Android 2.2 Brings Mobility to the Mobile World

May 27, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Technology 

Today Google launched Android 2.2 which, in this humble blogger’s opinion is a leap frog from anything else out there.  Besides the obvious smarter smartphone capabilities like the photo gallery, customizable home screen, better exchange support, etc. , it turns your phone into a real mobility powerhouse.  Hotspot and enhanced bluetooth make your phone a gateway to mobility for all other stuff you may want to carry.  I know what you’re thinking, PalmPre had that already.  But Android is mainstream, supported by multiple vendors, and the 2nd best selling mobile OS (after RIM’s blackberry, not iPhone).

The hotspot feature that essentially turns your phone into a Starbucks without the coffee – WiFi hotspot using 3G as back-haul.  3G may not have enough capacity, but remember 4G is coming to a city near you.  The point is, my phone becomes my only truly connected device via the wireless wide area network, with a single data plan that allows any other device that I might carry to connect to the Internet through it, without extra payments.  As lame as the unconnected iPad is, it is the cheapest out there (before the gPad comes out).  My Android2.2 smartphone  will make it connected and I do not have to pay extra data.  With my laptop I can browse the web, download a book, send email, you name it, even if I don’t have a broadband adapter.  My phone is the broadband adapter.

Enhanced bluetooth means that I can now have an ergonomically perfect set of devices to manage my mobile life.  I can carry my phone in my pocket or briefcase and use my headset or car kit to dial, answer an make all phone calls.  I can even play music through my car’s fancy audio without plugging it in.  You can envision new devices that use these capabilities to get connected.  A camera, for example can upload to Picassa or YouTube directly without having to connect directly.  In-car GPS or portable can also connect and get faster first fixes, maps from your phone or PC, etc.

Again, this is hardly new, but the combination of all this features in Android 2.2 brings true mobility to the mainstream, and will definitely put a dent to iPhone’s reign, that is until Apple decides to add these features too.  The question that remains open is how will wireless service providers embrace a single data plan?  Today they all charge for “tethered mode” which is really what we all use in substitution of a broadband card; we don’t buy a card, but we still have to pay for the extra data plan.  If carriers do away with this extra charge, they will create an explosion of data traffic that they are most likely not ready for.  Sprint in the US has created a plan that allows all this for a fixed rate.  Sprint also has the only 4G phone available today and with its partnership with Clearwire they have a shot to regain market share even if it’s only to geeks like us.  Soon others will follow, though.

Soon 4G, better back-haul from your wireless service provider, and an Android 2.2 (or equivalent feature set) can make every device a connected device.  The ubiquitously connected world is getting a push.

Enjoy.

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iPad, gPad, or MaxiPad?

May 12, 2010 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Business, Technology 

Well, it seems that the world is ponying up for what I call the third device unlike I had posted before.  Verizon appears to be working closely with Google on a better Pad.  At the same time Google has been posting videos of how Chrome OS will run on a tablet (I like tablet or slate better than pad for obvious reasons).  The thing is “with Verizon” not “supporting Verizon”.    My fellow reader (singular) this could really challenge the emperor’s Pad.

Let me tell you why I think that’s the case:  As lame as the whole category is in this blogger’s humble opinion, an unconnected (i.e. no cellular support) tablet is the lame of the lame.  It brings me back to the 90’s when you had to go home or to your office to get internet access.  Sure, the 3G iPad is about to debut, but @ $600+ i really think the market will be limited.  Now, if our friends in Verizon Wireless agree to pardon the Nexus One debacle and decide to subsidize the gPad, imagine what will that do to the price.  Neither Verizon, nor Google have to make money with the hardware, which really does a job to Jobs (sorry, couldn’t help it).  Estimates of the iPad cost put it at $250 – $300 US, add a 3G (or maybe a 4G – ooooh – radio), we could be seeing a street price in the $400’s.  Still hefty for a useless device, but less than $600+ for the emperor’s Pad (ePad?  now I’m pushing it).

But wait, there’s more!  Chrome Os is the word on the street, not Android.  What that may mean is a real processor capable of Flash (not Flash lite) and real browsing.  Yes, my friend, I believe it will be x86 based which means that every website you can go to on Chrome today – which is virtually any website known to mankind and robotkind – is accessible to your gPad.  Not even Palm’s (future HP’s MaxiPad) running WebOs can do that!  Apps anybody?  Yeah, sure, real apps with Java or the like, not fake widgets that look pixelated.  Content?  Did I mention it is Google?

So there it is.  As much as I hate the category, a subsidized x86 based tablet may be the ticket to ride.  BTW, Adsense must be having a ball with this post!  I’m sure the ads are funny albeit unrelated. Do comment.

Enjoy.

