I remember when I travelled to the USA back in 2010 I figured that wifi was ubiquitous enough now that I probably wouldn’t have to worry about getting a data plan. Back then that was partly true, indeed I was able to do pretty much everything I needed to for the first two weeks before needing Internet on the go became something of a necessity. Thankfully that was easily fixed by getting a $70, prepaid plan from T-Mobile which had unlimited everything which was more than enough to cover the gap. Still that took a good few hours out of my day just to get that sorted and since then I’ve always wanted a universal mobile plan that didn’t cost me the Earth.
Today Google has announced just that.
Not to be confused with Google’s other similar endeavour Project Fi is a collaboration between Google and numerous cellular providers to give end users a single plan that will work for them across 120 countries. Fi enabled handsets, of which there are currently only one: the Nexus 6, are able to switch between wifi and a multitude of local cellular providers for calls, txts and, most important of all, data. This comes hand in hand with a bunch of other features like being able to check your voicemails through Google Hangouts as well as other nifty features like Google Voice. Suffice to say it sounds like a pretty terrific deal and, thankfully, remains so even when you include the pricing.
The base plan will set you back $20 which includes unlimited domestic calls (I’m assuming that means national), unlimited txts to anywhere and access to the wifi and cellular networks that are part of the service. From there you can add data onto your plan for the rate of $10 per GB which, whilst not exactly the cheapest plan around (What I currently get on Telstra for $95 would cost me $120 on Fi) does come with the added benefit of being charged in 100MB increments. So if you don’t use all your data cap by the end of the month you don’t get charged for it. The benefit here is, of course, that that data works across 120 countries than my current 1, something I would’ve made good use of back when I was travelling a lot for work.
Like many cool services however Fi will only be available to US residents to begin with as their coverage map doesn’t extend far past American border. This is most likely due to the first two providers they’ve partnered with, Sprint and T-Mobile, not having a presence elsewhere. However it looks pretty likely that Google will want to extend this partnership to carriers in other countries, mostly in the aims of reducing their underlying costs for providing data coverage overseas. The real kicker will be to see who they partner with in some countries as depending on who they choose the experience could be wildly different, something I’m sure they’re keen to avoid.
I don’t think I’d make the switch to Google Fi right now even if it was available, not at least until I had a few good reports on how their service compared to the other big providers. To be sure it’d definitely be something I’d like to have when I’m travelling especially now considering how much more I can get done on my phone compared to when I last spent a good chunk of time abroad. As my everytime provider though I’m not so sure as the features they’re currently offering aren’t enough to overcome the almost $30 price differential.
I’m sure that will change with time, however.
I’ve seen so many consoles come and during my years as a gamer. I remember the old rivalries back in the day between the stalwart Nintendo fans and the just as dedicated Sega followers. As time went on Nintendo’s dominance became hard to push back against and Sega struggled to face up to the competition. Sony however made quite a splash with their original Playstation and was arguably the reason behind the transition away from game cartridges to the disc based systems we have today. For the last 5 years or so though there really hasn’t been much of a shake up in the console market, save for the rise of the motion controllers (which didn’t really shake anything up other than causing a giant fit of mee-tooism from all the major players).
I think the reasons for this are quite simple: consoles became powerful enough to be somewhat comparable to PCs, the old school king of gaming. The old business models of having to release a new console every 3 years or so didn’t make sense when your current generation was more than capable of modern games at a generally acceptable level. There was also the fact that Microsoft got burned slightly by releasing the Xbox360 so soon after the original Xbox and I’m sure Sony and Nintendo weren’t keen on making the same mistake. All we’ve got now are rumours about the next generation of consoles but by and large they’re not shaping up to be anything revolutionary like their current gen brethren were when they were released.
What’s really been shaking up the gaming market recently though is the mobile/tablet gaming sector. Whilst I’ll hesitate to put these in the same category as consoles (they are, by and large, not a platform with a primary purpose of gaming in mind) they have definitely had an impact in the portable sector. At the same time though the quality of games available on the mobile platform has increased significantly and developers now look to develop titles on the mobile platform wouldn’t have been reasonable or feasible only a few short years ago. This is arguably due to the marked increase in computing power that has been made available to even the most rudimentary of smart phones which spurred developers on to be far more ambitious with the kinds of titles they develop for the platform.
