10/8/2008 4:08:00 PM
The mobile internet
The past year has seen some remarkable developments. Apple’s iPhone has set the standard for mobile internet devices. It works with Wi-Fi as well as 3G, meaning that it has the capability to provide a true broadband experience.
The iPhone has also provided an important view into the future of how people will use mobile internet devices, if they’re given the opportunity. Studies of how people are using Nokia, Apple and other internet-centric mobile devices are showing that the time spent web browsing and using multimedia internet applications significantly exceeds the amount of time people spend speaking on the phone.
In other words, the phone capabilities of these devices are fast becoming just another application alongside a whole lot of other things people can do – things involving a myriad applications that come directly from the internet.
Apple introduced the App Store on the iPhone and thousands of applications have emerged as a result, as well as a whole burgeoning economy of services from the internet. Now Google has introduced the first iteration of its Android operating system, and with it is providing another platform for application developers to get to the mobile world. Nokia has also launched its Ovi services platform.
But all these initiatives continue to struggle with a dilemma that seems to plague the mobile industry – how open should a mobile be?
The questions that the mobile industry is wrestling with are all about who gets to control what you are and aren’t permitted to do with your mobile, and who gets the prime position in the palm of your hand to sell you services.
WHO’S IN CONTROL?
This struggle for control is why we don’t have Skype on the iPhone yet and why Amazon and Google may not let us have iTunes on our Android phones. It affects the degree to which mobile operators like Orange, Vodafone, T-Mobile or O2 will allow others to sell services across their networks.
As people use more internet applications on their mobile devices, they are demanding faster internet access and moving larger amounts of data across the internet. The rate of usage is growing at between five and 30 times per year on different devices.
3G and HSDPA mobile networks don’t have the capacity to cope with the increased demand as millions of mobile internet devices are adopted, so mobile operators have little option but to encourage people to use and share Wi-Fi networks in homes, offices and public places.
But as this happens, some mobile operators find themselves opening a Pandora’s box as they risk the possibility of others getting the opportunity of selling things to their customers. Is Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft, O2 or McDonald’s your service provider?
There are good reasons to want to control what happens on mobile devices. Too much chaos can make a mobile device impossible to use, with confusing user interfaces and unreliable software. But ultimately it’s limited to consumer choice; too many applications can lead to a costly experience for the consumer.
The massive hacker response to the restrictions imposed on the iPhone is an indication of the irresistible drive to open mobiles. Google provides some indication of a possible future, with recent patent filings suggesting that Android may include functionality that would help you find the lowest cost network connection wherever you are. If that can be matched with accessing to any internet application you like, all the better.
The challenge facing the mobile industry is recognising the inevitable future of the broadband mobile internet and start serving it. Genies will escape in the end, so the winners are likely to be the ones who know how to work with a genie and not the ones trying to keep the lid on.