Mobile


With the holiday season upon us, and tablets at the top of many gift lists, it’s all but certain that millions of new users will get exposed to an open source based Android Tablet. By all accounts, Amazon’s Kindle Fire is expected to leapfrog into, at least, number two position in the tablet market. While this would appear to be good news for Android tablets and the Android OS, it may actually be exactly what Apple and Microsoft had asked for Christmas (or any other holiday these companies choose to celebrate).

Great price and Amazon content versus clunky user experience
I’m not going to do a blow by blow review of the Kindle Fire. Glen has a good review of the Kindle Fire versus Apple iPad. I’d also recommend the Kindle Fire review from Instapaper developer Marco Arment from a user experience standpoint.

The first common thread across reviews is the price of a Kindle tablet, at $199, can’t be beat. Some have referred to the Kindle Fire as the people’s tablet.

Second, reviews are virtually unanimous that the Kindle Fire is great when restricted to Amazon’s content, even if some magazines aren’t optimal for a 7 inch screen. The Kindle Fire becomes less attractive as users venture outside of Amazon’s content garden. Even the new Silk browser, touted to speed on device browsing, appears to be a let down.

Finally, many reviews describe a less than delightful user experience while using the Kindle Fire operating system and user interface. The Kindle Fire OS responsiveness is said to lag user input, sometimes forcing users to redo an action only to find that the first input was in fact registered.

The 7 inch form factor, while easier to hold than a 10 inch tablet, presents the added complication of smaller targets for users to press in order to carry out their intended tasks. One of Arment’s issues with the Kindle Fire interface is that: “Many touch targets throughout the interface are too small, and I miss a lot. It’s often hard to distinguish a miss from interface lag.”

Like it or not, iPad is Kindle Fire’s comparison
There are many older users who don’t need a laptop and could benefit from a small and moderately priced tablet for email, browsing and reading. A Kindle Fire seems like a great solution. It’s likely that many of this cohort will receive a Kindle Fire from a well meaning family member or friend. In fact, my wife suggested getting a Kindle Fire for several retired members of our family.

However, the usability issues that Arment brings up, especially surrounding interface lag and smaller touch targets will undoubtedly have an impact on their desire to use the device, or store it away with that interesting looking tie received over the holidays.

It seems that a lack of comfort with new computing devices, fat thumbs and poor eyesight, something we all have to look forward to, aren’t great ingredients for being delighted with the Kindle Fire.

Even younger users, many who own or have used an iPod touch or iPhone are at risk of being annoyed with the lag and user interface roughness of the Kindle Fire.

Some have argued that you can’t compare a $499 iPad with a $199 Kindle Fire. That’s true, on paper. In practice, users are going to compare their Kindle Fire experience with an iPad. There isn’t a tablet market, there’s an iPad market. It’s the reason that most Kindle Fire reviews compare to the leading entry in the market, the iPad, and not other Android or 7 inch based tablet.

A poor Kindle Fire experience reflects on Android
When the Kindle Fire is perceived to deliver a less enjoyable experience than an iPad, the real risk is that the Android tablet market will be viewed in the same light as the Kindle Fire. That may not be fair considering Amazon has forked the Android OS, and Android continues to get better. However, since the Kindle Fire is expected to reach an order of vastly more users than other Android tablets, and considering Amazon’s technical reach, don’t be surprised if typical users generalize their Kindle Fire experience to Android tablets.

Earlier this week Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s Ashlee Vance wrote on his Twitter feed: “Just opened up the old Kindle Fire. Android sure has a Windows 3.0 feel, dunnit?”

That is exactly the type of comment that should make Apple happy and give Microsoft a faint hope in their tablet plans. If Amazon, with its great content and proven track record with Kindle devices, can’t pull off a device users prefer to an iPad, then what’s the likelihood that any Android vendor can?

I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies, or opinions.

A recently released survey of 2,760 mobile application developers reveals challenges for Google, Microsoft and RIM around fragmentation and access to developer time and mindshare.

