- 10 Feb 08, 21:01 GMT
The answer, of course, is you. But who owns you – or rather you as a mobile customer? That's the question being debated by the thousands of visitors to Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. As phones become mini-computers, the balance of power in the industry is shifting.
It used to be simple – your network owned you. After all, you signed up with them, they collected your bill, and they did their utmost to nurture you so you wouldn't stray. But now two other players want to interfere in that relationship – the handset makers and the software giants.
Nokia is tired of watching the networks launch – and sometimes profit from – flashy new services, so it's pushing its own offerings. That includes music, with a new range of “comes with music” mobiles out later this year, and its Ovi service which promises every form of entertainment a mobile user might want and currently gets from the networks.
Then there are the software businesses which are taking their battle from the desktop computer to the mobile. On a sunny Sunday evening in Barcelona, I've just met senior executives from Microsoft and Google, here to sell their vision of the mobile future – one where the operating system on your phone will actually matter. Let's face it, right now, not one in a thousand mobile users could tell you whether their phone ran Symbian (the system backed by Nokia), Windows Mobile, or something else. That may change as phones get smarter.
Robbie Bach, one of the the top three or four executives at Microsoft, running everything from Xbox to Zune to mobile, flew into Barcelona tonight to trumpet a new deal to put Windows Mobile onto Sony Ericsson handsets. As the manufacturer is one of the partners in the Symbian project, Microsoft believes this is a big step forward in its quest to be a major force on mobiles. Robbie Bach says 20 million Windows Mobile handsets were sold last year. I pointed out that this is less than 1 percent of global handset sales, six years after Microsoft got into mobile. He countered that it's a pretty good share of the smartphone market which is only now moving beyond business users into the wider population.
But while Microsoft is making plenty of noise here, it's Google which is getting all the attention. When I caught up with Rich Miner, Google's Vice President for mobile, he was quick to insist that his firm had been a force in mobile for years - but it's obviously the Android operating system which has made it a star of the show this year rather than a bit player. Despite rumours of Android handsets making a bow in Barcelona Mr Miner said a phone would not ago on sale until the second half of the year.
He went on to paint Google's efforts in this field as some kind of philanthropic mission to bring rich new applications to the industry and to mobile users , all for free. But, as he (almost) conceded, it's really all about taking the firm's dominance in search advertising onto a whole new platform.
And that means that there are huge sums at stake as Microsoft, Google, Nokia - and the odd phone network - battle to own the mobile consumer of the future.
You can see a quick interview with Rich Miner below. You would also have seen an interview with Robbie Bach - if I'd not pressed pause on the mobile when I started recording it. Even a smartphone needs a reasonably smart user.
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