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Developer Interest in Android wanes as Hybrid Apps take over

Posted in Applications and User Interfaces by Manas Ganguly on March 20, 2012

HTML5 is taking over as the key enabler of Internet on mobile phones. The Internet of all things and cloud based convergence will be a key theme in this decade and it will be powered by a tight integration powered by APIs. The future will be about Platforms on which devices and services will be enabled will be powered by applications both native and web based. This post examines the platform, applications and developer intent.

A recent survey by Appcelerator finds that Apple iOS leads the developer interest charts with 89% intent. iPad comes a close second at 88%. On the Applications side, the loser is a very unlikely candidate: Android (79% on the Android phones,64% on the Tablets and 51% on the ICS platform). Appcelerator in its quarterly survey figures out that Android is gradually slipping down mobile programmers’ priority list, with HTML5 powered Web apps stepping in to as an answer to development difficulties. HTML5 ended up showing 67% positive intent from developers.

The wanning interest in Android platform is being attributed to the Fragmentation of the Android platform. The survey concludes that a lot of developers are unhappy with the fragmentation of the platform as well as the fragmentation of the monetization platform. Fragmentation impedes monetization on the Android platform. Customization for screen size, feature sizes, even skins that device manufacturers have put on top of that eats into resources allocation on the platform.

79% of developers think that HTML5 was going to be a component of people’s apps in 2012. Only 6% developers plan to make all-out Web app that runs in a browser; a much larger 72% plan a hybrid approach that wraps native interface elements around an app that relies on a browser engine behind the scenes. A hybrid has some native code on device, but content will be delivered via HTML.

For developers on open platforms it’s a tough line to walk. They want to have an open OS, but openness means they’re going to have fragmentation.

Web applications–those built with technologies such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript that run using a browser engine–answer at least some of Google’s fragmentation challenges.Web apps rose slightly to 67 percent, passing Android tablets in the last quarter. Thus HTML poses the answer to fragmentation.

The good news for Android is that even while it has suffered recent declines it fares much better than Blackberry (16% Developer interest) and Windows (37% developer interest).

The good news for Google is that developer interest is on a rise for Web-App hybrid environment like the one running on its Chrome OS and Chromebooks.

Amazon could be Android’s second coming back into Tablet category

Posted in Mobile Devices and Company Updates by Manas Ganguly on September 19, 2011

In an earlier post about the growth rush on Tablets, I had mentioned how Android has lost ground to Blackberry and Apple in Tablets in Q3, 2011. Given the $99 gold rush on the HP Touchpad, Android is not expected to recover any ground in Q3, 2011 and it will only be Q4, 2011 before Androids make a pushback into market share for tablets. Amazon has already been battling its problems in platform fragmentation for a while now and hopes to put this to rest with the Android 4.0 Ice-cream Sandwich release. In that context, Amazon’s intent to sell its Kindle tablet with its custom built on Android platform was seen as another splinter in the multi-splinter Android platform. Read about fragmentation in Android platform

On second thoughts however, Amazon’s customisation of Android for its Kindle Tablet could actually be better for the tablet market. The full colour Amazon Kindle tablet will be based on Android 2.1, with layers of customization on top. The user interface, touch gestures and other features will be optimized for accessing Amazon content via its Website, which has just been upgraded with bigger buttons and spacing to make it more easily accessible using touch screens. Amazon’s brand could propel more development for its own content, creating a “better ecosystem” than currently exists for tablet users accessing Google’s Android Market store. Its reach is so broad that it can easily entice Android developers to create apps just for its version of the Android platform, sold exclusively through Amazon’s own Android store. There are over 100 Honeycomb applications, compared with over 100,000 apps for Apple’s iPad. With Amazon behind it, the Kindle Tablet ecosystem could foster tens of thousands of apps, if not more. The result, combined with a sub-$300 (£190) price point, is a product that folks would classify as a winner.

