Smartphones: So advanced yet so hampered by ancient business models

Summary:AT&T manages to remove Google's search from an Android device. Verizon Wireless on the Devour drops in its Verizon Navigator to compete with Google's GPS capability. And browser choice is a smartphone pipe dream. How did we get here?

AT&T manages to remove Google's search from an Android device. Verizon Wireless on the Devour drops in its Verizon Navigator to compete with Google's GPS capability. Meanwhile, apps like Bing are being force fed to users and browser choice is a pipe dream on most mobile phones.

How exactly did we arrive at such advanced mobile devices being hamstrung by primitive business models? Welcome to the wonderful world of wireless where vertical integration, business deals and other hangups remove the choice that you expect everyday on your PC.

The basis of this rant comes via the Motorola Backflip (right), which has been neutered by AT&T. For the uninitiated, Yahoo and AT&T have been long-time partners. The companies have partnered on everything from mobile search to customer portals to broadband services.

On that basis, AT&T's move to uproot Google's search, which not-so-surprisingly is tightly integrated with the Android operating system, isn't all that surprising.

If you ponder AT&T's Backflip approach in a vacuum there's a "so what?" appeal to it. Frankly, AT&T's move isn't any different than Verizon giving me a Bing icon I never asked for on my BlackBerry. Simply put, this is a case of another carrier dictating your user experience. It's not like consumers in the U.S. aren't used to that scenario.

But if you zoom out just a smidge you realize how much you're impacted by these various partnerships you just don't care about. And it's not just the carriers at play here. Ever want to try another browser on the iPhone or BlackBerry Storm? Good luck with that. On smartphones, we take the browser we are given---with the exception of Opera in some cases---and we like it even if the browser sucks. Smile folks, you have no choice.

The problem is that these wireless carrier-phone makers-OS-search battles are going to get quite messy for the consumer and nothing will work well. Google will obviously try to integrate Android with its services. So will Apple. AT&T and Verizon will crowbar their paid services in. Add it up and you have one very clunky cutting edge smartphone.

Take Verizon's Motorola Devour. Andrew Nusca recently

reviewed the device and noted that:

It’s also preloaded, unfortunately, with Verizon Premium Services such as VZ Navigator and VCast. While I understand the business interest for Verizon Wireless to use its own (pay-to-play) services, they remain inferior or, at best, equal to the Google versions found on the Droid.

It's just messy out there. Why would I pay for the Verizon Navigator when I could use Google Maps as a GPS? The Devour has Motoblur, Android and Verizon services preloaded. That's a lot of competing software.

Where's this headed? Perhaps right into Google's hands. Google wants to sell the unlocked version of the Nexus One to the masses (or at least the early adopters in the house). Courtesy of these smartphone icon wars there's suddenly an economic case for going with an unsubsidized phone.

Let's assume Verizon will plaster its Navigator onto the Nexus One and screw up Google's GPS. For a GPS happy consumer, the plan would be to buy the Nexus One and replace the need to buy a GPS device for the car dashboard. It's obviously cheaper to do that with a subsidized phone. But if Verizon messes with Google's GPS you could justify buying an unlocked phone. The math works like this: Nexus One cost ($529) minus cost of GPS device ($200) separately minus what you'd have to pay a year of Verizon Navigator service ($120). Suddenly that unlocked Nexus One looks more palatable.

Would you pay a premium for a phone that isn't mucked up with all of these various business deals and icons? You bet. It's just a question of how much.

Topics: AT&T, Browser, Google, Hardware, Mobility, Smartphones, Verizon

About

Larry Dignan is Editor in Chief of ZDNet and SmartPlanet as well as Editorial Director of ZDNet's sister site TechRepublic. He was most recently Executive Editor of News and Blogs at ZDNet. Prior to that he was executive news editor at eWeek and news editor at Baseline. He also served as the East Coast news editor and finance editor at CN... Full Bio

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