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Amateur sleuth interested in finding out what's happening in the world today!

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

The myth and reality of Android fragmentation and what it means to you?

Android 1.1...Android 1.5... Android 1.6... Android 2.0... Android 2.0.1... Android 2.1... Android 2.2.. Android 2.3... An exhaustive list of Android OS variants; But there is an industry fear which is called Android fragmentation. This is where developers fear that some apps wont run on certain devices because of the Android SDK not giving developers a platform to redesign their apps for the multiple releases of Android available. The Android SDK is the development platform for designing, writing and implementing Android applications. The current SDK has created the possibility whereby the app can be too device-centric and will have problems running on other devices. This issue of fragmentation has haunted Google for a long time. So much so, Eric Schmidt the Google CEO, at the World Mobile Congress 2011 in Barcelona, stated that the issue of fragmentation has been fixed with Android 2.3 Gingerbread and thereafter the roll out of Android OS updates will be in an orderly six month roll period.1 Problem fixed then? Not quite, the fear of fragmentation post-Gingerbread seems to be corrected by this unitary six-monthly update cycle but for pre-Gingerbread devices fragmentation still could exist.

Android 2.1 is the most popularly used version of the OS according to research figures released in 2010.2 According to ZDNet, figures in July of 2010 stated that, Android 2.1 accounted for 45.1%,of the market, yet Donut and Eclair (1.5/1.6) account for 54.4% overall market. The fragmentation process will come to a head when, as Schmidt reported at the MWC in Barcelona earlier this week, Android 2.3 Gingerbread will merge with Tablet-specific Android 3.0 Honeycomb to create in Schmidt's own words “The two of them… you can imagine the follow up will start with an I, be named after dessert, and will combine these two”3 This will bring an end to developers and OEMs fears regarding the notion of fragmentation.

Therefore users on Android 1.6 to 2.2 will be at the mercy of developers who singularly recode their apps for the differentiation that results from each Android OS variant. IMS Research published a report on Android fragmentation worries in April 2010 whilst the report is nearly a year old the questions asked to Mr Schmidt this week prove that fragmentation is still a current worry within the industry and does cause developers issues. IMS Research report stated that they “expect Android to see considerable market share gains in the immediate and near future. However, to keep up that pace of growth, particularly in the high end market, Google absolutely has to manage fragmentation.”4 This is the reason why Google has announced stricter update cycles, which the Open Handset Alliance will have to implement, of course this will break with the old freer notion of Android as open-source and geek-driven. But with Android having obtained global Smart phone OS dominance a  responsibility for the wider mainstream user becomes an important issue. Schimidt, this week, realised this when he stated that “we have an anti-fragmentation clause for all our vendors”5 This tougher approach will mean that the fragmentation of the past where vendors where releasing devices with Android 1.5 to 2.2 will see distribution at an incremental speed so there will be a smaller ratio of fragmentation within Android-based devices in circulation.

So does Google's tougher approach now answer questions and allay fears of developers, OEMs and users alike? Only time will tell but this is the right, albeit belated, step in the right direction for Android. The myth of fragmentation did hurt the platform during the early period. Developers stayed away but with new systems and vendor agreements and Google updating twice-yearly will only mean that Android will go from strength to strength.


3http://www.mobileworldlive.com/tv.asp?id=348 (accessed 17/02/2011) for Eric Schmidt's speech but the Author would like to thank Michael Murphy at Talk Android for introducing him to the topic of fragmentation. His article is available at http://www.talkandroid.com/30474-eric-schmidts-keynote-speech-at-mobile-world-congress/

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Device-Agnostic Computing: Android and Kindle and a new kind of App!

On Friday the 4th of February 2011 New York-based ABI Research released a research paper on Buy-Anywhere Options, not Devices, will be key to Digital Publishing success. Which is a response to the Amazon kindle bookstore which is a revolutionary form of business. Incorporating the throw-back principle of 'write once-run anywhere' programming and giving the user the ability to 'push' it to their chosen platform with disregard this is why the Kindle bookstore and now the new Android Market webstore is going to be the future of app retailing. ABI's findings indicate that publishing content or digital apps that are not linked to the device is the reason why the Kindle has been a bigger success than Apple iBooks store simply because Amazon Kindle can be read on iPad, Android-based Smartphones or tablet PCs, PC and Mac based computers, iPhones and Blackberrys and eBook Readers including Amazon's own Kindle Reader. This plethora of accessibility options means Kindle is not reliant on a 'single' device to generate market share but can piggy-back of a selection of devices to find a larger audience or market share.

