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After over a year, the wait is finally over. We finally know something about Google’s phone OS aka Android. We still don’t know that much, but we at least know enough to find some really interesting alliances and rivalries brewing. As well as making some guesses about an interesting OS future.
We still know very little about the Android itself. We know it’s open source, Linux (but what isn’t these days?), and includes a base layer compatible with modern cellular networks and modern internet technologies as well as core applications. By providing the underpinnings and a new OS, Google is competing with Symbian (and its S60 / UIQ interfaces), Microsoft, Palm and others who create mobile operating systems. Some of these companies are more threatened by Google than others.
When we take a look at the Open Handset Alliance (OHA) partners – the people who have agreed to work with Google on this project – we see some interesting members and some interesting absentees.
It is not surprising that Nokia is not on the list. As the developer and champion of S60, Nokia already believes it has an open OS that carriers and developers can customize. Why would they want to join Google when they already have the dominant smartphone (by marketshare)? What is interesting is that I suspect Nokia finally feels threatened by an alternative operating system. I say this because ST Microelectronics (STM), Nokia’s big chip partner and a company that Nokia has supported in many ways, is the only major chip manufacturer absent from the OHA.
The Symbian vs. Android battle may also explain Sony Ericsson’s absence from the OHA as well. Sony Ericsson is the primary investor in UIQ, the other Symbian based environment. Though we’ve been hearing that Sony Ericsson are at least investigating additional OSes and so it possible they aren’t as vehemently against Android as Nokia. UIQ has a tiny portion of the OS market share so SE probably isn’t quite as committed to it and it’s unlikely with such a small market share that Android would hurt UIQ sales that much.
This Symbian vs. Android split becomes more interesting when we look at who chose to join the OHA. Motorola’s membership isn’t that interesting. Motorola is in limbo and they are trying out every OS and platform out there hoping if they throw enough spaghetti at the wall, something will stick. No, what’s interesting is that DoCoMo and KDDI are part of the OHA. Fujitsu and a few other Japanese manufacturers have been using Symbian to create phones for these carriers. Both of the Japanese giants have talked about Linux in the past, but neither really did much. But if both these carriers are committed to Android, Symbian could lose the only partner it added after the originals – Nokia and Sony Ericsson.
I do not think the absence of Palm and RIM are shocking or important. Palm is putting all its eggs in its own Linux basket and unless that basket looks like a bright, revolutionary future, they will have dug themselves a grave too deep to get out of. RIM too has all its eggs in one basket, but currently that is a more successful basket and will carry them through at least the next few years. But below i explain why i don’t think that will guarantee RIM’s success far into the future.
Though a rivalry between Symbian and Android is shaping up, there will be none between Microsoft and Android. When we look at the handset and carrier partners in the OHA, every one except KDDI is a Windows Mobile partner. HTC, who until today only worked with Microsoft will be producing Android handsets. Samsung, LG and Motorola all create very successful Windows Mobile devices too. T-Mobile has worked very close with Microsoft and many of the other carriers have long standing relationships with Redmond as well.
I do not believe these carriers and manufacturers are looking to replace Windows Mobile with Android. I believe these carriers are looking to add Google to their list of services they build phones for. Here’s what I strongly believe is going to happen, and why i think Symbian is far more threatened by this move than Microsoft.
I’ve been talking to alot of people lately who live their entire online lives inside a browser. They don’t use desktop mail. They don’t use a desktop RSS reader. (many do use desktop IM clients, if they IM, but this is sooo easily remedied.) Each of these people has a primary platform of choice – Gmail and Google apps, Microsoft Hotmail or Exchange, Yahoo! mail and some combination of other applications, or even just Facebook.
Talking to another friend doing research, he’s learning that not only do teens and young 20 year olds live their lives inside the browser, they don’t even want to download applications. Requiring a download is total non-starter for this generation. These people are also the most mobile-centric of any generation so far and they want access to the same data and applications they have on their desktop browser on their phones. Only a browser model doesn’t work so well for doing things on the phone (even in amazing browsers like the one on the iPhone).
Google and Microsoft have figured this out. Their platforms bring the desktop, desktop browser and the mobile device together. Data is synced and shared between all 3 and feel familiar between the three (or at least i’m assuming they will once we see what Android looks like). Although people are not loyal to a any carrier or handset manufacturer (especially in this day of WLNP), they are loyal to online service providers. their email address and the apps they use online are as much a part of them as their phone number is. The new gOS desktops for Walmart reinforce this on a desktop level. Google is approaching this from all devices the same way Microsoft is.
