So the rumour mill has cranked into gear once again and spat out its latest juicy morsel, that Facebook is partnering with HTC to release a phone.
The question isn’t why they are doing it, but why has it taken this long?
I suspect they were playing the long game, watching to see how Amazon would fair with its Kindle Fire. Although they are two completely different segments (in this case tablet vs phone), they have one thing in common – the operating system.
As apparently like Amazon Facebook are planning to use a customised version of Android to power their device, the question is which version will be used at the foundation. Amazon used Android 2.2 aka Froyo which was an improvement on past versions but hardly set the world on fire, one hopes that both Facebook and Amazon make the leap to using Ice cream sandwich.
Regardless this puts a pin in a lot of peoples dreams that Facebook would use a HTML5 base for their mobile platform, of course the reasons for these hopes were never actually confirmed and the basis of them (project Spartan) seems to have disappeared.
With WebOS in purgatory, I guess all hope is on FirefoxOS to realise the web platform dream.
Of course this could be exactly what it was at the start, a rumour.
Time will tell.
I’ve been wanting to get back into development for a while now and I’m been mulling over what platform to target and I’ve decided on Window Phone. Now some of you maybe wondering why would I target a platform with few customers and limited market share, there are two driving factors behind my decision.
The first is the learning hurdle, two years ago I used to be a .net developer, creating superawesomesauce applications for teaching and learning and although this was in VB.net (dont throw things). This means that although C# is a different (and vastly superior) language, it isn’t too much of a leap.
The second reason is more pragmatic, namely App discovery.
I meet a lot of developers in my day job as a developer evangelist and they are all beginning to face the same problem, standing out for from the crowd. At time of writing the most popular App store have over five hundred thousand Apps available for download, how does a developer get noticed? More importantly how does a customer notice a developers work?
Sure if you’re lucky you might get featured on the front page of an App store, but the odds are slim. If you’ve got a lot of VC funding (or a big company behind you), you can afford to pay for advertising and marketing, but this is difficult path with no guarantees of success. If you’re really lucky you might get social media working for you, that quintessential business driver, word of mouth. I trust my friends more than I do advertising (even though they themselves may be recommending based on awareness created by an advert), as there is little chance of their recommendation being anything but genuine.
Indeed Matt Mills co founder of usTwo, creators of Whale Trail spoke to the Guardian on the importance of word of mouth for their revenue model now that Apple’s ‘New Game Of The Week’ promotion has finished:
“We’re hoping that if somebody’s downloading it, they’ll be talking about it, and there are 2-3 big updates planned over the next 6-8 weeks,” says Mills. “We need to get to the people in the pub. Game Of The Week is fantastic: it tells us we’ve made something special. But my wife, mum, dad or sisters don’t really look at the App Store in that way. They find out about new apps when somebody tells them.”
But getting people to talk about your App is very, very hard (but not impossible) so most developers have no choice but to upload and cross their fingers.
So my question to you is this If you are working on your own, is being another item in an overstocked store the best way to get noticed?
I don’t think it is, certainly if you are just getting started in the App industry.
Which is why I am looking at Windows Phone, yes it may only have 5% market share at time of writing and an under developed App store but I see that as an opportunity. The recent Mango update, the Windows Platform has had numerous improvements and it has been well received by industry pundits and consumers alike. The most notable addition has been Nokia’s conversion from Symbian, which has now begun to energise both Windows Phone developers and, perhaps more importantly other hardware partners. Indeed, on watching the unveiling of the Lumia 800 and 710, and the subsequent revelation that these phones would have Nokia’s largest marketing budget ever HTC and Samsung confirmed that they would increase their marketing budgets to compete. Which means that we’ll be seeing a lot more Windows Phone devices around, especially if they can get the price point so that they can offer most Windows Phones free on contract.
But thats the future, in the short term there is still an App store that needs developers, customers that wants to buy Apps and most importantly a provider that is actively promoting developers.
In the end it comes down to this, do you want to be a small fish in a big pond, or a big fish in a small pond?
The rapid change in technology over the last five years has been nothing short of astounding, we have seen established brands such as Blackberry and Nokia go from market dominance to struggling underdogs. We’ve seen the dominance of Apple, the beauty of the multitouch capacitive screen and the lightning in a bottle that is the well developed ecosystem. As exciting as they have been, I don’t think its going to hold a candle to 2012.
I say this for a number of reasons:
- It has taken time for smartphones to be ready for consumers
- It has taken time for consumers to be ready for smartphones
- Platform App stores are now the defacto content delivery mechnisim
- Developers are now empowered with tools and easy (ish) languages and more importantly are finally getting the respect and recognition they deserve.