• Thanks to Amazon’s brand, the Kindle Tablet could quickly become the dominant Android tablet platform that developers support, with an Appstore that consumers will come to trust
• Amazon’s online expertise would make it harder for Samsung, HTC and other Android tablet vendors to compete with itself and Apple on the app store front.
• Arguably, Amazon with its DNA of online retail could ensure they would build a more competitive platform to take on Apple and Android.
• Amazon could worry Apple as the only tablet maker with considerable clout in brand, applications and content – where Apple is strongest.

2012 is the year of return of Android or rather the takeover of Android in tablets. However, Barclay’s has released a report predicting 6.4mln Android tablet sales in 2012 which is a few multiples of the 2011 Android numbers, but far less than the 50 million iPads that are expected to be sold in 2012. But it is nice to know someone else with staying power is trying. Amazon could make the run up to Christmas interesting.

Reference Posts on Android Fragmentations: Fragmentation versus Open Source

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The tell-tale signs of failure of Android as an ideal platform for Tablets

Posted in Industry updates by Manas Ganguly on June 20, 2011

Smartphones and Tablets is where the big big competition is: Apple versus Android. The Closed and walled versus the Open. And yet, like the smartphone platform, Android is far from getting its act right. The greatest strength of the Android platform has been its “open-ness”(Debates around Honeycomb aside). This has allowed ODMs to work on the platform and position their devices and massify the platform. That was the primary reason for the rise of Android in the smartphones category from a non-entity to 36% whereabouts by Q2,2011. But the open-ness is perhaps the Achilles heal for Android leading to problems such as Fragmentation of the platform and lack of a uniform user experience. While Android managed to tide over the Smartphone markets even with fragmenting OS, the case for Android tablets will be markedly different.

The patchwork that is Android is not consistent enough to allow the platform to compete adequately with the competition. Google has set out to be loose in its control over Android as a platform, and that looseness is beginning to cost tablet makers millions, perhaps billions of dollars. The problem is there is no real Android for tablets, just a framework for OEMs to change at will to try and compete with their products. The problem is they are not competing with other platforms, they end up competing with other Android tablet makers and diluting the ability of the platform to make a run at Apple’s iPad.

Because it is symptomatic of the problem with Android in general, that the platform is totally fragmented due to no one company taking ownership of it as a platform. Google certainly doesn’t, and OEMs can’t. The end result is that Android tablet makers end up not competing with the iPad, the logical target, but rather with each other. Each Android tablet comes to market with different hardware (most of which actually works), and software that is different from that which ships with Android proper.

Consumers have no chance to make sense of this, so there will never be a uniform perception of the platform. Perception of a product is hugely important, and unless Google does something it will never catch consumer’s attention uniformly as a platform must do.

Motorola, Samsung, Sony Ericsson and many more OEMs are working on their versions of the Android tablets. Amazon is also speaking of its own Android tablet and chances are that Amazon will also produce its own spin atop the Android platform. Amazon will add a series of pieces—Cloud Drive, streaming video services and an Android app market—that play into the tablet strategy. It is expected that Amazon might price its tablet competitively and play upon its advantage of content to make money which could further lead to price-erosion. Amazon’s tablet will use the Kindle model quite effectively. It’s not the device that matters here. It’s the store. Other OEMs in that case will play match-up which is thus going to effectively lower margins for OEMs.

That adds to the complexity, un-uniformity, price-erosion and fragmentation of the platform. The volumes may increase as a result of OEMs clamouring upto Android but the consistency would be bad missing and that is going to add to the woes of Android, the Tablet platform.

Mobile Browsing and App sales on Android has not been linear with its popularity and growth
Android: Addressing platform fragmentation
Google Android (Open Platform): The Development and Deployment conundrum
Android Tablet faces fragmentation even before it takes off

Chromebook (Part1): Google’s own iPad moment

Google’s IO conference had its share of moments with Google Music Beta service, The Ice-cream Sandwich, The Android Open Accessory development tool kit to bridge over the fragmentation and multi-device conundrum that they have had so long and the long awaited ChromeBooks. I had 2 years ago blogged about Light and Zippy Oss that would power the Internet computing world. That day it seems has finally come. Here’s documenting the Chrome powered Chromebook’s, Google’s Internet Netbooks.

