Here’s the thing about mobiles…

If you’re a fan of high-powered smartphones it’s likely that you already know all about Nokia’s N900 (above), with it’s ability to install standard Debian packages from the command line. Or maybe it’s the Motorola DROID that gets your heart racing, with the prospect of hacking it with a custom ROM.

It’s great to see mobile devices running more open operating systems, but there’s another part of the equation that — at least in North America — is a real problem for innovation in the mobile space.

I’m talking about the carriers.

For whatever reason the culture here favours cheap subsidized handsets on multi-year contracts, which makes unlocked devices a hard sell. Here’s a video that Nokia produced specifically for the U.S. market:

Unfortunately it seems to have done little to sway prospective customers; Nokia has since announced that they’re closing their flagship retail stores in New York and Chicago.

There are some encouraging signs, though. In Canada (where I live) WIND Mobile has generated a lot of interest by offering unlimited voice and data plans without contracts. And there are at least two more carriers coming to market here in 2010!

So while I’l definitely be covering Android and Maemo-related news, I also feel obliged to preach the gospel of unlocked phones and contract-free carriers. This was the all-time most popular subject on a previous blog, after all…

So what’s your favourite mobile device? Have you either a carrier horror story or a sweet calling and data plan that you’d like to share? Leave a comment, and let’s start talking!

14 comments:

  1. I'd love it if there were a US based company that offered no contract plans, and good coverage. Those that currently exist (such as Boost Mobile CDMA, a Sprint MVNO, for instance), do not allow roaming like traditional Sprint phones do though, limiting their coverage. I guess I should also say I'd prefer this service to be GSM as well… 🙂

  2. The carriers in US and Canada stifle innovation. Not only are they choosy about what handsets they will subsidize, but they even disable some of the features on those phones. Apple deserves major credit for getting AT&T to sell and support the virtually untouched iPhone (only carrier locked), and I think that has opened the eyes of many people to what a phone can do. Before that, most people thought a RAZR was the height of innovation and style. But we know that AT&T and Apple work to stifle competitors to their joint business model, and only need to look as far as the Google Voice app to see evidence of that.

    Jonathan Greene noted an interesting quote from a Nokia executive where they point to their increasingly open source initiatives as the fulcrum for an upswing in both innovation and competitive advantage. I hope this is true. http://www.atmasphere.net/archives/2010/01/04/n

    People are definitely getting excited about the devices themselves. If enough buy unlocked and/or open phones, the carriers will have to adapt. Their current power lies in the subsidies of phones that do what they want, rather than devices that do what the users want.

  3. “Before that, most people thought a RAZR was the height of innovation and style.”

    OH SNAP!!1!

    P.S. Thanks for the link. Life as a Nokia fan is certainly full of hurry up and wait…

  4. congrats on the website,
    I tried not comment on the video, but it is really funny.
    what nokia thinks that people are that stupid, not knowing how switch sim card,
    it is like teaching some how much 1+1 is!!!!!!!

  5. Congrats noted, thanks! : )

    I'm guessing you don't live in the United States or Canada…?

    It really is a problem here. It's not that people are “stupid”, per se… It's just that they honestly don't understand the concept of an unlocked handset — and carriers certainly do nothing to help.

    If I were to ask ten friends whether their mobile is on CDMA or GSM eight of them would answer with the name of their carrier.

  6. Interesting about the cost differences, but once again everyone needs to understand that the iPhone is the antithesis of an open, unlocked device — as I mentioned in this blog’s very first post.

    If you’re interested in discussing it and/or other crippled Internet appliances, you’d best head elsewhere…

  7. AC:
    I’m coming up to the end of my 36-month servitude to Bell Mobility, and I’ve been making some decisions about my next step, based on how I have been using my LG Chocolate for that time.
    First, I’m not a heavy user for web, and I never text. Most of hte time, I use my phone for voice. I’m therefore leaning away from anythign with a keyboard.

    Second, I’m taking the plunge and moving in with my sweetie, so I won’t need a bundle with landline and internet like I did with my last move. I don’t feel obliged to sign with anyone this time.

    Third, my Palm Tungsten is showing its age. I keep it synced between my 2 Macs via MobileMe, but my calendars and contacts get screwed up occasionally, and, frankly, I’m a bit tired of hauling around two devices. I’d like to consolidate and have one device that syncs nicely.

    I’m leaning towards the iPhone right now (I’d be able to leave the iPod at home more often, too), so I’ve been looking at the costs of each of the providers here in Canada: Bell, Telus, Rogers, and Fido.

    I started gathering the costs of the phone and plans for each provider, for all 3GS and 3G models, and one interesting fact is evident when comparing outright purchase and a plan versus 36-month contract with the discounted phone–you save a lot of money over 36 months by NOT signing the contract. Sure, the upfront cost is bigger, but my initial calculations show the buyout ranges from 45-73% cheaper. I honestly didn’t expect to see such large differences.
    I have to double-check my numbers (and dig up all the hidden fees from the legal type).

    Ed

  8. AC:
    I’m coming up to the end of my 36-month servitude to Bell Mobility, and I’ve been making some decisions about my next step, based on how I have been using my LG Chocolate for that time.
    First, I’m not a heavy user for web, and I never text. Most of hte time, I use my phone for voice. I’m therefore leaning away from anythign with a keyboard.

    Second, I’m taking the plunge and moving in with my sweetie, so I won’t need a bundle with landline and internet like I did with my last move. I don’t feel obliged to sign with anyone this time.

    Third, my Palm Tungsten is showing its age. I keep it synced between my 2 Macs via MobileMe, but my calendars and contacts get screwed up occasionally, and, frankly, I’m a bit tired of hauling around two devices. I’d like to consolidate and have one device that syncs nicely.

    I’m leaning towards the iPhone right now (I’d be able to leave the iPod at home more often, too), so I’ve been looking at the costs of each of the providers here in Canada: Bell, Telus, Rogers, and Fido.

    I started gathering the costs of the phone and plans for each provider, for all 3GS and 3G models, and one interesting fact is evident when comparing outright purchase and a plan versus 36-month contract with the discounted phone–you save a lot of money over 36 months by NOT signing the contract. Sure, the upfront cost is bigger, but my initial calculations show the buyout ranges from 45-73% cheaper. I honestly didn’t expect to see such large differences.
    I have to double-check my numbers (and dig up all the hidden fees from the legal type).

    Ed

  9. Interesting about the cost differences, but once again everyone needs to understand that the iPhone is the antithesis of an open, unlocked device — as I mentioned in this blog’s very first post.

    If you’re interested in discussing it and/or other crippled Internet appliances, you’d best head elsewhere…

  10. Interesting about the cost differences, but once again everyone needs to understand that the iPhone is the antithesis of an open, unlocked device — as I mentioned in this blog’s very first post.

    If you’re interested in discussing it and/or other crippled Internet appliances, you’d best head elsewhere…

  11. AC:

    understood… especially after reading today’s article about the future of mobile web…

    Ed

  12. AC:

    understood… especially after reading today’s article about the future of mobile web…

    Ed

  13. I think the unlocked market has expanded like mad.. Back in the “day” as in about 7 years ago I ran an online unlocked cell phone business.. at collierbing.com and did pretty well for a little guy, ended up selling and the folks ran it nowhere.. Fast forward to today and even Dell is selling unlocked phones, Amazon is full of them, and many others. I think its AMAZING the growth in the unlocked market.. Prices are still astronomical for unlocked phones but hopefully with more demand those will come down too..

    My Rant
    Todd

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