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October 24 2011

You say you want a revolution? It's called post-PC computing

"You say you want a revolution,

Well, you know,

We all want to change the world."
— The Beatles

I loved Google engineer Steve Yegge's rant about: A) Google not grokking how to build and execute platforms; and B) How his ex-employer, Amazon, does.

First off, it bucks conventional wisdom. How could Google, the high priest of the cloud and the parent of Android, analytics and AdWords/AdSense, not be a standard-setter for platform creation?

Second, as Amazon's strategy seems to be to embrace "open" Android and use it to make a platform that's proprietary to Amazon, that's a heck of a story to watch unfold in the months ahead. Even more so, knowing that Amazon has serious platform mojo.

But mostly, I loved the piece because it underscores the granular truth about just how hard it is to execute a coherent platform strategy in the real world.

Put another way, Yegge's rant, and what it suggests about Google's and Amazon's platform readiness, provides the best insider's point of reference for appreciating how Apple has played chess to everyone's checkers in the post-PC platform wars.

Case in point, what company other than Apple could have executed something even remotely as rich and well-integrated as the simultaneous release of iOS 5, iCloud and iPhone 4S, the latter of which sold four million units in its first weekend of availability?

Let me answer that for you: No one.

Post-PC: Putting humans into the center of the computing equation

Each computing wave dwarfs and disrupts its predecessor

There is a truism that each wave of computing not only disrupts, but dwarfs its predecessor.

The mainframe was dwarfed by the PC, which in turn has been subordinated by the web. But now, a new kind of device is taking over. It's mobile, lightweight, simple to use, connected, has a long battery life and is a digital machine for running native apps, web browsing, playing all kinds of media, enabling game playing, taking photos and communicating.

Given its multiplicity of capabilities, it's not hard to imagine a future where post-PC devices dot every nook and cranny of the planet (an estimated 10 billion devices by 2020, according to Morgan Stanley).

But, an analysis of evolving computing models suggests a second, less obvious moral of the story. Namely, when you solve the right core problems central to enabling the emergent wave (as opposed to just bolting on more stuff), all sorts of lifecycle advantages come your way.

In the PC era, for example, the core problems were centered on creating homogeneity to get to scale and to give developers a singular platform to program around, something that the Wintel hardware-software duopoly addressed with bull's-eye accuracy. As a result, Microsoft and Intel captured the lion's share of the industry's profits.

By contrast, the wonderful thing about the way that the web emerged is that HTML initially made it so simple to "write once, run anywhere" that any new idea — brilliant or otherwise — could rapidly go from napkin to launch to global presence. The revolution was completely decentralized, and suddenly, web-based applications were absorbing more and more of the PC's reason for being.

Making all of this new content discoverable via search and monetizable (usually via advertising) thus became the core problem where the lion's share of profits flowed, and Google became the icon of the web.

The downside of this is that because the premise of the web is about abstracting out hardware and OS specificity, browsers are prone to crashing, slowdowns and sub-optimal performance. Very little about the web screams out "great design" or "magical user experience."

Enter Apple. It brought back a fundamental appreciation of the goodness of "native" experiences built around deeply integrated hardware, software and service platforms.

Equally important, Apple's emphasis on outcomes over attributes led it to marry design, technology and liberal arts in ways that brought humans into the center of the computing equation, such that for many, an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad is the most "personal" computer they have ever owned.

The success of Apple in this regard is best appreciated by how it took a touch-based interfacing model and made it seamless and invisible across different device types and interaction methods. Touch facilitated the emotional bond that users have with their iPhones, iPads and the like. Touch is one of the human senses, after all.

Thus, it's little surprise that the lion's share of profits in the post-PC computing space are flowing to the company that is delivering the best, most human-centric user experience: Apple.

Now, Apple is opening a second formal interface into iOS through Siri, a voice-based helper system that is enmeshed in the land of artificial intelligence and automated agents. This was noted by Daring Fireball's John Gruber in an excellent analysis of the iPhone 4S:

... Siri is indicative of an AI-focused ambition that Apple hasn't shown since before Steve Jobs returned to the company. Prior to Siri, iOS struck me being designed to make it easy for us to do things. Siri is designed to do things for us.

