Monday, August 29, 2011

Samsung buying webOS? It makes sense

There are rumors floating around about Samsung considering an acquisition of HP/Palm webOS. I am not sure if Samsung is really evaluating or not, but it makes a lot of sense to me.

Samsung is doing just fine with Android. Actually, they are doing great. However, the acquisition of Motorola by Google has changed everything. As much as Google is trying to say that they did it just for the IP, I do not foresee them dumping 19,000 employees any time soon. It is obvious that the next great Android phone will come from Motorola, not from Samsung. The mythical Google phone, the one born to kill the iPhone (yeah, right), will be a Motorola device. Not Samsung.

Samsung is left with a 3rd party OS game, supporting Android and Microsoft, or/and a choice to take their future in their hands. They have done it already, remember: for feature phones, they have their own OS, Bada. It is doing quite well, actually. What they are missing is their own OS for the high end devices. WebOS could be just that.

Apparently, you need a stool with three legs to succeed in this market: a mobile device, a mobile OS and a mobile cloud. Apple has it. Google has it. Samsung has a mobile OS for low-end phones, but nothing on the high-end (and they have no cloud story, but I will leave it for another post ;-)

Now, it is a risky move. webOS still has no developers, which is the reason they did not make it. Samsung would have to build support on it, make it really cool and attractive for developers. Timing - for once - could be on their side. webOS has been built from the beginning with a web app model, rather than a native app model. They added an App Store late and it never really took off. But the market is moving towards web apps, even in mobile. If they time it right, they might have the right OS at the right time.

Should Samsung do it? I do not know, but it makes sense. If Google went to buy a mobile device, and Apple went for the iCloud, maybe it is time for Samsung to own a smartphone OS.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Why webOS failed

I have been a Palm fan since the beginning. I have owned a Palm III, a Palm V, a Treo and a Pre. The first software ever shipped by Funambol was an app for Palm OS in 2002 (ooh, the memories). I have been close to the Palm world for years, including the beginning of webOS with Funambol. I am no expert and I have no inside information, of course, but I have been thinking about the demise of webOS for a few days and I finally made up my mind.

webOS failed because it missed the Geek Factor.

The OS is absolutely great. Well designed, fantastic UI, fast enough (it could have been faster, but that was a limit of the HW as well). Missing a personal cloud element - which is key these days - but they had transparent sync at least (and full cloud backup). What was it missing?

It was missing developers.

It is hard for me to say that a phone failed because it lacked developers, since I always said that a mobile device is a fashion accessory. These days, though, with the devices looking very similar one to the other, the apps count. The cloud integration counts. Bluntly, Geeks rule again.

Think about it. In the PC world, you would ask a Geek (with a capital G, there are many phonies out there ;-) for a suggestion on what to buy. In mobile, you would just pick the coolest phone in the store. Now that the smartphones look the same, the pendulum has swung back to the Geeks. You get them to develop for your phone, you have apps. You get them excited, they will promote your device to their friends. They are back.

Take Android for example. Was the G1 the worst device ever built? Probably. What about the Geeks? They bought it. They developed on it. They evangelized it. It was open source. Once good looking Android phones came out, the apps were there. The consumers were ready to go.

The Pre ignored the developers. It was a closed phone. Do you remember the creepy ad with the girl? I do. Not very attractive to a Geek, sorry. The Pre was a phone built for girls (with a mirror in the back), while the developer world is still (sadly) male.

The genius of the combo Verizon-Motorola-Google with the Droid was to go for the Geek. The phone was black, sturdy, incredibly male. The ads were all about black and bold and violent. It was a male phone. A Geek phone (as you know, Geeks like sci-fi and the Droid was all about it). It had the Geek Factor.

It is sad to see webOS go. I asked HP long ago to open source it and I still think it would have been a great idea. It would have captivated developers. Honestly, it is still a valid one today. I do not think there is a chance for webOS to regain the Geek Factor, but it would be a start.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The end of Android as we know it

In my last post, I claimed the race for the mobile OSs was pretty much over. The two winning were iOS and Android, and I felt there was no room for anyone else.

Scratch that: Google just bought Motorola Mobility.

This opens up the race again. It is a fantastic opportunity for Microsoft, and also someone like HP with Palm.

