Media Briefing on Broadband & Mobility

October 12, 2008

Google Android = Google Muni WiFi?

Filed under: Industry commentary — Craig Settles @ 1:40 pm

Joe Biden, in his VP debate, said “past is prologue.” The verbose one pretty succinctly summed up a lot of truth in the technology world.

I started wondering the other day about this Google Android thing. What are the chances this is going to end up like that other notable Google initiative I’m particularly familiar with – the free Google muni wireless network across America?

Remember that? End of 2005, Google makes worldwide noise saying they were going to build a free wireless network for San Francisco. Media across the continent collectively swooned and within a couple of weeks everyone was speculating on a national network. You see how that played out in S.F. and elsewhere.

Given this and questions being raised about Google’s Facebook-killer, Open Social, I pose some issues we should ponder. I offer these from a business, not consumer, market perspective.

Does Google have marketing or technology competencies to unseat those mobile operating systems with entrenched market share, name recognition, committed developers, etc? If each of us had $10 in a coffee can for every large company that unsuccessfully tried to market a product not within their scope of established expertise or market strength, we’d be less worried about the current market turmoil.

T-Mobile G1

T-Mobile G1

True, a lot depends on Google’s developers and marketing partners staying the course, but if you consider how their Open Social product has fared (click here for an example), could the same happen with Android developers. I’m a developer with finite resources. I have a choice between iPhone and Android. IPhone = Facebook. You decide.

Are we making too much of Android’s open source? Of course it’s an advantage for vendors and end users to have anyone be able to develop apps for your hardware without the hassles of proprietary technology. But with Symbian planning to become open source, and LiMo Foundation’s upcoming Linux OS for mobile devices, there goes that advantage.

Expect resistance from IT at the enterprise gate. The initial products won’t be targeted to businesses. But by the time you see Android devices for that arena, IT people are going to be so pressed to support devices from the Big Four (RIM, Win Mobile, iPhone and Symbian) that open or not, Android represents yet another operating system and more headaches.

The double-edge of the “converged devices” sword presents a boardroom challenge. The big argument for converged devices is that they pack enough features and capabilities so they’re good for personal or work use. Many consumers buy them with this in mind. But vendors such as Palm and Microsoft aren’t asleep at the wheel. They’ll just push out marketing campaigns for established business users that say, “You’ve used our devices for work, try these ‘new and improved’ devices for work and play.” Boardroom takes path of least resistance, Jane and Joe consumers working for these businesses have a compelling reason not to buy Android.

Yes, iPhones breeched the enterprise gates from the consumer side. But one, iPhones are tres chic in executive circles, to the point of weakening CrackBerry addiction. And two, RIM, Microsoft et al aren’t going to make the mistake of letting another consumer device of foreign OS parentage erode their business market share.

Is Google really serious about Android? Google reminds me of the person with lots of money, but little knowledge of the game, who sits at a blackjack table and throws money on ridiculous bets to see what happens. They mess up the game for others, raise blood pressures, cause a few players to go bust, then leave when they get bored.

Looking at the potential challenges to their plans (hopes?) to become a dominant player in mobile device operating system, you have to wonder what are the odds that Google picks up its chips and moves on in a year or so. How likely is that? Take the “Show Me the Money” test.

When some higher up at Google sat down and asked the question, show me the money in muni wireless (particularly after EarthLink folded its hand), the argument for potential ad revenue didn’t seal the deal. Don’t see a nationwide Google WiFi network, do you? So where’s the money for Google in Android? They don’t sell the operating system, they don’t sell the applications that run on Android phones and they don’t lock in phones to use Google service and that makes ad revenue somewhat speculative.

It’s hard to predict, but if you believe past is prologue…

October 6, 2008

The PIA Factor in Mobile Devices Convergence

Filed under: Management issues,Uncategorized — Craig Settles @ 2:50 pm

Recently at CTIA, I moderated a panel of key players in Sony Ericson’s Xperia release. A frequent talking point was that the line between consumer mobile devices and business devices is pretty blurred since people gravitate between work and personal tasks constantly day and night.

Xperia X1

Xperia X1

Later came the announcement and marketing hype that T-mobile’s Google phone will rival the iPhone, extending the theme of convergence. But as one executive [not on the panel] at the Xperia event mentioned in a private aside, “do you think we’re overdoing this convergence thing a bit trying to put everything into one device? “

My take? Yep, you betcha. His follow-on comment was along the lines of, wouldn’t it be better to have a device on which the end-user could converge [my word] their own features?

Vendors are initially marketing converged device heavily to consumers. But if a key selling premise is that you also can use these devices for business tasks, journalists need to consider the business customer in their coverage. I for one believe device convergence, in and of itself, holds some serious PIA (pain-in-the-a**) potential for IT staffs. How much depends on each vendor.

1. Converged devices targeting consumers are getting into to enterprise through the back door with no central approval or purchase process, hit-or-miss adherence to enterprise-chosen standards and probably no tie-in to business strategy. Consumer-friendly features – and the lack of appropriate business features – produce tech support, security, device management, carrier management and other headaches.

What are vendors doing to keep PIA levels down until the next generation devices, or some third party, introduces features to make these devices more IT-friendly?

2. Mobile devices in the workplace should meet some demonstrable business need to justify their existence this environment. If they don’t, they’re just an executive toy.  Furthermore, some management folks assume a winning mobile strategy is to simply go out, buy a bunch of iPhones or iPhone killers and wait for the ROI. The devices may prove valuable to a point, but this value could be offset by IT headaches that lead to a high total cost of ownership (TCO). See point above.

If these devices turn out to meet just 10% or 20% of the true business needs of the users, what’s the cost for upgrades or new hardware to meet their greater need? Organizations should head off the marketing wave to meet these challenges before new devices become popular.

3. Convergence counters the proven value of simplicity, which could curb organization’s ROI. The BlackBerry became the CrackBerry because its original purpose was simply to send and receive e-mail. RIM eventually added phone capabilities. Then boom! Here came the iPhone to put marketing pressure on all device manufacturers.

As I learn about devices waiting in the wings wanting to add DVD playing, handwriting recognition, barcode reading and heaven knows what else, I have to ask, at what point does this feature set arms race produce diminishing returns? It’s 2008 and we still have executives who need someone to print out their e-mails before reading them. Doesn’t seem particularly effective to give these folks digital Swiss Army knives.

Coming back to the earlier comment about giving end users (or end user’s organizations) the ability to decide what they want converged on their device. Xperia has a feature called “panels.”

I was able to get a Sony exec to agree that panels are similar to the BlackBerry e-mail push feature, except panels push user-selected application data and dynamic Web content to the device screen.  Customizable data convergence, if you will.

Wouldn’t it be cool if a vendor group established a set of Needs/Convergence panels on a Web site where corporate and government buyers could select several panels that meet their organizations’ respective needs. The panel would pop up a device from the product line with the best set of converged hardware features and apps that would likely produce a strong ROI.

It might seem farfetched getting a vendor to do something like this, but I take heart from the fact that Vodafone UK has come up with software to help IT staff to secure information, devices and connectivity and enforce IT security policy. Vodafone’s approach reflects the fact that it’s in vendors’ interest to address the PIA factor in mobile technology.

Late this week I hope to have on my other blog (http://roisforyou.wordpress.com) some guidelines for end-user organizations on how to cope with the convergence PIA factor. Subscribe and be watching for that.

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