Week 49

Pick of the Week – What’s next in Mobile?

The old questions in mobile focused on topics like Android vs. iOS vs Other platform market share are outdated according to Benedict Evans in a good state of the mobile nations post this week.   He proposes a new set of questions for consideration to move the agenda beyond Apple vs Google as in his view “both won” the smartphone wars.   Two of the most profound ones relate to inherent uncertainties in the evolution of East vs. West smartphone product and services.

What is going to happen to Android?

Android has arguably never looked stronger in terms of market share.  However, only 2/3 of Android phones sold are running GMS. The other 1/3 are running AOSP on a phone likely built in Shenzen. The latter are effectively invisible to Google who have surprisingly little leverage to prevent them from proliferating given the open nature of AOSP.  This development raises some profound uncertainties around Google’s ability and even corporate willingness to continue the current direction of travel of the Android ecosystem.  The disquiet is amplified by looking at where the next wave of Android growth will come from namely China, Brazil, India and Turkey.  Google/US-centric services arguably are not anything like as culturally relevant in those countries as they may appear from Silicon Valley with arguably only Google Play indispensable.  Google are in danger of being outflanked by alternative (particularly regionalised Chinese) app store offerings on their own platform. This may be part of the rationale for their reported attempt to get a Google Play foothold in China and is why they are pouring huge amounts into marketing Android One in India.  Brazil in particular seems to be in line to be the next battleground.

How will the Messaging interface evolve?

Directionally, in the West, the mobile world pre iPhone and Android was inhabited by legacy mobile world of operator/AOL/Yahoo type portals.  iPhone in particular moved mindshare away to a paradigm built around decoupled single-purpose applications within a single company portfolio sort of reminiscent of the UNIX dedicated tools philosophy.  It’s a development sometimes referred to as unbundling and is particularly associated with the larger ecosystem players who frequently cite better user experience as a key driver.   In a short space of time this has led to the ecosystem players finding themselves with growing app constellations like the Google Collection on their hands presenting new challenges in terms of experience flow between these assets.  Seamless single sign on across separate apps has helped to allow acquisitions such as that of Instagram by Facebook to be quickly bolted into a constellation.   More recently, deep linking has been promoted as a solution by the likes of Facebook and Apple to allow the experience flow between constellation app entities to become even more fluid and “web like”.

In Asia, however, the key ecosystem players have thrived by doing the opposite of unbundling, namely aggregating separate single-purpose features within one mega portal entity.  It’s an approach that has been particularly successful for the Chinese BAT trio (Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent) but it does create other problems, notably how you find a new feature/service within the portal.  One solution has been to tie discovery to the social graph through the medium of instant messaging so you find out what’s new via your circle.  Chat is now arguably at the centre of the Asian portal experience leading to the phenomenal growth of the likes of WeChat and Line.  There are vast rewards in store for whoever can export the same model outside Asia and disrupt Western social media ecosystem incumbents living in an unbundled world.  One of the likeliest candidates is Kik and their founder recently wrote a blog about the subject in which he underlined why Facebook and co. are not going to be the ones to do it.  The rapid rise of Enterprise chat propositions like Slack, Asana and Yammer demonstrates there is a latent appetite for centralising service experience around chat in the West and bypassing the prevalent unbundled app experience paradigm.

Smartphones and Manufacturers

  • Huawei have indicated that they are not going to build any more Windows Phone devices because “even with deep discounts from Microsoft, working with the platform just wasn’t worth the expense“. In fact they go further bringing into question the viability of the Windows Phone OEM model:

“We didn’t make any money in Windows Phone,” Huawei head of international media affairs Joe Kelly told the Seattle Times in a recent interview. “Nobody made any money in Windows Phone.”

“Microsoft has struggled from the beginning to articulate why Windows Phone is better than the two established platforms for mainstream users, and it’s no closer today to figuring out what that is. The answer likely is in ties to Microsoft services, photography and other areas, but even Microsoft doesn’t really seem to know, and this needs to change.”

nokia lumia 1020 color range 100045701 gallery

  • Meanwhile it’s well known that many smartphone OEMs are struggling to make a return on investment on Android either. Sony and Samsung seem to be looking at a well worn remediation strategy followed by the likes of Motorola and HTC in the past, namely cutting the number of variants in their Android portfolios and focusing effort on a few high end hero flagships.  There’s only problem – it hasn’t really worked for anyone to date apart from maybe LG:

“Other smartphone makers have been trying it out for years, and unfortunately for Sony and Samsung, it’s definitely not a shortcut to success.”

