Smartphones--an open and shut case


A New York Times feature published Sunday more or less confirmed the wireless industry's worst-kept secret: Google is indeed putting the finishing touches on a mobile phone project in a bid to extend its online advertising business to the mobile web. Insiders briefed on the project confirmed buzz suggesting Google hopes to persuade operators and device manufacturers to offer handsets based on its software--an open-source, Linux-based platform--and to subsidize costs in part via mobile advertising revenues. "The essential point is that Google's strategy is to lead the creation of an open-source competitor to Windows Mobile," said an unnamed industry executive. "They will put it in the open-source world and take the economics out of the Windows Mobile business."

The subject of open mobile platforms is suddenly a very popular topic among mainstream media outlets and consumer circles alike. Two weeks back, Apple found itself in hot water when its iPhone Update 1.1.1 bundled a device-crippling firmware upgrade alongside new features, functionalities and security patches in an effort to block consumers from downloading third-party applications--for some idea of the general reaction, check out the invective splattered across any number Apple consumer sites after iPhone owners discovered their third-party apps wiped out. In response, Nokia launched a new website touting the openness of its Nseries devices, proclaiming its smartphones are "Open to applications…Open to Widgets…Open to anything."

It's impossible to know how many of the one million iPhone owners hacked their devices, and it's probably a relatively tiny segment of the overall consumer segment, but more and more people are serious about maximizing the full technological potential of their handsets, and they're not going to take "No" for an answer. Google's in the business of answers--chances are consumers burned by Apple's Gestapo tactics are going to like what they hear. -Jason