Does the mere presence of Google’s HTML5 Apps Cast Doubt on Their Commitment to a Robust Android App Environment? Short answer – it depends… or so it would seem, as Google expresses a desire to move to the cloud, but is held back by poor web app performance versus locally hosted software. But for how long?
Google’s recent demo of their slick HTML5 version of Gmail, which was shown running on a Palm Pre at Mobile World Congress a little over a week ago, wowed onlookers with its native app-like functionality, particularly with respect to its ability to allow users to draft and organize emails while offline. Google accomplished these feats by taking advantage of the local databasing, geolocation and “AppCashe” functionality of the new, HTML5-based Webkit browsers, like those found on the upcoming, Palm Pre. Both the Apple iPhone and Android-based HTC G1 and G2 “Magic” handsets also incorporate Webkit browsers.
This demo of the HTML5 version of Gmail seems so good, so solid, robust and scalable, that one has to wonder if the conspiracy theory half-heartily put forth in our last post (i.e. Google encouraging Android OS fragmentation among device OEMs to favor web-based apps over locally hosted solutions) has any real merit. While undoubtedly interesting in its salaciousness (after all, who among us doesn’t enjoy a good Google conspiracy theory from time to time?), the theory seemed a bit flimsy… until Google’s recent HTML5 web app demo.
Ultimately, the question is if Google is truly committed to fostering a stable, robust Android development environment or is the Android SDK merely a stopgap measure for the search giant, until such time as most major application functionality can be migrated into the browser? At a recent Android Developer meetup I had the chance to ask Google Product VP Bradley Horowitz this very question.
Throughout the event Horowitz habitually brushed aside specific questions about the future of Android by steadfastedly emphasizing his lack of his direct oversight or visibility into the OS’s development roadmap. His perspective, however, did seem to change somewhat when asked about Google’s plans to eventually abandon a focus on native Android apps as soon as Browser-based solutions were up to the task.
For the record, Horowitz startlingly confirmed that “the end goal” for Google would be that “Webkit would swallow up” all the rich functionality which now can only be accomplished by native apps. Horowitz went on to express “frustration [that] even in desktop apps” there’s a performance hit when migrating app functionality to the browser, although one might argue that with respect to the mobile devices, with their limited processing power and available memory, that the performance difference between the two might not be so great… and the “uber” web app might just be the silver bullet we’ve all been waiting for. Ultimately, Horowitz hedged a bit in his closing remarks, stating that both web apps and the local Android SDK might align on parallel paths in pursuit of richer, more functional and higher performing solutions.
Weird stuff. One has to wonder if all the paranoia isn’t starting to make just a too much sense. Stay close to mobilestance.com for more on this and other popular conspiracy theories… Next week we’ll take a deeper dive into Sasquatch sitings at Area 51 (“couldn’t be a man in a gorilla suit, no f*ing way man you know he’s real”).
Mobilestance.com is back! Now with More Polling (our homage to the polled out US Presidential election cycle, see end of post!)
After a disastrous night spent marching as a human mobile in the NYC Halloween Parade (note to self: find a new place for the “zero” button), I have successfully exercised the demons of Summer and am ready to return to blogging. I sincerely apologize for not “returning in September” as promised, but there were… well, complications.
So much has happened in mobile during my three or so month hiatus! Android arrived in the form of the HTC G1 on T-Mo, and so far hasn’t (yet) taken over the known universe…. The mobile-centric top level domain “Dot Mobi” passed the one million mark in registrations, as thousands of major publishers and brands launched mobile-specific versions of their websites… The AT&T Blackberry Bold was announced, then delayed, then announced, then delayed, then recalled (on Orange in the UK), then announced for release in the US sometime next week.
With all that, the biggest story by far was the iPhone going 3G (I was in St. Petersburg at the time, and it even made the headlines there). The iPhone juggernaut, and it’s partner the iPhone App Store, have been fueling excitement in the US and (to a somewhat lesser extent) across the globe. All of this – the growth, the applications, the new business models, are exciting enough – but what really turned my head was story in the new iPhone comScore study, which found that since July sales of the handset have been driven by relatively low to middle class households – those making between $25-50k (+48% growth).
Some have theorized that the recent economic “downturn” is spurring many low income households to substitute iPhone for not only their landline telephones (as expected), but also their landline broadband lines as well (fixed line broadband revenues have also been declining with this same income segment, over this same period). If this were true, it would place the US Middle Class on par with that of many emerging nations, B.R.I.C. and the like – where most people, even the “rising middle classes” simply cannot afford both a mobile and PC internet connection (or fixed line internet simply isn’t widely available, again ultimately due to price).
