I had to take a moment to pause and think about this new Google-Verizon chumminess and their common, yet unspoken, quest to go after the Apple-AT&T relationship with the iPhone that includes today's partnership news and a new ad campaign.
For those who don't know, I am a Verizon Wireless customer who is currently using a loaner Blackberry Tour. I am also one of the Apple faithful who would rather be using an iPhone but refuses to pay more than $100 a month for the hit-or-miss AT&T service. (But that's a rant you can read in a previous post.)
What really clouds the issue for me is that I also like Google's Android mobile OS. I have been carrying around an HTC MyTouch device running pre-paid T-Mobile service for a couple of months now. The service is OK, at best, but the user experience with the software - and the deep integration of Google's services such as mail, maps and search - is second only to the iPhone (Blackberry has a long way to go, in my opinion).
Yes, I'm a bit torn now - but here's the good news. I'm torn because I suddenly feel like I have options. Real options.
As my colleague Larry Dignan pointed out in his own post this morning, there has been a trade-off between cutting-edge devices and reliability as a Verizon Wireless customer. (Sorry, the Blackberry Storm didn't make the cut as a cutting-edge device for me.) Like him, I also stuck by Verizon Wireless and its reliable service over the flashiest new devices. And, in all honesty, I've just been holding my breath, waiting for Verizon and Apple to bust out with an iPhone announcement the second that the AT&T-Apple exclusivity deal ends, rumored to be sometime next year.
So much for that game plan. It could still happen, seeing how this is all non-exclusive (the way it should be), but this Google deal certainly clouds the issue.
The good news for Verizon is that customers like me, who have been on the fence but stuck with the reliability of Verizon, are more likely to stick around now to see what sort of cutting-edge technology Google can offer. The good news for Google is that the partnership is with the largest of the U.S. carriers, giving them a better chance of tapping into the largest market of existing customers.
What's really interesting, though, is that Verizon seems to be giving away some of its control of the software side of the business. Verizon had a reputation of being a bit Steve Jobs-like (my way or the highway) when it came to negotiating deals about software, or apps, on their network. The long-time buzz is that Apple approached Verizon first with the iPhone but the two sides butted heads over control over the apps. But, since the launch of the first iPhone, the mobile phone landscape has changed dramatically. Consider the following:
- Apps rock! Apple has proven that consumers love apps, which allow them to customize their mobile devices to meet their needs. Now, all of the others - Android, Palm, Blackberry and so on - are getting into the app game, allowing developers access to their networks to build customer-luring apps.
- The negative publicity about AT&T's iPhone service - as well as the ties of exclusivity - have given other players, notably Palm and Google, the time they needed to develop operating systems of their own and still make a name for themselves before Apple becomes a world dominator.
- Manufacturers are feeling the heat, too. Motorola was pretty much sucking eggs for a while there - but now has new life pumping into it after revealing that it was pretty much betting the farm on Android. The company got some nice reviews after announcing its first Android device - called Cliq - and a unique software interface called Motoblur.
It's almost as if there's been a bit of a compromise between Verizon and Google over app control, likely one of the hardest points to overcome in 18 months of negotiations. Clearly, there's a community of developers who are rushing into every platform they can to tap into this new mobile gold rush. In most cases, it's the OS that they're writing for - Android, Palm, Blackberry, Apple and so on. You rarely hear about anyone who's developing an app for the carriers.
In a news release this morning, Verizon re-affirmed its commitment to developing its own app environment, noting that its attracted more than 1,000 developers to write for V Cast Apps, the company's mobile app storefront slated to launch later this year. Clearly, not every device that runs on the Verizon network will be running V Cast Apps. Blackberry devices on Verizon can access the Blackberry App World marketplace for device-specific apps but LG or Samsung devices, for example, might benefit from Verizon's own apps.
The world of mobile phones is getting more and more complex. I'm just grateful that, as a consumer, I'm finally starting to feel like the carriers, the manufacturers and even the builders of the operating systems are working hard to earn my business.
And now that CNET and Root Wireless are also teaming up to truth-squad the carriers on actual service quality, the tables are finally turning in favor of the customer. I can only say: It's about time.