The Happy Collision of Collaboration and Competition in the Mobile World

Mobile innovation — not long ago mired in a tangle of “walled-garden” business models, closed networks, proprietary technologies and fierce litigation — is at last in high gear.

Collaborative source development is lowering the barriers to participation in mobile innovation and yielding new, promising software solutions. Established, major players and young, lean entrants are working together to transform the experiences of mobile users everywhere, without sacrificing their own business objectives.

It’s a best-of-two-worlds, community development approach — drawing on the principles of open source and respecting real-world market requirements — in which collaboration and competition coexist, and at their convergence is being generated the innovations that will create a second cellular revolution.

Why is this convergence of collaboration and competition taking shape in mobile, and how is it shaping the mobile experiences of businesses and consumers everywhere?

The Second Cellular Revolution

Apart from notable exceptions within highly advanced markets such as Japan and Korea, the mobile industry has yet to make the mobile Internet especially compelling to users on a broad scale. A technology-centric approach has resulted in what is effectively only a novelty experience of accessing the Internet via a handset that is largely relevant to only tech aficionados but of limited appeal to the common business user or consumer.

The tectonic plates within the industry, however, are now moving to enact a second cellular revolution. Innovation and greatly expanded choice are cascading through all tiers of the value chain. Traditional desktop Internet capabilities — search, live chat, location-based services and video streaming, for example — are being adapted for the handset, and success moving forward will demand close coupling of clear design vision with means to deliver network-independent content and services that are more far useful, personalized and relevant than what has been previously available.

The promise of the second cellular revolution is no less than the ignition of the “real” mobile Internet within the mass marketplace.

Opening Innovation

A crucial, fundamental shift in development approach is propelling the second cellular revolution into motion.

Over and over again, we have seen tightly controlled development fail to drive the innovations that would truly transform the mobile Internet experience and spur mass-marketplace enthusiasm. In the case of handset middleware, proprietary solutions have created siloed devices and networks that have prevented widespread development and deployment of consumer applications on a truly global scale. Interoperability can be facilitated through deployment of a common middleware layer, but the mobile industry has proven consistently unwilling to cede control of this layer to any single large entity, as the potential to inappropriately exploit such control would be considerable and the technology switching costs would be very high.

With the advent of open devices and open networks, however, the industry is reorganizing around common handset software platforms in order that the wide choice of applications and services necessary to be competitive can be brought into play within the consumer proposition.

Collaborative Competitors

Simultaneously leveraging open source principles while serving real-world business requirements, this new collaborative source development model in mobile is bringing together powerful competitors as collaborators.

Consider the example of LiMo Foundation. Motorola, NEC, NTT DoCoMo, Panasonic Mobile Communications, Samsung Electronics and Vodafone launched LiMo in January 2007 as a coordinated response to the need for an open handset software platform that could be more widely adopted than proprietary offerings.

LiMo is open to all vendors and service providers in the mobile marketplace, including device manufacturers, operators, chipset manufacturers, integrators and independent software vendors. More than 40 members are now working within LiMo’s transparent governance model and a critically important intellectual property (IP) safe harbor to refine the Foundation’s common, Linux-based middleware platform — while remaining entirely free to deliver their own compelling and differentiated services to mobile customers.

Collaborative source development is succeeding for LiMo because it is creating a trust-based environment where all parties share in the investment and stewardship of a common middleware platform that is being driven by a strong commercial focus. This revolutionary development approach, therefore, steers clear of value-chain distortion and preserves good industrial karma. The resulting technical innovations and cost efficiencies are fueling nothing less than the second cellular revolution.

Silos Fall

The mobile industry’s historically closed approach to development ultimately produced sluggish innovation, market growth and business and consumer uptake for the mobile Internet.

Today, longstanding proprietary structures are being displaced, and the mobile industry is taking big strides toward openness — across governance, technology, business, licensing and investment:

  • Open source is superseding closed source.
  • Horizontal cooperation is replacing vertical integration.
  • “Platform-specific” is giving way to “cross-platform.”
  • Fluidity is pushing aside fixed choices.
  • Online is moving to mobile — in both the personal and business lives of handset users.

These interrelated factors — more than any other force in mobile — are prompting the mass, cost-effective rollout of the sophisticated applications and services that are shaping the new mobile Internet. Collaborative source development is bringing together companies from across the mobile ecosystem as both collaborators and competitors, and the convergence is benefiting mobile users everywhere.

Morgan Gillis is executive director of the LiMo Foundation, an industry consortium dedicated to creating an open, hardware-independent, Linux-based operating system for mobile devices.

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