Closing Off the Java Phone

I'm really hoping this is being blown out of proportion, but I fear it's not. Every person interested in Java ME development has been linking to this article about T-Mobile cutting off 3rd-party Java applications. Looking at the security profiles at Cingular's devCentral (sorry, it requires a login), you can see that Cingular is slowly testing the waters of doing the same stupid things.

I've been concerned for a little while about Cingular's lock down, but I've not been able to turn up any horror stories about the particular Sony Ericsson phones I want to obtain next, so I'm a bit relieved. I fear that this may be my last time around with halfway useful phones if things don't change. T-Mobile's move will undoubtedly make it easier for Cingular to fall over as well. It's bizarre that they're doing this to themselves -- it feels like the whole struggle between the RIAA, artists, and consumers, but there's no troop of industry lawyers forcing this breach in consumer rights.

So how do we get the carriers' attention? Canceling service is expensive. Maybe some T-Mobile customers can use this change in service to get out of contracts, but where do they go? Neither T-Mobile and Verizon are suitable for developers or power users now. Cingular's looking shaky. Do we all run to Sprint? (I need to know these things, since I'm about to sell my soul enter into a new contract for 2 more years with Cingular.)

I suppose each of us can go into a store, browse the phones, ask the questions about 3rd-party apps, and walk out letting them know that this lost them a sale. Better: eye up those really expensive smart phones and high-end feature phones and let them know they've lost that sale. With any luck, the disappointed sales representatives will start asking their bosses (and their bosses) why we're complaining. Best: Buy the high-end phone, call them up for support to talk to them about your desire to run 3rd-party applications. When they start spewing garbage at you about maintaining security and protecting the network and the consumer, return the damn thing as defective or inadequate for your requirements (within the trial period).

Of course, as informed consumers and developers who want to do more than just make phone calls, we're a minority. Even if we can manage to search and find a suitable carrier and device, we need to find a way to educate the general population about what their phones could be doing for them and get them doing it before the carrier stupidly kills off this largely emerging market. These people are potentially our customers too, but only if we can keep their networks propped open! The door may slam before the user even has a chance to realize the potential of their device.

The window in which we can reach and influence a user is so narrow, though. Subscribers generally only get to choose devices and carriers every couple years, then we're stuck for another couple years. Otherwise, we can entice people with technology, anger them when our applications don't work, then they'll mostly accept it (or blame us developers), and go back to their ways of just using the phone for voice calls.

Phone technology is ripe for new useful applications, but our access to this ubiquitous platform is being choked by the carriers. How are you going to make some noise?

Update (4:04pm): Make some noise at Digg!

Update (28 February 2007): I was explaining this all to Claire, and she's convinced me that Google will come to the rescue on this. She figures that they're just lining up to do a Google Phone or something. At the very least, they're providing the killer applications that people are going to want when they realize they want these things. It's a good sign to see a company as large as Google refusing to pander to the carriers' fabricated requirements to sign your applications. Instead, they're pushing the responsibility back on the carriers to make the application work for their customers.

Filed Under: Java Mobile Technology