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October 06 2011

Steve Jobs, Apple co-founder, dies at 56

The mastermind behind an empire that has revolutionised personal computing, telephony and music, dies in California

Steve Jobs, billionaire co-founder of Apple and the mastermind behind an empire of products that revolutionised computing, telephony and the music industry, has died in California at the age of 56.

Jobs stepped down in August as chief executive of the company he helped set up in 1976, citing illness. He had been battling an unusual form of pancreatic cancer, and had received a liver transplant in 2009.

Jobs wrote in his letter of resignation: "I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple's CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come."

Apple released a statement paying tribute: "Steve's brilliance, passion and energy were the source of countless innovations that enrich and improve all of our lives … The world is immeasurably better because of Steve."

Bill Gates, the former chief executive of Microsoft, said in a statement that he was "truly saddened to learn of Steve Jobs's death". He added: "The world rarely sees someone who has had the profound impact Steve has had, the effects of which will be felt for many generations to come.

"For those of us lucky enough to get to work with him, it's been an insanely great honour. I will miss Steve immensely."

He is survived by his wife, Laurene, and four children. In a statement his family said Jobs "died peacefully today surrounded by his family … We know many of you will mourn with us, and we ask that you respect our privacy during our time of grief".

Jobs was one of the pioneers of Silicon Valley and helped establish the region's claim as the global centre of technology. He founded Apple with his childhood friend Steve Wozniak, and the two marketed what was considered the world's first personal computer, the Apple II.

He was ousted in a bitter boardroom battle in 1985, a move that he later claimed was the best thing that could have happened to him. Jobs went on to buy Pixar, the company behind some of the biggest animated hits in cinema history including Toy Story, Cars and Finding Nemo.

He returned to Apple 11 years later when it was being written off by rivals. What followed was one of the most remarkable comebacks in business history.

Apple was briefly the most valuable company in the world earlier this year, knocking oil giant Exxon Mobil off the top spot. The company produces $65.2bn a year in revenue compared with $7.1bn in its business year ending September 1997.

Starting with his brightly coloured iMacs, Jobs went on to launch hit after hit transformed personal computing.

Then came the success of the iPod, which revolutionised the music industry, leading to a collapse in CD sales and making Jobs one of the most powerful voices in an industry he loved.

His firm was named in homage to the Beatles' record label, Apple. But the borrowing was permitted on the basis that the computing firm would stay out of music. After the success of the iPod the two Apples became engaged in a lengthy legal battle which finally ended last year when the Beatles allowed iTunes to start selling their back catalogue.

Jobs's remarkable capacity to spot what people wanted next came without the aid of market research or focus groups.

"For something this complicated, it's really hard to design products by focus groups," he once said. "A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them."

Jobs initially hid his illness but his startling weight loss started to unnerve his investors. He took a six-month medical leave of absence in 2009, during which he received a liver transplant, and another medical leave of absence in mid-January before stepping down as chief executive in August.

Jobs leaves an estimated $8.3bn, but he often dismissed others' interest in his wealth. "Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn't matter to me … Going to bed at night saying we've done something wonderful … that's what matters to me." © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

November 14 2010

My bright idea: Innovation is born when art meets science

The technology and design guru argues that for invention to occur, scientists must embrace the art world

A graphic designer and computer scientist, known for his work on the online computer game Second Life, as well as the author of bestselling self-help book The Laws of Simplicity, John Maeda has made great use of dual educations at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and art school. Drawing from his experiences in these two disciplines, the 44-year-old has come to believe that too stark a distinction is drawn between science and the arts. It is Maeda's conviction that scientists need art and artists in their professional lives in order to invent and innovate successfully, and with a particular focus on education he has toured the world to promote the idea that government-approved "Stem" subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) should be widened to include art; "turning Stem into Steam," as he puts it. This week Maeda, who is president of the Rhode Island School of Design, will expound on these ideas at an experimental installation at London's Riflemaker gallery, where he will "dispense wisdom from a sandpit". See for more on this eccentric project.

Why does science need artists?

We seem to forget that innovation doesn't just come from equations or new kinds of chemicals, it comes from a human place. Innovation in the sciences is always linked in some way, either directly or indirectly, to a human experience. And human experiences happen through engaging with the arts – listening to music, say, or seeing a piece of art.

