Tag: open handset alliance (Page 2 of 4)

The Power of Open: Why Android is Big

A couple of weeks ago, I gave a keynote at Droidcon, the (so far) largest Android conference, in Berlin. I spoke about why brands should look at it (I posted it here). Brands care for volume. They’re not necessarily interested in small segments of the market.

The iPhone is not an exception, it is rather a powerful reinforcement of that idea: in spite of its niche, it provides ROI (and warm, fluffy PR as well as content execs) when you compare the cost of the activity (creating an app) with its effects. The conclusion is however not that the iPhone is such a big driver in itself but that EVEN the iPhone (with its very limited scale) generates positive ROI.

The mobile phone market (and its associated content offerings) is extremely fragmented. A plethora of platforms (J2ME, BREW, Symbian, Blackberry, Windows Mobile, iPhone, Android, a couple of proprietary ones, some with middleware, now Bada and Maemo; wonderful…) and distribution channels (traditionally carriers, and lots of them, plus D2C distributors like Thumbplay, Jamba, Zed, Buongiorno, etc and now, increasingly, app stores: everything from the App Store to Android Market, Ovi, Blackberry App World and countless others). Tough for brands: they do not really care for a subset of users consisting of owners of J2ME devices on, say, Orange UK (no offence, Orange).

The ecosystem is tough to address as every mobile game developer will tell you. Which is why the iPhone was such a huge game changer: one device on one platform with one distribution channel globally. And all presented well, easy to use, great UI and users get to content with very few clicks and without unnecessary warnings). It is also always connected (rather than only connected in theory) and hence opens the doors to a new way of consuming, promoting and using content, specifically interactive one such as games and apps. Everyone else scrambles to follow but they struggle because it is such a different way to look at the world (well, different when you are a network operator or handset OEM). And because of this, competition on this platform is now fierce, very fierce.

But now then, why would one support Android? I mean, Gameloft just said it sucks (well, commercially at least). Why do I think it will be (is?) big? And why do I think one should look at it now rather than, well, later?

For starters: it took Gameloft a full 3 days or so to realize the mess it made with its announcement to cut back Android; and swiftly issuing a statement that said pretty much the contrary… But, heck, we’re not running everywhere where Gameloft runs, do we?

Android’s potential is enormous! Not because Eric Schmitt, Google’s CEO said so. But because it is O.P.E.N. This gives it a potential that is beyond all others: it enjoys wide support from vendors (HTC, Dell, LG, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, Huawei, Motorola, Acer, Creative and countless more), carriers (it’s a little like the who’s who: China Mobile, China Unicom, NTT DoCoMo, Sprint, KDDI, Softbank, T-Mobile, TIM, Telefonica, Vodafone) and has a very powerful sponsor indeed in Google. The result is a huge number of devices (cf. Wikipedia page here), and they will grow. They will grow faster than Apple can because of the law of big numbers. Even if Apple may retain an edge on running the overall sexiest package but it will not withstand the overall numbers. Incidentally, the afore distinguishes Android – for the time being – from Symbian (which is now also open source): it lacks a convinced sponsor at the moment (Nokia seems to be wavering in its support) and also seems a little clunky (no open can be so strong so as to support a weak or rather outdated proposition). However, with its massive install base of 280m+ devices it could rebound if they fix this.

Android stretches further though: it is not limited to mobile devices, it goes across to eBook readers, set-top boxes, netbooks, you name it. Users increasingly swap between screens. As a content and/or service provider, you want to be with them, be of service to them, wherever they are. They should not have to worry, you should! Android makes this relatively easy for you.

The Power of Open is tremendous. It provides for (theoretically) infinite growth. And you want to be there. And you want to be there now: They say, a tidal wave of apps is coming. You won’t catch the train once you can see it… 😉

Do not forget: people (and brands) want to reach people. Full stop. They do not necessarily want to reach people who happen to have an XYZ device running the ABC OS on the carrier X in country Y! Apple is wonderful (I am an avid iPhone user and do not plan to change – well, yet) but it is a niche. And if you have business to do, you may want to look beyond that niche.

Android 2.0 a Motorola Exclusive???

