16 Aug 2012

Android Is Winning

 The latest numbers are in: Android is on top, followed by iOS in a distant second.
This word comes from Gartner, a top research firm for these sorts of things. Overall, within the last quarter, Android outsold iOS devices nearly three to one while capturing 64% of the worldwide market share. Samsung was the top dog accounting for 90M handset sales.
There is no denying Android’s dominance anymore. There is no way even the most rabid Apple fanboy can deny that iOS is in second place now. Android is winning.
This report by Gartner looked at the second quarter smartphone sales. That pegs the date range from April to June, which admittedly was a high point for Android while iPhone sales were starting to cool down. The Samsung Galaxy S III launched in late May, likely accounting for a good chunk of Samsung’s haul. It was a great quarter for Android and Samsung.
Gartner’s Q1 report notes similar rankings with Samsung and Android on top, too. At that time, Samsung had just overtaken Nokia as the top worldwide seller of mobile devices. Android was hovering around in the mid fifty percent range in the market share pie, and Apple had its second best iPhone quarter ever with 33M units sold (Apple sold 37M in the previous quarter). But now we have a clearer image and Android is securely positioned at the top of the mobile mountain.
As the Gartner report shows, iPhone sales were a bit off during the second quarter. They are probably even worse right now. Apple CEO Tim Cook noted in the last financial report that iPhone sales are falling victim to the iPhone 5 rumor mill. Consumers are simply (and wisely) not buying iPhones as much right now when it’s clear a new one is right around the corner. In fact iOS’ market share only improved nominally year-over-year.
During Apple’s best iPhone quarter, Q1 of 2012, the company moved 33M iPhones — an impressive feat considering there are only three models. Now, during Android’s best quarter, there were 98M units sold. There is simply no comparison. There is no way to spin these numbers. The iPhone 5 will likely light up Apple’s holiday quarter, but Samsung, Motorola, LG, and HTC combined Android units numbers will account for more units. In fact, Samsung alone might move units than Apple.
This war is starting to heat up. It’s no longer just a playground fight between fanboys. Developers cannot ignore Android. The old mantra of releasing on iOS and then eventually hitting Android needs to be rethought. Google also needs to step up its game. Google Play is a mess and Android has a very big problem with piracy. Android the ecosystem still sucks, but Android the mobile platform is winning.

3 Jul 2012

Social Comment The Apple / Google / Facebook Message War Starts Now

We’re on the cusp of a global conflict that will see the three most powerful consumer Internet companies fighting to win control of interpersonal communication. The war will pit Facebook’s unified Chat / Messages / Email vs Apple’s cross-device iMessage system vs. Google’s Gmail / GChat / Hangouts. If one emerges as the definitive victor, it could sway the future of digital human interaction.
Read on as we survey the battlefield, review the weaponry of each company, and assess who could win the epic message war and the fortune that comes with it.
Last week we saw Facebook fire the shot of this war when it changed everyone’s profile contact info to display their @facebook.com address and hide their previously selected Gmail, MobileMe, or other email addresses. Why? To box out Google and Apple. Even with natural advantages like a firm grip on identity and the social graph, plus the fact that it works across both iOS and Android devices, Facebook still felt like it needed to attack.
We’ve likely reached “peak SMS” — next year fewer text messages may be sent than this year due to the rise of data-based alternatives. Now is the time for one of these three messaging platforms to take the place of SMS.

Preparing For Battle

Over the last few years, the three combatants have been scrambling to arm themselves for the coming message war. Movement has sped up over the last few weeks, though, indicating we could soon start seeing peace treaties broken and heavier assaults launched.
In November 2010, Facebook unified its messaging platform so instant Chats, asynchronous Messages, and email sent to the newly offered @facebook.com addresses would all flow into one inbox. In some ways this was great for users because if someone sent you a Chat and you were offline or immediately left your desktop, you could view it in your Messages inbox from mobile.
Similarly, if you sent someone a message but they were currently online, it’d get delivered as a chat. You could voluntarily set up a Facebook email address, but few people did and that wing of the service stalled. Then in April, Facebook began assigning email addresses to everyone.

