Archive for category Mobile
The launch of Windows Phone 7 is fast approaching and if the initial impressions of the OS is to be trusted, it is likely to be a credible account from Microsoft in the mobile space. The OS borrows heavily from the user experience found on the Zune HD which is both a pleasure to use and can become easily superior on a mobile phone. I have used both an iPod Touch and a Zune HD and I must admit that the latter presents a superior user experience. As personal as all preferences, I am intrigued by dynamic aspects of the Zune HD user experience. For example, it is quite easy to find new entries to device because they are prominently displayed and hence easy to reach quickly. Also the device is capable of remembering up to the last 6 artefacts that you played including media as well as games and radio stations that you have listened to recently. I have not come across such an offer on the iPod Touch though subsequent upgrades to iOS have brought better organization on the device through universal search that is so far lacking in the Zune HD.
Recently the number of applications available to Zune HD users has steadily increased; all the applications available on the Zune HD thus far are not frivolous applications – there is no iFart type application (yet). While that speaks to the value of the application available on the Zune HD so far, any (if not all) of these applications have been not been developed by third parties. All of them remain Microsoft applications; given that some of them may rely on other existing web services like Facebook and Twitter but they retain Microsoft as developer. How is the imminent launch and subsequent release of Windows Phone 7 going to affect the third party application count is a matter that will become apparent with time. Microsoft is certainly not a player to be discounted as they have been platform and tools vendors for quite sometime and there are is a general consensus that one her strength lies on rallying developers to its tools and platforms.
However, Windows Phone 7 is Microsoft’s attempts to get back into the smartphone mobile operating system game. It is an interesting play as well since Microsoft is coming into the game with what is essentially its desktop and server business model – charging OEM licenses to use its platform. Based on noises made by senior Microsoft officials in the media, they believe that paying for Windows Phone 7 is an advantage as the license fee is virtually a guarantee that any of the licensees will not be sued for intellectual properties infringement. I am yet to catch wind of a case that has resulted in clear cut victory for whoever is suing though what has been evident so far is that players in the industry end up counter suing each other. However, if the main attraction of Windows Phone 7 (at least to OEM) is in its lack of any likely law suites then it becomes a platform of choices for licensees whose business models are not strong enough that they can’t protect themselves from litigation and/or they are not aggressive enough to push products to market that dare to challenge the status quo.
Other players in the smartphone industry have advantages that are unique to each one: so far Apple by far as the best laid out infrastructure (the hardware, iTunes) and the accompanying processes and people that have contributed positively to their bottom line.
Google’s environment is increasingly becoming more robust as additional phones are released and the platform continues to make progress by leap and bounds. Android will face growing pains as it tries to maintain its open nature while balancing it with the fact that the operating system is maturing thus issues of backward compatibility become ever more pressing. People have voiced concerns about fragmentation of Android; a valid question to ponder but it also calls for the OEMs that support Android to ensure that the chances of fragmentation are reduced.
Windows Phone 7 is an important project for Microsoft has computing is steadily shifting towards mobile devices. However, third party application development and environment remains important for the success of the platform. Based on the challenges that Microsoft has faced in the smartphone operating system space, it becomes acceptable to postulate that they are in this for the long term. This will hopefully translate into better applications for corresponding devices like the Zune HD.
Most regulators work on the premise that the more there is competition in the market place, the better choices and better quality there are for clients. That notion has been going through my mind for the last couple of days as having too much choice can be debilitating. From a basic consideration, more choices ultimately does lead the manufacturer/provider to try to differentiate his product/service from his competitors so in the end the end users benefit. However, the struggle to improve the product is shared across all the competitors in the industry so it is reasonable to expect that all products that target the same space would sooner or later reach the status of being good enough for the customer.
It is at this point then that quality parity causes choice to become more of a big problem for customers than a blessing. Such a scenario is currently playing out with smart phones – the staggering number of operating systems is simply amazing. Most of the increasingly leading platforms – iPhone and Android – are adding significant features with every release. It is too early to proclaim Smartphone operating systems mature so it goes beyond copying what a competitor has implement but instead implementing features that make the operating system better at serving end users’ needs. On a feature for feature basis, there isn’t enough difference between an iPhone and Android device.
