Tag Archives: iPhone

21 Oct

What is definition of “Open” ?

There are lots of discussions happening in the blogosphere about what is the definition of Open (when talking about Android vs. iPhone). Many of these discussions are around open source software (OSS). But there are other views as well to be considered when talking about the “openness”.

There is open from the open source software (OSS) point of view. From this perspective, the Android stack is not 100% open (parts are proprietary by Google or 3rd party) and the iPhone is not open at all. This is a technology view.

And there is open from the legal perspective, in this case, Android is much more open than iPhone (as Apple doesn’t license iOS). This is a legal view.

And there is open from the network perspective. Here operators, while still in control, now are much more open to the idea of OSS and the handsets/OSes they support; even for “unsupported” devices that pop up on their network and cause them headaches. The beneficiary is the user/subscriber. This is a subscriber view.

Openness do have implications on fragmentation, but this is the topic of a different blog.

ceo

13 Nov

Will the iPhone trigger the Mobile RFID/NFC revolution?

Will history repeat itself?

There was/is the 12 keys keypad cellphone.
And few care about Touch.
Then came the iPhone.
Now everyone loves Touch.

There was the operator Deck.
Everyone hated the Deck.
Then came Apple.
And created the App Store.
Now everyone loves the App Stores.
And everyone still hates the Deck.

There was RFID. Then came NFC.
With clear use-cases and business-models.
Yet it has taken forever to deploy this.
Pilots and more pilots, when it is going to end?
Embedded chip-sets or stickers.
But few seem get it. (Nokia does!)
Who is going to take the first big step?
Operators don’t get it. Or do they?
And stuck with pilots they are.
“Hey, this is great!”, the pilots say.
Enablement is expensive! That is what they say.
But guess what?
Proximity support, the iPhone will have.
And all of the sudden, “RFID/NFC on the go” everyone will want.

And I say, if the iPhone introduces support for proximity, it will trigger the mobile RFID/NFC revolution… Wanna bet?

Here, some rumors via the NFC World Blog:

NFC specialist Narian Technologies and who runs the Near Field Communications Group on Linkedin.com, has reported the following:

Had to share this news. A highly reliable source has informed me that Apple has built some prototypes of the next gen iPhone with an RFID reader built in and they have seen it in action. So its not full NFC but its a start for real service discovery and I’m told that the reaction was very positive that we can expect this in the next gen iPhone.

If Apple does it, expect every phone manufacturer and their sister to begin pumping out NFC enabled phones, at least for service discovery and sync.

This just reinforces what we knew based on the two separate patents Apple submitted that had the iPhone enabled to read RFID tags. I’m told that the touch project video and the BT SIG’s specs were all driving forces to push this forward as well as other factors.

Guess I’ll be touching my iPhone to my Mac to link them together to sync iTunes by next year.

01 Oct

On hardware vs. software-based handset differentiation

Is mobile handset differentiation based on hardware coming to an end?

Back in 2007 I wrote a piece on my blog titled: The future of handset design: from hardware to software. And today this is getting more real (and validated) than ever.

When it comes to mobile handsets the rate of innovation introduced via hardware (HW) vs. sofware (SW) is and will be mainly on the SW side.

Differentiation, especially on common platforms (such as Android), will be primarily driven by SW, this is: Innovation on UIs and interface paradigms (on Android we can see this with the introduction of Moto Blur and HTC Sense), better applications (developer ecosystem adding lots of application that in turn adds to the usefulness of the handset), and better services (some phones will be very good at social things, while others at music, and so on). At the end it is SW what makes the handset more dynamic and useful and different.

Today is a great time for those doing R&D in the areas of Human-Computer Interactions (HCI).

Differentiation is necessary. But typically differentiation drives fragmentation. So the follow-up big question is on the fragmentation introduced by the different UI paradigms. Will applications need to be adapted to each new paradigm (i.e. as in many versions?). Yes, very likely.

Developers writing SW for the iPhone only have one paradigm to worry about. On the Android though, as expected we are seeing different UI paradigms (with related APIs) but fortunately the rest of the platform should remain consistent across manufacturers so fragmentation is hopefully localized to the UI only. For mobile Java (beyond Android) fragmentation is yet to be solved. For mobile web and widgets, the same although I am seeing a lot of noise around the JIL Widget SDK.

