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Dave Michels
David Michels holds 20 years of telecom hands-on experience, starting with IVR systems to Fortune 100 operations. Currently President of...
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Dave Michels | October 22, 2009 |

 
   

Android Anigma

Android Anigma Will Apple and its iPhone, for the first time, need to play defense in the smartphone category?

Will Apple and its iPhone, for the first time, need to play defense in the smartphone category?

The first Android phone was launched just a few months after the iPhone. Given the iPhone's amazing success, it's easy to forget that the iPhone was actually a much riskier gamble. Apple had never made a cell phone before, and its prior attempt at a PDA, the Apple Newton, was a failure. Apple launched the iPhone at a record high price, on only one carrier with a two year contract--and launched the smartphone without a keyboard. To protect the phone and network, Apple created a heavy set of restrictions for developers and subjected all applications to review. Conversely, Google took a much safer strategy with its Android platform. Android had proven smartphone executive talent with experience from Danger (a company later to be acquired by Microsoft). Google relied on proven hardware partners to manufacture the phone--insisted on a keyboard as with the proven Danger and RIM phones, and placed few restrictions on developers. The Android phone also offered seamless access to the popular Gmail/calendar services.The Apple iPhone was launched in July 2008 and the first Android phone (Google G1) was released in October 2008.

A year later, that gap seems much larger. During the iPhone's first year, Apple heavily marketed the phone with advertising, software and hardware improvements, and price drops. The application selection continued to swell along with its installed base. In contrast, Android took most of the year just for a second model to arrive, and now recently a third model on a different carrier. The iPhone outsold Android and offers significantly more applications.

But the situation may be about to change. It would indeed appear that Android is coming to town this Christmas 2009 and will enter the mainstream in 2010. The past two weeks have been a blur of green announcements. Below, the summary of Android phones from Wired Magazine's "12 Phones Strong, Android Army Mobilizes for Explosive Growth":

* Motorola Cliq (T-Mobile / Available October 19) * Motorola Sholes (Verizon / Available October 30) * Samsung Behold II (T-Mobile / Holidays 2009) * Samsung Moment (Sprint / November 1) * Huawei Pulse (T-Mobile UK / Available) * HTC Hero (Sprint / Available) * HTC Tattoo (Vodafone UK / Available) * HTC Magic /myTouch 3G (T-Mobile / Available) * HTC Dream/G1 (T-Mobile / Available) * Dell Mini i13 (China Mobile / Confirmed, Release Date TBA) * Acer Liquid (Unknown / Confirmed, Release Date TBA) * LG GW620 (Unknown / Confirmed, Q4 2009)

(This is already dated, new model rumors are rampant, Dell Streak, a Philips phone, Firefox releasing an Android browser...)

iPhone Killer? No way no how, but likely a viable alternative. None of the available Android phones appear to be able to beat the iPhone experience. But they all offer things the iPhone doesn't. Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal reviewed the Motorola Cliq and said, "So far, the king of this new [smartphone] field, in my view, remains its pioneer, the iPhone." After all the iPhone is on its third generation and the new crop of Android phones represents technically a 2nd generation wave, but in reality the first model for most manufacturers. (Mossberg was generally positive on both the Motorola Cliq and the HTC Hero in separate recent reviews).

Apple/AT&T recently lowered the iPhone price to $99, the likely reason being Android. iPhone users are incredibly loyal for three reasons: 1) It is a good product, 2) Two Year Contract, and 3) Appstore. Just like buying songs and moving them to your newest iPod--most iPhone apps purchased on today's model will work on tomorrows model. The Appstore, a few bucks at a time, effectively increases the cost of switching platforms in the future. Therefore, a $99 phone and a marketing campaign around applications is a reasonable defensive strategy.

But Walt Mossberg didn't address some of the key complaints Apple iPhone users have that Android specifically targets:

1. Choice in Carriers: This will likely change, but so far hasn't. If you don't like AT&T or if AT&T coverage is not suitable, there is no app to fix that. [By the end of the year, Android phones will be available on at least three of the top 4 carriers in the US].

2. Keyboard: No iPhone model offers or intends to offer a QWERTY keyboard. People who do a lot of text (email, SMS, MMS, etc.) find this frustrating. (The original G1 and expected models from Motorola and Samsung offer keyboards).

3. The Appstore: The Appstore is the only way to add applications to the iPhone. There is no way (legally) to install an application without 1) Apple's consent, 2) Apple's knowledge, 3) the Appstore infrastructure. This is simply an unheard-of model in any modern computing platform. [The Appstore for Android (Android Market) has no censorship, and applications can be installed without going through the Android Market].

4. Apple: Though it would seem to be a minority group; there are some that don't like Apple. (The list of manufacturers for Android phones continues to grow and includes; HTC, Motorola, Samsung, Acer, Dell, and LG).

5. Proprietary Computing: Open source/platforms are stronger than ever before. Linux, Asterisk, Firefox, Chrome, Wikipedia, Apache, Ubuntu, Wordpress...Android. The iPhone and all things Apple are highly proprietary and controlled. (Android is open source.)