Sure, the iPhone has a more comprehensive support structure around with the iTunes and the content therein but then again such a support infrastructure is being setup around Android and almost every player in the mobile phone industry wants to have an app store.
The Android ecosystem interesting as it is virtually an attempt to replicate the Windows model on mobile devices – a single platform that is installed on hardware manufactured by different companies. If this analogy is taken further, you will note that on a purely functional basis in, there is not much difference between a Dell, Toshiba, HP, Acer etc laptops or desktops. So far the analogy has not played out that way since Google’s Nexus One didn’t do so well in the market while the Motorola Droid is by the far the most successful Android device so far with regard to the number of units sold.
Another side effect of competition is increased feature creep which ultimately makes a product remarkably more complicated by deluding its raison d’être. A good example in this instance would be Microsoft Office. Think of Microsoft Office 2003 which had the old school menu systems. In an application like Word, there is an incredible wealth of features and capabilities hidden in those menus and few people can reach to them quite easily. In my experience, I have come across word documents that have a table of contends that was constructed manually even though Microsoft Word has had the ability to automatically generate and keep a table of contends updated. However, because of feature creep more of the software’s capabilities are hidden from the user making their accessibility and continued use more complex even for easy task. Still on a related idea, the fact that reaching a feature needs the continued need to navigate a hierarchy of menus, means that the full power of the application is not made easily accessible for daily and repeated use.
Microsoft Office new ribbon interface was meant to bring more of the suite’s capabilities to the users’ attentions so as to enabled repeated and continued use of what the product offers. Has it worked? I am not convinced but in some ways it is an improvement over the old user interface.
In closing, the competition in Smartphone operating system need to be kept sane and focused on delivering real and effective benefits to users instead of just piling on the features which may eventually get in the way of a more enjoyable and productive use of the platform. I must admit that so far Apple seems to be working on this as a deliberate objective in the evolution of its operating system. On the hand, the fundamental model that the Android operating system follows makes it a tough sell to keep that level of focus and in the process ensure a more coherent platform experience for users, developers and network operators alike.
Finally Google talks about its plans for the cell phone industry and the rumors around the web about GPhone and other similarly related speculative projections turned out to be an multi-national alliance of key players in the mobile phone industry though not all of them. The Open Handset Alliance comprised of some 34 companies at the time of its announcements and this alliance is build around Google’s Android platform. The members of the alliance are expected to release Android based equipment by sometime next year.
Google is primarily a service company and its bread and butter remains search from which it gains revenue through advertisement. Expanding this model to cell phones and other mobile devices would expand the reach of Google Ad platform and capabilities. While this is obviously the eventual target of Google’s mobile strategy, it has to do battle with the traditional way in which players in the mobile industry have done business. The players in the mobile industry tend to be generally restrictive of how their networks and devices are used: they have such control over their equipment and services that they are able to effectively lock out third party developers as well as bar any users who do not comply with their terms. Also of interest is that the Android platform puts Google in competition with existing smart phone software providers like Microsoft (Windows Mobile), Nokia (Symbian), Apple (iPhone), Palm (Palm OS) and RIM (Research In Motion, makers of the Blackberry). At this point the Android platform has not yet been released but there will definitely be comparisons between the capabilities available in the Android relative to its more established competition.
Increased mobile devices capabilities mean that the use of the internet will be pervasive amongst those who will own a cell phone as their first gateway onto the information super highway. Google seems to be making the right moves with the Android platform and making it open is definitely a move that makes sense because it allows for innovation. Innovations and pushing the envelope is important for the key population of the world who will access the internet primarily through their mobile devices; these people are likely to be living in the emerging markets and the model that the cell phone industry has used the world over may not be effective to realizing revenues from mobile services subscribers in the emerging markets. As with all analysis of how technology will evolve and diffuse over time, it is only time that will tell the true and accurate story of what becomes of initiatives such as the Open Handset Alliance.