  • Puzzlephone is an interesting new modular smartphone proposition from Cingular Devices that competes Google’s Project Ara.  Puzzlephone’s approach is much simpler than Ara with just three replaceable parts aimed at practical smartphone longevity:

“Instead of letting you replace things piece-by-piece, it divides parts into “the Brain” (core electronics and camera), “the Heart” (battery and secondary tech) and “the Spine” (LCD, speakers and basic shape). It’s not as flexible as Ara, but it promises a sleeker design that still includes real futureproofing; you can swap in a new module when you want a faster processor, a fresh battery or new features. The goal is to have a base phone that can last for 10 years, rather than two or three.”

“I’ve spent a fair amount of time with the device, and have to say that it’s the most interesting smartphone I’ve ever used.” 

  • It looks like an standard fare Android handset until you turn it round to encounter the second EInk-based Kindle-like display.  Thanks to software called YotaMirror the  main Android display is “echoed” onto this secondary display offering a significant user benefit:

“It’s always on, consuming only a sliver of power when, for example, the time changes, and offers up lots of info you’d otherwise turn to the primary display to get at “

  • There’s no going back from iOS 8.1.1 if you don’t like it.  Apple are taking a calculated risk by closing the reversion gate this early. Although updates are generally portrayed as an improvement on what came before, not all customers agree. It’s not uncommon for customers to inquire about going back to an older version following an unhappy update.  In this case it seems in part an attempt to establish a known baseline for Apple Pay support:

Google and Android

“You’ll get tips and tricks, like most digital guidebooks, but it’ll also offer “proactive” fixes for detected issues; it’ll turn down the screen brightness if it’s cranked too high, for instance.”

Google Device Assist for Android Lollipop launched to provide tips and troubleshoot your device

  • Google find themselves facing increasingly hostile and difficult terrain politically in Europe with recent calls within the EU for the company to be broken up to reduce its dominance.   They’re also facing questions over the MADA for adding the full suite of Google Services on top of core Android (AOSP) to their products to gain access to the Google App Store as outlined in ”OEM lock-in” revelations made earlier this year.  There is concern that such a tactic disadvantages alternative app store vendors such as Yandex in Russia who EU regulators appear to be taking an interest in:

“The big crux of the argument (from the EU’s) perspective is that the bundling of such apps makes it difficult for third party developers to create Google-free apps. Instead, the bundling forcing the same developers to develop apps compatible with GMS, which in a sense goes against the open nature ethos of android. As a result it now is being reported the EU authorities investigating Google have requested Yandex to provide their input on the situation.”

  • The question of whether Google’s approach with GMS bundling is strictly legitimate or not is legally complex and likely to take years to resolve.  A key question will be whether Google’s practice constitutes product tying namely “the practice of selling one product or service as a mandatory addition to the purchase of a different product or service” or full line forcing which is easier to defend, namely “Producer or supplier insistence that the dealer must carry the full range of products in the line. This policy may not be illegal if it can be established that it serves a legitimate business need.

Apps and Services

  • The next wave of growth in terms of mobile app downloads is skewed towards the emerging mobile markets of the BRICS and MINT nations.  Cheap landfill Android devices and free apps are the incendiary combination fuelling this development.  It is revealing that the relative dominance of China and India does not translate to revenue.  As TechCrunch put it:

“free app downloads are likely powering most of the app download growth in emerging markets where mobile users have less disposable income to spend on paid apps.”

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App Annie

  • Dropbox have revealed their Enterprise strategy in the form of the Dropbox for Business API which allows business to integrate corporate shares into the same experience enjoyed today by private users.  It should help ease corporate BYOD and IT compliance concerns.  However, there is an important internal cost caveat though and it remains to be seen what the scale of takeup amongst customers is:

“The new API shows that Dropbox is courting developers who want a way to modify Dropbox to suit the needs of their organizations. Still, it’s uncertain as to whether organizations want to devote developer time on customizing Dropbox as opposed to having a service that works right “out of the box,” so to speak.”

  • More evidence that Amazon’s “zero profit” strategy is making investors nervous from New Republic with the suggestion that the poor reviews and write-down of the FirePhone has particularly served to sound alarm bells:

  • Fire TV however seems to be a safer bet for success in the run up to Christmas and initial reviews of Amazon’s Stick bode well.

  • X as a Service (XaaS) v1.0 provides plenty of scope for expansion proposals. Amazon as nfs?:

Asia

  • ODM powerhouse Foxconn have quietly built up their own smartphone brand called InFocus while building Android smartphones for everyone else.  According to AndroidAuthority, InFocus have released ten across Asia retailing at between $110 to $350.  The ability to do this is a natural consequence of their role as a premium contract manufacturer:

“What Foxconn is doing is using its vast manufacturing skill to make its own brand of smartphone and sell it as cheap as it can, primarily to the Asian market.

