Tag Archives: Android

Huawei’s U.S. troubles jumpstart push for new mobile operating systems

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Huawei press conference ces 5jan2019

With the impact of a U.S. trading ban growing, Huawei launched its own operating system, initially aimed at Internet of Things devices but with the potential to compete with Android in the mobile phone ecosystem. Branded HarmonyOS (and called Hongmeng in China) it is designed to be lightweight and very secure. Huawei isn’t installing it in its smart phones, but that could change.

A deep dive into Huawei’s relationship with Google by The Information’s Juro Osawa highlights how Chinese companies have flirted with developing independent operating systems, but ultimately backed away from investing in a risky corporate strategy that could find no executive champions…

In 2016, a top Huawei executive passed on an opportunity to partner with the maker of an Android alternative called Sailfish, seeing little need for a Plan B…

After the meeting, [Huawei consumer division chief Richard] Yu didn’t follow up on the idea of working with Jolla. He showed little interest in an alliance with another maker of operating systems.

But even though interest in reducing dependence on operating systems controlled by foreign companies is now coming from the Chinese government, according to Osawa’s article, Huawei didn’t take the threat seriously…

“In China, companies that supply products to the government are under growing pressure to use domestic software as well as hardware,” said Canalys analyst Nicole Peng. “Major Chinese tech companies like Huawei are feeling obliged to develop their own homegrown operating systems.”

Huawei’s renewed effort to develop its own OS was halfhearted, prompted in part by the company’s need to conform to Beijing’s homegrown software push…few executives viewed it as an Android replacement because the chances of Google ending its work with the Chinese company seemed remote.

Huawei lost that bet, and is now trying to play catch up. The result could a further isolation of technology and online services behind national firewalls. Or it might be the impetus the industry needs to finally break out of operating system architectures that were drafted nearly fifty years ago.

Apple iOS gaining on Android in U.S. and China

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Apple and Samsung are in a dead heat in the U.S. Both companies captured 35% of smartphone sales for three months ending in August of this year, according to Kantar Wordpanel, a market research firm based in London. Apple is showing strength in carrier distribution channels, particularly with Verizon…

“Apple maintained strong momentum in the US one month before the release of iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, and grew its sales share by 3.7 percentage points year-on-year, compared to Samsung’s growth of 0.8 percentage points,” [Dominic Sunnebo, Global Business Unit Director at Kantar Worldpanel said]. “Weaker sales through Verizon hurt Samsung as Apple approached a 50% share within the largest US carrier – an even higher proportion than at AT&T, a traditional iPhone stronghold.”

Kantar bases its market share estimates on operating system sales data. Overall, Android has a commanding lead, with 63% of the U.S. market. But Apple is gaining ground. Its 35% share of operating system sales is up 4% from the same period a year ago, while Android’s share has dropped 3%.

Apple also appears to be benefitting from the demise of the Windows mobile operating system, which dropped from 2% of the U.S. market to 1%. Blackberry is in even worse shape, with just 0.3% U.S. market share.

In China, the world’s biggest smart phone market, Apple’s iOS gained 4% year over year, climbing to 18% market share, while Android dropped 4% to 82% – still a commanding lead. Windows is at a big fat zero percent in China, which is the principal reason its worldwide share crashed to virtually nothing, according to some estimates.

Huawei is the leading manufacturer in China, with 31% of smartphone sales. BBK Electronics, which sells under the Oppo and Vivo brands, is second with 20% and Apple is third. “The flagship iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus were the two top-selling models in urban China during the period”, according to Kantar’s press release.

Blackberry joins the Android party

by Steve Blum • ,

Sometimes, you just have to drink the bong water.

Finally, Blackberry is generating some buzz. The Canadian company is preparing to make and bring to market an Android powered phone, according to the Crackberry.com website. It’s a necessary step, if the company has any hope of wringing value of out the ashes of its former empire.

Blackberry is still trying to find its way in the world. Historically, it’s had three core competencies: an operating system, hardware manufacturing, and a secure platform for enterprise software. Email is the most well known example of the latter, but Blackberry also has document handling and basic security capabilities too.

The company has long said that it want its enterprise software to run on other OSes, and Android is the best candidate for that. Apple is unlikely, to say the least, to let Blackberry into the iOS ecosystem in any meaningful way.

So to generate value from its enterprise platform, it has to get into the Android world. Making a handset that integrates the Blackberry enterprise platform with the Android OS is the logical way to demonstrate how well it works, and it lets Blackberry leverage its manufacturing core competency, or at least squeeze something out of it.

You can say that Blackberry is backing away from its own OS, but the reality is that it’s declining to follow its OS into oblivion. Exactly the same thing is going on at Microsoft now, where Android is getting more attention as the company tries to position itself as a cross platform service provider.

If there’s any value left in Blackberry, it’s in the enterprise platform and not the OS or handset manufacturing.

Sony picks in-house OS for wearables and survival

by Steve Blum • , , , , , , ,

Used to be staying alive was innovation enough.