What I never considered though was a crossover between the traditional console market and the now flourishing mobile sector. That’s were OUYA, an Android based game console, comes into play.
OUYA is at its heart a smartphone without a screen or a cellular chipset in it. At its core it boasts a NVIDIA Tegra 3 coupled with 1GB of RAM, 8GB of flash storage, Bluetooth and a USB 2 port for connectivity. For a console the specifications aren’t particularly amazing, in fact they’re down right pitiful, but it’s clear that their idea for a system isn’t something that can play the latest Call of Duty. Instead the OUYA’s aim is to lurethat same core of developers, the ones who have been developing games for mobile platforms, over to their platform by making the console cheap, license free and entirely open. They’ve also got the potential to get a lot of momentum from current Android developers who will just need a few code modifications to support the controller, giving them access to potentially thousands of launch titles.
I’ll be honest at the start I was somewhat sceptical about what the OUYA’s rapid funding success meant. When I first looked at the console specifications and intended market I got the feeling that the majority of people ordering it weren’t doing it for the OUYA as a console, no the were more looking at it as a cracking piece of hardware for a bargain basement price. Much like the Raspberry Pi the OUYA gives you some bits of tech that are incredibly expensive to acquire otherwise like a Tegra 3 coupled with 1GB RAM and a Bluetooth controller. However that was back when there were only 8,000 backers but as of this morning there’s almost 30,000 orders in for this unreleased console. Additionally the hype surrounding around the console doesn’t appear to be centred on the juicy bits of hardware underneath it, people seem to be genuinely excited by the possibilities that could be unlocked by such a console.
I have to admit that I am too. Whilst I don’t expect the OUYA to become the dominant platform or see big name developers rushing towards releasing torrents of titles on it the OUYA represents something that the console market has been lacking: a cheap, low cost player that’s open to anyone. It’s much like the presence of an extremely cut-rate airline (think Tiger Airlines in Australia) sure you might not catch them all the time because of the ridiculous conditions attached to the ticket but their mere presence keeps the other players on their best behaviour. The OUYA represents a free, no holds barred arena where big and small companies alike can duke it out and whilst there might not be many multi-million dollar titles made for the platform you can bet that the big developers won’t be able to ignore it for long.
I’m genuinely excited about what the OUYA represents for the console games industry. With innovation seemingly at a stand still for the next year or two it will be very interesting to see how the OUYA fairs, especially considering its release date for the first production run in slated for early next year. I’m also very keen to see what kinds of titles will be available for it at launch and, hacker community willing, what kinds of crazy, non-standard uses for the device come out. I gladly plonked down $149 for the privilege of getting 1 with 2 controllers and even if you have only a casual interest in game consoles I’d urge you to do much the same.
I have a confession to make: I never took the plunge and bought a Windows Phone 7 handset like I said I would. It’s not because I didn’t want one, new gadgets are something I have a hard time turning down, it’s just that my desire to get one was overcome by the notion of spending several hundred dollars on a handset I wouldn’t use every day. I still kept my eye on them thanks to several people I work with having them but even their raving reviews of it weren’t enough to pull me away from my now Ice Cream Sandwich blessed Galaxy S2. In all honesty I had pretty much given up on Microsoft’s mobile efforts as they didn’t look like they’d be able to retake the crown they’ve lost to Google and Apple.
News comes today however that Microsoft has announced their latest version of their mobile operating system, Windows Phone 8. Unlike Windows Phone 7 which was more of a preview of Windows 8 than anything else WP8 keeps the same aesthetic that’s won them significant praise whilst firmly bringing their mobile platform into the Three Screens vision. WP8 also brings all the other improvements we’ve come to expect from new release such as support for faster phones, bigger screens, NFC and an upgraded browser that. The biggest improvement, from my point of view at least, is that WP8 devices will be running the full WinRT framework essentially elminating the gap between their tablet/ARM devices and their mobile line.