Once again, Apple is looking to one of the human senses — this time, sound — to provide a window for users into computing. While many look at Siri as a concept that's bound to fail, if Apple gets Siri right, it could become even more transformational than touch — particularly as Siri's dictionary, grammar and contextual understanding grow.

Taken together, a new picture of the evolution of computing starts to emerge. An industry that was once defined by the singular goal of achieving power (the mainframe era), morphed over time into the noble ambition of achieving ubiquity via the "PC on every desktop" era. It then evolved into the ideal of universality, vis-à-vis the universal access model of the web, which in turn was aided by lots of free, ad-supported sites and services. Now, human-centricity is emerging as the raison d'être for computing, and it seems clear that the inmates will never run the asylum again. That may quite possibly be the greatest legacy of Steve Jobs.

Do technology revolutions drive economic revolutions?

Sitting in these difficult economic times, it is perhaps fair to ask if the rise of post-PC computing is destined to be a catalyst for economic revival. After all, we've seen the Internet disrupt industry after industry with a brutal efficiency that has arguably wiped out more jobs than it has created.

Before answering that, though, let me note that while the seminal revolutions always appear in retrospect to occur in one magical moment, in truth, they play out as a series of compounding innovations, punctuated by a handful of catalytic, game-changing events.

For example, it may seem that the Industrial Revolution occurred spontaneously, but the truth is that for the revolution to realize its destiny, multiple concurrent innovations had to occur in manufacturing, energy utilization, information exchange and machine tools. And all of this was aided by significant public infrastructure development. It took continuous, measurable improvements in the products, markets, suppliers and sales channels participating in the embryonic wave before things sufficiently coalesced to transform society, launch new industries, create jobs, and rain serious material wealth on the economy.

It's often a painful, messy process going from infancy to maturation, and it may take still more time for this latest wave to play out in our society. But, I fully believe that we are approaching what VC John Doerr refers to as the "third wave" in technology:

We are at the beginning of a third wave in technology (the prior two were the commercialization of the microprocessor, followed 15 years later by the advent of the web), which is this convergence of mobile and social technologies made possible by the cloud. We will see the creation of multiple multi-billion-dollar businesses, and equally important, tens maybe hundreds of thousands of smaller companies.

For many folks, the revolution can't come soon enough. But it is coming.

Quantifying the post-PC "standard bearers"

A couple years back, I wrote an article called "Built-to-Thrive — The Standard Bearers," where I argued that Apple was the gold standard company (i.e., the measuring stick by which all others are judged), Google was the silver and Amazon was the bronze.

The only re-thinking I have with respect to that medal stand is that Amazon and Google have now flipped places.

Most fundamentally, this exemplifies:

  1. How well Apple has succeeded in actually solving the core problems of its constituency base through an integrated, human-centered platform.
  2. How Amazon has gained religion about the importance of platform practice.
  3. How, as Yegge noted, Google doesn't always "eat its own dog food."

If you doubt this, check out the adjacent charts, which spotlight the relative stock performance of Apple, Amazon and Google after each company's strategic foray into post-PC computing: namely, iPod, Kindle and Android, respectively.

This is one of those cases where the numbers may surprise, but they don't lie.

Amazon, Google, Apple stock charts in the post-PC era


September 26 2011

Amazon's "Prime" challenger to the iPad

Amazon Kindle logoIf you haven't noticed, creating and executing mobile platform plays is really hard. Just ask HP, RIM, Nokia and Microsoft.

Even Google's Android, which made it look easy to grab dominant market share in the smartphone market, is finding it much harder to secure a footprint in the tablet market, where, let's face it, there's iPad ... and iPad.

Enter Amazon, whose forthcoming Kindle Tablet represents the clearest alternative to Apple's iPad.

