Tag Archives: google

Handsfree is the next challenge for mobile

A huge part of the mobile experience is still extremely subpar. No one has created a seamless handsfree experience. I briefly blogged about this 2.5 years ago, and I still feel like there is tons of room for improvement. I don’t blame the headset companies, as my Plantronics (and for many others Jawbone) headset works great… as a headset for phone calls. But using it is not easy. Voice dialing (calling a contact using voice recognition) is a very basic start. The iPhone has Voice Control, which is little more than voice dialing plus basic iPod controls. Android has the best solution right now, Voice Actions, which seems very promising. Yet it doesn’t work consistently with a bluetooth headset, and the commands themselves are too robotic for most users. There are also some solid apps in the space. Nuance’s Dragon voice to text is great. Siri (which Apple purchased 1.5 years ago) has a good amount of NLP (also uses Nuance) and allows for a variety of different commands. Vlingo, Google, and countless others have apps too. But it isn’t effective unless it’s integrated at the OS level and works with handsfree devices.

The obvious use case (especially in CA and other states where there are specific laws) is controlling the phone while driving. Some cars have tried solving this, but none (that I’ve tried) have done it well. But handsfree use cases can be more common- anywhere from multitasking to video chat would be improved by some sort of integrated headset. Wired headsets are obviously not easy to use (I feel like I’m always untangling mine). And wired headsets only work on a single device- bluetooth would allow for switching between iPhone/iPad/etc. where appropriate. Apple previously tried making a bluetooth headset (see here) but apparently gave up, I’m guessing due to technical limitations and lack of polish. The bluetooth spec has improved significantly, allowing for better quality and lower power consumption. A typical headset now can go days/weeks before a charge with decent use. My ultimate wish is that the headset would be able to charge directly from the phone via a mini charging connection or induction-based charger.

But the software integration is the most important – the headset and phone need to understand a variety of commands and output results using display and more importantly voice. Something like “look up directions to Mitchell’s Ice Cream” should return a map and read out the list of turns.  “Schedule phone call with Mom for tomorrow at 3 pm” should read back, create a calendar item, and send an invite. The harder but equally important one command is “reserve a table for tomorrow at 7 pm at Aziza for 4 people,” which should use the OpenTable app, and read back available reservation openings and confirm. And the software should somehow know how to differentiate and use the appropriate device, whether an iPhone on the road, or the Apple TV at home.

My prediction (dream?) is this will be solved in the next major iOS (5.x) release, and that Apple will release a headset at the same time.

iPhone vs Android is not PC vs Mac

Google officially announced the Nexus One today, and it seems pretty cool.  I haven’t had a chance to play with one yet, but by most accounts, it’s worth checking out.  I believe it will be a successful device, along with the Motorola Droid and the HTC Droid Eris.  However, there seems to be a lot of sentiment that this is playing out like the PC vs Mac wars a decade or so ago, and that slowly app developers (and in-turn users) will all gravitate towards the more open Android platform.  The argument is that Microsoft excelled because it was hardware agnostic and did not control the ecosystem (thus allowing it to innovate), whereas Macs struggled because they controlled the entire experience (here’s a good take on this).  In the mobile marketplace, the argument continues, Android will eventually win out because it’s completely open.  Never mind the over simplicity (i.e. Jobs left, the hardware started to suck, etc.), there are some good parallels to make the analogy fit.

I, however, completely disagree.  This market is much, much more nuanced.  The reason is that there are two major differences between different phones that affect user behavior – input mechanism and screen size.  For example, here’s a list of the different screen resolutions for Android devices:

800 x 480
600 x 800
320 x 480
240 x 320
854 x 480
240 x 400
1024 x 600

And Android is only now becoming popular.  Some Android devices have keyboards, some are touch only, some have pointers, some have extra buttons, and some have sensors others don’t.  With the computer, everyone had a similar keyboard and mouse.  Users had different size monitors, but the big difference was that you could get away with cropping and not using the entire monitor for computer apps.  On a phone, where the screen is already so small, not using the entire space is much more significant.