Now this isn’t anything that hasn’t been done before, Apple has long had a similar level of platform ubiquity between their tablet and handset platforms. However WinRT does provide the capability for applications to run on desktops as well, something Apple (or anyone else for that matter) has yet to achieve. Whilst the 3rd screen, the TV, has yet to receive the WinRT treatment from any Microsoft product it would seem to be a safe bet that the next generation Xbox will feature the framework. This is of course wild speculation on my part however Microsoft would be foolish not to take advantage of the foothold they already have in the home entertainment space and I’m sure the people inside Microsoft think in the same way.
Interestingly enough the announcement of Windows Phone 8 comes hot off the heels of another announcement from Microsoft: that of their new Surface tablet. Now this isn’t to be confused with the original Surface table as that’s now been renamed to Microsoft PixelSense. No this tablet is a lining up to be a direct competitor to the iPad having very similar styling and identical use cases. The differences appear to be however that the Surface will come in two versions, one WinRT only and the other a full blown x86 PC. The delineation isn’t made lightly and it’s obvious that the x86 model is going to be aimed more at corporate users who need all their applications and the WinRT version will be meant for the consumers. It looks like a solid product however I can’t help but shake the feeling that it might not be the greatest step forward for Microsoft.
You see whilst Microsoft does need to do something about getting into the tablet space they’ve already done most of the legwork with Windows 8. They already have great relationships with OEMs and this is why you don’t see a whole bunch of Microsoft branded devices around the shop: they make the software and others provide the hardware. Getting into the tablet business means they’re kind of thumbing their nose at the OEMs, especially when each license for Windows 8 will cost them $85. As long as Microsoft makes their tablet a premium price range product though this won’t be so much of an issue but they could really do some damage to their OEM relationships if their tablets debut in the $200~$400 range. Since there’s not a whole bunch of information about it now I’ll have to play wait and see with this one as things could change significantly between now and launch day.
Microsoft’s mobile platform has been taking a battering from every side but with the unification between all of their platforms they might just be able to tempt people away from their Android and iPhone comfort zones. Certainly the unified platform provided by WinRT will be attractive to developers and that will hopefully see more killer applications find their way onto Windows Phone 8. The next year of Windows 8 related releases will be key for Microsoft’s future and will be telling if their vision for platform unification is the direction they need to be heading in.
Adobe had also been quite stalwart in their support for Flash too, refusing to back down on their stance that they were “the way” to do rich content on the Internet. Word came recently however that they were stopping development on the mobile version of Flash:
Graphics software giant Adobe announced plans for layoffs yesterday ahead of a major restructuring. The company intends to cut approximately 750 members of its workforce and said that it would refocus its digital media business. It wasn’t immediately obvious how this streamlining effort would impact Adobe’s product line, but a report that was published late last night indicates that the company will gut its mobile Flash player strategy.
Adobe is reportedly going to stop developing new mobile ports of its Flash player browser plugin. Instead, the company’s mobile Flash development efforts will focus on AIR and tools for deploying Flash content as native applications. The move marks a significant change in direction for Adobe, which previously sought to deliver uniform support for Flash across desktop and mobile browsers.
Now the mobile version of Flash had always been something of a bastard child, originally featuring a much more cut down feature set than its fully fledged cousin. More recent versions brought them closer together but the experience was never quite as good especially with the lack of PC level grunt on mobile devices. Adobe’s mobile strategy now is focused on making Adobe AIR applications run natively on all major smart phone platforms, giving Flash developers a future when it comes to building mobile applications. It’s an interesting gamble, one that signals a fundamental shift in the way Adobe views the web.
Arguably the writing has been on the wall for this decision for quite some time. Back at the start of this year Adobe released Wallaby, a framework that allows advertisement developers the capability to convert Flash ads into HTML5. Indeed even back then I said that Wallaby was the first signal that Adobe thought HTML5 was the way of the future and were going to start transitioning towards it as their platform of the future. I made the point then that whilst Flash might eventually disappear Adobe wouldn’t as they have a history for developing some of the best tools for non-technical users to create content for the web. Indeed there are already prototypes of such tools already available so it’s clear that Adobe is looking towards a HTML5 future.
