Building A Real Mobile Web
I'd like to see a mobile web that feels just like the world wide web. The world wide web has unleashed a wave of creativity and technical achievement and has impacted society on so many levels over the past twenty years. We can have a mobile web that will do the same, but we don't have one right now.
The world wide web is a global network of interconnected communications systems that allows any computing device to connect to it. Those devices run operating systems that allow any application to be installed on them. And so any developer anywhere in the world can build a web app (or desktop app) that can participate in the world wide web.
That is not true of the mobile web. The mobile carriers have all connected to each other and to the web. But not every device can run on every mobile network. And not every mobile app can operate on every mobile device that is connected to the mobile web.
I've been saying this for quite a while on this blog that until we get a truly open mobile web we will not have a platform for innovation like the world wide web. Not everyone gets it.
That's why the Google Voice/iPhone situation is so important. I don't use the iPhone and I tried and didn't like Google Voice. So the decision by Apple and/or AT&T to prevent Google Voice from running on the iPhone does not impact me in the least. But this incident clearly shows that a business and technical architecture that does not allow (require?) every mobile device to operate on every mobile network and that does not allow every mobile app to run on every mobile device it was written for is bad for consumers, bad for innovation, and bad for society.
I agree with my friend Bijan that market forces are better than government meddling in markets but in this instance, I think the goverment is right to be paying close attention to this situation. At a minimum, the saber rattling by the FCC will make mobile carriers and device manufacturers think twice before creating proprietary platforms and networks. And I would like a simple and well articulated public policy on the mobile web.
I believe it should be required that:
1) the consumer owns his/her phone number and can use it on any network (we've got that)
2) the consumer owns his/her mobile device and can use it on any network
3) non-malicious mobile apps should be able to run on any device they were built for
I don't have a problem with subsidies and I understand that carrier subsidies are helpful in bringing down the cost of mobile devices. The iPhone has benefitted enormously from the lower prices made possible by the AT&T subsidy. But that subsidy is ultimately paid for by the consumer in the form of a contract with an early termination fee. Subsidies are a financing vehicle and they should be encouraged. But subsidies in return for exclusive devices should not be allowed. Let the market work, let each and every carrier compete in the market for the consumer's business by offering every device on their network and the best and most competitive subsidies. Exclusive contracts between device manufacturers and carriers don't let the market work in the consumer's interest, driving down prices and increasing choice.
I love what Google is doing with Android and while I've yet to find an Android phone that can replace my trusted Blackberry, I think Android is going to be a big success. They've got the right approach to the market, they are open in every way possible. That's the winning model, for Google, for the consumer, and for the mobile web. I'd like to see Apple emulate it, but they did not with the Mac twenty-five years ago and they may make the same mistake again. I hope not.