Tag Archives: android

Don’t be fooled – The Race for Mobile Dominance

When the US elections were taking place, there were a number of topics which caused the US public to either get really annoyed, or behind in support, however some of these topics were perceived as smokescreens to get people to invest their time in one matter, whilst the offending party was forging ahead with their real agenda.

Much the same can be said about the state of today’s mobile phone market. The announcement of the Samsung Galaxy S4 is anticipated mid-March 2013 and there is debate about the next iPhone (iPhone 5S). In either case, much conversation has focused in on the hardware specs and screen size.

What’s really important

Whilst having a processor that’s capable of handling function, storage memory sufficient to accommodate photos, videos, apps and music and form that allows the phone to be both of a quality build, handled comfortably and screen size appropriate to needs there are a couple of really important things to consider:

The Operating System

Given that we as consumers appreciate and are more critical of the User Experience (and User Interface), having an operating system that looks and feels intuitive and can be adaptable to your own use of the device is essential. Neither Android nor IOS are yet there, with IOS being somewhat now overdue a UI/UX refresh and Android being plagued by layers of OEM fluff (e.g. MotoBlur, HTC Touch) to confuse the user experience.

Another example of this shortcoming is being able to share to your preferred social network should just be an option, regardless of network. Typically being able to share content from an IOS device to Google+ is more difficult than Facebook – but why is that? I as a user prefer to be able to define my social networks, not be constrained.

[UPDATE: Andy Parry brings the Ubuntu mobile OS to my attention – see this – this is exactly what i’m talking about how the UX should be more like]

The Phone

I’ve mentioned this before; the mobile phone needs to be revamped totally in the experience; not only a good sensor, but also the ability to create more useful metadata such as learning different faces so that it would be possible to then retrieve all the photos of Uncle Dave (person metadata), taken in Chicago (GPS metadata) last Autumn (time/date metadata), near Sears Tower (GPS metadata).

Also the actual holding and storage of a phone needs to be considered; I like the iPhone 4/4S for its compact size, yet it still manages to deliver a solid feel and also very view able screen.

The battery life

It’s all well and good having a powerful phone with an amazing screen, but it’s totally negated if you don’t have the battery life. I feel almost certain that the maximum brightness on phones, whilst very appealing, is hardly used by many due to the battery consumption – effectively rendering it a sales medium. When we start to have efficient batteries and components that consume them, then we have a truly adoptable phone.

Conclusion

Of course, this is skimming the surface, but the point is, don’t be fooled by the processor power etc. Think about the application of the phone to you. Would having a Galaxy S3 vs. S4 make a difference  Maybe, if you’re an avid photograper. However if you’re just browsing facebook, youtube, etc. it may not be of discernible difference (depending on the battery life)… case in point I have an iPhone 4 – initially a temporary phone until the iPhone 5 came out, but after due consideration, cost and features were not quite enough to upgrade for upgrades sake, based off my use.

The State of the Smart Phone Union – iPhone 5, HTC, Motorola, Samsung et al

The iPhone 5 is launched 21 September 2012. It is anticipated to out-sell the iPhone 4S, yet reading the netisphere there’s some negative press out there about the launch – somehow, despite the leaking of multiple parts ahead of time, it wasn’t revolutionary enough.

Whilst it didn’t blow away the competition, it did provide enough reason for some to upgrade their phones – faster processor, widescreen, better construction and updated camera to name the main ones (IOS6 is a given and available for other models). Consequently the general reaction from Apple Fanbois was to either cry in their latte, blindly accept their given lot, or to critique the product for not being evolutionary enough (e.g. missing NFC). Droidbois meanwhile were laughing in their Mountain Dew because the hardware specs are a little underwhelming compared to many of their handsets.

To me this was all somewhat irrelevant. In my opinion, we’ve reached a plateau in smart phone hardware. It’s not a roadblock, just a natural pause in the way of tech things that let’s the market stabilise and then move on.

The Differentiator

The difference here is the software implementation – the iPhone 5 hardware is comparative enough with its’ Android competitors (namely Samsung Galaxy SIII, HTC OneX and Motorola Razr) to not really care. Without getting into a debate about the Apple custom processor vs OOTB Snapdragon et al., the software is going to be the thing that makes the difference for many.

