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Playing Santa

There’s a chill in the air, the malls are packed and my daughters are taking Christmas ornaments off the tree and breaking them like there’s money inside. So in the spirit of the season – and in light of the predictable, holiday-related news vacuum – I’m putting on the red clown suit and playing Santa. Here’s what we’d like to dole out this season:

  • Some real openness for Verizon Wireless. The soon-to-be No. 1 carrier in the United States made headlines more than a year ago when it promised its network will support “any device, any app” that met minimal requirements. But all I’ve seen so far is an M2M-oriented modem that monitors the level of gasoline and other substances in a container. Yawn. Where are my cool third-party apps? Why doesn’t my new LG Navigator support this popular Web browser, which became available for BREW phones last December? It’s true that people buy devices, not applications, but Apple’s App Store and the rest of the cool new storefronts are changing the game. Take down those garden walls, VZW, and keep your promise of opening up, or risk becoming the mobile AOL.
  • A sexy new Android device for T-Mobile USA. Android Market is a cool app store, yes, and partnering with Google seems like a no-brainer for the country’s fourth-largest operator. But while HTC’s G-1 seems a capable, solid device, it’s the mobile equivalent of a 10-year-old minivan compared to the iPhone’s Mini Cooperesque appeal. A lighter, more streamlined gadget with a less clunky UI will go a long way toward pushing Android into contention with the iPhone.
  • Some new, ARPU-heavy users for Sprint. The Nextel merger was a debacle, of course, and the carrier has paid dearly for making customer service an afterthought. But it wasn’t long ago that Sprint was the cutting-edge carrier among the tier-ones, with gutsy executives unafraid to gamble on mobile content offerings or to let the industry know when the emperor was parading around naked. Introducing competitively priced all-everything plans may have been a desperate move by an operator on life support, and it surely upset its competitors, but it’s a strategy that will boost mobile data usage in a major way. Here’s hoping Sprint is around to see its Hail Mary pass pay off.
  • Some new marketing campaigns for AT&T Wireless. Apple has done all the heavy lifting for you guys (and for the rest of the industry), enlightening users about what today’s mobile phones – not just the iPhone – can do. Time to take that ball and run with it, AT&T. “More bars in more places” is likely to attract more customers with less ARPU. Let’s move on, shall we?
  • Patent reform for everyone. Barack Obama plans to name a technology czar, and while we’re skeptical that such an appointment is necessary, there’s no doubt that the USPTO’s policies and practices are in dire need of an overhaul. Research In Motion Ltd. was forced to shell out $612.5 million in 2006 to settle a lawsuit that, by all appearances, was based on patents that were mistakenly granted in the first place. That settlement, and others like it, have only served as a catalyst for countless startups seeking to create “revenues” by suing companies that actually make money by building and selling innovative products and services. Here’s hoping the new national CTO finds the time and the political capital to rebuild the office into one that benefits both consumers and the innovative entrepreneurs trying to make their lives better, and one that finally pulls the plug on the all-too-lucrative patent-troll industry.
  • Godspeed to CTIA in their effort to lay a foundation for enhanced-messaging interoperability. Sometimes it seems the carriers have learned nothing by over-promising and under-delivering on WAP and cross-carrier text messaging. The carriers took far too long to become SMS interoperable – leaving the text-message market untapped for years – and have struggled to allow users to end photos and video clips to friends on other networks. Here’s hoping the industry association has the vision and the power to herd the tier-one cats as Web 2.0-like features come to mobile messaging.

Thanks for reading. Have a great holiday season and a prosperous 2009.

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