I have just come back from an evening UK Hutchison 3 blogger event in London. 3 have decided to move their social media efforts in-house with the help of Brando. Expect to see new twitter channels for 3 news and support in the near future.
From a developer viewpoint, I learnt about a new ‘3’ tab that will be appearing on Hutchison 3 Android phones. The idea is that this tab will provide app recommendations, for example, UK specific apps or apps provided by 3. More specifically, it was hinted that an app version of the ‘My 3’ web interface might become available. I hadn’t previously known about operator specific tabs in the Android Market but it seems it’s common in the US (even if the end users question why it’s there).
I got to handle a production-ready Samung P1 (Galaxy Tab), running Android 2.2 (Froyo) for the first time. It seemed heavy for its size but worked well and felt a solid bit of kit. A limited experiment playing some flash from the Adobe site worked well. It also worked ok with the 3 MiFi access points used to provide Internet access for the event. We were given the opportunity to trial a MiFi so I have brought one home. I’ll report on my findings after I have used it with a variety of devices in different situations. Back to the Samsung Galaxy Tab, the screen (7") isn’t large enough to cause current 3rd party applications to look out of place, unlike new (some larger) Android 3.0 Tablets coming next year that will need app re-writes to make best use of the extra screen area.
Personally, I am still not sure where Android 7" tablets sit. They are too large to be used as phones and won’t fit in the pocket. They also aren’t as compelling (but will probably be a similar price) as the iPad. I am more hopeful for the larger tablets that will be as good as, if not better (due to flash) than, the iPad.
Speaking to the people from 3, I learnt that things have moved on since earlier this year when 3 UK’s network data capacity was suffering due to the use of 3G dongles. Since then, there has been a significant investment in network upgrades and I was told these problems have been overcome.
If you follow this blog you will know I have almost written off Windows Phone 7 (WP7). Hence, I was surprised to hear that 3, based on their initial analysis of manufacturer phones, are more upbeat about the prospects for WP7. So, look out for WP7, it might surprise us all.
Canalys have an interesting press release on their research into social networking phones.
Their survey showed that…
"Music, instant messaging and web browsing are a must for the youth segment"
"90% of those aged 16 to 25 access social networking services (SNSs)."
"31% of this group do so via both mobile phones and PCs, compared with just 8% of those aged 46 to 55"
The paper version of Mobile Today has a Future Trends article by CSS Insight showing global platform market share over time…
It’s great to see the data over 2 years because it gives an indication of the share of devices currently in the market rather than those sold last quarter or last year. i.e. Assuming a 2 year replacement (I know many people keep phones longer) the area in the chart, for each respective platform, gives an approximate indication of the proportion of phones in use.
There’s an interesting feature in the paper version of Mobile Today that says, according to GfK, touch screens represented over 36% of the total handset market in Q4/09.
While this figure is for the UK, I suspect it’s a similar situation in the rest of Europe and N America. QWERTY devices are also experiencing growth and account for 11% of the UK market.
It’s ironic that, only a few years ago, the ‘experts’ in mobile user experience were saying touch screens would never catch on due to smudging screens and poor tactile feedback. It makes me question what other current mobile myths might be incorrect and offer new opportunities.
I previously talked about industrial mobiles, asked where are the industrial Symbian phones and commented that open source might stimulate greater device variety.
I am pleased to see SDG’s Bluebird Pidion now supports Android. Up to now, almost all rugged wireless connected devices have been Palm or Windows Mobile-based. It’s great to see Android on a rugged device and this opens up many new markets and lucrative opportunities for mobile developers.
I have worked on a few enterprise rugged device projects. When you are supporting a very large number of (potentially thousands) devices that are going to be treated roughly, many new issues come into play. Here some things to consider if you are thinking of entering this market…
- How can the devices be synchronised on-mass?
- How can they be charged on-mass? Do they need special cradles?
- Who will repair them and provide replacement parts?
- How long into the future will replacement parts be available?
- How will they be carried by users?
- How far can they be dropped? (Colour screens are particularly fragile)
- Is the screen visible under anticipated working lighting conditions?
- What happens to the screen (physically) if workers use a pen rather than their finger?
- Is there developer support to provide access to special hardware features that aren’t part of the standard OS API?
- Is it possible to run in ‘kiosk’ mode where the OS is effectively hidden?
- Are the standard touch screen controls (e.g. buttons) usable in an industrial environment? If not, custom ones will have to be written.
- Are there any special requirements for securing data on the device?
Answering some of these questions requires a large and ongoing commitment by the hardware supplier/manufacturer. Hence, rugged devices tend to have longer sales lifetimes than normal mobile phones.
I have been watching the Engadget Interview with Erick Tseng, Senior Product Manager of Android. Erick says that purchasing devices via Google is a new sales channel for ‘all’. It will be possible for carriers and handset manufacturers to also sell phones and plans (tariffs) via this channel.
What Erik describes as ‘novel’ is being able to buy phones and plans separately on a mix and match basis. This might be novel for North America but it has been the case in Europe for a very long time now. The problem with SIM-free phones (as they are called here) is that they have a high initial cost (despite a lower TCO over the owned period). The average person won’t buy a server hundred pound, euro, dollar phone and would much prefer to spread the cost via a subsidised operator supplied phone.
What Google could do to be truely innovative is to subsidise phones via advertising revenue. This might include embedding more Google advertising, for example in the built-in Google phone applications, in return for a heavily subsidised phone. So as not to upset phone OEMs, this might even be extended to their Android devices – OEMs receiving subsidies according to how much advertising revenue their devices pull in.
UPDATE: On twitter, Felipe Andrade says… "could Google subsidise voice and data via ads?! It could be the end of many carriers!"
I have been asked a few times now how it’s possible for an individual to develop for mobile when phones and tariffs are so expensive. This problem is particularly pertinent to multi-platform development.
The obvious answer is to charge enough for your application or to your end customer to cover phone costs. As an indication, about 10% of my freelance overheads are phone/tariff purchase costs. If you are working freelance, make it clear in contracts what phones you will be testing on.
Here are some further pointers…
- Buy phones just before they are needed on a project, rather than ‘for fun’ when they are first released. They often have inflated prices to start that decrease significantly with time.
- Calculate the total cost of ownership when comparing prices with/without a tariff. It’s almost always cheaper to buy SIM free (without tariff).
- Consider buying phones via ebay. It matters less that a phone isn’t 100% new as it’s only used for testing. However, check that the phone isn’t locked to a particular network operator.
- Join and interact with phone OEM and network operator developer programmes. You can sometimes get subsidised handsets and in some (rare) cases free handsets that are usually prototypes. Over the years I have received prototypes from Microsoft, Compaq, Nokia, O2, 3 and Sony Ericsson.
- Consider renting handsets such as via Paca Mobile Centre.