  • But they won’t stop in Asia and like other Chinese manufacturers are bound to eventually turn their attention to Western markets:

“At the moment it seems that Foxconn is happy to concentrate on the Asian market, but like ZTE, Xiaomi and OnePlus it will eventually turn its attention to the rest of the world. And when it does you can be sure it will be a disruptive force in the already turbulent smartphone market.”

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Big Data and Data Science

  • A Rudy De Waele (@mtrends) post on the need for greater emphasis on Entrepreneurial and data-driven decision-making in big companies makes for stimulating reading.  He clearly knows what he is talking about by homing in on the importance of building an in-house product analysis capability:
“The problem with large corporations is they are not able to open up or they don’t have the people who think like entrepreneurs. The worst thing you can do is not to do anything because then you move behind, you have to set up an open innovation programme, connect with start-ups, garner new ideas and turn these ideas into relevant, new services and products that can be implemented.
If you have access to data you can see which services work – most of the data can be irrelevant but some of the data can be decisive for creating a new product or service. That’s how the start-ups are able to move fast. … larger corporations have more difficulty keeping apace as they don’t have access to data and they don’t really know how to move with that data”.
  • De Waele asserts that “data scientists are the most important people” and that “in the future there will be around 1.5 million jobs for data scientists“.  This is a message underlined in a ContentLoop post on how data scientists are changing the face of business intelligence which is even more bullish about prospects for the data literate:

“In a 2011 report, McKinsey Global Institute estimated that by 2018 there will be 4 million big data related positions in the US.”

  • Millions of jobs but not quite so many candidates to fill them. Unsurprisingly O’Reilly’s Data Science salary survey reveals a correlation between salary and experience of working with key data science tools particularly Hadoop and Spark:

“While the demand for data applications has increased rapidly, the number of people who set up the systems and perform advanced analytics has increased much more slowly. Newer tools such as Hadoop and Spark should have even fewer expert users, and correspondingly we found that users of these tools have particularly high salaries.”

Artificial Intelligence and Robots

“In a nutshell, Automatic Statistician works by looking at a dataset and then determining which type of model would be best for analyzing it as well as which features, or variables, are the strongest. After the model runs, Automatic Statistician will return a text report explaining its findings in plain English — or as close as you can get when dealing with statistics.”

  • Meanwhile Cambridge University’s Stephen Hawking provided a rather different perspective on the evolution of AI in a BBC interview in which he made this bleak assessment:

“The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”

Wearables and the Internet of Things

  • Bluetooth 4.2 has been officially endorsed as the new standard by the Bluetooth SIG and positioned as the foundation for the Internet of Things.  It contains performance and security improvements including the ability for a user to hide their MAC address from unsolicited beacons.  The standard also allows for direct connection to the internet. However, it seems that not all the new features will be compatible with existing Bluetooth 4.1 kit.  To take full advantage of the specification will require new hardware.

“The BLEduino is a tiny Arduino-Compatible development board with Bluetooth 4.0, a.k.a. Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), built in. The BLEduino is both hardware and software compatible with Arduino since it’s based on the Arduino Leonardo. Anything that runs on an Arduino will run on a BLEduino.  It’s the easiest way to get Bluetooth 4.0 in your project!”

realtag

  • It’s possible to connect to the board using the TI Multitool app which provides very basic diagnostics.  RealTag have also developed an eponymous app that displays an OpenGL cube which rotates on screen as you rotate the board.  The source for the app is available on Github and compiles and runs ok on an iPhone5s.   However after trying it out, it’s clear that the Bluetooth connection logic leaves a lot to be desired.  The app seems to cycle through connection-disconnection between all the different Bluetooth LE devices it discovers.  A big problem in an environment replete with Fitbit Flex, Garmin Vivofit and other wearables:

Realtag

Smart Retail

  • Forbes published a long and fascinating interview with Steve Cheney, SVP of Operations for beacon startup Estimote.   In it he makes some important points about the enormous potential for beacon technology across a range of disciplines not just retail driven by a reduction in the cost of experimentation:

“Today’s tiny beacon has just as much compute power as a pocket computer from last decade. Think about that. it’s yesterday’s computer, but it costs dollars and you can barely see the chip on the board. Tomorrow these chips will be invisible and cost cents. … 2015 is going to be an enormous year for iBeacon—every retailer we talk to wants to put beacons in store next year.”

  • The growth of multi-channel retail is helping to drive interest in cross device tracking and analytics.  A ContentLoop article provides a glimpse of an emerging scene with no real standards at present populated by startups like Adometry:

“Adometry, a data-analytics firm based in Austin, Texas, says it’s able to use third-party data and its own analysis to tie all a user’s devices together through a technique called device-mapping. Adometry uses technology from Tapad, a New York City-based company specializing in cross-device content delivery, to map desktops, tablets, and smartphones to a single user.”