Fragmentation across platforms will continue. Fragmentation within a single platform shall be localized to the user interface (or the user interactions). Allowing for the UI to be redefined/reconfigured allows for incredible innovation on human to machine interactions which basically redefines the perception for a given handset. The next best thing is re-configurable software and hardware, but for that you will have to go play with platforms such as Bug Labs (which BTW is an extremely cool platform).

ceo

(Images sources: PopSci, Nokia, HTC Phones, Benzinga)

06 Sep

The Google App Market – An Analysis

I’ve written a quick analysis on the Google App Market situation… Looking forward to your feedback/opinions!


You can download this article in PDF format. Download The Google App Market – An Analysis (PDF).


The Google App Market – An Analysis

September 6, 2009 | © 2009 C. Enrique Ortiz — http://CEnriqueOrtiz.com

This article is about App Stores/Markets. It is a personal view on the Google App Market and thus it is totally unscientific. It focuses on Google App Market but it applies to all app stores. In this article “App Market” and “App Store” are used interchangeably and refer to the application catalog on the Web that allows for the discovery, payment and download of mobile applications.

There are like four ten thousand applications on the Android Market while the iPhone App Store has many, MANY times that. Everyone knows that the Google App Market is not doing as great as the iPhone App Store. Even when trying to compare oranges-to-oranges, this is, for example, the number of apps and apps-downloaded and paid-for on a given/same period of time or the same age-period of the store themselves, for some reason the iPhone has clearly done a much better job.

It is a very interesting problem. There are so many variables involved in this problem, starting with the human-factor variable, that makes this nut so hard to crack. Bring on the human-factors experts! Bring the designers and engineers. And let’s not forget the marketers! This problem is way beyond pure engineering — I’ve always said that the iPhone was created by designers and marketers and engineers, while the Android was made by engineers.

Why such big differences between both stores?

  • Are iPhone users really unique/different?
  • Are Android apps “sucky” or are Android users cheap?
  • Are the reported store/market numbers skewed?
  • Does it have to do with “critical mass”?
  • Or is it all due to user-experience — the experience finding, buying and downloading applications?

Perhaps it is all the above. But before I take a stab to the above questions, let me talk about a higher-level view to this problem. To be successful, App store/markets must be built on top of a number of foundation steps as illustrated next.

Figure 1 – Basic Ladder for App Market/Store Success

…where:

  • At the bottom of the ladder as first step is critical mass, as without critical mass there is insufficient effect to realize a long-tail effect. Handset positioning, marketing, pricing, region, all have part on critical mass adoption.
  • The next step up the ladder is user-experience, which perhaps is one of the most difficult steps to get right and is covered in more detailed later in this article.
  • The top step on our ladder is the ecosystem and quality applications as without these there is no app store/markets.

The above foundation steps are critical to the success of app stores/markets. Next let me go back to the questions above and how they relate to this Basic Ladder.

iPhone users have proven to be a unique/different bunch. They are more consumer-oriented than Android and even BlackBerry users. For some reason those users do get applications. Perhaps thanks to marketers (TV commercials | “There is an app for that”) iPhone users see applications as “things that solves specific problems”. The iPhone has critical mass, but BlackBerry has critical mass as well; the BlackBerry store should be a great tester of the theories written in this article (once they implement the two top steps of the Basic Ladder above). Yes, critical mass is one of the foundations for success. As a side-note, while the iPhone has an attractive critical mass, it is not as attractive in all countries due to cultural preferences/differences. Device manufacturers must understand and find what creates critical mass for their own products on specific regions.

Today Android apps are less sophisticated when compared to iPhone applications. On the iPhone it is expected that applications are somewhat sexy/eye-candy. This helps with application quality perception. Applications must just work well and be useful. Good quality apps is another foundation for success. In theory and over time, Android apps should become sexier as well. Should there be an approval process that enforces a minimum user-experience and eye-candy for Andorid apps? Hmm that is a tough one, and doing so go against the idea of a true open platform.

