Archive for the t-mobile Category

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


AndroidWho Among Us Can Argue with the Time-Tested Wisdom Of “Whoever Denied It, Supplies It?”

There are few gadgets, mobile or otherwise, more eagerly anticipated than the release of the world’s first handset running on Google’s Android operating system.

So when leaked details from HTC’s upcoming Android handset hit the web late last week many were quick to take notice. The handset, dubbed “Dream” by HTC’s Philip K. Dick-loving creative team, includes “a large touchscreen and a full (flip/slide out) QWERTY keypad,” this according to Infoworld. According to an unidentified source “close to the situation” the “HTC’s Google handset is just over 5 inches long and 3 inches wide, with a keypad underneath the screen that either slides out or swivels out… Internet navigational controls are situated below the screen on the handset.”

The source claims that “the handset will likely hit the market near the end of this year” and that the handset may be the first “Google Android” phone on the market. HTC would not comment on any specific details of the handset, other than to confirm its existence.

The HTC “news” comes on the heels of a string of related Android-related rumors of variable accuracy. Back in January Dell was rumored to be working on the world’s first Android phone that many speculated would be announced in Barcelona at the Mobile World Congress the following month. This rumor ultimately turned out to be false, as not only did Dell officially deny any such handset or future Android-related products were in development, but it was also a no-show at 3GSM.

Not to be left out, serious rumors began swirling around Samsung’s Android designs following a Robert X. Cringley post claiming that the Korean handset manufacturer would be releasing two Google-branded Android handsets in 2008; a high-end model in September and a lower-end device around the holidays. Cringley also cites an unnamed person (“you know who you are”) as the source behind the leaked information, who goes on to claim that “both [devices] will include WiFi… The high-end phone will look somewhat like a Blackberry Pearl, but the screen flips up and there is a keyboard for texting. No word on pricing for the high-end phone, but the second model is intended to be less than $100 — AFTER Christmas.” The post identifies both T-Mobile USA and Verizon as potential carrier partners.

We find it curious that the Samsung handset described by Cringley is eerily similar to the leaked details of HTC Dream (including the swing out QWERTY keyboard), perhaps giving more credence to the adage “Whoever Smelt it, Dealt it.” Regardless, mobilestance.com will continue its Android Watch series until an actual sighting appears in the wild. In the meantime, please send us any unsubstantiated rumors, gossip or just pure speculation relating to what will likely be the biggest moment in mobile for 2008: Day one of the Android Invasion.

 

 

mobilestance-dot-com-anarchy-in-the-uk.jpg UK Operators Try a Radical Approach to Tackling Thorny Issues Like Commerce and Advertising: Cooperation.

It’s obvious that the mobile marketing industry must resolve several key issues if mobile is ever to emerge as a legitimate marketing channel. These overreaching issues, mostly relating to a lack of standardization and of market access, are simply far to broad to be solved by any single entity within the space, regardless of their size, technological prowess, or market share. These big issues must be addressed by the industry as a whole, and unfortunately too few global markets possess the maturity to put aside their competitive instincts and collaborate on market solutions that benefit all members of the mobile value chain.

Thankfully, operators in the UK seem determined to buck this trend.

Looking back, clearly one of the first truly significant examples of (mobile marketing-related) industry-wide cooperation was the achievement of “intercarrier SMS” functionality, or the ability for consumers to send text messages to anyone, without regard as to whether the sender or the recipient are on the same wireless network or not. Obviously this challenge could have only been met on an industry-wide basis, with all the carriers in a particular territory coming to agreement on the base technologies and economics of the system. The results speak for themselves: Text message volume increased 350 percent in the first seven months after interoperability was introduced in the UK in April of 1999, and a similar effect was seen after interoperability was introduced in the US in 2001. In hindsight, most in the industry agree that text messaging would have remained a niche service with fairly limited appeal had this key milestone not been reached.

In further gestures of industry cooperation, the British operators appear keen on tackling sticky issues like mobile commerce and accountability in mobile advertising with a similar unified approach. Both areas, commerce and advertising, face key hurdles that can only be addressed by the industry at large… and leave it to the British to continue to set an example to the globe on how cooperation and civility has the potential to “elevate all peoples” –or in this case, all peoples looking to monetize mobility.

