Friday, April 08, 2011
Phone is the Software - hardware will be commoditized
Steve jobs had remarked that “phone is the software” during the launch of the i-phone in 2006. This caused a marked shift in thinking of the phone based on a platform OS that helps enable hardware in varied ways for the user. And .. rightly so, today that the phone is all about how the hardware can be leveraged through software and network capability to manage user data and interactions.
The advent of smart phones has caused a shift towards cloud, social and software based mobile computing, Hardware will gradually get commoditized and will play a supporting role to augment and help the software-network phenomena. This makes the first selling point for android, like i-phone it is a platform that enables leveraging mobile hardware in multitude ways for the end-user. As this market grows. we also see, that intel is dabbling with meebo a mobile platform to make up for lost ground to companies like qualcomm and ARM
The next major reason is device convergence. As the android platform is open and allows smart developers world wide leverage and build upon the hardware capability of the device, it results in a lot of gadget capabilities getting transfered as apps within the smartphone. Thereby resulting in convergence of devices into the smartphone.
Today the the following devices have become unnecessary due to the smartphone , watches, compasses, audio player, audio recorder, camera, video, flash light, music system, measuring tape, scale, gps-satnav, calculator game console and so on all have gotten converted into apps leveraging the generic computing capability of the phone
In the future more devices could converge into the phone like a micro projector and so on….
Software market place
The 3rd reason to go with the android is the power of the application market and volume of options available to the user. With the strength of google in developing well architected platform, developers have been encouraged to build innovative software that address many user needs. Several businesses are being built on the premise of a new interface medium in which users will interact and provide new revenue streams. With upwards of 100 thousand Apps and growing, the Android market provides a great reason for customers to buy-in. Though not as big as the i-phone market place yet, the Android market place does not lack in any of the key popular / successful apps that have drawn the attention of users worldwide. At the end i have listed some apps that i use regularly as a showcase of what is possible with the smartphone today.
Open Source and Open Platform
The master-stroke from google is to make the platform free and pretty-much open source offering to the market. Thereby, Google has abstracted itself from the software and is focusing on engaging with the customers through their services , the platform and other venues. By 2015, going by Gartners estimates of 600 Mn devices, would mean that google at a conservative USD5-10 / license, would have foregone anywhere between USD 3 BN nad USD 6BN in revenues.
Instead of revenues, Google has focused on providing two things, eventually low prices for the end-users through open platform and open source. This would be achieved as more handset OEM companies adopt Android and drive prices down. Secondly, google has also made it possible for many new and small companies in emerging markets fight established hegemonies far more easily by not having to focus on the more complex software part of the problem. This has enables companies like MicroMax in india launch android phones at minimum time to market. This has helped bridge a east-west divide in technology where, the east have excelled in hardware but lagged in the capabilities of software product development seen in the west. Also users have benefited from the hardware innovation capability of the established players like Motorola, Samsung LG and HTC instead of waiting or depending on google to make hardware.
The platform is also open enough to morphing into various avatars thereby keeping innovation thriving. We see that verizon launched an android phone with bing as default search, and ideos [huawei] tablet being launched much earlier than any android tablet based on some OEM changes to android, these tablets have been around in the US market since August september 2010. and so on..
Additionally, Open source means the internal workings are published so that users get better integrated sotware. This ensures that Android is an evolutionary system and prevents stagnation. Standardization is another great benefit seen in Android. Examples are plenty, a few to showcase include, power management where the input is standard USB [ intel ] and thereby universal and interchangeable across all android phones. Even small things like headsets are being standardized to be both audio out and audio - video in and out so that the device can interact with a lot of entertainment equipmnent in the home. Standardization is manifest in the storage and file system. Unlike the i-phone users can view the phone as a standard USB store and dump files which would be indexed and provided based on the context like mp3 for songs inside the media player.
All of the above lead to open innovation across the value chain., enabled through collaboration between OEMS, Google, developers and special services companies where the market need not depend on one company to deliver all the aspects of the user experience.
Configurability of the platform
Open standards, open thinking means that the platform is also open to how the user wants the system to work for themselves. In Android, the system is open to to providing root access on phones for tech savvy users to explore the capabilities futher. Personalizaton of the phone is possible through custom skins and apps like launcher pro, tasker. Custom ROMs are available to replace the existing platform for the advanced users.
Input is critical in a device with a small limited form-factor like the smartphone. multiple keyboards inputs like swype, slideit etc.. along with multi language interface and even easy voice interface enhances the user experience. These features are easily configurable once downloaded from the market
The phone can be configured to the extent of location based profile settings using tools like Tasker. Tasker allows the user to customize the phone based on gps and the phone auto re-configures as the user walks near his office or other configured locations..
On the cloud
A major advantage of the modern smartphone, and so being the case with android is that these devices leverage the services provided on the cloud.
The phone transforms data and services on to networked servers providing user convenience of use and protection from loss. Additionally social and location networking ensures that user gains tremendously from the experience
In android, the platform is built with a focus to have data on the networks. Contacts and accounts are in the cloud. So are task management, calendars. The platform also provides powerful integration with other services like facebook and twitter. Media sharing through picture DB like flickr, picasa and facebook is possible. Most shopping is done through the phone with additional discovery information like recommendations. Coupled with location based features using GPS, The phone provides relevant filtering of the information for the context
Another highlight of Android is that its built as a collection of services. A closer study of its architecture shows that the platform provides a directory of services and a service publishing mechanism through which various apps can interact with each other in providing a seamless experience to the user. Some good examples are.
- From contacts, user can raising email into any emailing client
- Sharing: A picture with geo tagging can be shared into any storage services like picasa or facebook or evernote
- files can be additionally shared on network channels like bluetooth which appear in the service list and so on ..