There have been reports (referred to by this here) pondering if Motorola grabbed an “exclusive” deal with the Google-led Open Handset Alliance for Android 2.0 on its Droid (or, in Europe et al, Milestone) handset. There does not appear to being any formal confirmation of this but it was mentioned that, anecdotally, other vendors (and fellow members of the Open Handset Alliance) like HTC, LG, Kyocera and Samsung were still deploying version 1.5.

They quoted industry analyst Ross Rubin as to why Android 2.0 debuted on a Motorola device:

[…] There could be several reasons. Verizon’s subscriber strength and more direct competition with AT&T and the iPhone may have led it to push for Android 2.0 to be more competitive. Or it could be simple product development timetables. Moving forward, HTC will want to put its Sense user experience on top of Android 2.0, which requires development time. Google wants a healthy Android ecosystem and a competitive Motorola contributes to that.

The article went on to refer to the respective releases for 1.0 and 1.5 (both to HTC). However, one might argue that, for the first two releases, there was not much harm done in working more closely with HTC as they were the front-runners on deploying an Android phone, so that the concerted marketing buzz etc might have been justified. However, now that there is a large number of vendors deploying, one might query the compliance of the term “open source” with such exclusivity arrangements.

It also highlights the dominance Google has in the Open Handset Alliance which might, longer-term, lead to assertions that Google is in fact using the open source road as a cover to push what is effectively an OS largely driven by them. I am not implying that it is and a healthy ecosystem with multiple strong is important in particular for the launch of a new OS in a space so full of powerful multi-nationals but there is a fine line to walk in order to get it right.

Licensing & Open Source / Presentation

Here’s the presentation I gave at Droidcon in Berlin. It is also available here on Slideshare.

Unfortunately, Slideshare omitted the beautiful font I used (Chalkduster). Sorry… 😉

Update: a version with the original font is now available here (I finally figured out that it would preserve it when saved as a PDF. Doh!)

Motoblur & Android Fragmentation: The Follow-Up

Yesterday, I blogged about Motorola’s Motoblur UI, which adds an additional SDK for its specific APIs beyond the standard Android stacks. I reckoned that this might mean more fragmentation, which would push it a step closer to the nightmare that was/is J2ME.

I received two quick reactions to this: one reader commented that this was only bad if you wouldn’t have good tools and compilers. To him (@tederf), I would respond that, while it is certainly true that good tools reduce the friction, raise efficiencies and alleviate overall pain, the smallest common denominator is always just that. In my previous companies, we used to produce up to seven or eight different J2ME builds in order to maximise performance of our games on the huge spread of handsets. Could we have done with one build? Probably. Would the result have been great? Almost certainly not!

Anyway, the more interesting reaction came from the good folks at Motorola themselves. They reckoned (via Twitter; they are @motoblur) that:

with all due respect, I feel you’ve misunderstood motoblur, and android fragmentation concerns are a wee bit overblown.

Now, now. I offered them a guest post here in order to explain this further. I have unfortunately not yet had a response (which I take, applying Twitter attention spans, as lasting silence). But I still wanted to use the opportunity to elaborate a little more on this (and, no, I will not lament Moto’s lost opportunity to feature their wares on this humble site).

To clarify a couple of things outright:

  1. I would be delighted would I be mistaken (and note that I am not a techie, so this is a distinct possibility!).
  2. I would be equally delighted would Motorola manage to regain some of its lost ground. The world clearly would be a better place with another strong manufacturer regaining old strengths (although maybe with better UI this time around – which Motoblur certainly seems to offer [see picture on the right of the Motorola CLIQ!).

But let’s go back to the general issue of Android fragmentation threats (the fact that I pointed this out – again – en cas de Moto is of course purely coincidental).

So let’s dive in: with open source software, there is always the intrinsic possibility that fragmentation will occur. Why do people customize it? Because they can! vendors, developers and operators that make up the Open Handset Alliance (which releases Android) can tweak is in whichever way they like (or “need” to) and for any number of reasons: to protect IP, to optimize performance on their network or for certain devices or simply because they feel they need some distinguishing factors, some degree of uniqueness. The result can be, however, as one analyst puts it that

there will be multiple flavors of Android, all of them incompatible with each other. That, in turn, necessitates different versions of each application or updates to accommodate the entire device ecosystem. On the whole, such activity negates the cost efficiencies inherent in the idea of a standard, open operating system, and potentially makes the Android Market a confusing place to shop for widgets.

