Tuesday 16 July 2013

MomoLondon: Operating Systems – a new set of Davids take on the incumbent Goliaths

Some really useful insights this week — with the panel providing a different perspective on the mobile industry than the usual. Although one question started on the HTML vs Native war, this was quickly knocked on the head and left for a future Mobile Monday.

I really get the FirefoxOS aim of making the web more accessible to new markets around the world. Mozilla has its own motivations for making a new OS, which are different to the usual “make as much money as possible”. It will be very interesting to see how they compete against the low-cost Android devices that are getting cheaper every year.

As for Ubuntu Phone & Tablet, this seems to be more about an operator story than a consumer one. I’m not sure of the reasons why a developer or a consumer would choose an Ubuntu phone. Having played with the sample tablets that were available on the night, I couldn’t see any particular advantages over Android or iOS (or Blackberry or Windows for that matter).

Ubuntu’s message seems to be that operators can customise the devices for their own content (that always goes down well with consumers, not!), or that you can have a single superphone that you can plug in to a screen and get a desktop experience (seems like a bit of a gimmick to me…).

Thanks to Geoff Blaber for being an excellent chair and keeping the discussion moving fluidly, and to all the panel members and organisers for a great evening.


Victor Palau, VP of Phone & Hyperscale Delivery at Canonical

  • hardware & os market has become monopolized in last few years
  • standardization on Linux kernel (mainly from Android) makes it much quicker to set up a new operating system
    • don’t have to worry about chipsets etc as much as in Symbian days
  • but platforms have to have something

Developer Economics Q3 2013

Andreas Constantinou, MD at Vision Mobile

  • launching latest research today
  • Ed.: this is always a really good read — Andreas gave us some highlights, but go and download the full report at http://www.developereconomics.com/go
  • html5 is number 3 development platform in use
    • Android leads, then iOS, everything else way behind
  • 61% of html is direct to browser
    • then phonegap at 27%
  • Windows Phone going down in intent share (i.e. less developers interested…)
  • iOS still leading monthly revenue at $5,200
    • Android catching up at $4,700 (using in-app advertising as main booster)
    • revenue models differ by platform
  • seeing an increase in platforms used by individual developers
  • main platform almost even between Android (34.4%) and iOS (32.7%)
    • html5 behind at 17.5%
  • report trying to quantify platform loyalty amongst devs
  • also trying to show which platforms are best for different challenges
    • and the different motivations for different developers
  • more experienced developers are using more tools
    • e.g. crash reporting, ad networks, push notifications


  • Geoff Blaber @geoffblaber
    • CCS Insight research house
  • Alex Sinclair, CTO of GSMA
  • David Wood @dw
    • principal at Delta Wisdom, formerly prime mover behind Symbian
  • Andreas Constantinou @andreascon
    • MD at Vision Mobile
  • Victor Palau @victorpalau
    • VP of Phone & Hyperscale Delivery at Canonical
  • Christian Heilman @codepo8
    • Principal Developer Evangelist (HTML5/Open Web) at Mozilla

What do new platforms offer manufacturers?

  • GB: essentially just 2 OEMs (Apple, Samsung) making any profit
  • CH: not a problem of distribution but where it is going
    • producing lots of phones in saturated market
    • Mozilla’s job is to keep the web open
    • the web is worldwide
    • FirefoxOS is targeting markets that mostly have featurephones, aiming to be people’s first smartphone
    • you can get old Androids but they’re 4 generations behind with old browsers that don’t show stuff right
    • manufacturers actually quite interested in this proposition
    • Foxconn hiring 3,000 people to make a FirefoxOS tablet
    • Samsung & Apple neutering open web — you need expensive hardware and a credit card to be a part of it
    • in Spain selling €79 phone with €30 pre-paid credit
  • GB: open initiatives have failed in the past: WAC, etc
  • VP: open initiatives can have trouble with leadership
    • Canonical remain open but have strong leadership
    • offering operators ability to showcase their content
  • DW: two good cases for disruption
    • companies that have shown their staying power
    • just an improvement in battery life would be welcomed…
    • smartphones naturally get stretched as new environments come along — and leave space for niches

What about the ecosystem?

  • AC: for any platform to be successful need buy in from:
    • developers, operators, manufacturers, users, …
    • devs have to learn new platform
    • users don’t care what’s underneath
    • operators have pre-allocated slots, often by OS
  • CH: Windows Phone is a great example
    • not seen the depth of commitment required from the operators
    • not willing to take the risk
  • AS: not all operators subsidise handsets
    • when a new version of the iPhone comes out, AT&T’s share price drops as they have to subsidise it
    • need an alternative
    • different operators placing different bets
  • AS: operators want to get their content onto devices
    • but are struggling to do so with iOS & Android
  • Ed.: this is probably one reason why those two are doing so well!
  • CH: app discovery as easy as searching
    • search for a movie: get IMDB deep link
    • go back to search and long-press to install app
    • then get offline goodness etc
    • drives me crazy that I have to wait 5 months for a game my friend is playing on his different device

What about the corporate sector or 3rd sector (training & education)?

