Phones. Yup, phones. And other mobile devices. The next area open source is spilling into is phones. I’m really excited about the OpenMoko Neo 1973 phone that should be coming out soon, and the Nokia Handheld Internet Tablets that are debuting soon, and both run linux based operating systems. However, I fear that some of the exciting collaboration and innovation might be stifled by the phone comanies.
Phone companies have always been a bit of a technological oddity to me, much like the was I see satellite providers. Unlike software based companies, where software is the main source of revenue, phone companies have always been, at their heart, a service provider. Phones have always been a tool that phone companies have used to both provide and control their service. For instance, in the 70’s phone companies mandated the type of phones that could be connected to their lines. This resulted in very corporation oriented phones that didn’t have the consumer’s best interests in mind. Eventually the FCC started cracking skulls and forced the phone companies to allow any phone to be connected, which resulted in the explosion of relatively cheap, highly functional land phones. As far as the state of affairs with cell phones today goes, we’re back in the 70’s. Except that instead of being forced to use physically disgusting phones, we’re now forced to use technologically disgusting software. Phones are typically locked down, laden with various levels adware, and you have to pay for pretty much every little service you want on your phone. With the coming of the Neo1973, a linux based phone, I hope that the beginning of the end of consumer unfriendly phones is dawning.
Phone companies need to go back to being service providers. When the phone company tries to take control of all the phones that connect to it, I have a little problem with that. What the phone companies are doing are as silly as if the electric companies tried to regulate what you can plug into a wall socket, or if the water companies decided which species can have a drink from the water they sell. I’m not saying that phone companies should distribute their service for free, just that there are some boundaries that should be respected. The current cell phone purchasing scheme is largely a remnant of when you had to buy a $1000 portable microwave oven to have a ‘portable’ phone. Cell phone providers had to try to help out with the phone costs in order to get their service off the ground. Nowadays, thats not necessary. Many people can and do front the full cost of a $500 multi functional cell phone, and I’m sure that after the cell phone providers open up, 30 basic dollar phones, with no subsidies, could easily be made.
However, linux and some hardware manufacturer are coming to the rescue! If you haven’t seen it yet take a look at the Neo1973 (http://wiki.openmoko.org/wiki/Neo1973). Its a full featured, open source, linux based iPhone killer. (I need to wipe that drool off my desk..) I can’t wait to be able to buy a production version. Another phone that has proved revolutionary is the iPhone. Not in its interface, or design or anything like that as the media would have you believe, but in the simple fact that Apple bullied a phone company into staying 100% out of the design of the phone. Thats a step in the right direction, and look at the boons we as consumers gain, in the iPhone’s interface. Personally though, Apple relocking and bricking hacked phones is not to my taste, so I’m not an iPhone fanboy by any means.
Let’s continue bringing open source to the phone. For the meantime though, I’ll just have to keep limping along on my Windows Mobile 5 HTC Apache. I just pray that next time I’m taking down a new number, I don’t have to explain to my new contact why they need to wait for me to reboot my phone before I take down their number.