July 2011 saw a partnership with Microsoft’s Skype that allowed Facebook to add video chat capability to its platform. It also acquired and re-skinned Beluga as Facebook Messenger in August 2011 as a standalone app to break direct communication out from its bloated primary app. Facebook Messenger doesn’t do voice or video just yet but you can bet it’s on the way.
In Facebook’s arsenal are the world’s largest social graph, mobile’s most popular apps, massive time-on-site across devices, a deep understanding of who we’re closest to, and a thriving ad platform to monetize it all with.
Identity is key to messaging because it lets people connect just by name, allowing the best communication medium for the job be selected as the specific contact information falls into the background. It does not own the hardware or the OS, but it can float as a layer across devices which is why Facebook may have the most powerful war machine.
Meanwhile, Gmail continued gaining popularity while Gchat (formally named Google Talk) became a preferred instant messaging system for professionals who thought themselves too mature for AOL instant Messenger or IRC, and didn’t want to be frequently interrupted with small talk chats from distant Facebook friends. In September 2010, Google acquired group-chat and organization app Plannr.
Then Google launched Google+ in June 2011 with its stand-out feature Hangouts, a real-time group video chat service that also offered some collaboration and synchronous media consumption options. It also turned Plannr into Google+ Messenger. Now as GigaOm reports from last week’s I/O conference, Google is merging Hangouts, Talk, and Messenger into a single unified messaging platform that could allow text, voice, and video chat across devices.
Google’s strongest asset is its diversity. It owns Android, the mobile OS that’s locking down the long-tail. It’s working with Samsung to build hardware and also owns Motorola now. It’s got a fair amount of cash, which can’t hurt, plus a presence in social networking that can tie Android and Chrome OS together. Most importantly, it controls Gmail, arguably the winner of the last communication war that was fought for email.
Apple launched iMessage in October 2011 as an SMS alternative for iOS devices that also sends photos and other media. iMessage will link desktop and laptop computers to their mobile brethren when Apple adds it to OS X Mountain Lion. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Apple integrate FaceTime directly into the cross-device iMessage platform, though how email could feed into it is less clear.
Even with mountains of cash, Apple may be the underdog. It has no social network, and in fact relies on Facebook to bring social to iOS and the App Store. It could control messaging to some extent for all of its device users. But not everyone can afford them, and that means its users won’t always be able to contact friends through iMessage.

The Spoils Of War

So by next month, Facebook, Google, and Apple will each have their own robust messaging platforms featuring some combination of support for cross-desktop and -mobile communication; real-time chat with text, photos, voice, and video, syndication to email, and SMS delivery as a backup. Whichever of these features they don’t have, they’ll likely buy or build.
Everyone else in the messaging space, like Microsoft’s GroupMe and all the free SMS startups should prepare to pivot or sell to one of the three warring factions. You’re not gonna win.
What’s at stake is the control of perhaps the most critical stream of them all — direct communication. Content is surely important, especially because it creates massive engagement and time on site that creates a host for advertising. The ambient intimacy of Facebook, Google+, and Twitter let us feel closer to a huge number of distant acquaintances and thought leaders through the indirect communication of content feeds.
People love content, but people need direct communication. Who you communicate with on a daily basis and via what medium are vital signals regarding where people sit in your social graph. Whichever company owns the most of this data will have better ways to refine the relevance of their content streams, showing you updates by the people you care about aka communicate with most, and showing ads nearby.
Through natural language processing and analysis, whoever controls messages will also get to machine-read all of them and target you with ads based on what you’re talking about.

