Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Capacity, capacity, capacity

Funny how the wireless world changes fast. I spent a few days at Rutberg's Wireless Influencer this week in San Diego (awesome event, if you get an invitation do not miss it) and I kept hearing the same word over and over: capacity. The network capacity. We do not have enough bandwidth. The iPhone is sucking our network dry. The networks are at risk of collapsing. Screw network neutrality, we need bandwidth management and app profiling. We have to deploy 4G quickly, but someone has to pay for it.

Ok, I get it. The AT&T network in San Francisco (and New York, I am told) are collapsing under the iPhone influence. You get in the city and your phone says "resource not available", when you are trying to make a call. The data portion of the network is saturated (I am told, because of the backhaul, whatever that is :-) and all of a sudden I can't even call 911. Weird and scary at the same time.

If you go back one year or maybe two, the message you would hear from carriers was: we have too much capacity. We built this 3G network for data and there is no data. We spent all this money for what?

Now, it is the opposite. It is all ooooops, data growth is exponential. With conservative prediction, we are all screwed ;-)

One of the solution carriers are talking about: wi-fi. I mean, wi-fi!! Their enemy… They now want to push as much traffic to wi-if to offload their networks. An Asian carrier summed it up: "A year ago, wi-fi was our worst enemy. Today, it is our best ally". See, the world changes fast in wireless.

Will the network collapse taking the mobile internet with it, leaving us all out naked in the cold? I do not think so. I am an optimist. I can't help but think about the third World Wide Web conference I attended in Boston in 1995 (good memory, even more because I am in Boston today). A pundit stood on stage and said: "With this rate of growth in traffic, I predict the Internet will collapse. If it has not happened in a year, I promise I will be back on this stage and eat this piece of paper". I did not go to the fourth WWW - if there was one - so I do not know if he swallowed his paper, but I can tell you the Internet did not collapse.

The mobile Internet will not collapse either. There is way too much money at stake. Way too many business plans built on it. Clearwire pushing for 4G, which forces everyone else to upgrade to LTE quickly. Better devices, better experiences for users, better monetization for everyone, from device manufacturers, to carriers, to portals, to application developers. Capacity is going to be there to sustain all this.

Capacity is always there, when there is money to be made. And the mobile Internet is the greatest money-making opportunity in our lifetime (yes, more than the wired Internet). No chance a bunch of iPhones will take that away from this industry. It might be painful for a bit, but it is going to go quickly. Capacity will be there.

Believe me, the world changes quickly in wireless. Next year at Wireless Influencers people will talk about something else.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

No, Google won't make a smartphone

There are a lot of rumors today about Google making its own smartphone.

I do not buy it. It does not make any business sense.

I have been a big supporter of Android from day 1. Heck, it is probably the thing that transformed me in the market, from an idiot to a visionary :-) I kept talking about mobile and open source for years. Everybody told me "you are an idiot, it will never happen, mobile and open do not go together". I begged to differ. Then Google came around with its marketing machine. Ooops, mobile open source became hot. The future of mobility is open source. Open is the new closed...

Well, unfortunately most of the people that thought I was an idiot have not changed their mind. But I have my inner confidence and I am not going to stop acting like one :-)

Back to Android. It was a big splash at the beginning. Then there was some disappointment around Mobile World Congress in February (no devices to show). And now it is an explosion. If you were at CTIA in San Diego, you know it: at least 50% of the phones on display were Android. From every device manufacturer. Amazing.

The Android phone are here and they are looking good (the Droid in particular).

Operators are pushing for Android like crazy. Yesterday I met a European carrier and he told me "We are launching one Android phone this year and ten (10!) next year". He said "We were terrified with the iPhone, we needed something open we can build on".

Booom, open source in mobile :-)

You have an operating system that is open. You can take it and ship it as it is, with Google inside (many have done it). That is an option, works with marketing, but includes the risk of moving from evil #1 (Apple) to evil #2 (Google). But you also have a second option: just take the open core, add your apps and move Google in second place (e.g. what Motorola has done with MOTOBLUR). Take the best of open source, keep the source and innovate on it. The best of both worlds.

On the side, developers are creating Android apps like crazy. It is the Google effect, combined with the open source effect. Nobody is going to take down my app. Apple is not controlling my business model. Think about it: if you have to write a social networking messaging app that will take a year to develop, would you go with iPhone? Would you risk to spend a year and then get rejected on iTunes because Apple is - obviously - building a similar application? I would not. I go Android. And so are doing all the other developers.

Android is the #1 mobile developer choice today, as long as there are enough phones out there. And the phones are out now. It is not the iPhone, because it is closed. And it is definitely not Windows Mobile (I second the comment from Laura Fitton to Steve Ballmer: "have you noticed very few people are developing Twitter apps for Windows Mobile?").

Ok, let me go back to the subject. You are Google. You have an ecosystem that works so well it is a miracle, you have displaced Microsoft for developers creating the dominant OS of the future (remember, everything is going mobile), you have phones coming out every day, almost all device manufacturers using your OS, carriers that bring you in even if eventually you are going to make them a pipe.

You have made it in mobile, coming from nowhere.

Now you screw everything up? You create a smartphone? A competitor to every new friend you made?? And you are a company that has never built hardware???

I do not think so.

Google won't make a smartphone (Microsoft will, because their Windows business model is broken forever, not being open source). Google won't do it now. Maybe in a few years if things change. Now it does not make any sense.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Proving that open source can be beautiful

It is out. We have Funambol V8 on our demo site, myFUNAMBOL. It is for everyone to play with, look at and experience (yes, it is free, and unlimited for our community members).

Why am I excited? Because I am a usability guy, and I love things that are both usable and look good. I am an admirer of Apple, because of it. And I feel I can say this (ok, I am biased, I know): our portal looks better than anything Apple has out in the market.

There is one thing that people say about open source: it works, it works, but it is ugly. Think about it: few products out there are open source and actually look great (there are some exceptions, although I think Firefox is uglier than Chrome or even IE8). Open source products just work great. They are super-well tested. They function well, they are designed by engineers for engineers... Usually, they are ugly.

It was about time to turn this around. We are a company with Italian roots after all. If made-in-Italy can't build beautiful things, who can?

Here you have it. Funambol V8 is made-in-Italy software, works great because it is open source and tested by millions, can be tailor-made, and it looks fashionable.

Living proof that open source can be beautiful. It does not have to be ugly.