The adoption of “open” is moving full steam ahead in the mobile industry as platforms like Android continue to take the spotlight. With the growing popularity of smartphones and the mobile Web, software has emerged as the key enabler for customized consumer experiences. But in mobile today, “open” takes many forms: open platforms, open markets, open source. As the mobile ecosystem continues to accelerate – all forms of “open” are gaining acceptance with great benefit to the developer and the end-user.
Historically, smartphone operating systems have been proprietary so that handset manufacturers had more control over the applications that were included in their devices. But in a market that is growing as rapidly as mobile, it is impossible to imagine that one company could ever possibly innovate fast enough to outpace the entire industry. In fact, the concept that a single company could own “the platform” causes much concern across our industry for fear that it would reduce innovation, and harm both manufacturers and developers.
That said, the possibility of being the next “Microsoft of mobile” is exactly what every platform vendor dreams of. And this is where open source has particularly appealed to device manufacturers, developers and mobile operators. The idea that an entire community is collaborating together and developing technology at a pace that could never be matched by a single commercial entity is extremely attractive.
Developers are, at their core, in the software business. While developers love cool technology, they love access to customers and the ability to build a successful business around their innovation even more. It is an incredibly exciting time for developers looking to bring their innovations to life, as the entire mobile industry is eager to support and work with them. By sharing an ecosystem across multiple vendors, the potential for success to the end developer is exponentially greater.
Operators also have much to gain by working with open source to reduce the number of platforms they support in order to reduce cost. Platforms like Android provide an opportunity to influence the evolution of the platform, as well as ensure that the platform of choice is available to multiple vendors, avoiding vendor lock-in.
From handset manufacturers to developers to operators, open source is a key driver of change in the mobile handset market. Based on my experience overseeing Motorola’s MOTODEV Developer Network and providing the developer community with the tools and resources they need to create new applications, there are three imperatives for ensuring open source’s long-term success:
1. Embrace the meritocracy: Open source is benefiting from the mobile market boom. Companies leveraging this new development model do sacrifice some control. But in return they gain an accelerated pace of development, shared investment in the platform costs and a level playing field for multiple vendors. A group of industry leaders and passionate community developers can accomplish what no single company ever could.
2. Empower the developer: Open platforms are accelerating application development. It’s imperative for handset manufacturers to embrace their developer communities from design to deployment by offering early and direct access to platform APIs and information that can speed innovation and get developers’ applications to market. If you want meaningful companies to build viable businesses, you need to build channels that reflect the variety and reality of their businesses today. Otherwise you could end up with a very broad catalog of very shallow innovation.
3. Don’t fence in the ecosystem: We should learn from the past: Walled gardens never last. We have seen this on the desktop and also on the Internet. I can only believe that this will be true for mobile as well. Users are seeking Web-based content to create a variety of experiences. Whatever is possible on the Internet will be possible in your pocket. Only the experience will be richer, because mobile phones are aware of where you are and what you are doing.
We should not read too much into the early successes we see in the mobile ecosystem today. As a good friend of mine likes to say: “The pilgrims get the arrows and the settlers get the land.” Open markets have every chance of outpacing the walled gardens you see today.
Over the past few years, a number of like-minded companies’ efforts have converged to invest in this common open platform. An example would be to examine what Open Handset Alliance has done in gathering a group of members interested in changing the mobile experience for consumers. In doing so, the industry is making it easy for developers to access the right tools and speed the pace of their innovation. And likewise, open markets enable distribution opportunities that are broader and richer than a single storefront could offer.
The open source platforms we see today have every opportunity to succeed above their commercial counterparts. Android, as an example, is the first truly open, freely available Linux-based phone stack. In this, Android presents promising opportunities for developers looking for a simple way to develop open-source applications. Open source has the potential to succeed because, by its very nature, it is not fenced in.
Wyatt is vice president of Ecosystem and Platforms at Motorola.