I was a fairly late smartphone adopter – I didn’t have my first one until 2012, and only because I inherited it from another family member. It was the replacement for a lost phone, until the lost one turned up. So I decommissioned my 2007-vintage Nokia XpressMusic 5310 and popped my SIM and MicroSD cards into my new Samsung Exhibit II 4G. T-Mobile is my carrier. Wow! The Future!
But then reality set in. The Android experience did not meet my basic expectations. I found the user interface for basic phone calling to be awkward – dialing with one hand is difficult. Even though I would set the screen to time-out after 10 minutes, it would go dark in 10 seconds, so the act of deleting a voicemail meant that I would have to re-awaken the phone with the power button. The controls for apps were different for each app – no consistency. Often, the phone couldn’t pick up a network provider, even in London where six of them would be in range at any given moment.
Apps are unstable: Firefox could never get past two pages before crashing. Perhaps this instability has to do with poor memory management. One memory management app allows the user to quit all of the processes running in RAM, but within a few minutes they would always reactivate and sneak back in. On the left is a screenshot of this app after clearing 7 apps from RAM. The screenshot on the right shows the same app after clearing ram again six minutes later. This even happened with apps that I thought I had un-installed.
But above all, my greatest concerns went to security and privacy. Android’s ‘Privacy’ settings include ‘Back up my data’ and ‘automatic restore.’ That’s all. Under ‘Location and Security,’ there’s an option to ‘Install encrypted certificates from USB storage.’ Another is to ‘Add or remove device administrators.’ Wow, what an invitation – anyone could pick up my phone when I wasn’t looking and install a mole! Stop and think about this for a minute. The level of access should be a concern to anyone – especially corporate users concerned with data security.
Then there’s the level of access that’s available to software developers. Let’s look at a popular app whose purpose is to use the LEDs of the camera’s flash as a torch to illuminate your path. In reviewing the permissions associated with this app, it’s hard to believe that a flashlight is its true purpose. This app can access your storage, report your location, read the status of your phone calls, and has full access to the Internet. Really? A flashlight? And no way to disable this. The last item in the permissions list notes that it can control the hardware as a flashlight.
By contrast, Apple does not grant app developers access to phone or log functionality. Also, Apple provides system-wide settings for privacy, and both system-wide and app-specific settings to enable or disable location-awareness. in iOS, users can also enable a setting that shows them that an app has reported your location and when. Users can also disable location-based iADs (Apple’s mobile advertising platform).
Android’s location-awareness can be controlled system-wide but not app by app. If you want to grant access to Yelp or Urbanspoon but not to your flashlight, you’re out of luck. I don’t know whether later releases of Android have addressed this because my phone has been dead-ended. I can’t update the OS past Android v2.3.6 (Gingerbread), so I’ll never know (unless I look at the specifications of later releases, but what consumer will do that?).
In the end, privacy was the thing that ultimately won me away from Android, and even kids steeped in these new technologies agree with my decision. A few months into my smartphone, I reached a point where I stopped downloading apps for which I couldn’t control my level of privacy. Soon I realized that this meant I had to stop downloading nearly all apps. For some time afterward, I remained hooked on accessing the Web while mobile, but ultimately I said to myself: “What’s the point when my phone always crashes and I’m always looking over my shoulder?” My phone is a necessity. The rest is not.
And yes, we’re bashing Android, but this article doesn’t do the bashing justice. Juniper Networks estimated that 276,259 apps presented security issues, up 614% from 2012. Apple security isn’t perfect either: at the 2013 Black Hat conference, Georgia Tech researchers showed how malware could be injected into Apple iOS devices via the power connector. But this is nothing compared to kinds of hacks being publicized for Connected Cars. The University of Washington and UC San Diego conducted tests on several connected vehicles and were able to access and disable a vehicle’s controls via the car’s electronic tire-inflation sensor.
There’s a lot of conventional wisdom out there right now that Android is the winning mobile device operating system wars, and Apple’s influence in that market space is waning. This is reflected in the declining market share numbers for Apple in both the smartphone and tablet categories. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. A lot of people out there have opted for Android, been disappointed, and gone to (or back to) iOS. IPhone loyalty is higher also.
For now, I’m back to a Nokia XpressMusic 5310, which a nice gentleman in Shenzhen can sell to you on eBay, unlocked, for about $70. Later I’ll be one of those going to the iPhone, once the next generation is available. [ ...once again, dodging rotten tomatoes from those accusing me of being an Apple fanboy... ]
Ahhh, the Future!