Securing the design win

I once co-founded a device management platform company in the embedded systems space (Rapid Logic) where we came to define three core precepts for succeeding in a platform-oriented business:

  1. Secure the design win.
  2. Grow the dollars associated with the runtime (via royalties or new product add-ons).
  3. Get the customer to want to embed themselves more deeply.

Flash forward to the present and we see a post-PC device market emerging that has revealed some interesting attributes.

For one, we see how the carrier-dependent mobile phone segment logically bifurcates between the Apple approach (vertical integration) and the Android approach (horizontal, loose coupling).

Why is this so? For the simple reason that for a large portion of the market, carrier "push" via phone pricing — plus a subsidy combined with a retail presence — dictates buying patterns every bit as much as product positioning and differentiation.

Most fundamentally, this is because regardless of whether the end phone is an iPhone or an Android phone, A) the buyer is already a mobile phone subscriber, and B) either phone represents a step up from traditional feature phones.

However, when we move into tablet-style devices, ebook and media device players, where the alternative is non-consumption (i.e., buying no device), it becomes clear that the breadth and depth of ecosystem orchestration that is required goes up materially.

This is why Android has not yet found a foothold in the tablet market (see also: Android's Missing Leg).

Cloud Street meets Main Street

Now, consider Amazon, the ecommerce company that many have officially anointed as this generation's Walmart (see chart below: Walmart, Amazon, Google and Apple head-to-head over the past 10 years).

Comparison of Apple, Amazon, Google, and Wal-Mart over a 10-year period
A comparison of Walmart, Amazon, Google and Apple from October, 2001 to August, 2011. See a larger version and read related analysis.

Amazon, in fact, just experienced its fastest revenue growth quarter in over a decade (up 51% versus the same period in 2010). It is unquestionably on a roll.

To establish the scale and market presence that Amazon has on "Cloud Street" in about one-third of the time it took for Walmart to dominate "Main Street" is nothing short of amazing.

Simply put, it's emblematic of a company whose ability to marry a clear, disciplined strategy with a pragmatic focus on tactical execution knows few bounds.

Kindle as an entry point for a new tablet design

Amazon's Kindle reading device has catapulted the company into a position where it's now selling more digital books than print books, all at a time when the physical bookstore is on its last legs (Borders is gone, Barnes & Noble is for sale).

Now, having proven that it can execute a hardware-software-service play vis-à-vis the Kindle, Amazon is expected to announce its first iPad competitor in a matter of days.

Such a device will build upon several "unfair advantages" that Amazon has established in the marketplace:

  • Ecommerce and marketplace logistics.
  • Digital media content acquisition, publishing and distribution.
  • Cloud computing platform know-how and a nascent ecosystem.

Just as Apple has leveraged its iTunes as the wedge upon which it established a billing relationship with 160 million users, Amazon has built a differentiated position of its own called Amazon Prime.

Amazon's "Prime Directive"

Amazon Prime illustrationReturning to the start of the article, remember the success mantra that I told you about for my company? You can apply the same logic when looking at how Amazon matches up to Apple.

Apple's initial innovation with iTunes was that it afforded consumers the ability to purchase music à la carte — one single at a time — when up until that point it could only be purchased in record or CD form. Coupled with a $0.99 per song pricing model and the unparalleled convenience of click-buy-play, this was a recipe to change the way that customers bought and experienced music.

Similarly, Amazon's initial innovation with was that it enabled people to discover, purchase and transparently receive a seemingly bottomless wellspring of books, where formerly you pretty much only got what was on the shelves in the bookstore.

Like Apple, Amazon used a disruptive pricing and logistics model to entice customers to change their buying behavior.

That Apple has expanded iTunes into an App Store (and iBooks) and a family of devices bound by a common software platform, and Amazon has expanded its catalog to products and services of all stripes (analog and digital), makes perfect sense in this context.

From the initial "design win" of music buying and book buying, both companies have grown the categories and aggregate dollars of their bases in ways that have made consumers want to be more deeply embedded in their relationships with Apple and Amazon.

The Amazon Prime product has cultivated a base of an estimated five million subscribers (from the company's aggregate base of 120 million customers) that, in exchange for an annual $79 fee, provides expedited shipping on many products.