Outstanding intro video for the Chromebook

The web-only laptops fundamentally reinvent computers. Chromebooks are built and optimized for the web, where users are already spend most of their computing time. The Chromebook essentially enables a faster, simpler and more secure experience without all the headaches of ordinary computers. Google and its vast server farms take care of apps, backup, security, maintenance and support.

The Chromebook is powered by the Chrome web browser and uses the HTML5 and other open standards platforms. With Google providing offline support, which now lets users access their Google Docs, Google Calendar and Gmail accounts without an Internet connection, the product story is well stacked. This will certainly alleviate the concerns of those who may want to work on their Chromebooks on a plane, or at locations where there is no Internet connection. Caching documents on local storage is not an issue, as all Chromebooks implement data encryption using tamper-resisting hardware to protect against the theft.

Google thus marries the prowess of centralized processing or cloud computing to lean machines. The machines featured are Samsung and Acer. Samsung’s notebooks have 12.1″ displays, Atom Dual-Core processors, 16 GB solid state drives, weigh 1.48 kg and get 8.5 hours of continuous usage. They’re similar to the Acer notebooks, which have 11.6″ displays, a higher resolution, but only get 6 hours of usage. Some of the notebooks include 3G support, while other notebooks are Wi-Fi only.The onboard processor is an Intel Dual Core Atom, coupled with 2 GB RAM. Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n is going to be a standard for all Chromebooks. Variants with 3G module would also be available. Chromebook would usually sport 2 USB 2.0 ports and a memory card reader. Unlike the Samsung s line up, Acer will have a Chromebook with HD-out feature. Both companies will be releasing two or more variants with minor differences.

Android Ice-cream Sandwich announced!

Posted in Uncategorized by Manas Ganguly on May 12, 2011

“We want one OS that runs everywhere.” And Android is making a good pace of getting there. So while Gingerbread was a full tablet support one, Google’s latest OS, Icecream Sandwich will be a one stop solution with support for multiple devices like smartphones, tablet PCs and convertible laptops, with just one version. It will have all the features from Google’s earlier operating systems besides a bunch full of newbies. Thus the Ice-cream would not only act as a tie for all screen sizes, those on handsets, tablets, Google TV, and the lot, but that it would make for a much easier world for developers to live in. A single API framework for what may be the easiest Android version to develop for yet. While the version name hasn’t been decided yet (Rumored to be either Android 3.5 or Android 4.0), the best part is that Ice-cream wont have any new hardware requirements. That means it’ll be able to work on older handsets galore! This then is Android’s grand plan to address the issue of platform fragmentation that has been rampant in the OS releases till date. (Read more about Android Platform Fragmentation)

Innovation on the list includes new holographic UI, multitasking UI, launcher, richer widgets, advanced applications, and everything in-between. New components are being added to the Action Bar (the one you see in Honeycomb) that’ll be able to reconfigure themselves to work with whatever space is available to them.

The Android Ice Cream Sandwich is expected to be a step ahead with inbuilt support for 0-click-peer-to-peer Near Field Communications (NFC) sharing along with Augmented Reality facility. The 0-click peer-to-peer NFC sharing allows compatible Android devices to share content (contacts, links, YouTube videos) between the devices by simply placing them in close proximity to each other. No app needs to be run and no buttons need to be clicked – hence the “0-click” moniker.

With 3D being the buzz word today, it is highly expected that the new OS will support it as well. The user interface of the new operating system will be a holographic one, the one which we have seen in movies like Star Trek. Along with that Google plans to do some real hard work with the widgets and has confirmed plans on investing in application framework which in turn will ultimately help the users. This means insulating developers from the differences in all of the different devices Android can be run on, so Google is adding new API to the framework to help all developers out there scale your user interfaces across all the different sized screens and devices toting them.

A new face recognition technology with a 500 frames per second run through will also feature in Ice-cream and will allow better coordination of a video chat/conference session by being able to highlight the speaker over and above the listener. More utilities around this advanced Face-reco app are expected ssooner.