So to help them become more humanist, you'd parachute artists and musicians into laboratories?

Which already happens to some degree with artist-in-residence programmes in scientific labs. They're usually very small, but these programmes are seen as quite desirable by scientists. Because all scientists are humans, and they are humanists inside, and by bringing that part out, innovation happens more naturally.

Can you think of an example where an injection of the arts has helped the sciences?

I recently saw something in Time magazine, a famous Nobel laureate chemist making molecular models out of clay. It shows how these more fluid, abstract materials traditionally belonging to the artist lend themselves better to ways of thinking about the world, as opposed to some kind of ball-and-stick model that shows a constrained view. Art helps you see things in a less constrained space. Our economy is built upon convergent thinkers, people that execute things, get them done. But artists and designers are divergent thinkers: they expand the horizon of possibilities. Superior innovation comes from bringing divergents (the artists and designers) and convergents (science and engineering) together.

Such as?

Look at Apple's iPod. A perfect example of technology – an MP3 player – that existed for a long time but that nobody ever wanted, until design made it something desirable, useful, integrated into your lifestyle. Look at the success of [a colourful money-management website] which has recently been sold. It's an app in which 80% of the experience is what you see, how you touch it. Not the technology. I'm also interested in how art and design links into leadership. Because leaders now are facing a very chaotic landscape, things are no longer black and white, things are harder to predict. What better mindset to adopt than the artist's, who is very used to living in an ambiguous space? Real innovation doesn't just come from technology, it comes from places like art and design.

George Osborne recently announced protection in the higher-education cuts for the so-called Stem subjects, but not the arts. Is this blinkered?

You know, it's easy for politicians to look at the measurability of a science and maths education. I mean, fill out 100 questions, you get 100 right or 50 right or zero right, it's easy to measure. There's no test that can give you a score from zero to 100 on the question, "Is this student a good writer?" And society's so focused on measurement. It's awkward and sad. Singapore or Japan are highly known test-taking countries focused on science and engineering, yet are desperate to find innovation. And where are they looking? They're looking to the west for new ideas. It's kind of like a dog chasing after its tail a little bit – this weeding out of the idea that expression, something that exists in the intuition space, can matter. I mean, it's ironic that the people who talk about these kind of things [cuts to the arts] are all counting on things to carry their message – like images, the written word – as givens.

Do you think that scientists tend to lack humanity?

Scientists would say otherwise. But scientists strive to be pure, to live in what's called a "concept space". And by doing so they tend to move away from the core humanist principles that actually put those two arms and legs on them in the first place. The best scientists that I've met are those that are humanists and scientists at the same time. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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September 14 2010

iPod program helps school test scores

Last month, we had an exceptional panel talking about Mobile in Education at our largest Mobile Portland meeting ever. A report on how iPod Touches are making huge differences in third-grade test scores really stuck with me.

Joe Morelock, the director of technology and innovation for the Canby School District in Oregon, shared with us how Canby started a pilot program of iPod Touch devices in a single third-grade classroom. The pilot's success led to the district setting a goal of providing every third-grade student with access to an iPod Touch.

Morelock has documented the program in a presentation you can download from the school district's wiki.

Below, I've pulled out a few slides from Morelock's presentation that illustrate the remarkable improvements. These charts start to explain why the school district got behind the program so quickly.

The charts compare the performance of third graders throughout the Canby school district with those whose classroom used iPod Touches throughout the year. As you can see in the chart below, the number of students that meet or nearly meet the math requirements on a standardized test are much higher for the iPod Touch classroom (left circle).

Pie charts comparing math scores of students with iPod Touches with those throughout the district

The difference in performance is striking when looking at students with disabilities (below, left column):

Migrant and ELL students

The increase in test scores for students with disabilities appears to validate some of the early anecdotal reports that iPhones and iPod Touches were making a difference for children and adults with autism.

The program also had a positive affect on English language learners (below, right column):

Students w/ disabilities, minorities

And it's not just math scores. Here are reading test results from the same classroom:

Reading test scores

Reading test scores continued

Parents whose children have been exposed to iPod Touches in the classroom don't like the idea that their children may not have them when they move on to the next school year, so they're organizing fundraisers to purchase additional devices. Because iPod Touches are relatively inexpensive, five can be purchased for the same price that would have been required to purchase a single laptop.

