Trolltech programmable phone likely to have uphill battle

Trolltech programmable phone likely to have uphill battle

Summary: Norway-based Trolltech is demonstrating what it calls the first fully reprogrammable handset in hopes of luring phone designers looking to stay with the pace of innovation.  But is staying with the pace of innovation the problem?

TOPICS: Mobility

Norway-based Trolltech is demonstrating what it calls the first fully reprogrammable handset in hopes of luring phone designers looking to stay with the pace of innovation.  But is staying with the pace of innovation the problem? Or is it the carriers?  According to Reuters:

A major divide that separates PCs from mobile telephones is that while designers can freely reprogram a computer's software, most of a phone's functions are fixed at the factory...."(Independent) developers are having a hard time figuring out how to participate in the mobile phone market," Benoit Schillings, Trolltech's chief technology officer, said in an interview after a news conference to unveil the phone on Monday....Trolltech, the world's top supplier of Linux software for mobile phones, said it will offer a mobile camera phone running on the international GSM/GPRS standard it calls Greenphone....Trolltech's phone is priced at around $690 and comes with all the software and source code necessary to develop a complete mobile phone model, including core Linux operating system controls, a phone dialler, address book and camera application.

The idea sounds all well and good. But going back to that one statement about how most of a phone's functions are fixed at the factory, there's one issue. What's being fixed and who is doing the fixing? Most smartphones are capable of way more than they actually do.  The problem is that the phone manufacturers end up having to disable some of the cooler features at the requests of the carriers who want to control what subscribers do and don't do with their phones. 

Recently, I wrote about how Verizon Wireless and Sprint-Nextel are doing this very thing by forcing Motorola to disable the ability to transfer ringtones, images, and video back and forth between its phones and a computer.  This stuff works on Cingular and T-Mobile's networks.  Before buying the file transfer software needed to move files back and forth between a phone and a computer, Motorola warns:

IMPORTANT NOTE: This downloadable software is fully supported for Cingular and T-Mobile customers. However, portions of this software's functionality have been disabled for Verizon or Nextel customers, so Motorola Phone Tools will not work fully with phones using those carriers. If you are a Verizon customer, all multimedia and internet connection features in this software will be disabled due to carrier request. Please contact your service provider for further information. 

In other words, the same phone that does one thing on T-Mobile or Cingular's networks may very well do something entirely different on Verizon's and Sprextel's. 

Then, once a phone has been customized to the carrier's specification, the phone has to go through some heavy duty testing to make sure that it doesn't foul up the carrier's network.  That "qualification" process, according to some of the phone manufacturers I've spoken with is what can really delay a handset's time to market (going back to the so-called difficulty in keeping up with the pace of innovation).

So, it seems to me that the last thing the network operators want is a fully reprogrammable phone on their networks.

Topic: Mobility

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  • I see both sides... sorta

    I can understand why some carriers block certain functions. Obviously they want to sell ring tones (silly if you ask me) but in many cases the cells simply can't handle the data load that comes with many of the cooler features offered by the phones.

    In many cases it seems the cells can't even handle all the voice data. There really is a reason you get a dropped call when you have "five bars" for signal strength and that is because the cell can't handle the traffic.

    Replacing a cell phone is both cheap and easy, ripping out a cell and replacing everything tends to be a bit more expensive.

    I agree with you David, a fully programable cell phone isn't going to mean much and in all probability will cause all kinds of problems with the cell when people start programming the cell phones.
  • Misunderstandings.

    If the greenphone was trying to be marketed to Cingular, Verizon, etc, you are correct - it would be an uphill battle for all of the reasons you mention.

    However, its not. They're making it available to developers in the hopes that they will develop on top of their platform, generating market share. They're not making it available to the general public.

    That said, the issues with mobile carriers you list only come into play when phone makers are trying to get the carrier to sell their hardware (and subsidize it to the end user). If you go out and buy an "unlocked" GSM phone off of eBay, for example, you put your SIM card in it and it will work with any GSM carrier. In your Motorola example, the phone would have full functionality even on the Verizon/Nextel networks.

    Hopefully, one day, carriers will sell their services, and hardware makers will sell hardware. Can you imagine buying a computer from your cable internet provider? It's rediculous and you have all of the lockin problems we have with the current model.

    If any cell phone company ever starts offering lower rates in exchange for never subsidizing phones, I would hop on that plan in a moment!
    • Not so far-fetched

      I've seen more than one ISP here in EU that offered a PC with a 24-month subscription to their brand of internet access. And for a lot of people, this is the only way they will buy a phone, since they don't want to shell out $500 for a phone and would rather pay a bit more per month to the operator. Operators have been talking about getting away from subsidizing for ages, but so far it hasn't happened, and I'm not holding my breath.
  • Greed

    It is just greed on the part of the cell phone carriers. I use verizon and I have a camera phone.
    I can take pictures, but unless I pay verizon, they want to make it impossible for me to get the pictures out of my phone. The only reason I stay with them is that in NYC, they really do provide the best coverage. They are the only service that will provide service in my apartment. If you want to lower the price of your service, look at a smaller independent dealer. They obviously get kick backs from the service provide for every customer they sign up. Some of them pass along part of that kick back to the customer. That will bring the cost of your service down a bit. What I want to know is how to get some of those stupid taxes and fees to go down to something reasonable.