The Future of Mobile: Walled Gardens of Opens Access? [Searcher]
(Searcher Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Social theorist Hannah Arendt, in her book The Human Condition (University of Chicago Press, 1958), provided some interesting thoughts on our modern age, which she foresaw as a "social realm" in which the personal and private are transformed into "one enormous family" in the public sphere (p. 39). She predicted increasing reliance on "mobile property," which takes one's personal belongings/identity and pushes that out into the world at large - a good definition of our increasingly social web. Building on this, Ian Bogost, in his How to Do Things With Videogames (University of Minnesota Press, 2011), argues that each new device has its own "media ecosystem." A mobile revolution has begun to change the way we perceive, understand, and interact with the world around us and with each other.
In the U.S., the transition to mobile's "social sphere" is well underway. In September 2012, the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life reported that 45% of American adults now own a smartphone and 85% have a cellphone ("Pew Internet: Mobile," Joanna Brenner, Sept. 14, 2012 [http://pewinternet.org/Commentary/2012/February/PewInternet-Mobile.aspx]). The 2012 edition of the International Telecommunication Union's Measuring the Information Society [www.itu.int/ITU-D/ict/publications/idi/index.html] provides overwhelming evidence of how mobile is transforming our world. Studying 155 countries, the latest survey found that 6 billion people, 86% of the world's population, now have a cellphone. China alone has 1 billion cell users, with India soon to catch up. By the end of 2011, 2.3 billion people - one in every three people on our planet - were using the internet. The impact on developing nations is especially astounding: By 2015, the report predicts, 40% of households in these countries will have internet access in their homes - up from 17% just 2 years ago.
Mobile - Bridging the Technology Gap
In many countries, mobile phones have become staples of their economies. The international mobile trade organization, GMSA, notes that "by working in partnership, mobile operators and African governments can continue the remarkable growth story of the African mobile industry. The benefits mobile services have already brought to hundreds of millions of Africans can be extended to those who have yet to access communication technology. By so doing, the African continent can continue to bring not only communication services, but also banking, health and education to its people and drive an increase in the economic wealth and development of the region" ("Mobile Observatory Series: African Mobile Observatory 2011" [www.gsma.com/publicpolicy/ public-policy-resources/mobile-observatory-series]).
A recent World Bank report notes that "at the close of the 1990s, less than 3 percent of Kenyan households owned a telephone and fewer than 1 in 1,000 Kenyan adults had mobile phone service. By the end of 2011, 93 percent of Kenyan households owned a mobile phone" ("Kenya's Mobile Revolution and the Promise of Mobile Savings," Gabriel Demombynes and Aaron Thegeya, The World Bank, Policy Research Working Paper 5988, March 2012 [wwwwds.worldbank.org/external/default/WDSContentServer/W DSP/IB/2012/03/06/000158349_20120306084347/Ren dered/INDEX/WPS5988.txt]).
Alec Ross, senior adviser for innovation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, noted last year that the Arab Spring clearly showed that "dictatorships are now more vulnerable than they have ever been before, in part - but not entirely - because of the devolution of power from the nation state to the individual" fostered by internet access which "acted as an accelerant" to the movements ("Hillary Clinton Advisor Compares Internet to Che Guevara," Josh Holiday, The Guardian, June 22, 2011 [www.guardian.co.uk/media/2011/ jun/22/hillary-clinton-adviser-alec-ross]).
Is Open Mobile Possible Today
All mobile users know only too well about the extreme competition that exists amongst mobile phone devices and of course the proprietary, generally incompatible operating systems and portals that exist. The different interests and preferences among the various sellers of mobile devices (Walmart, Amazon, Best Buy, etc.) often limit their catalogs to specific models or operating systems. Recently, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame announced that Facebook is "now a mobile company." For every "person who's using Facebook on mobile, there's more engagement and they're spending more time," he continued. "We think we'll make a lot more money than on the desktop" ("Zuckerberg: We Are Now a Mobile Company," James Temple, The Tech Chronicles, SFGate, Sept. 11, 2012 [http://blog.sfgate.com/tech chron/2012/09/ll/zuckerberg-we-are-now-a-mobile-com pany]). Beyond all this competition is the issue of transparency. In a world of "walled gardens," all apps don't work on all mobile devices.
