History repeats itself? iPhone and Apple Mac’s

My current mobile contract is over in October. I set my mind to buy an iPhone next, but then T-Mobile’s Android phone, G1 will be also available in October. That complicates things a little bit.

But one thing is for sure. I don’t like G1. HTC and T-Mobile should’ve done better job at designing an aesthetic phone. It’s fugly. I see it as a beta phone, and I hope Samsung or LG make much better Android phones. Then shall I wait till those phones are available? Next Android phone is most likely from Sprint, and I wouldn’t buy it even if it’s free (unless I can unlock it and use it in AT&T network!) because Sprint network sucks and the company will be extinct in a few (or several) years.

It also dawned to me that there are some similarities between different routes PC/Mac took and how Apple and Google are approaching mobile market. Apple iPhone is definitely vertically integrated. Apple controls the hardware, but lets 3rd-party software developers to publish their applications as long as Apple approves them (thus the similar to Mac). On the other hand, Google’s Android is open-source and it relies on others to make platforms and anyone can develop software (thus similar to Microsoft and PC). Even in Google’s case, I think they would need to screen some applications that might be borderline immoral – offensive, racist, unethical, or just plain wrong (wrong on whose standard? That could be a source for a debate). So, with such parallism, I have to wonder whether iPhone will suffer the same fate as old Mac did. While many phone manufacturers are coming up with different phones with different tastes (thus much broader appealing than iPhone), iPhone will be limited to designs that Apple can release.

In addition, as recent smart phones have demonstrated, future mobile phones will be just like mini computers. There will some mini computers for average folks, some for advanced, and some for ultra geeks who may even buy off-the-shelf-components and build their own. The key is to let hardware vendors package them differently and target different market segments. Google just provides OS and default search, many many 3rd-party developers offer their applications. This is what Microsoft wanted with its Windows Mobile OS, but Google is definitely crashing Microsoft’s party. Who would win? I don’t know about you, but I am going to bet on Google. Google (Android) will dominate smart phone OS in 3-5 years. Because it is open source, someone can easily build an affortable smart phone based on Android and create mini smart phone reveolution in developing nations, where cheap phones are dominant, but people will naturally want to move up to better, sophisticated phones. In other words, even in smart phone market, there will be different segments; more basic, cheaper to advanced, more expensive phones. Someone might even sell mobile phone kit(s) with different components.

One hurdle I could see is carriers. In many places, you are locked in to a carrier. This must change. It is hurting mobile innovations. Those fat cats must go. FCC must allow open competition. Google’s bid for spectrum was more self-served, but open airwave would have spawned amazing innovations in mobile industry. In the end, perhaps, all telecom service providers (either wired or wireless) might become just pipe provider. They want to avoid that, thus make you lock-in or monopolize the market.

Again and again, the higher you go up on the value chain, more important it is. Content/software is the king – applications on PCs, OS in routers/switches, programming on cable network, etc.

Coming back to the original point, Apple had better be prepared to not repeat the history.

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