iPhone OS 4.0 and the coming identity gulags

Saunders-45X64.JPGPosted by Alec Saunders
The unveiling of iPhone OS 4.0 caused a bit of a stir last week. Apple will finally allow multi-tasking on iPhone devices, which means that true communications clients can finally be built to run on iPhone. No longer will users be required to load and run the Skype, Truphone or Google voice clients – they will simply run in the background.
In a lengthy piece written April 8, Stuart Henshall outlines the implications for this development, the biggest of which is the disintermediation of the traditional telecoms industry. Stuart posits that, with the huge numbers of mobile clients in the market – and especially iPhone – telephone numbers will finally go the way of the Dodo, and identity will migrate to the owners of cloud assets – the Yahoo’s, Skype’s, and likely (although Stuart doesn’t say this) Facebook’s of the world. “Caller ID” will become the information presented by the identity network, and not just a phone number and name. And so, after resisting for decades, the telecom companies finally really do become dumb pipes running a stupid network with smart end points.
The upcoming eComm event in San Francisco seems to be pointing in that direction too. With its heavy emphasis on policy, networks and end-point technologies, a whole day devoted to Augmented Reality, and presentations from just two carriers (not including the Verizon cameo in Day 2’s panel on the US National Broadband Panel), the momentum in the industry seems clear, and the carriers have apparently absented themselves from the discussion.
Would that it were as easy as everyone implies. If we’re not careful, however, we’re headed for the same IM Gulag that exists today, now spread across mobile devices. Communications networks will splinter into a myriad of smaller islands, and by default, the phone number will remain our pre-eminent identity, simply because nothing else is universal.
Last week I reconnected with a friend I hadn’t chatted with since dumping all other IM networks for Skype in November 2008. She doesn’t use Skype, and we don’t call each other that often. I reinstalled MSN messenger, and soon we were talking. It was a stark illustration. Our identities, and consequently communications applications which require identity, were walled off from each other by entrenched corporate interests. It was as if I were a Verizon customer, and she an AT&T customer, and neither network had agreed to interoperate with the other.
Do we really want that kind of identity network?

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