The Android Situation

April 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

There has been quite a bit of press on Google tightening the screws on its Android OS and fundamentally altering the “openness” of it. Today’s Bloomberg Businessweek article adds lot more fuel to the fire. The article goes on to suggest that Android licensees are thinking or have already talked to DoJ on the matter. This has brought all the closet Android haters and Google haters in general out in the open. To them, this reveals a chink on the exploding Android ecosystem and one that can be exploited from a PR perspective. I thought it might be interesting to ponder on the topic with a post.

As an early disclaimer, I don’t own an Android device. I plan to get one in the near future to experience the platform just as I wanted to and currently enjoy the iOS based iPhone 3GS. I have done some personal Android app projects and like what I see. I think it has tremendous potential for the developer community and also the real capacity of taking the smartphone experience downstream to feature phones.

The Android OS has seen  growth unlike any other in the last couple of years. Thanks to a well baked OS with the backing of powerful Google, OEMs and ODMs have churned out customized versions of the OS on their devices. It has enabled tens of manufacturers to reach the market faster and utilize the exploding Android app market. Android has leveled the smartphone OS playing field that was being threatened to be completely monopolized by Apple’s iOS. In the process, it has forced Microsoft, Nokia and RIM to completely rethink and redo their smartphone strategies. Innovation has become a requirement in the smartphone wars, instead of being just an option.

Apple and Google have gone about their goals of world smartphone OS dominance in different ways. One approach is a closely monitored and moderated eco-system that has provided a lot of quality apps and very many happy end users. The Google approach has been much like other open source software- make a good base for the rest to build on.  This has also proven extremely successful. Unfortunately, the carriers and handset manufacturers who have adopted Android for their devices have made the system much less open to the end user and also far more cluttered. In addition, handset vendors and carriers have also been accused of holding back on OS updates to push more devices into the market which is definitely not how Google intended it to be.  This was not what Google wanted and hence the decision to delay the release of future Android builds to the open source community. This is a good move. It allows Google to bake the OS better and also ensure that the flagship devices are truly representative of the capability of the OS. It is not, as many have portrayed[1][2][3], an about turn in how they share Android with the world. It is a perfectly sensible way of releasing a better product to the community. If a few extra months of wait would result in a more polished experience which is relatively uniform across multiple devices, then why not?

Everyone should remember that Android is the only meaningful smartphone OS out there that is open. Everything else is closed. If it were not for Android, we really would not be having a smartphone alternative to the iOS worth talking about. We would have continued to live with Windows Mobile and the RIM of the old. Android has changed the ballgame and in a way that has benefited handset manufacturers, vendors, carriers, developers and ultimately the consumer. Google is too far committed to its “No Evil” mantra to become all draconian on us. Give them a chance to prove their point. They definitely deserve it.

Bite sized games

January 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

If you were asked to remember the first game that came to your mind, chances are that it would be “Angry Birds“. This insanely addictive and immensely popular game has captured the minds and fingers of mobile users all over the world. Be it on iOS or Android, the game has taken its place in millions of mobile devices and promises to go even further with smartphone proliferation. Angry Birds is not alone. The Internet is abuzz about a 14yr old kid whose game, Bubble Ball topped the iPhone App Store game download charts recently. And most developers by now have read the BackFlip Studios case study presentation from GDC, where the company charted its growth from a one man operation to a developer whose primary game is a free app that generates over $1million a year in ad revenue.

Are console games on their deathbeds?. Is this the end of full sized blockbusters like Gran Tourismo, Call of Duty and Halo?. No. But there is an undeniable paradigm shift in the kind of games that attract attention and sell. Gone are the days when blockbuster games were PC or console only experiences. Today, the standard for console and PC blockbusters are very high. For developers with smaller pockets and not so infinite resources, the world of bite sized games is much more preferable. The mobile game market is exploding with all sorts of players big and small. Electronic Arts makes big blockbusters like its Madden NFL franchise. It also generates a ton of money selling Scrabble and Sudoku on every conceivable platform from iOS to Android to Kindle. The risk with these smaller games is much lesser than the budgetof a console game which can run a few million dollars. There is also a greater appetite for such games from users who dont mind spending 99 cents to $4.99 compared to the the $49-$59 that pc and console games cost.

To point, consoles now have a significant library of download only titles on the Xbox Live, PSN and WiiWare platforms where smart and addictive games are cheaper to build and play, not to mention, easier to obtain via direct downloads. Game developers and publishers will continue to build multimillion dollar blockbuster titles for the PC and consoles. But they will also prop their calendar and revenue with smaller download only titles that have the potential to turn into goldmines. They will also port such games to as many platforms, mobile and otherwise to reach the widest audience possible and maximize their revenue from the small investment.