The other “usual suspects”feature round up includes
1. UI inspiration from Honeycomb for Phone form factor.
2. Inherent support for Dual Core processors, built ground up for ARM9 chipsets and other variants.
3. Gaming improvements and optimizations for dual cores.
4. Cloud Music (they hinted that at Google IO 2010)
5. Tight Cloud integration to backup apps, app data, preferences.

And lastly, the Logo for Ice-cream Sandwich is easily the the best amongst all of Android’s OS logos till date, possibly Android Robot included.

WebOS: MIA but a force in reckoning

Posted in Computing and Operating Systems by Manas Ganguly on May 2, 2011

Even as iOS, Androids, WP7, Blackberry 7, Symbian and more are engaged in a bloody battle for supremacy in the OS space, Palm-HP’s WebOS, hasn’t really been the feature in any discussion and HP seems content at WebOS’s MIA status. Why would one be concerned with WebOS in the first place? That’s because Fanboys world over have been debating that the WebOS is the true blue competitor to Apple’s iOS in a digitally connected world. How can one compare an iOS that has an installed base of more than 10 million devices and has enabled 10 billion app downloads to a rookie OS which is yet to hit the road. More so, research agencies such as Gartner donot feature the WebOS as a sizeable competitor in forecasts up to 2015.

HP has already launched new generation WebOS products such as HP Veer, Pre 3 and Touchpad. The specs of Pre 3 and Touchpad are frighteningly close to the bests in the competition.

So what might the success factors for WebOS be?
1. WebOS is as optimized as it gets for touch screen devices and was built ground up for touch devices. That puts it beyond the reckoning of Symbian and BB already. This puts it in par with the iOS.
2. WebOS will feature across a cluster of device categories which would include the tablet, smartphone and laptop. (Would loved to have seen TV there as well)
3. Sharp features on the UI such as Cards (instead of home screens) to group apps. Again at par with iOS.
4. The WebOS will be cloud ready at launch and the Synergy feature would automatically back up data on the cloud eliminating the need of a synch.
5. Touchstone features such as bump to share and induction charging would be other differentiators in the pack.

WebOS’s weaknesses
1. Absence of an ecosystem to support the app hungry users. By the time, WebOS surfaces, developers would be more engrossed in Apple, Android and WP7 to cause a crisis of quality apps for WebOS.
2. While Palm has some presence in US, the game is to step it up world over and though HP has the muscle, this may take longer than expected.

The WebOS could be a huge threat to incumbents such as BB and Symbian. Even Android with its issues of fragmentation could feel the challenge from WebOS. With its bells and whistles, WebOS actually closes on the king, iOS and while many have written the WebOS off, it could really be the fight of this decade between WebOS and others going forward. HP needs to get the launch dates and pricing right….

Why Operators have lost the consumer?

Posted in Industry updates, Revenues and Monetization by Manas Ganguly on April 15, 2011

Operators are like dumb pipes, carrying a lot of data and not understanding how to monetize it”

This statement which has become a cliché acquires a new dimension when Illja Laurs, CEO of Getjar says it because of the simple fact that Getjar was the alternate app store to those of the big platform providers that Operators have been banking on to do “things” with the traffic. Laurs states that operators have absolutely no influence over their customers when it comes to where they go on the mobile Web and what they download. Essentially, customers are ignoring the carriers in terms of where to be headed through the mobile web.

Laurs’ testimony is critical considering that he has been instrumental in building a thriving application portal independent of Google.GetJar storefront is handling more than 100 million app downloads a month, which could make it the second most trafficked store on the mobile Internet behind iTunes.GetJar has revenue share and promotion agreements with more than 50 operators globally on its store front. Even with large accounts like Vodafone, Sprint and AT&T, Getjar gets only 10% of its downloads from Operators and the revenue is lower. Meanwhile, GetJar’s direct-to-consumer business is booming to the point that it has almost completely written off the carrier partnership completely.