Why is this a big deal? The friction-free model is enticing some customers to use Amazon for product purchases (e.g., bulk goods, toiletries) that historically have been the parlance of the local Walgreens or Costco.

So, if MG Siegler of TechCrunch is correct in his excellent scoop on Amazon's Kindle Tablet, then Amazon will be bundling Amazon Prime with its forthcoming 7-inch tablet device and pricing the device at a disruptively low price point of $250 — about half the cost of an entry-level iPad.

If you create a superset between Kindle buyers and Prime subscribers, a logical early-adopter user base emerges for Amazon to target for its iPad alternative (in terms of price, footprint and aggregate value proposition).

Plus, from a strategic leverage perspective, it makes total sense. Amazon, after all, is first and foremost a great retailer.

Add on to this value proposition the fact that Amazon has surrounded its Prime offering with an ever-growing free library of bundled video content (i.e., a poor man's Netflix streaming service), and the Kindle Tablet starts to feel like a lifestyle device that can succeed over the long haul.

After all, media is a big differentiator on this type of device. And in terms of sheer economics, there are a lot of people these days for whom a bundled video service with a pay-as-you-go library of premium music, books, video and app offerings feels right at $250.

No less, if we know anything about Amazon, it is that it, like Apple, has the fortitude, focus and sense of purpose to see big ideas through to long-term success.

Amazon, after all, wants to be the only shopping cart you'll ever need, and this becomes another channel back to the consumer.

Plus, from an average revenue per user perspective (ARPU), you can probably subsidize the device a bit more with the Prime subscriber, knowing that Prime customers are already paying $79 a year and are faithful, dedicated, recurrent commerce customers.

Some final thoughts:

Just because Amazon has a logical path to finding a "wedge" in the tablet computing market doesn't mean that it will. There are hard strategic decisions about how to fork Android and how that ties in with Amazon's Appstore strategy, including approaches to competing services (e.g., will Amazon allow Nook or iBooks to be installed?).

Moreover, is Amazon prepared to develop and support a software developer's kit (SDK) and get sucked into a developer tools arms race with Apple?

Similarly, how does Amazon Web Services and Amazon's cloud platform fold into the equation?

Like I said at the start, mobile platforms are really hard to create and execute, but if anyone is in a position to do just that, it's Amazon.

Android Open, being held October 9-11 in San Francisco, is a big-tent meeting ground for app and game developers, carriers, chip manufacturers, content creators, OEMs, researchers, entrepreneurs, VCs, and business leaders.

Save 20% on registration with the code AN11RAD


Sponsored post

Getting physical with Android, NFC and the ADK

Android is rapidly extending beyond the phone and becoming a hardware hub, with capabilities that allow a wide range of applications and interface possibilities. Features like Near Field Communication (NFC) and the Open Accessory Development Kit (ADK) are opening new arenas for developers.

Brian Jepson (@bjepson) is an O'Reilly editor and hardware hacker who's recently been focusing on making things with technologies like Arduino and Android. Jepson and Tyler Moskowite (@tmoskowite), a programmer and engineering intern at Make Magazine, will be presenting a workshop on "Getting Physical with Android: Open Accessories & NFC" at the upcoming Android Open Conference. I recently spoke to Jepson and Moskowite about the convergence of Android and hardware hacking, and what it might mean for the Android ecosystem.

Our interview follows.

What does Android's openness allow developers to do?

Android logoBrian Jepson: I think the biggest thing is that it allows developers to experiment. On iOS, you have to spend money to even deploy apps to a phone that you own. And unless you put an app in the App Store or sign up for the Enterprise or Academic programs, you can only distribute apps to 100 devices total. It's cumbersome. I love that you can "sideload" apps on Android: make an app, distribute it outside the Android Market, and people can use it.

Tyler Moskowite: Allowing developers to reproduce their own versions of the Android operating system has resulted in many custom versions of Android. The most notable one is Cyanogen Mod, which provides the base for lots of custom Android systems.