  • Easy Billing on the Mobile Web. Starting back in May 2006, the five largest UK operators (Vodafone, Orange, 3, O2 and T-Mobile) created the Payforit organization – with the goal of standardizing and launching the necessary systems to enable “seamless and secure” (off-deck) WAP commerce of digital content. From an organizational perspective, Payforit builds upon the successful “Aggregator” premium SMS model in that the m-commerce standard establishes a group of “Accredited Payment Intermediaries” who utilize a common set of API’s to connect directly to all five carriers… in this case for the purposes of authentication, and (ultimately) carrier managed billing. The system officially launched in September of 2007, and early results indicate the standard represents a marked improvement over existing premium SMS billing systems. In the two months following the launch, Bango reported that “92 percent [of Payforit transactions] were completed successfully with an error rate of less than 1 percent… with refund levels at below 0.01 percent,” representing a “significant reduction in the need for costly customer care” Furthermore, Bango found that the average transaction speed “across all five networks [was] five seconds” – another significant improvement over premium SMS. Additionally, mobile game developer I-Play reported a near “15 percent conversion rate” on its mobile web site following their implementation of Payforit

It should be pointed out that although these results are highly encouraging, Payforit is not (as of yet) the “m-commerce” silver bullet we all desire. Unfortunately Payforit is limited to small transactions of less than 10£, and only for soft (digital) products. The organization has made no public statements indicating that the carriers intend on expanding the program to include larger transactions and/or to accommodate non-digital (physical) products, unsubstantiated rumors and overzealous public comments notwithstanding. The reasons behind these limitations was likely driven by carrier unwillingness to accept the risks associated with essentially “vouching” for larger-sized, physical purchases. Additionally, a complex regulatory system in the UK’s financial sector presents significant hurdles for carriers wishing to (directly) facilitate large transactions. Currently the carriers do not fall under the UK’s (banking) regulatory system due to the low Payforit purchase price ceiling of 10£, but any increase would likely land the operators into this undesirable (read: the reddest of tape) direction.

Still, Payforit represents a tremendous leap forward in the evolution of mobile commerce. With this platform the critical obstacle of authentication via the mobile web has been overcome, and with it the comes the very real potential for secure, unrestricted mobile web-based transactions of any type of good – at any price point. In order to reach this ultimate goal we would need to see a supreme display of cross-industry cooperation, where the carriers agree to share their authentication data with the banks and credit card companies (either directly or via an intermediary). One can only imagine the tedious negotiations that this type of complex (and lucrative) arrangement would entail.

  • Eying Real Accountability in Mobile Advertising. As with commerce, the UK wireless operators are displaying a similar willingness to band together to take on the most significant challenge impeding the long term success of the mobile advertising market: accountability. In a joint release issued at this year’s 3GSM in Barcelona the very same five leading UK carriers announced that they had “formed a working group to define common metrics and measurement processes for mobile advertising.” The working group will be focused on drafting a feasibility study examining “the deliver[ry] of cross-operator metrics to the media and advertising communities” in the UK. No timetables were revealed other than that the group planned on releasing “recommendations” before the end of 2008.

It is no secret that there is a profound need for drastically improved mobile advertising metrics (cross-carrier or otherwise). Many industry leaders and publications have become increasingly vocal on the lack of real accountability in the mobile ad space and how this will ultimately hold back the industry if it is not seriously addressed. As cookies and page scripting aren’t viable options on the mobile web, our only real hope for true accountability in the immediate future lies with the carriers.

Ultimately, it will be interesting to see what approach the working group recommends. If history is any guide they will probably suggest a scenario similar to the aforementioned SMS and Payforit model, whereby a select few companies will be “given” (the right to purchase) preferential access to (in this case) key mobile web tracking data. This data is necessary to calculate crucial (and rudimentary) campaign stats such as unduplicated audience/reach and frequency, over multiple and overlapping wireless networks. These companies will then either act as data brokers and/or serve directly as providers of campaign and publisher-side metrics. This scenario begs some follow-up speculation, should the working group indeed decides to go down this well-worn path…

  1. Which companies will get the nod? Traditional fixed-line internet ad serving companies and networks (Atlas, Doubleclick, etc) and their mobile cousins (Amobee, AdMob, et al) will likely be competing with the site metrics specialists (Overture) and data brokers (Telephia, M:Metrics), as well as some of the more ambitious SMS aggregators and Payforit Accredited Payment Intermediaries looking to make a more aggressive push into advertising services. Serious spoils to the victors no doubt.
  2. What Data Points will be Passed by the Carriers? It would fair to say that at a minimum the carriers would need to pass an anonymous Unique Identifier to the ad server or other 3rd party. Other highly coveted data points of interest include subscriber IDs (mobile phone numbers), location and subscriber data. The former stands a good chance of inclusion in specialized cases should a real need be identified (such as a m-commerce extension), while the latter two seem too controversial for immediate consideration.

The Opacity of Hope? Undoubtedly the mobile marketing industry faces tremendous challenges if it is to realize its great potential as a promotional channel. While it’s commonly known that these challenges will only be met if the companies making up the mobile industry can put aside their differences and agree on common goals and approaches, it is encouraging that markets like the UK are taking a leadership position in this area. We can only hope that other markets will soon follow suit.