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Email is All About Your Cell Phone, Open Standards, and Very Little Else
Jack Dausman    

I commissioned an original sketch to make this point: the criterion for a successful collaboration and messaging platform is increasingly dependent on integration with cheap, open-standards based mobile-devices. But, it's too many words, so how about a Microsoft-vested person standing in front of a fractured dam ? Feel free to use it (under Creative Commons) and add your own titling. My chosen caption is:

No worries. The damage is in the single digits.

Less than six months ago, Robbie Bach (until quite recently, Microsoft's president of Entertainment and Devices Division) excoriated the potential of Linux for mobile devices.

I think some of the current systems will fall away. I don't think that will be because there's not room for another operating system. I think it's because their quality bar won't stack up. And they won't get the scale that they need. And our job is to make sure we get that scale. So, I won't speculate on the number of operating systems you can see. I certainly think in the feature phone space you'll see some pruning of the Linux tree, and I don't think that's really sustainable.

At the time of Robbie's pronouncement, Microsoft was preparing two new phone platforms: the Kin and Windows Phone 7. The Kin was released in April and Windows Phone 7 will be available sometime in early 2011. Astonishingly, within six weeks of the launching of Kin, Microsoft killed the product. The pruning of mobile systems has turned out to have a sharper edge for Microsoft, than Linux.

Microsoft has a complicated story to tell with open-source (FOSS) in general, and Linux in particular. What's been interesting to watch, is the shift in market forces that is moving much faster for FOSS in social-media and consumer devices. I don't think anyone cares about another Year of the Desktop Linux announcement, because the audience has moved on. Ubuntu 10.04 rocks. Windows 7 is great. Fedora 13 is back. Mac OS X 10.6 is terrific. FOSS or proprietary--the differences aren't that significant for 90% of the applications and business purposes. Pick your desktop for your needs. The real money has moved off of the desktop onto something much smaller, more common, and far more distributed. Your cell phone.

The biggest drama with the players of proprietary vendors and FOSS is unfolding in a middle ground between pure consumer devices and corporate, enterprise systems: the phone. It's just "phone," now, and it means "cell phone" whether it includes a data package or not. The terminology "Smartphone" has nearly become quaint, like "PDA" and "cyberspace." When I over hear a conversation about a new phone, the dialog is about "how many apps have you loaded?" and "can you skype/do email/take pictures/GPS/IM ?" Yesterday's smartphone capabilities are quickly becoming a baseline for what users expect as a commodity. Demand has continued to accelerate, so much so that the average pricing of "smartphones" has even started to decrease.

Like a black hole that can't be seen, but warps space all around it, the dominance of the cell phone is being felt in many industries. Wrist watches are alien devices to the under 30 crowd. 25% of all U.S homes have cut their landlines, of the remaining 75%, 15% of the landline households only use cellular. FIOS and cable accounts are on the upswing, while DSL is working best where the alternatives aren't competitive. The gravitational pull of this astronomically-sized event is sucking in one industry after another.

For instance, the digital camera industry is being crushed and reshaped by cell phones. In Thom Hogan's analysis, "Camera phones are quickly gobbling up the low end of the compact camera market as they become 'competent enough.'" Point-and-click cameras are melting away under the heat of iPhone's and Androids' rocket ascension. Of Wired's top-ten must-have iPhone apps, two of them are photography utilities.

And, then there is your credit card. Both In2Pay (for the iPhone) and Square (iPhone and Android) support purchase transfers through the cell phone. Visa touts their capability as "designed to enable iPhone users to make contactless transactions, such as Visa mobile payments, by simply waving the iPhone in front of a contactless payment terminal."

Unified Communications (UC) is moving onto the cell phone and mobile devices (like Apple's iPad and Dell's Streak). It's a fascinating progression where the idea of UC used to be to put the phone in the computer. Now, it's about putting the computer into the phone. Skype, Goober, Strata CIX VoIP, Cisco, and Avaya are are building or distributing VoIP capabilities for mobile devices.

