Archive for January, 2009

Android Wobbly Shaky Ground MobilestanceWhat’s Behind What Some View as Android’s Growing List of Self-Inflected Problems. Conspiracy? Complacency? Or Raw Genius At Work?

At first glance, it might appear that things are going pretty well for Android.  The free-to-license mobile OS has quickly become popular among many cash strapped mobile OEMs (original equipment manufacturers). Heavyweights such as Samsung, Sony Ericsson, LG and Motorola, along with handset newcomers Garmin and even Dell (hold for laughter) have all announced plans to develop handsets for the Google-run platform.

Supposedly, T-Mobile even managed to sell roughly one million Android-powered HTC G1’s last quarter… a respectable, yet not exactly iPhone-worthy performance (but to be fair, Apple and AT&T set an impossibly high standard with iPhone 3G, accomplishing in three days what Android did in three months – who knew AT&T would deliver on their promise of “Raising the Bar” so literally!).

Yet a quick peek below the surface reveals a conflicting scenario emerging for everyone’s favorite “Little (open-source) engine that could.”  Depending on your point of view, the OS is either plagued with systemic flaws, or designed with a profound sense of Machiavellian perfection. The exceedingly real threat of viruses, worms and other forms of malware, combined with a system seemingly “design to fragment” (read: seriously frustrate application developers) leaves one wondering if (as the conventional wisdom would have you believe) that Android’s model scales so well, and its backers so powerful and smart, that it can’t fail to become a serious contender over the long term…  or what we’re really looking at is nothing more than “Yet Another (seriously flawed) Google Beta Product.”

The issue of Android’s well-publicized “open door” security policy reared its pathogenic head again last week in the form of an all-out malware scare, and although the jury’s still out on whether or not the now infamous “MemoryUp” application did (as was accused) take over a user’s mobile, spam out its contacts and wipe its memory, or is just (as was suspected by cooler heads), merely a poorly designed, near universally-panned app… the frightening fact remains that the only thing standing between us and just such a dark reality is the relatively low profile group known as the Android Security Team.

Unfortunately for Android users, this team (of which whose public presence appears to consist entirely of one message board post dated August 18, 2008) seems to operate in a decidedly passive capacity: rather than vigilantly seeking and tracking down security flaws wherever they might appear in the system, the model works more like a ticket-based complaint counter, addressing user-submitted security threats when (and only when) the Goog Squad is alerted to their presence by the public.  It would be as if the local police force was replaced by an automated 911 system (and we all know how efficient that system can be). While it wouldn’t be 100% accurate to say that “no one’s minding the Android App store” (er, market) – there’s far more truth in that statement than many are willing to admit.

Moving on, the other significant issue facing the Android system – that of the looming threat of OS fragmentation – has (unsurprisingly) garnered scant attention in the trade press.  I say “unsurprisingly” as so far the threat of OS fragmentation is fairly complex and has yet to be an issue as, with only one Android handset on the marketplace (so far) – the HTC G1 – there just isn’t that much of a marketplace to fragment.  That said, this issue seems to have some real legs, not to mention real intrigue, and is, in our opinion, very likely to seriously impede Android application development over the long term.

Before we get into all the wide-eyed intrigue and half-baked conspiracy theories, a little background information on the subject of OS fragmentation is in order.  At its core, the issue revolves around the fact that Android, as an open source software platform, freely publishes its source code to the world under the general assumption that under “the eyes of the world’s” constant viewing, tinkering, and deploying – the software will ultimately become more robust, stable and efficient than any system created and maintained by a finite number of (paid) employees.  As is the case with a great many subjects, the devil is in the details.  It seems that when Google formally launched the Android project back in late 2007, it chose the to advocate a licensing model (Apache) whereby third parties could maintain private ownership over any modifications made to Android’s publicly-available source code, and would not be compelled (as in other open source licensing models) to turn over said software modifications or enhancements back “to the public domain” – so that (among other reasons) these modifications could (potentially) be incorporated into future versions of the software… thereby making the whole system more unified, and less “fragmented.”

