Google, Apple and Smartphone Progress

June 18, 2010 ~ 11:05pm

In a half filled lecture hall in the fall of 2000, I heard an enthusiastic Compaq (now HP) engineer talk about his work with IPv6. He said eventually every single tiny device you own will have an IP address to connect to the internet. Most of the students passively dismissed this idea. I was among them.

I was fortunate to have the time and the means to attend Google I/O last month. This is Google's yearly conference known for engaging software developers on a deep level to both promote Google's technologies as well as openness on the internet. The demo for "Froyo" - Google's next update for their Android cell phones - is what really caught my attention.

I honestly beleive the the new features introduced are really what the customer wants and NOT what the manufacturer wants you to want. This is quite revolutionary in this age. Things in Froyo will deeply offend the cell service providers (who might charge extra $20/mo for hotspot) or even the media companies (who want to charge you to stream music). And the sad thing is that these things aren't really revolutionary take so long to get to the people.

When reviewing Apple's iPhone 4 presentation last week, it was pretty clear to me that the iPhone will be a dominant product for some time to come. But outside of the typically bigger and faster - I failed to grasp the features that make it so much better. Limited multitasking? Changing backgrounds? I don't see how iPhone users are much better off than they were one year ago. And even worse in some cases with Apple's strict limitations on what you can do on your phone.

I'm not a Google fanboy (I'm still using my Palm Pre - soon to be also purchased by HP *sigh*). I don't even care much for Flash. I'm just a bit disappointed by complacent Apple customers whose very purchase only contributes to denying progress in this market.

I am however making the plunge to Android. In a few weeks when I get a chance, I will be switching over to my new HTC EVO 4G. How to describe this phone? Impressive! And the best part? The "Froyo" update soon to come will only push that further.

When the Google I/O keynote emphasized how openness will rapidly progress evolution in smartphones - virtually no attendee dismissed this idea. I am among them.

Really what the customers want?

by: Merryl on: June 19, 2010 ~ 12:02pm

I would challenge you to think about what customers really want. First, are you the average customer? I would argue, and you would probably admit, that you are not even close to an average customer. The truth is that what you value is beyond what most people do in a mobile device. I enjoy using Apple products. I'm not a fanboy. I recognize that Apple has a firm grip on the iPhone environment and only releases features they decide are worthy. The truth is that Apple was the first to produce a user experience that a lot of people can quickly adapt to and enjoy. The iPhone, until recently, had the best mobile browsing experience available. As "closed" as their environment is, it has worked well. I think that what you call complacency, I would call choice. Apple can't brainwash people. And they can't influence people anymore than Google or any other major company with ad dollars. Companies succeed by selling products people want. Consumers who buy an iPhone are not denying progress in the market, rather they are telling it where they want it to go. They want a device with a clean, consistent, and enjoyable user experience. ?

I do not consider myself an average consumer of electronics. I even learned Java with the express intent of developing for Android. I definitely believe in the potential that Android has, but it suffers the same maladies that all "open" environments do. (Interestingly enough, some of the following applies to Linux, which failed to become a mainstream OS for home use). It has a splintered user experience, with each manufacturer developing custom UI overlays. This in turn means that each handset has a different timetable for receiving the great features that are being developed. This has become an issue to the point that Google is directing some of its resources to developing a new and improved UI. Their hope is that this will discourage custom overlays and bring conformity to the platform. And to add to that, your user experience can vary greatly by carrier, just look at Android on AT&T.?

I will make just one more point. Multi-tasking has been a big topic of debate, because it is a feature that has been absent from iPhones for too long. Now with the addition of the pseudo-multi-tasking in iOS4, the tech savvy are thumbing their noses at it. The simple truth of the matter is that people only need to do so much at once. How much really needs to be done simultaneously on a device that fits in the palm of your hand? Browsing, listening to music, tracking your location, maintaining a network connection for data flow, and a handful of others are the real things most consumers will do on their phones. This is all possible in iOS4. Most people do not need an application that is optimizing your cpu clock speed or dynamically managing bluetooth devices when they fail to connect. They do not need memory management apps, or root access, or even a process monitor. Beyond that, average consumers, don't and, in my opinion, shouldn't care that it is not the full application running but a small piece of it. What is critical is that the user experience is maintained. That is why people choose the iPhone.

P.S. I wrote this on my iPad.

Re: Really what the customers want?

by: Mauriat on: June 19, 2010 ~ 02:01pm

Heh, about that iPad ... for some reason whatever data it sent to my site clobbered the paragraph (line returns). Odd.

Anyways, I think you missed the point. In the true sense of a market - its better to give as many options as possible and let the market consumption dictate what stays and what goes. Closed loops historically tend to propagate bad ideas. The multitasking isn't a big deal, my point was that Apple made a deal about it. (For the record Palm webOS beats Android and Apple in a real multitasking user experience). My point was that Apple doesn't really seem to be innovating, instead they are only trying to tighten its hold on this market. Much like Microsoft has done in the past.

And really what you see as splintered user experience with custom UI overlays by different manufacturers, I see as choice. There needs to be simple phones with stock UI as well as super phones will all sorts of bells and whistles. People can move between them as they see fit. Everything else is just "marketing" (a more polite way of saying brainwashing feeble minds). See "Droid Does".

I do disagree, I think what customers want isn't that hard to gauge: perhaps removable microSD? standard micro-USB adapters? hotspot/tethering? I don't think people will use every update in said "Froyo", but better to let people decide than some billion dollar corporation decide.

