Mobilestance.com is honored to host the 200th Carnival of the Mobilists, the weekly roundup of the very best in mobile writings from across the blogosphere. I really can’t remember the bicentennial of the US (I was five years old at the time… something about tall ships and commerative quarters), so for me this is the real deal! Strike up the band… it’s the Bicentennial Edition of the Carnival of the Mobilists!
On the mCommerce isle, check out Mobile Banking ROI tips from Bank of America from a newcomer to our ranks, David Eads of Mobile Manifesto – a mobile banking and commerce blog. Very thoughtful post to say the least… lots of good info here. Of note, “it took [B of A] 13 months for the first 1 million customers to adopt mobile banking. The second million took 9 months and the third million took 6 months. This represents an acceleration rate of roughly 30%.” Tons more where that lil’ jem came from…
Finally, you might want to read up on why “mobile marketing is stupid, but only for people who make it stupid!” in Don’t Put The Email Shoe on the Mobile Foot. Love that quote, and that title. I also love shoes, pithy puns and mixes metaphors… but those are all topics for another time.
Whelp… that’s all she wrote. A shorty, but a… well, you know. Be sure to catch next week’s carnival over at the Burning the Bacon with Barrett… and as always, to get in on all the hot blog-on-blog action submit your mobile-related stories to: mobilists [at] gmail [dot] com.
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”).
What’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!
Peer 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
In celebration of all things Summery and Fun mobilestance.com has shut its doors, boarded up the windows, and put a temporary mail stop on delivery at our Dirtsprings, TX headquarters (see photo, left).
This summer will be a busy one for yours truly – I’ll be getting married in a few weeks, then honeymooning for a few weeks more on a North Sea / Baltic States cruise (sorry, July is just too hot for the Mediterranean).
In the meantime I hate to leave you empty handed lo these many weeks, so we’ve created a custom “Android Invaders” flash game to keep our loyal readers occupied until September (it’s really more of a “Galaga”-type shooter, but “Invaders” has such a better ring to it).
SCROLL DOWN TO PLAY! Help lil’ Android blast away the legacy handsets until your heart’s content! Scoop up “Google” powerups for immunity, bombs and more!
I built the game at Fyrebug (pronounced “firebug”), a great “social UCG flash gaming site” where you can easily create your own games and embed them wherever you like. A small plug: The site has got over 50 different game engines, and is available for brands and/or for white labeling – drop me a line if you’re interested in using the Fyrebug engine for professional use.
That’s all for now folks! Have a terrific summer… and I’ll see you all in September!
Consumer Dissatisfaction and the Macroeconomics of Mobility Provide Linux with the Opportunity to Achieve in Mobile What it Failed to Reach on the Desktop: Relevancy.
Last week Verizon Wireless was just the latest big player to jump aboard the Linux train. In joining the LiMo Foundation, “an industry consortium dedicated to creating the first truly open, hardware-independent, Linux-based operating system for mobile devices,” Verizon joins existing LiMo members Motorola, Samsung, Panasonic, NEC, NTT DoCoMo, Orange and Vodafone.
The Google / Verizon Open Access Wars Continue. Verizon’s move is consistent with it’s grudging embrace of “openness,” a relatively recent development and likely result of Google’s aggressive initiatives with their own Linux-based mobile initiative, the Open Handset Alliance (whose members read like a who’s who of the mobile ecosystem), as well as the search giant’s success in influencing the latest US spectrum auction to partially adopt “open access” rules. These rules prohibit the new “owner” of the highly sought-after “C-Block” of wireless spectrum to restrict network access – based on either device or software requirements. This was a landmark ruling by the FCC that upset established business practices by the US operators (especially Verizon Wireless).