Communication channels will likely host that advertising too, making the winner of this war even richer. You might not get highly obtrusive mobile spam straight from marketers, but their ads could be appended at the end of your incoming messages.
At least expect ads mixed in between or shown around your Facebook or Google messages, the way Gmail shows ads right above your inbox. Apple meanwhile would use control of communication to bolster hardware sales by making the latest improvements only available on its latest devices.
The stakes of the message war are huge, so these three companies will fight hard. They’ll spend huge sums, form alliances if they have to, and make aggressive moves that could endanger the user experience to win. We’re already seeing it happen. And if one company does come to rule messaging, it could reduce the impetus for innovation and permit abuse. I like to think these companies are better than that, but some argue “whoever wins, we lose”.
Update: To clarify, “winning” this war could mean controlling the bulk of the market share, not necessarily 100% of it. There will likely continue to be scrappy startup alternatives, even one that disrupts this whole war, and none of the big guys here will totally give up if they “lose”.
But a disrupter would likely have to turn down huge acquisitions bids. And if the big messaging platforms don’t talk to each other and one gains an obvious lead (and I think one will), network effect will kick in, that “winner” will continue to grow its share, and it will dominate messaging.

Fire The Missiles

Facebook knew it was going to take a major PR hit for hiding the real email addresses and replacing them with its own @facebook.com addresses on the profile contact info of every user. The change could have been done more subtly with a slow roll out or with some token, quickly-sped-past notification to users.
Facebook got a late start on email, especially compared to Google, and many users haven’t changed their email contact info since Facebook launched its addresses. It needed to increase awareness about @facebook.com addresses, and it didn’t want @gmail.com and Apple @me.com addresses on everyone’s profiles. Making the change without notifying users was certainly bad for the user experience, but Facebook did it anyway.

So what will Google and Apple do to retaliate? Google could prevent people from listing their Facebook profiles in their G+ About sections, and that won’t do much damage. It could compete with Facebook Messenger by pre-installing its own unified messenger app in the place of a standard SMS app on Android devices, and integrating that app with Chrome OS. Apple could refuse to integrate Facebook any deeper into iOS, or scale back Facebook’s presence and double-down with Twitter.
Those probably won’t be enough to deter Facebook, though, and it could go on to win the message war or at least dominate it.

The Aftermath

Apple may very well foresee its coming loss or at least a prolonged battle. It and Facebook are relatively complementary, while both are fighting fiercely with Google on several fronts. So rather than pour resources into a losing battle, Apple might find some way to play nice with Facebook.
This could come through a bridge between iMessage and Facebook’s messaging platform. The ability to iMessage Facebook friends you don’t have the phone number of could increase the Apple product’s worth, and give iOS users a way to message with their Android-toting friends.
Mark Zuckerberg probably calculated the risk of Facebook’s aggressive change to visible contact info, and assumed his site could swallow lost trust from a few million angry tech news readers. It’s still THE social network, and a few days of complaints won’t change that. This isn’t friendly competition. It’s the war for messaging, and wars have casualties.

30 Jun 2012

5 tips to make a new Mac user’s experience as pleasant as possible

So you finally convinced your friends and family to retire their PC in favor of a Mac with a Christmas gift. Now, you have to deal with being the training wheels for a new operating system. You can avoid some of the hassles that go along with that, and ease the transition for new Mac users with these simple steps.

1. Create a “My Documents alias, and other shortcuts on the desktop

Steve Jobs wanted your desktop to remain as uncluttered as possible, but PC users are used to seeing key items there. Putting an alias to the Documents folder on the desktop and renaming it My Documents is a good idea during their adjustment period. The same goes for commonly used applications like Mail, Safari, etc. Once they get used to using the OS X Dock, they can ditch their desktop shortcut crutches.

2. Modify Finder Preferences to show key items on the desktop

New Mac users may find Lion’s tendency to keep things hidden unsettling. Go to the Finder Preferences and make sure to check that all items show on the desktop, including hard drives and mounted CDs. Also set New Finder windows to open in the user’s home folder or documents, rather than the new, somewhat confusing “All files” view.