What kinds of things are makers building with NFC, the Accessory Development Kit, and Arduino?

Brian Jepson: I haven't seen much being done with NFC, though I did a wacky demo with it that involved Processing, Arduino, and Twitter. But there have been lots of cool things done with the ADK. I've seen everything from tablet-controlled dancing robots to a cell-phone-controlled ball maze inspired by the life-size labyrinth at Google I/O.

There have been interesting projects going on with Arduino since before the ADK. In fact, I built a variation on Tero and Kimmo Karvinen's Soccer Playing Robot (from Make: Arduino Bots and Gadgets) and brought it to Google I/O. This combined Android and Arduino, but they communicated over Bluetooth instead of a cable, the way the ADK currently works. Tero and Kimmo's robot is one of my favorite Android/Arduino projects. Amarino is also very cool, though it's more of a platform for connecting Arduino and Android.

How big a problem is fragmentation in the Android ecosystem?

Brian Jepson: It's more noticeable to me because I work with things like NFC and ADK that require a very recent version of Android. I don't know how big a deal it is for lots of other folks. I can look at the fragmentation dashboard, and yeah, it's not pretty. At least Android 2.x is dominating. But it's a problem and a headache for developers. I figure Google can mitigate the problem, but I don't see them ever making it go away.

Tell us a little about the Mini Maker Faire event at Android Open. What kind of makers are you looking for?

Brian Jepson: We are looking for anyone who has made something cool using Android and related technologies. We'd love to have a broad spectrum of crafts, electronics, robots, and so forth.

Android Open, being held October 9-11 in San Francisco, is a big-tent meeting ground for app and game developers, carriers, chip manufacturers, content creators, OEMs, researchers, entrepreneurs, VCs, and business leaders.

Save 20% on registration with the code AN11RAD


August 25 2011

Five things Android needs to address on the enterprise side

My lovely cubicle by ashley_dryden, on FlickrAndroid has the foundation to support enterprise use, but there's a handful of missing pieces that need to be addressed if it's going to fully catch on in the corporate world. Below I look at five enterprise areas that Google and third-party developers need to work on.

Managing the device fleet

A typical enterprise needs to have a way of managing a fleet of devices, whether personal or company owned. There are currently a number of vendors providing solutions to this problem, including 3LM, Good Technology, MobileIron, and Sybase.

What needs to happen: Google needs to help create a standard for a complete enterprise Android solution, or it must support one from a third party. Until recently, the closest candidates were the Motorola Droid Pro and Photon lines, but Google's planned acquisition of Motorola could yield a full enterprise option. Keep in mind that Motorola already owns 3LM, one of the leaders in Android security solutions.

Enforcing security policies

CIOs need to enforce their security policies, and they also want to be able to wipe a lost or stolen device. Android does provide the plumbing for most of this work and third-party vendors are starting to create solutions on top of it, such as Motorola's Enterprise Device Policy Management API and related MotoBlur solutions.

What needs to happen: This market is getting fragmented, and CIOs will need to do their own research for the right solution for their particular enterprise.

Securing connections to enterprise networks

Most corporate networks are secured with either SSL or VPN solutions. Android supports both, at least on paper. The problem is that corporate America typically uses proprietary VPN solutions from vendors like Cisco and Juniper. That means that most Android devices do not offer any useful VPN options to corporate users. This is a big issue that is slowly being addressed by device manufacturers. Companies like Samsung are entering into licensing agreements with the Ciscos of the world to make sure enterprise-grade VPN is part of their Android product lines.

What needs to happen: Carriers or OEMs need to bundle the right VPN solutions with their devices. We're starting to see this with certain Motorola models on the Verizon and Sprint networks.

Android Open, being held October 9-11 in San Francisco, is a big-tent meeting ground for app and game developers, carriers, chip manufacturers, content creators, OEMs, researchers, entrepreneurs, VCs, and business leaders.