  • Adometry are able to tie together customer devices through something called a Universal ID.  Their prospects seem bright given the scramble by retailers to invest in omnichannel technology to understand as much as possible about their increasingly Connected Consumers.

Improved View of Data

Programming

  • Breck McKye’s review of the state of Javascript in 2015 makes for sobering reading.   The rate of change is exhausting just to keep up with let alone sufficiently master to use at work.  His summary take on proceedings is to stick with “microlibraries” which is essentially the equivalent of going right back to basics. It’s worth reflecting on his conclusions given all the collective effort going into developing so many competing frameworks:
    • The churn rate of front end JavaScript technologies is problematic
    • People are starting to feel burned out and alienated by the pace of change
    • The answer might be to eschew monolithic frameworks in favour of microlibraries
  • For a while, it seemed that Angular.js would step in as the one true Javascript framework.  Now it too seems to be in danger of imploding in version break chaos:

Science

  • Exoplanet science has seen huge advances in the last decade raising the likelihood that our first evidence of alien life may come from analysing light from distant stars.  It’s worth bearing in mind though that it’s unlikely we will find life anywhere nearby even in our own galaxy and this may be the reason we haven’t found any yet:

“the closest life-bearing world is ten to a hundred light years distance from Earth. And that’s just to find a world that harbors single-celled life. The closest intelligent aliens may be thousands of light years further.

Work and Culture

  • Quora has an ability to bring humour as well as real insight to the world of Q&A.  In this thread, a poster asks how to be like Brian Bi and naturally enough, the real Brian Bi answers explaining the hard work that goes into apparent overnight success by way of the old adage:

Success is like being pregnant; everyone congratulates you but no one knows how many times you got screwed.

  • According to an odd LinkedIn post citing “Happiness Research” and a “Happiness Expert”, Google’s SVP for People Operations, Laszlo Block, outlines why you should be thankful for what you’ve got:

“it turns out that an “attitude of gratitude” is way more powerful than just saying “thanks.” Expressing gratitude makes you happier, and may even make you live longer. … Google’s People Operations Analytics team recently found that being grateful — and expressing it — can be the secret weapon to workplace happiness and to warding off the malaise that can come with routine.”

  • In another thought-provoking LinkedIn post about happiness and meaning, James Altucher outlines his thoughts on what our lives are about: There is only ONE purpose: TO BE FREE.The rest of his post explores the “ten layers” to be to gain absolute freedom and why it requires mindfulness and practice to reach that goal:

“Freedom is a daily practice. If you get 1% better every day at freedom then you become not just free but an explorer. Explore as much as possible before your last breath.”

  • The last of Altucher’s “ten layers of freedom” offers interesting scope for reflection in terms of familiar workplace encounters:

“Realize that everyone you meet today has been sent down from an alien mother ship to teach you a lesson. Learn those lessons.”

  • Fortified by that advice, you may be emboldened to seize the day and plunge into creating a startup.   If so, it’s worth bearing in mind findings collated by data research firm Mattermark looking at the profile of a typical startup founder based on current company data.  It’s not what you might imagine.  Most startups they examined were founded by people who had “been at the same job for a long time” were “inclined to have business backgrounds” and most likely “had not held senior leadership positions.  Furthermore, they were “skewed towards their late 30s and 38% of them were over 40 years old.”   In short, very far away from the stereotypical image of a 20 something hacker.
  • Social media sites often convey positive messages exhorting readers to pursue their individual concept of freedom. However, behind the scenes, there is clear evidence that authorities all around the world have continued clamping down on internet activity in 2014 with many countries sliding backwards in terms of internet freedom. The phenomenon has been most notable in 2014 in Russia and the Middle East:

“A new report out from Freedom House shows that 36 of the 65 countries evaluated showed a negative trajectory since May 2013, with Russia, Turkey and the Ukraine facing the biggest downturn in internet freedom. Forty-one countries passed or proposed legislation to censor online speech or increase government surveillance powers, according to the report. “

  • This tweet highlights a TS Eliot quote from 1921 that prefigures the subsequent development of the Affect Heuristic.  If anything it’s even more relevant in today’s information overload society:

  • The 22 bus that runs from San Jose to Palo Alto offers the only 24 hour service in Silicon Valley “and it has become something of an unofficial shelter for the homeless.”  In an article looking at the dark side of Silicon Valley, ContentLoop provide a glimpse into the hidden nocturnal world of Hotel 22 weaving its way nightly through the biggest names in tech: