The Wi-Fi Cell Phone and Built-In Competition
Gary Krakow has a column today on MSNBC raving about a new Nokia smartphone. I confess that I do not find cell phones interesting, I guess because I have persuaded myself that, notwithstanding the advertising, a cell phone is just a cell phone and it doesn’t somehow define my worth as a human being. But I am very interested in product feature sets and interested in particular, both professionally and personally, in a cell phone that will toggle intelligently between standard cell phone service and Wi-Fi service.
Krakow notes that Nokia will issue two different versions of the new smartphone, the e61 for the European market and the forthcoming e62 for the US market. Krakow describes the US version as a crippled version of the European phone. In particular, the e61 will do Wi-Fi, while the US version will not. Why? According to Krakow, “what some carriers fear most is the e61’s ability to handle VoIP calls when you’re near a friendly wireless network. That’s why we won’t see Wi-Fi on the e62.”
I have an ongoing interest in crippled products, that is products that are intentionally disabled. Think a DVD player that has fast-forwarding capability that is temporarily turned off. Consumers are understandably frustrated by these created disabilities, though in some situations they may benefit consumers as a whole.
But here is what I don’t understand in this case. So I get the idea that cell phone carriers will try to provide you a handset that doesn’t contain built-in competition. That is the explanation for why no Wi-Fi on the e62. We will have to figure out whether we are going to try to regulate that or regulate efforts by people to hack the products they have taken home to turn on latent features. (My guess is that the e62 doesn’t come with turned-off latent Wi-Fi, but rather that it is simply not included in the phone at all. Excluding the feature reduces the hacking issue that exists when features are present but dormant through design.)
But what is different about Europe? Why don’t the carriers there care about built-in competition as well?