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Ma Bell teaches us a lesson

April 21, 2010 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Business, Finances, Technology 

In the shadow of Apple’s kick-butt quarter, AT&T reported results that made the market yawn.  “Yeah, yeah, you sold 2.7 million new iPhones in the quarter, added 1.9 million subscribers for a total of 87 million (1 in every 3.5 US residents uses AT&T), reduced churn, and increased ARPU (average revenue per unit) 3.9%,  and a 30% increase in data revenue; so what?” is essentially what Wall Street said.  I don’t know about you, but a company that still manages these numbers in a market that is essentially 100% penetrated is impressive – sure, a 6%+ dividend helps .  But the really impressive, albeit insignificant number to this humble blogger is the “connected devices” increase of 1.1 million to a total of 5.8 million.

AT&T has close to 6 million non-phone devices on the network.  Now why is that even relevant, my fellow reader (singular)?  Simply because there are a lot more non-phone devices and a lot more things out there that need to be connected than there are phones or people.  Yes, they may not be sexy, play music, browse the web, or even wash your car, but they essentially do everything else.  Beyond the obvious (Kindles, iPads, etc.) these things are everywhere and in desperate need to be connected.

Take your car, for example.  If you have Onstar it’s already connected (not with AT&T) so you know some possible apps.  But imagine a world in which you go to Google Maps, plan a route and squirt it into your car’s GPS!  Or simply download the movie you want your kids to watch from your home DVR.  Your electric meter one day will be connected to so you can monitor your consumption real time (Ok, Ok, i don’t know why would I want to do that either, but you can).  Every thing out there can be connected and can benefit from the internet.  But where things really start changing is with Enterprise Applications.

Next time you receive a FedEx or UPS package go to the web  immediately after you sign for it and voila it says received, in real time because the device where you signed is connected.  The copier service personnel can consult schematics and order parts in real time when his/her machines are connected. Or the copier can ping someone when it’s running out of toner; the end of the  empty copiers or useless service visits.  Making every device a smart device has endless  applications that are starting to look affordable.  Ma Bell’s humble cellular non-phone numbers are starting to show growth.  The ubiquitously  connected world is getting started.  Make sure you are ready for it.

Enjoy.

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Mobile OS Inflation

February 20, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Technology 

During this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the world’s most important mobile trade show, everyone seemed to think that a new OS (Operating System) is the way to go.  It is unclear to me what makes them think that.

First, I’m a bit tired of the overuse of the OS nomenclature.  Few deserve this title since they are really adding proprietary layers on top of Linux.  Actually most do, even the beloved Android and iPhone.  They should all be called “platforms”.  However that is not the cause of my outrage. No.

Second, who does the branding for these things?  Symbian, Bada, MeeGo, Mobiln, MeeMo, LiMo, Else, and others in addition to the successful iPhone, RIM, and Android.  My favorite name in a sarcastic kind of way will have to be “Windows 7 Phone Series”.  Redmond finally got something that does not deserve bashing throughout the blogsphere – a la Vista – and decides to use it everywhere.  I get it, kind of makes sense.  But, my fellow follower (singular) Windows 7 has a nice ring to it.  Windows 7 Phone Series does not, I’m sorry.

Third is that application developers have better things to do than to port their app to the “OS” of the day. And who is thinking about users? Thanks to this inflation you will have to scavenge the world to find the right app if you made the mistake to buy a platform that didn’t quite make it for whatever reason.  Now that is an outrage, but not the point of my post.  Suffice it to say that there will be plenty of casualties in these OS’s flood.

Amidst this Mobile OS inflation there is one that in my opinion deserves mention:  MeeGo.  Sure, the name sucks but I’ll have to give it some points for obscure geekyness.  A shape-shifting 9000-year old alien from the planet Marmazon 4.0 has to attract the dormant or not so dormant geek in most smartphone users, from the Blackberry suits to the Android hoodys.  Let’s just hope it doesn’t suffer the fate of the CBS sitcom who didn’t get the chance to finish a single season mostly because it wasn’t any good.

Anyway, MeeGo is worth mentioning not because of the fact that it is a joint venture between Nokia and Intel.  MeeGo is a platform that promises to bring smartphones to the 2010’s by using an x86 architecture instead of the perpetual ARM.  x86 architectures are ubiquitous in the PC world whereas ARM architectures have their humble roots in the embedded world (you know watches, sensors, WiFi radios, set top boxes, routers, cellphones – Ok, not so humble).   ARM uses RISC – Reduced Instruction Set Computing – vs x86’s CISC – Complex Instruction Set Computing.  This difference has allowed computers to run more complex software and algorithms so they can behave like, well, computers.  ARM on the other hand is fundamentally more power efficient, which explains its huge presence in mobility.

Until now the lowest x86 has gone is Intel’s Atom family (which drove the netbook “revolution”).  What is so new about the Atom family?  Low power consumption in an x86 processor.  At the same time, Qualcomm has been touting its Snapdragon 1 GHz+ Arm based systems – base for the reference design of my favorite name Windows 7 Phone Series – and now powering some “smartbooks” (again with the naming).