These reasons, even further enhanced by multiple multi-million dollar advertising campaigns, could give Android a pretty strong presence in mobility in 2010.

Microsoft Mobile Killer? That isn't beyond reason, but not because of Google, but Microsoft itself. Just prior to the iPhone, Microsoft enjoyed a solid smartphone leadership role with multiple models available on multiple carriers along with seamless integration to Exchange (which the iPhone didn't offer). That was then. Today the iPhone offers integration to Exchange and a better web experience than Microsoft. Trying to catch-up, Microsoft released its first major update to its Windows Mobile platform. But take a look at GigaOM's recent coverage summary:

Upon launch, Windows Mobile 6.5 couldn't have received worse reviews. Some of them are so mean that even I am feeling bad for Ma Windows. Here is a sample of what folks said about WinMo 6.5.

* Engadget: Microsoft's not promising the world with Windows Mobile 6.5, nor are they delivering it--it's very much a stopgap, complete with duct tape, bubble gum, and Bondo.

* Gizmodo: Windows Mobile 6.5 isn't just a letdown---it barely seems done.

* Bloomberg: New Windows phones paint lipstick on a pig.

* Mobilecrunch: Windows Mobile 6.5 is a spit and polish job on 6.1--nothing more, nothing less. Every single change in Windows Mobile 6.5 feels like it was made by a team of homebrewers or modders, rather than a huge corporation with truckloads of money to blow on one of their flagship products.

Throw in Microsoft's recent accidental publicity stunt with Danger, a disastrous upgrade that crippled services for nearly a week. To the point T-Mobile allowed contract cancellations and provided $100 coupons. It all may be too much for Microsoft to regain a mobility leadership position for quite some time. The next opportunity is Window Mobile 7--expected sometime next year.

RIM's Blackberries? RIM has responded to Apple's new model very well. RIM made a blunder with their first keyboardless phone; the Storm--but has generally followed suit to Apple's raised bar. Their version of the Appstore concept is relatively limited. But otherwise they did an excellent job innovating their product line. They offer a wide range of models on all major carriers. Blackberry phones are generally less expensive, do email well, and offer what Apple won't--a keyboard. They have long been a favorite with corporate IT--and offer excellent Exchange integration.

It seems Blackberry and Apple in cellular are similar to the PC and Mac computer commericals. Blackberry phones are not as fun, but they offer a solid reliable experience and meet the needs of many. Blackberry users are a loyal group, so a three way race between RIM, Apple, and Android is likely.

Android's Biggest Challenge: Itself Some of the characteristics that give Android its greatest opportunity are also holding it back:

1. Name Recognition: The iPhone has become synonymous with Smartphone. Blackberries are known for their Email and keyboards. Android? Carriers don't market Android, they market specific phones such as the G1 or the My Touch. All these phones have their own identity. The HTC Hero was the first (and not last) to introduce its own GUI--it is not obvious that the Hero and G1 are even related. It is clear that every iPhone is related.

Android did offer multiple software updates named, in alphabetical order, after desserts. Few people can list any feature differences between releases Eclair and Donut. It also isn't clear if user-purchased applications make the journey to new phones as they do within the iPhone family. App portability is a bigger challenge for Andoid developers as the various models offer such divergent hardware (screen size, resolution, keyboards, processor, etc.).

2. Keyboard: The G1 was the first Android phone on the market and it had a keyboard. Virtually every model since hasn't. The new Motorola Cliq will have one, but Mossberg wrote: "My biggest gripe was with the physical keyboard, which I found cramped and hard to use. The top row is too close to the bottom of the screen and, on the bottom row, I kept hitting the symbols key when I was aiming for "M" or "N." So I found myself constantly resorting to the virtual on-screen keyboard."

iPhone fans that wanted a keyboard settled for soft keyboards and learned to like it. But Keyboards remain desireable to many. Check out Engadget's review of the Hero's soft-keyboard. "Google's touch keyboard has been completely dashed here in favor of HTC's iteration, and that's a good thing... to an extent. The keyboard is certainly usable--even good sometimes--but it's hardly a competitor to Apple's onscreen QWERTY, and not even in the same universe as a physical keyboard." This was an obvious differentiator opportunity, but most Android models failed to seize it and instead poorly imitated the iPhone. It appears RIM and Danger are the only companies capable of designing well liked mobile QWERTY keyboards, and neither intend to offer an Android phone, for obvious reasons.

3. App Selection: Application developers follow the base, and that base is on iPhones and RIM phones. Plus Apple's development environment is relatively friendly. But frustrations are increasing with Apple's protectionist behaviors. The most publicized example is Apple blocking Google from releasing an application that works in conjuction with its Google Voice service. It isn't exactly clear why Apple blocked the application or even if it did - but it's turned into a nasty public FCC-involved battle. But many other stories exist such as the case of iFart vs. the Pull My Finger application which is heading to court. The fact is Apple is not obligated to be fair or impartial, it's their phone and their appstore and they can block if they want to. But odd and poorly communicated behavior is causing developer defections. Though Apple is slowly loosening restrictions on application developers. Just recently, in-app upgrade options became permissible. Google's promise of a more open store with less rules is overshadowed by its smaller base.