29 Jun 2012

YouTube And Google+ Grow Closer: All Users Can Now Switch Their Usernames To Their Google+ Profiles

YouTube’s comment section isn’t exactly known for being a hotbed of in-depth intellectual conversations. One of the reasons for this, some would argue, is the fact that YouTube still lets people post comments using handles like ‘cutepuppies99′ without having to reveal your real identity. Starting today, however, you will have the option to use your Google-wide Google+-based identity that will show your real name (or at least the name you are using on Google+) to all YouTube users.
Google actually has been giving new YouTube users the option to use their Google-wide identity on YouTube since March. What’s new today is that even existing users can switch their old YouTube handles to their Google+ profiles. This means you can now use both your real name on YouTube and display your Google+ profile picture.

Given that you may have posted some videos or comments under the guise of anonymity that you would rather not be associated with under your real name, Don’t worry. Google also lets you see your comment and video history, as well as your public playlists, and lets you decide whether you want it to be associated with your full name.

“Using Your Full Name Isn’t For Everyone”

Does this change mean Google is soon going to force all YouTube users to switch their handles to their Google+ profiles? Probably not. In its announcement today, Google acknowledges that “using your full name isn’t for everyone. Maybe people know you by your YouTube username. Perhaps you don’t want your name publicly associated with your channel. To continue using your YouTube username, just click ‘I don’t want to use my full name’ when you see the prompt.”
What’s clear, though, is that Google definitely wants its users to use their real identity (or at least the identity they assumed when they signed up for Google+) across its products. The company says that users should “stay tuned for more ways to use this username in other Google products and services in coming months.”

27 Jun 2012

The Google Nexus Tablet: The Top 6 Must-Have Features

Google I/O is nearly upon us, and all signs point to Google revealing a tablet later today. The device leaked and then over the last few hours several high-level sources confirmed the device’s existence. It’s likely a low-end, 7-inch tablet powered by Google’s latest mobile operating system, Jelly Bean.
Try as they might, Google has yet to deliver an answer to the iPad. Most Honeycomb and Ice Cream Sandwich tablets were flops, and it’s devices like the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet that have managed to make an impact though they hide their Android underpinnings beneath custom user interfaces. Apple is dominating in the tablet wars and with Microsoft officially throwing down with the high-priced Surface, the Google Nexus Tablet must be a success.

Killer Display

The Google Nexus Tablet needs a halo spec. It needs something out of the norm to champion its cause. It needs a killer display.
Apple raised the bar with the new iPad and its retina display. It’s unlikely that Google will use a super-high resolution display in the Nexus Tablet, but it needs a display better than something like the Kindle Fire. The Nexus Tablet’s display just has to be the best at its low price point, and that shouldn’t be that hard. Early leaks place a 1280 x 800 IPS display inside the Nexus Tablet — that’s significantly better than the 1024 x 600 Fire’s screen.

Something Special

Amazon launched the Kindle Fire right. Hopefully Google was paying attention. The Fire looks different and has several features exclusive to the device.
The Kindle Fire received a lot of traction at launch thanks to its Silk Browser. This browser promised faster web load times by routing the traffic through an Amazon server which compressed the data and delivered it to the tablet. Never mind that the Silk Browser doesn’t work that well, the feature sounded awesome at launch and gave Amazon a lot to brag about. Google needs something to brag about.

3rd Party Content Integration

Google content services suck. Rather than using Google Books and Play Movies, Google would be smart to utilize successful 3rd party apps to serve up the content. This crazy theory would put Amazon and Netflix as the main providers of books, movies, and music. In a sense this would kill the so-called pure Android experience usually associated with Nexus devices, but it would also make the device a lot more tempting to the average consumer. This move might also steal some Kindle Fire owners board with their devices but not willing to buy a more expensive device.