[ Revised August 26: Another data point that acts to reaffirm my decision to leave Android is that there’s conjecture Google is devising a new kind of advertising measurement based on the number of gazes to ads viewed via Google Glass. A sort of “ad impressions” metric on steroids. I know this has nothing to do with my afore-referenced phone, but I don’t have to like it either. ]
The telecom industry is accustomed to conflict. Recent battles have been fought over network platforms, apps, and the electromagnetic spectrum. And the next set of transformational battle lines are already drawn in areas such as home automation and connected cars.
As with past industry transformations, these are high stakes games, being driven by powerful industry forces. Here we’ll look at some current low-profile but potentially high-impact battles involving mobile payments, user interfaces and the personal communications experience. Read the entire article on Telecompetitor!
AT&T announced additional second-screen and social features for its U-verse IPTV service a couple of weeks ago. Judge for yourself whether its U-verse App is an increasingly handy virtual Swiss Army Knife of sorts or whether it might instead be bordering on bloatware…
Note: I now have the privilege to blog for Telecompetitor, an active telecommunications industry news and information resource. This is my first entry. I’ll be making entries twice every month, and linking to them from here. – Steve Hawley
Alcatel-Lucent’s annual industry analyst meeting took place against a challenging backdrop. Since the company’s creation in 2006, Alcatel-Lucent has had just one profitable year (2011), and the current economic slump – particularly in Europe – won’t help in 2012….
For those of us waiting for Microsoft to acknowledge the passing of the PC, don’t hold your breath. Instead, they have tacitly acknowledged that the post PC era has indeed commenced by quietly but diligently turning their attention to other areas.
One example is Microsoft’s recent alliance with Nokia. Many scoffed when it was announced that Microsoft was licensing Windows Phone software to Nokia and that instead of charging Nokia a license fee, as is common practice for a technology provider, Microsoft was paying Nokia for the privilege of putting its software on Nokia phones. Now, the initiative has moved past the “deal” stage: Nokia recently announced that it is outsourcing its whole Symbian (mobile operating system) business to Accenture. Also, Nokia’s Ovi mobile apps store is migrating to Windows Phone.
So Microsoft’s investment in Nokia might not have been an act of desparation after all. In fact, it was symbiotic. In a single move, Microsoft and Nokia gave one another a lift back toward relevance in the smartphone market that both companies have seen eroded by Apple and Google.
Similarly, Microsoft has been steadily moving its pieces forward in the search category. At the beginning of May, RIM (Research in Motion) and Microsoft announced that Bing will become the default search engine for RIM’s Blackberry. Verizon ships a lot of mobile smartphones with Bing in the default position as well.
Another such category is interactive television. Although it didn’t really work very well at the beginning, Microsoft Mediaroom has become the foundation software for more than 20 IPTV deployments worldwide, which puts them in the top tier for market share in that space. AT&T U-verse TV is based on it, as is Deutsche Telekom’s T-Home Entertain service in Germany. Another category is Microsoft’s adaptive-bitrate video streaming technology, which use proprietary Silverlight and PlayReady DRM technologies.
Now, take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Microsoft has always been good at making incremental advances, and at being “good enough.” In other words, not great, but serviceable and eventually good enough to scale. The same goes for search, mobile and IP video.
But the game has changed: instead of Microsoft proprietary technology being an advantage, it has become a liability. For example, Verizon’s new Flex View multi-screen video feature within its FiOS TV service uses Silverlight and PlayReady DRM, which doesn’t work on all of the consumer devices that Verizon wants to leverage. Verizon is said to be planning a transition to HTTP streaming and HTML5 delivery, which would also allow Verizon to phase out its Windows PC-resident Media Manager video transcoding application in favor of using cloud-based delivery.
In another example of a proprietary approach, Microsoft Mediaroom (IPTV) developers must use Microsoft’s Presentation Framework for application development, which also requires the Microsoft Visual Studio authoring environment, and deployment via the Microsoft ASP.NET platform. It also uses a proprietary markup language that allows applications to call content from repositories and servers in the network, assemble the user interface and present it to the consumer.
I wouldn’t cry for Microsoft. They still have a good gig. When’s the last time you read about Steve Ballmer jumping up and down at a Microsoft sales meeting, screaming “Windows Windows Windows!” No, Microsoft has moved its old “Embrace and Extend” game to some new venues. But this time, there are alternatives.
Who’d have known that the US Federal Communications Commission is running an apps development contest! I stumbled upon it by accident Deadline is June 1st.
Here’s the URL:
People can whine and moan that the FCC is clueless and behind the times, but I think they are trying. It would be nice if the same people who perennially try to undermine these kinds of well-intentioned efforts (and that includes the National Broadband Plan and the FCC’s “Allvid” proposal) would instead join the discussion, to make them better.
