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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Every time I see the Android pitch, I like it less and less

I've seen various pitches from Google about mobile. In particular, I've seen several Android presentations over the last year.

Each one looks less convincing than the last. I've just been watching Rich Miner speaking at the Open Mobile Summit, and although the developer story looks fairly well-articulated, I just think that some of the wider back-story about mobile looks tired, and the assumptions and world-view seem too simplisitic.

One slide seemed to suggest that hardware cost as a % of handset bill-of-materials is falling, making the software cost more important as a way of driving down overall costs. Really? That was the prevailing thinking four years ago, but since then we've entered a world of QWERTY keypads, 480x800 touchscreens, 16GB of memory, 8MP cameras and multiple radios.

Another slide trotted out the usual tired array of irrelevant statistics about 3bn mobile users vs 1bn PCs, and the stereotypical myth about people in developing markets only accessing the Internet on a phone.

It's possible that Google really does know how the industry works (Google Maps on mobile is fantastic, after all), but for some reason has not updated its messaging, and tries to paint too primitive a picture for reasons best known to its communications department.

Having played with the T-Mobile G1 a bit, and canvassed opinion from a few knowledgeable users, it seems to be what I'd class as a 7-out-10 device. Not bad, but nothing like the leap forward of the iPhone. A bit clunky, and although the network speed was impressive on HSUPA, I felt the user experience was quite frustrating and counter-intuitive. And certainly not what you'd call a sexy device - sitting in a bar playing with it a few days after launch, there certainly wasn't anyone coming over and going "Oh wow, is that the new Google phone? Can I see it".

It will also be interesting to see how it fares for T-Mo and other operators in terms of support costs, because of the branding and lack of direct consumer support from Google. One theme coming out of this conference has been the worry among US market players that they will end up wearing the costs of supporting users, when they download random applications to their phones and they don't work. (Or even if the built-in functions are poorly performing).

Yesterday, an AT&T representative said that they'd not experienced people calling their customer support hotlines about iPhone software questions - because it was clear to users that the software (and AppStore) was Apple's. But Rich Miner essentially took the opposite stance, and said that any problems with Android phones or user experience fall to the carrier or OEM to fix.

It will be interesting to see the relative costs - AT&T subsidy on iPhone, vs T-Mobile support costs on the G1.

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