Android users are cheap; Android users don’t buy as many applications as iPhone users do! Maybe this has to do with demographics. Based on observation the majority of Android users are the techies-type who prefer free stuff and who are not willing to pay for applications that aren’t great. But the demographics for Android users will soon shift with the plethora of devices coming from emerging markets and other. (For the record, I’m an Android user)

While we always have to be careful when interpreting industry metrics, as collected numbers, by definition, are and alway be *relative* to a particular set of conditions and data set, existing metrics/numbers do show that there is not enough critical mass (a foundation for success) for Android at this moment. I expect numbers to shift in favor for Android as mentioned above. And the top reason I believe this will be the case is economics — more and more device manufacturers will introduce Android devices because using Android reduces their initial investment and maintenance costs (due to reduced Build of Materials) when introducing a new mobile handset. As you know software and especially Operating System software is a very complex piece and it is very expensive to build and maintain and it is just logical that manufactureres will take advantage of all the research and development already done by Google and that is available for “free” or “at no cost” to them.

And what about the user experience? The user experience, another foundation for success, can definitely be improved on the Android Market. The current experience is not terrible, but it is not helping maximize the transactional opportunity. Towards this goal of improving the user experience Google has been working on a new version (v1.6) of the App Market application which includes a number of improvements including screenshots and more descriptions and new categories — see Some News from Android Market (Google Android Developers Blog) including a short video of the new client.

While I’ve no insight (beyond the above) on what Google will be improving on the Android Market, they must take into consideration a number of additional things, including improving the user experience beyond the on-device client and helping the Search function a bit more.

On User-Experience

User-experience can enhance and promote usage, or discourage it. If the (app store/market) is too hard to use, or if it is too hard to find apps, then people won’t use it. And as the number of applications increases, better ways to find applications must exist.

Recently AdMob reported (PDF – AdMob Metrics July ’09) that over 90% of users in their study reported that most of the application discovery efforts are done on-device instead of their computers. Below are other insights from the AdMob report:

  • The most-cited ways of discovering apps are browsing the Android Market/App Store Rankings and searching for a specific type of app. Over 90% of users who cite these activities do them on their mobile device instead of their computer.
  • Android, iPhone and iPod touch users are all highly engaged with apps. Android and iPhone users download 9-10 new apps per month, while iPod touch users download 18. Over half of Android and iPhone users spend more than 30 minutes per day using apps.
  • iPhone and iPod touch users are more likely to regularly purchase paid apps than Android users. 19% of Android users download at least 1 paid app per month, compared to 50% of iPhone users and 40% of iPod touch users. However, of those users who regularly purchase paid apps, downloading behavior is similar across platforms.
  • Requests from the Android Operating System increased 53% month over month. Android has 7% worldwide OS share.

The above goes back to better ways to discover, buy and download applications is key. I do believe though, that a web-based companion will also improve overall Google App Market performance.

Search is good, but even Search needs some help. And this help is about filters, good filters. Imagine the right filters, including self-organizing ones. With the proper Search and Filters we have the first step towards improving the app store user experience. The other two steps are related to buying and download.

While search by categories, “featured apps” and popularity is important, quickly filtering by “free vs. paid” and “new vs. old” is probably even more so. And to maximize the usefulness of the filters and maximize the transacttional opportunity (minimize incorrect bias) the filters must all be visible and accessible just “one click away”. Let’s take a stab at a potential UI design for such an application discovery application:

Figure 2 – Potential Enhanced UI Design for App Store Client

Note the emphasis on filters by categories; here categories aren’t fixed and will adjust based on historical usage, or preferences. This is important as my favorite categories not necessarily are your favorite ones, and once categories are fixed it translates to exclusion; indiscriminate exclusion is not a good thing. Note the “free vs. paid” and the “new vs. old apps”; the latter should be familiar to Google Reader users. Other useful filters are the ones found on the iPhone App Store client such as “featured” and “Top 25″. But again, it is very important that search and filters are ALL visible and also are “one click away”.

A complete discovery solution must not only be on-device but must have a desktop companion. Apple has iTunes. Google has the Android Market, but it is incomplete in my opinion. See the areas in red below: few filters, incomplete applications catalog, and no push-to-handset method, just to mention the obvious limitations.

