Here’s a thing I don’t get. Restrictions.
Restrictions are, as a rule, kinda bad. There is little in this world more frustrating than the absolute declaration of “This shall not be done”. It’s rather like those memos you get at work. You know the ones. The ones that say “From now on you can only use these two phrases to end a phone call – blah and blah” (Bear with me. I work in a call center). But when the phone call ends, that awkward moment comes when your customer says some type of good bye, and you’re forced to utter, “Thank you for calling [wherever], and don’t forget we’re here 24/7 to serve all of your needs, and have a terrific day!” The customer hung up after “calling”.
Restrictions. They just suck.
Which brings us to the meat of this article. There are two major restrictions that exist in the mobile technology world –
Geo-restrictions and Carrier restrictions.
Where in the world is Carmen SanDiego?
Geo-restrictions are easy to gripe about and seemingly easy to fix, so I’ll start with them. Many of our readers are familiar with geo-restrictions. Indeed, when Facebook Home was unleashed on the US, our own Anton D. Nagy and Jaime Rivera complained of their inability to download it due to this very concept. For those not familiar with the concept, it’s simple.
Move to a different country and look for an app that everyone on twitter can’t get enough of. When you fail to locate it, you’ve just come face to face with geo-restrictions. Living in the US, I haven’t had to deal with this, like ever. But outside the US this can become a real bummer. Why don’t Tony and Jaime get to experience the not-too-shabbiness of Facebook Home?
Now, I’ll be 100% honest here. I don’t really know why geo-restrictions exist. Is it political? Is it economics? I really have no idea. I did a bit of research and no one else out there seems to know either. What I do know is that when I was publishing my Windows Phone app, I had to choose from a couple of dozen countries in which to publish my app. Last time I checked, there were more than just a couple of dozen countries in the world. So something seemed off.
One argument for geo-restriction, is “trade” and what amounts to revenue sharing. For example, if Tony fires up his PhonePad and pries it form his ear long enough to buy a 99 cent game developed by a US app developer, who gets the sales tax? Who gets any tax? The US for hosting the app, or Romania where the app was purchased? As a result, the app simply becomes not available in Romania and other countries that haven’t reach some kind of agreement with the publisher (in this case, Google).
Well that’s just stupid. If Tony buys an orange in Romania, he pays Romanian tax. If I buy an orange in Romania, I pay Romanian tax, before I stop by Tony’s house and put my muddy feet up on his nice table. But, I’m sure there are vastly complicated reasons to this vastly complicated problem that vastly expensive lawyers love to argue about, and that’s just peachy. But the last time I checked, you get apps from the internet, not a fruit market. And the last time I checked, the internet was everywhere, except of course in countries where certain other liberties are also not exactly available either.
Economics plays a big role in the world today, so maybe my fruit stand analogy doesn’t cut the mustard, but it really should. Why should it be any more complaicated? It’s an app. It’s not medicine, or weapons, or slices of cheese cake. It’s just software. If you sell it, they will buy.
Holding it back because you have a weird zip code is just weak, dudes.
Carriers have the power
Carrier restrictions are a different story. Reason being, carriers sell phones. Sure Google sells some of their own phones, as do other OEM’s, but carriers have a responsibility for supporting these devices to an extent. So, when the Lumia 920 comes to AT&T exclusively, the reason for that was likely AT&T sitting down with Nokia and saying “Sure, we’ll carry your phone. But we don’t want our customers switching to Verizon for one of their Lumia 920′s, so we want to be the only ones.” This leaves Nokia in the situation of let AT&T have their way, and sell phones, or don’t and hope another carrier picks it up.
In the US, carriers have become monster powers in the mobile space. And they’ve done it by mollifying legions of users into thinking that anything more that $99 for a smart phone was crazy, and more than $199 a criminal offense. They have also dictated to OEM’s and software makers what phones they’ll carry, what updates they’ll get, when they’ll get them, etc. They basically have OEM’s by the cajones. Except Apple. Apple, by all reports has always determined its own destiny. Samsung has recently gained this klout as well. But back in the day, no OEM had this kind of chutzpah.
The many faces of Lumia
Many phones have been and continue to be sold exclusively by one carrier or another. Nokia has formed a business model off of that with one carrier getting the Lumia 920, a different carrier getting the Lumia 928 and yet a different carrier sporting the Lumia 925.
Carriers seem to be under the impression that users will jump ship and go to a different carrier if phones became universal on all carriers. The truth is that some die-hards will. But for the most part, users will remain with the devil they know, rather than the devil they don’t. Want proof?
I fell in love with webOS during CES 2009. I didn’t get a webOS phone until May of 2010. Why? AT&T didn’t get it until then. As much as I wanted and craved a webOS phone, I stuck to my carrier until it became available. If carriers had followed my advice of today back then, I would have bought a Palm Pre on #20090606 along with many others, including my colleague Michael Fisher.
But I had to wait because some tiny little carrier picked on a tinier OEM and made them give carrier exclusivity. At least I’m not bitter about it or anything.
Bottom line, the only winners in battles like geo-restrictions and carrier restrictions are carriers and lawyers. The only universal losers in these conflicts are users, and that’s a shame. Users are what drive a platform after all. If they weren’t, Apple would have bragged at WWDC about how many carriers were selling their phones, not how many phones they’d sold. Those phones were bought by users. They were used by users. Users listened to their music on them. Users bought and downloaded apps, music, and books. It’d be nice if the big players listened to the users for a change and left the politicking to boring stuff like war and taxes.
So what are your thoughts? Maybe I’m crazy, but does the status quo make sense to you? What’s your solution to this problem? Sound off and tell the world how to run their stuff, because they sure as heck aren’t doing it right.