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.