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Google Acquires Patents – and Also Motorola

Google + Moto is the BIG NEWS of the summer.  It was big enough to grab me out of my blog vacation.  While the pundits are filling the airwaves with analysis on this one , I view it perhaps more simply, more straightforward.

The battleground for supremacy in connected devices (mobile smartphones, Tablets, and  set-top boxes) has moved from the R&D labs to the court rooms.  The patent wars between Apple and Google are fierce, with Microsoft bulking up on its own portfolio as part of the consortium that bought the Nortel patents.

Motorola was worth the price Google paid just for their patent portfolio.  In patent wars if you get sued, you better have a patent in your portfolio that can hurt the attacker.  In this way you trade mutual assured destruction with a patent stand-off.

When Google acquired the rights to Motorola’s 25,000+ patents, they bought both defensive capability and offensive firepower.  Apple may go after Android for an Apple patent but what are the changes that Google now has a patent that can hurt Apple?

It is impossible to design and produce a device such as an iPhone, iPad, or Android device that will not infringe on someone’s patent.  Impossible.  What a company must do is acknowledge that they will infringe and hope the other guy also infringes on their patents and us the mutual infringement to to either create a license arrangement or to have both companies do nothing.

Google’s price of $12.5B is about $500,000 per patent, which seems to be a bargain compared to the $4.5B  Apple and Microsoft for 6000 Nortel patents.  Their price was  $750,000 per patent.

Lets assume that the Motorola sale  is approved and Google gets the Motorola patent portfolio.  Google’s next problem is that they have also bought a company that makes handsets.  I say this is a problem because this is a huge company in a market that is different from Google’s core competency.  This is also a company that competes with Google’s other OEM partners for Android Devices.  The conventional wisdom is that these other OEM partners will start to defect, en mass,  to Microsoft.

Yeah right….

What does defect even mean?  Microsoft will pay these companies to produce some Windows phones anyway.

Android is free.  Can Microsoft compete with free?  Google makes its money on Android from their ad business.  Microsoft must make money from their software license for Mobile 7 operating system.  Besides for being years late to the party, Microsoft is structural disadvantaged to compete.  At best they can hope to be a number 3 player.

Google has two choices.

Number 1: They can acquire the patent portfolio and then spin out the Motorola Mobility Business, probably re-cooping half their initial investment.  They could sell Motorola’s handset and tablet businesses, along with licenses to the patents they now own to either HTC or Samsung, their two most important OEM partners.  This would be an amazing move.

Number 2:  Keep the Motorola hardware business and expand Android into the Cable Set-Top Box market.  This is the riskier of the paths as the sheer weight of a big manufacturing company could alter the culture of Google for the worse.  This path would be an attempt to become “Apple”.  While this path seems to be the assumed defacto strategy of Google, I am placing my bets on scenario #1.  This will take a couple of years to play out, so hold onto this link and let’s see if I am right.

An indicator that we are on Scenario 1 will be if Microsoft acquires RIM (Blackberry) or Nokia.  This would be an acknowledgment that the Google OEM manufacturers are not going to defect to Microsoft and that they must own a hardware company to compete.

This has only gotten worse in the last 10 months!

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Filed under Acquisitions, advertising, android, Apple, blackberry, Cable, Droid, Google, HTC, iPad, mobile advertising, Mobile Application Stores, mobile commerce, smart phone, Smartphone

Augmented Reality? Really?

I have tried over 100 apps on my new Super-Droid, the HTC Incredible.  One of the more interesting and  hyped areas is that of Augmented Reality.  Here is the  Wikipedia definition for AR –

Augmented reality (AR) `is a term for a live direct or indirect view of a physical real-world environment whose elements are augmented by virtual computer-generated imagery. It is related to a more general concept called mediated reality in which a view of reality is modified (possibly even diminished rather than augmented) by a computer. As a result, the technology functions by enhancing one’s current perception of reality.”

