August 28, 2014

Does Android Have Carriers Running Scared?

As the industry moves towards a more open future and consumers continue to adopt smart phones in droves, network providers will struggle to keep their choke hold on the users. Here in the United States an average customer has no idea what their phone or mobile device is capable of, let alone take advantage of it.

Until recently, most users thought of cell phones as being simply designed for making and receiving phone calls. There’s a slow and steady increase in the number of people buying smarter devices once they learn what else they can do with something that fits in their pocket. People today are starting to ask “What else?” when it comes to handsets. What else can my phone do besides email and take pictures?

Consumers are wising up; they know more now than they ever have. With each passing day, people are getting educated in the way things are handled, especially overseas. We’re far behind the world when it comes to not only cellular technology, but more in the way we’re being treated by our carriers. It won’t be long before these providers either give us what we know is available or risk going away altogether. And what is it that’s so heavily guarded? It’s choice. Specifically, we have a choice to leave the companies restricting us from doing the things we want. The carriers know it too. Take for instance what Vodafone’s CEO said back in February at the Mobile World Congress:

In the end… technology is not what matters: it’s services, it’s applications, it’s experiences. Carriers must offer subscribers a variety of ways to communicate–like SMS, email or social networking sites–the carrier must “be in all these places. We must not allow ourselves to become bit pipes and let somebody else do the services work.

It sounds to me like Arun Sarin (CEO) sees where Google is headed – it’s not just AdSense for mobile devices either. Google has been offering free services to users since day one and they don’t look to be slowing down. With Android, users will be able to integrate many features and services into their handsets that currently do not exist. Imagine a world full of Android devices running around with all sorts of neat applications that don’t really hinge on the network any longer.

Google started the “open” trend last November when they didn’t come out with the gPhone, Google Phone, or iPhone killer. They took the smarter approach and decided to offer services all in the name of customer satisfaction. Whether AT&T knows it or not, Apple already took control away from them with the way the iPhone works. AT&T is left to simply supply a generic network for Apple. They’re now officially the largest dumb pipe out there. Nokia has started to do the same thing with their Ovi service. Look at what Apple has done with one carrier and what Nokia has started to do with many carriers. Now you see what Google could do in the same arena.

For too many years, carriers have picked what we see on our handsets and how it works. They strip off certain features and limit what we can do and where can go. Want to text message? Here, take this software. Want to send a picture message? This is the only way to do it. Ohhh, you want to install something on your phone? Psshh, yeah right. Google aims to rip that wide open.

The more we see our handsets are capable of, the better. Carriers need to learn this and change their strategies. They need to stop thinking in terms of minutes and messages to bill us for. Come up with some of your own services or features for handsets and give users a reason to choose your network.

I think that’s why some of the “losers” from the first Android Developers Challenge are still being contacted by members of the Open Handset Alliance. For next to nothing, they can get some of these programs under their umbrella and offer it as a T-Mobile or Sprint exclusive. It’s not coincidence that almost all of the judges in the contest were involved somewhere in the OHA. Google could have easily brought in their own judges or a 3rd party to look over the entries.

At some point, a cellular provider will be looked at much like today’s internet providers – Everybody has one but none of them stand out. Rather than fear this, carriers need to hit it straight on. Give us a reason to sign up with you besides the fact that I’ll be able to make and receive calls and messages. If they don’t, we’ll start asking “What else?” As in “What else are you keeping me from doing?”