Smartphones: So advanced yet so hampered by ancient business models

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?

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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

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34 comments
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  • Carriers, wireless, and smart phones

    I am on the lagging edge of technology when it comes to wireless technology. It's a Nokia 6085 that I only use for voice and text communications over AT&T; however, I also have two GPS units. The possibility of wireless communications plus GPS in an unlocked Android has recently begun to interest me; your math on the costs makes it even more interesting. It would be great if we enjoyed the same degree of choice in all phases of wireless technology as we do on the desktop.
    hgh9mrp@...
  • RE: Smartphones: So advanced yet so hampered by ancient business models

    Eventually Google will reach the intended goal of replacing ancient business models towards a more consumer oriented model.
    dhabisohn@...
    • Which goal is that?

      The consumer business model where Android comes with Google search by default?
      John Zern
      • Yet lets you choose other options. nt

        nt
        T1Oracle
    • Anybody that protects us

      from Google spyware is on the right side for me. All you people who think you are getting something for free from Google are totally deluded. At the very least, you are giving them your identity.
      jorjitop
  • Without "services" why would companies bother at all?

    I hear what you are saying and to some extent I even agree, but,,, if you remove these "services" which of course generate income to the provider, why would they want to be in the business at all?

    Sort of like demanding a golden egg while killing the goose.
    No_Ax_to_Grind
  • RE: Smartphones: So advanced yet so hampered by ancient business models

    Why bother will other companies at all? So much better
    if Google was the only allowed company in the US. They
    are not evil - so it would be o.k.

    Does it really matter how old the business model is? Why
    dont you compare Google's business model with AT&T or
    Verizon and see how they play out in the log run. For
    the consumer.
    wreuch
  • RE: Smartphones: So advanced yet so hampered by ancient business models

    Why bother will other companies at all? So much better
    if Google was the only allowed company in the US. They
    are not evil - so it would be o.k.

    Does it really matter how old the business model is? Why
    dont you compare Google's business model with AT&T or
    Verizon and see how they play out in the long run. For
    the consumer.
    wreuch
  • All carriers should remove google maps just for privacy

    if googles not going to let you approve who they sell your location data to before they do it and give you 70-80% of the revenue for it. same for search. why should google make thousands off selling ads to shove in your face pretending they're legit search results if they're not going to share the revenue with you or subsidize your phone or monthly data plan? They're using up your data plan to send you ads they're making money hand over fist from.
    Johnny Vegas
  • A quick question Larry

    why is Yahoo on their because "they are partners" yet Bing is "being force fed"?, yet Google is just there?

    Isn't Google being "force fed" to us as the default search for Android?

    (Maybe Google should have a "Ballot Box" let users choose the search bar they want?)
    John Zern
  • Why don't the vendors start selling unlocked phones directly?

    If the vendors could load the phones with THEIR choice of apps and services and sell them directly, the prices of the phones should come down. That then means that AT&T, Verizon, and others aren't subsidizing the phones so logic dictates that the price of service plans should also come down. Sort of like the way our landline costs were reduced when we started buying our own phones instead of leasing them... Oh, they didn't.

    Oops, I tried to apply logic to a money-grubbing business model. I apologize to the gods of wireless and will flog myself sufficiently after I finish my coffee.
    Timpraetor
  • Get your facts straight before you rant

    You said, "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."

    Maybe you'd used VZ Nav because MOTO didn't put Android 2.0 on the phone and GOOGLE NAV ISN'T SUPPORTED?!?!?
    hailpurdue
  • This is ironic: "...which not-so-surprisingly is tightly integrated

    with the Android operating system, isn?t all that surprising." Now I do I care nor do I understand the inner workings for Android, but had this statement been made about Bing on WM7, the rants and finger pointing would be rampant and do the point where you have to get the popcorn...just interesting hypocritical observations.
    TheBottomLineIsAllThatMatters
  • RE: Smartphones: So advanced yet so hampered by ancient business models

    I can't wait for the day some enterprising upstart comes
    along and capitalizes on customers' frustration at being
    strong armed by their wireless carrier. The only reason I
    keep Verizon is because of their coverage, because as a
    company I hate them. They're bullies, when it comes to
    allowing customers to use the features they thought their
    phones came with.

    I love my iPod touch- even though I can't make phone calls
    I can access the Internet free of charge in many cases, and
    make the choices I want, without Verizon telling me what I
    can have.
    The Rog
  • The people that design these phones are IDIOTS!

    You have all this advanced $hit and they forget the basic stuff. For all its features, the iPhone as a phone, is a piece of $hit. I mean, they call it an i PHONE, right?

    Sadly I was more or less forced to get one a couple of years ago when it came out because it was the ONLY phone i could find where the numbers were big enough for me to see on incoming calls. I tried other much better phones, including windows based units and NONE of them had the ability to let me make the font big enough so as to use the WHOLE screen.

    Let me say this now and for the future. You guys coming up with all these cool features are IDIOTS! If you weren't, you'd fix the BASIC stuff first. What, like it's hard to program it so you can enlarge the font as much as you want?

    George
    guiri
    • Right on the money

      It's like they intentionally leave stuff out!
      Check out my rant on the subject...

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kAosCF_uPAo
      proudgeek
  • RE: Smartphones: So advanced yet so hampered by ancient business models

    This isn't new. Years back, Palm was leaving WiFi out
    of Treos, even though similar PDAs had it, under
    pressure from the phone companies. Motorola shipped
    the RAZR with a full Bluetooth stack, yet Verizon
    ripped that out, so you couldn't use OBEX to send
    photos to your PC (Verizon wanted you to pay upload
    every photo).

