Thursday, March 31, 2011

Android not open source is suicide for Google

Since the launch of Android, two forces have been at work:

  1. Open Source, which made Android what it is today, the fastest growing OS of all time (I need data for this statement, but I am ready to bet it is true) on its way to connected devices domination (i.e. domination of the future of computing)
  2. Fragmentation, which has generated a lot of problems for developers and device manufacturers, turning into issues for end users
Of the two forces, I think #1 is the key. Android has changed the game of Operating Systems. From a model where you had to pay for the OS (Microsoft Windows) to one where the OS is free and open. Linux and the rest of the Unix variations had tried it before, but only Android made it big. Because of the Google brand and timing (there was nothing like that available, and it was badly needed).

Google does not make money on the OS. They make money if you use it.  Their goal is to make sure it is in the hands of billions of people. Their money is on advertising, through search and maps. It is working astonishingly well.

To me, fragmentation just makes the road not as smooth as one would like it to be. It makes it like a Californian highway, vs. a Northern Italian one. The former is free, the latter is expensive. The former might have bumps, the latter is perfect. Still, I prefer the Californian highway. And I get to work as fast as I would do in Italy. Actually, faster because I do not have to stop at the toll booth. Could the road be better? Sure. Does it matter to me that much? Nope, I like it free.

However, due to fragmentation, I have seen a bunch of news pop up. Scary news.

First, Honeycomb - the latest version of the Android OS - is not going to be available in open source soon. That might be ok, as long as it happens sooner rather than later. The move is meant to cut out the little ODMs which were building devices on the open source version, fragmenting it.

Today, the news is that Google is forcing licensees to abide by 'non-fragmentation clauses'. Therefore, if you are a licensee, you can build your customizations only if Andy Rubin says it is ok.

Fighting fragmentation is very important to Google. They get bugged about it on a daily basis, I am sure. However, check the current distribution of Android versions:

Android 2.x is at more than 90%. That is all you need. Some people will be always left over. After all, 11% of people still use IE6 as their browser...

I do not think fragmentation is such an issue with Android to prevent it from being the dominant force of OS in the future. I believe pissing off all your ODMs and pushing them to choose other platforms might actually do it.

Eventually, preventing fragmentation might be suicide.

Take a bit of fragmentation, keep the open source model, let people vent about it and move on.

Google, you are winning: if it ain't broken, do not fix it...

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Did Amazon just launch the mythical GDrive?

The race to cloud synchronization just got hotter today. Amazon has launched Amazon Cloud Drive, a space where you can put all your data. Interesting enough, they decided to market this service with music first, although the system allows you to upload any kind of data (like your pictures, documents, videos). They have just one player for mobile - the music player on Android - but it is clear this is just their first move.

We were all expecting Apple to bring iTunes to the cloud, or Google to launch a music cloud service, and - surprise surprise - Amazon did it first. I actually called it a few weeks ago, when I wrote about trust and who could own your data in the cloud. Amazon is a trusted source, they could be the one going across devices (since Apple will do only iOS and Google only Android). It is a bold move. Maybe this is why the CEO of RealNetworks stepped down yesterday ;-)

If you look at the service, the aim is clear: create a digital locker for all your data. One that you will be able to access across a ton of devices, mobile and not. Some of the data will be synced, some will be streamed.

It does look familiar, doesn't it?

The pricing is aggressive but not too much. They are undercutting Dropbox by 100% (50G cost $50 vs. $100... ouch) and they throw in 20G for free for a year if you buy an MP3 Album (the lowest price for an MP3 album is $0.69 right now, do your math and buy one today...). The price is roughly inline with their public S3 offering (you get to those numbers as a third party when you buy 4,000TB). However, they are not undercutting Google, which has Google Storage at a quarter of that cost (double-ouch).

Yep, Google is selling 1G of storage for a quarter dollar a year, Amazon for one dollar, Dropbox for two dollars. Get ready for this to get better (for consumers) while margins get squeezed. There is no money in storage, the game is on features. If you battle on storage, you are dead.

It is funny all attention is on music right now. The labels are on fire, saying Amazon must pay them a fee (for what, having an hard disk which is not physically connected to your PC? Yeah, right, good luck). Amazon will knock down the labels and it will be a free game for all, as they have done with DRM and mp3 when they launched the Amazon MP3 site. This is going to be fun to watch.

However, the focus should not be just on music. Rumors about Google launching the mythical GDrive have been around for years. Then one day Amazon comes around and does it for them. It is the ADrive. It is big news. The start of the race to the cloud. The GDrive is history.

What will Google do? What about Apple? I bet the answers will come before summer. Get ready, it is going to be a hot spring for cloud synchronization. It is great to be part of it.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Your tablet will never be a laptop

I am on record as one of the first who said that the tablets were the future of computing for the masses. I stand by my assessment of a year ago. I am even more convinced that the tablet will replace the home desktop computer for the majority of the population and, for that matter, laptops.