But this idea of list once and run anywhere is an important element of Android as a device-based OS. Because Android is not linked to a specific device handset means that Android has, over other OS rivals like Apple or BlackBerry, an advantage. Device-Agnostic computing is a new way of thinking. The success of the iStore has shown that. Apple's success vis a vis the iPhone was about shifting mobile phones away from individual application structures which are costly to 'outsourcing' to create a batch of relatively cheap apps which are device linked and sold through strict parameters thereafter. But in order to generate maximum sales revenues keeping your content tied to specific devices hampers this objective. Creating applications that are device-agnostic will theoretically generate a wider market base for your product. But there are costs generated by this activity. Android is an OS that is not tied to a specific device, but does tie you to the Android culture, this had been a problem in the past. The old Android Market because of monetizing and licensing issues meant games developers like EA were unwilling to participate. The new Android Market has changed this.

So Android's success is partly due to its essentially multi-device accessibility function which means it has an edge over BlackBerry and Apple. Apple's success, remember, came as a response not to its shiny phones but to the apps generated for the platform. No apps no successful Apple relaunch it's that simple. But Research firm Gartner believes the opposite is true. The head of Research, Stephanie Baghdassarian argues, "We strongly believe there is a sizeable opportunity for application stores in the future. However, applications will have to grow up and deliver a superior experience to the one that a Web-based app will be able to deliver. Native apps will survive the Web enhancements only when they will provide a more-personal and richer experience to the ‘vanilla’ experience that a Web-based app will deliver." What's at stake here is not the sheer quantity of apps available. The Android market boasts 100,000+ apps in January of this year but how many of these apps are quality apps? 60% maybe, 50% probably or 30% if we are being realistic. So now that device-agnostic computing is here, developers need not worry about market success of a single device as their apps will reach a wider audience through Android's multi-device strategy. Now the quest is to develop new quality apps!


Monday, 14 February 2011

With Android 2.3 being released and Android 3.0 being talked about what does this mean to you the Android user?

Android 2.2, if your phone was able to support the over-the-air update to begin with, gave a sense of maturity to the Android OS. Since the first launch of Android 1.5/1.6 there have been questions about memory management, application management and a lack of media playing performance. Eclair was supposed to put an end to this but sadly Android 2.1 (Eclair) was ultimately a damp squib. This focused the media, the customers and the industry's attention towards Android 2.2 or Froyo.

Froyo runs apps 5 times faster than other Android OS variants and has 3 times faster browsing capabilities than Eclair. This improved performance alongside the use of Dalvik JIT Compiler which is the same JavaScript compiler that Google Chrome uses. Has resulted in the Android WebKit Browser outperforming other smart phones on web browsing capabilities. But the biggest coup d’etat of Android 2.2 was Flash. The internet is built upon an essentially inclusive as oppose to exclusive structure. Many websites from BBC, Sky, Tesco to The Telegraph all use flash content in their sites. And using smart phones in the past and accessing these pages has usually resulted in error messages stating 'your handset does not support this content'. Android 2.1 allowed the inclusion of HTML 5 technology, the JIT compiler and more importantly Flash 10.1 Mobile. The result meant Android 2.2 was the closest possible smart phone to recreate PC style web surfing without any of the barriers that BlackBerry and Apple iPhone users face.

But all this aside Android 2.2 didn’t quite reach the mark and as such tech heads, geeks and general Android fans have been waiting with baited breath for Android 2.3. December 21st Google started OTA updates for Nexus One handset owners and in January 2011 LG, HTC and Samsung have all confirmed they will be releasing OTA updates once system checks have been done. Which means by the end of Q1 the flagship Google, HTC, Samsung and LG Android-based phones will be running Gingerbread Android 2.3.

But what will Android 2.3 mean to users?

