Update: The vanilla Razr 3G handset I bought now voted best 3G device 2006 😉 Gadget envy/showoff begins…
This post is partly due to my being the chair the first day of the Australasia Mobile Content World Conference in June and partly because I recently bought into Oz 3G, to immerse myself more in mobile content services – so I can present at various events from ‘real’ experience. I have been immersed into the wonderful world of mobile phone content and services back when I was producing cross-media at the BBC – I was one of the first to trial 3G when it was still testbed, global roaming and 2.5G services amongst others – all around mid 03. Things have moved on a little, so what follows is my take on where we are, from personal experience last week of buying a new device to sample and create mobile content, operators business constraints and a dark journey into the underworld of mod’ding.

I decided to buy into 3G but avoid only using one service provider so as to try a few disperate services out, play with alternate pieces of content, try games, comms and web services from all of them – the same way I would buy a computer and browse (without thinking about it) many and various video websites, or online book stores. The same way I used to have satellite, digital terrestrial TV, DVD and PVR at home. One screen, several service providers. If you can do that with TV and PC why not mobiles? So I purchased a sleek looking Motorola Razr V3x (3G, 2MP camera, blueT, 3D games, video phone, 512MB memory) off eBay. Good price and unlocked. Just what I needed. Or so I thought. I did some digging around, questioning and eventually out of necessity got sucked into the modd’ing community. My three options below made this the only way to go. For those brave enough it is an option, but I think they may be in a very small minority!?: now some of this ‘fiddling with mobiles’ may be suspect, I am pretty sure not illegal, but if I need to do things with a piece of technology I have paid for there was no other route. If the Conference people read this then perhaps they may think twice about having me there ;-)…My initial three options.

1 – ONE PROVIDER. “Dictatorship?”. To go with only one operator, ideally the one with the branding and settings already ‘burnt’ into the nice eBay phone. Pay a premium forweb connectivity and for most pieces of content I put on the phone, every game, ring tone, piece of video, etc etc: Be locked into a small range of walled garden services – much like Satellite TV in the early days. Easy to use but a very limited menu. Much like when I joined AOL’s walled internet garden, many years ago – a few pieces of morsels that interested me, but then I was off into the wide open net looking for the really exciting stuff. So not that attractive for my purpose at the moment.

2 – MULTIPLE PROVIDERS, ONE PHONE. “Too many cooks” syndrome. To try to have multiple operators happily sitting on the one phone. Changing sims, switching between settings and configurations constantly. Which I have been told is virtually impossible by Vodaphone, 3 Hutch and Optus – here in Sydney. All the store assistants looked at me as if I was mad. Why do you want multiple operators? The look then turned quickly into “now how would we make money if everyone did that” – OK, we know what the business model is. Not rocket science, but surely that can’t continue indefinitely? What will be the way forward? We are starting to see the same models of phones appear on the shelves of all the operators – how long will customers really be happy to be locked down to one service provider? Won’t go on beyond saying that wireless telcos, because they have the monopoly on the distribution channels could potentially hold onto this for a few more years – but beware of WiMax and other technologies – the Skype of WiMax will be a force to reckon with, enough quadropoly bashing …finally option 3

3 – MODDING OPTION. “The Wild West” – Mad Max, anything goes for mobiles. This is the option I went with a couple of days ago – at least I can go back to 1 or 2 if this doesnt work out. After a steep learning curve I finally got familiar with the standard tools of the modders. P2K tools to get a good connection to the phone via USB. ‘RSD lite 2.4‘ to completely flash the phone with a ‘do anything to me’ vanilla operating system (freely available at any good modder site! – of which there are around 8 just for motorola, apparently the best for modding – a good perspective here). OK, good so far. Then ‘LeaderGL Flex Editor XP v.10‘ to configure the system and the way I wanted it, enable hidden capabilities that only the developers know of and allowing me to change and add functions and menu items, transfer any file to any part of the phones system and content areas (pics, mp3s, midis, mp4 vids etc). So completely customise and personalise sounds, start-up images etc etc: Nice. Remember though this is all open source and pretty flacky, fall-over-a-lot software, but for and by a close knit community. Finally a simple tool called ‘Midway 2.8’ (great page on transferring games to Moto mobiles here) which allows me to put on some of the many thousand freely available Java games (in jad format) into the device (oh and that converter from jar to jad files – geeky we go). OK still someway to go to learn all about changing the flex’s at ‘seem’ level – modders know what I am talking about…anyway I am hooked, nothing can stop me!

Now I can have any video I want on the phone, off the web and into the phone in one go. Any game that takes my fancy, I have tried around 50 really cool branded, freeware ones – even buy this weeks ’24’ game for instance and upload it myself, rather than rely on the network to do it for me. Any piece of music, ringtone, wallpaper, start-up screen/sounds, customised menus – More importantly develop my own simple games, build pc, tv, mobile cross-media services – freely, without the network lock ‘wall’ getting in the way.

So where is this ramble leading. Simply to point out the similarity I experienced with the mobile world and early commercial web & tv services. The reason iTunes, Amazon, eBay etc took off is that they can be linked to and from by a million other services – they become mini suns around which other smaller service ‘planets’ gather – and it is these small ‘modded’ hand-built planets where most of the interesting stuff originates. In the hands of independent producers. So when will we see Mobile Phone 2.0. The current mobile world (apart from basic comms, voice, sms, mms etc) needs to move into the next gear as regards commercial content. Admittedly the offering is getting better, now with live TV and storage around the corner – the mobile becomes a mPDR (mobile Personal Digital Recorder – a term I coined in TV-Anytime standard) – and things do get interesting. Now if the video iPod gets connectivity? WiFi, 802.11G or A or as I mentioned earlier WiMax. PSP making wireless telephone calls, in fact hardware convergence is looking as confusing as it ever was. The simple truth will always prevail – make it easy for the people to get to the content they want, and keep the honest people honest and you can make money. We all know what happens when you build walls around people.

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2006