Ironically (or by Google’s design, if you buy into the hype) Verizon Wireless, who vigorously pursued legal action against the Google-backed “open access” initiative, is by default its biggest backer, as the carrier ended up spending $9.4 billion to win the auction for the “open” C-Block wireless spectrum. Maybe “ironic” doesn’t quite cut it. “Asleep at the switch?”, “Poetic Justice? or just good old “Machiavellian Legal Mastery?” So much to think about I just can’t get my head even half way around this one… hopefully a “tell-all” book will hit the market and shed some light on what really happened here between Google, Verizon and the FCC.
Regardless, Verizon asserts that among its reasoning for joining the LiMo is that, unlike the Google-led OHA, LiMo software is truly open source (whereas Google maintains a relatively tight grip over its Linux-derived Android Mobile OS). That said, both operating systems are “open enough” in that developers are free to create and distribute highly robust mobile applications unencumbered by (the current) intellectual property and financial barriers maintained by the wireless carriers and (to some extent) the handset manufacturers.
All roads lead to Linux? In addition to all of this, macroeconomic forces also seem to be contributing to an environment favoring Linux as a mobile OS. With the majority of the world’s mobile users living under severely limited economic conditions (i.e. the so-called “developing” world), an open source product such as a Linux-based handset and / or application would enjoy tremendous price advantages versus competing proprietary models – and is therefore far better positioned to compete for the majority of the world’s mobile user base.
While the US mobile industry has yet to feel any real impact resulting from all of these developments, rest assured that big changes are coming – and soon. One only needs to peruse the recently announced finalists in the Android developers challenge to get a sense the coming spike in mobile innovation. The development of rich, life-enhancing applications like Android Scan, a promising app that integrates a traditional barcode reader with existing online databases to facilitate real time product comparisons and m-commerce, would simply not be possible under without an open mobile operating system and business environment unencumbered by powerful gatekeepers.
Now, it might be tempting to dismiss Linux-based mobile initiatives due to the failure of Linux to achieve success on the desktop. The various desktop Linux operating systems also enjoyed the considerable advantages of pricing and of an open development environment, and yet none of them realized anything more than marginal successes. Why should mobile Linux be any different?
The key lies in the differences between the development and limitations of the two channels. When Linux arrived on the market most desktop users were relatively satisfied with the PC computing experience. Sure, Microsoft (and Apple) products had their problems, but most users were content with the functionality and prices associated with the leading PC operating systems and applications. The same cannot be said for the mobile data space, where most users face an entirely opposite scenario: a high (perceived) priced product delivering a wholly unsatisfying experience.
Ultimately, perhaps the walled garden model that worked “well enough” in the desktop space just isn’t up to challenge in the more demanding environment of the mobile data space – a space far more restricted in terms of device size, bandwidth, processor power, memory and display resolution – and is inherently laden with costs far greater than that of traditional wireline data networks. Perhaps it is precisely this challenge that Linux is uniquely suited to overcome, and perhaps this is why Linux – and perhaps only Linux – will be the portal that will finally fulfill the promise of the mobile channel.
Google’s Newfound Strategic Advantage in US 4G Market Goes Largely Overlooked.
While coverage of last week’s WiMax Mega-Deal largely focused on how the new venture would affect Sprint, Clearwire, and its largest investors (Comcast and Intel), there was strangely little attention payed to the tremendous up-side Google stands to reap from its relatively minor investment of “only” $500 million (as compared to Comcast’s $1.05 billion, Intel’s $1 billion and Time Warner’s $550 million investments).
With little fanfare, the WSJ reported that “Google will become the preferred software developer on the WiMax network, meaning its search service would be the default on new mobile devices.” Additionally, Sprint “agreed to put Google’s mobile operating system, Android, in some Sprint phones.” While the second point is not that surprising (Sprint, as well as Intel, are both members of the Android-focused Open Handset Alliance), the first point may have tremendous impact on the long term landscape of the US mobile search market.
Historically, the major US carriers have been reluctant to grant Google access to their customers, resulting in the search giant’s well-documented difficulties in penetrating the domestic on deck Mobile Search market. Now, as WiMax is likely years ahead of competing domestic 4G technologies such as LTE, Google sits atop a de facto mobile search monopoly in the US wireless broadband space (3G services, while a significant improvement from their predecessors, can hardly be deemed a true “broadband” product experience).