Nokia has taken the opposite approach by announcing Ovi. Instead of aligning themselves with one online platform, Ovi allows Nokia or websites to align themselves with Nokia phones. in cultures like japan where many young users barely ever use a PC outside of work, this would be appropriate, but i don’t think this phone-centric view works in the west, where desktop platforms are what users make an effort to choose and associate themselves with.
i think if we look out a few years, we will see young people in the west choosing phones by what desktop platform it is associated with – google, microsoft, apple, even facebook if they continue to grow. (aol has jumped the shark and i fear yahoo! is a non-starter.) you will by a phone to match your online life because that will allow you to access all the things you do no matter what device is available.
Reuters has collected reactions from all these parties, and i think that what each says only reinforces my predictions. Microsoft says “we already do this,” and they do. Nokia, is overly confident of their market dominance and doesn’t see Android as a threat. while UIQ, which doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on, can only say more competition can only help. Reuters too ignores Palm and RIM in their follow up.
I stopped into iPhone Dev Camp today. I walked in and was shocked to see hundreds of developers staring intensely at their laptops. I honestly didn’t expect so many people, but this is the bay area, and so it is Apple’s and Web 2.0’s home turf. Most the people in attendance had iPhones, but they didn’t seem to be using them. You could tell these were the type of people who generally don’t leave the house without their laptop. They also, for the most part, were not mobile developers.
The mobile interface and development world is small enough that everyone in it knows or at least recognizes each other, especially when it comes to online and not Java development… and i did not recognize a single soul in the place. so I went out to the organizers are expressed my shock at how into their laptops everyone was – both because this was the first dev camp i’ve ever attended (i often attend “bar camps” but those are much more social, even though they involve no bars.), and because everyone seemed much more interested in their laptops and full computer sized applications than mobile applications.
And that’s when the organizers stunned me. they weren’t surprised by the computer-centric makeup of the crowd at all, because the organizers didn’t consider an iPhone a mobile device. “It’s not a mobile device,” one said, “it’s more of a really powerful browser in a small computer.” And that view seems to be the one shared by most the attendees. I went back around and checked on the types of applications these folks were working on. They weren’t mobile centric. They didn’t consider the on the go nature of the iPhone or the fact that mobile UIs usually call for less information and less input. They were trying to squeeze full desktop applications or full desktop websites into the phone. The preliminary results were appalling in many cases. (but they were preliminary!)
But not all web developers are looking at the iPhone like it’s a MacBook mini. I was browsing the iPhone Application List and came across MoviesApp. It is, I would say, my dream movie times application. It considers all the capabilities of the iPhone so it integrates with the media aspects of the iPhone, Google Maps and more. And it also requires a minimum of input and clicks to get the information you want, formatted exactly how you would expect on your iPhone. I’m glad that despite today’s experiences that at least some people understand the iPhone’s highly mobile nature.
Now what i’m really hoping is that these same developers who are making well thought out web applications for the iPhone realize that there are millions more Windows Mobile and S60 phones out there that can advantage of their hard work; and they expand their development to allow these millions of users to experience wonderfully designed applications as well. The one thing I was hoping the iPhone might do is get more people to develop truly well designed mobile web sites, instead of forcing us to use their unwieldy desktop sites or their ultra low bandwidth sites that fail to provide enough information.
We have made every effort to keep a rational distance from the iPhone hype – the daily news bits, the predictions of its success or failure, and the complaints about lack of certain features or how the features it has work.
We’re not here to repeat any of that. You’ve read it enough times already. Instead, let’s talk about who we believe Apple is building the iPhone for, because it seems many analysts have not come to the same conclusion as we here at Phone Scoop.
Since its unveiling, the majority of analysts and pundits have compared the iPhone to smartphones like those from Palm, HTC and Nokia. Part of this is due to the fact that like those phones, the iPhone runs a known operating system – in this case OS X – and it was believed programmers could write applications in the OS’s native language instead of using Java, BREW or some other sandbox environment. These folks, along with many hopeful Mac developers were disappointed to learn the iPhone would not run third party applications at launch.
The iPhone’s price of $500 or 600 is also more in line with that of smartphones that the average mass market phone. It is true that most high-end feature phones launch at a lower price when sold with a contract. However some phones such as the Black Motorola RAZR launched at over $400.
Recently some people have begun comparing the iPhone to corporate-centric email devices like the Blackberry (as well as Windows Mobile and Palm smartphones) because like those devices, the iPhone is capable of sending and receiving email as well as browsing the desktop web. These people tend to be surprised that a $500 phone wouldn’t have native support for Microsoft Exchange.
I don’t believe that the iPhone is designed for smartphone users – at least not smartphone users who pour over the huge libraries of software available for their device and customize it. These people represent a fraction of the cell phone subscribers in the US and abroad. They do represent a larger percentage of people willing to spend lots of money on devices and software, however, which is why so many companies pay attention to them. But other manufacturers are devoting plenty of attention to these users.
