OTA Upgrades Speed iOS Upgrade Adoption

Some interesting graphs on iOS 5.1 upgrade stats. iOS 5.0.1 and 5.1 are notable because they are the first upgrades to be delivered OTA. Unless this data is a unique segment and not representative of the larger ecosystem (I don’t think that’s the case), this is pretty impressive.

This is why the upgrade process is so important to client side applications, especially when you manage a platform. After installation keeping a user running the latest and greatest is critical. It impacts your entire ecosystem, which in Apple’s case includes the web, iOS developers, tech support, and yes even wireless partners.

Google’s biggest mistake was leaving hardware vendors and wireless providers in charge of managing upgrades. They are carrying a lot of baggage from old Android devices that Apple doesn’t. This is only going to be more amplified in the next 12-24 months as Apple users stay more current and Android continues to fragment.

The “gPhone”: T-Mobile G1

Google G1 PhoneSo the infamous Google Phone aka gPhone is finally out. The big news is that it is the first to run Android, which I shared my thoughts on a few months ago. Now that the press has been all over it, here are my observations:

App Store

The fact that there is no company (yet) restricting what you can install on it is awesome. Apple has seriously dropped the ball in this regard. I’m still thinking Apple will eventually loosen up just like the original “no applications” stance. I’m also thinking T-Mobile, if not other providers will want to clamp down on what users install to ensure nothing competes with their offerings and eats too much bandwidth. Not to mention security, or “security” depending on how you look at it. Just wait. They already block VoIP. It will expand in time.

The Network / Bandwidth Cap

T-Mobile’s 3G network is enough of a reason to say no. It’s way to small and new. Likely because of this, they snuck a little clause in the terms (via dslreports.com) limiting you to 1GB of 3G data, then essentially crippling the service for the remainder of the billing period:

If your total data usage in any billing cycle is more than 1GB, your data throughput for the remainder of that cycle may be reduced to 50 kbps or less. Your data session, plan, or service may be suspended, terminated, or restricted for significant roaming or if you use your service in a way that interferes with our network or ability to provide quality service to other users

Software

Android is Linux. I love Linux. That said, love polished software most of all, and I love the UNIX-ness of Linux most about Linux. That said, the iPhone’s UI is way more polished even in the demos, which we all know are way better than reality. That said, iPhone OS is at 2.1 now and Android is just taking off. There’s time for future polish.

Another gripe is the attachment to Google services. What happened to “do no evil”? Google released Chrome which kept your default search engine (even if it was a competitor). The phone on the other hand requires a Google account. Lack of Exchange support isn’t a great thing. I bet this is because of it’s open source nature. Apple simply licensed ActiveSync from Microsoft. I’m not sure if Google could do this for Android itself (though an application running on Android potentially could). The licensing could be tricky. Push mail for Gmail is a nice touch though.

Hardware

Google G1 PhoneHaving a keyboard is nice. Totally not worth the size though. USB adapter for a headphone jack? It’s 2008, that’s not acceptable. No multitouch? Come on. It does have a Qualcomm MSM7201A which is a 528 MHz ARM9 chip from what I understand. Not sure if it’s underclocked or not. The iPhone has a 620 MHz ARM11 underclocked to 412 MHz. It has 192 MB RAM compared to the iPhone’s 128 MB and a 3.1MP camera, compared to the iPhone’s 2MP. Using an SD card for storage is a mixed blessing. One one side you have expandable storage (awesome). On the other hand, no built in storage (suck). You’ll need to buy a card if you want more than 1 GB, meaning most of the hardware cost savings between it and the iPhone will be gone.

From a size perspective, it’s slightly larger in most ways and heavier. That’s likely mostly due to the keyboard.

Gizmodo has a great hands-on discussing their initial impressions. Pretty much matched my feelings from seeing the demos, and having played with the Android emulator.

So far the iPhone is still the clear winner, but it’s only one phone on the the Android platform thus far. It’s not a threat yet, but it’s not eliminated either.

The Winner For Most Embedded Is: SQLite

So the format war of Blue-ray vs. HD-DVD is over. There are still several other rather significant battles going on in the tech world right now that aren’t Microsoft vs. Apple or Yahoo vs. Google. For example:

Adobe Air vs. Mozilla Prism vs. Microsoft Silverlight

Google Gears vs. HTML5 Offline support

Android vs. iPhone SDK vs. Symbian

Ruby On Rails vs. PHP

Not every case will have a true “winner”. That’s not really a bad thing. Choice is good. In some cases they will merge to form one standard, such as what’s likely for offline web applications.

What is interesting is that SQLite really dominates right now. Adobe Air, Mozilla Prism, Google Gears, Android, iPhone SDK (likely through Core Data API), Symbian, Ruby On Rails (default DB in 2.0), PHP 5 (bundled but disabled in php.ini by default). It’s becoming harder and harder to ignore that SQL survived the transition from mainframe to server, and now is going from server to client.

No longer is the term “database” purely referring to an expensive RAID5 machine in a datacenter running Oracle, MySQL, DB2 or Microsoft SQL Server. It can now refer to someone’s web browser, or mobile phone.

This has really just begun to have an impact on things. The availability of good information storage, retrieval, and sorting means much less of these poorly concocted solutions and much better applications. Client side databases are the next AJAX.