The pace of development is so rapid, that the Unified Communications Interoperability Forum (UCIF) has been created to "enable interoperability of open, standards-based UC hardware and software . . . " While there may be a need for openness, the founding members themselves have never actually been characterized as proponents for open standards, and it appears that the market leaders in VoIP (Avaya, Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco, IBM, NEC, etc.) have little interest in embracing UCIF. Network World's Jim Duffy opines about the membership divide for the UCIF: "It might be because the Unified Communications Interoperability Forum was founded by a handful of their competitors. Microsoft, Polycom, Juniper and HP are all involved, as is LifeSize, which makes a competing telepresence system to Cisco's." Because UC relies on large, infrastructure systems, it seems almost disorienting to view the pint-sized cell phone as tipping the scale. With integrated contact management, calendaring, and email that can be easily localized to the individual (rather than bouncing between office, home, etc.), UC finally has a viable business model for the general user.

Architectural dominance over cell phones and mobile devices is crucial to the growth of almost every tech-industry. General-purpose mobile phone vendors increased sales by 17% in the first quarter 2010, from 2009. But, the smartphones grew an astounding 50%. These phones aren't cheap--how is it possible that during a recession the demand for them continues to grow ? It's the Internet. Because they are Internet capable, they present a less expensive alternative to paying for a full computer and a land-line. The Pew Internet & American Life Project estimates that 40% of all "adults use the Internet, email or instant messaging on a mobile phone." The highest adoption rate is found with African-Americans and Hispanics who "take advantage of a much greater range of their phones' features compared with white mobile phone users." The smartphone is redefining the Internet as the "mobile web," and opening wide a portal of accessibility for those with limited means.

The market share is shifting between the manufacturers because of these capabilities. The software that runs these new cell powerhouses has had its winners and losers. The old guard of Blackberry, Microsoft, and Symbian have posted losses in market share, while Apple's iPhone, Google's Android have shot upwards. The biggest loser ? Microsoft. Even with a new Microsoft platform entering the phone market, it's looking grim. Google is now activating 100,000 Android devices each day, and the failed Kin may never have even reached a count of 10,000. In a New York Times article, Tim O'Reilly notes that "for developers, mobile is what's hip now, and there are two platforms that matter -- Apple and Android." Apple's iPhone takes the lead, but Google's Android has attracted consumers and developers with its emphasis on open standards.

Vision Mobile, an analysis and advisory firm, queried over 400 mobile app developers, with the surprising result that Android was significantly favored. Here's some of their highlights:

  • "Android stands out as the platform most popular with mobile developers."
  • "On average, the Symbian platform takes 15 months or more to learn, while for Android the average reported time is less than six months."
  • "In terms of debugging, our benchmarking shows that Android has the fastest debugging process, compared with iPhone, Symbian and Java ME."
  • "On average, 86 percent of respondents who use open source at work use it within development tools such as Eclipse. Android and iPhone developers are three times more likely to lead open source communities. . . ."
  • "Within the space of just two years, open source has created the biggest disruption the mobile industry has ever seen, second only to the Apple's iconic product series and the app store paradigm."

So, when it comes to messaging platforms, cell phones are the ring in the nose of the bull. It used to be that the IT enterprise chose the carrier, the integration vendor, and the email system, which in turn, dictated the supported mobile device. That's all yesterday. The cell phone is not just the end-point for checking calendars, it's the nexus for a fantastic range of 24x7 services. It's tilting development towards open source and laying an Internet foundation for the mobile web. It's kind of cool to envision setting up calendaring, instant messaging, LotusLive meetings, contact management, Google Voice, document sharing and more on a simple device that fits in a pocket. The maturation of the mobile, Internet-connected device is making the Dick Tracy phone-of-the-future look positively two-dimensional.

Jul 12, 2010
82 hits

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