I don’t believe that the iPhone is designed for corporate email addicts either. The number of people who use Exchange is far outpaced by the number of people who have “standard” email accounts. Even most corporate users have their own personal email accounts with Gmail, Hotmail or some other POP or IMAP service. However, as with the smartphone crowd, corporate users often spend more money on devices and calling plans than others, so great deal of attention is devoted to them.
But what about everyone else – all those people who comprise the vast “mass market”? These people usually just get a free or inexpensive phone, but they have been convinced to get something more expensive and / or more advanced in a few cases. Often they will spend more if a phone has an impressive design – one that is well beyond the ordinary. Other times they will spend more for features that they use all the time and want in their mobile phone.
When mass market users upgrade to one of these more expensive devices, they aren’t looking for every feature under sun, or the option of every feature under the sun. They are looking for a good, solid, friendly version of the feature(s) they want.
The SideKick’s success among IM addicts is an excellent example. It appealed to people who used the internet and all of its common communication channels (im, email, web) every day. It had a unique form factor and a unique set of features. And even though it hasn’t been a huge success, the SideKick has gotten many subscribers to switch from a simple feature phone to a more advanced handset. In many ways, it paved the way for the iPhone.
The iPhone’s target audience is not smartphone “geeks,” nor corporate “suits;” it is every man, woman and child who doesn’t want to spend a dime on a phone because there’s no reason to. Learning to use a phone, especially an advanced feature phone or smartphone is difficult. Most high end phones are usually packed with features that nobody except the carriers want. And most phones are not designed with any real sense of style – they are either derivative or just plain ugly. And so with the iPhone, Apple is giving all of these users who normally don’t want to spend a dime on a phone a reason to spend 5000 of them.
If analyst reports are correct, Apple had trouble finding an American carrier for the phone, and are having even more trouble finding a European partner. Many are chalking this up to rumors to that Apple is driving a hard financial bargain, however i believe they are overlooking the fact that the iPhone does not have any advanced features that the carriers want. Instead it has advanced features that users – regular mass market subscribers – want.
The day the iPhone was unveiled at MacWorld, a number of my friends – most of whom are free-phone users – immediately contacted me asking when it was coming out and telling me they were starting to save their pennies. They were getting one. While geeks were disappointed with the lack of 3G support, these free-phone users were enamored with the simple access to features they use, be it on their phone or on their PC. Normally these folks get frustrated with even the most basic functions like 3 way calling or texting. They loved the fact that they could easily sync their own music and videos onto the iPhone and not have to struggle or wind up at the carriers’ mercy. And applications like Safari and Google Maps appealed to them – they use a browser and Google maps all the time.
Today’s announcement that the iPhone will also ship with a stand-alone YouTube application sealed its place as a mass market device. With brands like Google, YouTube (which, yes, we know is also Google), and iPod Apple knows exactly who it’s aiming this phone at – every 18-35 year old out there. These brands, and the features they represent, are what many mass market consumers are looking for in a “smart” phone.
Apple is not taking any chances communicating its message and attempting to educate its target market. Instead of talking about specs and technology, Apple is showing off software and interface. These are the things that matter to regular users. They are showing off every day scenarios that your typical web surfer and cell phone user might find himself in. Surfing the web, playing music on an iPod, deciding what to eat, calling friends and sharing YouTube videos and showing how the iPhone works while doing all this.
And these users who care about YouTube videos and think threaded SMS that looks just like iChat is the cutest thing since Hello Kitty do not care about 3G or Exchange support or whether the iPhone can run 3rd party OS X applications. They care about being able to figure out their phone’s interface, about battery life, and about the phone’s style. And this is what the iPhone is trying to nail.
We cannot say if Apple really really did nail what matters yet. After all the iPhone hasn’t launched. All we can say is those are the type of features that Apple has expended its efforts on. The iPhone still could fall short of the mass market’s expectations. But that won’t be because it doesn’t support Exchange. I promise you that.
Many phones, either because of their manufacturer or their software, offer features that other models don’t. And for today’s example, it’s not because of patents. I’m talking about software. For instance, the Sidekick offers an unparalleled IM experience, the Blackberry offers one of the most hassle-free email experiences, and the Treos – both Palm and Windows Mobile – are the only phones that offer well implemented threaded SMS. (The Blackberry displays threaded SMS too, however it is a bit inconsistent, and since the SMS are not label with the author, reading them can be confusing.)
It’s unclear who decided that SMS, like email, should be displayed in a flat list organized by how recently they were received. At some point in time I’m sure this made sense – either because it was the only known paradigm or because developers had not figured out any other ways to display it.
However unlike emails, which are usually long and content heavy, SMS are short and typically involve a number of exchanges between the two (or more) participants. Rarely does one SMS get sent off and that is the end of the conversation.