Save 20% on registration with the code AN11RAD

Sandboxing apps

I often hear IT people say they want to control the types of applications and content users can download to their company phones. While it's possible to wall off a company-issued device, it's an expensive strategy that creates a false sense of security. A better approach may be to allow coexistence of both corporate and personal applications on the same device. Android already provides solid application sandboxing, which isolates data so each app has its own data privacy.

What needs to happen: IT departments need to provide enterprise-grade apps for enterprise data. Those departments must also get used to corporate apps coexisting on devices with consumer apps. A good example of enterprise apps is Google's Apps for Enterprise cloud solution and its mobile counterparts, such as GMail, GTalk, and Docs.

Trusted markets for business apps

Google's Android Market is based on reactive testing that basically crowd sources quality assurance. That model won't cut it for corporate clients. The rise of enterprise-friendly boutique markets, like Cisco AppHQ, could provide the needed alternatives for enterprise adoption.

What needs to happen: The free market needs to work its magic. Multiple app stores are a good thing, and eventually consumers will know which brand to trust for certain types of applications. Google could help the process by allowing other stores to list their apps on Google's Android Market. Carriers could also pre-load multiple store apps.

The future of Android in the enterprise

While Android doesn't come with all the enterprise bells and whistles, it's built on a strong and secure foundation. And while Google needs to do more to provide the missing pieces, the company has created the infrastructure for other companies to step in and fill out Android's enterprise offerings. The strategy appears to be working, as research has found Android to be gaining adoption within corporate IT departments. As more employees bring Android devices into their offices, and as Android's corporate offerings mature, I expect enterprise acceptance to accelerate in the years ahead.

Background Photo: My lovely cubicle by ashley_dryden, on Flickr


August 23 2011

Is your Android app getting enough sleep?

Android developers have unprecedented access to smartphone resources, but this access carries responsibility. The potential to unwisely hog available resources, like power consumption, is a real concern.

I recently spoke with Frank Maker, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Davis, who is doing systems research with Android on low-power adaptation techniques. Our interview follows.

What are the main power consumption issues Android developers should be aware of?

Frank MakerFrank Maker: The number one thing developers should do with their app is allow it to sleep. On a desktop computer, you just launch the app. It runs. You close it. You open it. But on an Android device, you actually go through states where it has focus, it doesn't have focus, things like that. A developer needs to handle those states appropriately instead of trying to make an app work like it would on a desktop. So, if the activity loses focus and the user is going on to another application, then your app should respond to that if it has anything that's going to use serious power. You can bundle up the state and put the app to sleep rather than letting your app's tasks run in the background.

What are the risks associated with poor power optimization?

Frank Maker: The biggest risk is that you'll get eaten alive in the Android Market. There are many applications in the Market that are marked one star because of bad battery performance. Even worse, if your app has a reputation for poor power use, you're going to completely lose your market share to competitors with better reputations.

On the user side, are there tools for monitoring and managing power consumption?

Android battery screenFrank Maker: There's a battery usage screen on Android. If you go to "Settings," "Application Settings," and then "Battery Use," there's a nice little display that shows you the ranking of the different applications. I've looked into it as part of our research, and while it's simple and not super accurate, it will definitely tell you if one app is using way too much power.

Battery life basically isn't a problem until you make it a problem. By that I mean it's not something users think about initially, but if their battery starts going down really fast and they just installed your app, they're generally going to put two and two together. They'll then go to the Market and see if other people have posted about their experiences with that app.

Tell us a little bit about the research you're doing at UC Davis. What exactly are you working on?

Frank Maker: I sit on the border between hardware and software. We're trying to solve the problem of taking one piece of software and putting it on lots of different platforms without changing the software each time. Right now there's a lot of refactoring that goes on when you deploy an application to a new mobile platform. We are trying to create automatic methods instead. One of the things we've looked at is building a model for the power usage in real-time on the device. So the idea is that when you launch the software on the device, you figure out how much energy it takes to do tasks on the device, rather than trying to know it beforehand.

Related to porting across platforms, do you think Android's fragmentation issues will improve over time?

