Feb 27, 2012
The cell phone providers’ days are numbered. They can try to fight all they want to continue to sell voice, messaging, and data subscriptions as separate products, but their futures are all the same: as dumb pipes that just carry information provided by other services. The technology to replace their costly voice and messaging services already exist, and connections are only getting faster. Soon, all people will need to communicate is a logical hookup to data services, which is what the providers will, well, provide. They may still make money off of subsidizing phones at yearly contracts, but this will be their funciton entirely.
Pretty much the only thing holding us back is a reliance on phone numbers and their cross-platform interoperability. No matter what operating system they use, a phone number is a phone number and it will receive its phone calls and text messages no matter what. However, the idea of having one unified contact point may be dead in a generation or so as social networking and those handles become more used. We use Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking services to get in touch with the people we need to so often now that phone numbers are decreasing in importance, and it’s even already affecting the carriers’ bottom lines as far as text messaging goes. We can get the same kind of direct, real-time notifications that phone numbers give us, and non-telephone voice and video communication are only getting more popular.
Apple, in their attempts to bring everyone forward, may be the ones holding back this dream. iMessage is closed off to everyone. FaceTime is still not open. Google’s branded Google Talk products are simply just branded versions of the XMPP protocol that anyone can implement to work with their accounts. Like Apple, who have Google Talk implemented into iChat, along with the variety of apps that openly support it as well, through the Jingle video protocols. Android users can easily communicate with anyone using the protocols that Google has built-in; Apple wants people to use Apple products and Apple protocols.
Perhaps this is room for a startup to take advantage of, to disrupt and supplant phone numbers, to find a way to unify all these disparate communications systems, to create one unified handle for people to use that could work with whatever text, voice, and video messaging system the user wishes. Right now, we are simply in a transitional period where the growing pains of new technology are clashing with the standards of old technology. But growing pains are not forever. It will just take someone with a service that is inventive and useful enough to solve this problem of disunification.