Microsoft has a new post bragging how they now have license agreements accounting for over half of all Android devices. The comments in the Microsoft post make entertaining reading, particularly the one that shows the patents are very generic such as implementing both long and short file names in the same file system.
My thoughts are similar to when I commented on the actual HTC vs Apple patents. Isn’t this a case of prior art? Irrespective of who is suing who, are these companies actually looking into the technical side of these patents or are they a case of the emperor’s new clothes? I suspect the technical side is more of an irrelevance. To fight anything costs lots and is a big diversion from core activities. You just need something looking vaguely valid and noone will want to argue.
According to my web logs, my post yesterday on Nokia MeeGo and Belle was very popular. Some people agreed with me on Twitter. However, a tweet by Sebastian Brannstrom made me look at it from another angle. He said "I think an important factor is the staggering cost of Nokia R&D. They can’t develop at reasonable cost".
This is true. According to Bernstein Research, Nokia spent $3.9 billion, almost three times the average of its rivals’, in 2010. About a third of this was on Symbian.
While there were, no doubt, savings to be made in company inefficiencies, a lot of blame has been centred on Symbian. When I worked at Symbian in London in 2006/7, I was amazed that the people there were hit by the same problems as 3rd party developers. I had somehow thought that the difficult APIs and ideoms might have been mastered by the people creating the OS. Instead, a mindset persisted that things were difficult because they needed to be, to provide for an efficient OS. Things took much longer to do than, for example, on Windows Mobile on which I also had deep experience.
As I mentioned as long ago as 2005, and again more recently, all Symbian needed was something more friendly (e.g. dev libraries and UI) on top of Symbian. In fact, this is what Windows Phone became – a new UI and APIs on top of Windows CE. Nokia could have done the same thing (but much better with native rather than managed code) on top of Symbian. Nokia tried something similar with Qt but had problems agreeing a new UI and Qt mobility (device APIs) arrived too little, too late. Adapting the Qt dev environment acquired from Trolltech proved too difficult. A simpler native c++ dev library that both internal and 3rd party developers could use, and new Belle-style UI might have been all that was required.
However, I don’t think the $80 Huawei IDEOS is the answer to the next billion. It’s not inexpensive enough. I purchased a HTC device from T-Mobile, off contract, last month in the UK for less. Devices need to be in the low 10s of dollars. I can see this happening.
Related to this, Microsoft/Nokia rumours predict that the next Windows Phone devices will be what they consider to be low cost. However, I think the new ‘low cost’ will be nearer ‘no cost’. Nokia and Microsoft will be chasing a moving target and that target will lead to smaller and smaller profits.
Canalys released their worldwide smartphone statistics for Q2 2011 yesterday. An amazing 107.7 million units shipped in the second quarter of 2011. Only a few years ago I was saying the smartphone market was small compared to the market for all phones. Today, smartphones are ubiquitous and mobile development is no longer experimental but mainstream.
Here’s a graph I have created from the numbers…
Canalys said "demand for its Symbian-based smart phones has dissipated very rapidly" and "Fewer than 1.5 million Microsoft-based smart phones shipped during the quarter, equating to a mere 1% share of the global market, down 52% against shipments a year ago". These figures don’t bode well for Nokia’s forthcoming Windows Phone devices.
Android is now shipping over twice as many phones as iOS and had the strongest growth in Q2 2011. However, I think the end game will be more interesting.
The Vision Mobile Developer Economics report has an interesting chart showing fragmentation of the various platforms. That is, the number of versions of an app that have to be developed to cater for different versions of a given OS.
This concurs with my previous observation that problems of Android Fragmentation have been exaggerated. However, I suppose it depends on your reference point. As the chart shows, if you are only coming from iOS then it will seem more fragmented. If you previously worked on Java ME, Symbian, BlackBerry or Windows Mobile then Android Fragmentation won’t seem that bad.
The templates allow mobile web sites to be easily created that have a generic mobile look and feel. They can also be embedded in apps (read into a HTML control) but I wouldn’t recommend doing so as the look and feel won’t be much like a native app. The latest templates (v2) have been restructured for easier customisation.
In 2007 I mentioned that we were missing the phone feature APIs needed to create HTML apps. This is still true today. As I mentioned later in that article, I believe that even when (maybe I should now say ‘if’) they become available, the complexity/differences of the APIs will percolate up to HTML to make development as difficult as native.
One factor when determining choice of platform is the target country. Market research is often global and it can be easy to miss that some platforms are much more popular in some countries. There’s a recent article at cellular news that gives some useful figures for the UK, USA, Germany, Italy, France and Australia.
For example, here in my home country, the UK, Android is now number one followed by BlackBerry and then iOS. However, one piece of advice I often give clients is to survey your current (or potential) users. You may well find that you will need to choose platforms different to those mentioned as top platforms in consumer or analyst research.