Quoting Laurs: “Once we realized this wasn’t a fast way to scale, we gave up on it. We still have those deals in place, but we don’t promote the opportunity at all anymore. … We learned that it would take 1000 carrier deals to double our profits. The return on investment is way less than our direct-to-consumer effort.”

No mincing words there…. it says it all.

Reasons for Operators for not being able to do a meaningful lot with their subscribers are as follows

1. Half Measures: Only a handful of operators are fully integrated with Getjar platform. Very few of them took full advantage of the integration opportunities

2. Operators are deeply abhorrent of surrendering ownership of its subscribers to any other stakeholder. They have can network location and presence engines, they can offer carrier billing, they have detailed information on their customers—all potential goldmines for a developer hoping to make its mark. Such data would be goldmines to developers and App Store makers. The catch however remains that while most of the operators swear to open alliances, the fact remains that in terms of sharing customer data and profiling, operators are taking up walled garden approach.

3. There are 200 major wireless carriers worldwide, and they all have different sets of APIs, resulting in an enormous level of fragmentation. If a developer is presented with the opportunity to build a location feature into a single Google API rather than code to 200 disparate APIs, he’ll always choose the former.

Initiatives like the Wholesale Application Community (WAC) and the GSMA’s OneAPI program are trying to address those issues, but regional and business differences between the world’s operators will still leave plenty of room for fragmentation in a supposedly common API framework. It is very sceptical that 200 different carriers can agree on common frameworks.

4. Another fall out of the operator walled garden approach is that Operators are likely to seek exclusive partnerships, which developers won’t be so keen to lock themselves into.

5. Fifth is the mindset problem. Operators are largely clueless when it comes to monetizing non-telecom services. The operators are slowly expanding their vision and expertise beyond the gateways and routers of the network. But according to Laurs, they’re doing it too slowly.

Thus, operators are being marginalized by their customers when it comes to mobile apps and how there’s little hope of getting them back.

Android Apps and Marketplace: The 7 stumbling factors

Continued from an earlier post

This post is in continuation of a critic of the Android Apps and Marketplace that had been posted earlier. This post examines the different factors that are stumbling blocks for Android’s Applications and Marketplaces in terms of ease of engagement with developers, Monetization, App Visibility and Innovation.

User Demographics: The Android user typically is also less likely to buy compared to an iOS user. The iPhone and iPad user is interested in buying content–that’s one of the reasons they bought the device. Therefore the ROI on developing for Android is different than it is for Apple

Device fragmentation. 56% of Android developers Believe that operating system fragmentation among the various Android devices is increasingly becoming a problem because of the non-uniformity and extra effort that goes behind developing for every individual Android OEM device maker. So, while one one hand, Android being “free” and “Open” makes it attractive for OEM handset manufacturers like Motorola, Samsung and HTC (which probably is what accounted for its wide adoption in such a short time); it also creates several problems for the platform as OEMs alter the uniformity of experience as they try differentiating themselves within the common platform.

Store fragmentation. Generally developers seem to prefer a unified, single store experience like Apple’s App Store. Android with its multiple OSs is having problems producing a uniform experience across all its OS versions.

Ease of development. While Apps on Android, as a platform is considered easier to develop for than, BlackBerry or Symbian, iOS outscores Apps development on Android. iOS development is both easier and more stable; it also has a lot less number of devices to test and support compared to Android.

App visibility. The amount of trash and junk apps in the Android eco-system make the discovery and visibility of apps in the Android eco-system a challenge. iOS with stringent screening and quality checks is able to provide the best apps to the store with adequate indexing which makes the discovery process a breeze.

Ability to make money. It is singularly hard to believe that Blackberry with its archaic store, actually makes more monies selling apps compared to Android. While Android’s year over year “percentage growth” in app sales was up an impressive 861.5 percent compared to Apple’s 131.9 percent growth, Android’s software revenues actually grew by $91 million over last year, while Apple’s App Store grew by a whopping $1,013 million, more than 11 times as much real growth in terms of revenue dollars. Handset sales by all Android licensees combined were higher than Apple’s in 2010, but that did not result in greater app sales nor even in greater web use by Android users

• Apple’s devices are leading the vanguard of mobile browser innovation and for the HTML5 app developer. A comparative analysis of the iPad 2 and the Android 3.0 powered Motorola Xoom exposes the stark difference in terms of HTML5 adoption. The iPad2 has a top rate, no compromises HTML5 browser while calling Android 3.0 Moto Xoom is not ready even for HTML 4.