It is a great time to be a small developer who can build breakout game hits from the confines of his home office. It is also a great time to be a gamer to experience fascinating games, indie and otherwise on all platforms at a very affordable price. Game On !

Disclosure: I did not invent the title moniker. I first saw its usage here. Since then, some references have popped here and there.

iOS vs. Android, part II.

January 13, 2011 § 1 Comment

Daggers drawn, here we go again. With the recent and totally “unexpected and surprise” announcement that the iPhone is heading the Big Red way, we now have a battle on our hands. Until recently, the battle between the two operating systems was fought as a proxy war between the two largest carriers, Verizon and AT&T. With the iPhone now soon to be available on both networks, it makes things a tad fuzzy. Added to the mix is the fact that some of the upcoming Android big hitters are also headed the AT&T way. Until the iPhone exclusivity existed, AT&T either chose or was forced to pick up second grade Androids. That has been changing the last few months and will become obvious with the upcoming Motorola Atrix, Samsung 4G Android devices, Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc and more. On a smaller note, AT&T is also courting Microsoft by being the premier launch partner for Windows Phone 7 devices and also RIM with the exclusive Torch.

The coming months will hopefully provide answer for the following questions:

1. Was Android’s rise only due to lack of iPhone on Verizon?

2. Is AT&T doomed, now that it has the “perceived” poorer network and the iPhone is no longer exclusive?

3. With the blog world taking sides [1][2][3], are things only going to get murkier?

4. Will Verizon stop or significantly reduce its An”droid” ads?

5. Is the Google-Verizon honeymoon over?

6. What happens to Motorola now that the big ad dollars are probably not there from Verizon?

We are all set for an interesting 2011 on the mobile OS wars. Get ready folks. Its going to be one heck of a battle between the behemoths!

WP7

October 14, 2010 § 2 Comments

Windows Phone 7, the experience, was unveiled to the world earlier this week. In an interesting approach, Microsoft launched the operating system with multiple carriers and multiple device vendors. At launch (Fall 2010) about 10 devices are expected from every major manufacturer not named Apple or Motorola has a device scheduled for launch. Microsoft has also realized that apps and software are what drive smartphone adoption. No one cares if it looks or feels like their desktop. Hence the focus on apps at launch. Also evident is the impetus on highlighting the social aspect of the OS with tight Facebook integration. With a tight requirement list controlling each handset sold under the WP7 moniker, Microsoft is trying to do what it didn’t do with Windows Mobile and Apple does so well with iOS, namely close hardware software coupling. This also ensures that user experience is consistent across multiple handsets that hawk WP7. MS has also used the one successful element from the failed Kin experiment namely the cloud syncing of user profiles, information and data in bolstering the WP7 offering.

With iPhone soon to arrive in Verizon (want to bet on it?) and the Android juggernaut rolling forward, this was a critical launch for Microsoft. It also means something for AT&T which will soon lose iPhone exclusivity (and a lot of customers along with it) and has partnered with Microsoft for the WP7 launch. They have done well until now in terms of drumming up some excitement for the new OS and the handsets that will carry it. Will this translate to meaningful marketshare remains to be seen. To be fair, it would be unwise to expect WP7 to even make a dent on the iOS or Android marketshare. What it can and needs to do is to make Microsoft relevant again. That would be well worth the investment.

What is in it for Google?

August 9, 2010 § Leave a comment

Verizon and Google today unveiled an ambitious proposal for the future governance of the internet and more specifically handling the burgeoning traffic [Google][Verizon]. The coverage on the matter has been pretty good and some recommended links are here [1][2][3] . There is also a lot of chatter about Google “becoming evil” and abandoning its champion of the internet moniker. I wanted to pen down a few quick thoughts on the matter and see if it all makes sense.

Google and Verizon are basically saying the following key things:

1. Treat wired and wireless differently from a governance standpoint. This is critical for both companies since the Android operating system is growing by leaps and bounds primarily due to the Big Red push and any self inflicted wounds will potentially be fatal for both parties.

2. Do not allow any private deals on public networks and levy fines on guilty parties. The language on this is open so as to allow interpretation. In addition Google said that it had no monetary interests in such a proposal. What is left out is private networks like the FiOS private infrastructure of Verizon and the potential growth areas like healthcare and gaming.

3. Transparency and consumer protection are also highlighted as key areas. Transparency from ISP with regards to their traffic policies and consumer protection against blocking any of their content as long as it is legal and from a legal device.