The Android Anigma Android is coming and offers many advantages over the iPhone, but can it compete?

The vast majority of Android phones coming on to the market are pretty darn similar. Most of them even use the same processor, and are hard to tell apart. Gartner Group recently projected that Android will likely overtake the iPhone by 2012. Two new phones stand out as the ones that may start the shift with new levels of awareness and capabilities; the Acer Liquid and the Motorola Sholes/Droid.

A) Liquid: Very little is known about the Acer Liquid except that it will use a 1 Ghz (super fast) Snapdragon processor from Qualcomm and a High Definition WVGA capacitive touchscreen. This raises the bar significantly in the Android specs department - at least in theory and that's all we got right now. There are no details about when/where/what on this phone. The few details announced raise more questions than they answer.

B) Droid (Sholes): The Droid has a bit more teeth. On October 18, TechCrunch reported:

Make no mistake, this is Android's flagship product, and the first phone that will pose a significant threat to Apple's iPhone. And it will be available very soon, possibly as early as the end of this month...The phone is a three-way effort between Motorola, Verizon and Google. It looks a lot like the iPhone, and may even be as thin or thinner than the iPhone 3GS. It also has two key advantages over the iPhone--a slide out physical keyboard, and use of the Verizon network.

Verizon has already begun advertising the phone as an iPhone killer on television and at this website: DroidDoes.com. There are hints that this phone will take special advantage of the Verizon network, but exactly how is not clear. The Droid phone also boasts Android 2.0, a thin body, a changeable battery, and a 5 mega-pixel camera.

Motorola is now fully committed to Android--its second chance after blowing its cell phone leadership position. Motorola even dropped its board seat on the LiMo Foundation, the mobile Linux group it helped found. Both Android and LiMo utilize Linux, but Android is quickly gaining favor.

Enterprise Voice and Android There is so much excitement about AT&T Wireless dropping VoIP restrictions. Almost as much as there is about Fixed Mobile Convergence (FMC), or 802.11n. So much you might think that VoIP could be the killer app for cell phones as a soft phone. But there is not a single VoIP soft phone available for any cell phone to run on a proprietary PBX. All cell phone soft phone applications for Cisco, Avaya, Mitel, Shoretel, NEC, Toshiba, etc. PBX environments are SIP phones from third party companies.

One might think if the enterprise proprietary systems were serious about mobility--that they would offer a soft phone emulation of one of their popular PBX phones. Seriously, how hard it would be to create a iPhone App to emulate a Cisco IP phone to run over Cisco wireless LAN infrastructure (or cellular wireless)? Presumably, the reason this has not happened is the manufacturers don't like the voice characteristics of 3G, 802.11G, or the hardware specs of popular cell phones. But all those excuses are running out. Of course to do it right, it would involve similar characteristics as the Google Voice app and Apple may block it anyway - but Android won't.

Beyond Cell Phones Android is a light open operating system designed for portable connected devices. It could make sense for other devices than just cell phones. Barnes and Noble just announced their new e-reader called the Nook based on Android, which is probably why it will support so many formats, including PDF, EPUB, eReader, MP3, and PNG, JPG, and GIF image formats. Proprietary embedded operating system days are numbered for portable devices like readers, game consoles, GPS systems, etc. Evidently Raytheon is using Android on the battlefield with RATS. Acer recently announced a dual boot netbook featuring Android and Windows. Presumably the dual boot aspect is a fall back in case the first Android netbook is too limited. It isn't clear how Google will position Android vs. its new Chrome OS expected late this year.

It could make a lot of sense to consider Android as a base operating system in IP Phones. Particularly with open source phone systems such as Asterisk--the two open source communities could work together to make robust voice applications. The always-on IP appliance with hooks into the Internet, Cloud services, and the phone system seems like a powerful device. The computer and cell phone are open today--and they are much more relevant than the IP phone.

One area where the iPhone hasn't penetrated is the teen market. This younger group is content with text messages and typically don't want costly data services on their phones. Apple addresses this market better with the Touch--an iPhone without the phone. T-Mobile won't sell their Android phones without a data plan, but an Android phone with wifi only might be just the right compromise. Let the consumer start with wifi and add data services later if desired. Or, don't be too surprised if non-phone Andoid devices enter the market following the Touch model. Internet savvy is the new minimum requirement for gadgets now--Android may become the default way of providing that in a variety of devices.

Apple did the world a wonderful thing by raising the bar of mobile telephony. Apple broke the the carriers' control over devices, applications, and innovation (and in-turn broke AT&Ts network). Apple has always benefited from strong design and control over both hardware and software. Competitors imitate, but it takes time, and that time may be now. When Steve Jobs was asked to name an admirable trait of Bill Gates, he talked about his ability to create successful partnerships. Microsoft only made software, so had to partner with other firms to create a complete solution. Apple struggled with partnerships from the beginning (according to Jobs). Now, it seems Google is playing that card with Android--creating choices that Apple can't match. Choices in models, carriers, manufacturers, and prices. Apple and its iPhone will, for the first time, need to play defense in the smartphone category it created.Will Apple and its iPhone, for the first time, need to play defense in the smartphone category?



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