Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Android May Finally Be Ready For Prime Time

Once upon a time, just about everyone owned a Motorola RAZR. In fact when RAZRs were popular, Motorola and their industrial design were the player to beat in the cell phone industry. A lot has changed since then: the standard cell phone market has declined significantly, smart phones instead have become ubiquitous, and a company by the name of Apple created a phone...I think I've seen some things about it.

This is not to say room doesn't still exist for the once mighty Motorola, however. As I wrote a few weeks ago, Apple's proclivity to claim openness but remain closed has allowed the king of free, Google to slip in the door by creating their own mobile computing platform...Android. Like the iPhone when in its infancy, Android was plagued with lukewarm receptions but buoyed by the hope of what might be. After all, a lower cost open source mobile platform with a supportive developer base could be just what device makers like Motorola need to compete with leaders Microsoft and Apple....right? Fortunately for Google and its partners, it looks as though the platform is finally catching up to the hype. A major development is the release of Android 2.0, which boasts a number of impressive features including full native Microsoft Exchange support, Facebook integration for contact management, and better performance...generally placing Android on par with the iPhone OS.

What does this have to do with Motorola? You might have had your Sunday afternoon television viewing interrupted with an odd commercial...one that started like an Apple ad, but certainly didn't end like one. Motorola is releasing a new device based on Google's Android OS called Droid, and this commercial is the start of Verizon and Motorola's new marketing campaign targeted squarely at Apple and the iPhone. What's more, it sounds as though Motorola's new phone may be the beginning of a resurgence for the company. "The most impressive phone we've used since the iPhone" sums it up nicely. Combine that with the fact that this device carries a keyboard and Verizon's more reliable network (something iPhone users crave) and you may have a winner. If this is true, it means that the software and hardware finally exists in concert to make Android a real and robust mobile computing platform...and it may be time to begin thinking of the smart phone market as a three horse race.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Do Google and Apple Need Each Other?

To say that the once fruitful relationship between the jewels of Cupertino and Mountain View has become strained is an understatement. First, it was the unveiling of Google's new mobile computing platform, Android, that ruffled Apple's feathers. Next, it was the announcement that Google would soon be entering another of Apple's markets with the development of their Chrome OS. This led to the ouster of Google's CEO from Apple's board, and a subsequent investigation by the FTC for "remaining interlocking directorates". As if that wasn't enough, there was then the "small" issue of Google Voice's entrance (and immediate exit) from Apple's App Store, leading to a full FCC investigation and very public "he said, she said" between AT&T, Google, and Apple. The past week has shown that the two companies are quite obviously distancing themselves from one another, with Apple acquiring Google Maps competitor Placebase, and today's announcement of Google's partnership with AT&T competitor Verizon to further drive penetration of its Android platform.

Strategic partnerships between two large entities are often built on shaky ground to begin with, in particular when those companies are in the same industry. It doesn't help that both Google and Apple are growing at alarming rates, and I suppose one might argue that some infringement upon each other's territory might have been unavoidable. It begs the question though, does either company benefit (or at least lose less) from the bickering and potential loss of the partnership? Apple once again seems destined to fight the battle of platform dependancy against platform agnosticism, and much like it was when Apple and Microsoft battled in the early days of personal computing I think Google may have the upper hand. They are not tied to a specifc business model, a specific audience, or a specific hardware/software platform in most instances. Google has the ability to plug their solutions into a extraordinary amount of places, allowing them to weather the loss of a partnership like they have with Apple...even if that partnership provides them with hooks into arguably the most popular mobile device available. Apple, on the other hand relies more heavily on quality rather than quantity. They depend upon the control of the entire stack of a product to succeed, and I fear will have a much harder time finding pieces to fill in the holes that Google leaves open in their product base. Regardless of its history, Apple seems destined to fall into the same interoperability trap set by Microsoft many years ago. It's ironic that despite their corporate motto, it may be Google that plays the villan this time.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Which Google Apps Will Make it to ChromeOS?

Today I received an invite to Google Voice, the new service that aims to put your phone where Google wants everything else: in their cloud. The service actually seems quite useful, if it wasn't for the fact that it's not easy these days to change your number in friends' contact lists...but that's not the topic of this post, only the genesis. As I navigated to Google Voice through their Apps pages, I was taken aback at the sheer number listed there. I mean, there are over 40 different apps and services in the Google stable these days. 40. When did this happen? This got me thinking, with Google's announcement of a new lightweight OS...which of these will make the cut when ChromeOS goes prime time?

No Brainers:
I don't care if Larry Page or Larry the Cable Guy is managing this product (see what I did there?). There's no way these aren't making it into the final version of ChromeOS in some form or another.

Chrome (Duh)

They're in...right?:
It's like Tiger at the Master's. He's gonna be in the last group on Sunday...right? It's almost a sure thing.