The rest of the document basically can be described thus, ” Guidelines to live by but with enough options to work around”. The only part in all this that left me confused is what does Google get out of it?. I can see why Verizon needs it. It is a behemoth that wants to desperately manage its investments so as to get the best return and a deal with Google would be the best step to insuring its billions. But for Google, there is no “obvious” gain. The provisions pretty much keep things the same from a wired standpoint. It could be argued that the public face of Google probably took its worst hit today. Unless the deal gives Google some kind of access to data as this author suggests or a wireless deal for its Android OS, its hard to imagine Google being a winner in this deal. Am I missing something here?

Time will tell how this all translates into practice. For now it is just a proposal but one backed by industry giants. Will the FCC bless it or stick to its neutrality stance- we shall see. But it sure is an interesting development in an issue that warrants close attention.

For those interested in reading the full text of the joint proposal, it is here.

The Android Revolution is being televised

May 27, 2010 § Leave a comment

Yes, this is one of the million articles on Android following a great Google IO Conference with a bunch of cool announcements. But no, I am not a opportunist to cash in on the android hype machine. I truly believe the OS is out to change the handheld device spectrum and this post is all about that. We will go over some of the cool IO announcements, but the trigger point for this post is not that but this and this. Pandigital, an also ran in the low price digital frame industry with questionable support (I know!) and even more questionable features just announced a competitor to the iPad. Yep, you read that right. A few years ago, this might be almost foolhardy. David of unknown origin going against a really big Goliath. But Pandigital now has something up its arsenal that gives it legitimacy, Android. And herein lies the revolution.

With the support of a behemoth like Google, Android is enabling manufacturers all and sundry to now be able to compete in the smartphone industry and also the ancillary industries such as e-book readers, tablets, netbooks and what not. This coupled with the surging popularity of Android based smartphones (thanks also to the lack of iPhone with any other carrier but ATT), there is a groundswell movement of all things Android.

Google TV is another Android foray into realms unknown and unconquered. How popular it gets remains to be seen but it is undeniable that Google is putting its best foot forward with an interesting array of partners. Oh, and did I mention the Google TV ads?

The “Do no evil” mantra of Google coupled with the inherent openness of the platform is enabling device vendors to pick and choose their variant of the OS- be it the core with their own skin [htc sense][motoblur] or the entire experience [nexusone]. It is so flexible, that Moto could pack in a different LBS provider on its Android device and it was fine. Imagine that with Apple or Microsoft. Remember how long it took before the first legitimate browser outside of Safari made its way into the iPhone. Apple has its reasons to be closed and rightfully so. But in the same vein, it helps Google to continue its perceived altruistic (time will tell the real motivation – mobile ads and control of the mobile eco-system)foray into the mobile space.

For now, anyone looking to get into the mobile eco-system, look no further than the Android.

Tablet wars

May 12, 2010 § 1 Comment

The iPad is about to have some serious competition. In the marketplace today, the iPad is numero uno when it comes to a must have tablet computer. That might soon change if Google, HP, Lenovo and a myriad of competitors have their way. It is public knowledge that Google is working on a tablet that runs one of its Chromium/Android OS. This much was revealed a few weeks back here. There is even a cool video with a mockup of a tablet running the OS. Fast forward to today where there is tremendous anticipation for an iPhone that runs on Verizon. For everyone complaining about ATT’s network being an impediment to using the iPhone, this was going to be the Holy Grail. Engadget dug up the ATT-iPhone contract details that confirmed that the exclusivity expired not in 2010 as many had predicted but in 2012. This implied that Verizon would have to wait to get the iPhone.

In the meantime, the Verizon – Google partnership on the Droid handsets is flourishing. All the Android devices on Verizon are selling extremely well and are proving to be a cash cow to Verizon. All of a sudden, for haters of ATT network, there is a lot of smartphone love with The Big Red. So it was no surprise when WSJ and Bloomberg leaked information yesterday of a collaboration between Verizon and Google to bring the Google tablet on their network. This makes sense in a lot of ways. Google gets to continue its oneupmanship battle with Apple. Verizon gets to call a tablet its own and the consumer has choice in the tablet segment.TechCrunch breaks this equation down here.

Eventually HP will get into the tablet business with a webOS based Hurricane tablet. Microsoft is already in the tablet business to retain its competitive edge in the OS segment. So a bevy of vendors will tote out Win7 tablets in the coming months. The Lenovo U1 IdeaPad met with good initial response when unveiled at CES. It remains to be seen if it ends up as a meaningful competitor. The iPad will now have to fight it out with multiple tablets featuring different OS’s each with its pros and cons. It will also have to keep upping the ante on the e-Reader front against the Kindle, Nook and the upcoming Kobo from Borders.

For the consumer, it is a win-win. Competition as always forces innovation and price wars. It also means there is an alternative. Bring on the tablets!

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