Facebook advice: Open gates of wireless garden
Seattle Times technology reporter
SAN FRANCISCO — Dustin Moskovitz was eating Hot Pockets and sipping energy drinks in his dorm room only four years ago.
On Wednesday, the young co-founder of Facebook didn't hesitate to stand up in front of the wireless industry to tell it what it needs to do.
Speaking at the CTIA Wireless IT and Entertainment Show, Moskovitz said that to remain successful wireless carriers must give developers greater access to their networks — similar to the way Facebook launched a platform in May that allows third-party applications on its site.
Today, U.S. carriers are criticized for maintaining so-called walled gardens that restrict users from buying or using many applications that the carrier has approved or isn't selling.
Moskovitz, speaking several hours before Facebook announced that Microsoft is investing in his company, said a number of trends will make it necessary for carriers to change.
Apple plans to open up the iPhone in February to outside developers. In addition, Google, which has been an outspoken advocate of open access, is rumored to either be releasing an open phone or an open-access operating system for the phone. The Internet search giant also is interested in buying airwaves in an upcoming auction, which could allow it to build its own network.
"There are a lot of good reasons why the state of the industry is why it is," Moskovitz said. "I don't want to stand up here and tell you about your industry, but I've been working with everyone in the ecosystem over the last four years."
He added that cellphone operating systems and hardware are locked down and now don't allow third-party developers. He said only higher-end smartphones, using Windows Mobile or other powerful operating systems, are breaking that pattern.
"But we still have a long way to go. There's reasons why it looks like this today, but I want to talk about how crucial it is for this to change," he said.
Moskovitz isn't alone in pushing for this change. A lot of the conversations at CTIA this year are focused on creating platforms and encouraging large developer networks to build applications for the mobile phone.
"Openness is the key for Sony Ericsson's future," said Ulf Wretling, Sony Ericsson's general manager of portfolio and platform planning. "There's so many smart people out there that could build a lot of cool things but may work for other companies."
Last week, Motorola acquired a 50 percent stake in Sony Ericsson's UIQ technology, which is an open-user interface platform based on the Symbian operating system. The platform will be available to developers and all mobile-device vendors — not just to Sony Ericsson and Motorola.
Nokia also talked about its open-access initiative — the online MOSH service to which anyone can upload applications they've written for the mobile phone. The site lets users sift through the applications to see what would work on their phone. It is not exclusive to Nokia devices, or even to the Symbian operating system used by Nokia.
"We are hoping for innovators to find the killer aps that we never would find in a million years of doing PowerPoint slides inside an office," said George Linardos, director of business development and marketing with Forum Nokia.
Moskovitz said developers are lining up for the chance to build mobile applications and Nokia is seeing that, too. Since launching MOSH in August, it has registered 3.5 million unique users and 150,000 content items are being uploaded a day — 6 million total.
But not everyone is so quick to call open access the perfect solution.
"I think we are looking at ways to step in that direction," said Lee Daniels, staff vice president of consumer-product development at Verizon Wireless. "But we are spending billions of dollars on investments, and how can we justify that if we are nothing more than access?"
He said another problem is that customers expect different levels of care from the Internet vs. the phone. If something doesn't work online, there's no one to call, he said, whereas wireless users have customer service. If it's a third-party application, the carrier won't be able to help.
Besides, Daniels said, if it's a good application, Verizon Wireless will want to offer it to its customers anyway.
"But it has to be tested," he said.
Tricia Duryee: 206-464-3283 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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