Archive for October, 2011

How Android swallowed the UK smartphone market in 18 months

In just 18 months, Android has come from nowhere to become the mobile OS powering just under half of every smartphone sold in the UK – and the half the people owning a mobile phone in the UK have a smartphone.

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In the process it has bested Nokia’s Symbian (since declared dead, though still stumbling to its grave), RIM’s BlackBerry OS (which is fighting back) and Apple’s iPhone (which, given its comparatively high price until the latest cuts to the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4, was never likely to dominate long-term).

It’s an amazing run for Android which is likely to carry on into 2012, since it’s taken four years to reach this point (longer if you count Nokia’s, RIM’s and Microsoft’s offerings from 2005/6 as smartphones) but the number of smartphones being sold is accelerating.

What these figures don’t show you is that the entire market is growing; Kantar ComTech WorldPanel, which provides the statistics, declined to give absolute sales figures (they want to have something to tempt clients to buy the full reports). A minor note: these figures go up to 2 October, just before the iPhone 4S launch; expect that Apple’s share will recover slightly. Even so, Android is just going to keep growing.

It’s very likely that in the next two years you’ll see smartphones reach something like 90% penetration in the UK – if only because fewer shops and carriers will be selling feature phones, for two reasons: (a) they make less money selling them in the first place (b) carriers get less money from phones that don’t have data plans.

Android is almost certain to sweep the board here: it could hit up to 70% market share in one or two years (remember, market share is “share of handsets being sold”, not “share of handsets in peoples’ hands”). That’s because Android handsets from cheaper manufacturers such as China’s Huawei and ZTE will come in at the bottom of the market (it’s noticeable how the “Other” segment has fallen to zero in the past year). Pretty soon you’re going to be able to get a smartphone for almost nothing in your local supermarket. And you can already get really cheap PAYG data options from Three or GiffGaff.

For the record, I think it’s great that smartphones are becoming pervasive. Putting the internet in everyone’s hands, wherever they are? (If only the mobile carriers would stopholding up the 4G auction.) That’s got to be a really good thing.

Does it matter, though, whether the pervasive OS is Android, or what share this or that OS has, beyond the willy-waving horse race that some people love to indulge in? Here’s Henry Blodget over at BusinessInsider, who slams on the CAPS LOCK to pronounce ATTENTION APPLE FANS: Samsung Blowing Past Apple To Become The Biggest Smartphone Vendor Is Not Good News”. (By which he means not good news for Apple. Though by implication, it would also be Not Good News for RIM and Nokia either.) Blodget’s take: As the history of the tech industry has demonstrated again and again, technology platform markets tend to standardize around a single dominant platform. Although several different platforms can co-exist while a market is developing, eventually a clear leader emerges. And as it does, the leader’s power and “network effects” grow, while the leverage of the smaller platforms diminishes.

In the case of Android, this growing power will not lead to enormous profits for Google, because, right now anyway, Google is not selling Android. (Instead, Google is building a “moat” around its wildly profitable search business and making it easier for people to use Google search from their phones. This may change when Google acquires Motorola and starts selling integrated handsets itself.) But the better Android phones get, and the more market share Android gains, the more Android’s network effects will increase, and the more Apple’s leverage over the iPhone ecosystem will diminish. And that can only be bad news for Apple’s ability to continue to command exploding profits from iPhones, app developers, musicians, media companies, and others who now must pay it big distribution fees because they have no other choice.Similarly, the bigger other global handset manufacturers get relative to Apple, the less (relative) leverage Apple will have over partners in the global parts-and-manufacturing supply chains.

There’s three things there. Let’s take the last one first: supply chains. Apple didn’t do badly in 2007 when it was an entrant to the mobile phone supply chain, and it’s got enough money in the bank that it can guarantee supplies any time it likes. (That’s what it uses its cash reserves outside the US to do: buy up future outputs from various factories.) Most smartphone manufacturers don’t have much scale; that’s unlikely to change. Samsung is likely to get bigger (though it would be helpful if it would be more forthcoming about how many phones and how many tablets it has pushed out the door). That won’t stop Apple making phones, though. And by proxy, it won’t stop RIM or Nokia making phones – Nokia is still the world’s largest in handset volume. Only mismanagement can mess that up.