On my Droid, most AR applications are a mash-up of GPS, Google search, camera viewing, compass heading and overlay visuals.   The overlays are anything from tourist locations, buildings, roads, bars, restaurants, and of course Starbucks.   You look at your phone as the phone’s camera looks at the world and adds its own heads up display (HUD).

While these apps have an “Ubber-Cool” factor, AR does not yet seem to have found its mainstream raison d’être.  Its fun to show your friends and get them to say  -“ooo”, and “ah”, but then what?

Who is going to walk around holding their 4 inch screen in front of them while looking for something and following an arrow in their AR world?  All sorts of enhanced navigation programs, either for driving, walking, hiking or public transit already exist with great mapping displays.  The potential fro AR is likely huge in the future as the applications further develop.  But for now, it is early days.

If you want to try out AR for and judge for yourself here are 5 programs you can download for free on a Droid.

-Layar

A Legal Neighbor listed as a "Bar" - needs some work..

Layar  (get it –  LayAR) is an environment that permits others to development AR functionality on displays and maps. It is in essence an AR aggregation platform – an AR browser- that is mostly ad supported with some premium subscription services.  I can use my virtual Droid HUD to find everything from apartments, nearby Tweeters, Foursquare locations,  local wikipedia entries and even the weather.  Weather?  Yep – look through the HUD and see an AR cloud superimposed in your view with the temperature on it.  There is even a weather app for tornado warnings.   If you have to look through the phone to determine you are looking at a Tornado, its may be Darwin Award time.

A Landmark on Foursquare

Just because you can do something with technology does not mean you have to do it!  Similar to overall smartphone apps, let a million apps bloom and something good will happen.

Here is the web catalog of all Layar powered AR apps.

-Laser Level

The program superimposes perpendicular red “laser” lines in your HUD to help you straighten that picture you just hung.  The app works pretty good, but not really efficient for hanging pictures and I would still want my contractors to use a physical level.

-3D Compass

This app floats a compass and a map on your screen, along with speed and altitude.

Its fun to play with this app when I take NJ Transit into NYC.  For the record, the trains hit a top speed of around 60 mph, New York is east of New Jersey, and the train rarely gets airborne.

-Zagat NRU

This is a curious app that displays all Zagat rated venues within circular range bands, arranged by compass heading.  Its great to showpeople, but then what?  Okay gang lets go to this new Italian restaurant; we have to walk at 37.6 degrees  NNE for 1.5 km?

-NYC Wayfinder

Hold up your HUD display and it will point out subway entrances.  Does it also paint a target on your back and add a European carry-all to you, virtually?

The potential for AR applications exists and like any technology in its early phases, many potential uses will be explored.  What is amazing is how relatively easy it is to make this apps with the basic tools and capabilities of the Android (and yes, iPhone too)

What will the killer AR apps be?  I have two predictions for AR apps.

My first prediction is for massive multi-user, AR enhanced games.  Pick your favorite version of Human/Zombie, Capture the Flag, etc –   and have all the players be able to track each other in an AR enhanced world and even “shoot” each other and record “hits”, all in augmented reality.  This can take the collaborative gaming experience of the XBOX 360 and get everyone outside actually running around and exercising.  Just like kids did before computer games.  Ironic…..  Of course this is what he U.S. military does, for real. So who would be most motivated to fund and produce such an app?

Another interesting app, assuming the key development enabler of cheap AR viewing glasses will be virtual tours.  Instead of holding a small screen, view the AR world all the time?  I could easily see tourists using these to get around various venues and even have embedded virtual tour guides pointing out local areas of interest.  Imagine visiting the ancient Roman port of Caesarea in Israel and having your virtual guide enhance your view to show you what it really looked like 2000 years ago – virtually. For Real.

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HTC Droid Incredible – The Rest of the Story (Spoiler Alert!)