What Google did is the harakiri of the third party OS strategy. The one that made Microsoft what it is in the PC world. They simply acknowledged that the Apple model is better, even if Android was growing like a weed.

Google has just told us that to be successful in mobile you need three things: an OS, a cloud and a mobile device. The whole thing. As long as Apple had OS and device, Google was fine. Now that Apple has iCloud, things are different. Google reacted. The cloud is where they are strong, now they need to catch up on the device.

What about the rest of the pack? What about Samsung and LG? Is there anyone in the world that really believes Android will stay the same, that if you are a device manufacturer you can still use it long term?

Nope, Google is your competitor now. You can't use Android long term. You can't count on the Google cloud anymore. You have to move. You need an OS and a personal cloud play. NOW.

Those who believe Google will keep Android as it is are smoking something funny. There is only one chance: that the move is only and purely about Intellectual Property (I think a big part of it is), and that they will take Motorola HW and sell it to a Chinese manufacturer, keeping just the IPR. I do not buy it. You do not spend $12.5 billion for IPR. That is a bit too much money.

Who benefits from this? Microsoft, Microsoft, Microsoft. I am sure they are calling all device manufacturers and they are saying "I told you so". They will claim they are the only option for a third party OS. And it is not just marketing anymore.

Who else? Nokia. The game is wide open now. They have a window of opportunity. Android is going to slow down dramatically. Nokia can make a comeback. They have the lead on Windows over anyone else. It is their great chance. Plus, if it does not work well, Microsoft is going to buy them to make sure they own the three legs of the stool (they have only OS and cloud, no device. With Nokia, they will be equal to Apple and Google).

Anyone else? Probably HP. They have said Palm is now something you can license. If you do not like Microsoft, they are now a good option. However, they still lack developers, so it is a long shot. In any case, they have two out of three (OS and device), if they can put together a cloud story they could compete with Apple and Google.

Losers? Samsung and LG, big time. They bet on Android and now they are screwed. I can hear them swearing in Korean even here from Lake Como. They can recover quickly. The rest of the pack is even in a worst shape. I would not want to be Sony Ericsson right now...

I think this is neutral for HTC and RIM. HTC has a long bet on Microsoft as well: they can recover. RIM just lost a potential buyer (not that I believed there was a fit) and now they have Google as a direct competitor. However, a slower Android could give them time to breath. They need time and they might just received it as a gift.

In any case, this is huge. I thought Android was the Microsoft of mobile, it was working so well and they just gave it up. They know better than I do (and the IPR situation was really messy) but I have a hard time believing Google will be able to be a great HW company. We'll see, but I have my doubts (a lot).

One thing is sure though: this is the end of Android as we know it. The fastest growing OS in the history of mankind. Open, meant to be the OS of the connected devices world. The backbone of the Internet of Things.

All gone. It is a proprietary OS. The third leg of the cloud+device+OS stool owned by a device manufacturer. Nothing more.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Is there really room for a third mobile OS?

There was a graph on the Asymco site that caught my attention today. It is shown below.

Few things jumped at me:
  1. The amount of smartphones shipped is growing like crazy. Not that I doubted it, but it is nice to see an exponential curve. It is good for the entire industry
  2. Android growth is just spectacular. I do not believe I have seen anything like this in any market
  3. Symbian is disappearing, while BlackBerry is shrinking fast, in particular recently. I would bet that in a few quarters the BBOS curve will match the one from Symbian
  4. Windows is not growing, actually the opposite
  5. BADA is showing up for the first time, with a significant 4%, four times Windows (!) and a third of BlackBerry already
I wrote before that I thought there was no room for four mobile OSs. I felt one between Windows and BlackBerry was not going to make it. Considering Nokia is behind Windows, and the strength of Microsoft, I was betting on Windows to be #3.

Now I am wondering if there will ever be a #3. I mean, one with significant market share. The way this graph looks, knowing that a Nokia with Windows is not going to be here in Q3 (therefore, this graph is going to look even worse for Q3), considering that the bottom of the market could be taken eventually by BADA, one would conclude there will be two mega players (iOS and Android) and there will just be crumbs for the rest (e.g. below 10%).

After all, 3 is the perfect number, but developers would not mind having just two. I think I have seen this pattern before. Last time, one took 90% eventually. I do not think this is going to happen in mobile, though.