So here’s where things can really get messy.  As said, mobile handset manufactures designing smartphones are turning to Android in large numbers, driven mainly by its price point (free), as well as its many innovative design features.  That said, not all of these “Android” devices will be running the same version of Android, as handset manufactures will be under extreme pressure to modify Android in order to maximize the performance of the particular hardware components making up each of their individual handset models.  This means that Android developers will soon have to create multiple versions of each Android application they develop in order to insure that their apps will run correctly on each “version” of Android in the marketplace (i.e. all the different handsets running “Android”).  This time-consuming and labor-intensive process, known to overworked software developers the world over as “porting,” significantly drives up the cost of software development.  Ultimately, Android developers will need to limit the number of Android handsets they can support as simply a matter of cost/benefit.  This well-known problem has been identified as one of the primary barriers that has held up mobile software development to date, as the current crop of Java, Symbian and BREW feature phones are simply fragmented beyond belief.

We’ve already seen the beginnings of fragmentation in the Android system, as differences in handset specifications play out over the various geographic regions – and with the sheer number of players about to enter the space in the coming year this issue is bound to accelerate dramatically.  That said, it is inevitable that that this scenario will negatively impact the development of innovative, new applications for Android over the short term.  The only real question is to what extent will Android innovation be stymied?

What makes this issue to interesting to many is that, due to advocating the Apache licensing model for Android, Google seems to be actively encouraging Android fragmentation.  Ironically, this apparent paradox was first identified by Sanjay Jha, Chief Operating Officer of Qualcomm’s chipset division (ironic in that Qualcomm is one of the founding members of the Open Handset Alliance and the Android initiative!)  who, in a  Register story that emerged out of last Spring’s CTIA conference, was quoted as saying that “Google wants fragmentation in the [mobile] industry.”

Here’s where the conspiracy theories start kicking into overdrive.  Keeping all of this in mind, some have speculated that – in a thinly veiled strategy against its old desktop rivals (Microsoft), Google would potentially benefit from Android fragmentation in that it would be prohibitively expensive for any one developer to dominate any fragmented system with a mainstay-like platform such as Microsoft Outlook or Office, both “heavy clients” that rely on sophisticated software applications running on the device’s (local) hardware (e.g. the desktop PC, or the mobile handset).   A fragmented system would ultimately favor companies like Google that favor thin client / “cloud computing” models (e.g. Gmail and Google Docs), where all the application’s heavy lifting is done on the server side (via the network), rather than on the client side (i.e. the mobile handset) – in this case the actual applications on the client/handset side usually reside in nothing more than a decent web browser.  All of this poses a very intriguing question: Could Google be subtly sabotaging device-side Android application development in favor of its browser-based / thin-client model?

Bringing this post full-circle, it is possible that both these two issues (fragmentation and security) may cancel each other out, sort of… again, ultimately resolving in Google’s favor.   The theory goes a little like this:  The folks that write software viruses, worms and other such programs do so primarily for the notoriety that comes with affecting many systems/users all at once – either with benign or malicious intent.  Platforms that don’t scale simply are unappealing to most virus writers.  Similar to the natural virus protection afforded by using a niche desktop system such as a Macintosh (sorry guys, I love ya but you’re still using what I would consider a niche product), few developers will waste their time writing a virus that only affects a (relatively) small number of people, when they can get better “bang for the buck” elsewhere.  The same forces that make it prohibitively expensive for (most) application developers to support a wide range of devices in a fragmented system will also similarly affect virus writers.  In affect, by encouraging fragmentation, Google could be enhancing Android security while simultaneously crippling many of its former rivals in the desktop space (or is this giving Google just a little too much credit?).

Thoughts?  If you have an opinion, share it… as there’s nothing like a good conspiracy to spice up the industry some!

j


cotm-button.jpgThis week’s Carnival of the Mobilists is now live at Allaboutiphone.net.

