When is a phone not a phone?

Answer: When it’s an in-car GPS or an eBook reader.

A lot of folks have been focusing on the potential of initiatives like the Open Handset Alliance and the fabled gphone to disrupt the existing mobile phone ecosystem. And yes, the walls are crumbling.

But equally interesting is the fact that cellular technology is escaping the boundaries of the phone. I noted recently my surprise that the Dash is based on openmoko, the other open source cellphone platform. And much of the buzz about Amazon’s kindle has been about its always-on connectivity–via cellular modem.

In short, don’t expect your next phone to look like a phone, or even to let you make phone calls. The end of the walled garden doesn’t just mean the end to locked cell phones. It means the end of the walled garden. Phone technology will end up in lots of unexpected new places.

This is the other end of the trend that has wi-fi and other computer networking technology showing up in phones. Ultimately, in an open telecommunications world, we’ll use whatever means we can to connect to the network, finding the best combination of features and price to deliver services that could never have been considered in a world where a phone was just a phone.