Operating Systems

GetJar Launches Smart App Downloads for Publishers

Independent, cross-platform app store GetJar launched what it calls a App Download Page, which enables publishers and developers to consolidate their apps and drive more downloads through their own sites (as opposed to the app stores). Essentially this is a hosted, white label offering that enables a mobile site to detect a user's phone and offer the correct version of a mobile app to download (BlackBerry vs. iPhone vs. Android vs. Windows Mobile vs. Symbian vs. Java). Hence the headline of the press release "GetJar Launches Service to Convert Mobile Visitors Into Application Users."

According to research by comScore and AdMob (n=1,117 US users, 8/09), there are a range of ways that apps are discovered (word of mouth, apps stores, ads, etc.) But the proprietary apps stores and their rankings are the principal way: 

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GetJar CEO Ilja Laurs told me that with the App Download Page GetJar's initial partner Facebook was driving "a million downloads a day" through its site during the trial period. Now that has tapered off to a million a week reportedly. 

Apps have become strategic for many publishers to offer a better mobile Web experience and drive higher levels of engagement and loyalty. In a future webinar we'll feature an apps vs. mobile Web debate with GetJar. 

It's the User Experience Stupid

Lots of people are writing the obituary for Windows Mobile. Here's the latest piece to do so: "Does Microsoft Windows Mobile Have A Future?" I was in that camp too, arguing that Microsoft should ditch WinMo and buy Palm, etc. I was a pretty harsh critic of the OS (and had been a 6.1 user for a long time). Compared to the iPhone or Android it was really lacking.

But upon seeing 6.5 in video demos (though not in my hand) I changed my tune. To me Windows Mobile 6.5 looks much improved and as though it has a fighting chance when combined with elegant hardware. And if Redmond can continue to innovate and improve the user experience it will be competitive. After all there are 30 million users of Windows Mobile handsets today. Those folks presumably would stay with the platform if it continues to improve. 

A big challenge for Microsoft is how to position "Windows Phones." Are they for business users (vs. RIM), are they for consumers (vs. Palm, Apple, Android)? Microsoft says both. But Microsoft doesn't control the user experience and hardware integration as fully as RIM, Apple and Palm. It's most like Android in that regard. 

An improved user experience and competitive pricing (especially the latter) will drive sales of 6.5 phones while we wait for a stronger experience in Windows Mobile 7. But I now believe it's much too soon to count Microsoft out in mobile. It would be somewhat different if Microsoft were in denial and not aware of its challenges in mobile, but the company seems to be (behind the scenes at least). 

Also, the OneApp "platform" for feature phones could see some great success. Recall that feature phones constitute more than 80% of the market. 

Jobs: 30 Million iPhones, 75K Apps, Genius for Apps Coming

At Apple's "Music" event today a number of things were announced, notably video cameras for the iPod Nano (and not for the iPod Touch). But of interest here is the expansion of the "Genius" feature of the iTunes store to iPhone apps to facilitate discovery and more revenue. In the next version of the iPhone software (3.1) a new Genius button will offer apps recommendations to users. 

Steve Jobs, making his first event appearance since his Liver transplant surgery, ticked off some new usage and sales figures: 

  • 30 million iPhones (bringing the iPhone OS to almost 50 million devices globally)
  • 75K apps in the iTunes store 
  • 1.8 billion apps downloaded

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Will the Pixi Kill the Pre?

The more I think about it, the more I think that Palm has just sealed the fate of the Pre with its new Pixi -- assuming that its pricing is going to be below the newly reduced Pre (now $150).

If the Pixi sells for $99 (as anticipated) it will effectively kill Pre sales. There are a few apparent differences between the phones: the lack of WiFi on the Pixi, the smaller screen and the "always out" keyboard. Both have the WebOS (and related apps). Most people aren't going to care about the lack of WiFi. And most people are going to go for the lower-cost device. 

The people that are wiling to pay more for handsets will buy an iPhone or an Android device. The Pre is not sufficiently better than Android (though more refined in some respects) and it's clearly not better than the iPhone, despite its mutiple apps capability. 

The Centro had the guts of a Treo 750 but a $99 price tag. And that appears to be what Palm has done again with the Pixi. The question the Pixi raises is: Why buy a Pre? 

Facebook, Pandora Come to Android, Palm Debuts Inexpensive Pixi

Two "top-tier" mobile apps previously missing from the Android pantheon are now available: Facebook and Pandora. Though not as complete as its iPhone cousin, the Facebook Android app is pretty functional. Here's a video demo of how it works.

