Those of us who have been around our industry for a while may remember “the future with four anys.” It was the shining future of TV: anywhere, anytime, over any access, to any device. Now that this future has become a reality and many of the technology opportunities our industry pursued over the past decade (and longer) have been fulfilled, what next?
The latest article by David Price and myself, posted on Videonet, look at the evolution that got us here, including a major disruptive event that not everyone was prepared for, and its impact on the all-important topic of video security. All the while hoping that the next decade isn’t one where disruption itself doesn’t become the new normal.
Google announced that it is ending the experimental phase of Google Glass, by ending its beta program and transitioning it into a different business unit.
In my opinion, the primary purpose of Glass has been to test the social boundaries of acceptable advertising practices. You have to give Google credit for convincing ‘early adopters’ that the Glass beta was cool enough to pay for. This level of uncritical goodwill toward Google won’t last forever.
Virtually all of Google’s technologies are in service of their advertising model. With that in mind, always make sure you know what you’re opting in to before you buy. Ask anyone who has ever downloaded an app from Google Play and has had to accept the terms (flashlight apps with access to your location, etc).
Remember that song from the ’80s: She Blinded Me With Science. Just sayin’…
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. ]
We all know by now that Google is up to something, perhaps big, with the launch of its Chromecast dongle-style screen-sharing device, but there is also a lot of confusion around the device capabilities, Google’s strategy and whether this is a truly disruptive device.
To find out more about the Chromcast strategy, Videonet‘s Justin Lebbon spoke with two digital entertainment industry experts, Analyst Steve Hawley and Consultant Mark Donnigan, who works with Dune HD on their set-top box business. Read the article on Videonet!
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!
Everything seemed so tidy and settled six months ago. A growing new conventional wisdom acknowledged that pay TV is, in fact, not only moving to Internet protocol, but also, that the titans of pay TV had all but won the day over ‘Web video.’ This sense of complacency was disrupted when Google made a trio of noteworthy announcements at its annual Google I/O developer conference last week…
Update, October 28, 2011: According to reliable sources contacted after this blog entry was posted, only Intel’s Digital Home Group (the Marketing team) was dissolved and reassigned. The Atom chips themselves are alive and well. In fact, the next-generation 51xx dual-core series are in the hands of outside developers, and the first new products based on them are coming in the CES 2012 time-frame.
(Original Post: October 13, 2011) It’s interesting and unfortunate that Intel seems to have (suddenly) exited the Atom STB processor business – The CE4100 ‘Sodaville’ and CE4200 ‘Groveland’ chips. You’da thought it was a healthy business, given the effort and expense Intel put into promoting it just last month at IBC. A sizable booth, and about a half-dozen commercial implementations on display – and if it’s true, this move likely left these implementations in an awkward position.
It’s strange timing, just as the platform was beginning to get some market traction. The Boxee Box uses it. Logitech and Sony built GoogleTV devices around it. Amino built its Freedom product line around it, including a custom–built an Atom-based box for Telecom Italia. Not to mention Comcast and DirecTV and their upcoming Atom-based set-tops. But these chips were much more expensive than other STB chips and never got to real volume as a result.
From the initial news reports, it has not been clear if Intel has stopped taking orders for the chips altogether, or has only ended proactive marketing for them. Intel’s apparent exit follows in the tracks of (a couple weeks ago) Intel pulling out of MeeGo, which is the environment that Intel had been pitching to STB co’s for these chips. Now MeeGo has been merged with Limo, to expand its scope and shift it toward HTML5 (not a bad thing, but disruptive for developers).
Just goes to prove my old theory. In the end, so many companies always revert to “safe” businesses when the chips are down (and that’s literally, in the case of the Atom line). For Intel, it’s always been about the chips – the money they put into vertical markets such as TV are tactical marketing programs, not strategic.
Then there’s Cisco, which buys S-A and later sells its Mexican STB factory to Foxconn. Nobody’s quite sure what the story with Cisco’s Videoscape is, but its lead executive resigned. Cisco always goes back to its core networking businesses.
Google and Google TV? The Google TV platform was also implemented on ARM-architecture chips, so that platform itself is not in jeopardy with Intel’s exit. But (without going into the tangent about what Google might have planned for the platform after the Motorola Mobility acquisition), Motorola’s IPTV set-tops are Broadcom and Sigma (MIPS architecture) based. So (correct me if I’m wrong), wouldn’t GoogleTV have to be ported to MIPS in order to run on these Motorola boxes, if it hasn’t been ported already? That could make it a long wait.
Last week’s announcement that Google would acquire Motorola Mobility caused a fair amount of tea leaf reading by observers in industry segments ranging from mobile to tablets to TV (both the traditional variety of TV and the interactive Internet-enabled variety). Myself included. A lot of people reflected on Google’s pending (if it goes through) acquisition as a way that Google will arm itself with a bounty of patents that might deter potential Google adversaries.
I think that this event occurs at an inflection point for two device categories: tablets and mobile smartphones. Smartphones first. Briefly speaking, I agree with others that say the MMI acquisition will drive some mobile device companies away from Android unless there is some contractual assurance by Google that MMI won’t get any kind of competitive advantage over other Android licensees. But where would those device companies go? Right to Microsoft. Verdict: a win for Microsoft, and indirectly, a win for Nokia.
