Palm's new Pre smartphone is supposed to be remarkably easy for developers to work with but this weekend the company reached out to one such community and demanded they shut down any discussion of one of the most hoped-for software developments - tethering the Pre to laptops for mobile wireless internet access. Apparently, you will pay for multiple internet subscriptions and you will not use cell networks for regular internet access without paying an additional subscription beyond your phone's voice and data fees!
The owner of PreDev.wikidot has posted a notice saying that Palm contacted the forum and requested that all references to tethering be removed for the duration of Palm's apparently delicate though exclusive relationship with Sprint. The forum has complied. Palm's position is not entirely impossible to relate to, but it sure seems like a loss for innovation.
From the announcement:
"We have been politely cautioned by Palm that any discussion of tethering during the Sprint exclusivity period (and perhaps beyond--we don't know yet) will probably cause Sprint to complain to Palm, and if that happened then Palm would be forced to react against the people running the IRC channel and this wiki. We want to retain a good relationship with Palm, hence we are not allowing discussion of tethering on the IRC channel, or in this wiki. Note that Sprint does not have a plan available for use with the Pre which allows tethering under the Terms Of Service. Once there is a version of the Pre available for a carrier that does allow tethering, or an unlocked GSM version, then we may be able to change this policy."
As Bill Ray points out in good coverage at the Register, developers grow frustrated when the hardware they've purchased can't be tinkered with to their hearts' content. Users certainly lose out when that's the case. Fortunately almost any control over hardware can be broken - but what do you do when the hardware vendor cracks down on conversation about open use of the technology around the web?
It certainly seems like a recipe for ill will between Palm and developers, but Google's Android team made a similar move when it pulled all tethering apps from the Android store this spring at partner T-Mobile's behest.
Mobile developer Jason Grigsby argues that it's not just about big bad carriers and revenue. "Carriers have a delicate balancing act between the desire for more data and services revenue and the fact that their networks can't handle huge increases in data usage," he told us. "Everything is a compromise in this space."
We're more sympathetic with consumers demanding more data and developers seeking to create wondrous new innovation on top of that increased flow of data and hardware than we are sympathetic with carriers struggling to fill and monetize that demand. We understand that telcoms have made huge investments already that they must recoup, but it sure seems like they have invested too little and are making too much money off of service that few consumers are satisfied with. Imagine if the electricity companies in this country were hated as much as the telcom carriers. They aren't, so we suspect it doesn't have to be this way.