The Canby School District is extending the iPod program by providing iPod Touches for all third graders district-wide during the 2010-2011 school year. In addition, pilot programs using iPads will run at the elementary-, middle- and high-school levels.

Perhaps most importantly, both students and teachers love using the devices:

You know that little boy who came up to us this morning? He loves the iPod Touches. They have made an incredible difference in his math work. He has Asperger’s, and before the iPods, he could never sit through a math class. The kid absolutely loves math now and gets As. He sits himself up at the front of the room -- he likes to be by himself -- tucks his foot up, leans on the desk and goes to town on math. It's simply amazing. -- Gale Hipp, sixth-grade math teacher. [Note: Link added.]

And simply:

This is the most fun I have had teaching in the last 25 years. -- Deana Calcagno, fifth-grade teacher.

The full panel discussion is available in the following video. Morelock's segment on the Canby School District and their iPod pilot program starts at 19:20.


January 28 2010

Check Mate: Apple's iPad and Google's Next Move

"I think this will appeal to the Apple acolytes, but this is essentially just a really big iPod Touch," said Charles Golvin, an analyst at Forrester Research, adding that he expected the iPad to mostly cannibalize the sales of other Apple products. - The New York Times

There is an axiom that the biggest game-changers often result from ideas that, at first blush, seem easy to dismiss. So it goes with yesterday's launch of the iPad, Apple's entry into what they call the 'third category' of device -- the middle ground that exists between smartphone and laptop.

Why is the iPad (seemingly) so easy to dismiss? Well, for one, it is an evolutionary device when conventional wisdom suggests that it needs to be a revolutionary device to find a wedge into a new market.

After all, the iPod and iPhone that came before it were truly revolutionary devices, offering wholly new functionality, delivering new value chains, and fundamentally changing the relationship that consumers had with, first their media (in the case of iPod) and then their communications (in the case of iPhone).

By contrast, the iPad truly does look like a really big iPod Touch, and given its evolutionary nature, it begs the question of who buys this thing and why, especially if you already have a smartphone and a laptop?

Confusing the Tail with the Dog
Thus, a reasoned analysis is that the iPad is to the iPhone & iPod Touch as the MacBook Air is to the MacBook. In other words, a cool product with a devoted base of happy customers, but in relative terms, a niche product in Apple's arsenal of rainmakers.

In fact, the opinion of the above-referred Forrester analyst is hardly unique. Quite the contrary. Check out the discussion boards across Engadget, AppleInsider, and Silicon Alley, to name a few, and do a twitter search on iPad, and the sentiment is 5 to 1 to the negative, with recurring phrases like 'fail,' 'yawn,' 'over-hyped' and 'apple blew it.' Heck, even two-thirds of the audience invited to Apple's own event look bored, offering only feint applause when prompted by Apple CEO, Steve Jobs.

So is Apple hosed? Did they blow it? Not even close.

But before I get into the 'Why,' let me present, to set some contrast, a favorite saying within Google. Google, after all, is Apple's open 'ish' frienemy, and the company who so many cite as being 'destined' to beat Apple in the mobile wars (if interested in that fork, check out 'Android's Inevitability and the Missing Leg'). If what's good for Google is not so good for Apple, then perhaps the opposite might be true, right?

In any event, within Google they like to say that what is good for the Web is good for Google, the premise being that the more the Web evolves as the core fabric from which applications, communications, entertainment, social engagement and information exchange proliferate around, the better it is for Google as the company that organizes it, makes it searchable, and then monetizes it via advertising.

So if what is good for the Web is what is good for Google, then what is good for Apple?

It's the Platform, Stupid!
125M accounts.png

As I am listening to and watching Steve Jobs deliver what very well could be his last launch of an entirely new product for the same company that he birthed (with Steve Wozniak) 34 years ago (in 1976), I am struggling with two conflicting sensibilities.

One is that some of the heart-stopping, holy-sh-t, gaming-changing aspects of Apple's tablet creation still lie below the surface, like an iceberg that only reveals a fraction of its actual mass above the waterline. (More on that in a bit.)

In other words, add me to the list of expectant Kool Aid drinkers struggling (then) with a cupful of 'that's it?' punch.

But, far more resonant is a second sense that a rapidly rising tide called iPhone Platform is lifting all boats derived from it; namely iPhone, iPod Touch and now iPad (and I still very much believe that Apple TV is due for a near-term reboot to plug into the same ecosystem).

