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Android – Balancing act between Smartphones and Tablets and platform fragmentation.

Posted in Computing and Operating Systems, Industry updates by Manas Ganguly on August 6, 2012

Platform fragmentation has been a pain point for Android and there is much less balancing the Android experience elements in terms of uniformity across its devices. The latest numbers from Android developers outline this pain area, as Android still struggles with 75% of its base in the Android 2.2 and Android 2.3 platform levels.

The other pain area that Android would like to put in order is the split of the screen sizes it works upon. 85% Android devices presently work on the 2″-4″ screen size – essentially the smart phones. Android is by and large less dese on the larger screen sizes.
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Source: Android developers data collected during a 7-day period ending on August 1, 2012

So you have it there – a fragmented platform and the inability to create a dent in the tablet space – even the 7″ space. That would be a bother for Android. (There is a base effect for the smartphone numbers, but Android’s ianbility to balance its smartphone and tablet numbers is the crux of this problem)

Microsoft’s platform fragmentation: The impact of V.2

Posted in Mobile Devices and Company Updates by Manas Ganguly on July 19, 2012

A difference in V.2 gives insight into the (non) user-centricness of Microsoft

June 20th 2012: Microsoft unveils the Windows 8!

October 26th 2012: Reported Windows 8 commercial launch!

Kudos has to be given for the Windows Phone feature designers and engineers. They created a phone that makes you feel more connected to your friends and family. The Live Tile updates are a small thing but make a huge difference for gleaning information. All that work has been undone by the way Microsoft announced Windows Phone 8.

According to estimates by Mary Jo Foley, Microsoft 7 sold 3.5 million units. And all these 3.5 million users dont get any shot to Windows 8. These 3.5 million users are the real Windows Mavens – a readily available bank of users who had moved to Microsoft 7 inspite of options such as Android and Apple. There are reasons for these 3.5 million to be bitterly dissapointed. There is a reason to think that the choice in purchasing a Windows 7 was in vain.  All they get is a shot at 7.8. The difference of V.2 here is more than just a number – it is an experiential change. It also shows that Microsoft still is all about technology and less considerate of the users and user loyalty.

As defined by Microsoft, Windows Phone 8 encompasses improvements that require better hardware, so old devices will not receive Windows Phone 8. Instead they will get the features compatible with their device and it will be called Windows Phone 7.8. 7.8 is not equal to 8. An engineer would appreciate the transparency. A general consumer will be disappointed. His trust is compromised. Would that be an improvement or platform fragmentation.

It shows that while Microsoft is thinking from a product perspective – putting out an outstanding product in the market, it really understands less of the 3.5 million users who are left out in the cold with only a minor improvisation in Windows 8.

Compare that to Apple, which establishes a general compatibility between its successive versions. What many dont know is while, not every feature in iOSx runs on the older devices, but Apple still calls it iOSx and users are happy that their device is running the latest OS.That is a significant gap illustrating how Apple knows how to present itself to the consumer compared to Microsoft.

So what is the difference between V0.2? Alienating the supporters of Windows  phone 7 instead of cementing their loyalty for Windows Phone 8.

Will Microsoft’s fragmentation take Nokia down?

Posted in Mobile Devices and Company Updates by Manas Ganguly on June 22, 2012

Even while Windows8 has just been announced, the spectre of platform fragmentation is turning out to be a real bogey for the bealeagured Nokia.

 Nokia shares plunged 18 percent this June after forecasting a wider second-quarter operating loss from handsets and 10,000 job cuts. After wiping out about $100 billion in market value, Espoo, Finland- based Nokia trades at a 38 percent discount to its net assets, the least expensive on record, according to data compiled by Bloomberg dating back to 1995.

Reeling under the impact of business slowdown, loss of market share both in smartphone as well as low and mid range, Nokia had pinned all its hopes on the Windows platform as a differentiator and a saviour. However, if the Windows8 is any indication Microsoft doesnot really accord as faith and importance to Nokia as much as Nokia would have really liked it. The Windows8 will be released with 4 OEMs – Samsung, Nokia, HTC and Huawei. Thats not much comforting for Nokia having to vie with an in-form Samsung .

