Mobile Imprints

Have to say that i agree with quite a bit of this post, especially this opening paragraph:

Google isn’t a web application company—they’re an advertising company. That’s what they do best, and that’s what drives their company. Of Google’s $23.6 billion of revenue in 2009, all but $760 million of it was derived from advertising, and nearly 70 percent of it was from Google’s own websites.

Everything Google does must be understood within this context.

Friends working there don’t seem to feel that they are working in advertising, and that makes perfect sense. One would imagine that the people that built printing presses didn’t feel like they were in the publishing business. (You really don’t want to know how many similar analogies i went through before finding one that was not, let us say, inflammatory.)

To the extent that that Google is planning a scorched earth policy for the mobile market, it would be my feeling that this piece ‘over rotates’. What is described is obviously the extreme position, it would be more likely that the truth (and consequences) lie somewhere in the middle. There probably are people making these kinds of plans within the management / marketing functions of Google, but at the same time, down where the developer meet the keyboard, it seems unlikely that such a direction would, or could, be tolerated.

A lot of Google employees (engineers?) seem to be heavily invested in the ‘do no evil’ mantra, to the point that regardless of what outsiders might believe, it is their corporate culture. No doubt there are also many individuals who in it for other reasons, completely uncaring about the overall direction (just “for the opportunity to work on cool stuff” is one i’ve heard a lot…) but i doubt that’s the majority – even geeks have a conscience!

The other section that i’d take issue with is:

As Android spreads, and the differences between different devices decrease as a result, there will be less competitive differentiation between manufacturers—consumers will, like they do in the PC market, shop based more on price than on who makes the device. At that point, hardware will be commoditized, and building a mobile device business based on a different OS than Android will be incredibly difficult.

This certainly isn’t what has happened in other attempts to standardise in the marketplace (or even by open agreement in standards bodies). The more likely outcome is that the tension between platform vendor, the handset OEM, and the carrier leads to fragmentation. There isn’t really much indication that anything different will happen this time, which isn’t to say that the market won’t end up with commoditised hardware, just that platform will be fragmented and weak.

Perhaps the reason that Apple isn’t being torn apart in the same way is that they are holding two of the pieces–they are the platform and the OEM. If Google is serious about succeeding as a platform then that might be the route that they need to follow. That they backed off from doing this perhaps gives some credence to the underlying tone of this post…

Open! Open! Open! (A Vein)

We’re all open these days…

It all started with one of my friends retweeting this:

@Arubin Andy Rubin
the definition of open: “mkdir android ; cd android ; repo init -u git:// ; repo sync ; make”

which, to me, seemed like a really stupid definition of open. I hadn’t noticed who had originally made the comment, it just registered as a particularly vacuous thing to say. My initial reaction was that being able to retrieve and build the source didn’t make it inherently open. There are a bunch of issues pertaining to what changes you can make, what you can do with those changes, how the original code, plus your changes, can be distributed, that are far more important than simply being able to access and build the code. (The Java (JDK) code was almost always available and could be built, but you didn’t catch many people calling that open…)

After some back and forth, it was pointed out to me that the Twit was from Andy Rubin (head honcho of Android @ Google) and was in response to some comments made by (a high pitched) Steve Jobs during an Apple earnings call. No doubt the twat is geeks marketing to geeks. Nothing unusual to that – it’s the Google way… except that its an incredibly vapid response.

The remarks that Jobs made are, as you might expect, a little odd. You can listen to them here. Apart from anything else his definition of open as ‘being like Windows’ (presumably because any hardware manf. is open to create the hardware on which it runs…) is unlikely to garner him much support. That being said, his basic point is correct: Android is already massively fragmented as a platform, and it’s only going to get worse.

Now, of course, there is fragmentation in the iOS world, but it’s already orders of magnitude less of an issue than Android because there are simply less devices, versions, and less device / carrier combinations. The carrier and handset manf. will continue to play a game with Google where they seek to differentiate themselves from their competition by offering features / options. They’ll strike agreements with content providers to target their carrier / handset specific features. Over time the market will revert to the usual high churn mess that benefits everyone but the user.

What i find truly odd about this situation is that it’s exactly what happened to J2ME… although J2ME lacked the current geeky cachet of Android, it suffered from exactly the same fragmentation issues. It’s not so much that Android is repeating the same mistakes, but that many of the same people are repeating the same mistakes! Surely the people who were out there preaching the horrors of fragmentations to anyone who would listen, haven’t signed up to do it all again?! Once more round the hamster wheel perhaps?

For what it’s worth, my feeling is that Android will come to dominate a majority of the marketplace (in much the same way was J2ME dominated a large section of the market for mobile applications). However, this will be a largely meaningless victory for everyone, except Google.

Why? Consumers will be as screwed as always, apps that only run on their current phone / carrier, low quality and gimmicky junk. Handset manfs. will have to continue churning out low margin handsets for carriers all trying to find the killer feature that will prove as sticky as a non-portable number…

Which leaves Google. High above the fray, selling arms to all sides, and raking in the ad revenue.

Don’t like to hear the word “vampire” around here, trying to improve our public image. Build up a kindly, avuncular, benevolent image. Interdependence is the key word. Enlightened interdependence. Life in all its rich variety, “take a little, leave a little…”

However, by the inexorable logistics of the vampiric process, they always take more than they need.

— W.S. Burroughs.