In hardware news, Palm has now launched the Pixi (formerly EOS or Pixie). It promises to be cheaper (maybe $99) than the Pre, which is coming down in price to $149 to boost sales. Here's a "hands on" video of the new Pixi from Engadget:

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It uses the WebOS like the Pre and in some ways appears more functional than its more expensive sibling (you don't have to slide the keyboard open to enter characters or queries). It also reportedly has a better keyboard. If the price is $99 it's going to be a much bigger hit than the Pre for sure. The big differentiator is that the Pixi has no WiFi; however that's not going to be an issue for most buyers who jump at the lower price point.

The larger point here is that smartphone prices are creeping downward amid intensifying competition. The new Android Hero (from Sprint) is going to come in at $179. The Pre is now $150 and the Pixi may be $99. The iPhone 3G is $99 and Verizon was clearing out the Storm (in anticipation of Storm 2) for $50.

These kinds of prices will drive big smartphone sales, which drives mobile Internet usage.

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Video: Google improves the Android Market. Right now it's a pretty mediocre experience and not very conducive to discovery of new apps.

Will Nokia Fall Further?

Nokia is the dominant handset maker in the world. But it has seen that position erode, especially in the smartphone market. For example, Symbian saw its global market share decline from 62.3% at the end of 2007 to 47% at the end of 2008. That number further declined to 45% as of the most recent (Q2) Gartner handset numbers.

Now an article at MarketWatch, playing off a report from investment firm Goldman Sachs, reflects that Nokia may be stumbling at a critical time:

Nokia has also taken too long to upgrade its main software platform, the Symbian Series 60, which is now deemed too bulky and complex by many users, in particular when it comes to the touch interface.

"Our experience with the N97 has convinced us that Nokia needs to start almost from scratch to create an attractive user experience, rather than following the complex menu structure of Series 60," Goldman wrote.

Nokia, however, has said that it remains "strongly committed" to Symbian. According to Dow Jones Newswires:

Nokia Corp., the world's biggest maker of cellphones by volume, said Wednesday it remains "strongly committed" to the Symbian mobile operating system.

The statement comes after the German edition of the Financial Times reported citing an unnamed source that Nokia will abandon the Symbian platform for its smartphone devices in favor of the Maemo operating system.

"We remain strongly committed to our current open OS software strategy for cellular devices, which is based on the world-leading Symbian OS...," Nokia said in a statement.

World leading indeed; but for how much longer? 

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Related: Image of the Nokia N97 "mini." So far in the US market at least the flagship N97, Nokia's smartphone comeback phone, has gone from being a potential iPhone "killer" to DOA.

Windows Mobile 6.5 Looks Much Better

Some time ago I wrote a couple of posts arguing that Microsoft's best way to get back in the game in mobile -- notwithstanding the 30 million installed Windows Mobile phones -- was to buy Palm. Others have also argued this or some version of this as well. Most recently an opinion piece appeared in Business Week contending that Microsoft is falling farther behind with Windows Mobile and characterized WinMo 6.5 as a "minor release" -- a stopgap until WinMo 7 could come out late in 2010. 

That was the line I was essentially pushing until I saw the video below demonstrating 6.5, which impressed me with its apparent improvements over 6.1.

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There had been rumors of a "Zune-phone" and effectively that's what Microsoft has created. It has taken the Zune interface and moved it onto phones. Meanwhile, Zune HD boasts Internet access via WiFi hotspots. 

When you step back and look at all the elements coming together here, along with the Zune HD as a mobile Internet device and the Mobile Marketplace (works I believe on Zune HD) what you have is Microsoft's iPhone, iTunes and iPod Touch equivalent. I'm sure the folks in Redmond would cringe at that characterization but it seems pretty clear. The company has gone from ridiculing the iPhone and its prospects in 2007 to emulating its strategy in 2009. 

On a recent call for analysts about the state of Windows Mobile, during the Q&A session, the two repeated themes were: "How was Microsoft going to compete with or beat the iPhone?" and "How would Microsoft compete with or beat RIM in the enterprise?" The answers were flip sides of one another: the new Windows Phones (re-branded) would be offer better consumer experiences than BlackBerry and be a better "business phone" than the iPhone. 

If Microsoft were to produce a truly great mobile OS and user experience, combined with great hardware, it could gain consumer attention and adoption. It's not clear that 6.5 will be that experience -- I haven't used 6.5 first hand -- but after seeing the video I no longer think that Windows Mobile is a lost cause. It appears to be downright competitive in fact. 