6 months back, the Lumia 900 was considered the exemplar of Microsoft’s new operating system, Windows Phone. However, the saviour of Nokia smartphones was not quite the messiah it was touted to be.  As a result of poorly planned platform migration, Microsoft Windows8 would not be available to Lumia 900 owners. Eevn while Nokia sold two million Lumia handsets in the first quarter of 2012 but the company’s top device has essentially been rendered out of date within a year.

This can be looked at from two ways – Microsoft’s platform fragmentation and its inability to bridge the Windows7.5 and Windows8 platforms can leave a lot of the early OEMs high and dry. Worse with the hype and hoopla around Windows8, sales of the Windows7.5 devices are effectively going to stall for a while. The OEMs will be under pressure to undercut prices for distress sales. Thats not great for the bottomline of Nokia which has increasingly been loosing faith with the markets. (Moody’s, Fitch and S&P have already cut down Nokia’s credit rating to Junk).

Secondly, while, Elop’s strategy of jumping of the Symbian “burning platform” was good forbearance, its deserting of Meego and “dont even touch it” stance with Android have really not worked for Elop. Possibly a risk diversification would have helped especially with the Meego platform.

So while Windows fragments, Nokia’s primal fear is to stay afloat in an environment which evolves from Windows7.5 to Windows8 on cash reserves which aren’t comforting really. Will Nokia see the end of 2012? 60-40 it wont.

Android Tablet faces fragmentation even before it takes off

Posted in Mobile Devices and Company Updates by Manas Ganguly on January 4, 2011

One of the reasons why people admire and swear by Apple is the uniformity of experience across a range of devices.This gives Apple the leverage vis-a-vis the Android. Android leveraged the open source and an ad based revenue model to distribute its Android OS free to smartphone OEMs. However, the experience across the large Android range started faltering. In an effort to create differentiation, the Motos, HTCs and the Sony Ericssons of the world created layers atop the OS which impacted the device experience as a whole! It was to address these very issues that Google had the Nexus One and Nexus S pristine-Android phones.

The Honeycomb, Google’s Tablet OS was supposed to overcome the fragmentation conundrum for Google. Instead it has complicated the equation just a little more. Android 3.0 Honeycomb Honeycomb with require dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 chips. All current Android Tablets including the Samsung Galaxy Tab wouldnot be able to offer an upgrade from the existing Android 2.2 versions. The dual-core ARM cortex A9s also mean a significant higher cost.

This leaves an opening for manufacturers to make low-end Android tablets running the older version of the software. The splitting of the Android should be a non issue in terms of functionality given that most of the tablets are used for email, checking the web and social networking. However from the Google perspective, the Android experience on tablets also fragments.

Android: Addressing platform fragmentation

Posted in Computing and Operating Systems by Manas Ganguly on April 2, 2010

In an earlier post, i had discussed about the fragmentation of the “open” Android platform.The fact that Android gave the ODM the choice of customizing the platform was one of the USPs of Android. However, this then causes the open platform to fragment as ODMs dig deep into parts of the operating system. So then Google Android starts branching out like the Moto Blur or the HTC Sense. This post speaks about Google’s efforts to stem and hold the fragmentation of the Android.

There have been a spate of Android handsets running as many as four different versions of the operating system in the last few months. This complicates life for application developers, who have to either pick a version or two to target with their application or conduct lots of testing to make sure they can run across Android handsets. (That is where the Apple Application store is so hassle free with just one device to contend for). Four separate versions of the Android have been released over the last year –1.5, 1.6, 2.0, and 2.1–as part of Google’s mad rush to improve Android, and it sounds like the company is more satisfied with its recent progress.

Google is supposedly shifting development away from Android’s core to focus on applications and also plans to put more separation between those applications and the core operating system. That means that new applications that arrive along with new operating-system releases could also be downloaded for older phones through the Android Market without having to pass through the handset maker or carrier’s approval process.Google will start to make this happen during the next release of Android codenamed Froyo and take it through to the next release of Android, codenamed Gingerbread

The plan makes sense on several levels: having worked frantically to catch up to the iPhone, Google is in much better competitive shape with the 2.1 release and can start prioritizing developer stability over core features. And, of course, giving users a way to obtain those key applications directly from Google falls in line with its long-term strategy of shifting control from carriers and handset makers to software providers.

