Wired Test article on the lazy phone industry mentions OpenMoko

Marco Barreno barreno at cs.berkeley.edu
Tue Oct 23 19:55:31 CEST 2007

On Tue, Oct 23, 2007 at 04:55:17PM +0200, Federico Lorenzi wrote:
> On 10/23/07, Justyn Butler <justynbutler+openmoko at googlemail.com> wrote:
> > [via Cool Tools http://www.kk.org/cooltools/archives/002009.php]
> >
> > Download the Wired Test issue here:
> > http://kk.org/cooltools/WD200711ZA.pdf
> >
> > This issue of Wired Test has an article (starts on page 7 of the PDF)
> > called "Phone Freaking", complaining about wireless carriers
> > protecting their "antediluvian business".
> >
> > It mentions the OpenMoko project.
> Don't suppose you would mind pasting what it said? Some people on slow
> internet connections can't exactly download a 23mb pdf.

Here's the text of the article.  Sorry about the messy formating--it
was copied and pasted out of the PDF.


----- Begin article -----

Phone Freaking

All the technology exists to build the super phone of the future, but
the carriers won't do it. You can.

by Clive Thompson

I HAVE THE MOST     awe-
some mobile phone.
You wouldn't believe
the sick stuff it can do.
There's a webcam for
email, a full browser,
and instant messaging.
I can install whatever
apps I want--Rhap-
sody's music service,
SSH clients, document
and spreadsheet edi-
tors, even software
to access my desk-
top machine remotely.
Oh yeah: It also makes
free voice-over-IP calls.
It cost $400. It incin-
erates the iPhone.
   The only catch: I
had to build it myself.
   My "phone" is actu-
ally a pimped-out Nokia
N800, a pocket-sized
tablet computer. Tech-
nically, it's not a phone
at all, but because it's
Linux-based and has
built-in Wi-Fi, it can
run tons of great soft-
ware. I loaded Skype,
and presto--voice-call
functionality whenever
I'm near a wireless net-
work, which nowadays
is basically always.
   So why can't your
handset work this way,
too? If the hardware
and software are all
available to make these
incredible do-it-all
phones--how come the
wireless carriers aren't
rolling them out?»

   Because the wireless mobile industry is
the laziest and least innovative sector of the
entire high tech world, full stop. It's more
interested in preserving its old-school profit
mechanisms than in breaking new ground.
   Cellular-industry critics have been com-
plaining about this for years. As they point
out, phone companies rake in millions by
overcharging for things that cost little to
provide--a buck or two for a ringtone or TV-
show snippet here; a few cents for extra text
messages there. Much like the record labels
with CDs, they're wringing all the money
they can from these old economics.
   Only a few high-end smartphones can be
customized with software you select. With
virtually every other phone, you're stuck
with those apps the wireless companies will
permit you to download via their network--
for a tidy fee, of course. Why would they let
you download freeware games when they
can ding you $7 to play a Tetris rehash?
   This is also why so few phones have Wi-Fi.
If they did, you'd simply tap into free nodes
instead of suffering through your mobile
carrier's glacially slow data network. It was
a minor miracle that AT&T let Apple put Wi-
Fi into the iPhone--though notice they're
certainly not letting anyone install Skype
on it. AT&T's creaking, 1980s-era business
model must be protected at all costs, no mat-
ter how much it makes your phone suck.
    Wireless executives have many excuses
for their paternalistic behavior. They need to
keep phones locked down, they claim, because
if customers downloaded all sorts of freeware,
it could wreak havoc with their network.
   I don't buy it. Indeed, I could disprove it
with a simple hack. Verizon offers a laptop
card for $60 that lets you access unlimited
high-speed data anywhere Verizon covers.
I could rebroadcast that signal via Wi-Fi or
Bluetooth to my N800--and then use Skype
to make phone calls on Verizon's wireless
network. The only thing I'd be hurting is
the bottom line.
   It's a kludge, but such a setup shows that
the various components for killer phones--
fast networks, free software, cheap hard-
ware--all exist. The sole obstacle to their
being assembled is the wireless carriers'
desire to protect an antediluvian business
that its consumers loathe.
   So, is there hope? The OpenMoko project
is working on an open source, Wi-Fi­enabled
phone that works on any GSM network. That's
pretty cool. In my more feverish dreams,
the government actually grows a pair and
realizes that we, the public, own the air-
waves that the wireless companies so might-
ily abuse--and the FCC simply forces the
carriers to open up their services to true
smartphones. (Google's lobbying for this,
with no success yet.) Or here's an even more
delirious vision: A venture capitalist funds a
next-generation mobile-phone carrier that
blankets the nation in Wi-Fi, then uses that
as a backbone for truly PC-like handsets.
   I can dream, I guess. Until then, if you want
a phone of the future like mine, you'll have
to build it yourself. 

clive thompson (clive at clivethompson
.net) writes a column for wired.

----- End article -----

"The true civilization is where every man gives to every other every
right that he claims for himself."
    - Robert Green Ingersoll, lawyer and orator (1833-1899)

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