When you look at the comparison of IOS vs Droid apps, there’s very little difference – there are some outliers (for example, iPhone has Hipstamatic and Siri whilst Droid has Swype and a swathe of apps that let you customize your android experience – to name but a few). It’s these differences that will drive consumers to the platform – and they’re looking for integration both at an app level, but also to their life. I’ve seen some beautiful apps but their function is limited (Solar for example), and to be honest, I’d rather have something a little more intuitive that could give me more insight into the weather and what it means for me.

So whilst the debate will rage on about IOS vs Android, i’m looking to the app developers to really push each platform and bring true value. In turn they will also push the limits of the hardware which will drive the handset manufacturers to go to the next evolution (or revolution – Google Glasses anyone?). That in turn will put pressure on the batteries, cameras, building materials,etc to go to that next level.

So when is iPhone 5S out again? 🙂

Android Overload?

Android robot logo.
Image via Wikipedia

The number of Android devices spilling from manufacturers begs the question what this means for both the platform (Google), the market (manufacturers) and consumers. It seems every week you hear of another Android device being prepared for launch and in doing so are we heading towards a critical mass?

Google creates a beautiful monster

Google produces the Android operating system (OS) and licenses it to manufacturers, such as Motorola, Samsung and HTC, who in turn don’t have the costly overhead of developing their own OS – instead they can focus on getting the hardware right and other aspects to their product.

On the flipside of this, they are at the behest of Google releasing new and improved versions of Android to keep the ever hungry “next-gen” public satisfied (“Wow! This new version is great! When’s the next one coming out?”). This also creates a legacy question for manufacturers – e.g. should Google releases a new version, this might not be totally compatible with their existing or older hardware. This risk is mitigated in a number of ways, including Google working closely with those manufacturers to ensure the roadmap for their product is understood.

Manufacturers = Android + YMDB?

With so many potential vanilla Android devices, some manufactures provide “value-add” layers on top of Android to become differentiators – or Yet More Dumb Bloatware (YMDB). For example, Motorola introduced “MotoBlur” on many of their phones which aimed to provide a means of streaming your social media site conversations (e.g. Facebook, Twitter). Although this sounded useful, the reality was that many users did not like this “feature” and so Motorola now play this feature down The reality is that many additions to the already very capable software can frustrate users. Mobile carriers take note.

So what is it that drives consumers to buy these products? There are several factors, all of which interact with each other, including consumer profile, retailer conditions (price, availability) and manufacturer features. Let’s delve futher into these before we see how they interact with the mass of Android devices.

Who are the consumers?

Those buying devices today tend to fall into one of several categories:

  • Budget Tech – these people tend to know their technology but want a device that’s fit for their budget; they know there will be reduced features (perhaps no camera or HDMI output), but really are looking for core capability (capacitive touch, good processor and memory). Extremely price sensitive.
  • The Casual Curiosity / Novice – these folks tend to get seduced by the hype and want to dip their toes in the tablet water. They are moderately price sensitive.
  • The Business User – annoyed with the thought of carrying unwieldy laptops and cables, probably hating the in-built trackpad mouse, these users want a device that lets them retrieve emails and work on documents efficiently. These folks are not extensibly price sensitive.
  • The Power User – Heavily invested in all things technology, these folks will want a powerful, fast device that’s very flexible (typically they will want to “root” the device, or customize it in some way that makes it more “unique” for their purposes). These people are somewhat price sensitive but will pay premium for advanced features.

Now we have a pretty good picture of the key consumer categories, let’s look at how they interact with the market.

Keep the Consumer hooked, keep the order sheet booked.

Manufacturers tend to focus on a number of key things, including:

  • How many units will I sell (what is the demand – and demand vs competition)?
  • What is my price per unit vs the competition price for comparable devices?
  • What’s in both mine and my competitors’ innovation pipeline (i.e. what’s next)?
  • What is my market share? (How much % of the market do I have?)

What Drives Price?

There are several factors including:

  • Exclusivity – how unique and desirable is my product (the more unique or exclusive products will drive their price up)
  • Features – What feature set does my device have (this can drive price up or down, depending on what features are available)
  • Competition – What are the competitive devices and their respective prices?
  • Market Share – Low market share devices might want to set their prices aggressively to gain more consumers – or have some strategy that lures consumers to their products; products with high market share should also maintain their prices accordingly to retain that share.
  • Production cost – Manufacturers need to make a profit so price their products so that a profit is determined at some point in the future.

