In the cell phone market vendors in the US pride themselves on having the best handsets. Have you noticed that Verizon doesn’t have any of the phones that ATT does? There are many reasons for this, most likely is exclusive handset deals (iPhone being one of the biggest, but even the Moto Razr was exclusive when it was first released). As a result of these deals cell phone companies will lock down the product preventing you from taking the phone to another competitor. As part of this eco system most cell phones are made specifically for the cell provider (so the Moto Razr that ATT carries is different than Verizon). Cell phone carriers like to have full and ultimate control over the phones, what they can do, what can be added, who can do the adding. On the surface this isn’t always bad, if they allowed just any software or hardware on their network they open themselves up to problems which could ruin the customers experience (imagine if a virus started going around rendering every phone on a network dead, or if someone did something, by accident, that rendered the network useless). However, what is happening now is vendor lock-in or control that reaches beyond just safety and user experience. Note the EFF’s point from their new campaign called Free Your Phone:
* Apple uses software locks on the iPhone to censor ebooks and block mobile applications that would compete with Apple’s own software.
* T-Mobile’s software locks prevent owners from gaining root access to the Google Android G1 phone, needlessly limiting the phone’s bluetooth and other capabilities.
* And virtually every mobile device sold today is locked to a single telecommunications carrier.
Apple has given millions of users a virtually flawless user experience with thousands of apps and much functionality, but while all that is to be commended they also have a strict vendor lock-in and have become the gatekeepers to what is or isn’t allowed on your phone. Take Flash as an example. Thousands of websites use it and it certainly seems innocuous to allow Adobe to create an iPhone version, but Apple simply doesn’t allow it. Another example of Apple censorship was humorously noted by ars. In the article ars points out several apps that are lewd or even offensive that Apple allows and several that should clearly be fine that Apple mysteriously bans. In the end I think we should be able to make up our minds for ourselves.
Google shook the world when it announced its Android product. The world has been waiting for a truly open mobile phone. I for one would welcome it, but as you can see while Android may be open T-Mobile has purposefully limited it.
The United States needs to learn from other countries where cell networks are totally open. How do we shop for cell phones? We usually choose a carrier first and choose from their phones. In China, as well as most Asian countries, it is the exact opposite. You choose your phone first and worry about a carrier later. That is because it doesn’t matter over there. As long as the phone is compatible with the wireless company they’ll allow it on their network. And there there is no vendor lock-in: don’t like your carrier? switch all you have to do is change sim cards. It is not unlike how the internet or PC market is geared. With the internet as long as you have a network card and a valid IP address/gateway you are good to access the contents of the internet (it doesn’t matter who made it or where you purchased). In the PC market you are allowed to download and install any software you want, including some you may not want. Hopefully one day we will be there in the US, in the mean time head over to the EFF’s Free Your Phone website and sign the petition.