I'd like to come back to a topic that I touched on a few months ago: open. In case you weren't paying attention to CTIA in San Francisco last month (and I won't fault you if you weren't), you may have missed the clarification that the major operators in the States provided to the definition of an ‘open’ network. Sitting together on a stage the bigwigs from Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile each found ways to describe why an 'open' network is not really what the end user wants. Given some of what was said, it's a wonder that any of us are ever able to get apps out there at all.
The panel kicked off as the three CEOs were asked about how they define ‘openness’. While Dan Hesse the CEO of Sprint took the time to clearly articulate three aspects of openness (for the consumer, for the developer, and based on the device), Robert Dotson the CEO of T-Mobile, which is ostensibly the only really open network on the panel (since you slap a T-Mo SIM into anything that’s got an 1900 MhZ radio in it), was all over the map. He went in a circle about using device and software independence to manage apps in a mobile context. Huh? He said that openness is about unleashing innovation, the richness of what happens when creativity is unleashed. He wants to tap in to the genius of developers. OK, fine, but how exactly? I quickly lost track of the number of times he used the words ‘explosiveness’ or ‘explosion'. While eager to get the violent power of developers behind T-Mobile, it’s clear that he was less than sure about the value of actually running an open network. He referenced the need to safeguard users' privacy and security on numerous occasions, but I fail to see how that has to do with open devices. Maybe he’s still touchy since, after all, Paris Hilton’s T-Mo exclusive Sidekick was hacked from the server side. Looking for cover against openness under the notion of protecting privacy seems to be a bit disingenuous.
In later comments, Dotson suggested that the folks who bring outside devices onto the network have a ‘less than good T-Mobile experience.’ Less than good? Maybe he meant to say doubleplusungood. The examples he provided for this poor user experience were for MMS configuration and voicemail. Does anyone really use MMS? Puhleese! I think that he means that their browsers don’t automatically route through the T-Zones homepage so T-Mo probably loses out on potential ad revenue. He also worked on trying to spook the audience about what would happen with ‘unfettered access in an open world’, under which he claims we would all agree results in ‘a pretty poor experience at the end of the day’. He pointed back to the customer wanting and needing to trust that the operator will protect his or her secure, private information and that will require stewardship and control. Ultimately he did provide the examples of presence and location, both of which are handset driven bits of data, which do legitimately require significant protection…
It’s about getting to wherever you want on the web
I found it quite interesting that the CEO of one of the more closed networks did a pretty good job talking about openness. From the consumer side, he stated that it’s about getting to wherever you want on the web. He acknowledged that much of the web effectively sucks on a mobile, but that Sprint isn’t going to stand in the way of the end user getting to whatever site they choose to enter (well except for the fact that they insert transcoding to try to alleviate some of the pain). On the developer side, he pointed to the need for common tools and open standards and citing Sprint’s use of Java as an example of such. Never mind that Sprint was one of the first operators to begin the fragmentation of J2ME (Muglets anyone?). On the device side, his push for open devices was all about WiMax, and we’re turning blue holding our breath for xohm to show up in our neck of the woods. He’s thinking more about ‘devices’ here, citing cameras, laptops, PDAs rather than phones. Since the CDMA network in the States has a limited number of global compatible devices, the newest/coolest ones usually come to the States first anyway. Those nifty wacky CDMA phones that you can pick up from your next jaunt to the far east KDDI or SKT are probably not going to do you much good on the Sprint network (unless you speak Korean or Japanese). The funny (or not) thing that he said is that there is such a thing as ‘too much choice,’ and referred to the Opinion Research study which cited that over 20% of ‘Smartphones’ given as gifts last holiday season were returned. Sprint has recently started running TV Adverts in the US featuring none other than Dan Hesse himself taking page from the Apple Store playbook offering to help set up your device. This is an idea whose time came a long time ago, but they’re just getting around to now.
Any device, any application
Lowell McAdam, the top dog at Verizon (the other CDMA major in the US) touted the Open Development Initiative there at Verizon, which promises ‘any device, any application'. However, keep in mind that by ‘any application’ what they really mean is ‘any way you wish to build a vertical application of CDMA technology’ not ‘any application you want to build to run on a Verizon mobile terminal’. Don’t get me wrong, this is an interesting space, but it’s just not the one you were probably thinking about. The idea is that anyone can go out and drop a Qualcomm CDMA chipset into whatever appliance they want and go along their merry way. Think of a traffic monitoring camera that sends back data over the Verizon EV-DO network. That would be ‘any device, any application'. I’m the wrong guy to brainstorm what might be coming down the pipe here, but the ‘applications’ shown on their web page are a residential electricity meter, a fuel pump, and a tractor. Not exactly the sort of thing that comes to mind when most developers think of ‘open’ and ‘mobile network’ (not at least the ones I hang out with).
Granted, this was a CEO round table, so you couldn’t really expect granular details on exactly how to take an app to market, or exactly how you or I can leverage the ‘openness’ that they may or may not choose to offer, but if you listen to the bits at http://daily.ctia.org/wirelessit08/, it really feels like business as usual.
So what’s a developer to do?
The US operators say they want innovation, yet at the same time acknowledge that they can’t handle the flow of developers who want to work with them. They want to offer open networks, but they want to provide control and security. They recognize that data revenues are essential to their long term viability and growth, but also don’t know how to play nice with developer communities. They fear a fate as a ‘dumb pipe’ but also recognize that a data connection is a commodity at the end of the day.
In my view there are three touch points where the operator can actually add value to the relationship between an end user and developer:
Billing relationships have been worked around via the use of premium SMS messages and aggregators, and that is pretty reliable (despite rumors that Verizon wants to charge a $.03 tax on messages…) it’s the presence and location bits that are tantalizing for some developers. Operators need to figure out the particulars of how to safely open up the network side of these features to developers quickly or they will ultimately loose any advantage they might have. I’m not talking about the on-device use of GPS via Java, Symbian, or other APIs, I’m talking about network initiated location requests that can be funneled back into a web response.
What should you do today?
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: decide what your application needs to do in order to meet user expectations. If you can accomplish your goals without having to build an installable application, odds are that you’ll be much happier.
- While all of the modern, advanced platforms support ‘Web 2.0’ technologies, remember, not all of your users are going to have those latest and greatest devices (despite all the hype)
- Leverage the power of the server side optimization through DeviceAtlas
- Segment your presentation layer into ‘super robust,’ mid-range, and bare bones
- Test, test, test, and then test some more on real users with real devices.
Posted by Ronan_Mandel 4 years ago