When you put these factors together you get a very complex picture – each manufacturer is looking at all these different aspects to try and determine

Breakout of the Mobile OS Share; Source: Nielsen

Although Android commands the market share with 29% of all devices, because of its’ very accessible and successful adoption, many manufacturers are playing in this space

Android isn’t alone in this challenge; Windows Mobile – and specifically Windows 7 Mobile is starting to challenge the market – however there is still resistance to many users adopting the Microsoft platform for many reasons including dislike of Microsoft, being burned by previous Windows Mobile platforms, or just the perception of the OS.

The Difference is the Differentiator

Sounds obvious, but with perhaps little to differentiate products between manufacturers, it requires controlled innovation to succeed. Currently Motorola and Samsung are leading the charge by either producing new-to-market products (Motorola Xoom was first Android tablet) or enhanced products (Samsung offering high quality screens and dual core processors). As the market develops, these manufacturers will need to continue to develop their products to capture the market segments. This requires research & development funding which can only come from existing product sales, which in turn means they will have to charge a premium for their products. This can only be sustained so long as the brand equity is there and the consumer is prepared to pay that premium. With a glut of Android devices this may become an increasing challenge to maintain. Apple (and to some extent, RIM) face less of a challenge in this respect, yet need to keep at least in line with the Android innovations to retain their market share.

In Summary…

Mobile device manufacturers will face increasing challenges to maintain market share and fund / develop new products whilst retaining a unit cost which is realizable to the consumer. Additionally with network providers dropping their unlimited network plans, those devices may have to innovate in the communication space (e.g. reducing bandwidth requirements) which, especially in these increased economic sensitive times, would a differentiator that the price conscious consumer would respond to and help drive market share.

With Android as a platform being easier to adopt to a device, it begs question how will the multiple manufacturers provide relevant devices to the consumer and be different enough to gain enough market share and profit to be viable. I believe there will be three tiers that will emerge – namely, budget, mainstream and premium. Even then, those manufacturers playing in those spaces will face a great deal of competition. The difference then, is the differentiator.

More reading

Google Android 2.4 – What to Expect

Creating success for your product through hacking (or Product Marketing Conspiracy)

Have you ever thought about Jailbreaking your iPhone? Or homebrewing your PSP or Wii? Did you hack your Android phone to get the latest updates? Whether you have or not, there are many out there that have. But why do they do that? And what is this jailbreak/homebrew you speak of? This article aims to expose what hacking products is all about and possibly why manufacturers are missing the point.

Manufacturers create limitations

When creating products, manufacturers build in mechanisms which prevent or limit capability of their products. This is done for a number of reasons:

  • Safety: Prevent the system from being misused where it will perform outside safety parameters (e.g. “overclocking“)
  • Feature Control – They want to limit the functionality of the product – possibly so they can enable it later or introduce the feature in some other way/update (i.e. controlling how features are deployed)
  • Security – They want to limit access to the system to prevent tampering, bypassing of existing functions or plugging in extra ones.
  • Prevent Piracy – They want to prevent the ability to play pirated games, etc. on the device (typical of games consoles)

Hackers are evil, aren’t they?

Or so the Media would have you believe. Yes there are some rotten apples for sure, but there are also those out there that hack for good intention too. Generally speaking the purpose of hacking is to bypass or overcome one or more of the reasons mentioned above (Safety, Feature Control, Security, Piracy) but there are other reasons too; some want the notoriety that they were the first to break into a system. Others hack because they feel the limitations put on the product are restrictive.

You may be a hacker and not realise it…

Consider the humble MP3 player. A number of factors lead to its’ success such as portability, capacity, size, durability and also the fact it let you hack your CD collection by ripping any of the tracks into the MP3 format and then uploading them to any one of your MP3 devices.

Cars also have had many changes which have meant they too are hackable. Every car I’ve owned since 2001 has had the ability for its’ Electronic Control Unit (ECU) to be modified to either get more performance, economy – or both. On top of that, the burgeoning after-market business will allow you to replace many parts of your standard car, either to make it personalized to you, or to enhance it in some way shape or form.

The war on the home electronics front

Games consoles and phones have long been a target for hacking. When the original Microsoft Xbox came out it was soon hacked and people started to change it in ways it had never been designed for. A popular hack was to convert it to a media center by adding a larger hard drive, installing Xbox Media Center and an optical out – creating a true home theatre PC experience on the cheap (though not HD). The Xbox was (for its’ generation), a market leader and the ability to hack it made it more desirable over Sony’s PS2 product.