In my opinion this may be a bit of a stretch. I for one absolutely LOVE my iPhone… and I use it for many, many things that I once did exclusively on my desktop PC. But as a total replacement? I suppose there have been other, less expected affects resulting from the current economic crisis than a shift from fixed line to wireless broadband subscriptions among the US lower middle class.
iPhone, Android Developers Race to Bring Highly Anticipated Technology to Masses.
While we here at mobilestance prefer to poke fun at market predictions rather than make them, we’ve decided to go out on a limb and draw a big ol’ line in the sand: 2008 will be the year that QR codes become viable in the US, thanks largely to the efforts of Apple and Google.
While recent efforts by Scanbuy, Discovery Communications and Citysearch have been impressive in terms of ambition and overall scale, they were nevertheless hamstrung by two significant flaws: (1) they’ve relied on a non-standard, proprietary code format, and (2) nearly all participants were required to download a java app via SMS prior to engagement – a tall order if you’re activating an OOH general market ad campaign. That said, in either an odd coincidence or boldfaced market collusion (kidding), both Google (directly) or Apple (indirectly) have taken the necessary steps to breakdown both of these barriers… the results of which will begin to take affect in and around the third quarter of this year.
All of which makes for extremely fertile ground for the (third party) development of an iPhone QR reader, and develop they have. Even without a user-friendly distribution model in place, developers have been busy porting their existing QR readers for use on the iPhone. iMatrix has already developed an iPhone version of it’s dual use (proprietary shotcode + EZcode / standard QR / Datamatrix) reader, and no doubt many more will follow. The iMatrix reader utilizes the iPhone SDK’s relatively robust API set to not only launch web URLs and initiate messaging and voice call events, but can also “add contacts to your Address Book, add events to Calendar [and] add new notes to Notes.” Until the iTunes App store is online the only way to install the reader is a via a fairly manual process (and only on unlocked handsets), but it won’t be long before the average user can easily download and install the reader via what is sure to be a dummy-proof, Apple-branded experience.
Compared to Apple’s laissez faire attitude towards QR, Google has been far more proactive. In addition to make sure that every Android phone will include a non-proprietary reader preloaded as part of the standard application set, Google is also championing an open-source J2ME reader project dubbed “ZXing” (which supposedly stands for “Zebra Crossing”). Not only is Google helping the app’s development in terms of hosting / distribution, it has also been actively recruiting developers to help with the project (I witnessed this first hand at the Nokia Barcamp in New York last November, when Google’s Sean Owen led a packed house through a four-minute ZXing presentation that abruptly ended with a pitch to java developers to aid in its development).
So which will have greater impact on the market? Well, while Google’s approach has the advantage of having the reader app reloaded onto the handset, Apple has the (short term) advantage of actually having handsets on the market! Also, (as stated earlier) Apple could always add a reader app to the next firmware release and instantly increase the size of the US QR-reader install base by a factor of twenty or so. This scenario is not (purely) speculation, as Apple has been known to “pull a Microsoft” and co-opt a particularly useful software app or two… all in the name of “user experience.” Watson, anyone?
More to the point, the reason all of this is so interesting is because of the perfect intersection between technology and lifestyle. Start with the iPhone user base (mobile-dataphilic, upscale, big spending, early-adopting, Gladwell-style alpha-influencers), then add what we can assume to be first Android buyers (ubergeeks, tinkerers, mavericks and malcontents – i.e. current Linux users) and you’ve got the perfect launching pad for a QR movement – and not just any old QR movement, but one of the advertiser-friendly / “interesting to Sandhill road” variety.
Proof of concept video, iPhone QR reader, below:
Achung! Clip is punctuated with annoying whistling, nauseating camera movement and a few failed demos to boot!
On March 6th Apple gave the world its first peek at the widely-anticipated iPhone SDK (Software Development Kit), which developers will use to create native iPhone applications. In typical Apple fashion, the event was hosted by Apple CEO Steve Jobs, and was held at the company’s Cupertino, CA headquarters. In a somewhat rare move, His Steveness delegated most of the announcements to Apple Execs Phil Schiller and Scott Forstall, choosing instead to serve merely as more or less the event’s MC – opening the proceedings with some iPhone growth stats, and closing the affair with a brief Q&A punctuated with his usual displays of hype and candor.
The Background: Without the iPhone SDK the only choice for developers wishing to create iPhone applications is to create a “web app,” which are vastly inferior to native apps in most respects: Web applications are inherently slower, less secure and powerful than native apps, and require a data connection to operate.
Apple is targeting a June, 2007 release date for the iPhone SDK. Key details are as follows:
Distribution. Simply put, the only way to distribute an iPhone or iPod Touch application is to go through Apple- via the (yet to be released) “App store” or on iTunes. This will likely require the application to be “certified” by Apple, considerably prolonging the development and testing process (this versus a 100% open system, otherwise known as the internet). Ultimately this means that while brands need to give developers more time to have their applications certified by Apple, distribution and discovery of iPhone applications will nevertheless be a relatively painless process for consumers. What’s more, if developers are allowed to “deep link” to specific pages on the App store, promotion of specific Apps should be extremely straightforward to marketers. (SMS “WAP-push”, email, web banners and paid search should all prove efficient promotional means).