The one place that Flash still dominates, without any clear competitors, is in online video. Their share of the market is somewhere around 75% (that’s from back in February so I’d hazard a guess that its lower now) with the decline being driven from mobile devices that lack support for Flash video. HTML5’s alternative is unfortunately still up in the air as the standards body struggles to find an implementation that can be open, unencumbered by patents and yet still be able to support things like Digital Rights Management. It’s this lack of standardization that will see Flash around for a good while yet as until there’s an agreed upon standard that meets all those criteria Flash will remain as the default choice for online video.
So it looks like the war that I initially believed that Adobe would win has instead seen Adobe pursuing a HTML5 future. Its probably for the best as they will then be providing some of the best tools in the market whilst still supporting open standards, something that’s to the benefit of all users of the Internet. Hopefully that will also mean better performing web sites as well as Flash had a nasty reputation for bringing even some of the most powerful PCs to their knees with poorly coded Flash ads. The next few years will be crucial to Adobe’s long term prospects but I’m sure they have the ability to make it through to the other end.
For the past year I was somewhat of an anomaly amongst my tech friends because I choose to get an iPhone 3GS instead of one of the Android handsets. The choice was simple at the time, I had an app that I wanted to develop for it and needed something to test on, but still I copped it sweet whenever I said something positive about the platform since I’d usually be the only one with an Apple product in the area. When it came time again to buy a new phone, as I get to do every year for next to nothing, I resisted for quite a while, until one of my friends put me onto the Samsung Galaxy S2¹. The tech specs simply overwhelmed my usual fiscal conservativeness and no less than a week later was I in possession of one and so began my experience with the Android platform.
The default UI that comes with all of Samsung’s Android handsets, called TouchWiz, feels uncannily similar to that of iOS. In fact it’s so familiar that Apple is suing Samsung because of it, but if you look at many other Android devices you’ll see that they share similar characteristics that Apple is claiming Samsung ripped off from them. For me personally though the Android UI wins out simply because of how customizable it is allowing me to craft an experience that’s tailored to my use. Widgets, basically small front ends to your running applications, are a big part of this enabling me to put things like a weather ticker on my front page. The active wallpapers are also pretty interesting too, if only to liven up the otherwise completely static UI.
What impresses me most about the Android platform is the breadth and depth of the applications and tweaks available for the system. My first few days with Android were spent just getting myself back up and running like I was on my iPhone, finding all the essential applications (Facebook, Twitter, Shazam, Battle.net Authenticator, etc) and comparing the experience to the iPhone. For the most part the experience on Android is almost identical, especially with applications that have large user bases, but some of them were decidedly sub-par. Now most would say that this is due to the fragmentation of the Android platform but the problems I saw didn’t stem from those kinds of issues, just a lack of effort on their part to polish the experience. This more often happened for applications that weren’t “Android born” as many of the native apps were leaps and bounds ahead of them in terms of quality.
The depth of integration that applications and tweaks can have with the Android platform is really where the platform shines. Skype, for example, can usurp your outgoing calls and route them through their network which could be a major boon if you’re lucky enough to have a generous data plan. It doesn’t stop with application integration either, there are numerous developers dedicated to making the Android platform itself better through custom kernels and ROMs. The extra functionality that I have unlocked with my phone by installing CF-Root kernel, one that allows me root access, are just phenomenal. I’ve yet to find myself wanting for any kind of functionality and rarely have I found myself needing to pay for it something, unless it was for convenience’s sake.
Android is definitely a technophile’s dream with the near limitless possibilities of an open platform laid out before you. However had you not bothered to do all the faffing about that I did you still wouldn’t be getting a sub-par experience, at least on handsets sporting the TouchWiz interface. Sure you might have to miss out on some of the useful apps (like Titanium Backup) but realistically many of the root enabled apps aren’t aimed at your everyday user. You still get all the benefits of the deep integration with the Android platform where a good 90% of the value will be for most users anyway.
Despite all of this gushing over Google’s mobile love child I still find it hard to recommend it as the platform for everyone. Sure for anyone with a slight technical bent it’s the platform to go for, especially if you’re comfortable modding your hardware, and sure it’s still quite usable for the majority who aren’t. However Apple’s platform does automate a lot of the rudimentary stuff for you (like backing up your handset when you sync it) which Android, as a platform, doesn’t currently do. Additionally thanks to the limited hardware platform you’re far less likely to encounter some unknown issue on iOS than you are on Android which, if you’re the IT support for the family like me, can make your life a whole lot easier.