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Related: RIM says that it will offer an improved browser (on par with the iPhone) in 2010, according to TD Securities' Chris Umiastowski; and Dell's Android phone aimed at China is ready to go.

And, finally, in an "enemy of my enemy is my friend" moment, last week Nokia and Microsoft announced an alliance to bring more productivity software to handsets -- to steal business users from RIM. In the US the prospects for Nokia are dim, absents some radical changes and/or innovations (which could include pricing). Nokia is being effectively shut out of the market in the US.

The New Narrative: Google vs. Apple

Since the resignation of Google CEO Eric Schmidt from Apple's board, the new "competition narrative" among tech journalists is Google vs. Apple (nice change from Google vs. Microsoft). As representative of the new "angle," BusinessWeek discusses why Apple now has a larger market cap than Google. Similarly, Forbes discusses the growth outlook for the respective companies' businesses. 

Obviously in mobile the two companies compete and contrast in their strategies: iPhone vs. Android, closed vs. open, software decoupled from hardware, etc. But one of the more interesting questions raised by the juxtaposition is one we've addressed before: is the user experience going to be centered around apps or the browser? The answer is of course, both. Actually there are a continuum of experiences: native apps, "web apps" and PC rendering through the browser.

We don't know yet how all this will play out -- if we did it would be boring. But there will be both native apps and "web apps" (where Google is now focused) going forward; apps are not just an interim step toward true 1:1 experiences on PC and mobile via the browsers.

The "Google vs. Apple" narrative is thus a stand-in for the debate about the focus and nature of the mobile user experience.  

Android MyTouch 3G Finally Arrives with Sherpa

In something of anti-climax (because Google previous gave out the phones causing a lot of early reviews), the T-Mobile MyTouch 3G is finally here (it's been out in the UK for many months as the Vodafone Magic). It's much improved over the clunky G1 -- sleeker and without a physical keyboard.

I've been using it fairly heavily for the past couple months. And today I finally downloaded Sherpa from Geodelic and got a chance to play with it a bit. But before I talk about Sherpa, here's my quick rundown on the MyTouch experience: 

Highlights:

  • Voice search and voice search on Maps
  • Google Voice app
  • Camera barcode scanning and camera search apps such as ShopSavvy and Amazon
  • Multiple apps running simultaneously (if you care about this; in my experience it's not a huge advantage or benefit)

Weaknesses:

  • Dull screen resolution (by comparison to the iPhone and Pre)
  • Awkward virtual keyboard (compared to the iPhone)
  • Poorly organized apps store (Android Market)  
  • Less intuitive user experience (than iPhone)

Overall it's a terrific phone but falls short in a couple of areas because of comparisons to the iPhone.

Sherpa, by Geodelic, is one of the "marquee" apps being promoted by T-Mobile to help differentiate the phone from smartphone competitors. In my very preliminary usage I'm relatively unimpressed  however. The app has a novel carousel interface that shows nearby businesses and attractions across listings categories. Users can "search" using a query box but the app is intended to offer up listings based on handset location and usage history/preferences over time. 

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Colorful icons allow users to find restaurants, cafes, banks, shopping and so on at the touch of a button. Profile pages initiate calls and map lookups. There are also map and list views of places. 

I recognize this is "version 1.0" but the offering at a high level, and in terms of some of the interface elements, is not very different than Where, AroundMe, Places Directory, Earthcomber, MapQuest and a few others. 

Many companies, including Geodelic, Aloqa and MobilePeople, among others, are now vying to be a kind of all-encompassing local search (or discovery) tool on the mobile handset, not to mention Google Maps, Yahoo mobile (app + mobile Web) or the Microsoft mobile/Bing smartphone client. 

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To succeed in this local-mobile segment, companies need to bring together rich and complete data, solid intuitive functionality and then some differentiating feature or combination of elements. It's a very tough challenge in a crowded arena. Companies need to think also about voice and the camera as auxiliary input mechanisms -- if they make sense for the application. 

I look forward to the Geodelic iPhone app and subsequent versions of the software.

Skyfire Taps New CEO, BlackBerry Client Coming

Skyfire announced that it had hired Travelocity CMO Jeffrey Glueck to run the company. The key thing to know about Skyfire is that it runs Flash (though Android will soon too). On the PC side of things, browser competition is getting more intense with IE, Firefox, Safari, Chrome and Opera. In the mobile smartphone segment, there's Safari, Opera, Palm's Pre browser, Firefox, Skyfire and Android's browser (although you can download any browser for Android). 

