Earlier this month there was an explosion of posts and comments on the TechCrunch blog about Apple rejecting the Google Voice application for the iPhone. Michael Arrington wrote a post about how Apple reasons for the rejection were misleading and untrue that got over 400 responses. At the time I did not understand the reasons for the intensity of the comments and responses, particularly in a quiet news month like August. Last week I went to the SDForum Virtual Worlds SIG to hear a talk about Augmented Reality, and started to appreciate what is going on.
The Augmented Reality presentation was given by Kari Pulli and Radek Grzeszczuk, researchers at the Nokia Research Center in Palo Alto. What they mean by Augmented Reality is that you point the camera in your smart phone at something and the phone displays more information about what you are looking at. For example, you point the phone at a building and it tells you which building you are looking at with perhaps a link to a map or information about the building. Alternatively, you could point the phone at a book cover and the phone will identify the book and give you links to reviews and a web site where you can buy the book.
Someone in the audience asked the interesting question "Where do you get your data?" There are many different places to get data. For the demos, the book cover data had been scraped from Amazon.com. But when it comes to data, the elephant in the room is Google, the company that promises to organize the worlds information. To organize the worlds information, they first have to collect it and then they have to have the computer systems and technology to organize it. Google has been busy doing that for many years now.
The history of mobile appears to be going like this. First came the cellular network companies. They proved themselves incapable of providing anything more than voice and data services, so they are doomed to continue providing nothing but these basic services. As time goes on these services become less differentiated and eventually mere commodities.
Next come the smart phones providers like Blackberry and Apple. They have opened up the cell phone business model to provide services that their users really want. But they still rely on others for data to run these services. When the data providers get a little too close to core functionality they back off their openness, as Apple has with the Google Voice application.
The final step is for the data providers to take over, as Google is doing with the Google Android cell phone operating system. This is a play to reduce the devices to mere commodities and put the interesting business where it really belongs, with software and data.