Now to the first point, about “the history of the tech industry”. Actually, the history of the tech industry is a wide and varied thing, which doesn’t show any clear lessons about dominant platforms. Yes, you do get dominant platforms, but that doesn’t prevent other players existing within niches and making good money from it. Cite 1: Apple, making nice money, thanks, from the PC market. Cite 2: Microsoft, making nice money, thanks, from the server OS market, despite Linux being the most-used. The leverage of Apple and Microsoft in those respective spaces is helped by the existence of standards, and it’s those – plus the internet – which make the “platform” idea less powerful on smartphones.

Think of it like this: if the PC market had started when the internet was already pervasive, then operating systems would have had to have internet standards built in; that would have forced more interoperability. It was the threat that Netscape might force interoperability on all computing platforms that scared the bejeezus out of Microsoft in the 1990s. So smartphones, which are arriving when the internet is pervasive, will live by different standards.

Horace Dediu, who runs the consultancy Asymco, puts it like this: imagine a world where 5 billion people have a smartphone. In that case, a 10% share translates to 500 million users. Even a 1% share is 50 million. If you couldn’t make a profit from 50 million users, you probably shouldn’t be in the business at all.

And just a side note on that “wildly profitable” Google search from their phones. All the web stats, and Google’s own stats, indicate that – for now anyway – about two-thirds or more of mobile web browsing and searching is mostly done by iOS users (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad). In some places it’s much higher. Now, past performance is not necessarily a guide to the future (you only have to look at the graph to see that). But you have to ask too: what exactly is the “network effect” that Blodget thinks Google will get from Android? People writing apps? They already do; but it hasn’t dented the bigger platforms.

The interesting challenge will be for Nokia and RIM, which have to establish themselves at the higher end of the market as everything shifts to smartphones. But in a growing market, the only problem is how to supply enough people. Android’s a whopping success. But that doesn’t shut anyone out – yet.

What makes Nokia Windows Phone devices unique?

I had the chance to attend the first day of Nokia World last week where they announced the Lumia 710 and 800 devices. James mentioned that he did not see much from the Nokia partnership. Nokia did mention three pieces in the keynote, but didn’t explain many of the details so I spent some time talking with some folks on the show floor and found out more to share with you.
Nokia Maps and Nokia Drive

One of the main services mentioned in February when Nokia and Microsoft announced their partnership was the integration of Nokia Maps into Windows Phone. The two companies said that Nokia Maps would not be exclusive to Nokia devices and that was confirmed at Nokia World. People with HTC, Samsung, LG, and other Windows Phone devices should see Nokia Maps appearing in the Windows Phone Marketplace within the next couple of weeks as a free software application. This version of Nokia Maps will NOT support offline maps or voice guided navigation, but does have the following features:

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* Local POI details (provides you location, phone number, reviews, and photos of up to 25 locations in your vicinity)
* Deep link support (you can pin destinations to the Start screen)
* Detailed maps in satellite, 2D, and 3D views

The differentiation between Nokia and other manufacturers will be offline maps and Nokia Drive, which is the program powering voice navigation. The voice navigation experience is much like what you see with Nokia Maps on the Symbian and MeeGo platforms. You can find voice guided navigation on Windows Phone in programs like Navigon, but when you get a Nokia Windows Phone you will get this support for free.
Nokia Music

The Windows Phone experience is best in the United States where you get full access to all the services of the Microsoft ecosystem. Outside the U.S. there is a matrix of unsupported services that gives Windows Phone users an inconsistent experience. Nokia is working to improve the out-of-box experience by providing Nokia Music for FREE on all Nokia Windows Phone devices. Nokia Music is similar to Spotify, Slacker, Rdio and other $10/month subscription services where you get unlimited streaming music support and offline music to enjoy when you have no connection.

As you can see in my video walk through with a Nokia representative below, there are several features in Nokia Music that make it a pretty compelling experience for new Windows Phone users.

Nokia Music does provide a one tap link to the Zune music on your device when you tap the My Music words in the main Nokia Music interface. There is radio stations customized for different regions that you can tap and download for offline listening. You get 50 songs per channel and up to four channels to download for something like 10-12 hours of music that should cover most any flight. There are also personalization options where you can search for your favorite artist and enjoy music from that artist.

