed onto it. It’s one of the worst pieces of software I’ve ever used– terrible interface, totally inconsistent navigation, extremely slow to perform basic functions (like viewing my list of contacts), and it’s constantly trying to promote their awful ‘VCast’ service.
An open phone means an end-run around this mess, by putting people in control. Just like the openness of the web, phone openness means that the best software, best services, and best interfaces will get passed from person to person. More competition, more freedom, and a better user experience.
Right now it looks like Neo is targeted to developers. I’ll probably wait a while before getting one (assuming it can work with Verizon, which I haven’t even looked into).