Wed, Apr 21st 2010 2:14am
by Derek Kerton
Thu, Mar 11th 2010 3:09pm
from the New!-Improved!-Exclusive!-Broken! dept
- Skype has had a highly functional VoIP client for Windows Mobile devices for a few years. It allowed smartphone customers to use most features of Skype over WiFi OR a carrier's cellular data network. It was distributed around the carriers direct to customers of Skype, and was designed for those customers' benefit.
- March 2009: Skype on iPhone is launched, but is unable to do VoIP over the 3G data channel because AT&T and Apple blocked that functionality. Skype, Google, the FCC, and consumers cried "foul" at AT&T and Apple.
- Oct. 2009: After considerable FCC and consumer pressure, AT&T relents, and allows VoIP over 3G (and was even publicly applauded by Skype's CEO Josh Silverman). Skype users, naturally, expect an updated Skype version that will leverage 3G data.
- Jan 16, 2010: Skype releases a new iPhone version which DOESN'T take advantage of the new leeway AT&T (and ostensibly Apple) allow for VoIP over 3G. Skype points fingers, mostly back at Apple.
- Jan 27, 2010: Apple removes any 3G VoIP restrictions. Now there is nothing holding Skype from doing VoIP over 3G on iPhone.
- Mid Feb, 2010: At MWC in Barcelona, Verizon and Skype announce a special version of the Skype app that will run on Verizon. While most press outlets rejoice at the "openness" Verizon wireless is finally showing, it turns out to be a limited, crippled version, which is designed to fit Verizon's agenda, NOT customer wishes. This version can use the 3G data network, but just for chat and 'control', not for voice. It requires a >$10/mo data plan, is not available for phones with Wi-Fi, and 'Skype out' cannot be used to make domestic phone calls. In this deal, it appears that VZW paid Skype for some exclusivity in the USA.
- Mid-Feb, 2010: Also at MWC, Skype CEO Silverman tells Om Malik that we can expect 3G VoIP on iPhone "Very soon", with no firm commitment.
- Feb. 26, 2010: Skype completely pulls it's very functional Windows Mobile apps with little explanation, and no suggestion of when they might return. The app, which works fine, just goes away. Why pull the most functional Skype mobile app and leave only crippled versions?
Looking at the timeline above, it's pretty easy to guess what's going on here. Skype has been negotiating with Verizon Wireless for some exclusive deal in the USA. But unlike the relatively good, open Skype deal enjoyed by Hutch "3" subscribers in the UK, the Verizon version is crippled with confusing limitations, complications, conditions. It's clear the Verizon goal is to use Skype to upsell data plans to users who don't yet have one, and to drive or retain Minutes of Use of cellular voice traffic. Skype just sold its US mobile users down the river! Skype still promotes "Skype Mobile" on its US web pages, but if you click on any OS like Android or Blackberry, you'll see the bold headline "Coming Soon: Skype on America's most reliable wireless network." And are basically told to wait for the exclusive product.
The only reason Skype offered for retracting the WinMo app is "because we want to offer our new customers an improved mobile experience – much like the version that has proved so popular on the iPhone..." Wait...Is that the same version that annoyed users because it couldn't do VoIP on 3G? And how does killing a product with no replacement offer an "improved mobile experience"? Seems like more of an absent mobile experience.
Going forward, this also could position Skype well for offering a premium paid version of a fully functional app at a future date, when exclusive deals expire. A freemium model would be less unsavory than the exclusive/crippled structure that we apparently have for now. At least with freemium, the free market can choose to pay or not from any given carrier. With the exclusive/crippled structure, customers have little choice - except the choice to use another VoIP provider who is focused on giving end users what they want.
The result of this exclusive deal is, essentially, to deprive an entire country of the value of a good VoIP service (Skype) on mobile phones, and instead to offer us a crippled version that is designed not to delight any user, but to delight a carrier. How ironic, then, that Skype's Silverman has been at the forefront of the push for more "open" networks:
"Nonetheless, the positive actions of one company are no substitute for a government policy that protects openness and benefits consumers. We're all looking forward to further developments that will let people use Skype on any device, on any network."or when he said this from a September lobby trip to DC:
"We have witnessed certain broadband providers unilaterally block access to phone calls delivered over data networks and implement technical measures that degrade the performance of peer-to-peer software distributing lawful content. And as many members of the Internet community and key congressional leaders have noted, there are compelling reasons to be concerned about the future of openness."Compelling reasons, indeed. It seems that in this case, AT&T actually followed through with their promises to be more "open" while Skype and Verizon have just painted a big "open" sign on the gates of the walled garden. Enter at your own risk.
by Mike Masnick
Fri, Mar 5th 2010 1:39am
from the and-now-we're-at-war-with-eurasia dept
by Mike Masnick
Tue, Feb 23rd 2010 3:03pm
from the that's-obscene! dept
While this is certainly Apple's right to do, this is one of the reasons why, in the long run, Apple's rather arbitrary app store policies are going to backfire. Developers are increasingly getting pissed off, or worried that Apple might suddenly pull the rug out from under them, with little explanation and barely any recourse. That's not an environment that appeals to developers in the long run. Yes, given the size of the iPhone (and soon iPad) market, plenty of development will continue. But in the long run, some of the more innovative and valuable apps will appear on other, more open platforms first, and make those platforms more appealing.
by Mike Masnick
Tue, Feb 16th 2010 1:34pm
from the oh-come-on dept
Take for example this story, sent in by iamtheky about how the University of Texas is trying to stop some former students from making an incredibly useful iPhone app for UT students, called iTexas, by claiming it infringes on their trademark on Texas.