    This illustrates how critically important moving to
    open operating systems like Android and MeeGo is to
    the long term health of the user experience on
    wireless devices. Google, among others, saw this
    coming: when all smart phones are proprietary, a tiny
    handful of companies could control things like search,
    which is moving rapidly from being desktop-centric to
    "pocket"-centric.

    Not only does vendor/manufacturer lock-down limit the
    use of your Blackberry or iPhone, it limits their
    future. There's zero direct hardware competition...
    thus, while you can get a half dozen Android phones
    with 800x480+ screens and fast uploads, every iPhone
    is 480x320 and peaks out at 384kb/s uploads.

    The choice of browsers on the desktop has pushed the
    evolution of the web, and killed of those that don't
    compete. But if you can't change the browser, there's
    no pressure to evolve. I have three different browsers
    on my DROID (still deciding), tried and rejected
    Opera, and I'll give Firefox a shot. I expect to have
    flash and Java and pretty much everything I get on the
    desktop soon... this is lacking and will never be
    offered on the iPhone, due to vendor lock-down.

    If it's not the vendor, it's the telco messing with
    your phone. And that's actually one thing pushing
    Android... these guys CAN muck with the phone in ways
    that they can't with vendor locked models. But they
    can't additionally lock them down.. you can still get
    Google Maps even if the phone comes with VZ Navigator.

    The real solution here is customer awareness. The
    smartphone market is growing rapidly, and that means
    lots of users trading up from dumb or "feature"
    phones. If they don't understand the issues on closed
    devices, or why you get something a little different
    if your Android phone isn't a "Google Experience"
    model, or directly from Google itself, there are going
    to be frustrations.
    Hazydave
  • RE: Smartphones: So advanced yet so hampered by ancient business models

    I'm half convinced Verizon has a split personality
    these days. The old Verizon is still pretty obvious,
    their nickel and diming on things. Like trying to any
    Android user to pay per month for VZ Navigator when
    Google Navigator is free and crazy superior. Or trying
    to get you to pay $2.50 for visual voicemail, even
    when it's actually better for them to offload messages
    to your phone than to have to store them.

    Then there's New Verizon. They not only put out the
    DROID untampered-with (they can't, it's a "Google
    Experience" phone, the telcos can release apps for it,
    but can't mess with the standard Google
    configuration), but they embrace the DROID. Tons of
    advertising, and now they're making a deal to support
    Skype calls on it.

    Another good thing.. the old Verizon plans for smart
    phones varied: you could use the internet ala carte,
    which comes to insane costs, or pay $25 per month for
    some small megabytes, or $35-$40 something for all-you
    -can-eat. I was surprised that they pushed that down
    to $30 for my DROID. Now, just one plan for
    smartphones, and they had a deal for "feature" phones
    as cheap as $10 extra per month for all data. Doesn't
    seem like Verizon.

    I do hear dealing with their service is like
    navigating the tenth ring of hell.. but fortunately,
    they've just plain worked. I found the folks at T-
    Mobile so very nice I didn't want to leave, 4 years
    ago, but unfortunately, their signal didn't even reach
    my house reliably. With Verizon, I get 3G everywhere,
    even out in the boondocks of South Jersey (remote
    enough I can't get wired internet or cable tv). So
    viewed through this lens, I actually like Verizon.
    Hopefully, the "new" starts to be successful enough to
    eat up the "old".
    Hazydave
  • RE: Smartphones: So advanced yet so hampered by ancient business models

    Who would want Verizon's Navigator over Google's maps? In my pre-Android v.2 Eris, I would. The Navigator is significantly more sophisticated than what my Eris has. I used the former for a couple of years, and only switched to Eris because it was novel, because I wouldn't have to pay for the GPS, and, most importantly, because of the promise of Android 2. With all the legal haggling going on, I'm starting to wonder if my Eris will graduate to v. 2 after all.

    I do hope the cell phone manufacturers and providers will settle down and remember that the whole purpose of this business is to offer good telecommunications to people who don't profit from all this fighting. But that's an issue for another blog.
    rmwade
  • RE: Smartphones: So advanced yet so hampered by ancient business models

    Well, sure, but you have to see how Google approaches
    things. Basically, they are a web company, not a PC
    company. Microsoft and Apple approach the Smart phone
    with a PDA/PC mentality... Search is just search.

    With Google, everything come back to search, and they
    have this immensely powerful search resource. So they
    use it extensively for regular phone things. Speech
    recognition, for example, is just amazingly good on
    Android. This is because, rather than have the phone
    do it, it's faster to pack it up as a search request,
    send to the servers, and get the translation back.

    And in fact, all kinds of things are launched via
    search.. that's one reason the search bar is so prominent on the Android home page. Voice or text
    searches call up any number of local apps: navigator,
    maps, phone, etc. It's part of the plumbing simply
    because this is how Google has always worked. Other
    search engines will be found lacking in these places,
    as they haven't been tweaked to function with Android
    the way Google search has.

    Similarly, there's sync. PC companies have the PC as
    the center of the universe.. so I had to dock my Palm
    to sync back to my PC, as you pretty much do today
    with iPhones and WiMos. Google's cloud centric, so
    you're always just syncing via the net, which is
    always available. This, sync is always happening,
    there's never some stage at which you "go and sync".

    Users have to decide which they prefer. I like the
    Google approach more than I expected to.. even got me
    using some of their web tools, despite me personally
    being rather PC centric (yes, I must dock regularly).
    Hazydave