The battle for third party browsers on smartphones will play out on Windows Mobile, Symbian and BlackBerry primarily (though maybe on Android too). Opera owns the browser experience on feature phones.

Let me just say affectionately that the BlackBerry browser experience is not up to par and the company will need to do something there quickly. The new Skyfire BlackBerry client is coming some time later this year. When that goes live the company said it will be available for "90% of smartphones worldwide." Though critically well reviewed, the actual market share Skyfire enjoys is quite small by contrast. Glueck will attempt to change that obviously. 

The chart below shows current global mobile browser market share according to StatCounter:

statcounter browser share mobile

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Related: VentureBeat says the following about Glueck's ambitions for the company:

Glueck said he has three main goals: Continue innovation around the product, bring Skyfire to even more smartphones (it’s currently on Nokia, Samsung, LG, HTC, Palm, and Motorola phones, with a BlackBerry version still in testing), and start partnering with other companies to develop mobile versions of their websites. That third goal, which Skyfire hasn’t really explored yet, could be a big opportunity, Glueck said.

“Skyfire has built the best mobile browser, but I also see it potentially as the world’s best branded mobile app platform,” he said.

Re "mobile app platform" . . . this is part of Firefox's vision as well for Fennec. Opera also has apps. But it's a long-shot strategy as a mainstream use case for the browser.

Related: BlackBerry App World now has about 2,000 apps according to the company. 

Google to Offer Full-Blown OS for Netbooks

Google was rumored to be developing an operating system. Then we got Android (an OS for mobile devices) and Chrome (a browser that is like an OS in some respects). Everybody forgot about the alleged Google OS. Well last night Google in fact announced an OS: Chrome (not to be confused with the browser). From the Google Blog post:

Google Chrome OS is an open source, lightweight operating system that will initially be targeted at netbooks. Later this year we will open-source its code, and netbooks running Google Chrome OS will be available for consumers in the second half of 2010. Because we're already talking to partners about the project, and we'll soon be working with the open source community, we wanted to share our vision now so everyone understands what we are trying to achieve . . .

Google Chrome OS will run on both x86 as well as ARM chips and we are working with multiple OEMs to bring a number of netbooks to market next year. The software architecture is simple — Google Chrome running within a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel. For application developers, the web is the platform . . .

Google Chrome OS is a new project, separate from Android. Android was designed from the beginning to work across a variety of devices from phones to set-top boxes to netbooks. Google Chrome OS is being created for people who spend most of their time on the web, and is being designed to power computers ranging from small netbooks to full-size desktop systems. While there are areas where Google Chrome OS and Android overlap, we believe choice will drive innovation for the benefit of everyone, including Google.

In his remarks on the most recent Google earnings call, CEO Eric Schmidt said: 

There are announcements happening between now and the end of the year that are quite significant from operators and new hardware partners in the Android space, which I won’t preannounce except to say that they really do fulfill much of the vision that we laid out more than a year ago.

On the netbook side, there are a number of people who have actually taken Android and ported it over to netbook or netbook-similar devices. So we think that’s another one of the great benefits of the open source model that we’ve used. We’re excited that that investment is occurring. And again, largely outside of Google, which we think is great.

He must not have exclusively been referring to Android. Although the company says that Android and Chrome OS will overlap, the latter is explicitly for netbooks. We already have one Android netbook and Acer's announcement of a Q3 netbook release. Other hardware OEMs may want to wait for Chrome. But they will wait until 2010 for it to become available. 

Chrome the OS will also be able to power full-sized PCs. Most of the PC market however is migrating from desktops to laptops and netbooks. The fact that it's a free OS will attract hardware OEMs in the same way Android has in the mobile space. With margins getting ever thinner in the PC-netbook world and a de-facto price ceiling for laptops starting to emerge, OEMs will be looking for any margins they can retain -- or, conversely, to compete more aggressively with new low-cost devices. 

All of this represents a potentially huge problem for Microsoft (and to a lesser degree maybe Apple), depending on how good the new OS is.

Is Nokia Backing Away from Symbian?

Nokia, the globe's largest maker of handsets, seems to be struggling for direction. The company paid $8 billion for Navteq to boost LBS and Nokia Maps. Maybe there's long-term strategic value in that asset but so far the purchase hasn't paid dividends commensurate with the price. Nokia has also not been (so far) able to transcend its hardware OEM identity, which it was presumably trying to do

The much hyped Nokia N97 -- the company's best "answer" to the iPhone -- went on sale in the US without a carrier subsidy at a price of more than $700. In other words, it's DOA. Despite this strategic blunder, the Finnish company says it's trying to find its way back into the US market, where it lags rivals badly.