The survey was conducted in early April 2011 by research firm IDC, and Appcelerator, a mobile development platform provider for building cross-mobile platform applications using HTML, CSS, JavaScript, PHP, Python and Ruby. Appcelerator claims 1.5 million developers and over 20,000 applications built with its open source products.

Not surprisingly, Apple and Android phones and tablets occupy the top four spots in terms of developer interest in developing for a certain platform. There’s over a 40 percent gap between the two leaders and everyone else, including RIM, Microsoft and HP’s respective mobile platforms.

Android’s challenges with fragmentation
The survey gets interesting when developers discuss their concerns with Android. Fragmentation is overwhelming the number one concern.

A feature/function comparison versus Apple’s iOS or ability to make more money from Apple’s ecosystem are at the bottom of the Android concerns list.

IDC and Appcelerator also point out that there appears to be significant gap between interest in Android as a tablet OS and tablets that support Android.

On the software side, 71% respondents are “very interested” in the Android OS, but on the hardware side, only 52% are very interested in developing applications for the Samsung Galaxy tab. This drops to 44% for Motorola Xoom, the first Android tablet with Android’s Honeycomb OS.

This is somewhat surprising considering the relatively strong hardware specifications, especially compared to the likes of Apple’s iPad 2, that Android tablets offer. However, fragmentation concerns may be a root cause to the lack of interest in having to test with and support the various Android tablet offerings.

One can see why Google is working hard to reduce fragmentation, even if it allows outsiders call Google’s open source credentials into question.

RIM and Microsoft’s race for relevance
When asked if any other platform can catch up to Apple or Google, 62 percent of respondents said “no”.

Digging deeper, the respondents are more interested in the Microsoft & Nokia partnership versus announcements from RIM or HP surrounding their respective mobile platforms. Respondents felt that the Microsoft and Nokia partnership could position Microsoft as a more serious competitor to Apple and Google.

However, even amongst this group, when asked what poses the biggest risk to the success of Microsoft’s mobile platform, 46 percent answered, “not enough time”. The only higher ranking risk was a perception that Google and Apple are just too far ahead.

What’s troubling is that Appcelerator helps developers build native, cross-device mobile applications from a single code base for iOS, Android, and Blackberry.

These developers can’t find the time to target anything other than iOS and Android, even with a tool that addresses multi-platform support from a single code base.

These developers are saying that the marginal cost of tailoring the single code base application for RIM or Microsoft platforms is outweighed by the value of delivering the next feature for iOS and Android users of their application.

I would have expected these responses from developers tasked with building for multiple mobile platforms without the benefit of a cross-device framework or tool like Appcenerator offers.

RIM, Microsoft and others hoping to catch Apple and Google, need to dig deeper into these results and determine what can be done to keep developers interested in building for their mobile platforms.

Follow me on Twitter at SavioRodrigues. I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies, or opinions.”

A high profile VC and a well-known mobile application developer were recently involved in a debate about whether to build for Android or Apple mobile platforms. The answer it turns out is, it depends, or both, or simply build for the mobile browser.

App developers and companies have different goals, so why follow the same advice
Well respected VC, Fred Wilson, principal of Union Square Ventures, has previously suggested that developers interested in the largest user base should invest as much, if not more, in developing for Android as they do for iOS. Wilson justifies his recommendation by looking back at the desktop operating system market. Wilson writes, “I believe the mobile OS market will play out very similarly to Windows and Macintosh, with Android in the role of Windows.”

Countering Wilson’s advice is Marco Arment, founder of Instapaper and former lead developer of Tumblr. Marco suggests developers need to keep a closer eye on development economics, degree of fragmentation, payment integration, and the willingness of users to pay for applications or extensions on a given mobile OS platform.

Marco’s advice is likely to resonate with individual developers hoping to directly monetize their mobile application either through selling the application or through in-application purchases. Over time however, one shouldn’t bet against Android closing the gap versus Apple along the lines of development economics, payment ease of use and fragmentation.

