Anything that threatens the sacred cow of metered business, whether it’s minutes or bits you’re metering, is something that needs to be blocked at all costs by the telcos. Fortunately, the structure of the American mobile telephone industry gives them a solid way to play defense. Carriers buy the phones and sell them on to the end users, which handily makes them the major buyers of handsets, and the de facto arbiters of taste and consumer preference. (”Nice VoIP client in the handset. We’ll take…zero. If you’d stop dabbling in VoIP, though, we’ll take several million.”)
The “control your customers and force feed them” model cuts against my entire experience, which is based on open systems and architectures. In theory, an upstart could design a cool GSM phone and sell it directly to end users, bypassing the control-freak middlemen telcos. I had hoped that Apple would do just that. They are the one company that could build a phone that they could sell directly to hordes of consumers without help from the carrier.
Instead, it appears that Apple is building a traditional phone, with all of the carrier lock-in. There’s a big step forward in voice mail usability in the iPhone, and obviously a big short-term benefit to apple in working with the Cingular sales channel. In the long term, there is a much more diffuse long-term benefit of breaking the innovation choke-hold, though it is questionable as to how much of a changed market Apple could capture. Now that Steve Jobs has decided that DRM is evil, I’d like to see him come to a similar conclusion about the mobile phone business.
Until he does, at least I have a true open mobile phone platform on the way, even if it is slightly delayed.