This is the same issue that plagues Blackberry right now (well, that and terrible API implementation/documentation).  Whether it’s the Curve, Bold, Pearl, and so on, every device has a different resolution, and so apps need to be tailored appropriately.  I’m not the first to realize this is an issue (official Android documentation and another post).  The iPhone, on the other hand, has one screen resolution 320 x 480, and one input mechanism, touchscreen.

That all said, I believe that Android will thrive, but it won’t be the same way as Mac vs PC.  Bill Gurley’s piece (a must-read, in my opinion) begins to get at the nuanced differences, but Android is still a smartphone platform, which puts it head-to-head with the iPhone.   It is very lucrative for manufacturers and carriers to use Android instead of paying a licensing fee (they actually receive ad revenue share for using Android).  But for consumers and users of apps on both devices?  I still think the iPhone will be a better experience.

Two additional interesting factors to consider – if feature phones (i.e. non-smartphones) begin to adopt Android in full-scale, and the continued success of the iPod Touch and iTunes store (remember, you can’t use your iTunes music on a non-Apple device).

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Don’t be evil: Hope for fractured convergence

Google is a remarkable company.  They’ve flipped the business model in numerous ways, because they can.  But what’s happening in the mobile space is becoming a both exciting and troubling.  I love how they give away navigation data, or that they pay manufacturers to use their phone.  Soon they will subsidize your laptop, and maybe even your TV.  It’s giving folks who don’t normally have access to some of this technology a way to buy it.  And in the mobile space, with their new “phone”, they are trying to break the carrier-driven model (which I argue would come anyways once LTE rolls around, as most carriers will then be on the same technical platform).  To Google, it’s all about getting the accessing the world’s information and letting you search it quickly (and of course selling ads).

But soon, a single company could provide your software for your email, browser, OS, TV, and mobile phone.  That’s every single way I consume information, purchase products, and communicate with my friends and family.  A single advertising company.

Right now, they are a fairly friendly privacy company.  But what happens if growth slows, or there’s a change in leadership, and the company is pressured to seek alternate revenue streams.  I’m not sure I’m ready for a single company to own/control access to all this data.  I like convergence but not this much.  The question as a consumer is where do we draw the line?  Google has not made many major missteps with privacy (though last week’s comments were awfully close).  But what if that changes?

The thing is this – there should be a large competitor that’s challenging Google and trying to perform the same convergence, and there isn’t a clear one yet.  Yahoo tried with Connect TV/Digital Home, but they have been struggling.  Microsoft has been trying to push Media Center for awhile, and their mobile platform is confusing at best.

Apple seems the best poised.  Although no one has said it, the new Google device is their answer to the iPod Touch, a tremendous device that can be used for a variety of things, including as a phone (and I’m guessing an HD camera soon).  But Apple tends to attack verticals.  Regardless, I will continue to use my Apple phone, my Windows laptop, and my garbage software on my TV.

I hope some startups and incumbents come up with ways to challenge Google on all fronts.

FYI – I’m long Apple.

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My Dream: Merging LBS, Intent, and Real-Time info with my Calendar

Last night, I was driving home from my sister’s place in the east bay, and after checking Google Maps and seeing all green roads (i.e. no traffic), I decided to take 880/Bay Bridge to get back to SF.  Little did I know it was green because there was no traffic on the bridge (due to the closure).  Had I known beforehand, I would have saved a full hour.  In a moment of tragic comedy (okay, it was not that bad, but good thing I had company), Caltrans decided to alert me after I passed the traffic-filled toll plaza on the San Mateo Bridge that the “Bay Bridge is closed, seek alt route.”  Thanks.

I’m not alone when I say I’m often running late to lunches and social gatherings.  Or oftentimes I get delayed when I need to travel out of the office for a meeting.  The one thing that’s constant in all these situations – my phone.  My mobile device always knows where I am.  My calendar always knows where I should be.  Why can’t these two merge?

Now, I know this is difficult on the iPhone since there are no background apps, making it difficult to keep updating location (though some folks have found workarounds) .  But on Android, this should be relatively easy.  With the proliferation of LBS, my phone knows where I am at all times.  It could tell, for example, that if it’s 8:45 AM and I am more than 15 miles away (or there’s traffic) from my 9 AM calendar appointment location, that I will be late.  It could then send a text/email to the other attendees (or at least the organizer).  Little late to dinner?  Perhaps an integration to OpenTable.  Flight late, meaning I can work later?  An integration to TripIt would be help.  Yes, many folks have admins to help with this, but it really should be automated.  Last night, my phone clearly could have known I was heading home to SF via the Bay Bridge, and alerted me of the closure (the news was all over Twitter, which I unfortunately did not check before leaving).