Re: Really what the customers want?

by: Merryl on: June 19, 2010 ~ 08:40pm

It is interesting that the iPad chomped the paragraphs. Proof that no device is flawless. This time around I'm going to skip the paragraphs for simplicity. I don't think I missed the point. In fact, you have reiterated my point. I argued that what you called complacency was really a choice. It was someone else's choice (actually a great many someone elses) and it differs from yours, but ultimately it was a choice. To your point, market consumption is dictating what stays and what goes. Apple successfully sold 600,000 devices within a day. I'd say that is the market dictating what it wants. Don't forget that smartphones have become so commonplace that powerusers are a small fraction of the consumer market. As to the multitasking issue, I think that Apple touting it as a big deal stems from everyone claiming it was the greatest deficiency of iOS. And, in my opinion, their brand of pseudo-multitasking is innovation. It is them developing a means to give iPhone users background processes, while maintaining their vision of the phone's user experience. Is this Apple tightening their grip? If you think about it, they are actually loosening it just a bit. Enough to give consumers what they want. Ultimately, they are trying to sell phones, and they are doing a good job. Is it still their vision and not the people's? Yes, but it seems to be enough to sell phones. And regarding the ability to switch custom UI overlays, you have to remember that in most cases, switching between these overlays is not simple. Getting SenseUI, which seems to be a favorite among users, on the Motorola Droid is not something that a typical user can do easily. Lastly, remember that billion dollar corporations, including Google and Apple, will always decide what is in their products. However, people will ultimately shape technology development by what they choose to buy.

Re: Google, Apple and Smartphone Progress

by: Mauriat on: June 19, 2010 ~ 09:46pm

Aaahhh!!! Attack of the big paragraphs. Actually I need to debug that, let me know if you encounter other forms (maybe on other sites) where end of line characters get screwed up...

I think if your whole life you've been content seeing black and white, you can't *ever* even imagine what color is.

The iPhone 3GS wasn't a major improvement over the 3G and for that matter even the iPhone 4 doesn't seem like much either. I think quite a few of the 600K were 3G users who didn't instantly jump to a 3GS or even older users. There are compelling reasons people who have an older iPhone will stay with it, but I doubt its due to innovative improvements.

The original iPhone was the revolution. It jump started the amazing changes in the industry. Later offerings were by no means pathetic, but to say that Apple is truly leading innovation now is a little bit disingenuous.

what do we want?????

by: Garry on: June 22, 2010 ~ 02:48am

Well guys...good to see a spirited debate.

There is no denying the fact that Steve Jobs is able to 'Wow' the Customer. Customer orgasm is what they call it nowadays? Anyways no one can fault a beautifuly crafted handset having a super touch response with a beautiful UI. Apple thought out of the box while they first designed the iPhone. It was like no other. Nothing remotely ugly about it.
So they gave the customer something new that they would die to lay thier hands on.

Now we need to look at the type of people who use smartphones. Are they geeks, are they knowledgable in how to use apps, do they know how to hack a phone...heck do they know how to change a lot of stuff on thier computers??? Leaving geeks aside, since they dont constitute a significant portion of the smartphone market, we see that smartphones are in the hands of many who simply cannot utilise the full extent of thier devices. They buy phones that are the latest in the market, to make them feel cool and not geeky. They want to be with in the 'In' crowd. Remember while an iPhone may cost a 100 bucks at the entry level, it is very expensive wherever it is not subsidised. In India, it constitues the higher end of the market and because of its very high price hasnt sold well here. That along with demand outstripping supply makes the phone exclusive to a lot many people. Now most of these folks just want to have some apps that make use of the devices potentional. They are not interested in multitasking or worrying about restrictions on the device. They are happy to get an app that does the work they want. Simple. Apple realised this long ago and made sure that thier customers satisfaction with the device always remained high. They just didnt want thier customers to fiddle too much and then gripe that thier handset wasnt working.

Having been a Symbian user; simply because I have been using Nokia's from 15years; and being a google fan, I closely followed the Android development and thier own Nexus One. I wanted to get an Android phone and read reviews on all those handsets out there. Now out here HTC seems to be a domiant Android Player with thier Sense UI over the Android OS. I became a bit confused as I read reviews and they all seemed differenet from the other (running different updates). Then a colleague of mine got a Vodafone locked iphone. I began to help him out and was simply impressed by the experience. One thing to read a review, quite another to touch and feel. Well the only downside that in India being locked is useless as it was not subsidised. Also in India, handsets are sold by manufacturers in the retail market and not locked at all.
Another colleague got a Sony Ericsson Android and we all had trouble getting a lot of things going.

So I asked a friend of mine to get an iPhone 3G from the US. Unlocked and ran Cydia on it and I am happy to this day. It does all that you expect it to. Heck there is multitasking too (courtesy Cydia) but I dont find much use for it. I like to fiddle around the OS and stuff like that, yet I am happy with the way the apps run. No crashes at all. My kids like to play with it and I am sucure in the knowledge that they wouldnt unintentially crash it (like my windows) or delete something (if they do delete an app, i just need to back it up from the PC). I will always recommend an iPhone over a Droid handset (even though I am a google fan). The Droid is just messed up in its so many avatars. Its the overall user experience that matters ulitmately. Apple has got that right with thier hardware. (Wont say the same of thier iTunes which sucks big time).

Remember Apple with not release products till they not only get it right, but till they do it better than other. Case in point.. is copy and paste. Some things irritate me like the bluetooth and message forwarding...but hey this world aint perfect.

While iPhone 4 may not be 'revolutionary' compared to the orignal launch but its getting better every year.

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