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Wishing for an Open Mobile Platform

January 15, 2008

Hamid brought in some sort of newer Palm device his boss at Super 8 is selling today.  It has a nice large screen and seems somewhat easy to navigate.  I couldn’t help but wonder though, who uses Palms any more?  They have been replaced by Blackberries and even Palm phones, and I don’t think that those that used to use Palms ten years ago have much use for them anymore.

It also got me thinking about mobile computing platforms in general.  I remember being completely obsessed with computers since we got our 286 so many years ago.  When we upgraded to a 486 when I was in 9th grade, I remember getting up early in the morning just to play around on it.  (and this was shortly before we bought internet access with our 14.4 modem)  The thing that was so great about playing with computers was that, even though we did use Windows, a proprietary system, there were many things about it that were open.  Now that so many people use smart phones so much, it makes me wonder if such an open system will ever be implemented on cell phones.  I really can’t do much of anything on my cell phone because the system is so incredibly locked down for the sole monetary benefit of the Sprint corporation.  I have a micro sd card filled with music, but I can’t use any of those .mp3s as ring tones because Sprint wants me to purchase ring tones from them.  I can’t change anything about my phone for that matter, and I don’t know of any cell phone that is even remotely open for hacking.  I have heard about phones with Linux on them from time to time but I have yet to see one in the wild.

It seems to me that the reason the internet and computing in general have been the success that have been is because they were built on open systems that allowed anyone the ability to do anything.  No one group or individual became extraordinarily rich solely on the success of the technology, but very many people have become rich by using the openness on which the system was built.   Compare this with my data plan on my cell phone.  If I were to even attempt to access this open network from my locked down Sprint phone, I would get charged something like $.10 per kilobyte!  And since I don’t want to pay extra for a package that includes unlimited text messages, I get to pay $.15 per text message, even if one were sent to me without my consent!  I don’t want to simply bitch about the insane pricing for sending digital messages on a closed system (although this obviously is insane), but it makes me wonder what interesting new technologies could be built if only people were given the chance to do so.   Perhaps in the short term the few big carries who are left would suffer for opening up their networks and unlocking their phones.  But in the long term, couldn’t an open system allow creativity to flow and new technologies to emerge?  Do I sound too much like a freedom loving hippie for wanting such things, or could such an open system actually encourage more people to make money based on new technologies that could emerge?  Is Google’s venturing into this space a reason to hope that this might happen?  Could open cell phones begin to emerge?  Or am I dreaming impossible dreams?

In the meantime I’ll just have to settle for using my phone for phone calls.  I’m not giving any of my hard earned money to Sprint just so I can view a really slow, user unfriendly version of the internet.  Keep trying to rip me off Spring, and I’ll be more than happy to keep my money to myself.