This is a tremendous strategic advantage that may extend beyond mobile search into other highly lucrative areas such as mapping, email, and perhaps event streaming video (YouTube), depending on what Google’s position as the venture’s “preferred software developer” ultimately means. True, consumers will likley be free to navigate to and/or download competitive services from the likes of Yahoo!, MSN and even IAC, but we all know that the majority of users will be content using the default services preloaded on the device.
Google’s advantageous position is further enhanced by the venture’s aggressive cable system partners (Comcast, Time Warner and Bright House), who view the platform as the ultimate response to the “quad-play” service bundles currently offered by Verizon FIOS and AT&T U-verse. The cable companies are locked in a no-holds-barred, block-by-block, all out war with the telcos, and no one should doubt the MSO‘s willingness to fiercely market their advantage in wireless broadband. Google, of course, will profoundly benefit from these marketing efforts.
All told, the real value of Google’s first mover advantage in the domestic 4G space will be their opportunity to define their mobile brand in the best of environments, while Yahoo! and company must more or less wait for AT&T and Verizon Wireless to roll out their LTE networks – content with their standard 3G-based services that will no doubt seem primitive in comparison to Google’s souped-up WiMax products.
New Format Lowers Barriers to Entry for Risk Averse Mobile Advertisers.
Last week Google quietly introduced mobile image ads last week by way of a nondescript post on the official Google Mobile blog.
The announcement is significant as this is the first time that a major publisher has committed to selling mobile display ads on a Cost-per-Click basis. The ads are purchased from the familiar AdWords dashboard, utilizing the search giant’s tried and true keyword bid for placement engine. Curiously, pixel dimensions on the new units do not follow current MMA-recommended standards for mobile ad banner sizes and aspect ratios, but instead follow a previous iteration of the guidelines.
Our regular readers will recognize that Mobilestance has been a vocal supporter of performance-based mobile display ads, as their availability opens up an entirely new base of mobile advertisers – from the more conservative major brands (“I’ll buy it when you show me it works”), to the smaller, more budget conscious advertisers (“I’ve got 10k a month to spend, and you want me to spend it on your untested format?”). Additionally, the display ads should help smaller publishers start to make a business out of their nascent mobile websites.
Still, several challenges and unanswered questions remain. Like Google’s existing (text-based) mobile ad offerings, conversion tracking continues to be problematic for mobile handsets unable to accept cookies (anywhere from 50 – 80% of total us handsets, or 20 – 40% of mobile traffic – depending on who you choose to believe).
Additional questions that come to mind include: Approximate # of monthly avail impressions (US, GLOBAL)? Approximate monthly reach / # of uniques (US, GLOBAL)? Approximate # of publishers in the Google “Mobile Image Ads” (display) network? (US, GLOBAL) Any publishers that I might have heard of? (any premiere pubs, or all “long tail”)? Any premiere advertisers signed up yet? Examples of “going CPC’s” for various keywords.
I plan on testing the ads soon, so eventually I’ll share whatever I can here w/o disturbing the peace…. Until then, enjoy Google’s self-produced home movie on their new offering – a serious “tell” that the Googliers are pretty excited about their new product.
Activist-Focused Initiative Opens Door for Innovative Marketing Applications.
Fluid Nexus, a decentralized (peer-to-peer) mobile messaging application that runs over Bluetooth, promises to do for SMS what Napster did for the .mp3 – democratize a key distribution channel by decoupling the medium from the message.
But… while the technology was originally developed to enable such noble causes as citizen journalism, protest coordination and disaster relief management, it also opens up a host of novel and highly desirable marketing applications. Once again, the law of unintended consequences clearly applies, much to the delight of the marketing opportunist in us all.