Gartner: Q3, 2013 Mobile Phone and Smartphone Market Shares

Posted in Industry updates by Manas Ganguly on November 17, 2013

Highlights

1. 1 billion smartphones per year! Latest smartphone numbers from Gartner round Smartphones at 250M a quarter. As low end smartphones penetrate the feature phone price points, Smartphones are beginning to look past the 1 billion mark.
2. With 82% market share Android is unrivalled emperor of the smartphone kingdom feebly contested by Apple iOS. Google’s conquest of the internet space at least on mobiles is near complete even while problem around gray Androids and Platform fragmentation remain.

Q3 2013 Gartner

3. Samsung remains the No.1 in smartphone device space – the fabled fifth horseman of the technology space – but this is more due to the momentum effect than anything really outstanding.
4. As the china smartphone markets swell, there will be more of Lenovos, Huaweis, ZTEs, Alcatels and Coolpads who would enter in the top 10 and start eating into Samsung’s 32%.
5. By the same logic – with the growing Indian smartphone volumes, i am hopeful of Micromax breaking into top 10 in a quarter or two – if it hasn’t already.
5. Android, Microsoft and Apple – are the last men standing as Blackberry, Bada, Symbian and all others fade out from the three horse OS race
6. Would Nokia break back into top 5 with its Lumia range? We would watch this.

References
Gartner: Q2 2013 Smartphone and Mobile Phone Market Shares
Gartner: Q1, 2013 Mobile Phone and Smartphone Market shares
Gartner: Q4, 2012 Mobile Phone and Smartphone Market shares

Google’s penetration of Android is as important as Android’s penetration of the handset market

Posted in Device Platforms by Manas Ganguly on February 19, 2013

Continued from an earlier post on Android being Google’s best strategic move ever. This Post examines how and why Android undermines the strategic intent of Google in the mobile space.

The best anti-thesis to “Android is selling in huge numbers” is possibly “Android has huge problems in fragmentation” arguement. On a superfical level what this translates to is the consistently lower engagement and monetization of the platform – a far cry from the Apple iOS. Android is the quintessential open source which also means that the Android army stretches from the Samsungs to the Shenzhen sweat shops – the smallest white label OEMs who are fragmenting the low end markets all ends. Samsung’s dominance of Android platform is not the best solution for Google as it struggles with its own line of Motorola Android phones.

Android today is at the same place where Wintel was a decade or two back with an armmy of clones of cheap PC makers churning out tens of millions of cheap commodity PCs. What Android and its eco-system ( Qualcomm, EMP, Mediatek, Allwinner, Spreadtrum) have enabled is a flood of cheap commodity smartphones and tablets. A vast range of other devices ( netbooks, in-car PCs and DVD players, set-top-boxes and lots else besides) following on behind. Often the fragmentation of the Android means a $45 smartphone with no access to Android Play market – but only a way to latch on to the internet. Google thus starts missing out on mapping this strata of smartphone buyers. (Agreed the search would still come through Google).

Compare this with Apple, a $650+ device – bought by a completely different set of consumers to whole experience, exploration and ads make more sense.Thus,it is quite possible that iPhones generate more advertising revenue for Google than all Android phones combined. In that respect 20% iPhones sold globally are more valuable than 70% of the Androids sold.

Beyond the search and advertising revenues that Google makes from Android, there are those bits of signalling data- that the low cost Androids miss out – those valuable bits of information that map the user holistically. A data mine that can be leveraged for data with relevance to the user. The real structural benefit to Google from Android comes from the understanding it gives of actual users, and the threat comes from devices that do not provide this data – even though theoretically, it can still leverage Google search. A significant portion of the $45 handsets skimp on Google apps just as they skimp on IMEI numbers. These devices are like dark matter: a lot of it around – but nothing really adding up to the worth.

Benedict Evans does a very accurate description of the Android platform- Very powerful but spiralling semi-randomly with no clarity on where it would land. Even when there is the threat of Amazon or Samsung forking the platform, there is also the threat that an increasing number of Android devices might have no more connection to Google than does an iPhone.