Even the very concept of "open" is at question in this emerging industry. Apple's iOS is clearly a very closed architecture, while Android is advertised as open source. "In terms of open access to the end-user market, that has been sacrificed, at least by Apple in return for the promise that the end-user experience would be much better," Jai Jaisimha, CEO of Open Mobile Solutions and Appnique.com, believes, "because they ensure that the apps that show up through their stores meet certain standards. In general, the end-user environment is not open. Jaisimha says there are now opportunities for anybody to publish content or software and put it up on the market very quickly. He points out, however, that a real, universal system for finding good products is still lacking.
"Today's market is very diverse," Jaisimha notes, "and in complete contrast to the single carrier system model. Still, it is relatively easier to access the market than it was in the past." He adds, "The volume of people who can access the market, if you are willing to jump through the hoops both on the iPhone and Android systems, are still orders of magnitude higher than they were just a few years ago." According to Jaisimha, there are no backroom deals, and the largest carriers are not getting preferential treatment.
"Clearly, mobile platform OS and content publishing frameworks on top will be as important as PC operating systems in the 1980s and 1990s in terms of determining market structure and either limiting or enabling use of the technology," explains Dipankar Raychaudhuri, director of Rutgers WINLab. "The mobile OS market is not yet a monopoly since Google's Android platform is open-source, while Apple's is not." While Raychaudhuri says there is already a fairly large software ecosystem around the Android OS which might help to keep the mobile platform relatively open for new entrants, content publishing systems such as Amazon and Apple that are atop the mobile platform and involve cloud services within the internet have tended to adopt the walled garden approach made possible by proprietary devices such as the iPad or Kindle.
"There are many open source projects in content management and publishing software such as Drupal and Scribus," Raychaudhuri continues. He is of the opinion that these efforts may fall short of preventing a market structure based on two to three big players with closed systems, especially since content owners prefer to deal with large companies that can presumably assure secure distribution. "Open standards will help in terms of making it easier for content owners and users to move between service providers, but it is more challenging to have a single standard for publishing than for lower level services like the Internet Protocol."
With so much happening so quickly, what is the role of regulation The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) are widely believed to be investigating the mobile industry and its practices - as are the European Union and other governmental agencies. Today's global marketplace is experiencing dynamic change and rapid growth. Can we expect that the global industry can coordinate and regulate itself How might the nations of the world work together to create a cohesive legal structure to support both the industry and users and balance growth with oversight
"All the attempts at creating de facto standards have really been community- driven, with the notable exception of HTML5," Jaisimha explains. He adds that while Telecom has been well-served by standards for a century now and interoperability and many other things would not have existed without community standards, the process is way too slowmoving to actually be feasible in today's open mobile space. "Down the road I think it is possible that standards may catch up with the open platform hype and that would actually help with distribution of content. The only real ray of sunshine in standards that I see is HTML5." In the next several years, laisimha anticipates that there will probably be three to four platforms, rather than 10, which dominate. "I think that HTML5 [will] be sufficiently advanced and suitable for some types of applications but I don't think it will replace native software in the 3-5 year range . . . We still have a way to go in these early stages of the market."
