Posts Tagged: android

Mar 11

Motorola Xoom goes all Droidy

What exactly does the Motorola Xoom want to be when it grows up?

After briefly echoing Apple’s 1984 roots on the Super Bowl (an ad from Motorola), Xoom is now channeling the spirit of Droid in the ad you see here (an ad from Verizon.)

Gone are all traces of “liberation.” In its place we get everything that had previously been squeezed into Droid’s advertising: a series of macho sci-fi images accompanied by a male voice spouting tech specs.

It’s not hard to imagine the rationale: hey, if it worked once, why not just do it again?

Droid had to do battle with iPhone, which had singlehandedly revolutionized the smartphone category, and had a full year’s head start. Carving out its own personality in the face of Apple’s blatant humanity, Droid very consciously chose the cold, adrenaline-laced, futuristic path.

Now Xoom faces a parallel, but even more daunting task. It’s up against an iPad that’s revolutionized (and run away with) the market, has a full year’s head start, and connects emotionally better than any product in Apple’s history.

So Verizon’s tactic is obvious: let’s just go with what worked before. They’ve got Xoom walking in Droid’s footsteps, hoping to achieve the same result.

Its new ad is the love-child of the original Droid script and a copy machine.

But of course we always need to take advertising with a grain of salt. Ads alone do not determine a product’s success. In fact, one could argue that Droid has been successful despite its advertising. Rarely has a device used equally by men and women done so much to ignore one gender completely.

I know women who love their Droid, but not a single one who cared a whit about the ads. They read reviews, received a recommendation from a friend or discovered the phone in the store.

On the Super Bowl, Motorola dabbled with a Xoom storyline that might actually appeal to women. Now Verizon wants to sell some Xooms, so it’s time to get down to some serious testosterone (processor speed! gyroscope! memory!). It’s pure Droid, right down to its roboticized eyeball.

This is definitely not the kind of ad that will get Grandma thinking of Xoom as a way to get closer to the new granddaughter. But, on the bright side, it just might convince her to grab an electrified spike gun and take down an army of Necromorphs.

Nov 10

Android fragmentation strikes home

I’ve been shopping for an Android phone.

There, I’ve said it. I feel better now.

However, I do have to plead extenuating circumstances. It’s for my son. He’s 13. He’s ready to replace his crappy “feature phone” with a smartphone, and, rebel that he is, he’s eager to blaze his own trail.

I’m game. Experiencing joy and pain is part of growing up, and I figure Android will give him ample supply of both. However, thanks to Android fragmentation, the pain is showing up early.

We went to the AT&T Wireless store. They had two phones of interest to us, both of which were running Android 2.1. Knowing this wasn’t the current OS, I asked our sales rep a simple question:

Will these phones be upgradable to Android 2.2?

I purposefully didn’t ask when. I just wanted to make sure these models were at least capable of running 2.2.

The rep was honest with us — he didn’t know. But, model names in hand, I figured I could do my own Googling at home.

Wrong. I found nothing on the phone makers’ sites. I found nothing on AT&T’s site. I found no independent articles addressing the upgradability of the models we were considering.

So, a week later, I returned to my AT&T Wireless store. This time I planned to get pushier about it. Hey, they should be able to answer a question about the phone they’re selling, right?

This time, a very sweet woman helped us. She understood my concern, but she hadn’t a clue what the answer was. “Let me find out for you,” she said.

We waited for a long time. Long enough for my son to go through a complete relationship cycle with the Windows Phone 7 models — from flirtation to breakup.

Finally our lady returned with bad news. Unable to ascertain the facts, she couldn’t guarantee that these phones would ever get Android 2.2. She wished me luck searching for answers, and half-jokingly invited me to tell her if I ever found out.

I honestly find this whole thing shocking.

Granted, most people simply want a phone that works and probably have no expectation that it should get better over time. But the more technologically aware — not an insignificant number — genuinely do care. For us, there is only frustration.

Even if you’re an Android fan, it’s enough to make you appreciate Apple’s world a little more. Though at some point older iPhones lack the hardware to take advantage of new iOS features, there’s never a question about upgrading your software. You just click the Update button in iTunes. The idea that a customer should have to wonder if a brand-new phone will ever run the latest OS is absurd.

Rule #1 in customer satisfaction: treat your customers as you’d like to be treated. We can safely assume that no Google or AT&T employee would want to be treated like this. So why does it happen?

Sep 10

Google’s wayward son

No parent likes to see their perfect kid fall in with the wrong crowd. But hey, stuff happens.

So I wonder how many people at Google are getting that pit in their stomach as they watch young Android dye its hair and pierce various body parts.

In this case, the “wrong crowd” is the only crowd available. The carriers are the culprits, and they’re in it for themselves — not for Google. They’re the ones encouraging Android to show some independence and escape mom and dad’s evil clutches.