Check out the best and brightest in mobile posts from across the blogosphere, read up on Google Latitude, an overview on cloud computing, a preview of MWC ’09 and so much more!

Go check out Carnival #160 Today!

As always… to get in on all the hot blog-on-blog action, submit your mobile-related stories to: mobilists [at] gmail [dot] com.

mobilestance 2009 mobile predictions sm2Peer into Mobilestance’s Proprietary Crystal Ball!

Well it’s that time of year again… when pundits and publishers large and small exploit the slow end-of-year news cycle to recap the old and forecast the new.  Here at mobilestance it’s a extra-special time of year… as it was nearly one year ago when we formally “came out” of beta with our 2007 Recap piece and spammed it out to our publisher’s 3,000 +  email address book.  Ahh… memories!

This year, rather than spend the next thousand words rehashing what was undoubtedly the most exciting year in mobile since the advent of the crazy frog ringtone, we decided instead to take the easy way out and peer ahead to future…   casting our lot into a sea of like-minded posts from across the blogosphere.

So what will occur in 2009 at the intersection of Mobile and Marketing?  Will location become (as Dan @ Organic so eloquently put it in a recent Facebook status) “just another input”?  Will MMS finally become interoperable between carriers and ShortCodes, and finally emerge as a realistic marketing vehicle?  Will a wave of consolidation sweep the industry, as smaller independent mobile agencies, technology vendors and ad networks become casualties of the “great recession”?   Will newly legislated digital privacy-controls arrive just in time to kill the mobile web?  And of course the big question on everyone’s minds: Will mobile finally jump from the backwater of marketing budgets known as “emerging,” grow some legs, ditch the tail, and finally walk upon solid (budgetary) ground?

So read on then, fearless time shifters… and arm yourself for the ensuing complexities that will envelope our fledgling industry in the coming year!