However, I am very surprised when I hear people saying that the tablets will replace laptops for people who use them to work. The tablets are not good to do work, period. Any work.

They are not made for it. They are made for entertainment, with some light work in between. They have a precise scope in the workplace: take notes and give presentations. And do some communication. The rest of their life is on the couch at home or on the plane.

I feel it is insane to really believe you are going to use your tablet for heavy document writing, or to work on a spreadsheet. The UI interface is not conducive of high productivity. Your hands are always in the middle, you cover your visual interaction with your hands. It will always yield to low productivity results.

Some people say "simple, just get a wireless keyboard". Wrong. The OS for a touch device will always force you to touch the screen. You will end up putting your hands on the screen way too many times, which will lead to low productivity.

Some people say "then use a keyboard and a mouse". Wrong. The problem is that the OS for a touch device is built for touch. If you try to overlap a mouse interaction on it, you will end up with a multi-modal device, one that is the classical hybrid that sucks on both. iOS works because you interact with touch. Some of its paradigms will be ported to Mac OS, but Mac OS will always be a mouse-centric OS, while iOS will always be a touch-centric device. They will not fully merge, and for a reason. Look at the success of the Microsoft strategy around one OS for everything...

I am not the only one saying this. Steve Jobs is. Look at the presentation of iPad 2. Where is iWork in the presentation? Where is the innovation around Pages, Numbers and Keynote for iPad? They were not there. What Steve presented is iMovie (cool) and GarageBand (very cool). No productivity tools. He knows, as we do, that the iPad is not going to replace your work laptop. For entertainment, it will.

There is no swiss-knife when it comes to devices. In your pocket, you keep a smartphone. In your bag to go back and forth to work, a laptop (which does perfectly replace your desktop, BTW, just add a keyboard, mouse and monitor). On your couch, and in meetings, a tablet.

You just need to makes sure you keep all of them synchronized. But for that, there are solutions.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Google Voice is key for domination in mobile

I have been a GrandCentral user for a long time, way before Google bought them to create Google Voice. I love the service, and it got better with time. Slowly, but it got better.

[START RANT] I am just waiting for the possibility of sending international SMSs to call it the best tool I own (oops, use as a service). Not sure why international SMS support is not there, because I would pay for it! Nowadays, I have to open up Skype and send an SMS to an international friend (paying dollars), to get an answer in Google Voice, then go back to Skype. Aaarrggghhh!!! [END RANT]

Rant excluded, I think Google Voice is awesome. And I do not believe people understand how critical it is going to be for Google domination in mobile.

First of all, if you have Google Voice, you do not need one particular carrier. You need someone to give you connectivity, but you are totally unplugged from them. You can move to a different carrier and not even notice it, since your number is on Google Voice. It makes the carrier a voice and SMS pipe. You can simply go with whomever gives you better connectivity and lower prices. Huge.

Second: the future of computing are a bunch of devices you carry with you, all with some wireless connectivity. It can be your tablet, your smartphone or your laptop. They will have all-the-time connectivity one day. 4G or 5G, whatever. They will be always-on and able to talk to the world. Still, you will want a single number, one that people dial to call you. They call you, the smartphone rings, or the tablet rings, or the laptop rings (in the last two cases, you'll need a Bluetooth headset if you are in public). Or all of them at the same time. It does not matter.

What matters is that you will need an infrastructure to make all your devices converge into one for the outside world. It is like email and the ability to read it from different devices, but real time. You do not give people three different email addresses, for when you are home, work or in between.

If you have an Android tablet, it will all work through Google Voice. If you have an iPad, too bad, Apple does not have it (actually, they will try to prevent it to limit Google and help the carriers).

Eventually, more people will be forced to choose Android over iPad. For a stupid feature, but a very important one: nobody wants to give the rest of the world two or three different numbers and say "try the first number, then the second, then the third". There is a reason why nobody calls you at home and work anymore: they call you always on your cellphone because they know it is the only number they have to dial (even if it might cost them 10 times more, as in Europe). Convenience is everything. People are fundamentally lazy.

Somehow, Google Voice is key for Google domination in connected devices. Weird.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

No trust, no cloud

A few weeks back, at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, I was invited to give a talk about "Consumers in the Cloud". It is a hot topic: consumers are putting more and more personal information on the cloud, from their friends (address book) to pictures, videos, files and much more.

My talk focused on one major topic: trust.

Trust is the key when it comes to putting your data in the cloud. There are things you want to share with everyone, some you want to share with few, and few you do not want to share with anyone (probably, not even your mom). My focus was on the latter.

Why would you put your persona data in the cloud, anyway, if you do not want anyone else to see?

First, because you are afraid to lose it. Because your data is important. And if you put it in your hard disk and it blows up, you have lost it forever. A picture gone is a part of you gone, a memory that will never come back.

Second, because you want your data to move across your devices. If you take a video on your mobile phone, where do you want to see it? On the small screen or on your TV (or - at least - on your PC)? Yep, me too.