"Most of the computing platforms that have emerged in recent years have copied Apple's iOS model, which is like a beautiful crystal prison," explains Electronic Freedom Foundation's Peter Eckersley. This means that the computers people are purchasing do not let them choose what kind of book to read, which web browser to use, or what kind of firewall and antivirus software to buy to protect their privacy and security. "Installation of 80% of free and open source software is prohibited." Eckersley calls these locked-down platforms "a disaster both for competition and freedom to innovate in the marketplace." He says the time has come for Apple, Microsoft, AT&T, Verizon, et al. to add settings to their devices that allow users to install an alternative app store or use an alternative operating system from the ones that come with the device. "Intervention by regulators to achieve those outcomes is a complicated process and would have to be a measure of last resort. We'd much prefer that the companies ceased using anti- competitive tactics voluntarily."
laisimha expects "a big hornet's nest of regulations" will focus on privacy. "[E] specially in the U.S., Congress is expressing concern about privacy, especially surrounding user location information. There are bound to be rules or legislation about that in the future." He points at the European Union as also being very concerned about privacy- sensitive location information. "I don't know if anyone in the open mobile space is even dimly aware that they may already be in violation of existing laws and regulations. I think there will be efforts to enforce existing laws in the EU."
Internet/mobile analyst Greg Sterling contends "that if there are only a few 'closed' or 'controlled' content ecosystems, significant control goes to the platform owners or gatekeepers." Referencing Apple as the obvious example, he adds that even "open" platforms such as Android are ultimately controlled. Sterling also agrees that the future is very hard to predict from a technology standpoint. "Few people saw the mobile and app revolution coming. And we may equally have no idea about the distribution models of the next several years." Consequently, Sterling advocates being vigilant but also cautious about predicting or expecting "doomsday scenarios." By the same token, he says, regulators shouldn't be overly intrusive in the evolution of a fastchanging market.
As Guardian technology editor Charles Arthur tells Searcher. "The web remains essentially open, and there are plenty of ways of making money from it - you can sell access to content - for example, get people to pay via PayPal for content." Arthur maintains, "When it comes to apps, there's no alignment of interest between the different platforms (they're all competitive), so there's no risk of cartel-like action, at least in the short to medium term."
Darrell West, vice president and director of governance studies and director of the center for technology innovation at the Brookings Institution, tells Searcher, "Walled gardens represent a threat to an open Internet because they interfere with the exchange of information and ideas." In his view, the value of the internet is the ability of people to access information across platforms and service providers. "The more we construct barriers, the more challenging it will be to reap the benefits of the Internet." He also acknowledges that because the mobile economy still is evolving, no one can be sure how the internet ecosystem will look in 5 years. "There are many players and many interconnections across mobile devices, so it does represent a dynamic ecosystem." He too concurs that it is unlikely any one player will dominate the field since many of the large companies are entering the mobile space, looking to invade one another's turf. "Government officials need to keep an eye on the overall ecosystem," he asserts, "to make sure no one seeks to gain unfair advantages over others."
A telecommunications expert I contacted for comments on the possibility of FTC, FCC, or other increased surveillance in mobile replied that he couldn't respond because he was working with a government investigation of the industry at this time. We can assume we will hear more on this in the future.
Serving a Truly Global - Yet Local - Marketplace
How will search engines - or app stores - be able to keep up with all the changes, issues, products, platforms, and pricing in this new economy Discovery of products, along with marketing/ sales opportunities to make phones expand the local market while still allowing a global reach, will be significant.
"People are willing to go to fairly great lengths to read on their mobiles, whether they have apps or not, and whether the content is free or paid," affirmed Institute for the Future research director Lyn leffery. "Here the major issue is discovery, both of content and of apps that help organize the mobile reading experience." leffery sees device and platform interoperability as the key to everything, but says even while companies such as Apple try to create "monopolistic ecosystems" in order to control the entire content pipeline, users find other ways to get around the restrictions. "I see more demand for content, not less, and more mobile reading, not less, so there is likely to be more conflict between readers, publishers, and platform Owners' in the coming years, not less."
Language remains an accessibility issue. English continues to dominate. Blogger Matos Kapetanakis writes:
85% of developers publishing in English address just 8% (around 500 million) of the world population speaking English, while Chinese, spoken by 22% of the world population, only attracts 16% of developers. English dominates developers' language share almost everywhere, putting local languages supply at a deficit, not only on a global, but on a regional basis as well. Developers in Europe publish in 2.45 languages, the highest multi-language use across all regions. In South America, Spanish is used by 84% of developers, while English is only used by 48%.