(The company also recently announced a long-term strategic alliance with Intel for devices. We'll have to see what that relationship yields; certainly there is considerable potential.)

In terms of software, compared to other smartphone platforms, Nokia's Symbian is off (per Gartner's FY08 numbers):

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There have been rumors that Nokia is now developing an Android tablet. And the Guardian (via GigaOm) says that Nokia will develop a smartphone based on Android as well:

Nokia is understood to be developing a mobile phone that runs on Google's Android software platform in a strategic U-turn for the world's largest mobile phone manufacturer.

The new touchscreen device will be unveiled at the Nokia World conference in September, say industry insiders, as the Finnish handset giant tries to revive its fortunes in the smartphone market . . .

Analysts at HSBC reckon Nokia had 47% of the global smartphone market in 2007; that was down to 35% last summer and 31% at the end of the year.

It's too early to say that Nokia is backing away from Symbian but it will be interesting to see if it does actually produce a phone using Android, rather than simply another non-phone hardware device (like the prior N810 Internet Tablet). Given that Symbian is losing momentum it's probably smart to experiment with Android, especially in the US market. 

The company could produce an inexpensive Android-based handset (say $99) and use that as a wedge to get back in. In my view that's Nokia's best way to effectively "return" to the US market.

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Update: Nokia denies the Guardian's report about developing an Android phone:

"Absolutely no truth to this whatsoever," said a Nokia spokesman . . . "Everyone knows that Symbian is our preferred platform for advanced mobile devices."

Gizmodo writes a very critical review of the N97: 

If this really is the best Nokia can do, the giant is doomed to die a slow death, propped up for a while by the cheap handsets that it sells by the tens of millions.

Google Adds Voice to Maps, Twitter-Like Updates to Latitude

This morning the Google Mobile Blog announced a software update for Android's version of Google Maps:

You can now search Google Maps for Android using your voice, making it easier than ever to look up places while on the go . . .We also added transit and walking directions to Google Maps for Android. You can now get directions using public transportation in over 250 cities, including New York City and San Francisco.

[Google Latitude:] You may also notice a new experimental feature called Updates that lets you communicate with friends and post messages. Start Latitude and click the "Updates" tab to shout out updates at friends when they're at interesting locations, start a conversation when you're at your favorite restaurant, or just add more details to your Latitude location for your friends to see . . .

Taking the Latitude update first. There were some bug fixes in the new release of Google Maps for Android. However, the "updates" feature is quite significant. It's a Twitter-like feed that anyone in your network can see with location. When you open Latitude (from within Google Maps) on Android, you see two tabs: Friends and Updates, Friends is your Latitude contacts list and allows you to:

  • Show on map
  • Shout out to the contact (this is the Updates feature)
  • Chat using Google Talk
  • Send email
  • Get directions (to the person's stated or identified location) 
  • Hide from friend
  • Share only city level location
  • Remove 

Clicking over to Updates provides a real-time conversational feed from active contacts using Latitude. This is essentially Twitter with location. But it's only within Latitude for Android right now so usage is going to be small.

Back to Voice Search for Maps. What Google has done here is imported its voice search capability into Maps. Google now says Voice understands and works with British, Australian and US English accents. 

Once you launch Google Maps, you are able to call up the search field. It gives you the option to manually enter a query or speak one (the search field is also similarly presented on the Android home screen). The query results (if they're understood) appear on the map. Tapping or selecting an individual business/result then brings up three tabs: "Address," a details or profile page with contact information (including the option to see the business on Street View), "Details," which may include web links (e.g., to OpenTable), payment information and other data, and "Reviews" (if they exist). The reviews tab offers a nice graphic of the distribution of reviews by star rating on a horizontal bar chart.  

While a number of searches came back with results that were less than satisfying (because of the underlying data) the overall user experience is quite powerful. The use of voice on the front end for queries, integrated with all the Maps and directions information, as well as reviews, on the output side, makes for what used to be called a very "sticky" app. Google is trying in various ways to eliminate mobile barriers to searching. Voice is one of the key strategies. 

I would assume that most of this will make it to the iPhone in the near term.

Is the Smartphone Landscape That Confusing?