We now have an educated consumer base, who want to purchase apps and services, demand more from their phone and expect it to be delivered faster. We have a mature ecosystems where you can buy movies, tv shows, games, utilities and more all under one well designed roof. But more importantly all companies understand that they need to have a mobile strategy and continue to invest in it.
Now it would be foolish to not to mention the most dominant force in mobile today, Apple. Apples’ success has been nothing short of phoenix like, from being 90 days from bankrupcy in 1996, to being one of the worlds richest companies in 2011. Its products are beautifuly engineered and executed, popular and aspirational. The App Store is the number one player in the game and to some the only player. Its users buy more and spend longer using their apps. Apple will not be dislodged from its position in 2012 or 2013 for that matter.
However to modify a phrase used by Steve Jobs: For other companies to win, Apple doesn’t have to lose.
My thoughts on current versions of android arent all that positive, versions up to 2.3 (gingerbread) feel rough around the edges, a powerful but somewhat blunt tool when it comes to the user experience. However, Google understands that it can’t succeed if it delivers a sub par user experience and with its next release Ice Cream Sandwich it is improving all aspects of the User interface. Android is already well on its way to becoming the most popular (by units sold) platform, but with ICS it will finally have a response to the long standing criticisms. Combine this with the number of hardware partners and a well established eco system it becomes more than just a cheap alternative to iOS.
Rim has had a tough couple of years, all of which are its own fault for ignoring the market. It has rushed to catch up but faltered at each step, its tablet dreams fell short of market expectations and users have been leaving in droves. All is not lost as they have begun a platform transition away from current operating systems and are focussed on trying to improve all aspects of pretty much everything they do. People also forget the huge presence in emerging markets like Latin America, how RIM seeks to bolster its marketshare will be crucial. They have started delivering handsets that people want and like, have set out a clearer roadmap and begun new developer initiatives to keep their Eco system alive. 2012 is make or break for Blackberry, hopefully that will lead to some interesting developments
Now this is the dark horse, released last year to a smattering of applause was Microsofts scorched earth policy to its previous mobile platforms. It has started from scratch and developed an interesting take on the user interface, forced consistency from its hardware partners and strived to court developers to create apps and services. Most importantly it has convinced Nokia to sideline its Symbian and Meego operating systems and concentrate on developing Windows Phone handsets. In short Nokia is fundamental to the success of Windows phone, it brings brand value, high quality production capabilities and manufacturing and delivery infrastructure like no other.
Nokia is committing a huge spend to marketing of its new Windows devices (three times larger than any other Nokia marketing budget), which is getting the platform visible in new ways. Microsoft has a small but growing App store, and with Nokia seeding 25, 000 developer devices to developers worldwide in 2012 it is only going to increase in size. A major side effect of Nokia working with Microsoft is that it is forcing the hand of other Windows phone licensees to up their game to compete. From marketing to device design there is now a premium level Windows phone handset which opens up new options for manufacturers.
In summary we have multiple ecosystems that have matured, devices that put customers first, platforms that are despearte to win and customers who understand the product.
2012 has the makings of the perfect storm and I cannot wait to see what happens.
I’ve had the Sony Ericsson Xperia play for a week now, so I thought I would jot down some initial thoughts on Android and my overall experience. Now, it’ only right to confess that I come to Android full of preconceptions and that I have not set them aside. Some of you may argue that this is unfair and that any new platform should be taken on its own merit viewed as an island among many, a mobile archipelago if you will.
I think those people are morons.
We are now (arguably) in the third decade of mobile with at least three established mobile platforms and many more close behind. It is very hard (read near impossible) not to take a level of expectation or preconception with you when looking at a new device or platform.People are beginning to have certain expectations on what their device does, if a new platform doesn’t meet that expectation there’s a problem.
Which brings me to Android.
I’m not a fan, there are things I like but a lot more that I don’t
The Xperia play runs Gingerbread (Android 2.3), apparently one of the best versions of the software yet, but it still seems to put the user through so many hoops, steps and jumps.
A very simple example:
Last week I was going to the Nokia Minibar event in London and needed directions from TechHub to the event. I grabbed the Meetup app from the marketplace and eventually logged in (this is due to the keyboard and I not really meshing well). I then clicked on the Meetup and tried to get directions.
It then pops up a message asking me if I want it to show the location on a map or get directions and needing directions I clicked the latter. I then get another pop up asking if I want to complete the action using the browser or maps, I click maps.
It then starts loading up driving directions.
It’s great that it has driving directions available by why it presupposes im going to use them instead of walking in London is a strange one. In fact the only time I wanted it to ask me a question, it doesn’t offer me the choice.
Android: So close, yet so far.