-"Developer Economics 2012 - The New App Economy," Matos Kapetanakis, Vision Mobile, lune 20, 2012 [www.visionmobile.com/blog/2012/06/reportdeveloper-economics-2012-the-new-app-economy]
What will the implications of these language issues be as we all rely more and more on mobile for information, commerce, and communication
Apple's Role in Redefining an Industry
"I think it's fair to say that the iPhone turned the mobile industry inside out and ultimately turned the entire technology and media world inside out as well," asserts Wired contributing editor Fred Vogelstein. "Before the iPhone came out, people thought the thing that was in their pocket [was] a phone - and not much else. There were some that did note-taking, email, etc.; however, the idea of a computer that you could put in your pocket became real with the iPhone. It really captured everyone's imagination and changed the phone industry - and also the relationship between carriers and phone manufacturers." Vogelstein says the iPhone also started to change the relationship between Apple and Google: "People inside the tech industry created a new software industry that hadn't previously existed." In his mind, the iPhone was as big and important a change as the invention of the Macintosh or the personal computer. "Android rose as a part of this ... and this dual platform has been good for the industry as well."
With the release of iPhone 5, Apple decided not to use Google Maps as it had in the past, but instead worked out its own mapping product. The product, clearly inferior, was broadly lambasted in the press and social media for its inaccuracies and content issues. Apple CEO Tim Cook promised improvements, saying "the more our customers use our Maps the better it will get and we greatly appreciate all of the feedback we have received from you." For a company and product line that prides itself on elegance and positive user experience, the Apple Maps is riddled with erroneous geography and lacking in details and features all smartphone users expect. For developers, this poses an even more serious problem - tying ads, product, and store information to a mapping product that doesn't perform. These days Apple appears to be spending more on litigation and protecting its turf than product development ("'Weak' Apple iPhone 5 Sales and Maps: Eat Cake," Kofi Bofah, On Technology, SeekingAlpha.com, Oct. 11, 2012 [http://seekingal pha.com/article/918121-weak-apple-iphone-5-sales-andmaps -eat -cake]).
Mapping is an increasingly important component of any smartphone, offering users seamless access from search to GPS technology or vendor contact/location information. Google's investment in mapping is something that would be hard for any company to match - let alone beat. Google profits from integrating and linking advertisement and contact information between the search, apps and maps. Even though Apple sold out its 5 million iPhone 5 units within days of its release, these users have, in effect, agreed to accept inferior quality information and service in return for the cachet of owning the iPhone5 - and may have to find their own alternative mapping systems in the interim while waiting for Apple to play catch-up.
The key question, according to Vogelstein, is whether this is a systemic problem. Noting that the App store business has generated at least $5 billion a year in revenue, he thinks that it would be hard to say so. "The market is very robust today in apps, with options for developers through Apple, Android, or selling on the Web."
The Future of Information, the Web, and Mobile
Vogelstein thinks there will be a huge tablet market in the coming years. "The uptake of the iPad itself has been faster than the iPhone, which was faster than the iPod. The scramble by other manufacturers to get their tablets out there has also been very great. Schools and other institutions have coalesced around the tablet." However, he sees the smartphone as being at the apex of mobile, in part because there are so many smartphones in the world, with more expected. Plus, he points out, because the smartphone fits in your pocket, it's different from any other type of device. "It's with you all the time."
"Perhaps the crazy rush to an app economy was just the result of apps being easier to develop than mobile websites," blogger Matt Brezina [www.mattbrezina.com] suggests, adding that asking who is going to win in the long run may not be the right question. "Maybe the question is who will make the most money - and each will do it differently." He predicts Apple will make more money, but over a shorter period of time while it owns the dominant platform. Ultimately, Apple "will be disrupted and fall off precipitously. Google won't ever make as much money as Apple will at their peak (currently it is 3 to 1 ratio) - but Google will continue to make money for a lot longer. I see Amazon in a similar position to Google."