But the tablet story could have been more interesting. Unlike the smartphone, whose market dynamics are a three-player game between Google, Apple and Microsoft in a mature category, the tablet category could have had four or five players for some time (“tablet wars” could have echoed the “browser wars” of the 1990s-2000s). At first glance, the MMI-Google alignment seemed to compress the number of tablet operating systems down to two: Google (Android) and Apple (iPad/iOS). But I don’t think that game is yet quite over.
According to Strategy Analytics, Android had 30.1% share of the tablet category as of Q2 of 2011, up nearly 30% from a year eariler. Apple had 61.3%, down 33%. The fact that Android is on the rise bodes well for MMI’s Android-based Xoom tablet, which has been available from Verizon and others since early this year. Because Motorola is an incumbent supplier to pay TV service providers as well as to wireless carriers, the Xoom is well positioned in front of two kinds of consumers.
Granted, Hewlett-Packard’s sudden discontinuation of the H-P TouchPad – and the rest of its WebOS business, formerly Palm, which was acquired by H-P just 16 months ago – also helped consolidate the tablet category. Not only did H-P discontinue the device, it discontinued the whole operating system. RIP Palm, really this time. The TouchPad was launched amidst an expensive advertising campaign and promises that it would be everywhere in our lives – only about 50 days ago. It went into fire sale mode a few weeks later with a permanent $100 discount. A 64GB version was launched in Europe just last week! Clearly, the decision to kill that business was made some time ago – and the launch was done just to clear inventory. H-P seemed to be “all in” – H-P even launched a store – until H-P was suddenly “all out” (except for the inventory). Only Carly Fiorina could love such a debacle. Sad.
RIM’s PlayBook tablet debuted to mixed reviews. This device anticipated that HTML5 would win over Flash for video delivery (and had a little help from Apple). As a nod to its corporate enterprise accounts, it’s tied to the Blackberry ecosystem – but it’s at a time when iPads are gaining acceptance in the enterprise. RIM’s QNX operating system was ranked #4 in tablet OS market share by Strategy Analytics in Q2 of 2011, that share was only 3.3 percent. The tablet OS called “Other” made up just 0.7 percent, but H-P was not even part of that, since the TouchPad launched in July.
In summary then, Apple and Google are the clear category leaders, while another potential player (H-P) exited the category abruptly. Perhaps RIM will stay in the tablet category for awhile, having its greatest appeal in Blackberry enterprise accounts, but its overall share will remain very small – maybe small enough for RIM to fold its hand. If so, that would leave two, right?
Not so fast. First, Apple is defending its leadership position not only through innovation but also through litigation. Samsung was barred from selling its Android-based Galaxy Tab model in Europe and Australia, although it won at least a temporary reprieve soon afterward. And according to some analysis posted by Daring Fireball, the number of Android-based tablets actually in use is much lower than its market share estimates. In other words, they are selling in to the reseller channel; they’re just not selling through to consumers.
Then, there’s Microsoft. According to Strategy Analytics, Microsoft holds the number three spot in the tablet category, at 4.6%. For Microsoft, tablets have always been seen as another distribution channel for the Windows franchise. Microsoft has already demostrated Windows 8 on tablets.
In fact, Microsoft may actually (finally) fill a gap that needs to be filled in the tablet category. One of the frustrations of the iPad is that it does not have the full Mac experience. Unless an iPad user accesses a Mac via a virtual machine, he or she does not have access to most of the tools that are fundamental to the Mac, such as Microsoft Office, Photoshop, etc. So, the iPad is not a Mac substitute. Google does have virtualization to Google Docs, so in that respect, Google offers a better solution than Apple does, for Mac users. But for Google Docs, you need to be online. Therefore, neither Apple nor Google provide a satisfying solution. (Yes, I know – the iPad is a ‘lean-back’ device, and was not envisioned as a computer replacement. It makes a fine TV sceen via the Slingbox or via ‘TV Everywhere.’ Bla bla bla – call me old-school.).
Because Microsoft offers a full Windows experience on computers that are built in a tablet form-factor, there is less compromise. Funny, because Microsoft has been trying to succeed in the tablet category for upwards of 20 years, and finally it seems to have a formula.
(Apple, are you listening? How about a MacBook Air that’s built in a tablet form factor, with keyboard attachable via USB, Thunderbolt or Bluetooth? I – and I’d bet many others – would buy one, since Windows ‘insists’ on being more and more difficult to use with every subsequent release.)
This morning, we were greeted with the announcement that Google – a company that built its business on top of the Internet, search and advertising – would be buying Motorola Mobility (MMI), the mobile smartphone, TV set-top box and home networking portion of Motorola that became a stand-alone company at the beginning of 2011.
There is little doubt as to the strategic and product-level advantages that this combination would give to both parties, should the acquisition be approved by shareholders and regulators. Strategically, it’s about intellectual property, as stated in Google’s afore-linked press release – with the un-said subtext that it will probably give pause to potential adversaries before becoming embroiled in the kinds of law suits that have gone back and forth between Apple and HTC, Apple and Samsung, and others.