(Part of the discovery — the App Market/Store shall also only show the applications that works on the user’s device — here works means resolutions, platform version compatibility and other).

Figure 3 – Current Android Market is Unnecessarily Limited

The enhanced web-based “desktop” market (companion to the on-device market client) shall provide the complete catalog of applications, provide and maintain download and purchase histories, but also must allow for the ability to initiate the download (push) of the application to the handset over-the-air (OTA). In other words, a user should be able to use their browser on their desktop/laptop and go to the Android Market, discover, buy and push applications to their Android handset. This market user interface shall provide all the same search functionality/filters as the on-device discovery UI illustrated above.

Once The App is Discover, what is Next?

Once the application has been found, it is about learning more about the application: here things like screenshots, ratings, descriptions are all important. And the upcoming version of Google App Market client v1.6 will try to improve on all of those areas. What about the ability to share the application? Yes, very important! Google must add such facility (i.e. “Tell a Friend”) as well.

The following illustrates the App Market/Store Cycle and Support Triangle that shows the three main phases a user goes through when interacting with an App store/market including some important characteristics for App Market/Store success.

Figure 4 – App Market/Store Cycle and Support Triangle

You should be able to extrapolate from the above app discovery, payment and downloads diagram and about the transitions in between them.

Last I would like to mention the importance for a super simple payment system. In the past I’ve written about “integrated payment with the operator” approach which should be a very simple approach for users (this of course would only apply to operator-subscribers scenario). Another solution to this is the App Market/Store PC (web) companion that I mentioned above that would allow a user to not only discover and buy applications, maintain existing download and purchase histories, but also easily setup and maintain account and payment histories; for Google this would be Google Checkout in the back-end.

In Conclusion

App Stores are little strange, difficult entities. At this moment it seems that Apple has gotten it right, but not the others yet (others are RIM, Google, Palm, Microsoft). App Market/Store success is dependent on a number of different moving parts, including the most difficult one of all: human-factors. It takes designers, engineers, marketers and human-factor experts to get it right. And it is important to get it right, as the future of the mobile handset useful relies on software and applications, and software and applications are the bread and butter of the developer community, you and me — the Ecosystem.

ceo


V1.5 | September 6, 2009 | © 2009 C. Enrique Ortiz — http://CEnriqueOrtiz.com


30 Apr

On Mobile Applications, Platforms and Monetization — “Show me the Money”

I’ve been keeping track of a very interesting thread at Forum Oxford (FOROX) on the topic of Android phone dissapointing developers (w.r.t. iPhone), with Jason Delport, Alex Kerr, William Volk (who started the thread) and others adding their different perspectives on the matter. All these guys are mobile experts so what they say resonate with me…

I like Jason’s responses as there is no bias, just pure pragmatism (i.e. he has been burned before); he makes a living building mobile apps, so for him it is about business and making money. Period. Jason’s take on why Android is dropping the ball is as follows:

  1. User’s don’t want to sign up to Google checkout
  2. There are plenty of places to find illegal copies of paid Android apps
  3. The store is over cluttered with crap apps
  4. The store has a poor design and has a rubbish user experience compared to the iPhone app store
  5. Paid apps were launched later than free apps and a tone was set in the market that apps were, and should be, free.

For which I respond as follows:

On #1, Google should do one of two: 1) require and capture credit card information the first time a user tries to buy a premium application, or 2) integrate with the network operator’s billing. On #2, true, but #1 is the main issue. On #3 and #4, I totally agree, plus, the good apps are hard to find! A better way to find applications is needed. On #5, I totally agree as well; the wrong expectations were initially set.

Alex followed writing that developers should be focusing on the platforms that are most “useful” to as many people as possible in the world… these being J2ME, Web and S60.

But useful is *very* relative. For talking on the phone? For writing applications? For deploying and making money from? I used to think as Alex… yes, it all sounds reasonable — target the platforms that (in theory) have the largest subscriber reach. Well, that is, until you take into consideration “Show me the money”, as Ajit likes to say.

From the “show me the money” perspective “rich development platforms and ecosystems” have proven, finally, successful. When I say “rich development platforms and ecosystems”, ecosystems go beyond app repositories, and it is about all the details that make it work, which includes user experience, integrated billing/payment, social and not, feedback system, and all the goodies a good/properly designed app store is all about.

