Open Applications

google.gifAbout five years ago I went to a Microsoft mobile developer conference where the presenter from Ovum explained that we were going to enter an era where network operators would fail in their attempt to monetise mobile data. This failure would be due to them trying to work well outside their core competences of providing for networks, voice calls and billing. The presenter went on to say 3rd parties would eventually fill the gap and bypass the network operators.

The first part of this has played out as predicted and Internet companies such as Google and Yahoo are now trying to fill the gap. However, they have been unsuccessful due to network operators’ tight grip on the industry. Instead, Google and Yahoo have been forced to partner with network operators (and phone OEMs) rather than bypass them… or so I thought.

Last week, as part of the auction of US spectrum licenses, Google encouraged the FCC to require the adoption of four types of "open" platforms as part of the license conditions. The conditions were open applications, open Devices, open services, and open networks.

In terms of open applications, this would mean a PC style model where consumers would be able to download and use any software applications, content, or services. This would lead to more unlocked devices on the market and an erosion of the monopoly held by network operators who tend to promote their own brands of services and approved features.

The current Java, Symbian and Microsoft Windows Mobile security mechanisms, criticised by developers, are the result of direct and indirect pressure applied by network operators. What if there were taken away? What would be the implications on the security and reliability of phones? My belief is that it would be desirable to have new mechanisms that would police applications on the phone. For example, they could warn the user if an application consumed excessive resources such as battery power and provide firewalls around personal data such as contact information.