Thoughts on the mobile world

People say if you want to boil a frog you put it in the pot while the water is still cold. If you throw it in when the water is boiling the frog will jump out. If the water is cold, the frog will stay and by the time the water is too hot it is too late to jump.

Whenever I look at the mobile world I can’t stop wondering why people accept being locked in just to use a device? Although you might think I’m talking about iPhone, actually I’m talking about any situation where you have to give away your freedom of choice in order to access a service or a device.

Let’s put it in another way. Suppose you buy a car, and the dealer tells you “I’m happy you chose our brand sir! You know you’ll be able to use it only on these specific roads and only with gas from these petrol stations“. I bet if this happened to you, you would not buy the damn car.

This is something that would never happen on a free market (such as the automobile’s industry). However, the mobile industry is not a free market. In order to be a carrier you need a license from the government where you want to do business. The number of licenses is controlled, thus the players have much more power than the players in a free market. It is almost a monopolistic position with only “one” provider to satisfy the market.

I think the answer is pretty simple, we arrived at this state one small step at a time because of the way the system is setup and works. We are frogs in the pot and we feel the warm water pleasing rather than threatening.  At the same time I think this is not sustainable and I’ll explain why.

If I apply another level of abstraction to this problem, I can move the whole problem and discuss it in terms of capitalism/statism and democracy/communism. History tells us that although in the short term statism can produce miracles, in the long term it always fails. Having one entity controlling how and what should be done is not sustainable and kills creativity. Because if you want to be creative sometimes the only solution is to break the existent barriers and just go wild. But going outside the rules and boundaries is forbidden in these systems.

Coming back to the mobile world I do believe that both carriers and device manufacturers will have to change their behavior if they want to last. And probably they’ll do it because other forces, from outside of their system, will push them to do so.

Probably I’m more sensitive to this matter because I grew up in a communist country, and whenever I see something that restricts my freedom I can’t stop thinking about the history lessons. If you enjoyed this post, you may want to read Miti’s post on Flash and iPhone.

4 thoughts on “Thoughts on the mobile world

  1. Yeah, it’s so true. That’s why I haven’t bought iPhone and probably it’s better to get something Android driven.

  2. Hello Mihai

    I agree that the mobile world needs more openness and “walled garden” approaches stifle innovation.

    However, I think your analogies with the auto industry and wireless spectrum are somewhat misleading.

    Food for thought:
    Who builds the roads on which you drive your car ? The state. If it were private companies, then we may end up having to pay a toll at every street corner …

    Why do governments license wireless spectrum ? Because of Physics. If a minimal level of interference couldn’t be guaranteed in a given spectrum band, then all the nice cellular comms technologies we have today would fail to work…

    So what do we make of that ?
    I dunno, but I think that at times there is a greater benefit to the whole community in having a “benevolent dictator”, rather than leaving it up for individuals and corporations to figure it out in a seemingly “free” way.
    It is then up to the “benevolent dictator” to get up and running the basic infrastructure on which innovation can strive, and keep it accessible on a fair basis.
    (Note that the term “benevolent dictator” is not mine, but was employed in another blog to refer to Google’s role in the Android ecosystem).

    Who would you prefer to have in this role for mobile applications development ?
    Apple, Google, Adobe, Microsoft, your local cellco, the phone manufacturer ?

    The good news for us is that is that at least there is choice.

  3. Great post Mihai, and pretty accurate all round.

    Networks unfortunately are very complex, and in the early days it was necessary to license out the spectrum to enable competition. Without that we’d probably have monopolies.

    Ultimately with many carriers we are still playing the same cards that we did with AOL, Compuserve etc. Back then our ISPs believed that they could serve us content better than the Internet itself. Compuserve used to have a button “Go on Internet” and that was while you were online!

    Those days are long past us, and now companies like Google (Android) are trying to move us along to a new model where we take ownership of our devices and become carrier agnostic.

    Will it work? Maybe, but just watch as OEMs fragment the Android platform, it’ll be called “differentiation” but we know that means “incompatible”.

    In the future we’ll see carriers realise that they aren’t music and games publishers. They’ll hopefully concentrate on building advanced networks and help people communicate, rather than sell them crazy frogs.


  4. Pingback: Open Screen Project, iPad, and buzzwords : Mihai CORLAN

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