The media survive on drama. Accordingly they are playing up competition in the smartphone market: Pre vs. iPhone vs. Android vs. RIM (with little mention of Windows Mobile or Symbian lately). For example, Fortune's Jon Fortt writes:

[T]he [smartphone]landscape has changed dramatically. Suddenly Palm appears to have a potential hit with its new Pre, and Google is showing off slimmer second-generation (G2) Android phones. (I've used both the Pre and the G2, and they're pretty darn nice.) All of this new competition is good for consumers, but probably not for Apple's profit margins.

Also the NY Times writes

But smartphone shopping has suddenly grown more complicated. BlackBerry’s new app store, App World, is good, and growing. Virgin Mobile and Boost recently debuted smartphones good enough to serve budget-minded technophiles. And Palm’s new Pre is very nearly the iPhone’s equal . . .

For people in the market for a high-end phone and willing to bear the payments, the market really isn't that complicated. It's true that Apple now has rivals that offer devices better than they once were -- and perhaps "good enough" for those who want to remain with Verizon or Sprint. However, the Pre, the G2 and BlackBerry at this point don't rival the iPhone's total user experience. They don't.

The "I want a keyboard" objection that one hears, favoring the Pre or the G1, is based generally on perception and not experience. (The BlackBerry is almost in a category by itself on that front.) As I've said in the past I had that bias until I got used to the virtual keyboard on the iPod Touch. Now I wouldn't return to a physical keyboard and find it awkward. Indeed, while it may facilitate texting, the prospect of using the keyboard to enter search queries or URLs on the Pre is very awkward (as was flipping the phone into landscape mode for the G1 before the cupcake update).

Very heavy text messenging users and those who have become habituated to BlackBerrys through their jobs will probably still prefer a physical keyboard, but that's not the bulk of users out there. The G2/Ion, HTC's successor to the G1, eliminates the physical keyboard entirely. I have one and have been using it daily. It's a very nice phone but it's still no iPhone. For example the virtual keyboard on the iPhone beats the HTC virtual keyboard on a number of fronts. 

A valid objection to the iPhone (beyond price and AT&T-related objections) is the fact that more than one app still can't run at one time. You can't listen to Pandora while answering email, for example. We could also critically discuss battery life (now improved) or the poor quality of the iPhone's phone. And one could go down the list of phones comparing them feature by feature. Each one has its selling points but none holistically matches the iPhone user experience. I don't have an iPhone and I won't switch to AT&T, the weak link in the overall iPhone experience. But I've been using the iPod Touch for well over a year as well as other devices side by side.  

While the competition is getting better -- good news for users who don't want to move to AT&T -- the marketplace still isn't that competitive or confusing, despite what the press may be reporting. 

Market Confusion: Palm vs. Apple

Wall Street woke up Monday morning to stories and reports of a generally successful Palm Pre launch over the weekend. Then at around 1pm Eastern a Steve Jobs-less Apple took the stage and demo'd a range of new and pretty well-received upgrades: iPhone (3Gs), a $99 version, improved battery life and a range of new features and capabilities, including MMS and video. Some of these were predicted, some were not. Voice control turns out to be more extensive and elegant (from afar) than imagined. And video is a sexy and much in demand feature. 

Here's how the two companies' stocks performed today:

APPLE VS. PALM What this indicates to me is that the market is a bit confused regarding how to interpret the news: will the Pre impact iPhone sales? Will the iPhone upgrades blunt Pre demand?

I will still be pursuing a Pre (despite my unsuccessful effort so far). But I believe that Palm and Sprint made a big mistake by not making more available during their weekend window. Now the media coverage will largely shift to the new iPhone until the device ships in two weeks. 

The range of apps and apps-related features demo'd by Apple today made the Pre look limited and lacking by comparison. However the iPhone did not come through with the ability to run multiple apps at once. That's either a philosophical position or a battery life issue -- or both.

While there will be a bunch of side-by-side iPhone 3Gs vs. Pre comparisons, the next big media opportunity the Pre will get (unless there's a big marketing campaign) will be when it launches on Verizon next year. 

The $99 iPhone, TomTom Becomes an App, and More

At the WWDC Apple keynote this morning a dizzying array of upgrades and refinements were announced for the Mac laptop line and the Mac OS. The Safari browser also saw a range of improvements, but it was the iPhone-related announcements that everyone was waiting for.

Apple announced a faster iPhone (3Gs) with a 3 megapixel camera and video and an impressive voice control that extends across the device to contacts and iPod/iTunes. The battery life has also been extended. The new device reportedly has 5 hours of talk time and 9 hours of WiFi-Internet life. 