With the introduction of the Xbox 360, Microsoft decided to increase the security so that the system couldn’t be hacked so easily. As with most things, an exploit was found which allowed hackers to bypass the (local) security. There are also various exploits for the Sony PS3 which allow the user to take control over what happens to their console.

Going back to our Apple iPhone as well as the iPad and Android phones, people realize that these are very powerful platforms which have been (in their eyes) restricted by the manufacturer in some way and so will actively seek to hack and bypass security as they see it as their right that if they own the product, they should have it their way for their needs. As such exploits and hacks were found which allowed users to do what they wanted with the devices.

So why not just build “hackability” into Products?

Would manufacturers allowed “hacking” affects desirability? Going back to the  Xbox 360, Microsoft created a marketplace for people to re-skin their console with plastic shells that could be purchased. Whilst a good marketing idea, the actual desirability for this kind of hacking is minimal. The same goes for cars – the manufacturer often offers additional accessories with the vehicle which gives some degree of personalization (or a perception of it), yet in reality many folks will buy after-market parts instead.

So there are desirable hacks as well as non-desirable ones?

Absolutely! Some hacks make systems better for the end user – whether it be speed, appearance, extensibility. Simply put, manufacturing a product which has potential exploits to hacks or customize it in some way, shape or form, but that way isn’t documented, isn’t officially supported, perhaps is communicated as “we do not approve these changes” – but is coincidentally allowing the exploit could increase its’ chance to be desired.

Or to put it another way; if you let your product be hackable but you as a manufacturer do not condone it, you may increase your chance of market share because it’s viewed as underground and therefore increases its’ “coolness” factor – and thus your product gets notoriety.

So it’s easy right? Just make everything “hackable”…

What would happen if Apple offered a hacking tool for the iPhone that was charged a premium for? Someone would write a hack that did the same thing for free and they’d be the hero. Perhaps off the back of that Apple would offer them a job to help prevent other / hacks, etc. so everyone wins, but ultimately the  manufacturer hack tool could be viewed as too corporate and so people would try to work they way around it.

Again putting it simply, officially endorsing a hack doesn’t always win votes.

So what does that mean for the consumer?

There are pro’s and cons for the consumer with hacking a product; it can remove manufacturer liability, cause the life of the product to be shortened – or even break the product. On the other hand it can help make the product fulfill its’ potential.

When Microsoft release the Kinect product, folks immediately set to work to understand how they could use the product outside of its’ intended use. At first Microsoft made strong statements about how this was against the terms of use, but rapidly retracted the strength of that statement. People were starting to see how they could use the product for new ways such as 3D real time modeling and that this was pushing the boundaries of use – something more powerful that Microsoft alone may have considered- certainly in the short term.

Similarly the United States military showcased 200 networked Sony PS3’s that they use as one huge parallel processor. Hardly what the system was designed for but absolutely perfect for its’ capability.

In conclusion

If you’re thinking of going out and hacking every product you own that is hackable, don’t. Stop and think about what would happen if you did apply a hack – would you lose your warranty? Could you fix it if it broke? That being said there is good cause for some hacks, so definately research based off your needs and the risks.

For any manufacturers out there reading this… could this be your new marketing ploy?!

[ADDENDUM]

New article how a jailbreak can make your iPhone/iPad more secure

Windows 7 and T-Mobile G1 notes

Windows 7 notes

I got hold of a copy of Windows 7 PDC build 6801 (geek!) and installed it on VMWare last night. It’s a bit of a hog on my laptop so I didn’t keep it around for long but compared to vista it seems less intrusive. It’s an early copy so there’s not a great deal visually different from Vista, but from what I did see, it’s just OK at the moment. I’ll wait for another, more mature version before I make a longer evaluation.

It won’t work on VMW v6.0 but will on v6.5 by the way. I heard it also works fine on VirtualBox.

T-Mobile G1 notes

After looking at some of the forums the current major gripes with the product are:

  • The GMap GPS is not that accurate
  • The camera quality is terrible
  • The battery life is pretty awful (some ppl have to charge multiple times a day)

There are rumours and comments that there will be firmware updates to correct some or all of these – I think right now I would not want to own a G1 given all this. I am still reticent about an iPhone too because of the AT&T network.