And here's the thing, if this was a presidential debate between Apple and Google for the hearts and minds of consumers, developers, media creators, publishers and businesses of all sizes, then the launch of the iPad is Apple's closing argument for why they should be #1 (watch the full video, and let me know if you agree//disagree).

Consider this: A $50 billion company that is so profitable that in the last quarter alone they dropped another $5.8 billion of cash into their coffers (now they have $40 billion in cash). Assertion one: not only do we build great products, but we run our business the right way (read about Apple's Q1, 2010 Earnings Call HERE).

No less, this same company has been the game-changing innovator at not only the inception of personal computing and not only in transforming the music business, but also the mobile phone. Assertion two: we are the only game-changing innovator who has both stood the test of time and repeatedly matched past successes with new successes.

But, here's the kicker; in iPad, Apple is presenting multiple levels of leverage that virtually assure that they will be successful with this new entrant. Why? Because even if iPad (somewhat) cannibalizes sales of another Apple device, as the afore-mentioned Forrester analyst proffers, it's money going out of one Apple pocket and into another.

In fact, far from shying away from this truth, Apple wholeheartedly embraces it, with Steve Jobs specifically noting in yesterday's presentation that "because we've shipped over 75M iPhones and iPod Touches, there are already 75M people who know how to use the iPad."

A note aside, this premise that existing iPhone and iPod Touch users simply pick up the iPad and know what to do with it is a concept that not only has been affirmed by virtually everyone I know who has played with the device, but is an idea that should be wholly unsurprising to anyone that currently owns either an iPod Touch or iPhone.

250M-iPod.pngNow, perhaps you might argue that that's fool's gold, tapping into a mine that is destined to run dry, but that belies the fact that Apple just recently sold their 250 millionth iPod, so I would argue that 'there's a lot more gold in them thar hills.'

And that is the key thing that you should take from the iPad launch event; namely, that being evolutionary and doing the same thing over again - by creating a derivative product from the original mastering effort (just as the iPod and iTunes gave rise to iPhone, iPod Touch and App Store) - is good strategy when the strategy not only is working in the market, but also rewards the investment your customers and partners have already made in your ecosystem.

apple-tablet-keynote_088.jpgAlong those lines, virtually the entire library of 140,000 iPhone Apps will run unmodified in iPad (with pixel for pixel accuracy in a black box, or pixel-double running in full-screen), a decision that takes care of both current iPhone Developers and iPhone/iPod Touch Owners. As you might expect, the same is true with iTunes libraries.

I can tell you that when I bought a second iPod Touch for my kids over the holidays, the premise that my entire library of apps and media (not to mention, photos) from my first iPod Touch could seamlessly be re-used in the new device was a bit of an 'AHA' moment. Leverage, after all, is a good thing.

Mind you, this is independent of the iPad-specific optimizations that developers can take advantage of within the updated SDK (a note aside, now with two flagship devices that are not phones, calling the platform 'iPhone Platform' seems decidedly out of date, and I noticed that in referring to the updated SDK, Jobs & Company referred to it as the SDK, versus iPhone SDK. Expect a developer event, likely tied to the release of iPhone OS 4.0, that brings some order to the naming confusion, in addition to formally conveying clearer constructs for harmonizing development across the two different form-factors).

Okay, one last chess move laid out by Apple yesterday, and seemingly, a more focused shot across the bow of Google, and their loosely-coupled approach, was the assertion that "we're the only company that can deliver this type of solution with this price and performance."

This point, which is also amplified on the Apple web site (check out the iPad intro video, which feels in its presentation style akin to getting the co-creators of iPad to sign their name on the product), is bolstered by the fact that the iPad is the first device using Apple's own proprietary silicon - the A4 chip, the first offspring of the P.A. Semi acquisition - yet another piece in Apple's proprietary integration chain, including battery technology (iPad touts ten-hour battery life), hardware design, software, developer tools and online services.

Google, your move.

The Good, Bad and (not so) Ugly of iPad
apple-tablet-keynote_050.jpgLet's start with the good. The consistent refrain from users that have actually played with the device is that it is fast, surprisingly fast. As John Gruber of Daring Fireball notes, "everyone I spoke to in the press room was raving first and foremost about the speed. None of us could shut up about it. It feels impossibly fast." In other words, unlike netbooks, there is nothing underpowered about this device.