There are two models: 16 and 32GB for $199 and $299 respectively with an AT&T contract. The company also announced the much-anticipated $99 8GB version to broaden the appeal of the device. That will draw lots more folks to AT&T. 

Here's a partial list of the new capabilities announced (some were pre-announced):

  • App sharing for free apps (not paid)
  • Cut and paste
  • MMS including video from all carriers at launch (AT&T late summer but maybe not video).
  • Direct movie rental and purchase over the air (audio books too). ent and purchase movies from the phone, along with audiobooks.
  • Tethering via bluetooth and USB for Macs and PCs (but no AT&T support in US)
  • MobileMe features: find my phone (from PC browser) and remote clearing of data
  • Google Maps embeddable in third party apps, including turn by turn
  • Video embeddable in third party apps
  • Push notifications of various sorts
  • Search over all apps, contact, etc. 

Also on display were a range of games and various useful apps (e.g., ZipCar, which allows users to unlock the car with the app) for the new 3.0 software. This part of the keynote underscored the critical role of apps for Apple in staying ahead of the competition.  

One of the more noteworthy apps shown was the TomTom for iPhone with a windshield mount. No price was mentioned so it's probably expensive. But it's GPS, turn by turn + points of interest, etc. and provides another reason to buy the device (bad news PND market). RIM just bought DASH so expect it to be used in a similar way. 

There are now 50K apps in the apps store (vs. 18 so far for Pre) and a combined total of 40 million iPhone + iPod touches sold on a global basis. Apple said that 65% of mobile browser usage is on the iPhone/iPod touch.

Here's the apps count according to Apple:

  • Apple: 50K
  • Android: 5K
  • Nokia/Symbian: 1K
  • RIM: 1K

The combination of hardware and software upgrades announced today, combined with the new $99 8GB iPhone, makes it still the device to beat in the space. It's also clear that AT&T remains a drag on the iPhone's potential sales in the US. And while the $99 model will drive some additional subs to AT&T (perhaps a lot), if it were more broadly available there would probably be 2X the sales for the coveted device.

Mobile Apps and the Future of Handheld Computing

Mobile apps pre-date the iPhone but the iPhone made the market. Now there are a growing number of startups that are focused on building mobile apps -- and not the PC Internet. The just-launched Pre is apps poor right now, although (among others) a couple of high profile mobile companies have launched apps for the Pre: Zumobi and uLocate (Where)

What's starting to become clear is that mobile apps are a critical success factor for any platform that wants to remain competitive over time. According to a new study from a firm called GravityTank (reported in the NY Times), mobile users are heavily engaged with mobile apps:

  • Respondents have downloaded an average of 23.6 applications to their phone and use an average of 6.8 apps every day.
  • Nearly half (48 percent) of phone owners report shopping for apps more than once a week. About the same number (49 percent) report using apps on their phone for more than 30 minutes a day.
  • 32 percent said they used portable gaming devices less because of their app-enabled phones. Other technologies and media also suffered; 31 percent said they read newspapers less; 28 percent use GPS devices less; 28 percent use their MP3 players less; and 24 percent are watching less television. 

But there's also the PinchMedia data that show rapid abandonment of apps by users after a short usage period.

Android has plenty of apps but I would argue it's a platform focused on mobile Internet browsing. Apps are largely perceived by Google as an interim step. Vic Gundrota, Vice President of Engineering at Google, made the point at the recent Google developer conference that publishers wouldn't want to build apps for multiple platforms and so would focus their efforts on the (mobile) Internet more broadly. That's a simplification of his comment but it reflects that Google is betting on the mobilization of the Internet longer term. However it does have a display ad product for apps as well. 

I think what we're seeing is the emergence of a kind of hierarchy in mobile usage: favorite apps trump the browser, bookmarks on the browser trump search as a navigational tool. All this is subject to change and evolution but that's what I observe in my own behavior and in the behavior of others. 

Whether apps developers take to the Pre will impact its long term success. Right now, as mentioned, there are reportedly few apps available (and limited developer interest) but if sales continue to grow (especially after the Verizon launch of the Pre next year) apps developers will probably port their apps over to the new WebOS platform. 

If there are truly five mobile apps platforms that remain standing after a couple of years -- iPhone, RIM, WinMo, Symbian and WebOS -- then there will be more demand for products such as those offered by Rhomobile, which enables enterprises to build "native apps" for each of the major smartphone platforms through a "write once, publish everywhere" software framework.  

Pre Embraced by Google, 'Dissed' by Apps Developers?