Mobilestance’s Top 10 Mobile Marketing Predictions for 2009

  1. 2009 Will be the Year of Mobile.   After many false starts the Long Joke will finally end… and Mobile will finally have its moment in the sun.  With the rising popularity of smartphones; the lower cost of mobile data; and the pervasiveness of mobile broadband, internet and other “beyond voice” services, Mobile (with a capital “M”) will finally achieve critical mass in the US – and agencies, brands and business infrastructure providers alike will finally start paying attention with the purse strings.
  2. 2009 Won’t be the Year of Mobile.  What would a mobile marketing prognostication piece be without some conflicting signals?  Call it hedging my bets… but I just couldn’t resist punching up the contradiction that is the current state of mobile marketing.   Sure, everything I said in the previous ‘graph is dead on… the crystal ball is crystal clear on that.  But will that make 2009 “The Year of Mobile?” Hardly.  Sure, mobile has made some great strides of late in terms of its effectiveness as a marketing channel, and there is NO doubt that will come even farther, faster in 2009.  But sorry kids, it simply will not find its way out of the “emerging” bucket when it comes to budgeting.  No, the “Year of Mobile” can only be declared after we see dedicated “mobile” advertising, CRM and/or marketing budgets… or (at a minimum) a substantive breakout from a larger “digital” line… and with 2009 shaping up to the second coming of the “Flight to ROI” of 2002 (warning: pdf link) , we’ve probably got until 2010 until we can finally herald the end of the Long Joke. In the meantime there’s still plenty for Mobile Marketers to do – namely, hone our skills and prepare ourselves for when the money spigot really opens up in 2010.
  3. Mobile Search Comes of Age.   OK, enough with the levity… let’s get into some serious forecasting. If there’s one thing we’ve learned about mobile usage in ’08, it’s that smartphones = search volume.  While previously a mere academic curiosity, this correlation will show real legs in ’09, as legions of iPhoners, Crackberry Addicts and the like will continue take to mobile search like a longshoreman on a bender (read: heavy consumption punctuated with colorful language) .  We’ve already witnessed both Google and Yahoo fine tuning their mobile search products – albeit in very different ways – and in 2009 we will see the beginnings of a real business emerge in this sector. Watch for the leading engines and agencies make a major mobile plays in ’09, as both will look to the sector to help sustain revenue growth and counter the “leveling off” of the (once interstellar) growth trajectory of “traditional” online paid search and/or SEM – as both (especially the former) begin to show early signs of maturation.
  4. Mobile Video (finally) Gets Interesting.  Along with search, the other interesting affect that comes with increased smartphone penetration is increased consumption of mobile video.  I say “interesting” as in “somewhat viable” or “worth experimenting with”- which should not be interpreted as “it’s going to explode” (or even that I’m reasonably bullish on the channel).  No… while I’ve been a mobile video hater for many years for reasons too numerous to count, we’ll see enough scale in 2009 to merit some testing… as after all, leveraging the moving image remains (arguably) the most effective method by which one can influence consumer behavior.
  5. Apples Grow on Trees… While Android Picks up Steam.  A no brainer that simply cannot be ignored… and the importance of which cannot be overstated.  Most likely, Apple will successfully keep its momentum into ’09 by rolling out popular, yet evolutionary iPhone models (think new colors and modestly increased storage capacity/performance, rather than new form factors or revolutionary new features or price points).  Android will likely see a bigger increase in Mobile OS share (albeit from a smaller base) than Apple, as Samsung (Spring) and Motorola (Fall) roll out hot new handsets utilizing the Open Source mobile OS.  And speaking of Open Source, it will be interesting to see if the (reasonably) open Android starts “out innovating” Apple’s proprietary mobile OS when it comes to features and applications.  As it is we’re still waiting for Google to integrate a working commerce model (safe money is on Google Checkout… duh!)  into the Android Marketplace so that developers will have an easier time charging consumers for applications (expected Spring, 2009) – so it might be awhile before developers truly embrace Android as tightly as they have with the iPhone SDK.  Our prediction:  in 2009 Android will become the “hip incubator” for mobile application and/or OS innovation… with Apple and/or independent iPhone developers skimming the cream and co-opting the most interesting ideas of the bunch.
  6. Biggest Losers of 2008: Motorola, Palm and Sprint Stay Alive.  Notable for their ability to keep breathing, the “Crap Pack” of ’08 will not kick the bucket as so many are predicting.  Sprint will slowly turn the corner in ’09 under Dan Hesse’s steady hand (is it us, or is anyone else getting a “Fred Thompson” vibe from his gently reassuring, speak-directly-into-the-camera series of commercials?), making incremental customer support improvements and leaning on that “Clearwire Thing” to leapfrog ahead in the bandwidth arms race (see “Wi-Max Casts Wide Shadow” below for more on this).  The great recession saved Motorola’s Wireless business, as the venerable Schamburg, Illinois red ink factory likely found no suitable suitors.  Now the company is forced to do what it does best… crank out a hit product to save the company – which we believe we’ll see in the form of a swank Android handset sometime late next year.  Until then Moto will occupy itself by doing the other things it does best: bleeding market share and taking on further debt… which brings us to our last lovable looser, Palm.  The fact that Elevation Partners decided to invest $100MM to keep Palm afloat just last month proves that there’s somebody out there for everybody… no matter how unsightly, aged, infirm or otherwise unappealing.  Seriously, we’re not entirely sure know how much lifespan $100MM buys Palm, but we’re betting 18 months, at best.
