Verizon Wireless made waves Tuesday with their out of nowhere press release and teleconference proclaiming 2008 the year of "Any Apps, Any Device." The question is, was VZW actually making news or merely applying some spin to a jump-on-the-bandwagon decision to join the Googles, Nokias, and Sprints of the world in giving customers a wee bit more freedom when it comes to their cellular contracts?
VZW confirmed a few interesting points during their all bloggers on deck conference call Tuesday morning. First off, customers will be able to port compatible CDMA phones from Sprint (or anywhere else) to Verizon's network - of course, the device must operate on the same frequencies that VZW supports which, sadly, many of the coolest Korean handsets don't. Second, garage geniuses bent on building their own phones will be able to run them on VZW, provided that they actually work: VZW said their cost of certification for "Bring Your Own" handsets will be "very reasonable" and as CTO Dick Lynch put it, "the philosophy of this program says 'Have at it!'" Do I see a Heathkit revival in the offing?
Third of all, VZW is all about - or at least claims to be somewhat about - all kinds of devices, whether they cause to chat incessantly all day long or merely check the weather from your car once a day. So if you've been sitting on those plans for a CDMA-compliant, handlebar-mountable stock trading gadget for your track bike, get ready to dust 'em off in 2008.
While the end result of VZW's proclamations today can't be anything but good for consumers, it's hard to say if Verizon actually wanted to open themselves up in the name of increased customer choice, or if they merely had no choice in the wake of recent events. Sprint Nextel was sued into agreeing to unlock handsets when customers leave for another carrier, Nokia's been plastering thinly veiled Anti-iPhone handbills that read "Phones should be open to anything" all over major US cities, and Google held their own teleconference a few weeks back to announce a means for other people to build mobile software to sell Google Ads ... um, I mean, an open platform of their own.
So a cynic could reasonably surmise that Verizon felt compelled to make some sort of pre-emptive "We're open too!" announcement before they could be PR blitzed or sued into doing so on someone else's terms. Still, open platforms and device portability is good - people who are strong and smart enough to resist the "Upgrade every year!" marketing campaigns deserve to take their hardware with them when they move from one service provider to the next. And people who are willing to buy or develop applications should have the right to install them on phones they've paid for, whether or not the network operator sees a piece of the action.
Don't expect Verizon's announcement to magically bring CDMA iPhones or N95s to
your house anytime soon - VZW's official line is that "Any Apps, Any Device" will be a reality by the end of 2008. Beyond that, for every American smartphone junkie willing to drop $500 on the latest and greatest there are a dozen or more average consumers who really are only interested in "Free with contract" handsets. So the real action will likely still revolve around carrier-subsidized handsets for awhile yet ... but even baby steps mean progress, and progress is good.
For today, Verizon's big announcement amounts to little more than positive PR buzz in the wake of most of their competitors having already made similar proclamations. To see what "Any Apps, Any Device" really amounts to, give it a year or so to take hold. While it's hard to imagine a company as large and powerful as VZW relegating themselves to "purveyors of the dumb pipe" status - selling nothing but voice and data access while you spend your mobile dollars on other vendors' apps and services - 2008 does promise to be an interesting year when it comes to consumers taking control of their cellular service.
Read Verizon Wireless press release from here.