Frank Maker: I'm pretty confident that the Android platform will solve the fragmentation problem. Google is addressing it. For example, on the Android developer blog, Dianne Hackborn recently wrote about new tools that help you adapt to different screen sizes. There's also the battery usage meter, which I mentioned earlier, and Android has always provided a directory structure for your resources to adapt to different configurations. You can automatically select the right resource for the right device and pinpoint exactly what you want to do for each device.

Broadly, I feel like Android is in a transition period. It's evolving from a young, scrappy platform into something more established, and now it has to really solve these issues as it moves into adolescence.

This interview was edited and condensed.

Android Open, being held October 9-11 in San Francisco, is a big-tent meeting ground for app and game developers, carriers, chip manufacturers, content creators, OEMs, researchers, entrepreneurs, VCs, and business leaders.

Save 20% on registration with the code AN11RAD


August 08 2011

Mobile metrics: Like the web, but a lot harder

Flurry is a mobile analytics company that currently tracks more than 10,000 Android applications and 500 million application sessions per day. Since Flurry supports all the major mobile platforms, the company is in a good position to comment on the relative merits and challenges of Android development.

I recently spoke with Sean Byrnes (@FlurryMobile), the CTO and co-founder of Flurry, about the state of mobile analytics, the strengths and weaknesses of Android, and how big a problem fragmentation is for the Android ecosystem. Byrnes will lead a session on "Android App Engagement by the Numbers" at the upcoming Android Open Conference.

Our interview follows.

What challenges do mobile platforms present for analytics?

Sean Byrnes: Mobile application analytics are interesting because the concepts are the same as traditional web analytics but the implementation is very different. For example, with web analytics you can always assume that a network connection is available since the user could not have loaded the web page otherwise. A large amount of mobile application usage happens when no network is available because either the cellular network is unreliable or there is no Wi-Fi nearby. As a result, analytics data has to be stored locally on the device and reported whenever a network is available, which can be weeks after the actual application session. This is complicated by the fact that about 10% of phones have bad clocks and report dates that in some cases are decades in the future.

Another challenge is that applications are downloaded onto the phone as opposed to a website where the content is all dynamic. This means that you have to think through all of the analytics you want to track for your application before you release it, because you can't change the tracking points once it's downloaded.

What metrics are developers most interested in?

Sean Byrnes: Developers are typically focused on metrics that either make or save them the most money. Typically these revolve around retention, engagement and commerce.

One of the interesting things about the mobile application market is how the questions developers ask are changing because the market is maturing so quickly. Until recently the primary metrics used to measure applications were the number of daily active users and the total time spent in the app. These metrics help you understand the size of your audience and they're important when you're focusing on user acquisition. Now, the biggest questions being asked are centering on user retention and the lifetime value of a user. This is a natural shift in focus as applications begin to focus on profitability and developers need to understand how much money they make from users as compared to their acquisition cost. For example, if my application has 100,000 daily active users but an active user only uses the application once, then I have a high level of engagement that is very expensive to maintain.

Social game developers are among the most advanced, scientific and detailed measurement companies. Zynga, for example, measures every consumer action in impressive detail, all for the purpose of maximizing engagement and monetization. They consider themselves a data company as much as a game maker.

Android Open, being held October 9-11 in San Francisco, is a big-tent meeting ground for app and game developers, carriers, chip manufacturers, content creators, OEMs, researchers, entrepreneurs, VCs, and business leaders.

Save 20% on registration with the code AN11RAD

What do you see as Android's biggest strengths and weaknesses?

Sean Byrnes: Android's biggest strength is adoption and support by so many phone manufacturers, and the fact that it's relatively open, which means development iterations can happen faster and you have the freedom to experiment. The installed base is now growing faster than iOS, although the iOS installed base is still larger, as of now.

Android's biggest weakness is that it offers less business opportunity to developers. Fewer Android consumers have credit cards associated with their accounts, and they expect to get more free apps. The most common business model on Android is still built on ad revenue. Also, because the Android Market is not curated, you can end up with a lower-average-quality app, which further reduces consumer confidence. At the end of the day, developers want a business, not an OS. And they need a marketplace that brings in consumers who are willing and able to pay. This is Android's biggest challenge at the moment.