Google’s try at adapting its Android operating system to specifically support wearable devices isn’t getting much love from manufacturers. Following Samsung’s lead, Sony has decided to make its own Android mod for wearable products, instead of using Google’s Wear platform. It’s a necessary gamble if Sony still wants to be Sony.

The company is trying to remake itself into a mobile-oriented, innovative brand. Like it used to be when Sony launched the Walkman 35 years ago. That’s why they’re unloading the Vaio product range. If they want the brand to mean what it did back in the day, they need to innovate at the operating system level as well as the app and hardware levels.

(Way back when I was working with RCA on the launch of what is now DirecTv, the joke was “what’s the Sony brand worth? Fifty bucks a letter”. OK, maybe not a ROTFLMAO moment, but the $200 premium those four letters fetched was real).

Building and using its own Android adaptation is the way to do that. It gives Sony the ability to tie their wearables more closely to their tablets and phones. If it works, it’ll give them the same kind of advantage Apple will have if it ever extends iOS to wearables. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t matter because Sony can’t survive as a commodity electronics manufacturer. There’s little opportunity to create magic products if you’re using the same chips and operating system that lead to the same app store as everyone else.

Tizen out to prove one invisible OS is as good as another

by Steve Blum • , , , , ,

Enough treats to attract developers.

Samsung is following Google into the wearable operating system space. Its Android alternative – Tizen – now has a software developer kit available specifically for wearable devices, including, of course, the Samsung Gear smart watch. The release came close on the heels of the announcement of 64 winners of the $4 million app development challenge the Tizen Foundation launched last year.

The contest was particularly aimed at HTML5 developers, who were offered $50,000 bonuses on top of the regular prizes, which ranged up to $250,000. The cross-platform encouragement paid off, according to the a post on the Tizen Foundation blog

Many of the apps that were submitted also appear on other platforms. This was expected and encouraged. It’s become increasingly common for app developers to use middleware like Marmalade, Sencha, Unity, Cocos2d-x, and others to develop apps, and with Tizen as one of the export targets it makes sense to get them into the store. In addition, we saw a large number of HTML5 apps that were already written for other platforms ported to Tizen specifically for the challenge. In one notable case, one of the grand prize winners took three days to adapt an existing (and quite extensive) HTML5 app for Tizen.

Plans for launching Tizen-based smart phones aren’t going anywhere right now, but Samsung’s OS is well positioned for new and growing market segments. There’s no winning operating system standard yet for wearables. Appliance and television OSes are largely embedded systems – invisible to users – that focus on vertical, manufacturer-developed applications. The strategy seems to be to flank Android by targeting new product categories, while maintaining sufficient contact with the smart phone market to keep Google honest.

Android is the best hope for making wearables into sellables

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Good intentions meet the harsh light of day.

The buzz this week around the announcement that a reasonably high profile fitness band – Jawbone’s UP24 – is finally supporting Android as well as iOS phones is a bit overheated. Launching without Android support is a huge minus for any wearable device. Unless the feature set, connectivity and server-side support is limited. And that’s a good description of the Jawbone UP24. It’s a simple product that’s attractively designed, but it doesn’t do anything particularly innovative.

So far, wearables like the UP24 or Fitbit are novelty items, not “must have” accessories for serious fitness enthusiasts or breakthrough lifestyle products for average consumers. It’s early days, though. Soon enough, someone will find the right combination of smartphone connectivity and features, server-side processing and wearable sensors and create a product that makes life more enjoyable and productive, with less effort and greater convenience. That’s what the iPhone did, after years of proto-smartphone products that didn’t exactly fail but remained in the niche category.

To do that you need the flexibility and developer support that the Android platform provides, including its easy integration with Linux server-side development. The problem will be solved by a cowboy developer, not someone living between the lines of Apple’s store policies. That’s why Google is coming out with a wearable SDK and why not putting Android at the top of wearable product development priorities is a mistake. Unless the feature set, connectivity and server-side support is limited.

That said, the UP24 will perform nicely as a novelty item, but my prediction is that 95% of units sold will be languishing in dressing table drawers within a month.

Intel CEO’s vision for a post-Windows world

by Steve Blum • , , , , , , ,

Time for Linux and kin.

“This is a consumer show, like it or not”, said Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, as he gave his maiden CES keynote talk last night. Judging by what he said (and didn’t say), the consumer electronics world is built on Linux and Android. His focus was on wearables.

“They don’t integrate all the features you want, you still had to have something else with you”, Krzanich said about smart watches and other wearables. “And you ’re not solving real problems, the problems people want solved at the time”.

Intel’s answer is adding more and more functionality – using audio ear buds to measure heart rate, for example – and putting more processing power into tiny devices. To jump start that effort, Krzanich announced a competition worth $1.3 million in prize money – $500,000 for first place – for new ideas. According to Intel’s press release

The product must be based on Intel technology and be a sensor or computing device that is attached, embedded or worn on the body.

Krzanich bent over backwards to be operating system-agnostic. The convertible PC/tablet he demoed boots into either Android or Windows. The one actual Intel product he introduced – a Pentium-class system-on-a-chip called Edison, built into a standard, small SD card – runs Linux, not Windows. Intel’s re-launched security platform supports anything.

