Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Encouraging Android and iPhone application developers

We discuss the importance of building communities of users and of developers.

Google and T-Mobile just announced the availability of the first phone running Google's Android operating system. Android is strategic for Google because it is bundled with their applications, and they are entering the mobile Internet access market along with the Apple iPhone.

Both companies are trying to attract application developers for their platforms. Apple has established a $100 million venture capital fund for start up companies with ideas for interesting applications and has an iPhone Developers Program where developers find tools and technical and business information.

Google also understands the importance of developers to the success of Android, and they have allocated $10 million for awards for innovative applications. The first set of winners has been selected, and the second round of competition is under way. The ten top applications in the first round are here.

Apple has created an online store to help developers sell and distribute their applications, and Google has announced their intention to do the same for applications that run on Android phones.

To encourage development, Apple distributes free applications at their store, and charges a reasonable commission on commercial applications -- they hope to profit by selling more Apple hardware. Google will be selling advertising, not hardware, so they hope their store will encourage both software developers and handset manufacturers to adopt the open-source Android platform.

Finally, and this is highly speculative, Android is Google's operating system for mobile Internet access devices -- might they one day release a full-scale version for the desktop, competing directly with Microsoft Windows, Linux and Apple OS X? Microsoft and Apple adapted their desktop operating systems to hand-held devices -- might Google be planning to adapt their hand-held operating system to the desktop one day?

Is Google truly competing with Apple? Does it help or hurt Google if someone buys an iPhone instead of an Android handset?

17 percent of European households now use VoIP

We discuss VoIP in class. A recent market research report shows VoIP growing rapidly in Europe. At the end of 2004, 1.9 million VoIP lines were in service, equivalent to just over 1 percent of European households. By the end of 2007, Europe was up to 25.3 million lines and 17 percent of households.

As shown here, VoIP service is growing faster in Europe than in the US, and is eating into the traditional switched circuit revenue of the phone companies.

Do you ever use VoIP? If so, do you use an Internet program like Skype or do you get your service from a phone company?

Fiber now connects 3.76 million US homes

We discuss home connectivity. Today, DSL and cable are the most commonly used home connectivity technologies, but we expect that, in the long run, we will have fiber links to our homes. Today, that is far from the case. A recent market research report estimates that fiber now passes 13.8 million U. S. homes and 3.76 million are broadband subscribers.

What percent of US homes is 3.76 million? Providing fiber links requires investment in equipment and trenches and installation -- which neighborhoods will operators focus on first? Will all neighborhoods eventually be served?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Synchronizing data for offline work

We defined network applications, as opposed to stand-alone applications, as those in which either the data, programs, or both are stored on the network.

All network applications store data on a server, but some also store copies of the data on the client. That enables a user to work when off line -- perhaps when traveling -- and automatically synchronize the data on the two machines when the client re-connects to the network.

This short video illustrates offline editing while using Zoho's Writer word processing service, and you can read more about it here.

Note that it uses Google Gears, an open source program that must be installed on the client computer.

Google wrote and supports Gears as an open source project -- what is their reason for doing so? Why is Gears strategic for Google?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Miniature projectors

We discuss technology progress, which, when significant, can lead to completely new applications.

A year ago, we noted some newly developed technology for miniature projectors. 3M has now announced a projector using that technology. The list price is $359, the display resolution is 640 by 480, and it is reportedly bright enough to project an 11 inch image in a lit room. This projector is a stand-alone device designed to connect to a laptop or PDA.

Other companies are working on similar products. If that leads to continued technology improvement -- lower cost, smaller size, higher resolution and brighter displays -- we may see projectors bundled into phones and PDAs.

What technology barrier may keep that from happening?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Senator Kohl questions cellular competition

We discuss the competitive nature of the US cell phone and ISP markets. Generally speaking, ISPs and cell phone companies oppose regulation, arguing in favor of private enterprise and competition. Is there competition in these markets? Let's look at text messaging.

In 2005, each US cell phone company charged 10 cents to send or receive a text message. No doubt they had different cost structures and strategies -- you might have expected one of them to cut their price to try to win new customers. Well they did change their prices -- today they are all charging 20 cents.

Do you find that surprising in this competitive marketplace? Do you suppose their costs rose during those years? Its only fair that they cover their costs, right?

Text messages are transmitted in 140 byte (1,120 bit) packets -- 1,120 bits delivered for 20 cents. How much would it cost to deliver a recorded song at that rate?

Let's be conservative and assume the typical song is 2 minutes long. If it were encoded at 256k bits per second, the rate Apple iTunes uses for premium recordings, that would be roughly 30,720,000 bits -- the equivalent of 27,429 text messages. If a music vendor like Apple charged the same rate per bit as a text message vendor, a song would cost around $5,486 to transmit, yet Apple manages to sell and deliver songs, and make a profit at $1.29 per song.

US Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI), chairman of the Senate Antitrust Subcommittee, recently asked the presidents and chief executive officers of the four largest wireless telephone companies to justify their text message rates. In a letter, Senator Kohl requested an explanation from Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile, which collectively serve more than 90 percent of the nation's cellular phone users.

Do you think the cellular market is competitive? The Internet access market? What do you think Senator Kohl is planning to do?

Update 3/13/2015

WhatsApp reports that it now has 700 million monthly active users sending 30 billion messages a day. For comparison, the global SMS system sees about 20 billion messages a day.

Here is the decline of SMS in several nations:

Senator Kohl's call for action went nowhere, but he needn't have worried -- no monopoly lasts forever.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Will Google Chrome paint Microsoft into a corner?

Google recently announced their Chrome browser. They released a beta version that lacks many of the planned features, but they claim that it is more stable and secure than the competition, and explain why that is so in this neat comic book presentation.

They also say JavaScript programs run very fast when using Chrome. Chrome trounces other browsers when running benchmarks that Google designed. In some other benchmarks, it is still faster than Firefox and much faster than Internet Explorer.

When does JavaScript speed matter? We discuss dynamic Web applications, in which programs are downloaded to the client when the user visits a Web site. Those programs are typically written in JavaScript, so they will run much faster on Chrome than Internet Explorer.

Google is betting on network applications, and speed is critical if their networked word processor, spreadsheet, and other programs are to compete with Microsoft Office. A networked word processor or spreadsheet program has advantages over a stand-alone program like Word or Excel, but also has disadvantages, one of which is being slow. If Google Docs runs a lot faster with Chrome than current browsers, it will appeal to more people, and perhaps eat into Microsoft's very profitable Office sales.

If Chrome is a lot faster than Internet Explorer, customers will adopt it. But, ironically, if Microsoft counters by improving the speed of Internet Explorer, they will hurt Office sales.

Microsoft Office is sold by their Business Division, where fiscal 2008 consumer revenue dipped 2 percent, or $80 million. Microsoft analyst Joe Wilcox thinks this is the start of a "gradual, but later rapid decline." Faster browsers will accelerate the decline.

As communication technology improves, will Google's network application strategy gain or lose advantage over stand-alone software? How about improvement in storage technology? How about improvement in electronic technology?