Davos08: Wireless

“If you defend the status quo when the quo has lost its status, you’re in serious difficulty,” says Sony head Howard Stringer in a panel on the future of mobile. “It’s a most exhilerating time” because it’s all up in the air. A year ago, he says, cable companies were negotiating from a position of strength. But look at their stock prices now; they reflect the walls falling around them. This has made them nicer to deal with. But he’s not saying he’s sitting in daisies himself. “It’s going to be hard to hold onto the price of content.” Then again, he turns to a Chinese mobile phone mogul and says that if Sony could sell just one song to each of his 500 million users, his music company would be instantly (and apparently finally) profitable.

Stringer, the funniest man at Davos (far funnier than Al Gore), says out of nowhere that he likes Google. Why? asks moderator David Kirkpatrick of Fortune. Because Google’s going to buy wireless spectrum and they’ll be in his business even more. The only reason he came onto the panel to be close to Google’s Eric Schmidt.

NBC’s Jeff Zucker says mobile is not that important to the network. Nonetheless, they’re going to put out 2,200 hours of programming on mobile from the Olympics.

Stringer says young people will drive usage in ways we can’t predict. The hot fact passing around conferences this week is that novels written — written — on mobile phones are selling like crazy in Japan. Stringer says mobile will be the platform for everything.

Google’s Schmidt asks what’s new “and I think it’s the arrival of short-form video as a category.” He says it’s not a replacement for a prior form but an entirely new form.

He also says he is so bullish about mobile as a business because he believes the players are motivated to make sense of the current lack of standards and create a unified platform.

There’s much discussion about openness from regulation to devices to business models. From the audience, Jonathan Zittrain asks about whether an open system will bring us viruses on our phones and a new frontier of unreliability. Schidt responds: “Open platforms are like Linux, not like Windows.” Oohs from the geeky audience.

Michael Arrington asks FCC Commissioner Kevin Martin about the open letter Google wrote requesting openness in the upcoming spectrum auction, wondering whether this made the decision harder — as pressure — or easier, as covering fire with the other commissioners. “The open letter is nothing like the pressure that others can put on in more private ways. I actually appreciated the openness of it,” Martin responds.

Somebody asks whether any of the companies represented planned to include scent — olfactory functionality — in phones since it’s the only sense not addressed by the internet. Gawd, and you thought it was irritating to hear other people’s mobile phones. I dread having their smells waft my way. Another person from the audience whether anyone is working on holographic images to replace the tiny screen on mobiles. That doesn’t seem to be in the works, either.

  • http://comicspundit.com Shawn Levasseur

    “NBC’s Jeff Zucker says mobile is not that important to the network.”

    Or at least that’s the party line so long as the writer’s strike continues.

  • http://www.beingpeterkim.com Peter Kim

    I find it hilarious how often “young people” are called the key to the future by “old people.” As if U.S. middle schools are untapped gold mines of capitalist success.

  • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

    Well, Peter, I’d call the founders of Google, Facebook, PayPay, Skype, and Yahoo young (when they started their huge ventures).

  • http://www.beingpeterkim.com Peter Kim

    Agreed Jeff, no question about those examples. I was part of another one where a 30 year old CEO brought a dying German sports brand back from the dead.

    However, I read your retelling of Stringer’s remarks like this: “young [consumers] will drive usage…” given the mentions of (1) 500 million users and (2) individuals writing mobile novels. If you meant “young [entrepreneurs] will drive usage…” then I stand corrected.

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