Secondly, is the fact that with over 1,000 sensors in the touch-based user-interface, Apple is effectively doubling down on the core belief that they have found the future of personal computing, and it doesn't involve a mouse and a physical keyboard.

apple-creation-0337-rm-eng.jpgIn fact, noteworthy is that not only did Apple deign to completely re-design it's iWork productivity suite for the iPad (it looks very functional,), but a number of the demos spotlighted how having a larger touch-based user interface facilitates all sorts of interesting innovation around virtual controller schemas, since you simply have more real estate to play with, and the level of sensor density translates to a high degree of responsiveness.

For example, EA's re-work of their 'Need for Speed SHIFT' racing game showcases the ability to quickly toggle between the inside and outside of a race car, and the ability to change gears from the inside of the car, something unimaginable in the much smaller iPhone.

MLB-overlay.pngSimilarly, MLB (Major League Baseball) showcased their MLB app, which overlays graphics, information feeds, video clips and live game programming in a way that is simultaneously immersive, interactive and highly entertaining. It is both suggestive of a media-centric killer app for the IPad and a bellwether for the future of TV Anywhere, yet another reason that I believe Apple's ambitions with respect to Apple TV remain very much alive.

Anecdotal, to be sure, but also pointing in the Apple TV direction, is the fact that iPad applications will be able to display content specifically targeted to an external display connected to the iPad (via the Dock connector), a capability that was never allowed with the iPhone SDK.

But the final bit of noteworthy, and compelling, good about iPad is that this just feels like the device that real people (read: non-techies) are going to flock to. For one, the intimidation factor of a tiny device, something that held back Baby Boomers, like my parents, suddenly becomes a non-issue, and, of course, there is the matter of the price.

At a $499 entry point, mass consumer is an achievable goal in due time (plus, no pricing overhang for competitors to swoop in).

So what's not to like? Well, for starters, Apple was slim on the details behind their vision for tablet-optimized applications, although it's worth noting that the iPhone SDK didn't actually launch into beta until a full eight months after the release of the first iPhone. In other words, the developer side of the iPad story has a second act that is forthcoming, no doubt gated by the extreme secrecy leading up to the device's launch.

hero7_20100127.pngSimilarly, while iPad lays clear Apple's ambition to pursue the e-book market aggressively (they demonstrated a nice iBooks player and added an iBook Store to complement the iTunes and App Store marketplaces), they demonstrated virtually nothing that harnesses the touch, tilt, rich media and programmatic elements that they can bring to the re-invention of print media.

This could be gated on the aforementioned developer's event or on difficulties with the print media industry, but it's worth level setting that what they launched is, more or less, iterative to the Kindle's value proposition (Jobs even gave props to Amazon in the presentation) than a complete disruptor.

Other random quibbles are the lack of a camera in iPad (for video conferencing, augmented reality apps and plain old photo taking); a lackluster carrier value proposition on the 3G version of the iPad; and for some, the continued (and I assume permanent) lack of support for Adobe Flash. But these are quibbles, not what I consider showstoppers that stand in the way of iPad's eventual success.

Netting it out: The best way to think about iPad is as the device that inspired Steve Jobs to create the iPhone and the iPod Touch. It's the vaunted 3.0 vision of a 1.0 deliverable that began its public life when the first generation of iPhone launched only two-and-a-half years ago, and as I wrote about previously HERE, it is a product that is deeply personal to Steve Jobs, and I believe the final signature product on an amazing career. I would view yesterday's launch in that light.

Related Posts:

  1. Rebooting the Book: One iPad at a Time

  2. iPad: The 'Boomer' Tablet

  3. It's in the Bag! The Apple Tablet Computing Device

  4. The Chess Masters: Apple versus Google

  5. Holy Sh-t! Apple's Halo Effect

December 03 2009

Google Android: on Inevitability, the Dawn of Mobile, and the Missing Leg


If for no other reason than the "Anyone but Apple" crowd NEEDS an alternative, there is an "inevitability" meme associated with Google's Android initiative.

After all, Google is formidable, has a strong brand, and their (relative) openness is the "zig" to Apple's proprietary "zag." And of course, mobile is strategic to Google's future, so they can be expected to compete vigorously for market and mind share (via Android) over the long haul.