Android really impressed me straight from the get go and continued to do so as I spent more time getting to know it and digging under the hood to unlock even more value from it. The ability to interact, modify or outright replace parts of the underlying Android platform is what makes it great and is the reason why it’s the number 1 smart phone platform to date. As a long time smart phone user I feel that Android is by far the best platform for both technophiles and regular users alike, giving you the usability you’ve come to expect from iOS with the tweakability that used to be reserved for only for Windows Mobile devices.
Now I just need to try out a Windows Phone 7 device and I’ll have done the mobile platform trifecta.
¹I’m reviewing the handset separately as since Android is available on hundreds of handsets it wouldn’t be fair to lump them together as I did with the iPhone. Plus the Galaxy S2 deserves its own review anyway and you’ll find out why hopefully this week 😉
I’m always highly skeptical of any product that comes my way that’s supposed to solve all my problems in a particular area. Cloud computing was a great example of this as I had already gone through most of the marketing spiel previously with Software as a Service and was stunned when it made its triumphant return with a few additional bells and whistles. Granted I’m coming around to the idea since the services have matured but I still don’t believe its the panacea to all of your IT woes as many of its advocates will have you believe. Of course this kind of hype talk is always around and the current buzzword du jour is the coming of the “Post-PC era”, a time where the personal computer is replaced by tablets and smartphones. Needless to say I’m highly skeptical of this kind of marketing malarkey,which in no small part is due to the fact that Steve Jobs has been the one to start spruiking the term.
The idea seems to be steaming from the recent growth in non-PC devices that replicate certain PC functionalities. For example the mobile web experience has matured significantly over the past 3 years with many web sites (including this one) creating separate sites designed for the mobile platform. Additionally native applications on phones are becoming increasingly more capable with many functions that used to take a fully fledged desktop or laptop now available in the palm of your hand. Truly the capability explosion that mobile devices have undergone in the past few years is quite extraordinary and extrapolating that out would have you believe that in a few short years these devices will be as capable as their PC cousins, if not more so.
However I just can’t see a future where the PC isn’t around.
You see these mobile devices (phones, tablets and what have you) are primarily consumption devices. This is because the platform lends itself to this quite readily as creation on these devices is quite a chore when compared to its bigger, tethered brethren. For instance I’ve tried several times to write blog posts on the run using my smartphone (even one with a physical keyboard) and the experience has been nothing short of atrocious. Sure hammering out a tweet or 10 is easy, 140 characters doesn’t take long at all, but any long interaction with my phone is quite a laborious exercise. Thus most applications on these devices are centered around consuming something rather than creating, simply because these devices aren’t really made for using longer than 5~10 minutes.
But I can the post-PC crazies saying “but wait you could pair your tablet with a keyboard and mouse thus solving this issue!”. Well yes, of course you could but in reality aren’t you just replacing your laptop for a tablet/smartphone with a giant dock attached to it? Realistically you’re just replacing the innards of your current PC with something that’s, I’ll admit, far more portable but also a whole lot less capable. You’d probably find that there would be beefed up versions of these mobile devices available, sacrificing battery life and weight to give you a little more power. That or they’d rely on massive back end infrastructure, in essence going back to the good old days of mainframes and thin terminals (defeating the whole post-pc era idea completely).
Are there things that PCs should give way to? Of course, the fact that mobile devices are limited primarily to consuming content rather than producing it means that the consumer experience on these devices is quite good. Whilst I may use several services from my PC the vast majority of my time spent on social media is through my iPhone simply because it’s easy and available. It also makes for a great travel companion when I don’t want to lug my Macbook Pro around and only need access to a few files like itineraries or other information. Does that mean they can replace my PC outright? Hell no, but there are many use cases where I’d prefer to be using my mobile rather than a desktop PC.
I think there will be a few people who will be able to replace their current PCs, whatever their form factor, with the new wave of “post-pc era” devices. Similarly there are also a similar number who will never have a need for such a device and will continue along as they are now. In the middle there will be those who use both, supplementing their PC with additional devices that suit a particular purpose they have in mind. That middle sector is where I believe most of the future users will reside, using the most appropriate device for the task at hand. Over time I believe our view of what constitutes a PC will shift but there will always be a place for a dedicated computing device, even if that ends up just being the horsepower driving the services behind the post-pc devices.