Is Android fragmentation a problem for developers?

Sean Byrnes: Fragmentation is definitely a problem for Android developers. It's not just the sheer number of new Android devices entering the market, but also the speed at which new versions of the Android OS are being released. As a developer you have to worry about handling both a variety of hardware capabilities and a variety of Android OS capabilities for every application version you release. It's difficult to be truly innovative and take advantage of advanced features since the path of least resistance is to build to the lowest common denominator.

It will likely get worse before it gets better with the current roadmap for Android OS updates and the number of devices coming to market. However, fragmentation will become less of a concern as developers can make more money on Android and the cost of supporting a device becomes insignificant compared to the revenue it can generate.


July 07 2011

3 Android predictions: In your home, in your clothes, in your car

In advance of his upcoming webcast and the Android Open conference, I asked "Learning Android" author Marko Gargenta to weigh in on Android's future. Below he offers three predictions that focus on Android's expansion beyond mobile devices.

Prediction 1: Android controls the home

Marko GargentaMarko Gargenta: Google painted their vision of Android @ Home at the last Google I/O. I think this has huge potential to make Android the de-facto controller for many other devices, from lights to music players to robots and factory machinery. We are seeing the first stage with numerous home security systems being developed using Android, as well as set-top boxes powered by Android. At the moment, many of these devices simply use Android as a replacement for embedded Linux and they're still just self-contained devices.

In the second stage, manufacturers will start exposing libraries so developers can build custom applications for their devices, effectively turning them into platforms. I predict this will happen later this year as manufacturers realize the power of letting users hack their systems. The latest case study with Microsoft Kinetic should help pave the way.

In the third stage, various devices will be able to interact with one another — my phone can detect my TV and my TV can communicate with my stereo. This will take a bit longer to get to as we still don't have common protocols for this type of communication. We also run the risk of companies developing their own proprietary protocols, such as a Samsung TV only talking to a Samsung phone, etc. Compatibility may require Google stepping in and using the Compatibility Test Suite (CTS) as a tool to enforce common protocols.

Android Open, being held October 9-11 in San Francisco, is a big-tent meeting ground for app and game developers, carriers, chip manufacturers, content creators, OEMs, researchers, entrepreneurs, VCs, and business leaders.

Save 20% on registration with the code AN11RAD

Prediction 2: Wearable Android

Marko Gargenta: The form factor for Android boards is getting to be very small and the price of the actual chipset is approaching the $100 point for a full-featured device. This allows for development of wearable Android-powered devices. Some of them will be for fashion purposes, such as watches. Others will be for medical and safety applications. I predict that toward the end of this year we're going to start seeing high-end fashion accessories based on Android. We may not be aware they are Android-powered, and we may not be able to develop for them. At the same time, early medical devices will emerge, initially for non-critical applications. These will likely be closed, purpose-built systems with little opportunity for development or extension.

Prediction 3: Android and networked cars

Android logoMarko Gargenta: This is the next big frontier for Android to seize. The car industry is now at the point where the mobile phone industry was 5-10 years ago. People are going to want more from their car systems as they realize that things like Google Maps beat any stock navigation system. Consumers will want car-based connectivity to the Internet as well as apps.

The first stage of networked car development will involve using Android to build proprietary systems. This is already underway with commercial systems being built for cars without users even knowing the systems are based on Android. The second stage will involve connecting the cars to the Internet. This can be done in a couple of ways: cars can have radios with their own connections to the Internet or a driver's mobile phone can be tapped for online access.

Whatever approach we take, 4G and LTE network developments will help the process quite a bit. Once the cars are connected, manufactures will have the opportunity to open up kits for developers to build purpose-built applications for those systems. It is likely that manufacturers may tightly control what apps are allowed into what vehicles by running their own proprietary app stores with strict policies and quality control. This is simply the nature of the auto industry to self-police itself and focus heavily on testing the software. It is not very likely that we'll be able to simply download car apps from a major app market right away.


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