The reference designs in the spotlight last night did not include smart phones or pure tablets. Krzanich talked up productivity applications, in contrast to Steve Mollenkopf, Qualcomm’s CEO-in-waiting, who extolled media consumption earlier in the day. The two dominant chip makers staked out their turf yesterday, and there’s surprisingly little overlap in market positioning. The one thing Krzanich and Mollenkopf seem to agree on, though, is that the consumer electronics industry’s future lies with open source operating systems and their derivatives, not Windows.

Qualcomm’s CEO-elect backs away from Microsoft

by Steve Blum • , , , , ,

Mollenkopf prepares to step into the spotlight.

“We continue to be optimistic about the future of the Windows ecosystem”, said Steve Mollenkopf, the man picked to take over as CEO of Qualcomm, starting in March. He was responding to a question about Qualcomm’s relationship with Microsoft, during a refreshingly informal press conference at CES today.

What Mollenkopf didn’t say, though, was even more important.

When quizzed about Qualcomm’s ability to move beyond media consumption and into mobile productivity devices, such as the Windows tablets that have stalled in the marketplace, Mollenkopf talked up the benefits of supporting multiple operating systems – which Qualcomm vigorously does – and then started waxing poetic about the wonders of media consumption. And, incidentally, pointing out that people are doing a lot of productive things on Android phones and phablets.

It was clear that he doesn’t think Qualcomm’s future will depend on Microsoft figuring out how to create and support mobile products and services.

He also dodged questions about the potential development of ARM-powered chips specifically for use in servers. In general, Mollenkopf was unapologetic about keeping tighter control on new product details. “We’re in the leadership position and don’t feel it’s necessary to tip our hand as early as others”, he said.

Qualcomm’s strength is in mobile products, and the chips it produces are putting more and more power into those smaller form factors, increasingly satisfying consumer demands that were previously met by more traditional CE products, like TVs and PCs. “It’s all about mobile”, Mollenkopf said. “If you’re looking at what’s driving growth, what people are excited about, they’re excited about mobile”.

Firefox OS performing as well as it can on ZTE Open SDK

by Steve Blum • , , , , , , , ,

Twitter top pick on Firefox app store.

The Firefox mobile operating system is clearly a work in progress, but that said, it works well enough already. I’ve been using a ZTE Open Firefox phone for three months, and can do most of the things I need to do and, as time goes on and software is released, more of the things I’d like to do.

The OS performs better than Bada, which I used for about a year on a Samsung handset. There’s more software available and it’s a snappier, less frustrating experience. On the other hand, it’s not as smooth or well stocked with apps as my two-year old LG Android phone. All three are in the same, low end price range.

The phone itself is well worth the $80 I paid for it. In its current form, it’s effectively a software developers’ kit rather than a consumer product, but even so it performs well. It also sold well – the first thousand phones were gone in hours. ZTE has been following up with purchasers, as it irons out bugs and extends the platform’s capabilities.

The Open lacks LTE connectivity, as did the unlocked Android phones that ZTE previewed at the Pepcom Holiday Spectacular in San Francisco last month. Which is a problem for developers, since the Firefox OS is built on HTML5, which in turn depends on fast connections between tiny apps and big servers.

On the consumer side, a ZTE product manager said that he didn’t think users would notice the lack of LTE on unlocked phones. Or maybe he’s just hoping they won’t. His argument was that since LTE networks are getting slammed by heavy traffic from high end phones, value conscious buyers will be happier with what he considered to be less crowded 3G bands. By that logic, though, they should be overjoyed using 2G Edge networks. Good luck with that.

Old guard chipmakers emphasise the old at Pepcom

by Steve Blum • , , , , , , , , ,

Plenty of leg, but no ARM at Pepcom.

If you were wondering why Intel and AMD released downbeat quarterly reports this week, you only had to look at their products. The difference, though, is that AMD has control of its own destiny, while Intel will have to rely on the kindness of strangers to survive.

The two chipmakers showcased the hottest products rocking their silicon at Pepcom’s Holiday Spectacular in San Francisco on Wednesday. That’s not the same, though, as saying they were showing the hottest products on the market.

Both companies were heavy on Windows 8 PCs and mobile devices. The former are slowly sliding toward kitchen appliance appeal and replacement cycles, and the latter seem to have gone underground. Intel did have a Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 10.1 running Android, but that was it. Everything else – HP, Acer, Sony, Toshiba, MSI, Dell, ASUS – was bog standard Windows. (To be fair, Dell also had a Pepcom display with a couple of nice bargain priced Android tablets front and center).

All the devices at both displays were powered by chips using Intel’s x86 architecture, which AMD also licenses. Intel doesn’t have a choice, of course. But AMD does. It’s making ARM-based processors for the server side of the industry, and the client-side might not be too far away.

“We’ll continue to work with [ARM] where we think the market asks for it,” said Sarah Youngbauer, AMD’s spokesperson at Pepcom. Given that the market is emphatically demanding mobile products, that might be the same as saying we should be expecting a product announcement soon.