But, do those ingredients combine into a recipe that makes their success in the market inevitable? Over a year after Android's launch, I have to say that the jury is still out.

Why do I say this? Most basically because reconciling the fragmentation challenge of supporting a heterogeneous software platform running on top of divergent hardware form factors with the proprietary aspirations of handset makers, software developers and carriers is far harder to balance than most recognize.

But, you say, can't we look to the PC as a historical guide? Isn't this merely Windows vs. the Mac for the Mobile Broadband Era? Not necessarily. Unlike the PC, which was fundamentally a homogenization play (i.e., hardware and software was fairly consistent from vendor to vendor), mobile is heterogeneous in terms of its support for hardware, software, and service layer diversity, a trend that Android, if anything, seeks to accelerate.

Moreover, unlike the PC, where "good enough" was the bar required to seize the market, the mobile consumer expects seamless interaction and robust performance across multiple modalities, including voice, search, geo-navigation, communications, gaming, and social networking.

Anchoring all of this is a fundamental truth that for most consumers, their mobile device of choice is a lifestyle decision, a personal, ever-present extension of themselves that is resident in a way that never existed before with the PC--a value proposition that Apple has completely run with on iPhone (and iPod before that).

Fundamentally, though, mobile is a platform play, a game that is largely won by securing the hearts and minds of developers, and for them, the expectation bar is now set pretty high, owing to the success of iPhone across so many domains, including installed base (and guaranteed reach into that base), operating margins, developer ecosystem, application uptake, functioning marketplace, and the ability to target both carrier-based and tariff-free market segments (via iPhone & iPod Touch).

Simply put, developers will default to developing on platforms that:

1. Gain them a readily addressable audience
2. Allow them to make money
3 They enjoy personally using, as the best solutions often result from an "unscratched itch"

This is the bar that Android must satisfy to become a durable player in the market, and as I will lay out, they have a long way to go.

Inevitability: Just around the Corner?

android-logo.pngWhen Verizon announced Motorola's Droid (with behind the scenes high-touch support by Google), the conventional wisdom was that this device was the closest proxy to being a viable competitor to iPhone, without actually being a serious threat.

In other words, a good, reasonably inspired, and largely caveat-free handset, but still a generation or two away from being Insanely Great.

Well, the first wave of market feedback is in, and the data, while encouraging, is clearly mixed. On the one hand, it looks likely that Droid will hit 1M units sold by year's end, which is great for a first-generation handset.

In terms of the larger market prospects for Android, one can also safely assume that this is the tip of the iceberg, and that another 5-6 increasingly rock-solid handsets are germinating in the ground, ready to raise the bar still further.

At the same time, this very premise--device diversity--presents a bit of a conundrum. Samsung couldn't care one whit about Motorola's success. Quite the opposite. So when they come out with their own rockin' Android handset, they should create their own distinct hardware form factor, and their own social service layer (it's not going to be Motorola's MotoBlur).

Who knows, they may offer up their own proprietary middleware to enable Samsung-brewed apps to play particularly well together, so as to incent developers to take advantage of the native features of Samsung devices. This is all good, right? One of the benefits of an open platform, right?

Now, as a developer, do you develop different versions of your software to take advantage of the cool features of each of these different devices (and the lifecycle of supporting same)? Do you focus on just the device that pushes the highest volume (and release more apps specific to that device)? Or, do you pursue a lowest common denominator that strives for uniformity across all form factors?

It's the consummate highest common divisor v. lowest common denominator forking decision, and the complexity of making such a strategic decision is muddied further by rumors that Google is going to come out with an official Google Phone that features the "Real Android," a move that, if true, could really upset the apple cart (no pun intended) with handset makers and carriers.

Post-Droid Launch: The Android Buzz Kill

It was inevitable, but with hype comes disappointment, and now that the first reports are in (from industry types on Droid - HERE, HERE, HERE), the crowd is railing on everything from an under-baked software platform to hardware problems (such as a useless physical keyboard, disappointing camera performance, and battery doors perpetually falling off; the latter of which must be serious Schadenfreude for iPhone owners, who've endured rants about the idiocy of Apple not allowing consumers to replace their own batteries -- owing to the absence of a battery door on the iPhone and iPod Touch).

