Beware the Android

Lots of press this week about the Nexus 1 (a.k.a. the Google phone) and whether it was as good as the iPhone. (see coverage roundup). It may be a moot point. An insightful article, falseiPhoneon the NT Times Gadgetwise blog, describes a counterfeit phone from China, that looks and behaves very much like an iPhone but is in reality an Android-based device.

Seems as if you can the best of both worlds (albeit illegally), an iPhone on a non-proprietary platform. Sort of begs the question, why would I buy an iPhone if I can get an Android phone that can act like one (or as a regular android phone)?

This really could put the cat amongst the pigeons as it divorces the iPhone (user interface) from the Apple iPhone operating system.

iPhone vs Droid ~ more to the story

With the release of the Motorola ‘Droid’ phone running the Android 2.0 operating system, there has been much talk and chatter on whether this is the long anticipated “iPhone killer”. It could well be, there are a number of impressive features on the Droid such as multi-tasking that are not available on the iPhone. That said, in the long run I think the feature that will make the most difference is the operating system itself.

For the first time, I can as a T-Mobile subscriber with a G1 phone make recommendations on ‘good applications’ to a Verizon subscriber with a Droid phone. The application catalog is no longer tethered to the mobile phone operator. It is the realization of develop once and run on multiple networks (in this case GSM and CDMA).

Droid Phone

G1

2009 Mobile Trends

Came across a comprehensive presentation by Morgan Stanley on Economy & Internet Trends given at the Web 2.0 summit in San Francisco. To give credit where it is due, I came across the presentation through my participation in the TelcoSphere group on LinkedIn.

The presentation is in two parts, the state of the economy (improving but not out of the woods yet) and a section on Internet Trends.

  1. Mobile Internet Usage Is and Will Be Bigger than Most Think.
  2. Apple Mobile Share Should Surprise on Upside Near-Term.
  3. Next Generation Platforms (Social Networking + Mobile) Driving Unprecedented Change in Communications + Commerce.
  4. Mobile in Japan + Desktop Internet Provide Roadmaps for Mobile Growth + Monetization.
  5. 3G Adoption / Trends Vary By Geography.
  6. Carriers in USA / Western Europe Face Surging Network Demand But Uncertain Economics.
  7. Regulators Can Help Advance / Slow Mobile Internet Evolution.
  8. Mobile-Related Share Shifts Will Create / Destroy Material Shareholder Wealth.

There are several excellent graphs that support Morgan Stanley’s position such as this on devices participating in the mobile internet.MorganStanley devices

Couple of points that I picked up from the presentation.

  • The collapse of carrier portals (example used is the UK where the percentage of subscribers accessing a carrier portal went from 57% in 2007 to 22% in 2008). page 46
    It is critical that mobile carriers address this otherwise they will become dumb pipes.
  • Japan represents the future of mobile commerce. The world today (excluding Japan) looks very similar to Japan in 2000. Since then eCommerce, paid applications and advertising have grown from 14% to 33% of a much larger revenue pie. page 49
    I am not so sure about this as I think culture is a big factor in adoption not just technology.
  • Users have a significantly greater propensity to pay when using mobile access compared to desktop (broadband). pages 51-52
    True, but there a lot of free applications and more each day.
  • Due in great part to the iPhone AT&T has seen an almost 5,000% rise in data traffic in the three years up to 2nd Qtr 2009. Yet 42% of iPhone usage happens on Wi-Fi networks. Wi-Fi may turn out to be the answer for the carrier’s capacity issues. pages 57-58
    This was quite surprising to me, I expected some Wi-Fi usage but 42% is significant.

Is it time for another “CarterPhone” decision?

 

In 1968, the FCC allowed the CarterPhone to attach to the AT&T phone network. The CarterPhone was a non-AT&T approved device linking a two-way radio network to the phone network. This decision was made over the stringent objections of AT&T, the telephone monopoly at that time in the US, who argued that foreign devices would by their very nature cause a breakdown of the  telephone network.

Fast forward to 2009, and we see history possibly repeating itself with  AT&T replaced by Apple, the network with the iPhone platform and the CarterPhone with Google, Palm, etc. and the FCC examining the merits of Apple’s policies.

Recently there has been a lot written on Apple’s decision to not permit either Google Voice or Latitude to be added to the iPhone Apps Store. ( see NY Times, Business Week, and InformationWeek). In particular, the Information week article describes how Apple is using thirty year old arguments, “Apple Fears Jailbroken iPhones Could Kill Phone Networks” in defense of its only Apple approved applications on iPhones policy.

The question is of course should Apple have absolute say over what runs on an iPhone ( a kind of benign dictatorship as it were). It is not totally clear what criteria Apple uses but one of the criteria seems to be is the application a competitive threat to either Apple or at&t. There have been a number of missteps so far (see sample rejected iPhone apps).

Looking back at the CarterPhone decision and seeing the innovation that resulted (think cordless phones, fax machines etc.), I would argue that while Apple should be able to have an “approved” applications list, it should also provide a mechanism for other non-approved apps to be available on the iPhone. This ruling should of course apply to all other app store platforms, like Microsoft, Android, Pre etc.