More of a Chicago Cubs situation. They're good, but just don't seem to have the pieces together. Yes, I'm going to keep the sports analogies rolling...deal with it.


Fat Chance:
Seeing these products in the final version of ChromeOS is about as likely as a BCS playoff. I don't care what the President wants.


We still don't know much (or really anything) about the new OS, but it stands to reason that Google will heavily leverage their existing portfolio of applications and services. To what extent, I'm guessing not even Larry Page...or Larry the Cable Guy, knows for certain.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Social Media and the Culture of Change

It's been a turbulent 2009 for many social media stalwarts. Facebook has battled users over it's new Twitter-like interface, and its broadly bemoaned change in terms of service. After last year's SXSW introduction, Twitter has exploded in usage, growing to 19 million visitors a month. More recently News Corp, the parent company of MySpace has ousted the current executive team in favor of new CEO Owen Van Natta (resulting in this hilarious screenshot). Flickr and Digg continue to outpace many in the field while the popularity of delicious and linkedin have begun to wane. In a world where social networking covers everything from uploading videos to youtube, to rating your respective internships...it seems that in this space disruption, turbulence, and above all: change, is the norm.

For individuals, the matter is somewhat cut and dry. Which of these sites provides me with some kind of value? Which and how many of these sites do I want to use or are able to use efficiently? Obviously, with the immense growth in this space keeping track of the latter can even be difficult if not impossible, but aggregators like ping.fm and FriendFeed are stepping in to help you wade through the madness. I, for one believe that social networking's usefulness, as well as the usefulness of the internet in general, lies not only in the value provided to users, but the overall aggregation and organization of data from multiple sources into easy to find resources. The internet has grown to an enormous size, and even search engines like Google are finding it more and more difficult to provide you with the information you want (Enter the idea of semantic web technologies, and answer engines).

For businesses, the obvious question is "how can these technologies drive growth and more importantly, revenue?" Unfortunately, answering this is a bit like hitting a moving target. Forecasting and postulating around stable technology environments is often difficult, but doing so in a world where Monday looks nothing like Friday...well, that's daunting at best. The good news: it's easy to recognize that the strength of these systems is the ability to organize enormous amounts of people around ideas, interests, likes, dislikes, where they live, etc. What's more, that ability to organize globally (something that was historically nearly impossible) is free to leverage in a wide variety of ways. For instance, California based Benziger Winery provides their Facebook friends with information on current sales, harvest schedule, and events through status updates. Cisco's CTO publishes updates on her activities and the activities of her company through her Twitter account. The bad news? Falling behind here puts you at an exponentially increasing disadvantage against those who are embracing it. The difference between the winners and losers is not only leveraging a cost efficient way to market and communicate...but the ability to control that message rather than someone controlling it for you.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

3.0 Firmware Lists New iPhone, iPod Touch Entries

As soon as developers get their hands on new firmware, we always seem to learn something interesting hidden in all the ones and zeros. Boy Genuis today reported that multiple new device ID references were uncovered in the 3.0 firmware released to developers this week. This brings more weight to the idea I mentioned yesterday that new hardware was likely arriving this Summer.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

iPhone 3.0 Teased Today in Cupertino

As mentioned, Apple announced a major revision to the iPhone/iPod touch OS platform today and detailed many of the new features headed our way this Summer. Remember all the complaints people had about copy and paste? Gone. MMS? Done. How about push notifications? No longer. Engadget of course blew out their coverage of the event today (I pounded refresh over my lunch hour too...it's OK), but an overview of new features is below:

  • Peer-to-peer connectivity over Bluetooth
  • New fee based system for in game purchases and add ons
  • Google Maps API opened for apps...AND YES: TURN BY TURN NAVIGATION.
  • The dock interface has been opened up and can now be utilized by apps (QWERTY keyboard undoubtedly forthcoming)
  • Sweet, sweet push notifications...but no background processing
  • In game voice, streaming video and audio implemented
  • Cut, copy and paste
  • MMS - Allows sending of location, contacts, etc.
  • Stereo Bluetooth
  • Spotlight search from a new home screen
  • TETHERING. Sweet lord above we get tethering
  • New app - Voice Memos will allow you to record reminders
  • The Stocks app is updated for news and a landscape view
  • New calendar features - CalDAV and .ics subscriptions

Based on this release and last year's events...I think it's a pretty safe bet that we will see a hardware revision coincide with the official release of 3.0 this Summer. As Nilay Patel has mentioned, Apple's made it fairly clear that they want a consistent platform for developers...so it could simply be a spec bump and slightly different form factor. The weather has just turned warm here...but suddenly I'm ready for June.

Monday, March 16, 2009

iPhone 3.0 Preview...Tomorrow

Tomorrow, Apple will be outlining the new features in its latest major revision of the iPhone OS. I'll stop by tomorrow evening to give my thoughts...