Telstra was a brilliant example of why natural monopolies should never be put in the hands of private share holders. Whilst the situation has improved quite dramatically over the past decade thanks to strict regulation and enhanced competition we’re still suffering a few headaches of not jumping on the broadband bus earlier than we should have. Still though the Australian government is being no slouch when it comes to charging forward into the future with the National Broadband Network which, if fully implemented, will see Australia able to count themselves amongst the top tier of Internet enabled nations. Still with the high cost and long implementation timeline many are looking at alternatives that can provide similar benefits, and the first place they turn to is wireless.
Today the issue was brought into the spotlight again as Telstra announced their plans to do a nation wide rollout of 4G LTE (Long Term Evolution) wireless broadband services. The comparisons to the NBN flowed thick and fast, with many questioning the benefits of having both:
Telstra will significantly upgrade its mobile network to take advantage of fast 4G technology that will allow users to obtain speeds similar to home broadband connections while on the go.
The announcement comes on the back of a government-commissioned report warning uptake to its $36 billion network could be stifled by wireless technologies.
Long time readers will know I’ve touched on this issue briefly in the past after having a few long conversations with fellow IT workers over the NBN. On a pure theoretical level 4G wins out simply because you get similar speeds without having to invest in a large scale fiber network and you get the speeds wherever you have coverage. The problem is whilst the 4G specification does make provisions for such high speeds there’s a lot of caveats around being able to deliver it at that level, and they’re not all just about signal strength.
Upgrading the current 3G network to support 4G is no small task in itself, requiring all towers to be upgraded with additional transceivers, antennas and supporting infrastructure. Whilst upgrading the towers themselves won’t be too difficult the real problem comes in when people start wanting to use this new connection to its fullest potential, attempting to get NBN speeds from their wireless broadband. This at the very least requires an infrastructure upgrade on the scale of Fiber to the Node (FTTN) as the bandwidth requirements will outstrip the current infrastructure if they are used as a replacement for the NBN. Most critics looking to replace the NBN with wireless neglect this fact and in the end not upgrading the backhauls from the towers means that whilst NBN speeds would be possible they’d never be realised in practice.
Wireless is also no replacement for fixed line as it is much harder to provide a guaranteed level of service, something businesses and government entities rely on. Sure many of the limitations can be worked around with good engineering but it will still lack the scalability of a fixed fiber solution that already has implementations in the multi-gigabit range. Wireless might make sense for some low use consumer products (I’d love to get my mobile videos faster) but the fact is that if you’re relying on your Internet connection for critical business functions you’re not going to be doing them over wireless. Heck I don’t think anyone in the 4G enabled parts of the USA is even attempting to do that.
In reality the NBN and Telstra’s 4G network shouldn’t really be seen as being in competition with each other, they’re really 2 completely different products. The NBN is providing the ground level infrastructure for an Internet revolution in Australia, something that will bring extremely high speed Internet access to the masses. 4G should be seen as an evolutionary step in the mobile sector, enabling much more rich Internet services to be delivered to our handsets whilst offering some of the capability of a fixed line when you’re on the go. The sooner everyone realizes this the better as playing them off each other is just a waste of time and won’t lead to anything positive for Australia as a nation.
I remember my first mobile phone well, it was a Nokia 8210 that I got myself locked into a 2 year contract for mostly because I wanted to play snake on it. After having the phone a month (and subsequently having it stolen) I grew tired of the game and resigned myself to just using at it was intended, as a phone. This continued with all my following phones for the next few years as I favoured function and form over features, even forgoing the opportunity to play old classics like Doom on my Atom Exec. However after picking myself up an iPhone early last year I started looking into the world of mobile gaming and I was surprised to see such a healthy games community, grabbing a few free titles for my shiny new gadget.
