We have been distracted by ridiculous arguments and fabricated “wars” for too long. We have been distracted by thinking that Google is Microsoft and Apple is Apple in a doomed fight already fought 20 years ago.
But that is not the fight we should be caring about at all. The fight we should be talking about, but aren’t, is the fight between mobile device makers and the carriers. This is the only real fight that matters.
Why should we care? Because carriers have been standing in the way of excellent user experiences for a long time. For years, Palm and HTC and Nokia and RIM have been kowtowing to the carriers. Carriers sell all the devices and the services, decide what software is available and what isn’t, decide what you can do with the device you paid $3000 or more for (over a two year contract). And who is punished? We, the consumers, with lousy service and controlled devices with crappy experiences.
I’ve been in this business for 13 years now. 3 years ago I had lost faith… until the iPhone. It wasn’t Apple’s designs or devices or user interfaces that excited me as much as it was their revolutionary business model (although the former excited me, too). Apple controls what apps are installed. Apple controls where the device is sold. Everyone — Apple, AT&T, developers — gets a cut of the revenues and the consumer gets an amazing experience and exceptional support.
I was just as equally excited when Google announced Android. The two most powerful companies in tech could surely go up against the four major carriers, reducing them to what they should be: regulated pipe providers just like your gas and electric company. And maybe, I thought, this will get Nokia and RIM to finally grow a pair and butt heads with the carriers. (Didn’t happen as RIM’s own mobile app store is still not pre-installed on their devices.)
But this pipe dream is being crushed quickly. The carriers, after giving up ground initially, are fighting back. They are using Android’s openness against the company. The carriers refuse to carry the Nexus. Verizon cuts exclusive deals with Skype. Slowness in “approving” new Android OS releases. AT&T locked devices from side-loading and the removal of the Google Marketplace. Secret (and ridiculous) deals on net neutrality. And now, insult to injury to Google who expected to make most of their money from selling ads like they do on the web, removing Google Search in favor of Microsoft Bing as the only and default search option on certain Android-based smartphones.
My goal here is to re-focus the conversation, put the attention back where it belongs. This is war. And this war will go nothing like Apple v. Microsoft. This is about who controls the experience; who gets to interact with the customer.
The stakes are a lot higher.