The GigaOM Interview: Cole Brodman, CTO, T-Mobile USA


Om: How does T-Mobile compete given the success of iPhone and the current environment?

Brodman: I think it’s breadth vs. one size fits all. Our view is that Android is a great operating platform to be delivered across multiple phones, smartphones, and potentially mobile computing devices. Our goal would be to work with our partners to make that a robust horizontal platform to scale across different types of devices and enable more innovation to occur on the device type and, at the same time, leveraging a common ecosystem of development. We’ll follow up G1 this year with multiple Android devices in the second half that we’ll be launching with at least three partners. Then our goal would be to…continue that evolution so that eventually we will see Android in the feature phone category as well as moving up to more capable devices like netbooks and midrange computing devices from different nontraditional partners, maybe HP or Dell or others that are innovating in that space.

Om: Are they building Android-based netbooks?

Brodman: We have seen multiple partners talking about building Android-based netbooks. I’ve seen devices working, but I won’t go any further than that.

Om: It seems like you’re making a big push with Android and BlackBerry. What about Symbian and Windows Mobile? Do they even figure into your plans?

Brodman: Yes, that is a great question, Om. I think you hit the two key ones. In the smartphone category, we believe in BlackBerry because of their strong consumer and prosumer relevance and [their] still best-in-class solution for push-based communication — and Android for the breadth of the application innovation and the richness of the operating platform. Those are two significant partnership bets that we’ll make. We’ll have a couple of Windows Mobile devices we’re launching in the next couple of months that we’re really excited about, the new 6.X platform. They’ll be out late this summer. I think the promise of Windows Mobile 7 is still to be seen, but we’re hopeful from what we see from Microsoft and what we hear from partners about WM7. But for us, there was less opportunity to drive with WM7, than there was to see how it develops. [With] Android I think we have a unique opportunity to work with Google and try to drive it. [As for] Symbian, when Freedom was originally announced, we were very encouraged by it, but I’m not seeing a lot of momentum, so the fruits of that alliance commercially has yet to be seen, and I think we’re definitely more cautious on what we see happening there.

Mobile Apps

Om: What are they key applications that will emerge in the next 12 to 36 months that are actually going to change our expectations of mobile?

Brodman: I’ll start by saying if I knew, we would certainly be working on every single one of them. That’s part of the power of leveraging something like Android, having a broadband network and having the tools to be much more web-connected in the way the web 2.0 and web 3.0 will be built. That’s the long way of saying, “I don’t know in three years exactly what’s going to be hot, but I know that somebody out there in a garage or part of an existing venture will figure something out, and we’ll be there with that partner to bring it to market.” Android, broadband and all of these things we are talking about more web like models will allow us to ride a new curve of innovation. One of the things just now starting to happen are apps that can emerge that are better than the fixed Internet because all of a sudden they can be taken advantage of in the context of the mobile user. Mobile applications will be created that the fixed Internet couldn’t have taken advantage of, so that’s pretty exciting.

Om: My theory is that on the wired web, the wired Internet connection was very crucial to the application. On mobile, it seems like it’s not only the data connection but also the location beacon that matters. These two together make a mobile experience. Any thoughts?

Brodman: I think you’re spot on, and a practical example for me is something like Google Search. So a voice-powered front end to a pretty powerful search paradigm that Google’s developed…and then localizing it so they can use their location to make the search results more relevant, that’s a great service. I use it multiple times a day because it’s so easy to use. That, I think, is just one example, and that’s happening today. I believe that adding location context is really important, and I think we’re just scratching the surface of what’s possible there.

Om: Do you see future apps being developed around location? Is that a starting point for all innovation going forward?

Brodman: I don’t know if it’s the starting point for all applications, but if you buy the premise that the mobile web is about providing mobile context to the fixed web services, creating better than fixed web applications, then location is one of those small handful of attributes that makes that really relevant. So it’s not going to necessarily permeate everything, but I think it’s going to be important in the development of other applications. The mobile device, unlike social networks, tends to be a very personal device. Providing that kind of lens on top of social networks could be very interesting.