The open source project is being led by Nick Knouf, with help from Bruno Vianna, Luis Ayuso, and Mónica Sánchez. The Fluid Nexus application, which is already available for Series 60 Symbian devices, was submitted in 1st Round of the Android Developer Challenge on April 14th.
What is it? Officially, Fluid Nexus describes itself as “an application for mobile phones that is primarily designed to enable activists to send messages and data amongst themselves independent of a centralized cellular network. The idea is to provide a means of communication between people when the centralized network has been shut down, either by the government during a time of unrest, or by nature due to a massive disaster.”
Basically, the application (installed locally on each handset – a key “mass market” barrier that we are putting aside for the time being) establishes an oxymoronic-sounding “Wide Range Personal Area Network” of sorts, with each mobile device accepting and rebroadcasting message data to other “network” nodes (i.e. people running Fluid Nexus on their mobiles) all operating over Bluetooth. The word “network” is in quotes because what you end up with is less of a traditional network (where each element in the system is connected to each other via a serial or matrix-level architecture), but rather a dynamic, evolving, almost organic system that can only be described as, well… “fluid.” This is due to the system’s reliance on Bluetooth, which (in addition to having the advantage of not needing connectivity to the wireless “grid”) is also usually limited (at least on a mobile phone, anyway) to a range of about thirty feet.
This is where things get interesting from a grad-school activist, postmodern hipster, technophile-in-waiting perspective. The application’s creators presume that “if we can use the fact that people still must move about the world, then we can use ideas from sneaker-nets to turn people into carriers of data. Given enough people, we can create fluid, temporary, ad-hoc networks that pass messages one person at a time, spreading out as a contagion and eventually reaching members of the group. This enables surreptitious communication via daily activity and relies on a fluid view of reality.” Surreptitious, indeed… and hats off for the twist on Sneaker Nets. Who knew floppies would somehow become relevant again?
Why Marketers Should Care. By now you may be asking yourself, “Well that’s all well and good… but where is the clutter-clearing, super-interesting marketing application I was promised?” Well for me, it all starts at the end of the application’s official description, where Mr. Knauf and company, in an abrupt and seemingly self-conscious reaction to the aforementioned high-minded phraseology, come down from the clouds and throw the pragmatists in the audience this juicy bone: “Additionally, Fluid Nexus can be used as a hyperlocal message board, loosely attached to physical locations.”
The low hanging fruit here is clearly in the event marketing space – where countless applications for the technology easily come to mind. From basic messaging and exclusive mobile invites to celebrity chats and innovative crowd games. With this approach a marketer wouldn’t have to worry about wireless network coverage (a problem that comes up more than you’d think). Other benefits to the technology (over existing mobile messaging channels) include exclusivity (be in the know), cost (once the app is downloaded use is basically free to both the marketer and consumers alike) and the ever intangible and equally elusive “buzz factor.”
And that’s just scraping the surface of message-based, event marketing approaches. This technology also would work well for P2P distribution of other forms of mobile media – such as audio, graphic and video files, opening the door to even more options. Retail executions bring even more excitement to the channel. Extend a branded activation into an urban space and all of the sudden you’ve got a living, breathing, viral distribution path that can scale across any sized market – neighborhood by neighborhood. Combining this technology with other forms of dynamic media, such as digital outdoor – or even good old fashioned radio – provides creative marketers with a whole new set of tools by which they can forge interesting and (hopefully) meaningful relationships between brands and consumers.
If it were only that simple. Obviously there are many reasons why this technology isn’t for every brand. For one, the application has basically zero install base – and getting consumers to download and install a mobile application is a challenging (yet not insurmountable) task. Also, peer-to-peer technologies (by design) are not easily controllable – by brands or anyone else – and are therefore not for the faint of heart. This is especially prescient in light of recent unfortunate (or absolutely hilarious – depending on your perspective) blow-back from poorly managed viral, CGC or P2P campaigns. Fluid Nexus on Android Video Demo: Fluid Nexus on Android from Nick Knouf on Vimeo.