3 Locks Down New Symbian Smartphone
By Eric Lin, Thu Sep 04 23:45:00 GMT 2003

Hutchison have just launched the Motorola A920 Symbian PDA phone on their "3" network. The second phone to run Symbian's UIQ platform, this phone is full of features. However it lacks something critical (other than Bluetooth)- support for third party applications. 3's version of the A920 will not run user installed programs unless they have been approved and "signed" by the carrier.

Hutchison's 3 is not the first network to lock down its handsets. When Orange launched its Microsoft Smartphone, the SPV, it was application locked as well. Orange and 3 share the belief that by application locking their devices, they are protecting their network from malicious code or intrusions. While the rationale is logical, this threat is more perceived than real.

As of yet there have been no viruses or programs written for any smartphone OS that could take down just the handset, let alone an entire network. In fact the only virus that ever took down a network was a PC email virus that took down Spanish carrier Telefonica by overloading it with SMS. However locking the handset to signed applications has a more immediate benefit than protection, money.

If the Symbian / 3 code signing works anything like Microsoft's, they get money coming and going. A licensing company charges big bucks to sign off on an application for the Microsoft platform. Then when the signed applications are sold on Orange's store, they get a cut of the sale, which they wouldn't get if applications were bought through the normal channels. Of course small developers, who create most the software for mobile platforms can't afford the price, and this discourages freeware as well. There was so much initial push back from this scheme that Microsoft wound up having to offer 500 free signatures to MSDN developers on a first come, first served basis.

Code signing never really effected the average user who may download a game from Orange's site every now and then, however it really irked the power users and the developers. So what did they do? They developed methods and applications to kill the code signing block. Their work-arounds were so effective that Orange eventually gave in and now lets almost anyone unlock their Smartphone by signing up as an Orange developer (for free). Yet Orange still maintains the application lock on all new devices.

In Computer Business Review, a Symbian Spokesperson is quoted saying "the device was being treated as a 'walled garden'." Hmmmm, now where have we heard that phrase before? It seems as if Operators have decided that if they can't have a walled garden around smartphone's internet access (since their browsers are compatible with HTML and other standards), that they must find some other way to wall these handsets off. Isn't this just holding on to an old baby blanket? When will operators come to accept they're role as bit pipes for data as they already do for voice? Or can we be convinced that walling off handsets really does have the customers' best interest at heart?