iPhone, Google, Wireless Web and Muni-Wi-FiMonday, July 30, 2007
I have four topics on my mind today and the first is the iPhone. After all the hype around the first weekend it went on sale, the actual number of units sold was less than 300,000. I am sure this was disappointing to both Apple and AT&T, but that is still a lot of phones sold in only a couple of days. I waited until last week and then walked into our local AT&T company store and bought my 8-GB iPhone. I was in and out of the store in about 5 minutes, which is a refreshing change. This store now has a greeter at the door who asks customers who come in what they are interested in. If it is simply an accessory or two, the greeter locates the items and gets you on your way quickly.
I came home with my iPhone, opened it up and connected it to my computer. Without an account, it is only a beautiful oblong device, but I didn’t want to sign a two-year service agreement and wanted month-to-month service instead. On the iTunes Website, I could not find out how to get a prepaid account no matter what I did. Finally, I Googled ‘iPhone subscriptions’ and found a blog telling how to go through the process. It said that when asked for my Social Security Number I should enter all 9s instead of my real SSN. I did this, my credit failed and I was directed to the GoPhone site where in only a few minutes I was signed up for month-to-month prepaid service. My iPhone came alive and I was off and running!
Apple did a nice job with the user interface and has it almost right. I hate the keyboard since instead of accepting the letter I type, it picks a letter next to it. I was told by several people that it “learns” about my fingers, but you couldn’t prove it by me. Next up is the fact that you cannot go back to a previous screen―at least if there is a way it is not evident. I have asked others and they have the same problem. If you go too far, you have to push the button on the bottom of the device, return and start over.
Perhaps my biggest gripe is that when you go to the iPhone Website it says it will download the addresses of your favorite bookmarked Websites as indicated in your Internet Explorer when the box is checked, but it doesn’t! I was also disappointed in the iPhone Website. I have no control over the actual iPhone device through the site, there is no way to change any settings or list and download URLs I might want to use (doing it on the phone is way too time consuming for me) and the Yahoo browser is better, but sometimes it gets in the way of other things I want to do.
When you go to the information page, you can see that your contacts, calendar, email accounts and Web browser are all synchronized but the favorite bookmarks from my Internet Explorer are missing in action. The iPhone Website is dull and boring. Apple did a great job on the iPhone but sure did a lousy job on the Website that interfaces to it.
Still, the iPhone will change the landscape in the world of wireless. I hope the products that will show up as a result of its introduction will make better use of a Website for configuring the device the way I want it. In the meantime, I will spend another month using it, report back, cancel my month-to-month subscription and give the iPhone its place in my device collection.
Tomorrow the FCC will announce the rules for the 700-MHz auction. Word on the street is that it will not include Google’s demand for totally open networks but will require some type of open access. Meanwhile, Google, not skipping a beat, has announced a deal with Sprint to provide services over the WiMAX network and KDDI in Japan just announced that Google mail will be available over its network.
Most people still do not understand the term ‘open access.’ In talking to a number of reporters I find they are happy they will be able to use their existing devices on the 700-MHz spectrum—and I have to tell them over and over again that will not be the case. First, the spectrum won’t be available for commercial services for a number of years. Second, in order for a device to have open access on whatever portion of the spectrum the FCC demands to be used for open access, devices will have to be built for that specific frequency band and whatever technologies the winners choose to deploy.
The current number of licenses that will be auctioned (unless it changes tomorrow), makes it pretty clear that a single company will not be able to aggregate a truly nationwide footprint on 700 MHz, and that probably means there will be several different technologies used by the various winners. So an open access device will have to have 700-MHz capabilities and probably two or even three technologies built into it. If it is a 700-MHz-only device, it will only be usable in the United States. If these devices are to be “world phones” they will require a large number of frequency bands and technologies (see my commentary)
So open access is not really open access, it means, perhaps, that if a company wants to build a device that will work on the 700-MHz band using the technologies chosen by the winners, it can do so, but the device will still have to be certified by the FCC and samples will have to be provided to the network owners for testing.
This quote from Rolla Huff, President and CEO of EarthLink, says it all:
"The Wi-Fi business as currently constituted will not provide an acceptable return. We're actively exploring ways to scale this business more economically. We're going to look for municipal government to step up and become a meaningful anchor tenant on completion of a build. That would go a long way in our being able to get an acceptable return on this investment," said Huff. "Until we're convinced that we can build new networks and get an acceptable return we will delay any further new build-outs."
The Wireless Web
My business partners and I are in the minority when it comes to our vision of the wireless Web or wireless Internet. There is a growing belief that it will be just like the wired Web only wireless, and that we will all carry ultra-mobile devices of some sort so we can open them up and browse the Web no matter where we are. I believe the REAL wireless Internet will be very different. Using smart networks and smart devices, we will still be able to browse―see Yahoo 2Go for a better mobile browser, but even that doesn’t go far enough. Instead of a browser, we will have a back-end service that enables us to access specific content from within any application we happen to be in. Some of that access will happen as updates without having to ask for them, keeping our device current.
Yes, the wireless Internet will be very different from today’s wired Internet, but I guess we will have to go through the wireless version of today’s Internet first since that is where all of the companies are heading. Yeah, the gold to be had is to take the desktop experience and move it to a small device with a small keyboard (or no keyboard) and make us enter URLs or perform searches. I guess you might call this wireless Web 2.0. For myself, I will wait for wireless Web 3.0 with intuitive, user-friendly wireless access to information, where my first stop won’t have to be a search engine.
Andrew M. Seybold