The Android opportunity is an open source challenge

Summary:Free carrier phones are as bad a deal as rent-to-own. There is opportunity here for entrepreneurs.

If open source has a weakness, it's the channel.

Because open source software can be downloaded free, marketing costs are driven out, and thus there are few effective sales channels for open source software. Those who want to license code usually deal directly with the company providing the support.

It's a feature which is proving to be a bug in the case of Android, the Google-derived Linux for mobile phones.

There is a channel for smart phones, but it's one dominated by carriers, who have no interested in giving fair, unbiased service. Instead these companies, and their resellers, have every incentive to force users to buy their branded services, at whatever price they choose to charge.

The name for this is crapware, and users can't get rid of it without rootkitting their phones, essentially erasing the phone company operating system and voiding their warranty.

Advocates of the carriers note, correctly, that they subsidize purchase of the phones. A smart phone without a calling plan costs about $500, one with a calling plan $200. A basic calling plan may cost $50/month, so over time a buyer pays $1,400 for something that retailed for $500.

It's as bad a deal as Rent to Own.

It can also be an opportunity.

Look, rootkitting is legal. It was proclaimed legal by the Librarian of Congress this summer. If you want to support your own phone there is nothing to stop you.

The same is true if someone else wants to support it.

There are lots of opportunities here. Corporate accounts spring to mind. Would not many employers prefer that they control their employees' devices, rather than the carriers?

And then there's an individual market. Once consumers understand the economics, once they know that buying a phone and a third party support contract costs less than what the phone companies charge for "free," they should be receptive.

The way you make them receptive is marketing.

Over the next year, Super WiFi systems will make wireless Internet signals available in many more places than they are now. Networks of hot spot owners, like Boingo, could effectively become carriers and work with their own re-sellers to support devices.

If Google is even minimally cooperative, taking Super WiFi signals over their own fiber network, acting as a competitive ISP in bulk deals, a market can be built.

There are lots of Americans looking for opportunity right now. Unemployment remains high. How about if open source gives it to them? Make Android a real brand.

Topics: Software, Open Source

About

Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist since 1978, and has covered technology since 1982. He launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of the Internet to launch with a magazine, in September 1994.

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