Oh, and developers don't seem too happy about the way Android's version of the App Store model--the Android Market--works for them. Why? For starters, unlike the global reach into 50M+ iPhone/iPod Touch devices that iPhone developers can plan their world around, the Android Ecosystem works differently, with some handsets and some carriers having varying levels of app catalog completeness, not to mention, workflows that make it difficult to discover new apps and a payment process that is, well, Byzantine.

Plus, the different form factors are already exacting a tweak-and-debug "tax" to gain the leverage of multi-handset support, a lifecycle that only figures to get more complex going forward.

wallet-with-money-public-domain.jpgPerhaps all of this wouldn't matter if developers were seeing the kind of uptake (in downloads and dollars) that has been seen on the iPhone Platform, but so far, that is not happening, prompting mobile gaming app developer Gameloft to cut back its investment in Android, noting (according to Gameloft finance director Alexandre de Rochefort) weaknesses in Android's application store design.

"It is not as neatly done as on the iPhone. Google has not been very good to entice customers to actually buy products. On Android nobody is making significant revenue," Rochefort said.

In a word, "Ouch." All of this just goes to underscore how much Apple has gotten right, and that fact that it is non-trivial for others to emulate.

Is the Android Table Missing a Leg?

Imagine a table with four legs. In the mobile universe, the table's legs are:

1. Great handset functionality, horsepower and design
2. Thriving software developer ecosystem
3. Carrier coverage, reliability and performance
4. Media player and marketplace

So how does Android sit in each of these four categories today? Relative to the actual handset itself, if Droid represents the best bones to date upon which a second and third generation device will be built, it should be clear that Apple's design prowess remains a serious competitive advantage. That said, a score of device designs are just around the corner, so this is an area where evolution should be fairly rapid, although capturing market share from Apple is hardly a given.

As to the developer ecosystem's health, the simple truth is that Android + Android Market remains 12-18 months behind App Store and the iPhone Platform. Whether developers jump on the bandwagon early or wait until the platform matures is very much up in the air. In fact, early warning signs suggest that certain developers, including the aforementioned Gameloft, are measuring their investments in Android for the time being. The inevitability of the ecosystem is decidedly a "not yet" score.

It is the area of Carrier coverage that Android has its strongest leg. Personally, the ONLY reason that I remain a Blackberry Tour owner is that I am a loyal Verizon customer, and AT&T's reputation is tarnished, to say the least. Carrier diversity across the Android Ecosystem is one area that gives consumers the ability to pick and choose the combination of price, performance, and features that matters most to them.

Table Missing a Leg.jpgHowever, it is in the area of Media Player and Marketplace that the Android table starts looking like it is missing a leg. Sure, there are a number of iTunes alternatives that work with the Android (doubleTwist is probably the best. Google should buy them).

But, I would argue that media is so endemic to what people "hire" their mobile devices to do for them that the end-to-end media sandbox shouldn't be loosely integrated into the device. It should be core to the platform.

This implies an iTunes-like client application plus an integrated media player that ties in seamlessly with the media marketplace functions.

I know that what I am about to say should be obvious, but many forget that nested Russian doll-style into the iPhone is an iPod; you know, the media player that should have been outflanked by "someone" long ago, but continues its dominance unabated.


Plus, think how the iPod Media Player + iTunes Client & Media Marketplace acts as foundation/feeder to the overall user engagement and monetization workflow that consumers happily default into with iPhone (and iPod Touch).
 It's pretty damn potent, and just works, a bookend to the complaints about the clunkiness of Android Market. Android needs a better strategy here.

Netting it out: So much of the Google DNA is about loose coupling and 'good enough,' which doesn't pass the sniff test when you have experienced best of breed, tight integration and of course, a deep library of media and apps with iPhone.
 As such, Android has a longer way to go to realize its "inevitability" premise than it might appear at first blush.

Also, while all of these problems are solvable, Google has neither shown that they have the wherewithal to succeed where others have failed (think: Microsoft, Palm, Symbian), nor is it like Apple is sitting on their hands. The folks in Cupertino, after all, have proven repeatedly that they can execute with laser-like focus--a truth which shows in the product, the user experience, market share, momentum, and the sexy margins that go with having hit the ball out of the park.

Related Posts:
1. Android vs. iPhone: Why Openness May Not Be Best
3. iPhone, the 'Personal' Computer: The Future of the Mobile Web
3. iPhones, App Stores and Ecosystems

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