Good, Bad, Ugly
As consumers in a volatile, ever-changing, quickly growing arena, there is little we can do but hang on for the ride - and watch for opportunities to use these technologies and devices to better service our clients. "Certainly, the future technologies that are used for mobile BB access will play a critical role in the future evolution of all media, including publishing (as well as most other sectors of the economy)," notes MIT economist William Lehr. "We are on the cusp of major changes fueled by the realization of ubiquitous access to mobile Internet services (at least in the major markets) that are changing the way we access and use the Internet, There are new devices, new networks and services, and lots of new applications."
Lehr also agrees that "this fluid and complex environment" makes it difficult predict who the winners will necessarily be. "There are too many moving parts - regulatory policy (including spectrum reform), industry restructuring (consider recent Comcast-Verizon deals as well as Samsung-Apple-Google-etc. smartphone patent wars), and a proliferation of new user/ usage models (iPads, Kindles, overthe-top media, and of course, smartphones)." Lehr opines that what happens in any of these arenas will depend on what happens elsewhere. He sees the last-mile infrastructure players as having important roles in this future, along with content-owners and other big names such as Google, Intel, and Microsoft and a host of new companies. As Lehr puts it, "These questions are difficult enough in the context of the U.S., but figuring out what will happen globally and what that may mean for open access in the developing world, etc., begs questions about the future of Internet governance and whether we will be able to craft a globally acceptable solution." Given the turmoil in the U.S., Lehr does not hold out high hopes that these global challenges will be solved any time soon.
"I do believe we need regulatory oversight to ensure a healthy ecosystem," Lehr continues, "but also believe that markets offer the best option and so a light-touch approach is to be preferred." He recognizes the potential threat of walled gardens disrupting the open connectivity of the internet, but adds, "I cannot read Kindle or Nook books on a Kindle or Nook, but I can read them on an iPhone or Android phone." While acknowledging the balance of power in publishing seems to have shifted from legacy publishers toward platform owners, Lehr does not see any evidence that avenues for creative talent are being restricted. Although the volume of available content is staggering, and much of it may be of dubious quality, he reminds us this has always been the case.
"Addressing the social policy and industry competition challenges that the emerging world of wireless portends will require us to consider more carefully the future of technical platforms," Lehr concludes, "but this is inherently a multidisciplinary challenge. On the one hand, while current trends might suggest an increase in walled gardens, lots of interesting technical and business work is directed toward giving edge -users more choice and ways to circumvent walls that folks do not like."
Spreading like wildfire, mobile is engaging and empowering the world. Perhaps the very "weight" of this consumer base will help to keep the industry, products, and services on the right track. We can hope.
"Walled gardens act to their benefit because they discourage piracy. Physical books are their own anti-piracy mechanism. So were vinyl LPs. Digitisation brings enormous scale, but it also brings the challenge of monetising something that can be copied for free, infinitely, perfectly. And don't believe the lousy excuses of 'it's fine, bands can just make their money by performing'. Some bands can't."
-Charles Arthur, Guardian newspaper Technology Editor
"Content companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, etc., are understandably trying to grow their businesses by creating walled environments that constrain data formats, digital rights, and interactive experiences within their own sites and devices. This might be good business strategy, but citizens have different needs than consumers. For public spheres to work, we need to hear as many different perspectives as we can, helping people easily take their data and ideas from one online space to another. Technologies that restrict flexibility, movement, and diversity hurt the kind of communication that robust democracies need."
-Mike A nanny, Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, USC
"Many news organizations have been too wrapped up with keeping up with the latest techynologies that they've forgotten that they can reach and serve almost 100% of their target audiences via low-end mobile devices. Forget 'digital first' - successful news orgs need to commit to putting their audiences first."
-Dana Chinn, USC Annenberg School for Communications & Journalism
by Nancy . Herther
University of Minnesota Libraries, Twin Cities Campus
(c) 2012 Information Today, Inc.
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