The five questions facing wireless developers in 2008

Lisa: "Did you know that the Chinese use the same word for 'crisis' as they do for 'opportunity'?"

Homer: "Yes! Crisitunity!"

--The Simpsons, Episode 114, "Fear of Flying"

Welcome to 2008, a year that looms as a make-or-break rite of passage for the mobile industry--or as I like to call it, The Year of Crisitunity. Across the second half of 2007, Apple's iPhone forever changed how consumers interact with their mobile devices--heading into the new year, with iPhones, smartphones and other next-generation devices now officially mainstream, expect consumers to embrace mobile multimedia services and enterprise tools with new fervor. That's good. Here's the problem: The mobile experience has disappointed those same consumers time and again. So the pressure on developers has never been more intense: Applications must deliver a consistent, intuitive, secure and rewarding experience each and every time--no longer will subscribers tolerate the interface issues that have plagued the industry since its inception. Lose these folks again, and they're never coming back. There is no margin for error.

That's the crisis, but mobile developers also enter 2008 with more opportunities for innovation than ever before. In the final months of 2007, Apple finally acceded to consumer demands for third-party iPhone applications, promising it would issue an SDK early this year; Google unveiled its much-rumored Android mobile OS as well as its industry-wide Open Handset Alliance forum; and Verizon Wireless promised to open its networks to all comers by the time 2009 rolls around. The stage is set for a year that changes everything. Read on for the five questions that will shape just how The Year of Crisitunity plays out. -Jason

Five Questions for Wireless Developers:

Question 1: Just how far will Nokia's transformation go?

Faced with intense competition from Apple--and with Google on the horizon--Nokia expanded far beyond its core device business last year, introducing new web, music and gaming services in concert with new handsets. "We are constantly thinking beyond the phone," said Nokia CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo in summer 2007. "Devices alone are no longer enough." But as the company continues its metamorphosis from manufacturer to service provider, it threatens to irreparably damage its relationships with network operators. Realistically speaking, how much further can Nokia go? Already Orange UK griped in a leaked memo that the combination of the Nokia Music Store link and Orange's own branded music service on the same handset could confuse its subscribers, prompting a threatened boycott of Nokia's new N81 device. Don't expect rival operators to keep their mouths shut much longer.

Question #2: Can Motorola rebound?
With Greg Brown officially installed as CEO in place of Ed Zander, Motorola must now decide whether to pull the trigger on a corporate breakup. According to activist investor Carl Icahn, slicing up the Motorola pie could generate almost $20 billion of additional shareholder value. But first the company must re-energize its struggling handset business--no small feat, given that the last time Motorola enjoyed any real device cachet was in 2004, when the RAZR first hit the market. Moto could also sell off its public-safety radio and device business or its home-and-networks division, but one question: Who will buy them?

Question #3: Will Google's Android deliver on its promise?
Despite the hype, early reactions to Google's Android mobile software platform have proven decidedly mixed. In late December, The Wall Street Journal reported that a number of developers have said the Android SDK is plagued by coding errors--read: "buggier than a roach motel"--and so far, Google has been unresponsive to their concerns. The Internet giant maintains this first iteration of the SDK is simply an "early look" enabling developers to get a head start on Android-based applications, and insists successive toolkits will incorporate their feedback and suggestions. We'll see.

Question #4: What's next after the iPhone SDK?
Back in October, Apple CEO Steve Jobs promised to release its iPhone SDK to developers by February 2008: "We are working on an advanced system which will offer developers broad access to natively program the iPhone's amazing software platform while at the same time protecting users from malicious programs," Jobs wrote in an open letter to the development community. Assuming Apple meets its self-imposed deadline, the transformation from locked-down device to full-fledged iPhone platform portends a deluge of new applications--what remains unclear is just what kinds of features and services developers will choose to target, as well as how much the limitations of carrier partner AT&T's EDGE network will impede the creation of web-based apps.

Question #5: Will open access level the playing field?
In a dramatic about-face, Verizon Wireless closed out 2007 with the announcement that in the year ahead, it will open its network and enable subscribers to use handsets, software and applications not otherwise offered by the operator. In the next few weeks, Verizon Wireless will publish the technical standards needed to connect to its network--all applications, operating systems and runtime environments are supported, so long as the devices and services connect properly to its CDMA platform. No less important, Verizon will keep certification fees reasonably affordable, in effect guaranteeing smaller device and application developers a realistic shot at mainstream attention. The challenge now facing the developer community: Creating and marketing applications that capture the imagination of a subscriber population increasingly willing to pony up the cash for the devices and services that enable a next-level wireless user experience.