To put that another way, Google’s penetration of Android is as important as Android’s penetration of the handset market.

Taking the Internet Down – Factors and Ease of Effort

Posted in Internet and Search by Manas Ganguly on December 2, 2012

Can the Internet really be taken down? The recent blackouts at Syria and Egypt beg this question to be answered. Can Internet be engineered to fail abruptly and completely in certain regions of this world?

The key to the Internet’s survival is the Internet’s decentralization — and it’s not uniform across the world.   In some countries, international access to data and telecommunications services is heavily regulated.  There may be only one or two entities who hold official licenses to carry voice and Internet traffic to and from the outside world, and they are required by law to mediate access for everyone else. Under those circumstances, it’s almost trivial for a government to issue an order that would take down the Internet.On the flip side, this level of centralization also makes it much harder for the government to defend the nation’s Internet infrastructure against a determined opponent, who knows they can do a lot of damage by hitting just a few targets.

With good reason, most countries have gradually moved towards more diversity in their Internet infrastructure over the last decade. Sometimes that happens all by itself, as a side effect of economic growth and market forces, as many different companies move into the market and compete to provide the cheapest international Internet access to the citizenry. Even then, though, there’s often a government regulator standing by, allowing (or better yet, encouraging) the formation of a diverse web of direct connections to international providers.

How easy is it to disconnect the Internet- A World map.

How easy is it to disconnect the Internet- A World map.

Renesys – Internet Monitoring and Intelligence agency, lists out the risks of Internet black outs by countries and by the number f Internet gateways to the country.

  • 1 or 2 companies at your international frontier-  Classified under severe risk of Internet disconnection.   Those 61 countries include places like Syria, Tunisia, Algeria, Turkmenistan, Libya, Ethiopia, Uzbekistan, Myanmar, and Yemen.
  • Fewer than 10 service providers- Probably exposed to some significant risk of Internet disconnection.    Ten providers also seems to be the threshold below which one finds significant additional risks from infrastructure sharing — there may be a single cable, or a single physical-layer provider who actually owns most of the infrastructure on which the various providers offer their services.  In this category, there are 72 countries, including Oman, Benin, Botswana, Rwanda, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uganda, Armenia, and Iran.   Disconnection wouldn’t be trivial, but it wouldn’t be all that difficult.   Egypt falls into this category as well; it took the Mubarak government several days to hunt down and kill the last connections, but in the end, the blackout succeeded.
  • More than 10 internationally-connected service providers, but fewer than about 40, the risk of disconnection is fairly low.  Given a determined effort, it’s plausible that the Internet could be shut down over a period of days or weeks, but it would be hard to implement and even harder to maintain that state of blackout.     There are 58 countries in this situation, ranging from Bahrain (at the small end) to Mexico (at the largest end).   India, Israel, Ecuador, Chile, Vietnam, and (perhaps surprisingly) China are all in this category.So is Afghanistan, reminding us that sometimes national Internet diversity is the product of regional fragmentation and severe technical challenges.  It’s true; the government in Kabul is powerless to turn off the national Internet, because it’s built out of diverse service from various satellite providers, as well as Uzbek, Iranian, and Pakistani terrestrial transit.
  • More than 40 providers-  Extremely resistant to Internet disconnection.   There are just too many paths into and out of the country, too many independent providers who would have to be coerced or damaged, to make a rapid countrywide shutdown plausible to execute.   A government might significantly impair Internet connectivity by shutting down large providers, but there would still be a deep pool of persistent paths to the global Internet.    In this category are the big Internet economies: Canada, the USA, the Netherlands, etc., about 32 countries in all.

In many other cases, Physical pathways would be a limiting factor, even with multiple providers.  They are all sharing the very few long-haul fiber paths to/from a country which if taken out could lead to the black outs.

(This post is Inspired by a Renesys blog and quotes Renesys figures on the black out probabilities in nations)

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The Android Dilemma

Posted in New Technologies, Value added services and applications by Manas Ganguly on August 3, 2012

Tight control (Fight Fragmentation) v/s Open Source Innovation – That is a dilemma that Android has on itself.

