I am writing this from a BlackBook. It is the best personal computer I have ever owned. As a side note, it is not the best one I will ever own. Every day I see deals on unibody MacBook Pros, but they don’t come in black, so I’m keeping this laptop until it kicks the bucket because I think Apple is awesome.
I work daily on a 27″ iMac. It is the best work rig I have ever had the privilege of hacking on. The iMac is connected to an Apple Time Capsule and a Mac Server, and we as a firm have various testing iPads scattered around Australia, New Zealand, and the good old U.S. of A because we think Apple is awesome.
I have a small collection of iPods starting with a limited U2 iPod, a 3rd Gen iPod Nano, and a 2nd Gen iPod Touch. EFF a Zune.
Given all this one might think I am a fan boy. As a disclaimer, that wouldn’t be that far from the truth and I quite clearly have my biases. But what do I carry in my pocket?
November of last year I picked up the, now obsolete, Motorola Droid. This was Motorola’s flagship model running Google’s Android Mobile OS. Prior to that I had been on a BlackBerry Pearl. Cute little thing. Tiny screen, weird double key keyboard that all of its users somehow got used to and enjoyed.
So why no iPhone? Three characters, one repeated: AT&T. I started my mobile life on Cingular which became AT&T. And when that went downhill our family switched to Verizon and have lived happily ever after. So pledging allegiance to VZW I marched down to get me a Droid.
“You can do whatever YOU want with it, unlike the locked down iPhone.” Clearly this gentleman had been to the required Android sales training session. The Droid was being marketed as a symbol of freedom. Go anywhere, do anything… Droid does. “Oh, yeah… that’s cool”, I replied with a chuckle. He then proceeded to show me things that I could do with my iPod Touch. At some point I just started acting impressed because it was clear to me he didn’t get that I knew how to use a smartphone.
In the back of my mind I thought what this so-called freedom and openness that Verizon was pushing meant for me. I started having grandiose dreams of developing Android applications. To date I have developed more than negative one Android applications. This freedom meant I could at least change my wallpaper. That was cool. In fact it was among the first things I did when I get home. And then I realized the awkward multiple main screen interface meant needing to make seamless backgrounds or to live with designs that weren’t based on a central object. The phone was cool enough. But the freedom did not live up to expectations. I wanted the freedom to just have one main screen.
Fast forward to a month or so ago with the release of Android 2.2 (Froyo). Cool. I upgraded automatically. My battery life got better. The interface was polished and seemed less like beta software. I felt like I had the phone that my Droid was supposed to be when it came out, except with inferior hardware as compared to all the new fangled Android phones. Except, I didn’t have the freedom to tether. No big deal.
About two weeks ago with Verizon’s additional update to Froyo to support Adobe Flash. To be quite honest, I just wasn’t interested. I had lived without Flash on my mobile for nearly a year. It was clear I could live without it, and I didn’t want to deal with upgrading right at the moment they sent the notice. I chose not to upgrade right at that moment. About a half-hour later, the message popped up again. I still wasn’t ready because I didn’t have a full rundown of what was being upgraded, and a quick scour of the internet message boards did not yet have an answer yet either. So much for openness.
For the last two weeks this upgrade message has now popped up more or less every time I use my phone. My refusal to upgrade at first was a want to wait, but now it has turned in to a daily protest. I was being sold openness and freedom, but I haven’t been told what is about to go on my phone (lack of openness) and it looks like I have no choice but to “upgrade” (lack of freedom). Furthermore, should I upgrade and decide to install say a rooted and improved version of Android OS, I have been told Verizon will chop off my head. Remember, I was told I can do whatever I want with this phone.
Verizon is like any other carrier. They want full control of their ecosystem. It somewhat makes sense. You play poker at someone’s home game, you play by the house rules. But you sold me on freedom and openness. I have experienced neither of these things. The cost of supplying data services to their customers hasn’t become cheaper as time has gone by. In fact, carriers are losing per subscriber revenue every year, so it’s no wonder they want you to play by their rules (READ: choke you for data costs and neuter your phone capabilities).
Google is somewhat of an enigma. Mobile users don’t click as many ads. Google is smart enough to know this. The real money to be made in mobile these days is from licensing and taking a cut of software development. Google’s Marketplace is a fragmented clusterflock of randomness, with inconsistent development guidelines and a lack of quality control.
I blame both. I blame Verizon for being Verizon. If they would have given up some control to Apple, I’m sure they could have made a hefty sum being the exclusive iPhone carrier. Instead, Verizon continues to slap their ugly logo front-and-center-cannot-miss-it on every phone on its network and continues to pollute each of these phones with some sort of Verizon permasoftware. Google is Verizon’s b*tch. Not just Verizon’s, but every other carrier. They do what the carrier wants just to get a phone in to a users hand. Verizon, I love you. But not as much as I hate your brandishing of perfectly good phones.
In the mobile market it looks like the main players are targeting distinct segments. BlackBerry obviously is married to the enterprise. Apple, I would argue, has positioned itself as the premium smartphone maker. Quality hardware and quality applications. So where does that leave Google? If Apple is marketing to the Bloomingdale’s shopper, Google is the JC Penney equivalent. Bloomingdale’s partners with luxury brands to bring high-quality, premium fashions to their customers. JC Penney partners with household, century-old brand names to bring functional products to the unrefined masses. For all that is awesome with Google, I hate Android.
If there’s one thing that Google needs to figure out, it is that online advertising strategies do not translate to the mobile market. On the web, Google wants tons of ads delivered to people faster and faster. They know that on average an ad might get clicked on 2% of the times it’s seen. The larger the pie, the bigger the 2% is in quantity, and the more money they rake in. More handsets to more people just doesn’t translate the same way. People are looking to interact with their mobiles quite quickly. They’re not surfing so they’re not clicking on ads on their phone. If they’re playing a game or using some other app, they’re there for the momentary distraction or the specific app content and not for the supporting ad content. The ads are ignored.
And the kicker… people will pay $199 for a phone, but they hesitate to pay $1.99 for an app. There are millions of free apps out there. Even if the free apps suck, the average consumer, and specifically the JC Penney consumer, will consider the paid equivalent to be far too expensive.
So here’s my suggestion to Google… but it’s really far too late. Target the market that pays. Well, you can’t do that. You’re the mobile OS for the cheap (m)asses. Clean up the Marketplace. Well, you can’t do that. You’re promoting openness and freedom. That’s how you’ve marketed this from the get go. And finally, stop being the carriers’ b*tch. Well, you can’t do that. You’re trying to get as many phones as you possibly can out to as many users as possible so that they can feed money in to your business model that just plain doesn’t work.