What Droid Incredible Really Does – and Does Not (Unofficial Review)

After resisting Droid-Rage during the holiday season, I succumbed to the uber- hyped latest Android super phone – the HTC Incredible.  My venerable Blackberry Curve just was not as sleek or sexy and clearly did not have the cool robot graphics.

There are numerous blog reviews and YouTube videos that will espouse all the virtues of Verizon’s number 1 smartphone.  While they are largely correct, they do not tell the whole story.  Yes it is fast, works on a great network, has more features that a human can possibly comprehend, or use – and even makes phone calls.   I will provide another article with my fav Droid features – this article is about the other side.

To quote Paul Harvey  – “And now the rest of the story….”  Here are my top six issues with my Droid.

1. Speed comes at a cost – The Achilles Heal of the Incredible

All the blazing application response and connectivity comes at a cost in battery utilization.  The first day I had my Droid I had to charge it 2 times.  What good is all that capability if the phone is dead?  If you get a Droid you must stay close to a charging source and become an active energy manager.  You should turn-off the GPS when not needed, limit the number of running applications and even re-consider all of those really cool active widgets which use periodic connectivity to update themselves.   If you need an icon of the sun to let you know its sunny outside, perhaps you need more than a new phone.

2. The display rocks – unless you want to use it outside during the day

The AMOLED technology used in the HTC screen is the latest, but not quite the greatest.  The display is great when used inside.  I just got back from a round of golf and the phone was practically unusable in the sunlight.  The bigger issue is using the super Google driving directions app with a map view.  The map will not be viewable in a car during the day!

3. Its not the number of Apps that matters – its having the right ones and ones that actually work

I never got that impressed with the claims of absolute number of apps on device platforms.  If the iPhone has 300K and the Android 30K , what does that really mean?  It’s a little like counting the number of Nukes that the U.S. and Russia have in their arsenals. .  Quality, not quantity really matters. Android has the basic Facebook and Skype apps.  Its the other 30K that may need some help.  My impression is that the apps on the iPhone are not just more numerous, but are generally of higher quality.   Perhaps the Android platform chased absolute numbers to claim lots of apps without as much quality consideration.  Several apps just did not work at all and others just stopped working.  I tried to download the linkedIn app and had a failure.  This is an area that the Android platform will likely get right at some point.

I want quality apps for the handful I will actually use.  Android has to close the app quality gap with Apple.

4. iTunes Integration – Music and Video – ???

The iPhone clearly excels at music and video desktop integration.  The challenge for any other platform is to create seamless integration for their platforms with the defacto standard for online music. Given the critical nature of this feature, one might assume that HTC or Verizon would provide a solution that makes this happen.

And you would assume wrong.  There are a couple of solutions that purported to achieve this function.  I tried both SailingMedia and DoubleTwist.  Both of these third-party solutions did not work.  While I could probably play with them for another hour or so and figure out what the issue is – why should I have to do that?  I did load my music directly by dragging my music to the mp3 folder on my device.  The music plays fine and the external speaker is loud –if that matters to you.  There does not appear to be a pre-loaded video player and I have yet to get a video, other than YouTube to play successfully.  Again, I’m sure I will figure it out – but why should I have to?

5. Gmail Good – Gmail Bad

I use gmail for my personal email domain, I figured that the Android platform would be a good choice for my use.  For the record my Blackberry worked perfectly with my gmail account.  As expected my gmail account integrated easily with my Droid.  My issue with email is the rather poor gmail app on the device.  I tried to use the HTC mail app and for whatever reason it does not seem to work when my gmail application is active.  As with my other issues, I am sure with a little time I can get it to work.