I remember the debates between Ajit and myself over Web vs. local apps a couple of years ago, including at JavaOne Motorola Keynote, where I defended local applications while Ajit debated that “AJAX will replace both J2ME and XHTML as the preferred platform for mobile applications development” (note that he wrote J2ME but he really meant local apps). Today I can humbly say that I was right about local apps, and that “AJAX will not replace local apps as the platform of choice for developing mobile applications”. At least not yet. Ajit was/is right that mobile web apps will be huge, but they will in a different way as when it comes to richness and user experience and making money, today it is about a local apps.

And it took Apple to show “us” the way.

App Stores have proven central for developers (i.e. “show me the money”), and for subscribers (to easily find and download apps). And as a consequence, have proven beneficial to network providers themselves – gosh, it has taken so many years for network operators to finally open their eyes, not be so paranoid and over-controlling, and agree with common sense — it is an ecosystem after all. So now, all are converging into similar solutions such as iPhone’s App Store. They have to – the power is shifting to the subscriber itself, and to the developers who are bringing applications, software to the market. And those platforms that don’t play nice with the ecosystem, will fail.

So the argument that subscribers would not download local apps, argument a number of us didn’t agree with and defended against over the years via our blogs and apps, resulted in a non-issue. Yes, users will download rich, useful applications, and even better, will pay for them if given ways to easily find, pay for, and download those applications. While other types of apps such as Web and SMS, well, subscribers do like, but for free! Don’t you agree? What this translates to is into business models centered on the subscriber vs. “the other side of the subscriber” such as businesses, etc.

A word on the various platform

A word on iPhone: the device, the platforms rocks. I have an Android (personal) and an iPhone (work). And the iPhone is a beautifully designed piece, overall, from hardware to software. AT&T will hurt and cry if/when iPhone goes to other operators. As a sidenote, see ReadWriteWeb article by Sarah Perez titled The State of the Smartphone: iPhone is Way, Way Ahead, where she explores a recent report by Flurry that concludes that the iPhone is way ahead when it comes to mobile apps (based on the number of developers, apps and consumers). But, let’s take this report “with a grain of salt”. Why? Because it can be biased as follows: the majority of the developers using their analytics instrumentation code might just be iPhone developers, thus, the sample-set is biased by default.

A word on Android: just give it time. Android has the potential to be everywhere – phones, internet appliances, cars, etc. around the Globe, and thus many different types of developers (mobile to embedded). And it very well might allow developers to enter “emerging” markets easier. Judging Android after 6 months or so means nothing in the grand scheme of things. Time will tell (but I stand by what I’ve been saying thought).

A word on BlackBerry. They are getting it, but imposing a minimum app price of $2.99 — because “they value the efforts of developers” is bogus and is an attempt to sound developer-friendly. Let the market decide pricing!

A word on Nokia: they are trying with Ovi, but keep it simple! I really hope Nokia hits the ball out of the park –but they should consider simplifying their portfolio tho, see On Nokia’s App Store Strategy. Nokia’s attempt to do integrated billing for their App Store and (eventually) requiring Credit Cards mean they are thinking the right way.

A word on J2ME: Java ME suffered over the years due to 1) the process that created it was too slow to adapt, allowing for inconsistent implementations and incomplete API-sets, 2) its security model, and 3) lack of integrated app repository (i.e. app store). I still believe it has potential to be the platform of choice for mid-level phones. Specially with the latest MSA API-stacks and MIDP3 that (I hope) will come out later this year. And today,if you have the right market and channels, go for it.

A word on Web: best channel for apps that easily bring “generic” content out to people. Huge potential, especially with efforts such as BONDI and HTML 5 persistent data and the Canvas elements. In any case it is always a good idea, if it is applicable, to have a mobile web version of your app.

A word on short messaging (regardless of SMS or Twits): best channel for notification-like distribution. Second to none. True SMS is way to expensive and prohibitive for many; SMS though is a cash-cow for network providers who must be terrified of Twitter. If targeting notification-like app such as promotions SMS and Twitter is the way to go.

