SAN FRANCISCO—Even with daily volatility in the macro-economy, many of the advocates for open mobile networks, both in the United States and abroad, are optimistic for the direction the industry is moving, even though some admit they’re not sure how all the business models will shake out.
Close to 200 people attended the first-ever Open Mobile Summit, held Wednesday and Thursday and produced by Open Mobile Media. Speakers included Len Lauer, COO at Qualcomm; Marco Boerries, executive vice president of the Yahoo! Connected Life division; and Mary McDowell, chief development officer at Nokia.
Rich Miner, Android co-founder and group manager of mobile platforms at Google, took the stage yesterday and noted the changes that have come in the last 18 months. Before the first iPhone was launched and before Android was announced, Verizon Wireless didn’t have an executive with the title of vice president of open; now it does, he said. AT&T and Verizon Wireless weren’t vying for the top spot as the most open, and unlimited data plans weren’t the norm.
How bad was it before the current trend toward open? In the old model, if a developer built an app, he would test it, then test it with carriers, get deals signed and maybe it might see the light of day. But it was an incredibly complicated process to get an application on phones. Even when the investment arm of Orange, his former employer, invested in companies with cool apps, it was a difficult if not impossible process of getting them to market because someone in the carrier would inevitably identify an area where it might cannibalize existing revenues.
Things are changing now, he said, with the likes of the Apple iPhone and its Apps Store and Android with its marketplace.
Why is it important to Google to make life easier for developers? Miner pointed out Google’s mission statement to organize the world’s information, a task that is ever-more important when it comes to cell phones, which increasingly are outnumbering desktop PCs, as well as landlines and even credit cards.
One reason for creating Android as it is today is Google executives didn’t think it was good to have one party controlling the platform, he said.
Asked who is in charge if something isn’t working on the first commercial Android phone, the G1 sold through T-Mobile USA, Miner said it’s a T-Mobile product with Google; it’s T-Mobile’s data plan and phone subsidies. Google worked with HTC and T-Mobile on the device, but “it’s really a T-Mobile product,” he said.
Another attendee asked how you make sure someone is not infringing copyrights and the quality of the apps are sufficient. Miner suggested the audience think of it like YouTube. If a video infringes, it’s taken down, and people rate videos with stars. Similarly, people are going to download apps that have a lot of stars, and he suggested any damage one wayward app might do is minimal because of the processes that are in place.
Earlier in the week, Rebecca Hanson, vice president for strategy at Sprint’s Xohm, took the stage. In describing Xohm’s business, “we have turned the telco business model upside down,” she said. (Clearwire announced yesterday that its shareholders have approved the combination of Sprint’s Xohm WiMAX business with Clearwire’s.)
With the old model, consumers walk into a store and are faced with a 2-year contract. The telco conducts a credit check, and it takes about 56 minutes to walk in and buy a cell phone and plan, she said. That’s because the devices are subsidized and to recoup the investment, operators need to guarantee a revenue stream for two years.
Xohm, however, isn’t bogged down with royalties, so it lowers the chipset cost, and there’s no need to tie subscribers into long-term contracts. You can buy a device, take it home and set it up. “You can do it at your convenience,” she said. “If you want to do it at 11 p.m. at night in your pajamas, you’re welcome to do that.”