While there are lists circulating that show which Best Buy retail stores will carry the Palm Pre, the Best Buy website shows that it's not yet available and will carry an $800+ price tag without a two-year contract with Sprint. That will effectively kill all non-Sprint related buys. Meanwhile the Google Mobile Blog reflects that Google will have a very prominent place on the Pre:

Palm Pre phone's webOS works great with Google Search, Google Maps, and YouTube, which are built into the device. You can also easily sync your Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Contacts to Palm Pre.

We're big fans of Palm Pre phone's universal search feature. Just start typing a query from the home screen (no need to launch the browser). If your query doesn’t match any contact info or the name of an application on your phone, you’ll be prompted to search either the web with Google, local places on Google Maps, articles on Wikipedia, or Twitter.

But the Pre apps store apparently is quite limited right now in its offerings. This was a point of negative criticism among otherwise generally positive reviews from several device pundits over the past couple of days. Sprint and Palm are apparently not concerned believing that now that they have built it the developers will come. (If it sells the developers will probably come.) Yet there's still reason to question that assumption. Recall Skyhook's developer survey:

56% of all developers surveyed will port their app to other platforms. Developers are most interested in Android. 58% of non-Android developers plan to port to that platform, while 40% of non-iPhone developers plan to port an app to that platform. 26% will port to RIM, and 20% will port to Windows Mobile.

Developers are least interested in Palm and Symbian, with only 8% and 9% of developers planning to port their applications to those platforms, respectively.

And CNET offers more anecdotal evidence of the same attitude: 

"My sense is that this will lead to Apple increasing their lead in the market even more," said Bart Decrem, CEO of Tapulous, a small developer that creates applications exclusively for the iPhone. "It will be a tremendous challenge for Apple's competitors that are trying to build their own application stores to get traction with developers, because we're in no rush to work on other platforms."

Pre at Best Buy

Without a healthy selection of apps the Pre probably cannot be competitive with the iPhone long term.

Nokia N97 Goes on Sale in US without Carrier Subsidies

The much touted Nokia response to the iPhone, the N97, went on sale (pre-order) today in the US market -- without a carrier and the all important carrier subsidy. The phone, which costs more than $700, has received high marks, lots of horsepower (32GB) and functionality. But without a carrier subsidy it's pretty much DOA as a mainstream device.

I've argued in the past that no subsidized smartphone can consider pricing itself above $200 given:

  • iPhone: $199 with cheaper models rumored
  • Android/G1: $179
  • Palm Pre: $199 
  • BlackBerry Storm: $199 

While all these devices would cost much more if purchased without a contract and carrier subsidy, almost nobody will be doing that. Consequently, you're not going to see people buy the N97 when so many other strong choices exist -- and are much cheaper.

Rather than a super high-end phone as a way back into the US market, a better strategy for Nokia is to sell cheaper smartphones that offer good user experiences for less. It has toyed with this idea. Nokia could potentially own the lower end of the market and better compete that way. 

Projections for a Verizon iPhone & Comparing the G2/Ion

In one sense Apple is in a race against time, as well as competitors such as Android, BlackBerry, Palm and Windows Mobile. If it retains its exclusive deal with AT&T it maxes out its addressable market -- those AT&T subscribers willing to upgrade to the iPhone and those non AT&T subscribers willing to switch for the iPhone. Meanwhile those other competitors continue to improve their products and push more devices into the market. There's a point at which they become good enough or better in specific areas to preempt potential iPhone demand. 

Bernstein Research analysts have issued a note that argues that addressable market would expand dramatically (double) if Verizon were to get access to the iPhone or some similar Apple-made handset in the future. This is what I argued some time ago in less precise terms. However Apple has reaffirmed its near-term commitment to AT&T (but there are suggestions of talks between Verizon and Apple).

Since Google's developer conference I've been using the G2/Ion they gave away. It's a significant (hardware and software) improvement over the G1. Here's a preliminary mostly postive review from Wired.  

I'm not doing any systematic testing, rather just using it in my daily life. What I've found so far is that the virtual keyboard is considerably harder to use (for me) than the iPhone's. And the screen and Internet experience are not as "crisp" as on the iPhone. Still, in the absence of the iPhone it would be very impressive and probably the best handheld Internet device in the market. 

I would put the G2/Ion in the good enough category. And the Storm 2 will probably satisfy some of that iPhone envy (that the Storm did not) among Verizon users. Finally the Pre has already prevented me from switching to AT&T to get the iPhone. We'll see once I get my hands on one whether it keeps me there. 

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Related: ZDNet compares the Pre to the G1.