Bird is the Word – PE Hub on mobile gaming

Chatted with Jon Marino at Thomson Reuters last week on whether 8th graders beating Angry Birds on the app store is a harbinger of things to come – or not:

Clearly mobile gaming will continue to grow, and evolve: the question is whether it will evolve toward more complex, traditional gameplay, location-based “meatspace” (real world) interactivity, or just more and more of the mindless repetition which our collective amygdalas go all haywire for. If the latter, that’s OK; however, the barriers to creation of new hits in this category are so low (see 8th grader above) that I wouldn’t want to invest in one.  If traditional gameplay becomes more common (and smartphones can certainly support it), then more VCs will continue to back seasoned developers to tap the mobile opportunity. The location-based stuff is still early days (mostly limited to check-ins and “SCVNGR hunts”), but I think is the most exciting area to watch –


Why Apple Can’t Beat Android

For the better part of twenty years, Mac lovers fumed in frustration as their beloved aesthetic idol languished in sub-5% PC market share territory. Wintel dominated. Big, ugly, buggy, clunky, and everywhere. It seemed as if graphic designers were the only people stubbornly refusing to admit defeat and join the rest of the planet in using Windows. But then Steve Jobs came back to the rescue – and over time, people actually started buying Macs again. And then the iPod! and iTunes! Somehow Apple found a way to reinvent and completely dominate an entire category of consumer electronics. The company seemed to change overnight – and became the leading-edge technology giant it always knew it was supposed to be.

And then the iPod begat the iPhone – and lo, the consumer beheld it and said it was good.

Windows Mobile, Symbian, Brew, RIM, all the closed-deck nonsense pushed by the carriers – they were the dinosaurs in the path of the iPhone asteroid.  Even AT&T’s awful network couldn’t stop the juggernaut – Apple had irreversibly changed the wireless industry, for the better. And then onto Apple’s coattails stepped the Google.

When Google bought the little startup Android in 2005 and eventually launched it into the market, people were extremely skeptical. Previous Linux-based and open platforms had failed miserably, and why would developers want to work on Android when there were already 100,000 apps in iTunes and growing?

Then HTC and Motorola  latched on to Android in a big way (the former to come out from the white-label shadows, the latter to get its mojo back). Droid, Hero, Desire, Droid Incredible, Droid X – all of a sudden it was like a veritable Jawa swap meet. Yes, the Android market was a scatty mess, the apps were fewer and barely legal in some cases. But Android was getting ready to take over.

Back in January I pointed out that Google’s Nexus One was not a big deal, but Android was; Nexus was the concept car, not the iPhone killer. Some believed Android would win because the iPhone was chained to AT&T, whereas Android wasn’t chained to any network. This was partly right – however it goes far beyond that.  Once it was clear that Android was building a critical mass, handset OEMs saw it as their chance to beat Apple and stay relevant. The smartphone segment suddenly had exploded – up to 50% of all new shipments were now smartphones, and in another year it will be closer to 100%.

You may laugh at that last statement, but it is more likely to happen than not, and all because of Android.  I realized this when I saw the LG Optimus – an Android smartphone now on T-Mobile for $30.  Thirty bucks for a smartphone. Remember when the Motorola RAZR became ubiquitous? It sure wasn’t at the start when they cost $300 – but when it became cheap it was everywhere.

Apple may certainly come out with a very low end iPhone; they are indeed incredibly adept at segmenting markets with 2-3 different versions of a product and relentlessly driving down prices on all of them. But will Apple ever have 20 versions of the iPhone? 50? Of course not. Will they ever license the platform to OEMs? Are you kidding me? This is why Android will completely dominate the wireless world – it is spreading like a virus throughout the ecosystem as you read this (see chart above). Apple will always be the Maserati of smartphones – leading-edge, trendy, stylish, downright awesome. But Android will be the Ford Taurus – maybe a little dull in comparison, sometimes clunky, but dependable, cheap and everywhere you look (just like Windows in the last Apple Holy War, except for the dependable part).

Mobile app developers don’t necessarily have to choose between these platforms, and mostly aren’t. It’s a far cry from several years ago when you’d have to port your app to dozens of different handsets – now just 2 or 3 platforms and you’re done. However, if you had to prioritize your focus, Android in the long run is the right place to be. Apple’s distribution platform is much better currently, but the numbers game is more important.  If you want ubiquity, sell to Ford, not Maserati.

Nokia R.I.P.

Always sad to see an old friend fading away (remember the Matrix slide phone, the bulky Communicator 9000, and the dominant global mobile OS guys?).

Turns out that not only is Nokia losing its CEO and its Chairman, but also the head of its smartphone division. His parting shot at his fellow OEMs adopting Android captures the essence of why Nokia has passed the point of no return:

“Anssi Vanjoki, outgoing head of Nokia’s smartphone division, likens mobile phone makers that adopt Google’s software to Finnish boys who“pee in their pants” for warmth in the winter. Temporary relief is followed by an even worse predicament.”

I would argue that Motorola, HTC and others have actually fared pretty well by deciding to partner with Google on the OS and focus their efforts on hardware development. Much like the carriers themselves, these folks do best when they stick to their knitting.  His assertion that all Android handsets will look alike in the end and OEMs won’t be able to differentiate doesn’t hold water.  The reality is that it will enable an accelerated arms race between them, as they can dramatically increase the speed to market and thus proliferate the number and variety of handsets out there. The downside for consumers of course is that you’ll only have the newest and shiniest Android for a matter of weeks before another one pops up. But such is the price of progress . .

The honeymoon’s over AT&T – VZW to get the iPhone in Jan.

For all those sad, sad folks waiting for the quality of their network to match their beautiful iPhone – the wait is almost over. We’ve all seen it coming, and yet postponed for far longer than we thought. But here it is – Verizon is reportedly going to release their iPhone in January 2011.

While this will undoubtedly help boost Apple’s sales in the US, I do think they will have missed a reasonably big chunk of the market to Android by sticking with AT&T for so long. By the time this hits the market, Android will be running on scores of different platforms, some of which will even be powered by 2 GHz processors, for well over 18-24 months. The early teething pains of Android, like the poor UI of the market, scant app offerings and poor battery life, will be a thing of the past.

Which means this will be a much more fair fight between the two OS ecosystems, and we will all benefit as a result –

The femtocell shakedown – AT&T sinks to new lows

I have always had a philosophical problem with femtocells. Your carrier has awful coverage in your house, so they SELL you a box to plug into your home network. Maybe they charge you a monthly fee as well, maybe not. But of course the best for them is that while you are using your own bandwidth, you are not using their network. No matter.

If you use AT&T, while you are off-net and using your fixed line DSL or cable bandwidth via the femtocell, any data you consume counts – wait for it – toward your monthly data caps on AT&T. Truly this is one of the ballsiest moves by a carrier to charge you for something they didn’t give you. To be fair, I haven’t checked if Verizon does the same thing, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

More here