At a mobile industry conference, top execs from Nokia, Microsoft, and AT&T call for more collaboration and open standards in an era of retrenchment
Economic times are tough, the mobile market is shrinking and more and more new faces are crowding in to compete. But instead of becoming more cutthroat, now more than ever industry players need to work together, according to some of mobile's biggest names.
Speaking at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) conference in Barcelona today, Nokia CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo told delegates: "The next phase of our industry will require some courage because a change always requires a shift away from what we are comfortable with, what we are used to."
The Nokia chief said a key focus for industry players going forward into an era of increasing mobility is "fostering more co-operation and partnering".
"We will have to work together with competitors, new players and partners in different ways far more than in the past," he added. "By sharing resources and ideas, by tapping into each other's expertise we can accelerate our efforts and transform our products and services by leaps and bounds. Mutually beneficial relationships among industries and companies will be more important than ever."
Last year Nokia acquired mobile operating system company Symbian to convert the propriety OS to open source software, open to all comers. The Mighty Finn has also just announced a rapprochement with chip maker Qualcomm and will be collaborating on handset development, closing the book on years of legal wrangling between the two over patent disputes.
"Whenever we talk about this kind of openness, usually the first people to cast doubt are the lawyers," said Kallasvuo. "They say it's not possible or it is too difficult because of intellectual property rights. I can testify to this because I am a lawyer...My point here is where there is will to be more open, to partner and co-operate there is a way. Just look at this morning's announcement of our new co-operation to develop smartphones with Qualcomm."
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer also talked up the benefits of collaborating and sharing ideas to MWC delegates. "No single company can hope to create all of the components, all of the technologies, all of the hardware, all of the software that's going to make it possible to provide the experiences that customers demand," he said.
"To deliver on the promise of that transformation we do need to work together to mine the best ideas and the most innovative technologies. Openness is critical because it's the foundation for choice for all of our customers."
However, he sounded a more guarded note - saying it's about being "open enough" rather than absolutely interoperable.
"Open means different things to different people," Ballmer said. "To some people open means open source, it means more than that and different than that to me. That is an element. Open can mean an open platform that people can extend. Open can mean open standards which are formal and bake in…
"Ultimately, the companies that succeed will be open - maybe in different ways, maybe in different ways at different times. But it's only those forms of openness that will drive the kind of choice that really delivers the solutions for this next generation."
Openness is crucial because the current lack of interconnectedness between mobile platforms and devices is blocking how customers want to consume apps, according to AT&T Mobility CEO Ralph de la Vega, speaking at the same MWC session on moving to an open mobile ecosystem.
"What I hear from my customers is they want to use the apps they want to use and they want to use them on any devices they want," de la Vega said. "But what is happening today is we have actually built ecosystems small in nature around operating systems and around devices and…we now have islands of applications," he warned.
"And those islands I think are going to have to somehow come down in order for us to be able to leverage the full power the customers like with their applications. As one of the companies that launched the iPhone in the US, in the world we've learned an awful lot about what people want."