Therefore, your data will end in the cloud, eventually. Synchronization across connected devices will drive it. Backup, Time Machine will make it secure and easy. Once your data is in the cloud, you can pick what to share (not everything).

Trust comes in because you need to be sure that the place you put your data in will not give it away, or use it for different purposes. You need a safe for your data, a locker, a place with a key you only have. The bank itself cannot open it, cannot see it. You must trust them.

Who do you trust?

Do you trust Facebook for your important data? Well, rent The Social Network and let me know...

Who could you trust, then?

Your device manufacturer, maybe. Can you trust Apple? Probably, but there is a major flaw in their ecosystems: they are close. You must have iPhone-iPad-AppleTV and so on for everything to work smoothly. If anyone in your family has an Android, the Apple world breaks. Device manufacturers cannot go cross-platform, so they will never be able to be a good digital locker.

Google? I doubt it. Maybe. But their business model is built on sniffing your data and make money on it. They will analyze your information. They will know it. And they have another issue: they are the land of Android and they have neglected all the other platforms because of it. It is Android or a browser, anything in the middle is decaying (look at the poor support they give to sync with a BlackBerry... And they do not even have contact sync on Outlook...).

Anyone else?

The carriers. They can go cross-platform. They have a brand known well. Some of them are even trusted, mainly in emerging markets. Are people loyal to their carrier? Not really. Do you want to give all your data to AT&T, get locked in so you can't move to Verizon. Maybe not. But they definitely have a shot.

Ouch, who is left?

A third party, a startup, someone built with with this idea in mind. It could be Yahoo! or Amazon, or someone we do not even know now. I think a company will eventually own this space, and it is going to be huge. It is all your data in the cloud, it means your life, something you will pay for. To someone not doing advertising, not looking at your data.

Someone you trust.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The day iTunes will fly in the cloud

UPDATE: it did not happen ;-) I got the iPad2 predictions, but that was too easy. Apparently, Apple is not ready for the cloud story yet (and I know why: it is hard to pull it off...). Next stop: the announcement of iPhone 5 in June. It will happen, someday... Lesson learned: never bet on something you really care about...

Tomorrow is iPad2 day. As usual, I should come with a list of predictions on the device, getting some right and some not. However, I do not believe it is going to be a special day for iPad enthusiasts: iPad2 will be faster, lighter, thinner and with a camera in the front (and back, although I would not bet my house on this one). Nothing revolutionary, just evolutionary. I know a ton of people who have been waiting for the camera to buy it. They will be in line. Apple will sell a ton.

What is going to change our world is not the iPad2. It is the announcement around MobileMe and the cloud. I am ready to bet any amount it is going to happen tomorrow.

I have been waiting for this moment for months, probably years. Obviously, I am biased: my company, Funambol, provides a mobile cloud synchronization solution, sort of MobileMe for the rest of us. It works on Android, BlackBerry, Symbian, Windows Mobile and even iPhone and iPad. We sell it to carriers, device manufacturers and portals, and we have one for consumers too (you can try it out at

It all started with iTunes. It was the Trojan horse for the Apple strategy. Buy an iPod, you need to sync music to it. Get iTunes. First only on Mac, then also on Windows. Everybody installed one.

At the time, Steve Jobs was sure: the PC will be your media hub. The place where you would store everything, from music to pictures to videos. A cable and boom, all your data would move to other devices. Cable syncing was everything.

Then came the cloud. With Google and Facebook pushing it hard. With all your pictures moving to the cloud, with your videos being posted somewhere far away. And the tablets, which screw up cable syncing (syncing one device with a cable is ok, two is too many), and made the PC less relevant (also, I should thank the laptops for this, because they are not always on).

The PC lost as the media hub. The cloud is your media hub. That is where you will store your life, your address book, your calendar, your pictures, your videos, your music, your files. All backed up and secured. And synced across all your devices, from your PC to your laptop, from your IP phone to your TV, from your picture frame to the dashboard of your car.

Steve Jobs knows it and it showed for the first time with the AppleTV: no cable there, not even a sync mechanism with the PC, it is all cloud driven. Now they are ready to go all-in. Moving iTunes to the cloud, making MobileMe the hub for your entire life, from PIM to rich media.

It is going to be a turning point in this industry. The moment that makes the cloud the place where your life is stored. The start of the connected devices game, where data gets synced from the cloud to any of your devices, seamlessly.

Apple created the online music business. The smartphone business. The tablet business. Tomorrow they will be doing again, creating the cloud media hub for Apple devices. It will start a market, which will take off like a rocket.

Why do I love it? Because I am convinced Apple is not going to get 100% market share.

In any family, there will be Android devices and Apple devices, and probably much more (I am sure that if I have an Android, my daughter will want an iPhone, and vice versa). Variation and fragmentation will be key. Apple will not be able to solve that problem. Google will not be able to solve that problem. It will be left to those who can go cross-devices. And I know the best one (although I am biased).

Not sure if I will be able to sleep tonight ;-)