As we think service architecture, the possibilities become infinite especially as the designer moves into business and enterprise applications
User Interface & Experience
Given the small form factor and the mobile usage of the phone, user experience becomes really critical to the user. In the past smart phones failed due to poor user interface, slow response and PC- thinking in their design. In contrast the Android platform [ and i-phone alike] provide a slew of reasons for the user to adopt a smartphone.
- Multi-touch capacitive screens have ensured that interface is simple easy and intuitive. Even a small child finds the phone easier to undertand than a PC or other devices, as i observed when my daughter uses the phone. Additionally the phone screen is increased provide real estate to enhancing the user experience
- Counter intuitively, the removal of a physical qwerty keyboard has enhanced experience through technologies like swype that would surely become the mainstay of user interaction in the future
- voice based controls and interactions have enhanced search capability, read out, write in especially when interacting with the phone in parallel to any other activity like driving
- The platform is designed for quick start up, quick app switch over thereby overcoming some of the pc like problems during boot
- The interface is simple and to the point .. no complications, most apps are designed for a few things and are actions based. They do that well... keeping both the form factor in mind and the conditions in which they would be used.
Smart phones, android included provide a convergence of networks and thereby provide added capability. GPS, Bluetooth, Telecom [GSM, CDMA, TLE, 4G...] and Wifi combine to provide a seamless user experience.
Some examples include location based services, maps and satnav through the phone [ avoid an additional device]. Wifi tethering and hotspot access for other devices.. out of box from froyo 2.2. onwards..
Network convergence means a shift from IP over telephony to telephony over IP [VOIP / VidOIP]. As networks mature and migrate to high band capability like 3G and beyod, even voice and media will shift to the mobile ip network. Long distance VOIP would become easy and a reality as in PCs and Apps like skype, fring nimbuzz and google voice are already there to provide the capability to call any location at nearly local / 0 call rates.. In addition video calling is standard feature from 2.2 froyo onwards in many apps..
Leveraging the Hardware
The Smartphone battle would be decided on how well the platform [OS] leverages the hardware innovatively. Some examples of what android does today are provided
- Accelerometer is a small gyroscope that provides feedback on movement of the phone. This has been used making the phone a gaming console, destroying the future of the PSP. This enables the phone in lifestyle applications like training, walking, spirit level, etc…
- GPS provide geo and location tagging and awareness enabling the phone to become locally aware and provide features like better search, location based services
- Camera IFR provide 2 benefits. firstly image processing for image based search as show cased in goggles and IFR to help measure distances
- Audio recording is used in voice call recording apps
- The phone through its storage and enhanced storage capability works as a media player
- Magnetometer that provides compass capabilities to the devices
- NFC : for payments, on the street nearby info
these make the Android smartphone a sure buy for any future phone user.
A Mind-map summary is provided for the user
Like there are lot of advantages, as user i have experienced some disdvantages that i list here
- Software based systemic issues like hanging [ some of the pc issues persist] low memory, low storage ... do exist
- The biggest disadvantage on Android is Fragmentation, this is a long term risk where due to excessive forking by OEMS and other projects, developers would find it difficult to support the platform. Platform issues may not be traceable thereby re-focusing energy from innovation to maintenance as it happens in enteprise IT projects
- Custom ROMs from OEM, dilute the effects of android’s original innovation. Samsung does not fully support Tethering and hotspot on its captivate phones.
- Slower updates, thanks to differing agendas of OEM, updates are slow to come by.
- Phone voice quality, software and background running services sometimes makes voice quality drop... but the question to be asked is how much will voice play a role in the future.. its already known that in the western markets, voice usage peaked around ~2007 and is in the down slide.
- Current cost are high but would eventually be driven down thanks to open system and open source
- Battery life - drain - using all the devices
- Children would get addicted.. different lifestyles... my daughter now wants to play with the phone all the time and she is 4!
- In the us there are lock-ins with telecom provider making expensive long term contracts for the phones. Not an issue in other markets like india
- Vagaries of the clouds and single points of failure... in the recent past twitter facebook and even google have blinked on many occassions.. one of the fears for users is availability and security whihc would take time to get reliable and stable
As a user for the past 9 months here are some applications i would recommend to a new android buyer / adopter, this is a continuously evolving market and what i have listed is a small portion of whats out there at current time stamp.
- Arcade | Angry Birds, Break the blocks, trism
- Puzzles | Andoku, Sliceit, morontest, speedbrain,
- Drawing , coloring | Paint, Coloring - Dora, stickdraw
- Board | Chess
- Note Taking | Evernote, Memo
- Task Mgmt | gTasks
- Email | k9, mail droid, gmail app
- News | pulse, Scoreboard,
- Browser | Firefox
- Markets | Currency / XE Currency, Stocks
- Location Services | Yelp, Places [google], tripadvisor, Scvngr
- Shopping | Shopper, Amazon, NGPay
- Music | Tune wiki, mixzing
- Pictures | just pictures
- RealCalc – great calculator that emulates to hoary casio scientific
- Droid48 – is another emulation of the famed HP 48
- GPS Test
- Mobile metronome
- Smartmeasure | Uses IFR to provide distance measurement
- Keyboard | Swype, SlideIT Messagease
- Appaware | is a application search manager
- Skins | Launcher pro
- Battery mgmt | Juice defender
- Sys Mgmt | Mysettings, Quicksettings, SmartBar
- Task Manager | ATM
- Files Manager | Astro, file expert
- Cardio Trainer
- Google Sky Map
- Jaataka | for the quint essential indian
Android is a complete systemic solution for the mobile user. As I say “ everyone is a android customer, it is just a question of time”