It's about the search for one great interface.
The iPhone has one great interface, and the margins to go with it. Competing networks, and handset makers, need another one, equally compelling, or their markets could be lost.
Imagine, if you will, that Apple could make the original Macintosh for $173, and that it could supply the whole market at that price on launch. I think 1984 would have been nothing like 1984. Don't you?
The market would not have waited for Microsoft to come up with a clone that worked. The Mac's market share would have been Windows-like by then. Today Warren Buffett would be wearing mock turtlenecks instead of button-downs with ties.
Point is that's what the industry faces. Worse, reverse-engineering the iPhone interface, no matter how clean the room, would not slide by the courts this time. They're on to that trick.
The iPhone defines a new market I call the mobile Internet client. It will have volumes that put the present PC market to shame. Symbian couldn't create a competitive interface, and Nokia's hope is that an open source process can work where proprietary approaches have not.
I should add, before you do, that the proprietary approach has one more bullet to fire in this fight. Microsoft. Can Windows Mobile deliver Microsoft Surface at a price competitive with the iPhone? Stay tuned.
Thanks to open source the LiMo Foundation, the Android cats, and the Symbian boys are all working together on this one. Whether they know it or not a successful innovation by one will be quickly, and legally, cloned by the others.
But can open source really come up with that innovation? That's the question we should all be asking ourselves.