A connected world of device systems running on seamlessly on a single platform. Embedded systems in the back end are evolving the definition of connected devices. Definition of device connectivity is migrating from Netbook, Smartphone, Tablet, Car, TV to complex enterprise/industrial systems and critical utility infrastructure which are stitched together by a complex network of  NFC, RFID, QR Code Readers, Motion/activity sensors and more (the list is quite large here).  In the later case, Linux has dominated the market for good cause: it’s lightweight, networked, reliable, standards-based, and cheap — a perfect combination that has stymied competitors.

What Linux does well, Android does better

Android pushes these benefits several notches further, adding a graphical user interface and modern mobile networking support, which are huge assets for embedded devices that might be mobile and require increased redundancy or frequent interaction with users who find menus and icons far less intimidating than command prompts or low-grade web interfaces.

One of Android’s greatest assets, and one of its critical weaknesses from a tablets perspective, is that Google essentially provides a blank slate upon which others can build compelling, integrated applications. Google’s desire to deliver a platform might be perfect for embedded devices, but it’s become a hindrance for enterprise tablets.

A solution for embedded devices is unfortunately Platform fragmentation on the other hand

Even while there are  concerns about Android hardware fragmentation, the rapid release cycle has muddied the waters on the software front, especially as it pertains to tablets. Add in Android’s ability to be enhanced and modified by manufacturers, which a great strength on the embedded device front, and you have different hardware providers doing everything from superficial “skinning” of Android on their particular device to providing a unique and different OS shell.

Google shouldn’t take an Apple-like approach to locking down hardware, software, and application distribution, but Android does need to be more tightly controlled by Google in order to achieve tablet success. A significant asset that Google has over Apple is that there are Android tablets available in every conceivable size, shape, and price point. Hardware manufacturers understandably don’t want to be forced into commodity status, but at this juncture, an average user could pick up three random Android tablets and find an inconsistent interface and experience among them. This is not a recipe for a successful enterprise device.

Its an interesting toss up and a marketers dilemma at Google – Maintain course and run out of favour for devices today. Or change course today and loose out on the what appears to be a great future in connected devices

Is Nokia sell off to Microsoft scheduled for May 2013?

Posted in Mobile Devices and Company Updates by Manas Ganguly on July 4, 2012

Even while this is expected and anticipated, such a move would still create ripples.A couple of soft indications were provided by Eldar Murtazin. For readers who havent heard about Eldar, he has been watching the phone space and especially Nokia with a lot of interest for the past few years and was the first one who hinted at the movement towards Windowss Phone by Stephen Elop.

The details of the deal would get clearer in days to come. Nokia may have to break up its businessses – feature phone and smartphone and sell the feature phone unit to a buyer before merging/ getting acquired by Microsoft.

Last month’s  Windows8 announcement by Microsoft with a no crossover between Tango (Windows 7.5) and Apollo(Windows8) was a big confidence breaker for Nokia. A win-win for both Nokia & Microsoft

1. Micros0ft gets access to Nokia’s 30K mobility centric patents. The patent quagmire has gotten a lot ugly with the Apple injunction of Samsung Galaxy Tab sales in US. One can also see how Nokia is getting active in the patent space with the latest series of mild reminders to Google, that Nexus S transgresses Nokia patents.

2. After the sucess of XBox and Surface, Microsoft’s focus has taken a positive bias for devices as well. Nokia provides a very rich comptency in device experience

3. For Nokia, it means splitting up the low end and the smartphone and salvaging value. Nokia has been in a dead drop in terms of valuation for a while now.

4. If this works out for Nokia, it can create a second life for itself riding on the Windows platform and re-focussing only into smartphones as a path to profitability. In the past few months, Nokia has been on an overdrive to prune costs.

Nokia is the most invested of all Microsoft’s hardware partners in Windows Phone 8′s success, so this move makes sense. Microsoft is rumoured to have walked off from a Nokia purchase intent some time late last year. Between then and now, Nokia’s valuation has taken over a ~60-70% tumble. Lumia’s havent really ignited the sales registers at Nokia and Nokia really didnot invest in a plan B when going for Windows8.

So we watch this space. While an unconfirmed rumour currently, this bit has a high possibility of becoming real.

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