Mobile Vendors Debate the 'Open' Future

By David Needle

July 24, 2008

Google, Nokia, Verizon -- plus a key iPhone supporter -- weigh in on the open mobile world.

AlwaysOn

PALO ALTO, Calif. -- You might not think of traditional carrier Verizon Wireless as a radical, cutting-edge player in the competitive mobile device market, but the trend toward more open systems is transforming the company.

"I'm in a place to be an insurgent and give customers more choices, so you can get any applications you want on your phone," said Anthony Lewis, vice president of Open Development at Verizon. "Customers are taking us to more choice and openness," Lewis explained. "In my mind, I'm the lead dog [the rest of the company will] have to follow."

This is all new for Verizon, which only created its Open Development business unit in January. "It just made good business sense," said Lewis, who notes his group has its own profit and loss statement and budget.

Lewis spoke on a panel that discussed the competition for open mobile systems here at the AlwaysOn Stanford Summit. Verizon was declared a winning bidder in the auction earlier this year for the multibillion dollar 700MHz spectrum, which will let the carriers provide a new platform of services to mobile users.

The company also announced it would open its system so developers will be able to bring mobile applications to consumers in a far quicker, standard way without lengthy negotiations and restrictions from the carrier.

Other panelists readily endorsed the move to openness, seemingly competing at times to claim a better open strategy.

"Anything moving to more openness is positive," said Rich Miner, vice president of mobile at Google (NASDAQ: GOOG).

"For us, what's most important is that consumers have access to any Web site and content without restrictions." According to Miner, Verizon, AT&T (NYSE: T) and others are now competing to see who can be more open when in the past a company wouldn't have a title with "open" in it as Verizon does.

Google was an early bidder in the government's spectrum auction. Even though the search giant lost, it was able to achieve its primary objective, which was to influence the government's decision to impose open access rules Verizon and AT&T now say they are embracing.

Even Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) -- or at least one of its key supporters -- claims it's a leader in openness for what is generally considered a closed device. Matt Murphy runs the $100 million iFund for iPhone developers at venture firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers. "How do you define open?" Murphy asked. "What other platforms offer 1,000 applications, 20 percent of which are free?"

Apple requires iPhone developers to use its software development kit and submit their applications for approval and distribution through Apple's online App Store. (Apple says the iPhone currently offers more than 500 applications for download). Murphy said more applications were downloaded via the App Store in the first 10 days than all other competitors in the United States combined could account for in a typical month.

More than 10 million application downloads reportedly took place in the first three days of the iPhone 3G's release. "That's open to me," he said. "I don't think anyone will argue the iPhone hasn't changed the game."

Next page: Nokia's big open source move

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