A word on voice apps: I wish we spend more time investing/researching this mode of interaction.

A word on SIM-based apps: The SIM card will always be at the center of mobile apps – directly or indirectly. New technologies such as JavaCard 3.0 and Smartcard Web Servers (SCWS) have the potential of bringing a new breed of mobile applications. Still developing SIM-card based applications is a niche and very network provider oriented, but if you have the relationship w/ the carrier, go for it!

And what the best type of application is? The hybrid app! This is a rich *local* app that is very good at consuming and rendering web content, as well as direct messages (i.e. SMS, Tweets). In the future, mobile web has tremendous potential but again, it is about making money *today*.

So in conclusion, we have to agree that today, integrated app stores that caters subscribers directly is the best channel for subscribers, and developers, and for operators as well. The potential for reaching more subscribers via J2ME, S60, and Web do exist, but but one thing is to create and attempt to deploy apps for those platforms, and the other is those apps getting payed for, downloaded and used.

As a recent report by IDC (Scott Ellison) titled “Developer Strategies for Success Shift as Apple iPhone Apps Store Passes 1 Billion Downloads” concluded:

Apple has demonstrated — again and again — that the success factors in mobile can change in the blink
of an eye — indeed in as little as 3 quarters in the case of the Apps store. The Apps store is increasingly
central not only to Apple, but to any developer or company seeking to play in the mobile applications and
content space. And understanding the shifting success factors within the Apps store is key to success
both on the device and in the digital marketplace that continues to remake mobile.

ceo

P.S. Anders Borg (Abiro Mobile News) has written an excellent analysis of this blog piece — see The state and future of mobile applications. And I like very much Michael Yuan‘s comment saying “What developers want is to address the “maximum number of people who are willing to pay”; exactly!

19 Jan

Pollen Journal – First Pollen Alert iPhone App (Ringful)

When I started eZee inc, one of my proudest accomplishments was the great R&D/development team I had. And one of the members of that team was Michael Yuan. Enter Ringful…

Ringful

Since then, Michael went on and started Ringful, a mobile mashup company for voice and mobile messaging applications. Ringful is the creator of apps such as Facebook Voicetag, Instant conference calls on the iPhone, Calendar-based conference calls, and Two-factor ID Verification via mobile phones.

A couple of days ago Michael sent me an email about his new app, the Pollen Journal which is the first pollen forecast app (and corresponding back-end mashup) for the iPhone.

Some screenshots (click to enlarge):

Related links:

Very cool. Expect more new cool apps coming from Ringful…

ceo

17 Nov

The iPhone and Android Platforms as Validators

The iPhone and Android platforms have validated a number of things; below is a list with some of such things:

iPhone:

  • Applications are at the center of next generation of handsets.
  • That software, not hardware, is the main driver and differentiator.
  • Touch-screens rock! Everyone knew it, but Apple showed the world how.
  • The mobile web is important, that there is no One Web, and that handset-specific customized mobile websites will continue to be built.
  • That influencing the network provider and changing their game-field is possible.
  • While the mobile web is great, today richer and more integrated applications need to be native.
  • That users will download native applications, if a better way to discover and download applications is provided (i.e. App Stores)
  • That closed systems is a sucky idea.

Android:

  • That mobile-handsets can be based on open source and Linux, and be successful.
  • Integration with services on the web (i.e. application infrastructures) matters a whole lot and is huge; and that this is especially true if such is provided “out of box”.
  • Keyboards rock, but a software keyboard should also be provided.
  • It is going to be a hell of a challenge for handset manufacturers that use Android to differentiate themselves; how will they if the software is the same? UI? Hardware designs?
  • That open systems is a great idea.
  • It re-validated points already validated by the iPhone: applications (and developers) are key to success, that it is about the software, the mobile web is important, that richer and more integrated apps need to be native, that users will download native app if a better way to discover and download is provided (app stores)
  • That 3G can be impractical as it sucks-up your battery dry.

Other:

  • That developers will develop in whatever programming language is necessary, even if it is Objective-C.
  • Fragmentation? Who cares!

Anything else?

ceo

Copyright © 2001-2014 C. Enrique Ortiz aka CEO