Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Vodaphone's CEO only somewhat delusional

[The story]
Vodafone's CEO spoke a lot about interface. He seems to have fallen into the same delusion that the greatest thing, the most successful thing is the iPhone's interface. The rest of his comments, the ones about the OSes in the space, are only there to prop up his argument that every phone doesn't look like the iPhone, and that his company would have made the iPhone first if it weren't for All Of Those Damn OSes! -- As a bonus, he doesn't think that "...we can't sit back and become bit [read: dumb] pipes." Too bad Mr. Sarin, that's exactly what the people want.

If the European markets are anything like the U.S., there is more than just OS choices that are slowing the market. the strategies of the mobile phone companies have as much to do with the slowing of innovation in the space as anything else.

Each mobile operator offers a set group of phones that do exactly what the operator wants to to do. Almost every phone sold in the world is locked down in some way. More and more people are looking to phones that allow them more freedoms. The problem with the market isn't that there are too many OSes to allow that, but too few freedoms on the OSes that are present. Have you ever bought a Windows Mobile phone with the idea that you would put your favorite app on it, only to find out that your mobile carrier had locked your phone from adding/removing/modifying/etc. anything on your phone? Take a look at some of the more popular mobile phone sites. The problems range from the standard (inability to install certain apps), to the outright stupid (preinstalled images and ringtones that can't be removed.)

All of that says one thing to mobile programmers. "Stay Away!" It's simple, really. If you are a mobile programmer you have to look at the pros and cons of making your program. The pros are that you may sell a few programs and get some recognition. The cons are infinite. What OS do you use is only the first question. Will end users be able to install the program? Will they have to hack the phone to do so? Should I write/include the software to allow the hack? What about network/bluetooth support? Who's version of the phone will it be installed on? How many people will think that my application is broke because of a locked-out phone? etc. etc.

In the end, Mr. Sarin is correct in his thinking that the mobile phone market is messed up, and being threatened. The business model has been dealt several blows in the past few years with open source, mobile wi-fi, and the iPhone. The mobile industry is scrambling to find a way to force its customers to follow a masterplan that includes false hope (Rokr, anyone?), false plans (AT&T's actual MMS rates), multi-year lock-is and phones that are still locked by carrier software restrictions, all the while refusing to believe that this 'open thing' will ever be to their benefit. To them I say, it's good that you're afraid of the iPhone. But its not the interface alone that makes it a top tier product. It represents the future. A future where movies, music, text, interface, and (some) openness come together in a package that people want. It represents a future where the mobile carriers are blind, headless, dumb-pipes to voice and IP connections, whose fascist, cold-war style contracts and plans are but wispy memories, and camp fire horror stories.

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