Business models for network TV are in the midst of fundamental change right now. The networks themselves are forcing some of the changes, and some changes will be forced on them.
Recent actions by Fox are emblematic of the changes being forced by the networks, who hope to create a second revenue stream. The first revenue stream has been the traditional advertising revenue stream. The second, which has been enjoyed by “cable” programmers (e.g. HBO, Discovery, ESPN, etc) for years, but has not been part of revenue stream for “network television,” would be to charge a monthly fee per pay TV subscriber per month. In recent months, Fox shut down their feed to DISH Network and to Cablevision, and there have been other shutdowns for this reason as well. In the end, Fox apparently will receive some kind of compensation because those subscribers again receive Fox, but the terms with DISH and with Cablevision were not made public.
I’ve been watching Google’s online forum for Google TV, and last week I began to post there. I continued to think about one of my posts, which then became this post on my own blog on December 17th. In response, one of the Google forum members asked: do local affiliates participate in online programming in any way? I didn’t think so, but I may simply be unaware. So I started asking around and in fact, the answer is currently “No.”
Technically, it wouldn’t be difficult to do. If an online viewer’s location can be pinpointed down to IP address by the access provider, the information could conceivably be conveyed to the TV network and then matched to the local market’s network affiliate, and even be used to enable online local ad-insertion. Location-based services are already enabled in mobile applications, and by IPTV operators (e.g. AT&T U-verse), but it apparently isn’t yet part of online TV.
It’s ironic, because the TV networks aren’t passing any of today’s online TV ad revenue back to their local network affiliates, enabling online viewers to watch the local affiliates’ programming, or enabling local ad placements – even though IP technology and location-based services make this possible technically.
And the story continues to unfold: according to a story in today’s New York Times (December 20 2010), Google has asked its partners to pull their Google TV products from CES (the International Consumer Electronics Show) in early January. Ostensibly, it’s to “refine” the software. Still I wonder – has the fact that the major TV networks are blocking their programming from Google TV caused Google to blink?
Earlier I mentioned that some changes will be forced on the TV networks. One of those is the emergence of Apps – which are likely to become the equivalent of TV channels, and may be the catalyst that finally forces the pay TV programmers to offer a-la-carte programming. Some will be paid, some free, some standalone and some available only via aggregators such as Hulu, Netflix, Boxee, and yes, Google TV.
Lately, I’ve been seeing more discussion about distributing Apps to various devices. For example, an article in Connected Planet entitled “Do Web App Stores Matter In The Age Of Mobile Apps?” (the title reminds me of “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?” which I’m surprised Google or Motorola haven’t tried to borrow yet).
There are lots of pieces to this discussion. There’s the apps- and content-centric discussion: how can the same apps be cross-purposed and used in multiple consumer devices. There’s an operator-centric discussion: how can apps and content be commonly managed and distributed in a more efficient way? There’s a network/planning-centric discussion: How can a service provider do a better (faster, less expensive) job of app and content distribution than a data-center-based CDN can?
I think the Web makes a good common denominator as an interface that consumers can use to acquire and manage apps and content within a multi-play service environment. Mobile smartphones, TV set-tops, PCs and game consoles can all access and display the Web, and there’s less of a need to develop a separate app for every blessed mobile and portable and PC and set-top platform. Develop once, and time-to-market improves. Good argument for Android as well, come to think of it (except for, come to think of it again, the game console and PC parts, since Android doesn’t run there).
A Web-based common interface benefits the service provider too: a Web based store as a common single point of purchase, and a common platform that could associate purchases with devices and entitlements and make sure that the right content and apps go to the right entitled devicees.
As a consumer, if I were subscribed to ABC Service Provider’s TV, mobile smartphone and ISP services, I could sign up for their TV Remote DVR feature using the consumer-facing online storefront. Upon registration or purchase, the associated apps could be pushed to my set-top, to my PC and to my mobile phone, so I could use any of those devices to set up recordings that I can watch when I get home. Or, if the content is hosted in the network cloud, to watch whenever and wherever I want. As a consumer, one point of contact and automated distribution add up to convenience.
As a service provider, it’s a way to leverage common resources to save OpEx and maybe even CapEx. This is going to be a very active discussion. This is part of the future that we’ve used so many awkward acronyms and terms to try and describe. One of my favorites is ICE (Information Communications and Entertainment), which says everything, yet nothing. It’s really well-intentioned and after you think about it for a minute, it’s a good acronym. But would your Uncle Don know what it is?
I’ll be writing more about this over time.
Link to my article on Connected Planet Online (formerly Telephony Online), published on June 29, 2010. Enjoy!