Expandable Storage

If the rumors hold true, the Google Nexus Tablet has a relatively small amount of onboard storage. But that’s fine for most people — as long as they can stick a microSD card into the thing.
The iPad’s lack of removable storage is still a sour spot among even its most fervent supporters. A simply memory card slot increases the amount of use cases while making it easier for owners to add and remove items from the device. For better or worse, Apple tends to route data to an iDevice through iTunes. But Google wisely doesn’t rely on desktop software for its devices.

Competitive Pricing

All the rumors state that the Google Nexus Tablet will likely be priced competitively with the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet. Expect a price tag between $199 and $249.
The correct price will make or break the Nexus Tablet. Samsung, Motorola, and all the rest have yet to break the iPad’s hold on the $500 price point. Google would not be successful either at that level either, but the Kindle Fire has lost a good amount of its hype lately. Google might be able to sneak in and grab the number two spot from Amazon — the right price is crucial.

An Immediate Launch

The Google Nexus Tablet needs to launch sooner rather than later. Microsoft made a potentially grave mistake announcing the Surface tablet months prior to its release.
That said, Google has a history of sending I/O attendees home with its latest devices. Over the past few years Google handed developers smartphones, tablets, and hotspots. It wouldn’t be surprising to see that Google hid a few Nexus Tablets under the seats this year.

25 Jun 2012

The MacBook Pro Strikes Back (With Retina Power)

It was nearly two years ago that I said goodbye to my MacBook Pro. I loved the device, but the new MacBook Air was that good. My Pro — which was only six months old at the time! — seemed like total overkill for my computing needs. The Air was finally fast enough to use on a daily basis, and it was (obviously) significantly thinner and lighter. It was a no-brainer in my mind: Air all the way.
And in these past 20 months, the Air has been my go-to machine. But last week, a new challenger was unveiled: that old familiar friend, the MacBook Pro. Armed with both a slimmer body and a killer new screen, the device is stunning. And at least in my mind, it has brought back that old debate as to which is the best MacBook.

Following Apple’s WWDC keynote, I got to play around with the Retina MacBook Pro for a bit, and was given a demo unit to take home. I quickly posted some initial thoughts as to how it could fit into my computing life — long story short: I wasn’t sure. A week later, I have a bit more understanding as to how the new MacBook Pro fits in.
The most important thing to me was to take the device on the road, since that’s my primary use case for the MacBook Air. For much of the past week, I have been on the road: first in New York, now in London. While the new MacBook Pro is about a pound lighter than the non-retina variety, it is also about a pound and a half heavier than the 13-inch Air (and two pounds heavier than the 11-inch Air). This concerned me.

24 Jun 2012

Verizon’s Droid RAZR Family Finally Gets A Taste Of Ice Cream Sandwich

Verizon’s Droid RAZR and its fatter, longer-lasting brother the RAZR Maxx are fine devices, but let’s face it — Gingerbread is a bit passe at this point.
The carrier has promised since launch that the device(s) would eventually get a taste of Ice Cream Sandwich, and later pointed to a vague launch window some time in the first half of 2012.
Well, that day has finally come (and with only a few days to spare). Verizon has just announced that they will begin rolling out the long-awaited Ice Cream Sandwich update for their popular pair of Android handsets starting today.
Also included in the mix is support for global roaming, which should come in plenty handy as we enter the summer traveling season. Just make sure you’ve got your international calling and data plans set up before you go, or else in Reddit/South Park parlance, you’re gonna have a bad time. Other minor enhancements include a revamped four-way lock screen that allows users to fire up the camera, jump into their messages, or dive into the phone dialer as soon as the phone is unlocked.
It’s probably worth reiterating though this process takes a while to reach all users, so I wouldn’t recommend sitting and staring blankly at your RAZR until something happens — it’s a lesson that Verizon Galaxy Nexus owners have learned quite well as they waited for their 4.0.4 update to traverse the air to their devices.