According to Moconews.net, Nokia and Universal Music are adding their names to the long list of firms looking to unseat (or even gain market share on) the Juggernaut that is the Apple iPod / iTunes. The two are “teaming together to offer free 12-month access to music from Universal’s artists to buyer’s of Nokia’s musicphones… people will be able to keep the songs once the free-offer period expires. Nokia wants to get other labels to sign up to the ‘Comes With Music’ product, which it hopes to launch early next year.”

While offering free music isn’t (remotely) a new tactic in the digital music market space, what makes the move somewhat notable is the combination of the world’s largest handset manufacturer with one of the largest music labels. Likely this initiative is in reaction to the iPhone’s European launch, as Nokia tries to defend its turf from an invading, buzzworthy handset. Nokia has reason to be alarmed, as their musicphones have not sold particularly well (even in Europe, a market otherwise dominated by Nokia).

Should the iPhone successfully convert current iPod owners to the new device, suddenly Nokia has a lot bigger problem than an underperforming musicphone unit: Apple will have secured foothold in their core handset market – right in Nokia’s backyard. I would not be suprised to see more, even more aggressive announcements like this moving forward should the Apple iPhone gain traction overseas.

So much has been written in the last week or so following the announcement by Verizon Wireless that they would be opening up their network to handsets sold by third parties, and that they would be streamlining the (currently) painstaking process of third party application development.

Most have focused on the reactionary nature of Verizon’s move, that it was simply a defensive move to counter the coming Android threat, AT&T’s iPhone, as well as to satisfy the new FCC rules governing the upcoming Spectrum Auction… rules also pushed through in large part to Google’s marginally-successful Congressional lobbying efforts. In general, the bulk of the coverage from the mainstream media and major industry blogs have largely written off Verizon’s move as a token gesture that will have little impact on the market for at least the next several years. In many ways these publications are correct, yet clearly they have missed the larger picture.

But to the mobile marketing community, as well as the marketing community at large, the shift represents the beginnings of a long-awaited shift towards a working Mobile Marketing system. I say “working” because the current environment of carrier-specific technology standards and business practices makes for an overly-fragmented, cumbersome system that seems counter its own ends. Divergent carrier technologies notwithstanding, the idea that third-party developers can now publish applications on the Verizon network without having to be “approved” by the carrier is a watershed moment in US mobile marketing, opening up roughly 25% of the marketplace that was, until now, more or less unreachable to the “free to the end user,” advertising-supported model.

For US consumers, innovative and (just as important) inexpensive (handset and/or ad-supported) mobile applications will become far more commonplace, as handset manufacturers will now have the freedom of preloading applications that consumers (rather than the carriers) are interested in using. While these handsets will inherently carry a higher MSRP due to the lack of carrier subsidy, it is my prediction that pricing for “non-carrier subsidized” / D2C handsets will ultimately not become a barrier to purchase, as consumers will value the benefit of getting the handset they (actually) want, rather than being forced into the handset the carrier wants them to have.

Change is a beautiful thing.