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Mobile web polarizes as duellists pick their seconds

Verizon/Google vs AppleT&T

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How open is 'open'?

Verizon and Google certainly want to make it sound that way, even if Palm was actually demonstrating more open credentials than either of them, providing a browser-based distribution for webOS developers, if they wish to bypass the approval process of the Palm store. The pointed mentions of Google Voice – still the focus of disputes with Apple and AT&T, and of FCC probes – were designed to emphasize the contrast with the iPhone model starkly.

Voice would be one of the Google products tightly integrated into Verizon's Android platform, said CEO Lowell McAdam - saying, in a clear swipe at AT&T, “the device is either open or it's not”. In fact, there is a huge grey area between “open” and “not” on phones. Preloaded and optimized apps, chosen by the carrier, may deliver a simple and efficient experience to users, and avoid destruction of the carrier's network through uncontrolled usage, but they are hardly the stuff of the open web dream or of unfettered consumer choice.

And it remains to be seen how carrier-specific Verizon's Android-based platform turns out to be, and at which points it manages to lock users in. China Mobile, the cellco's close software and LTE partner, has always waxed lyrical about Android, not so much for its open source benefits but because it is easily harnessed to create a very specific operator experience.

Verizon and Motorola

As well as the joint devices with Google, expected early next year, Verizon Wireless confirmed that it will introduce other Android products within the next few weeks. These are widely expected to be the Tao/Sholes from Motorola and one or more smartphones from HTC. More details of Sholes are leaking, too. As well as likely being called Verizon Tao in real life, it will feature a processor running on a 500MHz ARM Cortex (probably from Qualcomm), a 3.7-inch, 854 × 480 WVGA capacitive touchscreen display, 5-megapixel camera with autofocus and flash, and facial recognition capability with Google image search integrated.

Most interestingly, it is rumoured to carry a new user interface – not the socially oriented Motoblur seen on Cliq/Dext, nor Verizon's own web UI (which will be changed soon anyway). This suggests Motorola is working hard on an area where it has failed in the past – an effective web UI and apps platform, something that is now vital to smartphone success. It will collaborate closely with carriers to support their particular business models and brands.

AT&T‟s slower progress to open web

So AT&T remains the agnostic about Android, among the US big four. In an attempt to pull some of the string of the Verizon/Google comments hurled at the iPhone deal, AT&T chose the same day to allow iPhone users to run VoIP over its 3G connection, rather than just Wi-Fi. It will hope this move will divert FCC attention as well as placating angry customers. "Today's decision was made after evaluating our customers' expectations and use of the device compared to dozens of others we offer," explained Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets, in a statement.

More important than bickering over an Apple platform it may lose as an exclusive will be AT&T's own web platform, as that evolves. Symbian may derive hope of a strategic position in AT&T's strategy, from Schmidt's unabashed championing of the Verizon network. The Google chief said: “It‟s an absolute fact that Verizon's network is the best by far. We had known about that reach. We didn't know that they'd take a lead in openness. This is a network engineering company that makes it work and makes it scale. This is a major milestone in the Android platform.”

Perhaps his comments might have been more tempered had he retained hopes of a similarly strategic alliance with AT&T as well? AT&T is unlikely to make a Verizon-style major announcement about its web platform until next year, partly because it does not have such tight deadlines for LTE or open access as its rival. But it is putting some of the building blocks in place, notably expanding its range of web optimized, co-branded handsets, and launching key software elements, such as its new full web browser. It is also slowly but surely getting closer to Symbian and Nokia, with the Ovi Store set to launch next month on various phones, and the Nokia 6350 midrange handset joining the AT&T line-up. This signals a partnership that could develop to provide a counterweight to Verizon-Android, and a consolation prize for the potential loss of sole rights to the iPhone.

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