It remains to be seen whether Apple’s platform can continue to generate higher application and in-application purchase revenue for developers even while Android boasts the #1 mobile OS by unit share. Today, the App Store revenue gap between Apple and all other mobile platforms is striking.

On the other hand, a company that sells goods or services which are exposed through the mobile application, but does not monetize the application itself, needs to pay more attention to Wilson’s advice. If the vast majority of a bank or retailer’s prospective users are going to use an Android device, the company had better offer a compelling user experience on that platform.

But why choose between developing for Android or Apple?

Build mobile web browser applications
It’s somewhat amazing to watch companies that don’t rely on directly monetizing their mobile application invest in native mobile applications for iOS or Android. In a rush to be the first to market, companies optimized for a device rather than following the cross-platform and cross-browser web application strategy they’ve used for the better part of a decade.

Not surprisingly, this will change thanks to HTML 5, CSS 3 and JavaScript.

For instance, if TweetDeck, which is best known for its thick-desktop client, can see the light and deliver the same user experience in a web-browser across desktop and mobile devices, chances are your company’s web application can evolve into a mobile web browser application without paying the cost of device-specific implementations.

The key element of TweetDeck’s announcement is that “TweetDeck Web, however, is a standalone web site and requires no downloads, no App Stores and is not limited to any one brand of web browser.”

No App Stores is a win for the browser
The “no App Stores” angle obviously has its pros and cons. However, unlike individual developers, companies that aren’t monetizing the mobile app itself don’t need to rely on an App Store to attract users. They already have users and other processes to attract new users. Their users simply want to interact with these companies through mobile devices. Putting the company’s web application into an App Store adds extra hurdles for users and for the company when it comes to fixing defects or updating the application with new features.

If users begin to rely more on App Stores and less on the Internet itself for finding new vendors of goods or services, being in the App Store of choice will become as important as being listed in Google’s web index. But we’re years away from this scenario becoming reality, if ever. In the short to medium term, established companies can well address new and existing customers through a mobile web browser application.

It’s strange that Google hasn’t recognized the mobile browser-based application opportunity and is instead attempting to replicate Apple’s App Store strategy. The browser undermines the value of the underlying OS.  And since Google doesn’t much care to profit from the underlying OS or the device, unlike Apple, they should be encouraging companies to build mobile web applications, not device-native applications. Google should be indexing and promoting these mobile web browser-based applications.

Consider cross-device frameworks as a step towards standard browser applications
For individual developers and companies that need to be an App Store, or want to access more of the device native capabilities, such as the camera or GPS, then evaluate the various cross-device frameworks previously covered on Open Sources. For instance, PhoneGap already has an impressive list of cross-device native feature support. Using a framework such as PhoneGap, and their build service could make it easier, faster and cheaper to build applications for Android and iOS, instead of having to decide which platform to prioritize.

Over time, standards will emerge to access core mobile device capabilities, such as the camera or contact list, in a cross-device fashion. Whether this occurs through defacto standards around a framework such as PhoneGap, or a formal standards body efforts is unclear. Maybe Google will smarten up and realize they have more to gain by spearheading this initiative than trying to play Apple’s App Store game.

If the past decade has taught us anything, it’s that the browser is the application runtime that matters most. Build for the browser.

Follow me on Twitter at SavioRodrigues. I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies, or opinions.”

Research in Motion (RIM) is planning to make its popular BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) available on Android and iOS platforms. What’s RIM thinking, and how with a cross-platform BBM impact your enterprise?

BBM offers immediate gratification and exclusivity
While RIM made a name for itself through its email support, today’s users are much more inclined towards the instant gratification that SMS texting, IM chats or BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) provides. BBM push notifications and ability to see if the person you’re “BBMing”, the act of BBM chatting, has received or read your note and is in the process of replying, provide immediate gratification that email simply doesn’t.

Today, BBM is only available on BlackBerry devices, making it easy for non BlackBerry owners to feel outside of the loop when your BlackBerry wielding friends, colleagues and business contacts are BBMing.