Post Script Addendum dated 7th April 2010

Andy Rubin, Google’s mobile chief has justified the fragmentation of the platform as a continuous issue related to the “openness” of the platform.

Rubin has also cleared some air around the “closed nature” of the Android 3.0 Honeycomb OS for tablets. Google has not “opened” the Honeycomb yet and all work on Honeycomb has been featured only on Moto Xoom. According to Rubin, there are compatibility requirements for Honeycomb which are still being worked out and once those issues have been settled, Honeycomb would be available to OEMs and developers as open source code.

OS and Device agnostic Application platforms

Posted in Applications and User Interfaces, Value added services and applications by Manas Ganguly on February 2, 2011

Openwave (provider of context-aware mediation and messaging solutions) has announced Amplicity, a new browser-based concept, which would deliver apps seamlessly across different OSs and devices in an operator network. This is designed to enable developers to leverage valuable mobile operator network assets to more rapidly create and deliver applications within the browser. The intent is to enable developers to address hardware and software fragmentation through the use of web technologies, including HTML5. In order to improve the distribution process. Developers have always been making an effort to reach out to as many end users and devices as possible. The ability to build one application and have it reach as many users as possible without having to write different versions for different platforms and devices would benefit developers. Operators have always been an essential part of the internet ecosystem, and the data they possess is the key to beating over-the-top players in the battle for consumer mindshare. Openwave Amplicity allows operators to open up their networks to developers and third-party content providers to ultimately create smarter applications that rely on contextual information.

Using Openwave Amplicity, developers will be able to market their applications to consumers and enterprise customers across a number of platforms, which will enable them to monetize these applications through contextual advertising. The Operating System (OS) application development scenario is currently heavily segmented, which poses huge challenges to mobile application developers. Various versions of the same OS keep arriving into the market with continuous development of the platforms, while the developers also find it difficult to design applications compatible with all the mobile devices due to a vast difference in form factors and capabilities of hardware available today. Openwave Amplicity offers a cross-platform footprint based upon HTML-5 to address this issue and provides developers with enhanced OS, hardware and software compatibility. It also offers a more customized browsing experience to the consumers, who will be able to receive contextually relevant advertising and marketing offers on their mobile phones.

Will Android 3.0/Honeycomb beat the Apple/iOS?

Posted in Computing and Operating Systems, Mobile Devices and Company Updates by Manas Ganguly on January 7, 2011

This is a mundane question, but its one question that will be asked aplenty after the Honeycomb made its appearance at CES 2011.

My answer is No.

Android is increasingly disposed towards scale. The Honeycomb Android 3.0 version is a great alternative to iOS/iPad, but in terms of serving a “connected” experience across a range of devices, the Androids are behind. iOS allows you to seamless connect thru and across your devices. The Android’s with their lack of standardization and fragmentation across different versions will not be able to produce an “integrated experience”. Somewhere, the strategic teams at Google would also realize that expostulating the virtues of “openness” has cost them in terms of common experience across. (That was what the Nexus was designed… for the pristine device experience). Sample this:

1.Google has been ill-able to integrate experiences across the smartphone category with multiple versions of its Android.
2.Android 3.0/Gingerbread will have “difficulty” talking to smartphones unless dual core processor smartphones hit mainstream. (Expect that to happen by end of 2011, at the earliest)
3.Google has not been able to perfect its Google TV experience, and are back at the drawing boards redefining TV strategy.

Given that its free to all OEMs, Androids will achieve numbers, but they will lack the finesse of the iOS across the domain of “connected home appliances”.

Net, Apple still has stronger fundamentals and should do better in terms of making money.

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