None of this is ground-breaking, or extremely tough to do.  Google is probably best positioned to do this, but perhaps there’s a startup already hard at work (I hope so).  I’m looking forward to the day when all these services are combined and I can comfortably know I’m being alerted.  In the meantime, good luck to Caltrans on the repairs, and all commuters who usually take the Bay Bridge daily.

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Why Do We Need an Email Address AND a Phone Number?

There’s been a large movement online towards consolidating identity.  Single sign-on (SSO) online has been a goal for a long time, starting with Microsoft’s Passport and then the OpenID and Open Stack movement.  Facebook Connect, in its short life, has probably done a lot more to enhance the progress.  It’s not yet ubiquitous, but many sites support Facebook Connect to not only provide identity and authentication, but to let users interact with their friends through the site.  Google has a product as well, Friend Connect, which is a more open version (supports OpenID) though less popular flavor of the same thing.

What’s fascinating is how this movement is happening with the telephone as well, in a seemingly parallel track.  Convergence will happen sooner than we think.  I’m terrible at remembering numbers – but pretty soon we won’t need to.  That’s what makes Google owning GrandCentral (now Google Voice) fascinating – at some point, the phone number (at least the way we think of it today) will be superfluous.  The Palm Pre already connects to Facebook, Android phones to Google.  The phone number will essentially become the device ID.

This why owning the digital identity of the individual is so important to Facebook and Google.  At some point, reaching individuals via phone will be based entirely on a digital identifier, i.e. SSO will apply to phones, and our digital identity will be the conduit for communication.  It may be our email address (like it is with online payment), or our Facebook identity.  There are pros and cons of both, and clearly both companies want to be in the middle.  By being the broker of communication, they will become the telecom companies of the next generation.  A lot of this is obvious, but my hope is that it’s done in an open fashion.   I’m just looking forward to the day where all I will need is an online ID and that’s it.

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[Product] is [not] an [incumbent market leader] killer

I think I summarized a significant number of headlines.  I find these extremely unuseful.  I agree it’s a good idea to compare a new product to an old, incumbent.  However, what is not useful (to me at least) is to compare them in a black and white modicum.   It’s most prevalant with two products –  Google Search and the iPhone.  Every new company that has focus on search is compared to Google, and labeled as a Google-killer, or not.  Cuil was victimized by this.  Wolfram and Bing are newer examples.  For the iPhone, it’s the Blackberry Storm or the Palm Pre.

While most of these companies didn’t mind the publicity (at least before it started), it’s not fair for anyone involved.  the iPhone and Google Search were paradigm shifters.  When both came out, they transformed user behavior, and forced others in the market to follow suit.  The fact that we have to label something an x-killer means that it probably failed at killing x because it instantly reminds everyone of x.  Did anyone call the iPhone a Razr-killer?  Or the Google an Altavista-killer?

The other issue – not being a killer does not preclude success.  I would have a legitimate argument that Verizon is doing better than AT&T with the Storm.  Verizon sold 500,000 units the first month, and 1M units in the first two months (compare that to the iPhone 3G, which sold 2.4M in the first three months).  Verizon, for one, probably pays a significantly lower amount to RIM than AT&T does for the iPhone exclusivity.  Second, the margins for the network have to be MUCH better on Verizon.  Check out the recent AdMob metrics report – while  RIM represented 17% of smartphone sales, they only represented 9% of HTML traffic measured by AdMob.  Compare that to Apple – 8% of smartphone sales with 43% of the traffic.  The actual difference is probably worse – the report uses 2008 sales data as a proxy of  current market share.  Anyways, this defines success from the network perspective, not the consumer perspective, but I think it’s important that we keep that in mind (and as a consumer on AT&T’s network, I can tell you that more phone sales, especially iPhone sales, is ruining my experience and is about to drive me to another network).

One interesting article to check out – apparently we did miss that Google was a killer until it was already popular.