While it pains me to say, as a long time BlackBerry user, and faithful Canadian, I would gladly leave to an iPhone or Android device if I could get BBM on those devices. Far more than push email and a physical keyboard, BBM is the key feature that keeps me a BlackBerry user.

RIM smartly plays up the unique BBM user experience and exclusivity in BlackBerry advertising campaigns.

BBM on Android and iOS could accelerate migration away from RIM
Considering the tight race that RIM is facing against Android and Apple, and how important BBM is to keeping users on a BlackBerry device, I was surprised to read that RIM is planning to offer BBM on non-BlackBerry devices. The Boy Genius Report blog reports:

…we’ve been told RIM will offer stripped down versions of the BBM experience BlackBerry owners know and love. That way, Android and iOS users can communicate with practically anyone who has a smartphone using BBM, but they might not be able to share photos, location, or videos (when RIM crosses that bridge). Users who want the full BlackBerry Messenger experience will still need a BlackBerry smartphone to get it.

This move is increasingly difficult to understand when one looks at RIM’s revenue by source from their latest fiscal quarter 3Q11 ended November 27, 2010.

The Devices category represents revenue from smartphone sales. The Service category represents revenue from carriers for every active BlackBerry device on the carrier’s network. The Software category represents revenue from the sale of packaged software.

With over 95 percent of RIM’s new revenue linked to devices sold or active on a carrier’s network, why would RIM make it easier for users to leave the BlackBerry platfrorm?

RIM’s plans for owing the smartphone messaging category appear risky
RIM may be hoping that the stripped down BBM experience on non-BlackBerry devices could attract new users from the Apple and Android camps. This seems like wishful thinking, especially considering BlackBerry’s lack of application parity, ease of use or device specifications that would have attracted users to iPhone or Android devices. To balance this upside, if there is any, RIM must balance against the downside risk of losing exiting BlackBerry users who are currently tied to a BlackBerry device because of BBM alone – like yours truly.

It’s possible that RIM’s strategy team expects users like me to leave the BlackBerry ecosystem over time anyway. At least this way, they may be able to make some money off users like me through BBM on a non-BlackBerry device.

RIM may be hoping that making BBM cross platform would allow them to own the messaging category, much like GoogleMaps owns the location and map application category across Android, iOS and BlackBerry devices.

While RIM may very well own the messaging category across smartphones, the burning question is, so what? Does RIM intend to capture advertising revenue through BBM on non-BlackBerry devices? Good luck with that not ruining the user experience.

Does RIM intend to charge a one-time or ongoing fee to access BBM from a non BlackBerry device? I’d happily pay such a fee, but let’s do some quick math.

Based on fiscal 3Q11 results, RIM nets approximately $300 from a new BlackBerry device purchase and approximately $60 per active subscriber per year. Over a three year cycle, RIM stands to collect $480 per subscriber, or about $160 per year.

If I leave my BlackBerry behind for an iPhone or Android device, I’d probably pay about $20 per year for BBM access. Keep in mind that a cross platform BBM alternative, Whatsapp, costs $0.99 on the iTunes App Store.

For each existing BlackBerry user that leaves, RIM needs 8 non-existing BlackBerry users to generate $20 each per year in RIM revenue, either directly or through monetizing advertising, just to break even. Seems like a tall task.

It’s more than possible I’m missing something that RIM’s strategy guru’s see. I am however hoping that RIM goes ahead with this plan, and it’s a net positive for RIM’s business.

Continued pressure on IT for cross-platform Mobile device support
If RIM does go ahead with this plan, IT departments can only expect increased interest in non-BlackBerry device usage requests to access enterprise systems and applications. Plan to adjust your enterprise mobile policies or face user complaints.

It’s unclear how BlackBerry will offer security and management of BBM on non-BlackBerry devices. A lack of equivalent security and management options for BBM on non-BlackBerry devices could be a reason for enterprises to continue preferring BlackBerry devices for enterprise usage. Stay tuned for more details from RIM throught the year.