Primarily though I noticed that the vast majority of games available on the App Store were from small development houses, usually ones I’d never heard of before. Whilst there were a few familiar titles there (like Plants vs Zombies) for the most part any game that I got for my iPhone wasn’t from any of the big publishers. Indeed the most popular game for the iPhone, Angry Birds, comes from a company that counts a mere 17 people as its employees and I’m sure at least a few of them only came on since their flagship title’s release. Still the power of the platform is indisputable with over 50 million potential users and a barrier to entry of just one Apple computer and a $99 per year fee. Still it had me wondering though, with all this potential for the mobile platform (including Android, which has sold just as many handsets as Apple has) why aren’t more of the big names targeting these platforms with more than token efforts?
The answer, as always, is in the money.
Whilst the potential revenue from 50 million people is something to make even the most hardened CEO weak at the knees the fact remains that not all of them are gamers. Heck just going by the most successful games on this platform the vast majority of Android and iPhone owners aren’t gamers with more than 80% of them not bothering to buy the best game available. Additionally games released on the mobile platform are traditionally considered time wasters, something you’re doing when you don’t have anything better to do. Rarely do you find a game with any sense of depth to it, let alone does such a game strike it big on the platform’s application store. Couple that with the fact that no mobile game has gotten away with charging the same amount as their predecessors on other platforms has and you can start to see why the big publishers don’t spend too much time with the mobile platform, it’s just not fiscally viable.
For the small and independent developers however the mobile scene presents an opportunity unlike any they’ve seen before. Whilst there is much greater potential on other platforms (The Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 both have user numbers rivalling that of the iPhone and Android platforms) the barriers to entry for them are quite high in comparison. Microsoft, to their credit, has reduced the barrier to the same level as the iPhone ($99/year and you bring your own console) but thus far it has failed to attract as much attention as the mobile platform has. Other platforms are plagued by high investment costs for development such as any Sony or Nintendo product, requiring expensive development consoles and licenses to be purchased before any code can be written for them. Thus the mobile platform fits well for the smaller developers as it gives them the opportunity to release something, have it noticed and then use that to leverage into other, more profitable platforms.
I guess this post came about from the anger I feel when people start talking about the iPhone or Android becoming a dominant player in the games market. The fact is that whilst they’re a boon for smaller developers they have nothing when compared to any of the other platforms. Sure the revenue numbers from the App Store might be impressive but when you compare the biggest numbers from there (Angry Birds, circa $10 million) to the biggest on one of the others (Call of Duty: Black Ops $1 billion total) you can see why the big guys stick to the more traditional platforms. There’s definitely something to the world of mobile gaming but it will always be a footnote when compared to its bigger brothers, even when compared to the somewhat beleaguered handheld, the PSP.
I’ll be honest I had to look over my past posts of Windows Phone 7 to figure out where I used to stand on Microsoft’s latest grab for the smartphone market. Initially I was sceptical, figuring that this was Microsoft’s extremely slow reaction to their competitors gnawing away at their market share. I acknowledged the fact that Microsoft has the power of numbers working for it with masses of developers poised to take advantage of a mobile platform but recognised the fact that if they were serious about the mobile space they’d be invested in it already. Finally I came to like the platform when Microsoft upped the ante with the default feature set, including features for free that their competitors had long been charging for. However after that initial glowing review I hadn’t heard a lot about the Windows Phone 7 had been a rousing retail success nor its dismal failure so I figured it was just going to fade off into obscurity, much like their Kin did before it.
Today however brought the first bit of news that I’d heard about the platform in a long time. Whilst there wasn’t a massive land rush to acquire Microsoft’s latest offering there was a respectable amount of sales:
Sales are ramping well as our reputation is growing for offering users a unique experience and are in line with our expectations – especially when compared to other new platform introductions. With a new platform you have to look at a couple of things, first of all customer satisfaction. As I mentioned before, we’ve seen great response on the complete mobile phone experience.
Another is phone manufacturer sales – phones being bought and stocked by mobile operators and retailers on their way to customers. We are pleased that phone manufacturers sold over 1.5 million phones in the first six weeks, which helps build customer momentum and retail presence.