And that’s what you call fragmentation. Interestingly, there were rumours that Google had made the Open Handset Alliance members sign “non-fragmentation agreements” but it seems that this is either not true or not enforceable.

Others point out that HTC, Samsung, Dell, Verizon, (may I add Motorola?) all have phones on the way that run on different software to the others. Reports of version conflicts, lack of backward compatibility, etc, etc. I mean, hell, there is even an “alternative” Android app store (with 223 apps as of tonight)… Sounds familiar?

Dear Motoblur, if it is different with your SDK, please enlighten us! I am sure I will not be the only one applauding!

Image Credit: http://www.visionmobile.com

More Fragmentation: Android & Motorola’s Motoblur

A new round of fragmentation looms. It is something I have been fearing for a while now: that OEM (and carriers) would make use of the open source of the likes of Android and LiMo to produce their very own flavour of apps. So after Vodafone’s 360 announcement (with customized LiMo storefronts, etc), Motorola announced so-called “signature apps” from a number of developers that are all delivered through Motorola’s new “Motoblur” user interface, which

is based on the Google-backed Android platform for mobile systems. Motorola [will] offer an additional SDK for its APIs beyond what is available for Android.

And then it said that

Over a period of time–we’re not there yet–we’ll allow the APIs to be available so people can develop many more applications than we can think of ourselves, but it’ll take us a little bit of time to mature ourselves to a place that we could open up APIs.

Ouch. An additional SDK. Which is not yet there yet. Whilst the Motoblur UI looks actually quite nice, this sounds suspiciously like another round of walled gardens, onerous internal and external QA, fragmentation and pretty much a fall back into the traps of the J2ME uber-customized world where one needs to support hundreds of devices for a commercial roll-out (with the trouble of course being that, all too often, that work meant that it would no longer be commercially very sensible). Oh dear…

It makes one want to call out for a quick advancement of HTML5 with Gears and all, so that one won’t need apps after all. The issue of connectivity and usability, etc would of course still be there. Such despair…

droidcon: Android Conference, Berlin (4 Nov 2009)

As Android continues to roll out (at least 18 devices by year-end), the ecosystem around it starts to sprout, too. To highlight this, an Android-centered business and development-oriented conference, Droidcon, will hit Berlin on 4 November, and I will be giving a keynote on licensing models and open source (full programme here).

It looks like a very exciting event, so I’d like to encourage everyone to come (there are 4 parallel tracks, so you do not have to listen to my ranting…)! Register here (and, no, I do not earn a commission).

I’ll post a little preview on what I will be talking about more specifically ahead of the event, so stay tuned.

Android Wave rolls in

No, this post will not muse over Google’s new Wave announcement today. I rather wanted to give a brief update on the wave of Android devices that is promising to roll in over the course of this year. I had posted on this before (e.g. here and here), and Google, at its Google I/O developer conference gave a hint (yes, funny enough through Yahoo! News…) on the size of the deployments we can expect this year. And its not bad at all: 18-20 Android phones this year tells us Andy Rubin, Google’s Sr. Director for Mobile Platforms. The article then goes on to quote a number of analysts on earth-shattering insights but let’s leave these aside.

Android’s advantage was always going to be two-fold:

  1. As an open-source platform based on a Linux kernel it would be a) cheap and b) stable. This is invaluable for handset manufacturers as it reduces their development costs for new handsets significantly. I have no hard numbers but the rumoured ones are fairly high…
  2. Because it is a stand-alone OS rather than a combo of hardware and software (as the iPhone or – at least for the time being – Blackberry devices are), it will be used and deployed by a plethora of manufacturers rather than only one. And, well, this results in many more devices in the market (think MS DOS vs. Apple OS).

And this is now starting to show…

In terms of increase of “smart” phones (and these will, I would suggest, in the future include models we would today class as “feature” phones) this is seriously good news. How a slick and versatile operating system can spurn extended use of a mobile device beyond voice and SMS was impressively shown by the iPhone (8% smart phone market share equal 43% of web requests). Others are catching up (cf. here and here) and the more is the merrier when it comes to providing devices consumers actually can use. Avoid the term of “educating the consumer”; the consumer is quite educated but if people need a customer service helpline to even open the box (courtesy of a cider ad in the UK), one must not be surprised that people do not use it. Ease of use rules and well-made operating systems support that.

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