Edit [2/27/2008 9:14 AM EST]: Added Symbian, since they also use SQLite. Thanks Chris.

Google For iPhone

There’s been a lot of talk today about Google’s launch of it’s services optimized for the iPhone.

It got me thinking. Is it really about the iPhone? Or is it about mobile standards based browsers (WebKit in particular). What I’m talking about is Android, who coincidentally also uses WebKit. Call be crazy, but Google’s launch of this offering isn’t really about riding the iPhone’s popularity. It’s about being in that new mobile space. You might even say this is being tested on the iPhone, before Android comes around. No longer is mobile limited by a basic WAP deck. This one uses the same technology the rest of the web uses, only designed to look and function well on a small screen by people with giant clumsy fingers.

This space isn’t limited to just WebKit. Gecko has made some headway into the market (mainly via Nokia devices), and is preparing to make a big effort in the near future to bring Firefox Mobile to your phone. Most iPhone sites look pretty decent in Firefox already, the main thing that makes some of them look a little funny is a css property or two it doesn’t support, for example -webkit-border-image which has become pretty popular for sites only targeting WebKit since it’s pretty handy. Some sites also use -webkit-border-radius, which is supported on Firefox, as -moz-border-radius both of which follow the border-radius specs as part of CSS3, but are still namespaced for the moment.

For once we don’t have to learn another silly markup, and be limited by lack of JavaScript which has made the web a better place… for the most part (think Gmail, Google Maps, etc.).

It’s some very cool stuff. I’m really interested to see what comes.

Android SDK Released

We knew it was coming, and it’s now here. I haven’t looked at it too closely, but a few things I’ve noticed:

Yet another XML UI? Clearly it’s becoming a popular way to do things, but do we need so many? XUL, MXML, XAML, now Android? Surely there must be another way. XUL as a standard sadly never materialized.

There’s a mention of 3D libraries, but notes:

…the libraries use either hardware 3D acceleration (where available) or the included, highly optimized 3D software rasterizer…

We all know how well graphics drivers have historically been on Linux. Hopefully the embedded/mobile market will prove better than the desktop.

One thing I do wonder is all the variables. The platform seems to have a fair amount of potential, but there’s no real standard regarding what you can be assured will exist on a handheld (for example 3D acceleration) or even what restrictions might be imposed by the carrier (firmware lockdown). At least with the iPhone you know they all ship with certain CPU’s, graphic capabilities, etc. It’s a very predictable platform. Android reminds me a lot of programming for the PC, there’s a ton of variations out there on the web to account for. Even if most run the same OS. Mobile has the added complexity of carriers who are notoriously restrictive. I wonder if this will really change. This is why the web as a platform is so great. It overcomes most of these limitations.

In general I have to agree with most of what Robert Scoble says (vaporware, unimpressive UI, etc.) but it’s still very early on, and you can’t judge much based on this early preview. Right now, the iPhone is a clear winner, but I wouldn’t discount Android just yet.

My general feeling is that it’s too early to make much of a judgment. There many things that can happen in the next several months that can drastically alter the fate of Android for better or worse both business and tech wise.

The next key moment in the mobile landscape will be the release of the iPhone SDK due early next year.

Then there’s always the underdog OpenMoko.

The Illusive Gphone

So the illusive Gphone is finally announced, but not as a phone but an alliance.

One should note it coincides very nicely with last months announcement of Firefox Mobile becoming a priority. Firefox has a nice share of the Linux browser market. Extending it to mobile seems somewhat natural. A real win for developers. The same browser on all major PC platforms, and many mobile devices (on multiple carriers by different manufacturers) creates one of the largest platforms on the planet for a high level language like JavaScript. It also means it will be easier to port existing web applications to mobile devices knowing the browser is of the same lineage and honors true standards. It’s also nice to know that other mobile browsers like Safari on the iPhone are also very standards friendly.

Obviously absent on the list of members in the alliance is Verizon, AT&T, and Apple. I’d be curious to know what Apple is thinking. Could this be another Mac vs. PC? Or will Apple “Think Different” this time when faced with a pending platform war? I know what I would do. I’d start hacking up a Wine-like API for running Linux applications on Mac OS X. Since Linux doesn’t need to be reverse engineered like Windows, development should be much easier. Mac OS X having strong UNIX roots would also likely be helpful. At the end of the day, you would then be able to run Android applications on top of the thin(ish) compatibility layer. Casual users wouldn’t know any better. I guess in a sense Apple has started down this road. There is X11 for Mac OS X. They can of course keep it all under the radar for a while, just like Mac OS X for x86 until they need to play that card.

Om Malik makes an interesting point:

  • Google (GOOG) says it’s open source, letting you download it and do whatever — except that carriers can create their own locked-down versions of the software with Android. That doesn’t seem very open to me.

It does make me wonder if Google is doing the heavy lifting and carriers will just fork it when done and ship a closed version of the software and take advantage of not needing to pay licensing.

Very interesting stuff, but still doesn’t answer my question regarding bandwidth becoming fast enough, and affordable enough to hit critical mass. It still seems that mobile data services are just too expensive for many people to justify. Will this encourage enough competition in the mobile space to drive prices down? Or is there going to be some incentives to offer lower priced data services?