The ability to get up and running with music right out of the box on Nokia Windows Phones is pretty compelling, especially when you know that other Windows Phone devices require you to first connect to a PC or Mac to get any music. With this free service and the trend of people to stream music, Microsoft may find fewer people subscribing to the Zune service with Nokia Windows Phones.
ESPN Sports Hub

The third app/service announced at Nokia World was an ESPN hub. I didn’t find this on the show floor to discuss more details and there was not much covered during the keynote. Based on what was shown, I really did not see any differences between this ESPN app and the ESPN ScoreCenter app for all Windows Phone devices. The ESPN Sports Hub was not on any of the devices in the hands-on area of the show and Nokia did not reveal when this would be coming to these devices.
Is this enough to offer a compelling Nokia WP experience?

I think the two main services, Maps and Music, are compelling offerings and if these services are important to you then it may be a no brainer to purchase a Nokia Windows Phone. It is important to put what we see here into perspective and understand that it was just earlier this February when Nokia and Microsoft announced this Windows Phone strategy and we already see a couple of unique Windows Phone services and two solid Windows Phone smartphones. I imagine there will be a LOT more coming from both Nokia and Microsoft in the future and in my opinion this partnership will be valuable for both companies.

Facebook for Windows Phone version 2.2 is out

Microsoft has released Facebook for Windows Phone version 2.2, adding support for Mango. You can grab it now from the Windows Phone Marketplace.

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Microsoft has released version 2.2 of its Facebook app for Windows Phone. The biggest addition is support for Windows Phone 7.5 (codenamed Mango). While most of the apps that come with Windows Phone were updated with Mango, the Facebook app wasn’t, until now.

If you’ve got the Windows Phone Marketplace live tile pinned to your start screen, you should have already gotten a notice that an update is available. You can download the new version from this link: Facebook for Windows Phone.

Version 2.2 gives you the ability to pin elements such as Messages, Events, the News Feed, and Photos directly onto your homescreen. It also includes tile notifications for events, friend requests, tags, and so on.

Microsoft still doesn’t seem to offer an official changelog for its Facebook app. If you know otherwise, please let me know.

HP pardoned PC biz, but WebOS is still on death row

HP pardoned PC biz, but WebOS is still on death rowJust a day after HP announced that it wouldn’t be spinning off its PC division, with its new CEO Meg Whitman citing “together we are stronger”, the same feeling does not extend to WebOS. British newspaper The Guardian reports on Friday that the company plans to shut down the division and more than 500 jobs could be cut.

 


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HP acquired the rights to WebOS through its acquisition of Palm in April 2010. The software was meant to power HP’s line of Palm smartphones and the TouchPad, but following the scrapping of both lines in August, the future of WebOS was uncertain.

Both the ditching of the PC division and the end of WebOS were the swan song of ousted CEO Leo Apotheker. The appointment of Whitman led some to believe that there may be some chance that Apotheker’s moves would be reversed. The surprising success of the TouchPad at $99 also added to the chance that WebOS may still have a chance.

Top-level executives in the WebOS division have been fleeing the company, The Guardian notes, with the general consensus of the department being that it would be closing down by the end of the year. HP has apparently also attempted to find a suitor, but there appears to be no interest in the mobile operating system.

This could be due to the fact that both Android and iOS have become so dominant in the mobile space: the two platforms control a large majority of the market, with RIM’s BlackBerry stumbling and Microsoft’s Windows Phone platform unable to gain traction in the market. WebOS would likely struggle to make any appreciable dent in the dominance of Apple and Google in the space.

HP didn’t respond to our requests for comment on the status of WebOS were as of press time.

Microsoft/Nokia partnership: Nothing much so far

Early this year Microsoft and Nokia were beaming as they announced the strategic alliance that would see the latter’s smartphones switching to the Windows Phone platform. Talk was rampant about the possibilities working closely together would create for new competitive products. Rumors have been tossed freely describing that Microsoft paid over a billion dollars to Nokia to form the alliance. With all of the posturing by both companies, it is not unreasonable to think Nokia would produce a Windows Phone product with features to set it apart from the competition. Strangely, that hasn’t happened.

 

Microsoft at Nokia World this week, hoping to see something unique coming that the strategic alliance has spawned. We’ve seen the first two Windows Phone products from Nokia, but neither one has that special something to set them apart from the competition. They are nice devices, but there is no special something that screams “look at me”. There’s not even a front-facing camera among them, to better take advantage of Skype video calling that is now under the Microsoft umbrella.