The makers of the app, Mutual Mobile, have made a bunch of successful iPhone apps, but UT got upset last year when the company introduced the UT Directory, which put a much more useful interface on (you guessed it) the UT staff and student directories. After the University complained, the company felt that perhaps the use of the school's colors made it look like an "official" app, so they agreed to fix that part. When the company launched iTexas, it made sure that it didn't have the school's color scheme or do anything to make it appear as the official app. But it did make the app a lot more useful:
A free download, the app retains the searchable directory but also lists menus from different cafeterias across campus, tallies students' dining-card and Bevo Bucks balances, delivers class schedules, shows campus maps, and more.This sounds like a great and rather useful app. Exactly the sort of thing that the University should be encouraging, not just because it would help some alumni succeed, but also because UT students would likely find the app quite useful. But, that's not the way UT officials think, apparently:
On Feb. 1, the Mutual team learned that UT had raised another objection to its latest app, specifically to the use of the word "Texas" in the name. "As this name is confusingly similar to the Texas [trademark], UT objects to such use," reads a notice sent to the Apple app store by attorney Wendy Larson. UT's board of regents began trademarking university properties back in 1981. A list of protected trademarks appears on the university Office of Trade mark Licensing Web page; alongside more specific trademarks such as Bevo and Lady Longhorns is, simply, Texas.Lesson learned: don't try to make life better for UT students without first paying the University.
by Mike Masnick
Thu, Jan 28th 2010 1:33pm
from the vampire-weekend dept
In this app, the mobile analytics and advertising company Medialets is serving up an ad for the new album, Contra, by the band Vampire Weekend. At first, the ad just peeks out at the bottom of the NPR app, but if you click to expand it, it quickly takes up the entire device. So why would you want to do this? Because it's a video for Vampire Weekend's new song "Cousins" -- and thanks to some of the iPhone's unique features, you can actually interact with the ad, shaking your iPhone to change how the video looks.Seems like a perfect example of how both content is advertising and advertising is content. In this case, the "ad" is actually valuable content that people want to see. And yet, that content is also advertising the band and its new album, and doing so in a fun and compelling way. Of course, separately, I have to ask if the band is both paying for the ad and getting paid royalties for the ad? After all, this is clearly an advertisement for the band and its new album, but we're always told by the recording industry that any usage -- even those like radio that act as advertising -- need to be paid for with royalties.
by Mike Masnick
Thu, Jan 21st 2010 7:20am
from the it-ain't-the-web dept
It does make me wonder, though, if people are betting too strongly on app stores, and not recognizing why it works so well in some areas. I also wonder if focusing on apps and app stores is going to make people miss out on the fact that web-based apps (that don't need to go through any app store) may overtake client-side apps. We've already gone through this on the desktop, and one by one, web-based apps have come along that match (or sometimes exceed) the functionality of client-side apps, leading many to turn away from client apps altogether.
Separately, adding another app store to another device may only serve to confuse (or annoy) some users. If you have an iPhone and a Kindle, and there are the same apps on both, which are you going to use? It may depend on the app, but my guess is that in most cases the phone is going to win out over an ebook reader.
by Mike Masnick
Wed, Dec 9th 2009 7:22pm
from the well,-that's-convincing dept
by Mike Masnick
Thu, Oct 22nd 2009 3:22pm
from the if-you-can't-innovate,-litigate dept
This story nicely highlights a few other points as well. We keep hearing from patent system supporters how the patent system is necessary because, without it, the market leader would always just immediately copy the upstart and "steal" their idea. Of course, Nokia has had two plus years to "steal" Apple's idea, and where is it in the smartphone market? It's not so easy to just copy someone else's idea -- especially if you're a huge player like Nokia, who will often view the disruptive innovator as not being worthy of paying attention to (which basically was Nokia's reaction to the iPhone).
Separately, remember how confused we were when Steve Jobs proudly hyped up the fact that Apple had over 200 patents on the iPhone concept? We've pointed out that it's hardly done anything to stop lawsuits. Apple has been sued over and over and over and over and over and over again for patent infringement. Welcome to the tragedy of the anti-commons, where it becomes impossible to do pretty much anything innovative without facing massive legal costs. Basically, if you build anything even remotely innovative these days, you're going to get sued for patent infringement, probably multiple times. It's become a massive tax on innovation, rather than a lever for innovation.
by Mike Masnick
Thu, Oct 8th 2009 4:39pm
from the ain't-looking-so-good dept
Newsweek is presenting some more evidence -- albeit anecdotal -- that the iPhone App Store isn't making very many people very much money at all. There are, certainly, a few folks at the top who are doing okay, but for most people there just aren't that many sales -- or the cost of getting those sales greatly outweighs the revenue that came in from them.
This isn't to say that the iPhone App Store is a failure. In fact, I'd argue it's been a huge success in making the iPhone significantly more valuable. But as evidence that there's a huge market out there of people willing to pay for content if it's just packaged up nicely? There's just not enough there to be convincing.