Free or Pay to Play? For premium apps Apple has announced that they will be retaining 30% of net revenues for distribution and payment services, but the big news (for marketers) is that Apple doesn’t seem to be getting in the way of free (read: marketer-friendly) applications – whether sponsored, co-branded and/or ad-supported. Not only will they not get in the way, but Apple has gone on record as saying “Apple gets nothing” if the app is free. This is tremendously important for both brands and agencies wishing to enter the free-to-the-consumer iPhone application space.
Functionality. The real promise of the iPhone SDK is that, according to Scott Forstall (Apple VP of iPhone Software), Apple is “opening the same native APIs and tools to build our iPhone apps…[so that] 3rd party developers can build native iPhone apps using the same SDK that WE do.” It is with these set of APIs that 3rd party developers (read: anyone from agencies and brands to the kid down the street) can build native applications that integrate the iPhone’s address book, calendar, media player, 3D / OpenGL graphics layer, 3-axis accelerometer, camera, internet connection, databases and more. This is big folks…
Restrictions. So far Apple has stated that that the only applications that won’t be allowed will be those classified as “porn, malicious, illegal, infringing on privacy or bandwidth hogs.” Those last two are a bit nebulous and will need to be further clarified by Apple in the coming days (isn’t YouTube – a service already featured as a prominent iPhone web app – the world’s #1 bandwidth hog?). Also, applications will not be allowed to unlock the SIM – which should come as no surprise given Apple’s newfound wireless subscription revenue stream (subscription revenue shares only come from their partner carriers – hence the SIM lock). Finally, VoIP apps will be restricted to running over the iPhone’s Wi-Fi connection only; VoIP apps running over cellular networks will not be allowed.
Security. Much of the Apple announcement was dedicated to new enterprise-friendly enhancements, such as Apple’s licensing of Microsoft’s ActiveSyc (for integration with Exchange) and other iPhone software updates guaranteed to keep RIM awake at night. Nevertheless, while these enterprise-grade moves haven’t been positioned as related to the SDK, iPhone’s new enterprise-level security features, such as “Cisco IPsec VPN, authentication and certification, enterprise class WiFi (WPA2 / 802.1x), security policies, configuration tools, and remote wipe” are, coincidentally, many of the same security features that will also satisfy the needs of marketers looking to protect personally identifiable, commerce, and other sensitive areas of consumer data.
Analysis: Overall, marketers should be quite encouraged by what we have seen so far in the Apple SDK. No doubt the weeks and months following the release of the iPhone SDK will be peppered with numerous announcements of native iPhone applications of varying degrees of functionality and import.
That said, much of the discussion following the SDK announcement had been focused on Apple’s decision to restrict distribution of iPhone apps to their “App Store” – in that this decision constitutes a new “walled garden” similar to those erected by the Carriers (and AOL before them). What remains to be seen if Apple’s distribution barrier was created in the name of quality and security (as it claims), or solely for the purposes of greed. If the former, Mobilestance finds no fault with Apple’s decision to act as gatekeeper, plain clothes cop, judge, jury and executioner in the policing of the ecosystem it has created. If, on the other hand, shameless self-interest purveys Apple’s distribution policy (laborious approval policies, the hamstringing of applications deemed competitive to Apple’s other business units), we can only hope that either developer backlash or third party system hacks will force Apple’s hand towards a more democratized distribution model.
According to Moconews.net, Nokia and Universal Music are adding their names to the long list of firms looking to unseat (or even gain market share on) the Juggernaut that is the Apple iPod / iTunes. The two are “teaming together to offer free 12-month access to music from Universal’s artists to buyer’s of Nokia’s musicphones… people will be able to keep the songs once the free-offer period expires. Nokia wants to get other labels to sign up to the ‘Comes With Music’ product, which it hopes to launch early next year.”
While offering free music isn’t (remotely) a new tactic in the digital music market space, what makes the move somewhat notable is the combination of the world’s largest handset manufacturer with one of the largest music labels. Likely this initiative is in reaction to the iPhone’s European launch, as Nokia tries to defend its turf from an invading, buzzworthy handset. Nokia has reason to be alarmed, as their musicphones have not sold particularly well (even in Europe, a market otherwise dominated by Nokia).
Should the iPhone successfully convert current iPod owners to the new device, suddenly Nokia has a lot bigger problem than an underperforming musicphone unit: Apple will have secured foothold in their core handset market – right in Nokia’s backyard. I would not be suprised to see more, even more aggressive announcements like this moving forward should the Apple iPhone gain traction overseas.