You see what’s happening under the hood?  New product categories are being launched, OS inflation is flooding the mobile world but at its real core there is a tremendous collision happening.  ARM getting more powerful while x86 is getting more efficient.  This brings us back to why MeeGo is so significant for the industry.

x86 based phones are out there but none has really made a mark basically because they haven’t offered anything new.  In this blogger’s very humble opinion if Nokia-Intel get it right (which is a big “if”) this could be the next revolution in mobility: the power of a real computer in the palm of your hand.  With html 5, 4G networks, ubiquitous 802.11n WiFi,  comparative shopping, location based services, “billions upon billions” of webpages, will now be available to complex software thanks to CISC based smartphones.  By the middle of this starting decade we will all wonder what was the hype behind all these “clever-phones” that could barely browse the web.  We will remember them as we now think of the first color Mac’s.  Very cool but just a sign of what’s to come.

Enjoy.

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Who needs a tablet?

January 26, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Technology 

Amidst some of the most spectacular speculation in the history of electronics (even for Apple) every manufacturer is launching some kind of a tablet device, a keyboardless computer with a big screen.   This is not a new concept.  I was recently playing around with a Compaq Concerto – that incidentally had a keyboard, a pen and a mouse, courtesy of a colleague, that was build 17 years ago.   Since then the allure of using the most common way of written communication (a pen) has been just a promise.   This year Steve Balmer, Microsoft CEO announced HP’s “slate” back in the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas in a setting that looked more like the Mac commercials than a new category launch.  Dell, Lenovo, and others will soon have one too.  The big question is why?

Acording to ABI Research the world will consume a staggering 450 million laptops in 2012 and [gasp] 650 million smartphones.  If you take into account replacement cycles, that is how fast people buy a new one the results are pretty revealing.  A laptop, on average get replaced every 3 years, which means that roughly 1.35 billion people will buy one within 3 years.  A smartphone, thanks in part to carrier subsidies, is replaced every 2 years, meaning 1.3 billion people will buy one.  Of course, they are both the same people!  The question is, are those 1.3 billion geeks (what an amazing number buy the way) ready for a 3rd device and all the annoyances (chargers, accessories, batteries, breakage, data plans, network connections, etc., etc.) that come with it?  Not so much.

Unless: a) It substitutes a device you already carry.  b) enhances a device you already carry, c) it changes the way you interact with technology or d) it is so damn amazing that you have to have it.

A)  Substituting a device you already carry is kind of lame.  In order to do that it has to do everything the old device did and more.  Kind of what smartphones did for the cellphone.  But it comes at a price.  That is the approach Microsoft and partners in crime are taking with teh “convertible” laptop.  Ever since the Concerto, that approach has failed miserably.  The enhanced user experience that touch brings does not justify the extra cost.

B)  This may be the key to the tablet success.  What if you could share your smartphone’s dataplan but have access to a bigger screen when you need it?  Charge it and use the same accessories and apps your smartphone or your laptop uses but the experience is so much better due to touch, weight, a better screen and better interaction with your media.  In other words, your laptop becomes your “content creation” device and your tablet a “content consumption” alternative with much, much better experience.  The question still remains, how much is that worth and will manufacturers and carriers make money?

C)   Changing the way you interact with technology needs a huge amount of disruption.  One approach, suggested here, is to just make it part your your life and go after the time people spend with media in a different way.  That is all good, but IMHO, it will still limit the penetration.  As I have suggested in previous posts, the internet is desigend for a screem, a keyboard, and a mouse.  Last I checked, there are no plans to change that any time soon.  Be that as it may, media convergence – your pics, videos, blogs, magazines, books, news “papers”, etc. – in a single point may make sense, but again , at what price?

D)  Lastly, an amazing device will drive some crowds, especially from the Silicon Valley sweethart even if there is no use for it, like the Newton or Apple TV.  This unfortunately is very nichy and I doubt Apple, Microsoft, HP, and others will be making such a splash for a niche.

One could argue that the Amazon Kindle, by far the most successful of these form factors (which by the way is expected to sell some 6 million this year, puting it in the category of niche for geeks), has it right.  Mainly because it is designed to read books.  Anyone that has played with it can see why.  Great battery life, great form factor, light, and a brilliant eInk display that is the closest thing to paper that is powerd by a battery.  But the key genius of Amazon is not that the device is brilliant, is the business model.  Buy a book and voila, it gets delivered to your Kindle without having to worry about a data plan, a monthly bill, or extra charges.  It is still a 3rd device, but it substitutes the book, magazines, and newspapers we used to carry around.  THe lesson here is subsitute something you carry today and make it simpler, better, and cheaper (at least over the long run).

The question is what will the tablets strategy be?  It is tough to say, but as geeky as I am, I will wait before I splurge for the $500 – $1000 tablet plus an extra data plan.  For once, a “revolutionary” gadget does not excite me that much.  Is it a sign of aging or just a sign of the times?

Enjoy.

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