  7. Cash Poor Mobile Start-ups Get Snapped Up by Web, Traditional Media Players.  Another obvious one that needed to be said: the credit crunch / recession combo will start claiming casualties among the most vulnerable in the mobile sector, while traditional media giants and other web firms lacking mobile chops go bargain hunting.  Specifically, the time might be right for WPP’s 24/7 RealMedia to formally acquire one of their partner mobile ad networks (such as JumpTap or Millennial), should the opportunity present itself.  On the Cable side both Comcast and Time Warner have already made big bets on wireless with their Clearwire investments… yet neither have much else to leverage here in the form of inventory of other mobile-ready assets. A mobile video acquisition for each of these players on the order of a Rhythm NewMedia or Transpera might just be in the cards.
  8. WiMax Casts Wide Shadow.  While 2008 was all Apple and Google, newly-formed Clearwire (not to be confused with the “old” Clearwire, which had the same management yet different investors – a confusing situation that deserves a dedicated posting of its own) quietly rolled out what we believe to be the first real mobile broadband network in the US… (OK, well in Baltmore, MD – but heck, it’s a start!).  As Clearwire partner Sprint Wireless brings new WiMax hardware to market, and  the high speed service rolls into new markets like Portland and Chicago in 2009, look to Verizon Wireless and AT&T to fall all over themselves to attempt to bring their competitive 4G “LTE” (Long Term Evolution)  product to market by the end of the year.  It’s a moot point if Clearwire ever really rolls out a national WiMax network, or instead (like many are predicting) runs out of cash sometime in 2009 (prediction: cash-laden Clearwire partners Intel and Google will pony up an additional round of investment in the network while cash strapped partners Comcast and Time Warner sit this round out – slowing, but ultimately sustaining, Clearwire’s national rollout) what matters most is that Clearwire and WiMax is giving the industry a huge kick in the pants… and with this we’ll finally get the true mobile broadband experience we’ve all been waiting for.  Cue the brass band!
  9. MMS Gets its Act Together (Just in Time to Become Totally Irrelevant).   It’s no secret that MMS never really caught on with the public… and even when the carriers got their act together in 2006 and brought cross-carrier MMS interoperability online, the bloom was already nearly off the rose, as it were.  Marketing applications remained uber-niche, as lack MMS support for cross-carrier short codes left brands with two, equally unappealing options (e.g. the use of either a ten digit phone number or an email address in the primary Call-to-Action).   Still, while some consumers are giving the “Most Morbid Service” a second chance, the last nail in the coffin may have come from Apple, when it shafted the technology by not supporting it on the iPhone.   Now it seems the CSCA , along with their strong-armed cousin, NeuStar, are working with the US carriers to bring MMS support to intercarrer (common) ShortCodes… which, if achieved, would greatly expand the effectiveness of the channel as a marketing medium.  The question is, will this work be completed before the technology becomes altogether irrelevant?  Perhaps… although no one (including us) is betting on it.
  10. Application “Bubble” Doesn’t Burst… Yet.   A minor one, but just squeaks into our Top 10 (take that, “Privacy Concerns!”).   First, in order to predict that a bubble won’t burst, you need to prove the existance of a bubble.  Case in point: iFart (point proven!).  Now just when will the “App Bubble” burst?  Well, it would seem that in order to “burst”, the bubble would first need to achieve maximum volume, which won’t happen until iPhone and similar “ReallySmartPhones(TM)” achieve critical mass (we’re thinking 15-20% penetration) – and that’s not happening for at least a year or two – even in the rosiest of scenarios.  Still, for all the whooplaa around “+300MM iPhone app downloads in the first six months of app store,” some have acutely pointed out that the iPhone app growth curve has already started to flatten out.  That said… we’re likely to see a whole new crop of iFarts-like hits in 2009 – and needless to say Mobilestance awaits on baited breath.

Well folks… there you have it – our top 10 predictions for 2009.  Feel free to leave a comment if you feel we’ve missed something… or if you just want to throw some gasoline on the fire… and check back with us throughout the year as we continue to chronicle this thing we call Mobile.

j

cotm-button.jpgThis week’s Carnival of the Mobilists is now live at Dennis Bournique’s WapReview.com (a real favorite of ours for its consistent, high-quality coverage of the all-too-often neglected mobile web landscape).

Check out the best and brightest in mobile posts from across the blogosphere, including more predictions for ’09, a look at Microsoft’s new 2D Bar Code standard, “The Ultimate” in Social Media, great new insights into mobile site design, and so much more.

Go check out Carnival #156 Today!

As always… to get in on all the hot blog-on-blog action, submit your mobile-related stories to: mobilists [at] gmail [dot] com.