One of the most important tasks a smart phone can do is play games! The lack of quality games in the Android market as oppose to the heaving App store for iOS which has developers from EA, Capcom and Sega developing content has resulted in questions about quality. The Android market has focused on 'gimicky' or at worst fake copies of game content. Mobile Andro anyone? This apparent lack is primarily due to the Android OS being unable to use Gyroscope rotationary-vector based content. Android 2.3 changes this completely.

The UI will be different as Android 2.3 will be a 'simpler' visual experience and will also, finally, include a multi touch/gesture keyboard that will allow near perfect touch typing facilities which has been lacking in Android OS releases.

The future? Near Field Technology. NFT means your phone becomes your wallet. Think about it this way. You go to the corner shop and buy a soft drink you pay with your mobile, then you jump on the tube and pay for it using your mobile your destination is a cinema where you buy your ticket, yes you guessed it, with your mobile phone. NFT has been trialled in Japan for the last four years and has been trialled in Switzerland and Spain successfully with Orange/T-Mobile. In the UK Orange and Barclaycard along with Tesco, Argos and Transport for London have all been working on trialling this technology.

Camera improvements meaning LED flash technology can allow HD Camcorder filming on smart phones along with improved 'intelligent' app functionality whereby the phone can 'sense' which camera, be it front facing or outward facing, camera is required.

Application management is a key component of your Android life. Before 2.3 one of your first downloads was either an App manager or an anti-Virus app. Now the incorporated App manager will allow the user to conserve memory and battery life by getting an analysis of power/memory munching apps in detail.

Cut and paste is still a primary function of all IT systems from prehistoric tower PCs to iPhones the functionality of being able to cut and paste content can be a deal maker when it comes to mobile phones. Alas, Android had up until 2.1 no cut and paste facility in Eclair the function was included but only in certain browser situations and on Froyo it was extended but on Gingerbread the function works on all the platform.

These new functions will make sure Android 2.3 will be one of the most advanced OS available for smart phones in the world. These technologies have already seen Samsung, LG and Motorola start talking about Gingerbread-based phones and all the major phone manufacturers have agreed that their flagship handsets will get the update in the first part of 2011. But what about 'Honeycomb' or Android 3? What does the release of this mean to Gingerbread and Smart phone users?

Android 3 is Google's attempt at making a Tablet PC friendly variant of Android. Motorola Xoom will be the first tablet to incorporate Android 3 which is being released in Q1 of 2011. The importance of this is that Google is attempting to create a hybrid OS whereby it can be installed on phones and tablets alike. This will create the scope for developers to create more apps and also allow users more scope in the day to day operational functionality of their hardware.

2011 is an important year for Android. It is nearing maturity and old excuses surrounding its lack of heritage as oppose to BlackBerry and iPhone after the release of Honeycomb doesnt stand up as a valid argument. As such, Android now needs to coherently release and support the OS in a more centric fashion and manufacturers need to work in alliance with Google to bring about a more fluid update environment. But these issues aside Android will have a successful 2011 all the same. Are we entering a new era in portable communications technology and will it be called the Android era?


Sunday, 13 February 2011

A New Year, A New Market Share and a New Update - Android in 2011

The market research giant Gartner published this month their annual market share data figures for global mobile phone sales. The results show that Android is now the second most used OS for smart phones on the planet(1). According to Gartner, Android increased its market share from 3.9% in 2009 to a whopping 22.7% in 2010(2). This massive jump in OS uptake is in line with the successes of Taiwanese firm HTC and the Korean giant Samsung who have been rolling out hugely popular Android-based smart phones in 2010. The HTC Desire HD and the Samsung Galaxy S won many plaudits during 2009/10, including T3 Award for Best Phone 2010 for the HTC Desire HD and EISA Award for best Smart phone 2010 went to the Samsung Galaxy S. The success of top spec handsets and the newly updated version of Android 2.2 resulted in a huge explosion of sales in 2010. Android phones in 2009 sold in total 6,7 million units worldwide yet, partly due to these new phones and OS update, in 2010 sold a total of 67.2 million units globally(3).

