Google and the Open Mobile Phone
I participated in the Rutberg Wireless Influencers conference last week. Various interesting sessions, but the biggest buzz was about Google’s announcement of the Android mobile device platform and the Open Handset Alliance. Some industry watchers expected a new device, like the Apple iPhone. Instead Google proposed a software environment that would allow any company to create new applications, including Google of course. Android joins multiple existing mobile device platforms, including Symbian supported by Nokia and others, Qualcomm’s BREW, the fading Garnet OS (formerly Palm OS), and Microsoft Mobile Windows for Pocket PCs and Smartphones (and some cars). The Google proposal seems most aligned with the open source mindset, and certainly illustrates the colliding worlds of the mobile industry and Internet industry. The concept is promising, but will it attract a critical mass of application software and device developers? And will mobile operators allow such devices to connect to their networks?When asked at the conference about the Google announcement, Lowell McAdam, president and CEO of Verizon Wireless, raised concerns about risks such openness might pose to users. For example, what if malware infected an Android-equipped phone and started relaying your exact location to a stalker? Such scenarios are frightening, of course. But Verizon Wireless might also have business concerns about losing their ability to monetize services beyond basic mobile IP connectivity, if they lose control of mobile device software. Google’s motivations are not entirely philanthropic, either. Surely they understand the potential power of mobile advertising. And they must worry that the current mobile ecosystem doesn’t lend itself to their participation, at least not to the dominant degree they enjoy with the fixed Internet. So when Google says “open”, remember they especially mean “open for Google.” Mirroring such business maneuvering on a small scale, the conference also featured a friendly Texas Hold’em poker tournament. The dealers kept funding losers with more chips, so risk aversion disappeared and valuations for bad hands soared. I’ll leave the obvious analogies to the dotcom bubble as an exercise for the reader.