  • VP: one of our main focuses at Ubuntu
    • have a very secure platform, bringing to phone
    • converged device — plug in your phone and get full desktop
    • good for enterprise: single device, secure
  • CH: enterprise difficult to get into as wedded to Blackberry or other platform that’s integrated with email system
    • difficult sell for open source
    • 3rd sector is an easier sell
    • e.g. simplified phone for elderly: just photos of family — click to call
  • AC: changing the UI of the phone reminded me of SavaJe (way back in 2006, bought and swallowed by Sun)
    • html5 is top platform for enterprise
    • top driver is efficiency
  • CH: developer scarcity — don’t have to go out to an agency
    • just use existing web team
  • DW: enterprise can drive home usage too
    • LinkedIn most popular enterprise app?
      • switched back to native on mobile as tools were not good enough
  • AC: html5 apps are like a car without a break
    • once it starts leaking, you can’t stop it

Are you seeing apps migrating from mobile to desktop?

  • DW: more about device usage — consumer behaviour is leading
  • VP: end of Windows XP support is great: making people think about it
    • at the moment can’t replace them with an html5 app
    • but solutions available in Ubuntu
  • AC: crawled the Google store to find APIs used
    • only 1 in 4 Android apps could be done on straight web
  • CH: that’s why Firefox provides access to device
    • some memory leaks come from platforms they are using to generate code
    • Chrome and Firefox dev tools making great strides

How many years are going to pass before clients say “don’t do native”?

  • VP: has to be lots more about what’s good for consumer
    • depends on the situation and who you’re aiming it at
  • AC: it’s not an either or…

Privacy: number one for Mozilla / chinese walls between work & home

  • AS: virtualisation of phones available: multiple phones in one
    • lots of companies don’t use Dropbox for security reasons
    • don’t think about all the data that certain closed OSes are capturing about us
  • DW: trustworthy and transparency may be change reasons
  • CH: already seeing that for Firefox browser
    • sometimes have to make the UX harder to make people think about what they are doing
  • VP: full Linux implementation
  • GB: isn’t there an argument that deep integration with Google is part of Android’s success?
  • AC: people don’t ask if Facebook & Google are spying on them: they give you something back which you perceive to be of value
  • CH: it’s actually more addiction than value…

What positive reasons for getting new platforms?

  • AS: it comes down to competition
    • is it a good idea for just a few companies to make the profits?
    • I represent people who used to make the profits from the industry…
    • was previously director of WAC, but by the time it was ready there was no need for it as only two platforms to develop for
    • operators want to implement RCS/joyn (operator-based IP messaging, voice, video, etc) and new platforms give them the chance to get involved
  • DW: so many variations
    • e.g. Nokia mega pixel camera: “average user only cares 16/23 about camera pixels” — but actually there’s a reasonable niche here

What about the important services that users expect?

  • e.g. Skype, Google Maps
  • AS: was in Korea last week: their search provider is being investigated for monopolistic practices
    • also a messaging provider was worried about operators implementing RCS/joyn and taking away their revenue stream
  • CH: service in China to add “written on an iPad” to the bottom of your email
    • $5 a month, and they stole your email data!

What about individual permissions?

  • CH: permissions can be asked on a more granular basis
    • no great list of permissions as for Android
  • AC: how much would you be willing to pay for a service that monitored and reported how your private data was being used?
    • people want it but are not willing to pay for it

Who is likely to nudge sub-saharan Africa into smartphones

  • full of featurephones
  • OLPC not doing that well
  • CH: OLPC didn’t do so well as missing network connectivity
    • Ushahidi is building a wireless BRCK to be a modem for Africa
    • if someone asks “what if Google or Apple go after these markets after you”, answer is “then we’ve won!”

Visiting from Momolo Nigeria: what difference will a billion users in Africa have on design considerations?

  • 120million mobile phones, mainly featurephones
  • CH: sent UX designers to South America to come up with use cases
    • build apps with Telefonica targeted at those markets
    • need to meet somebody local who knows the area
    • can’t assume that everybody wants the same thing
  • VP: community is very important
    • a lot of people in Africa want to contribute and make things better for their community
    • have a whole set of local community councils
    • e.g. large Catalonian community
  • AC: if you need to access the internet you need a data plan
    • developing countries have very expensive access plans
    • need to have smarter ways of micro-access to the internet
  • DW: designing meaningful UI for people who can’t read or write
  • AS: some operators already doing micro data plans
    • e.g. facebook access not coming out of data plan (facebook zero)

Closing remarks

  • GB: often on West Coast of US, it’s Android, iOS or the highway
    • been impressed that there’s a great strength in the alternatives
    • barriers to entry getting lower
    • html5 provides common access
    • market driven by growing diversity
    • fragmentation in OS space is likely to proliferate
  • AC: there is no black or white
    • there’s always multiple alternatives
  • AS: there’s a definite need & opportunity
    • don’t know who is going to win
  • DW: which David will survive?
    • execution: can the company keep pushing out high quality?
    • proposition: will people bit?
    • community: can they start a virtuous cycle?
  • VP: can you get a consumer to buy something different?
  • CH: there’ll be a lot of opportunity for a lot of players
    • we were the only cool thing in MWC twice in one day
    • device should not spy on you: built the internet in a different idea and this should exist on mobile phones too