Follow me on Twitter at SavioRodrigues. I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies, or opinions.”

Pundits have predicted the growing adoption of tablets as a top 10 trend for 2011. According to Mashable, a new Forrester report estimates that 44 million tablets will be sold in 2015, surpassing even laptop sales by nearly 5 million and desktop PC sales over 25 million.

Android-based tablets are expected to capture a significant share of the overall tablet market and they’re making quite the splash at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES).

If Twitter buzz is any indication, two Android tablets, the Motorola XOOM and the T-Mobile G-Slate, will be strong competitors to the iPad.

Tablets in and around the enterprise
As consumers adopt tablets for home use they will undoubtedly want to use their personal tablets to access enterprise systems from outside of the office.

Sales teams and employees that already have remote access to enterprise systems will seek to drag their personal tablets onto enterprise IT networks from outside the office.

Like me, tablet buyers seeking to use personal tablets for occasional work purposes aren’t ready to ditch their work PC or laptop. Rather, I’d like to augment my work machine with my personal tablet so I can access mail, calendar and enterprise web applications when I’m not at work and can’t be bothered turning on my laptop. I’d also like the option of carrying a tablet when travelling versus my Thinkpad or MacBook Pro. It’s important to note that while my tablet is a personal device, one which will be infrequently used for work purposes, the ability to do so did and will factor into my purchase decision.

IT will resist user requests for accessing enterprise systems from personal tablets, citing enterprise security, administration and management requirements. Device vendors will work to address these enterprise requirements, while balancing against the backlog of consumer focused requirements. And when they do, IT will, at times grudgingly, accept personal tablets onto the network.

The iPhone and iPad’s growth in the enterprise followed this trend. Android tablet adoption in the enterprise is unlikely to be significantly different.

The iPad’s enterprise lead over Android
With this history well known, it’s interesting to note how little attention is being paid to enterprise features by Google or Android device makers. This fact is especially striking considering how far ahead the iPad already is with its enterprise readiness.

Watch the Android 3.0, aka Honeycomb, preview video, the Motorola XOOM launch video or the T-Mobile G-Slate press release for even a scant mention of enterprise features.

Scour the Galaxy Tab website or support site to determine its appropriateness as a personal device with which to access enterprise systems. You’ll have to click on “Other Features” and on to “Working Remotely”. Once there, you learn about the Galaxy Tab’s Wifi and 3G connection options. That’s great.

Now, what about using a Galaxy Tab to connect to your office Cisco VPN? Or what about information for administrators? If relevant information exists on the Galaxy Tab marketing or support site, it’s not easily found.

For instance, Galaxy Tab users trying unsuccessfully to connect to a Cisco VPN discuss trying an OpenVPN client which requires the user to root their Galaxy Tab. Just imagine IT telling users to root their Android tablet in order to connect to the enterprise network – fat chance indeed.

In another example, enterprises that wish to use their own Root CA (certificate authority) chain or import an un-trusted public Root CA not in the Android OS firmware are unable to do so. This security-related feature remains an identified Android issue with a medium priority on the issues list.

The Motorola XOOM website provides no mention of enterprise readiness.

Now, head on over to the iPad Support site. Right away you’ll notice that “Enterprise” is a support topic listed on the left-hand navigation menu. From here, consumers and IT workers can learn about topics such as ActiveSync configuration, enterprise networking, deployment and security.

Android tablets ignore the enterprise at their peril
InfoWorld colleague Ted Samson recently wrote about Apple formally declaring its enterprise intentions. Samson writes:

But now Apple has apparently come out of the enterprise closet: The company today pushed out a promotional email, entitled “Mac in the Enterprise,” that is chockfull of information for large businesses on how to integrate Macs, iPhones, and iPads into their IT ecosystems.

The simple and effective manner in which Apple is communicating the iPad’s business-readiness, if even for occasional usage, deserves not just kudos, it begs for imitation from Android device makers.

Follow me on Twitter at SavioRodrigues. I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies, or opinions.”