We know we have tough competition, and this is a completely new product. We’re in the race – it’s not a sprint but we are certainly gaining momentum and we’re in it for the long run
Some quick maths will tell you that 1.5 million handsets in 6 weeks works out to roughly 36,000 handsets sold per day. Whilst this pales in comparison to Android’s 300,000 activations and is a drop in the bucket when compared to Apple’s 230,000¹ it’s still a decent number considering the giants that they’re going up against. Since they managed to release well before the holiday buying period it will be very interesting to see how their holiday sales figures turn out as that will be telling as to how much momentum this particular platform has.
Still though for any developer looking to develop for the mobile world Windows Phone 7 is probably the last platform on their list. Developing for Apple arguably has the best potential for revenue generation from direct sales with Android providing better results from ad based programs and both of them have audiences much larger than Microsoft’s 1.5 million loyal fans. Whilst the barrier to entry might be lower for a long time Microsoft developer anyone really serious about mobile development will take the time to learn a more popular platform. The time invested in learning a new platform is nothing compared to the number of people you’ll be able to reach by developing on something other than Windows Phone 7.
Yet again I find myself back on the fence, unable to say with conviction how I feel about Windows Phone 7. In reality it looks like a solid product and the relatively decent number of sales in its first month and a half of life is definitely promising. However it’s coming to the party about a year or two late with Apple and Google both providing very mature platforms with a large, established fan base. I’d still love it if the platform became popular as it would reduce the amount of work I’d have to do but the harsh reality is that even if it does happen it’s a long time away and they’ve got a long way to go before they’re matching the numbers that Google and Apple have enjoyed for so long.
¹It’s now estimated at up to 270,000 per day, but I couldn’t find a source that states that directly.
I’ve been working on my burgeoning web service idea for just over a year now and I’m finally at the point where I feel like I’m actually making in roads into a fully usable system. It took 3 complete code dump and rewrites to get to this point but I’m finally satisfied with the way it works and how the client has turned out. Each iteration brought with it a rethink of what the application was going to be and a much better focus on what would be important to it. The decision to dump the last code base and start anew was probably the best decision I’ve made in a long time as the resulting product from it is strongly focused on what initially drove me to build this application.
Still after diving head first into the world of handset programming I can’t help but feel that I might have been going about this the wrong way. I initially started coding up the web client first because it would be the easiest of the lot and would ensure that I had the majority of the APIs working properly before I tried my hand at coding for a completely different platform. For the most part that was true as the API I have created facilitates all the functions I require and will work across platforms so long as they’re able to access the Internet. However had I developed a handset application first instead of going for the web client I would have been forced to make some of the hard decisions quite a lot earlier, possibly saving me those 3 code dumps that led to the current incarnation.
You see the first 3 versions I created were heavily focused on the idea of aggregating information around a particular location. I did this mostly because it was a good programming exercise and got me thinking in right direction for coding services destined for the Internet. At the same time however it had me lost in adding in numerous information streams all of which took a significant amount of time to implement. In the end once I got to the core feature that had been rattling around in my head (that whole location based communication thing) it was lost amongst the noise of the other features and the small trials I did with people didn’t even notice it as a feature.
After taking a month long break from coding I had a look at what I was doing and knew that it needed to change. This, I have found, is referred to as a pivot:
That’s the pattern we see in so many successful startups. They did everything they could to take advantage of what they’d built so far. Most engineers naturally think about repurposing the technology platform, and this is a common pattern. But there are a lot of other possibilities. I’d like to call out three in particular: pivot on customer segment, pivot on customer problem, or pivot on a specific feature.
In particular I was pivoting on a particular feature. Up until that point all I had been doing was finding an information feed and adding it in as an option. The core location based messaging feature became an afterthought but that was the hook with which I felt people would find the most use for it. After reading countless articles and looking to those who had come before me for inspiration I knew that if I intended to use such a feature as the main draw it had to actually be the most prominent aspect of the application. Thus Lobaco was born and I feel as if I’m finally taking steps in the right direction, rather than stumbling in the dark.
Working first on the handset would’ve forced my hand with this as you can’t afford to have a scattered focus when you’re working with such a limited environment. Still the lessons learned from those failed attempts have proven to be quite valuable and the coding experience wouldn’t have come any other way. It’s quite possible that I might have been a lot further down the track had I gone for a handset first but that’s not something I’m going to dwell on. Right now I have 3 handsets and a web front page to code up and I’m looking forward to doing each and every one of them.