This is especially true outside the US and Korea, where text messaging often supplants voice conversations altogether. Though initially people adopted using SMS instead of voice because of cost, now in many places it is simply how things are done, regardless of cost. In the US an unlimited messaging plan can be had cheap on most carriers, while voice seems to be getting more expensive. Even without this new cost advantage, people here are switching to SMS-centric communication.
This trend has been growing long enough (for years, actually) that companies have had plenty of time to catch up with it. And yet none of them have changed their SMS applications from the email inbox style to the IM chat style. Yet the only three companies that have an SMS style text application developed it that way from the very start. Blackberries, Treos and now the iPhone have all had threaded SMS since early in their history, if not since their beginning.
Manufacturers and OS designers have had years to observe the positive reactions to this method of SMS display. In the mean time, even email applications have caught up. Gmail displays mails back and forth on a single subject in a unified, threaded view. Both Apple Mail and now Outlook make attempts to thread messages as well. So despite the fact that email applications are larger, have more overhead and have been around longer, their designers have realized the value of the conversation and adapted. But the designers of mobile phone software, where the primary purpose of the device is conversation, still refuse to acknowledge this.
After using threaded SMS on a number of review phones, I firmly believe that any phone that doesn’t have is less usable, and thus less desirable than any phone that does. This could be one of the reasons many mass market trend setters are turning from Sidekicks and the like to Blackberries and Treos. It isn’t because they’re sexy or stylish, it’s because they display SMS right (and do email well).
Although Apple is by no means the first manufacturer to have threaded SMS, they may be the ones to put it on the map, simply because everyone – most of all every manufacturer – is paying attention to the iPhone. We can only hope that they don’t spend all their time focusing on the hardware technology, but also investigate the software. Manufacturers need to make this change.
Personally, I have decided I can’t wait another generation or two for threaded SMS. I investigated all the third party options for threaded SMS on S60 devices and was disappointed by all 3. But there are better options for Windows Mobile devices, and both the iPhone and Blackberry Curve have native threaded support and are sexy and interesting. My next handset will be selected from this group of options.
I never understood patent law very well or even knew what a patent troll until I started writing for the Feature. Back then a company called neomedia would constantly give me a hard time whenever i wrote about mobile barcodes (especially in Asia) because they claimed to own all the patents on this idea and swore that they did it first. Neomedia is still around, and still making these same claims. But neomedia never made anything, they bought the intellectual property from cuecat (remember them?) and then put up a web page with examples of how their technology would work. Supposedly Neomedia finally has a working barcode reader now, but of course so does every phone manufacturer outside the US.
Like Neomedia with barcodes or NTP with wireless email (though slightly less so), Qualcomm has become a patent troll with wireless technology. Qualcomm owns all the patents on CDMA, now granted their founders actually invented CDMA and have used it in actual products since the beginning. so they are not squatting on this patent. and it was the GSM association’s own stupidity for developing WCDMA that created Qualcomm’s first patent squabbles. This has now led to Nokia and Qualcomm duking it out over WCDMA and GSM and Nokia giving up on CDMA altogether. This has also led to Qualcomm’s selfish royalty pricing that makes CDMA handsets too expensive for developing nations when compared to GSM ones.
Now Qualcomm is starting to enter official patent troll territory by going out and buying companies that may hold important patents on next generation wireless technologies like OFDM and MIMO. Thanks to these purchases they claim to own over 1000 patents on 4G technologies. Make no mistake about it, these technologies are critical to 4G the same way CDMA turned out to be the basis for all 3G. OFDM and MIMO are not just part of UMB and LTE (CDMA and GSM’s next gen technologies, respectively) but also to WiMax.
Qualcomm is getting cocky now and saying that because of their patents, UMB will rule the world. and then has the gall to talk about how them owning a few patents for 2G technology is keeping the market safe from Nokia’s monopoly! Although it’s possible that some flavors of WiMax could escape Qualcomm’s patent grasp, it’s pretty much impossible for LTE to do the same because of OFDM. Nokia and other GSM proponents may have worked around MIMO with their new SDMA technology, but it’s less likely they can circumvent qualcomm’s OFDM claim. but should they even have to?
OFDM is actually a pretty obvious, though very difficult to describe concept. and the supreme court has recently been going on a rampage against obvious patents for the exact reason being demonstrated here. companies can patent something obvious then use that to extract money from other companies who were equally aware of this obvious solution.
i admit, i’m a technological communist. i’m plenty happy for qualcomm to design chips and base stations and what not and make money that way – i’m not a total communist. but making money by trying to control the spread of an idea with the help of expensive lawyers just hurts everyone. It retards the advancement of technology and significantly holds back access to it in poorer economies.