Google no doubt envisioned an ideal world where users would fall in love with the look, feel and power of Android, and Google would profit nicely via search and the Android Marketplace. But, thanks to Android’s much-hyped openness, the phone companies have their own utopian vision — and the power to squeeze profit out of every nook and cranny.

For example, Verizon and T-Mobile already cram junkware into their Android phones — things that are often difficult or impossible to remove. Why not? As the PC makers discovered, it’s an easy way to pick up a few extra bucks when margins are small. And the user experience isn’t exactly at the top of the carriers’ priority list.

Another disturbing development for Google is Verizon’s plan to launch its own V Cast app market. According to TechCrunch, Verizon’s world of apps will “likely be more prominently displayed than the Android Market.” Thanks to the freedom of Android, Verizon has the freedom to bite directly into a major Google revenue stream. V Cast is that most evil kind of app market too — a “curated” store requiring apps to go through an approval process, just like iPhone’s App Store.

Then there’s the search function, which is Google’s bread and butter. Will young Android lose its moral compass and experiment with different partners? Last week, a false rumor spread that Verizon was making Bing the default search mode for its Android phones. The reason this rumor could spread so quickly was that it was believable. After all, if carriers can configure Android phones as they wish, or create an app store to compete with Google’s, an alternate default search doesn’t seem very far-fetched.

The exact terms of Google’s agreement with the carriers are not known. But obviously if search went to Bing, Google’s biggest reason to have bought and nurtured Android would be out the window. So for Google’s sake, let’s hope Android isn’t quite as open as it claims to be.

Sep 10

Alert! The smartphone revolution is coming!

This just in: Microsoft is preparing a revolution in smartphones. It’s almost ready. Really.

I can only imagine the looks on their faces when they climb out of their news-proof bunker and discover that the revolution’s been going on for three years.

Does Microsoft honestly believe they can introduce Windows Phone 7 as a revolution? According to this video, yes — although (as reported by Kara Swisher at All Things Digital) it is unclear if this is their real marketing direction, or a one-time shot during a London event.

Let’s give Microsoft kudos for exuding confidence. Then let’s remind them that we’ve seen the Windows Phone 7 preview, and it isn’t exactly a revolution. It’s more like running after the train that left the station yesterday.

If they believe using the word revolution will somehow create Apple-like buzz, they’d better think twice. Everyone knows you have to use the word magic too.

If it weren’t for the laughable conclusion, I’d actually be crowing about the imagery and music in this spot. It has an elegant kind of power.

Senior citizens will recognize the desert image, soundtrack and typography from 1962’s Lawrence of Arabia. But most will probably just wonder Microsoft has been drinking — and what the heck that Arabian stuff is all about.

I’m anxious to see what happens when Windows Phone 7 actually does join the revolution-in-progress. Given the masses already in love with iPhone and Android, the market for a Windows phone may look eerily like that desert.

Jun 10

Android: thinking different

A little clarification before I ramble about Android: I think it’s great that iPhone has serious competition. Android has improved quickly. I know people who love their Droids and we’re still friends. All is good.

But Android and iPhone have different philosophies, and it’s easy to see why. Each entered the market in entirely different circumstances.

Apple made something that didn’t exist before. It was shocking. It sent all the phone companies back to the drawing board. Google entered the phone market as a result of the iPhone revolution. Their challenge wasn’t “How can we build the best phone in the world?” It was “How can we do battle with iPhone?”

Google clearly saw what they were up against: multi-touch interface, beautiful mobile OS and an App Store with a seemingly insurmountable lead. So they acquired Android. They’d acquired Android in 2005. Now they needed to acquire a guiding philosophy. What they chose was a fairly obvious one:

“We’re not iPhone.”

In effect, Android is Google’s “think different.” Don’t want to get stuck with AT&T? We’re everywhere. Apple too strict with app approvals? No approvals here. No Flash on iPhone? We got it. (Almost.) Only one model of iPhone? Androids abound.

Of course, if you’re an Apple fan you can come up with plenty of reasons why Apple’s approach is superior on all counts (well, maybe not the AT&T part). But that’s not the point. This is marketing. This is Google latching onto some negative perceptions and running with them. And it’s working pretty well for them.

One little problem. When “being different” is your guiding philosophy, “being the best” is not. Your decisions can have unintended consequences. Like this one:

Security vendor SMobile Systems just issued a report saying “as many as 20% of applications on the Android Market let third parties access private or sensitive information.” This includes access to content of email and text messages, user location, etc. Google responds that none of this can happen without the user first approving, but then adds: “we will disable any apps that are found to be malicious.”

Well, that’s the problem with being the anti-Apple. You can shun a process for the sake of being different, but the laws of human behavior dictate that malicious apps will inevitably appear. It’s fabulous that Google will disable them after they’re reported — but I doubt that will comfort those who are victimized before Google notices.

If I were Google, I’d worry about what happens when one of those sneaky apps causes widespread damage before it’s plucked out. That’s when people might start to choose iPhone simply because “it’s not Android.”