 

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With all of the money and resources Microsoft and Nokia are pouring into this Windows Phone alliance, to see nothing that sets it apart from the crowd is puzzling. It leads to the conjecture that Microsoft can’t help Nokia produce a special feature in its Windows Phone line due to concerns about upsetting its other platform partners. Maybe Microsoft realizes its partner’s commitment to the Windows Phone platform is fragile, and can’t risk upsetting the Mango cart.

With an alliance that reportedly has cost over a billion dollars, it’s not unreasonable to expect something new and improved, or even something radically unique. Instead all we’ve seen are some decent handsets with more of the same, only bearing the Nokia branding. That’s not likely enough to make this huge effort worthwhile.

It bears closely watching Nokia in the near term to see if something, anything specific to this strategic alliance comes along to set the resulting products apart from the crowd. It’s not a huge crowd to be sure, but just another handset or two like the others is not worth all of the effort expended.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer — only geeks use Android phones

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer proved once again he’s the master of hyperbole, telling an interviewer during the Web 2.0 conference that only the geekiest of the geeks can figure out how to use Android phones. Given that it’s the most popular smartphone OS in the world, there must be plenty of geeks out there if he’s right.

 

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At the conference, Ballmer was interviewed John Battelle of Federated Media. According to GeekWire, When Battelle asked him about Android phones, he said that Android was a difficult-to-learn-operating system and added:

“You don’t need to be a computer scientist to use a Windows Phone. I think you do to use an Android phone.”

That’s likely news to the people who use Android phones. Comscore reports that in August, Android was by far the most popular smartphone operating system in the U.S. with 43.7% market share, compared to 27.3% for second-place iOS, and only 5.7% for Microsoft smartphone operating systems.

Are there really that many computer scientists in the United States?

Clearly not. This is just one more example of Ballmer being Ballmer. But it’s time that he realized that bluster does Microsoft no good. Few people take him seriously any more when he makes public pronouncements. And having people tune out your CEO isn’t the best way to help your company make up lost ground against Google and Apple. He’d do better to highlight Windows Phone 7′s unique capabilities — and there are many of them — than engaging in pointless hyperbole.

Privacy a concern as Google+ links with Google’s other sites

Users must be alert about having their real identity from Google+ replace pseudonyms in other Google services

Google’s work to integrate its Google+ social networking site broadly with its other services could raise red flags for users who want to closely guard their privacy.

 


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Google wants Google+ to be more than a stand-alone social network. It envisions Google+ integrating with most, maybe all, of its Web applications and sites to provide social sharing capabilities and possibly a uniform online identity.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Google+ poised for push into the enterprise. | And check out the slideshow: 10 ways to enhance Google+ | [ Stay ahead of the key tech business news with InfoWorld's Today's Headlines: First Look newsletter. ]

But there is a crucial difference between Google+ and other company services like Gmail, whose users have long been able to use pseudonyms to protect their privacy, if they wish. Google+ currently requires all members to use their real names — a policy on which it has said it will bend, but not how or when.

There may be a risk that people who use their real name in Google+ but use pseudonyms in other Google services may inadvertently expose their real identity by linking Google+ with those services.

Already there are glimpses of how Google+ integrations are altering identity elsewhere on Google. For example, Google has set up a tight integration between Google+ and its Picasa Web photo management service.

For starters, users have to agree to integrate their existing Picasa Web account with Google+ in order to join Google+. If they do so, the displayed user name on Picasa Web accounts becomes the real name used in Google+, replacing the one being used before if different. (The access settings for photos and albums remain the same as prior to the integration, according to Google.)

Without the Google+ integration, Picasa Web users retain the option of using a pseudonym. However, they then can’t have a Google+ account.

Asked for comment, a Google spokesman said via e-mail: “We designed Google+ with privacy in mind, including a number of features that offer users control over what and how they share. We’re always working to provide users with transparency and choice. We’ll continue to do so as we release new features and updates for our products.”

Currently, most Google consumer online services and applications are grouped under a master umbrella account, called a Google Account. It offers individual accounts for Gmail, Docs, YouTube, Calendar, Blogger, Voice, Groups, Reader, and many others.

At this point, Google Account holders can tailor the user name displayed in some of those individual services. For example, one user can have a name shown on his Gmail messages, a different one for his YouTube account and another for a blog published on Blogger. Those names can be pseudonyms.

It’s not clear if options for having different names within a single umbrella Google Account will be maintained as Google pushes forward with the integration of Google+ and other Google services.

