Helio Makes Me Sad

My very last meeting at the CTIA trade show was with Helio, the new cell-phone carrier run by Internet billionaire Sky Dayton. I went in with high hopes. I came out saddened.Dayton’s other company is Earthlink, and he was supposed to bring a fresh perspective to the cell-phone industry. Mobile phone hardware and content development in this country has been stymied by carriers’ obsessions with control. Because every phone must be approved by a few carrier apparatchiks, because every game must be vetted for a carrier’s deck, we don’t see the speed of innovation in mobile phones that we have on the Internet. Nothing can ever grow from the grass roots.Helio Makes Me Sad

Competition brings innovation, but the mobile-phone world is a Soviet-style economy.Helio was supposed to be open. Helio was supposed to bring the hottest Asian phones to the USA, and hey, if you have a phone they don’t sell, they’d let you activate it. Helio was supposed to have full Internet browsing, Wi-Fi integration, open standards, and a focus on freedom via the latest technology. Helio could have blown open the doors¬†and brought the US to the peak of the mobile world.Unfortunately, what I heard from Dayton this time around was, Helio is Amp’d, a notch upscale. They’ll offer two phones (including the Kickflip, at left) without Web browsers or even Bluetooth¬†(even Amp’d has a Web browser and Bluetooth!) and, apparently, lots of BMX and wrestling videos. Or some sort of other similar, usual, walled-garden, “xtreme”ly stupid content that nobody really wants, but that they could get licensing for.

Excuse me while I can’t decide whether to yawn or to cry.Helio’s tie-ins with MySpace and, more recently, Yahoo! don’t improve my mood. They’re still coming from the old Soviet perspective of, “you’ll use the sites we approve/optimize for you,” not the Internet perspective of, “let’s put some open standards out and let a million options bloom, including ones we might not have thought of.”I’m hoping I misunderstood. I’m still looking forward to Helio’s launch and to reviewing their phones. I want them to change my mind, because I want someone to shatter the old way of doing business. The nation doesn’t need another carrier retreading the same worn road in search of the frat-boy market so deeply plumbed by Amp’d and Virgin. The cell phone nation needs freedom; I guess we’ll have to look for another champion.

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