Product-wise, in addition to the obvious synergies between Google (Android) and Motorola in the mobile smartphone (Droid) and tablet (Xoom) device categories, Motorola benefits by having an opportunity to make Google’s industry benchmark search technology native within all of its products. Search has been a long time focus of Motorola, on the TV infrastructure side. We’ll see over time whether or not this drives non-Motorola Android-based smartphone makers into the clutches of Microsoft Windows Phone.
Google potentially benefits in that MMI has the industry presence to help move Google’s Google TV technology from something of a pariah status within the TV industry into the industry mainstream. This would give Google TV a better opportunity to receive a broader test in the marketplace, through Tier-1 pay TV operators that buy from Motorola. With Motorola’s imprimatur, TV service providers might be more apt to test and adopt it (content owners willing). Conversely, if Google TV were to receive more of an industry blessing as a result, Motorola’s value proposition could be strengthened.
There are some “devil in the details” things that hopefully will be ironed out. For example, a Google-owned Motorola Mobility will have two IP television security solutions for conditional access and encryption: Google’s Widevine and Motorola’s SecureMedia. Will one of them “win”? My belief is that they could be complementary, and not an either-or situation, because Widevine shifted its focus to connected consumer electronics devices (e.g. smart TVs and other video-capable devices) a few years ago. Of course SecureMedia is going in the ‘multi-screen’ direction too, so we’ll see.
Another interesting area will be how the two companies leverage one anothers’ advertising technologies. MMI has an investment into Black Arrow, an advanced advertising specialist; and has an entire product line (Medios) devoted to the merchandizing of content on any screen.
It’s the cultural fit that’s less certain. Can the acquir-or handle the business that the acquir-ee brings? Will the acquir-ee bring some grown-up discipline to the acquir-or? In a way, I liken today’s Google to the Cisco of years past. Google’s acquisition binge of recent years resembles Cisco’s of 10-15 years ago. By its own admission, Cisco lost some of its focus in the process.
In retrospect, Cisco has been, and will remain, a network infrastructure provider (just as, at the end of the day, Intel will always be a chip company). Strategically, Cisco’s acquisition of one of Motorola’s biggest TV industry competitors – video infrastructure and set-top box supplier Scientific-Atlanta – a few years back made sense for Cisco, since video helps Cisco justify its network offerings. But culturally, Cisco has never truly become a “video” company, even with the company’s launch of Videoscape, which purports to unify large subcontinents of Cisco under a video solutions banner.
I ask myself: why did Cisco (S-A) lose its momentum in its video business, which has resulted in Cisco selling off a set-top factory, not to mention big layoffs, and not to mention Cisco’s abrupt shut-down of the once-hugely-popular Flip video business. Will the same thing happen to Motorola Mobility in a few years?
Or we can go off on another tangent and ask whether – by having bought its way into being Nokia’s primary smartphone OS supplier – Microsoft will have brought both Windows Phone and Nokia back from the brink – just as Android breathed new life into MMI’s mobile phones a couple of years back. Or, we can ask whether Apple feels in the slightest way threatened by any of this. Sequentially, too early to tell, and they’d never admit it if it did. But Google’s effect on Motorola Mobility, and vice versa, is not tangent to the conversation at all.
The Wall Street Journal ran an article today about Dell’s losing its way in today’s consumer device marketplace. According to the article, one of the company’s beliefs is that slick hardware will win back the consumer. This is very dated thinking, and here is why.
Dell and many other Windows OEMs have lost the consumer because they fail to provide three things: a solid and consistent user experience, an ecosystem approach, and an ability to take calculated risks. By comparison, Apple succeeds in all three by providing an ecosystem that consists of a common core operating system, application development tools, a wide range of content, and a marketplace (oh, yes, and also hardware) – combined with strict application development guidelines and the uncanny timing that helps it win at bringing new device categories into the mainstream.
Google has been moving in that direction, with an operating system, a user experience, and a marketplace; depending upon third parties for the hardware (which is where it loses some control). Google is already addressing the fragmentation of its Android platform and its user experience, and probably regrets allowing mobile vendors like Motorola to put their own overlays on top of the “pure” Android experience. It will probably take time (and a few release cycles) to right the ship completely.
This helps make Google Apple’s most significant competitor, not Dell. And not Microsoft. Microsoft will keep trying to buy its way back into relevance (e.g. the Skype purchase), but will fail because little of what Microsoft does these days is original. We’ll see what happens.
Speaking of Skype, my hypothesis is that Microsoft will try to take Skype’s platform proprietary, turn it into a vertical offering for corporate enterprise segments, and in a few years either sell it (as eBay did) or kill it (as Cisco did with a business that wasn’t their own core business, called Flip Video). Begging the question: “Why didn’t Skype IPO instead?” – since IPOs seem to be succeeding with some regularity these days (see: LinkedIn).
Defenders of Dell – or Windows in all of its many flavors – just aren’t seeing the forest for the trees. The same fate has befallen H-P and other such OEMs. It’s also why Linux has never made it big in the broad consumer marketplace.