On Tuesday, I participated in the Connected Planet 4G Salon. My first slide showed two paths the mobile operators could pursue. The starting point was 2006 (specifically chosen as the end of the pre-iPhone era).
One option is what I refer to as the “Big Bell Dogma” path. This path involves making every decision with one goal in mind - maximize control over the ecosystem which allows the operator to maximize its share of the revenues in the ecosystem. This path forces innovation to happen at “carrier speed” and the result is constrained ecosystem growth. As I’ve described before, Big Bell Dogma is named to represent the mindset that telcos have held onto ever since Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876 and was really at its prime in the old monopoly AT&T days. However, all carriers suffer from Big Bell Dogma to some extent - some more than others.
The second option is the one I referred to as the “Open Enablement” path. This is the path that Sprint has chosen, perhaps as best represented by our hosting of our 10th annual developers conference this week in Northern California. On this path, every decision is considered with the goal of maxmizing ecosystem growth. Operators must ensure that they’re adding value, both to accelerate growth but also to make sure that our added value translates into an earned share of the revenue in the ecosystem. Along this path, innovation happens at “Silicon Valley speed.”
Later, during the Q&A, someone from the audience asked how Big Bell Dogma was different from Apple’s approach to managing the ecosystem.
That’s an excellent question and the reality is that Apple suffers from Big Bell Dogma. They want to put constraints on how innovation can happen so that they dominate the ecosystem and extract the most value.
The difference is the starting point. Unlike mobile operators, Apple really is an innovative company. They understand the “hits-based” nature of the software industry and therefore the need to enable lots of apps to enter the market so that a few can really make a difference, so they gave application developers the basic capabilities that had previously been missing to allow the app ecosystem to explode. However, on every other dimension, Apple has kept the clamps on, constraining innovation to happen at “carrier speed.”
Unlike Apple, Google has allowed the Android ecosystem to innovate in all dimensions, and even in the app ecosystem, Google’s lack of constraints is winning over developers.
Think about it - Apple makes great handsets. But they introduce one new iPhone handset a year. How much real innovation is represented in that one handset? Only as much as one company can imagine and productize. Now think about all the different Android handsets you’ve seen and the level of innovation that handset OEMs are bringing to market. Consider just the HTC Evo: kickstand, front and rear facing high resolution cameras, HDMI output, 4G network connectivity… Now multiply that by the innovation that Samsung, Motorola, LG, Sanyo, and all the other innovative handset manufacturers that are out there can bring to the table.
Think about it - here in the U.S. Apple has limited the iPhone to one carrier. How much innovation has that operator delivered to customers since 2007? In that time Sprint alone has rolled out 4G nationwide (in 2 months, Sprint 4G will cover 120M people), introduced the first all inclusive unlimited plan (Simply Everything), Ready Now to help customers actually make full use of their advanced devices, Any Mobile, Anytime, and the Sprint Free Guarantee, just to name a few. I imagine T-Mobile and Verizon have each had some innovations as well. The Android ecosystem benefits from these innovations, but the iPhone ecosystem doesn’t.
And even within the application segment, the Android ecosystem can enjoy growth-accelerating innovations, like Sprint ID, which would never be allowed by Apple as they seek to rule the app ecosystem with an iron fist…
Apple makes great products and back in 2007 they gave the entire ecosystem a fast start with the (previously unmatched) enablement they provided to application developers, but they are definitely playing the Big Bell Dogma game.