The talk this week in Google Android news is the removal of XMPP support from the OS. XMPP is the “extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol, an open, XML-inspired protocol for near-real-time, extensible instant messaging (IM) and presence information (a.k.a. buddy lists).” (source: Wikipedia)
Why is this important? Having a service like XMPP available in the OS means that developers wanting to use this in their applications have to implement it on their own, or include someone else’s install in addition to their application. One of the hottest areas of application development are in instant messaging and location-based services, such as Twitter, BrightKite, Loopt, Jabber, etc. Since this is an extendable protocol, additional abilities like VoIP can be defined and added. If you want more background information, you can read about it on TechCrunchIT here and on Google here.
OK, that’s the background of the issue. Here is the political reality. Yes, political.
Cell carriers make a lot of money on text messaging, which we all know should cost nothing, like voicemail or a power cord. They charge either per-text or a monthly fee for hundreds, thousands or unlimited texts. I have a teenage niece that sends an estimated 7500 texts a month. That’s 250 a day. More than I send in a year.
Think if the cell company were to have this source of extra money impacted by a free, internet based messaging service, well, they would not be happy. If people were to start ditching their texting plans, those contracts would lose a quarter of their value in many cases. For example, my plan is $39 a month for 450 minutes, with a $20 a month unlimited data plan (the iPhone plan, which includes 200 text messages), and $20 more for unlimited text messages. $80 take away $20 is 25% less. If a user has a higher minute plan than this, and since XMPP can support VoIP, there is another potential reason for people to lower their plan minutes, further reducing the value of the contract.
What I see is the cell phone companies putting pressure on Google to remove XMPP from Android, to keep these revenue killers from eating away at their contract dollars.
Now the dumb thing is that nothing prevents XMPP from being implemented on an Android device. Since it is open source, you can add your own. Where that gets to be a problem is multiple implementations potentially being on the same device for different applications, and not being as resource efficient as it being part of the OS.
While discussing this on FriendFeed here, I made the point that if XMPP inclusion is delaying the release of Android, by all means lets get Android released, and add this in a future release of the OS. Yes, this is annoying, and slows down development of applications. But, the competition to Android — iPhone, Symbian, Windows Mobile, Blackberry — are available and growing more users daily.
Here’s my comment on FriendFeed: “It [no XMPP in Android] was like printer services (or complete lack thereof) in Windows 3.1. Every program that wanted to print had to implement it on their own, along with drivers for all the different printers. A real mess. But with Windows 95, print services were implemented. If Google is in the position of not being able to release Android for x number of extra months because of a service or three, I say lets get it out ASAP, and get that stuff in a later release of the OS. Babies [and OS's] aren’t born fully grown.”
Getting back to the political nub of this story, what needs to happen is for the cell carriers to get over the idea that they should charge individually for services on mobile web devices, and just have a flat rate for internet service, and have everything you need use that the mobile internet connection. Your broadband internet at home doesn’t charge you separately for email, web browsing, iTunes downloads, etc. (not that they don’t want to!) Because the next wave of wireless (like WiMax) is going to kick cell carriers in the hurty places, when you’ll have another means of getting wireless internet. We’ve all seen many examples of trying to hold on to a business model too long that technology is taking away. Get with it and LEAD the charge, don’t try to slow down innovation because it is inconvenient to your way to doing business.