Going back to my preconceptions, I always felt that Android was like iOS but just a little bit worse. Which made justifying purchasing a handset very difficult as if I’m looking for a iOS style product why would I go for one thats slightly worse? It’s why when I left appledom I went to webOS because it didn’t seek to ape or emulate other platforms, it went its own way. It’s also why I am attracted to Windows Phone, because the interface is completely different to the rest of the market. The most important thing in mobile is to match with user expectation and competitors but also seek to create your own path at the same time.
This is very difficult and not always guaranteed to succeed (see webOS), to butcher a certain Apple marketing message:
Be better, think differentiation.
I think we are beginning to see the benefits of the HP takeover of Palm.
The launch of the Touchpad, was a tad lacklustre to say the least. Laggy software, the now infamous ‘soft’ launch, indifferent reviews and the sad (and unfair) fact that it wasn’t iPad damaged the reputation of the Touchpad in the important first month.
Palm had a history of annoying its early adopters, for example launching the Pre + not long after the Pre and it seems that this has carried over to the new GBU within HP. This weekend was a Touchpad firesale, in selected stores across America you could get a 16gb TouchPad for as little as $299 (£182!). Had I invested £399 ($652) in a 16gb TouchPad at launch, I would be more than annoyed.
However, this isn’t a post deriding HP for annoying early adopters in the aim trying to stimulate sales, far from it.
I think its the only way for the TouchPad to succeed.
Finding a new USP:
It had probably calculated that the die hard early adopters could be counted on to line up on day one, however the platform cannot succeed on early adopter sales alone. It also knew that to succeed in this highly competitive market (then again thinking about, its not really all that competitive with Apple having 61% of the market), where every other tablet manufacturer are fighting over the 30% it needed to change the narrative.
I have spoken before about how HP couldnt fight Apple on the same level and win, it needed a hook a USP all of its own. Being not Apple wasn’t good enough, iOS 5 takes a lot of good features from Webos such as notifications, cable-less syncing, cloud storage and if rumors are true even inductive charging.
In short, WebOS has lost the features that separated it from the pack, before the consumer was even aware that it had them.
A product in an market with a defacto leader has a few options to distinguish itself:
Quality, features or price.
It was always going to be difficult to compete on quality as Apple has the lead on unibody construction (although the TouchPad isn’t too far from it), the strengths of WebOS such as Just Type and true multitasking come through use not in 30 second commercial so make it a difficult pitch.
Which leaves price.
HP knows how to do one thing well and that’s drive hardware sales, after all until recently it was the worlds leading PC manufacturer. It does this through competitive pricing which becomes the start point for deep discounting and that’s exactly what it has done with the TouchPad.
Pricing against iPad is a double edged sword, too high (ala Xoom) and you alienate your audience (“Why should I get that when the iPad is X?”), but launching at the same pricepoint is also difficult (“Why should I buy X, when the iPad is the same price?”).
There are many Android tablets that are cheaper than the iPad, but to get to that price point they have sacrificed many important features that negatively effect the user experience that make it difficult justify the purchase (“X is cheap, but it really looks it”). There are however, very few (if any) tablets that offer a decent operating system, sufficient specifications to run it smoothly (well after the 3.0.2 update anyhow) that also feel good in the hand and are cheaper than the iPad.
If the TouchPad was available in the UK for £250-300 it would fly off the shelves, which is why (if Twitter is anything to go buy) the TouchPad has been selling pretty well over in the land of the free this weekend.
It a dangerous game, but price is the only USP that HP can use to turn heads, once they have the unit in there hands the thought becomes: “It’s well built, it looks good, ok it isnt an iPad but it is a hell of a lot cheaper”.
In these hard times, price is everything but its also nice to get a great product too.
I’ve been thinking about doing a podcast for a while and now I’ve finally done one!
Its a bit rough around the edges but it covers the following subjects:
In the podcast I talk about the Google V microsoft slagging match, RIM new handsets, Android revenue issues and the new HP Touchpad!
Southend gets a lot of stick, some of it deserved, some out of spite and it annoys me.
In the last ten years or so, Southend has gone though a lot of changes and had a lot of money invested in regeneration (see pier entrance, new highstreet), the College has grown in size and we have a new University campus.
And yet the snide comments continue to rear their heads, and I think its a shame.
I know that Southend has a vibrant student/creative and technology community but that its rarely seen, so I’ve decided to setup a Meetup group to see what we actually have. My aim is first and foremost to get people together, you dont have to be interested in Arts, Music, Literature or Technology.
Just be interested and we’ll go from there.
So this can go one of two ways, either It will be a spectacular success or not, either way I would love for you to get involved http://www.meetup.com/creativedevelopers/