Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Why are cell phones so ugly?

I've been saying this since before the iPhone came out: cell phone software is ugly! And I can't help but think that plenty of other people had that same thought. So the question is, why did the market develop better interfaces sooner? My instinct is to look for market perversions, and sure enough, in the cell phone business, you find the mother lode: regulated spectrum. The FCC doles out pieces of the spectrum, artificially limiting something that – with technology – can be infinitely divisible. This limits competition in cellular service, and the hardly-competing oligopolies can get consumers to buy phones bundled with service plans (long service plans at that). In a competitive market, retailers don't bundle, because customers are extremely discerning with regards to price. So, it's probably just a spillover effect from the cartelized broadcast spectrum. The alternative would be an open spectrum, usable for all (or almost all, depending on who you talk to).

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