6. Steve Jobs is right – One button is enough

The Incredible Droid has 7 physical buttons -Home, Menu, Back, Search, optical trackball with click, volume and power/wake-up.  In addition to these physical inputs the standard screen has four soft keys – an up arrow to access all programs, a phone button (yes it can make a phone call!), a “+” key for adding widgets, programs and folders to a screen, and lastly a hidden slide down at the top of the screen that gives a list of alerts and running programs.  Wow – that’s a lot of things to keep straight!.  The really annoying input is the totally useless optical track ball and click selector that just happens to occupy the same spot as the single “home” key on the iPhone.  Needless to say, I have been pushing that click selector by accident through pure muscle memory from my iPhone and iTouch.  An optical trackball on a touch screen device?  Why?

Despite these issues, I am sure I will get around the downsides of this device and make it into a very useful tool for business and personal use.  However, how many customers will take the time to become an I.T. manager for their phone?

For the past several years I carried my Blackberry for phone use and light Internet use and an iTouch for fun.  The true test will be if I go to one device.

The iPhone, like all Apple products – just works out of the box.  The Droid can work, and even do more, but you have to know what you are doing and be willing to investigate the necessary solutions.  The Droid is clearly still rough around the edges.

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Filed under Apple, Droid, HTC, Incredible, Incredible, iPad, iphone, Ipod, iTunes, mobile, Mobile Application Stores, mobile commerce, skype, smart phone, Smartphone, Social Media, Steve Jobs, Verizon, wireless

HP answers Palm Code Blue

New Icon on Palm Web OS Smartphone?

The Smartphone business has been very busy this week.  One day before Verizon officially releases the Droid Incredible (I am tracking mine via Federal Express), HP scoops in and acquires Palm.  Palm does have some pretty good technology and mobile handset know-how.  Do they have $1.2 Billion worth?  HP says yes and, anyway – that’s just a rounding error for them.

If you have seen the Web OS on Palm’s devices you have to be impressed.  Why this really makes sense for HP is that it is so much more than Smart Phones.  Perhaps you noticed that Apple iPad launch last month?  Tablet and netbook computing are the next disruptive technologies.   The Palm OS will likely make a bigger near term impact on HPs tablet and netbook devices.    This is not good news for Microsoft.

The OS landscape for the sub-laptop market is rapidly fragmenting.    Android from Google, Chrome OS (Google competing with itself?), Web OS from Palm, Apple OS4, Windows 7,  Windows 7 mobile,  RIM and Symbian (Nokia).   The environments that appear limited in scope are RIM and Windows 7 mobile (just SmartPhone) and Windows7, Chrome OS (Netbooks). Android, Palm Web OS, Apple OS and Symbian all provide (in theory) a unified sub-laptop platform.

What’s a developer to do?    Can an OS thrive with a single hardware vendor – Steve Jobs would certainly say yes, so why not HP?

The near term loser is likely Microsoft.  By the time they have Windows Mobile 7 devices in the market, HP/Palm should have been able to iterate an upgraded device and spend significant marketing bucks attracting both consumers and developers.

All of this competition is good for innovation and good for consumer price points.  It will take at least another 3-4 years for this market to shake out completely.  When the dust settles you can count on Apple and Microsoft still standing – their present overall positions in OS technology are virtually unassailable.  What will be interesting is their relative market strength in this very interesting sub-laptop market.

If you dominate this new market you are THE company for the next generation.

HP has placed their chips on the table.  Who is next?

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Filed under Acquisitions, blackberry, cloud computing, iPad, iphone, Ipod, microsoft, mobile, mobile advertising, Mobile Application Stores, netbooks, Nokia, smart phone, Smartphone, Social Media, Verizon, wireless

Note to the New CEO of Yahoo – Mobile desktop matters

What is your mobile homepage? And does it matter?

jerry_yangThe exit of Jerry Yang from Yahoo got me thinking about the implications, if any, it would have for mobile.    In the desktop browser world, the fight for your homepage has been waging for years between Yahoo, Microsoft, Google, AOL, and anyone else who managed to hijack it.  The theory is your homepage selection drives page views, which in turn drives advertising revenue.  More views equal more bucks.

So, what does this mean in a mobile device context? Does homepage matter?