Mar 10

The curiously underfeatured Windows Phone 7

Close your eyes and think happy thoughts — you might not notice what's missing

It appears that Windows Phone 7 will soon be among us. During its incubation period, Android has come out swinging and Apple has continued to perfect iPhone.

Given how long Microsoft has been working on it (years?), and how far its competitors have come (very), it’s highly curious that Windows Phone 7 will ship with three noticeable deficiencies: no Flash, no multitasking for third-party apps and no cut-and-paste.

If you’ve been keeping score, those are the very same deficiencies for which Apple has been slammed by competitors and critics. Only in iPhone OS 3.0 did Apple finally get around to cut-and-paste.

Microsoft does claim that they’re working with Adobe to add Flash as a feature later (why this should take so long I don’t know), but the other items are omitted on purpose. This doesn’t exactly defang the argument that Microsoft copies what people like about Apple. Now they appear to be copying even the things people don’t like about Apple.

And so Microsoft must live with the consequences of its software design. Android will be emboldened because their “advantages” expand to include Windows Phone 7 as well as iPhone. Apple will be strengthened because the things they’ve been criticized for were just validated by the enemy.

One company who is threatened by Windows Phone 7 is Microsoft — which may have just designed itself into that awkward place between two sides of a vice.

Mar 10

Apple fires a shot over the bow

Apple to Android: may we have your attention please

They grow up so fast, don’t they?

It was just three years ago that Apple introduced iPhone. That was when, in one little aside, Steve Jobs gleefully noted that this new bundle of joy was patented out the wazoo.

Well, yesterday those patents got their first good workout. Apple filed a lawsuit against HTC claiming 20 violations. In doing so, Apple has stepped over an interesting line. That scrappy young revolutionary is now officially playing with the big boys — adding a little aggression to their arsenal of tricks.

I’m not saying this is a bad thing. In a global market worth countless billions, it’s bound to get a bit rough. Companies will try anything they can to gain an advantage or strip away the other guy’s advantage. Give them an inch, they’ll take a mile.

Obviously Apple believes they have a case against HTC. But just as obvious, there’s a far, far greater goal here. Apple wants the whole unruly gang of Androiders to think long and hard before they borrow/steal even a glimmer of the technology that sets iPhone apart. That includes hardware, software and philosophy. The message is: don’t even think about it.

Apple is demonstrating that they have the brains and brawn to fight in any arena, whether consumers be the judge or judges be the judge.

Yes, I do get a little wispy whenever another piece of the original, lovable Apple falls by the wayside. But the kid needs to grow up sometime, and it’s hard to be cute when you need to be intimidating.

Unlike some, I really don’t worry about Apple turning into the kind of company they’ve always fought against. Their moral compass remains one of the biggest reasons for their success.

Jan 10

Some fine print from Google

nexus_one_asteriskAndy Rubin is the founder of Android and currently VP of Engineering at Google. In the afterglow of the Nexus One unveiling, the Washington Post ran an article noting his similarities to Steve Jobs.

Unfortunately, our friend Andy is actually sounding more like Steve Ballmer.

When asked when existing Android phones will be upgraded to be on par with Nexus One, Andy explained that “older” Android handsets may not be able to support the “full experience” of the newer Android releases — just as older PCs may not be able to run the newest version of Windows.

Come again? I could have sworn that the planet’s entire supply of Android phones was less than six months old. (Turns out HTC, manufacturer of Nexus One, did start making them at the end of 2008.) Whatever, it seems incredibly early to be talking about creeping obsolescence.

Remain calm, Droid enthusiasts. Motorola says you’re definitely getting the upgrade. As for the others, Google says they’ll make the software available within days, but it’s up to each manufacturer to decide when — and if — the update gets rolled out to their devices.

So. If Google was indeed harboring dreams of becoming the Microsoft of the phone world, I’d say they’re well on their way.

This should further fuel the debate over open systems (Android) vs. closed systems (iPhone). Yes, you get a lot more choices when you shoot for ubiquity — but things can get messy quick.

A Nexus One Q&A, including Andy Rubin’s comments, can be found at Computerworld.

Oct 09

Shootout at the smartphone corral

Lore has it that when you’re the top gunfighter, there’s always some young buck dreaming of taking you out. So it is that Verizon lurks around the next corner for iPhone, armed with its Android-powered device. While no blood has yet been spilled, Verizon is out there baiting Apple with a teaser. Who knows how #1 will fight back, but for now one of the townsfolk has stepped in to defend Apple’s honor. It’s a fun little exchange.

Here’s the Verizon teaser:

Here’s the Apple fanboy comeback:

One creative note: I have to hand it to the Apple guy for the way he uses self-deprecating humor at the close. Most advertisers are so busy attacking competitors or bellowing their own advantages that they rarely employ this tone. It’s a far more human way to go, as you can see just by watching these two spots side by side.