Of course, a way to be on Google+ but avoid dealing with its current and future integrations in Google services is to set up a separate Google Account just for it.

ARC 2011: Client Security Software

A year after narrowly missing out on the top honors in the Client Security Software category last year (losing by just over a point to Kaspersky Lab), Sophos climbed over the top in this year’s ARC.

 

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The security company posted top scores in product innovation (94.8) and support (85.5), but Sophos lost the partnership subcategory to none other than Kaspersky.

Sophos has built a strong reputation for sharp endpoint security software and an expanding line of products, thanks to its recent acquisition of unified threat management (UTM) player Astaro Networks. Now, the security vendor is stepping up its partnership plans with the addition of a new channel chief and plans to expand its partner ranks.

Annual Report Card 2011 Home

In May, Sophos hired Steve Hale as its new vice president of global channels; Hale previously served as vice president of global channel sales at Novell (NSDQ:NOVL)’s Security Systems and Operating Platform Group and also worked at Microsoft (NSDQ:MSFT) and F5 Networks.

“Fundamentally, we have a sound channel program, but we are absolutely working on some things to make it even better,” Hale said. Some of those changes include targeting more security-focused solution providers instead of traditional software resellers. As Sophos builds out its product line into areas like network security and UTM, Hale said the vendor will need to bring in experienced partners.

“If we want to build the next evolution of the partner program, then we need to find ways to invest more in these kinds of partners,” he said. “Security is no longer just a point product.”

Sophos is also taking a more aggressive approach to the small and midsize business market; the vendor recently signed a deal with D&H Distributing that Hale said will help Sophos expand its channel reach. “D&H is an immense set of pipes that branch out to hundreds and hundreds of security VARs,” he said. “With the addition of Astaro, our product line is filling out and that’s made us a lot more relevant in security conversations.”

MacBook Air and Android device with Verizon 4G LTE: A winning combination

Need an Internet connection on your MacBook Air that actually works? Try tethering your Android device to share its 4G LTE (or equivalent) connection! Works like a charm.

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Directly on the heels of my plea to Apple to please fix their WiFi issues, I thought I would share a solution that works great for me when using my MacBook Air in locations where there is no WiFi or the WiFi connection is wonky due to the problems many MacBooks seem to have currently.

First, you need a Verizon 4G LTE device. For me, that’s a Thunderbolt, which runs Android. Next, head on over to the Android App Market and download an application called EasyTether Pro. It costs $9.99, and though there’s a free version (EasyTether Lite), it doesn’t allow https access (take a moment and let that one marinate so you can understand how many sites you won’t be able to access with the free version). While $9.99 may seem steep, it has been totally worth it for me, personally. I’ve had this setup for almost a year and a half now between multiple laptops running OS X and Windows, and the experience is always incredibly facile, no matter what I use.

Next, you need your MacBook and you need to go download the appropriate drivers from EasyTether’s Web site. After you install them and restart, all that’s left is to connect your phone to your MacBook via USB with your charging cable, then run the app and follow the quick configuration wizard. If all went well, you should be tethered to your phone and using its blazing-fast 4G connection with absolutely no interruptions on behalf of Apple’s end!

Personally, I like to write and be connected to the Internet in places that typically have no sort of WiFi or Internet access whatsoever, so this solution has been well worth the $9.99 price tag to me. For those of you who would like to do unmonitored browsing at work, this is your ticket, for sure. Likewise, for those of you traveling, you’ve undoubtedly been in your fair share of hotels with a shoddy Internet connection. No more of that!

The only thing you may need to watch out for is your data usage, depending on your plan. Lucky for me, I was grandfathered in with my unlimited data package that I’ve had practically since Verizon first offered it way back when. But that doesn’t mean they won’t change things up on me, and, thus, you as well, if you’re in the same boat as me, so exercise caution with the whole data plan thing and you’ll be good to go.

If you’re currently paying for your phone to be a mobile hotspot that you only use one device with (like a MacBook), then this little trick could essentially replace that for you and save you that monthly fee (for now, until Verizon decides to make restrictions based on deep packet inspection or something similar).

Last of note, I used a MacBook Air and Verizon’s 4G LTE network as my examples in this post since they’re what I have. So long as you have Internet access on your phone and a way to tether it to your computer — be it a MacBook or a PC — you can create a similar setup. I just wanted to throw this quick tip out there for anyone who may find it useful!

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