What is particularly interesting in the mobile domain is the competing paradigms for driving traffic.  There is the “traditional” browser homepage war, the mobile desktop icon, a range of Java or Brew applications, and widget portals.

The key question is what to you want to do with your mobile device when you access the Internet and how best to get the answer you want.

A second factor is despite the proliferation of full keyboard mobile devices; the long-winded entry of URL’s and the point and click model of a desktop still does not translate well in the mobile arena.

The specific models at play on the Blackberry are:

1-    Set your homepage
2-    Download bookmarked Icons for specific sites and services
3-    Java Applications that mange collections of information feeds
4-    Widgets and Portals that are a collection of widgets.

Here is my solution – let me know if it matches what you have or you have a different use model.

When I access the Internet on my mobile it is usually about answering a particular question or reading a specific newspaper or blog.

I have my homepage set to the minimalist Google mobile.   I can enter anything I want in the search box, from a website I want to visit to a question.  This is a very functional model for me when I need business information or just want to impress family and friends with some arcane trivia.  Did you know that the state bird of Alaska is the Willow ptarmigan?mybb1

For routine information and entertainment I use the very easy downloadable bookmark icon.  The icons I have on my device are:  NY Times, Washington Post, ESPN, MLB, NY Yankees, Weather Channel, CNN, CNBC and ABC News.   This library of information is great for those commuting train trips.  In 25 minutes I can catch up on the news, read my favorite editorials, and follow the local sports teams.  This is very efficient for sites I visit often, and much better than bookmarking these sites within the browser.  This is another good example of the difference between the desktop and mobile experience.

Next, I have certain downloaded applications that I use often.  My favorites are VZW navigator, followed by Google maps and iskoot (for Skype).  For navigation applications I am asking my device a specific question and getting a specific answer.  It is either, “How do I get to….”, or “ Where I am and how did I get here?”  I use Skype on my desktop and there are rare occasions that I us it contact a business associate.  Iskoot works well and is free.

The next category of applications isthe content aggregation portal.  I have two examples that I have on my device.  The first is a very good RSS reader called Viigo.   You can easily set up the blogs that you follow and they also have pre-loaded feeds that you can keep or easily delete.  If you want to follow this blog on your mobile device, this is the solution.

I have also downloaded a specific RSS reader from “The Hockey News”.  If you read this blog regularly you know I am a big Hockey fan.  I am sorry to say the Hockey New RSS portal is poorly executed and rarely gets used.  This should be bad news to the editors at the Hockey News.  If a diehard mobile guy who is also a diehard hockey guy finds your mobile application to be poor, it is time to rethink.

Note to the Hockey News:

I make the same offer to you as I did to the New York Rangers.  I will volunteer to fix your mobile application.

yahoo1Lastly, the widget portal that I have downloaded is “Yahoo Go! “.  In my view, this is a good implementation for the wrong paradigm.  Yahoo Go! Is a mobile version of the  “My Yahoo” desktop homepage.  It has lots of general information categories in a very slick carousel interface.  What is interesting is that, although I have used Yahoo as my desktop homepage for 10 years, I almost never use “Yahoo Go!”.   The reason for my low use of this service is simply that I have no reason to use it.  It does not function as a way for me to get quick answers (Google), quick information (Icons), or navigate (VZW).

It is interesting to speculate what Obama had on his Blackberry?

The Iphone, G1, HTC and other large screen devices can easily enable similar models.

With advertising revenue the ultimate goal, understanding the mobile desktop paradigm is step one.

We can hope that the successor to Jerry Yang will re-think the mobile environment to be truly mobile and not just a transposition of the desktop.

Will the Yahoo and Google be the only advertising game in down, or will quick footed start-ups like Mojiva make even bigger inroads in this lucrative market?

Please share with me what you have on your mobile desktop.  I will collect the input for a future blog article.

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Filed under advertising, CEO, Google, hockey, mobile, obama, portal, widgets, wireless