The Gartner results indicate Android is the 2nd most used Smart phone OS in the world with Symbian as number one and RIM Blackberry OS and Apple's iOS respectively third and fourth(4). But this research has been overshadowed by the findings of Canalys a US Tech Market Research Firm whose findings indicate that in Q4 2010 Android in fact overtook Symbian to become the market leader in the Smart phone OS market(5). Research by Canalys now indicates that in Q4 of 2010, Android captured 32.9% of the market(6). This growth can be attributed to Google's ingenious licencing structure, whereby Android is free to phone manufacturers without any software constraints. The handset controls of Apple and Blackberry mean third-party generic manufacturing is legally impossible and as such this means Blackberry, Apple and Nokia (Symbian) are stuck within a rigid framework of phone handset manufacturing and OS distribution. But Google's Android OS is free from such rigid handset licensing rules and as a result has allowed companies to release Android handsets with ease. And this has resulted in Samsung and LG being respectively, according to Gartner's Q1234 Research findings, being the second and third largest handset manufacturers in the world and only behind Nokia as handset market leader(7).

Yet, Symbian has lost ground, according Gartner, during 2010 who has seen on average nearly 7.5% of its market share disappear and seeing this market share being picked up by HTC, Motorola and Samsung whose flagship devices are all Android smart phones(8). But this research doesn't answer the question of why Apple and Blackberry have a 'perceived' image monopoly over Android. It is true that Google's first mobile phone which incorporated Android which was called the 'nexus' smart phone was met with industry-wide derision(9). And because there is no 'pure' Android handset, the Google phone was never meant to be the 'be all and end all' and this is the problem which surrounds Android this apparent lack of a central 'symbolic' phone.

Android is according to Wikipedia, Google and ZNet (A Range of Sources there!) a linux-based open handset alliance OS which has allowed it to be freely distributed and 'tweaked' by manufacturers. HTC develops Android with its own GUI (Graphical User Interface) called HTC Sense UI whilst Samsung uses Sentio UI. These Android smart phones incorporate the technical, media, memory and application-base of Android whilst creating different, yet, similar GUI environments. This does not happen with, for example, the Blackberry if one purchases a Bold, Curve, Storm or Torch the OS environment is identical (OS variants aside). But these differences along with a lack of an 'iconic' Android smart phone has resulted in Android being displaced as a mere OS as oppose to the Blackberry/Apple phenomenon which surrounds the primacy of the handset.

What Gartner/Canalys and Nielsen(11) have pinpointed is that consumer perceptions are shifting from handset to OS. This can be seen in Nielsen's research findings that 80% of consumers in Q1 of 2010 chose Android as their next phone. The apparent lack of a 'symbolic' Google handsets is in fact a bonus for Android. It has allowed Android to mature and develop a collection of handsets which suit all kinds of smart phone users. This is the edge it has over others, as an OS without a specific handset, like Blackberry and Apple. According to Nielsen, smart phones have a gender balance issue. For example, the Apple is a predominantly male handset with a 57% male sales figure whilst the BlackBerry has a predominantly female ownership figure of 54%. The Android has developed a gender neutral following which is important in developing and nurturing public perceptions of the OS and the handsets too(12).

Yet Nokia's Symbian is the biggest selling OS in the world primarily because of its sales to developing countries in Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Far East. These territories haven't yet developed the full telephony capabilities whereby Android, BlackBerry or Apple are fully supported. This technical matter aside, Nokia have recently made a partnership with Microsoft. This is important as Microsoft has failed with successive Windows Mobile OS variants and its current Windows Phone 7 OS has been met with fanfare. This partnership means Microsoft, who has 4.7% market share in Q4 2010, and Nokia, who is 2nd/1st depending on whose research is used as the world's number one best selling handset supplier, will create a partnership that will be a force to be reckoned with.

Apple will be releasing the iPhone 5 in 2011 and BlackBerry is releasing its next-gen Bold variant with touch screen technology. The fanfare behind both will be huge and so will the media hype yet 2011 bodes well for Android too.

'Gingerbread' has been released with an improved 'Soft Key' Keyboard along with Flash and improved PDF support. The Android 2.3 will make HTC Desire HD or Samsung Galaxy X perform incredible media and entertainment feats for a smart phone. But all eyes are on the tablet-version of Android 3 called 'Honeycomb' which will also get a mobile release in 2011. Sony Ericsson, Motorola and HTC have Android-based Handsets being released in 2011. And as such all of this will make 2011 an interesting year for Android OS.