Thursday, 11 June 2009

Open Mobile Summit - Is "open" really all it's cracked up to be?

I was at the Open Mobile Summit in London yesterday. There was some really interesting discussions and a lot of disagreement, which always makes for a lively debate. Much of it focused on what we really mean by "open" and whether that is "a good thing".

Take for example Christopher Schlaeffer of Deutsche Telekom. His presentation outlined a vision of convergence between fixed and mobile for all elements of the triple play: voice, internet and TV, with the ultimate destination of "Connected Life & Work". He also highlighted that partnering is what MNOs do, challenging the idea that MNOs are constantly in conflict with other parties in the value chain. He also pointed out that the app store is a siloed approach which is the antithesis of the open model. So far, so valid and interesting. But he then raised the idea of a single address book which should be accessible from multiple screens. But, it seems, openness only goes so far. Opening up that shared address book for third party service providers is a no-no.

This is really the rub. Openness is still all about self-interest. Everyone wants everyone else's part of the value chain to be open because it's better for business. They are being pragmatic, which is really the only way to be. But more than that, they're ensuring the quality of the user experience. How has RIM secured such a large chunk of the enterprise email market? How come the iPhone is now soooo important? Not because they're "open". Sure, they have 3rd party app developers. But they maintain some control to ensure the quality of the user experience. In many cases they're even the app developer themselves. During the afternoon's panel session 3's Carl Taylor commented that third party application developers rarely generate any revenue for the operator and often end up costing them money. All their best innovations have been done in-house. This is either an argument that developers haven't been nurtured enough, or that mobile is such a restrictive platform, and so fragmented, that the open model for app development just doesn't work. I suspect the latter.


  1. Oh, come on! When did any operator come up with any innovation, never mind "the best innovations"?

  2. Don't shoot the messenger. To be fair though, mobile apps developers have collectively failed over the years to develop anything that touches an application that the MNOs stumbled over by accident: SMS.