Hollywood movies used to be promoted based on the studio that produced them. But that was before they had something called stars. And, in many ways, it’s a better system. The stars tell you a lot more about what’s in the movie than the studio does.
As the big wireless players Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, and AT&T fill the map with coverage, it’s starting to be about the phone.
The big stars get lots of attention and big contracts. If the recent terseness over the deal Palm has with Sprint for the Pre, and the unending Verizon/iPhone mashup rumors are any indication, this may be the way carriers attract new customers for the foreseeable future, and they know it. Once the question is no longer, “Can you hear me now?” but “Why on Earth wouldn’t you be able to hear me?” the phones and the price will be the only way to differentiate carriers. This is already apparent in big markets where two or three carriers claim full coverage throughout the city. Sure, networks may have different levels of coverage, but any jaded Verizon operator will tell you, people will do anything to get out of their contract for an iPhone.
Enter 4G, Verizon and AT&T’s super fast network that will revolutionize the way people use their phones. Verizon claims it will start rolling it out this year, but the bigger story is about about the fact that it means AT&T and Verizon’s networks will run on the same technology, making phones theoretically interchangeable, and therefore, Verizon iPhone ready. The 4G the rollout for some areas will be shorter than many people’s current Verizon contract, so the clock on that story begins now. Loyal Verizon customers may already have their iPhone nano color picked out.
Android contributes to the star system as well since it’s freely licenseable. Andy Rubin predicts 18 to 20 Android phones will be released by the end of this year, but the license agreement is such that there may be others Google doesn’t know about. Supposing Android, or the Android “business model,” catches on, the operating system may become one more element that’s not owned by a particular carrier. Some speculators have already begun to wonder what an Android on Blackberry phone superstar would look like.*
That leaves the hardware as the last thing wireless carriers own other than the networks themselves. There may be a day when even Apple’s operating systems run on something other than Apple products.
Maybe after 5G.