Here Comes Android

Certain things are all about timing.  My situation with my smartphone is one of them.  I have grown incredibly frustrated with AT&T’s service on the iPhone, to the point where I am close to a breaking point.  3-4 drops on a stationary 30 minute call with full bars?  As much as I love the iPhone with all its applications, there are definitely a few things I would change about how it handles email support.  I can’t help but think back to the simple but reliable days of my Verizon Blackberry (putting aside of course my VC requirement to have an iPhone).  I am vulnerable, I am questioning, I am searching for how this gets better.  Timing could not be better for some solution to this, as so far, the only answer has been to hope the iPhone continues to innovate and launches on Verizon in 18 months.  As those doubts have come creeping in, I see the promising “iDon’t”, “Droid Does” ads from Verizon, causing me to pause and think.  And I don’t think I’m the only one.

Android itself comes at an impeccable time.  The entire industry is in pain, with the exception of Apple, who is now suffering from the woes of its partner’s network.  The industry is crying out for a viable third party, open solution.  Windows Mobile is currently getting terrible reviews, Linux on the mobile has had fleeting momentum, and Android is benefitting from the major halo surrounding Google.  Motorola is staking the next generation of its franchise around the device.  Verizon’s strong network and user reputation is using Droid as their play against the iPhone until Apple comes to the table with more reasonable terms.  New specific function devices are proliferating, with the launch of e-readers, tablets, slim phones, smartphones, TV/movie devices, etc, all requiring a system to manage resources.  And a whole community of developers is inspired to make Android successful – in and outside of cell phones.

My belief is that Android will become a lasting, successful platform in the mobile device space.  I also believe the ecosystem around it – including an open store, applications, games – all will follow.  Apple has the clear lead, but with no other player having the critical mass to build an alternative (other than Microsoft who seems to losing momentum), Android becomes a real galvanizing alternative.  Whatever the outcome, I hope it leads to reliability and choice for consumers!

Fearing the iPhone Push

With Apple’s 3.0 version of the iPhone quickly approaching, one of the most widely anticipated features is the “Push” functionality.  This allows developers to send alerts, notifications, and other communications to the phone without the application actively being run. 

While one can see the obvious utility in the feature, the part of me that manages my email inbox is dreading the feature.  I am not as bad (or efficient, you pick the term) as those who manage to a “zero inbox“, but I do try and make an effort to have no unread emails every few days.  With this new Push feature, I’m envisioning throngs of app developers desirous of keeping me engaged with their app sending daily, hourly, and minutely notificifations.  I’m imagining paging across the screens in my iPhone and seeing 40+ apps each claiming I have 30+ new notifications.  And I’m thinking the Email manager in me will start to feel very behind….

So what will happen?  I’d bet the following:

  1. I will find exceptional utility from the few apps that I use regularly that provide me with notifications, and will try to stay as current as possible with them.  The Push feature will enhance my productivity.
  2. I will no longer feel comfortable looking at screen after screen of apps I barely recognize indicating I have a bunch of missed messages.  I will start deleting apps that I currently dont use but keep on my phone in the background. 
  3. I would bet my reaction will not be dissimilar to others, and notification “spam” will eventually hit a tipping point.  Apple will step in to regulate the push feature.  They will ensure all notifications are explicitly opt-in and customizable, not simply by virtue of agreeing to download the app.

All of the above is with the caveat that I dont have the details for how Apple will make the feature available to developers.  But I’m hoping I don’t have a new stack of attention draining activities to manage….

Facebook, Twitter, and the Convergence of Messaging

Lots of chatter about Twitter being offered $500MM by Facebook.  Some think Twitter is crazy not to take it, while many others correctly point out that $500MM is not $500MM if it’s in stock.  While Facebook may hold out the Microsoft $15 billion valuation (an artificial auction given how strategically important the advertising deal was to Microsoft, not to mention that they received preferred stock), my discussions with a number of people tell me Facebook common stock has been trading hands at somewhere between $3 and $4 billion in value.  If you’re Twitter, that’s the difference between owning 3% of Facebook and 12.5%.  That’s a huge difference in ownership when it comes to upside! 

Facebook is an unbelievable social hub, where casual communications amongst friends are mainstay.  Facebook has also been incredibly successful with mobile usage.  There are over 15 million active users of Facebook Mobile, growing over 300% from last year!  By comparison, Twitter “only” has 6 million active users of the product.  If Facebook is the dominant player in casual communications and has an incredibly strong product in the Mobile space, why would it make a “buy” decision versus a “build” one? 

I think Facebook is looking to take advantage of this downturn in the economy to become the largest social network and communications hub out there.  It turned down some huge offers to stay independent.  There’s no turning back now.  Twitter is the poster child “Web 2.0” company – incredible usage, no revenues.  If Facebook could get Twitter for a reasonable price (ie, selling them on a $15 billion valuation), they could clearly capitalize on Twitter’s market momentum.  Pick up a viral service that has got a high degree of overlap with your own users, and use the integrated service to draw everyone else from Facebook onto the service.   Even if they don’t buy Twitter, Facebook must be working on some sort of SMS-based Twitter-like feature.  They might even add a Loopt style service alongside the same platform.   Extrapolating from the chart below, text messaging is a very important communications medium for Facebook’s core audience, and clearly offering a full feature set would rank high in ensuring Facebook’s dialogue with their core audiences. 

 

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Looking at the chart above also provides some hint as to where Facebook might be headed next.  In my mind, the next most obvious place for them to go is email.   While younger kids view email as the “formal” way of communicating with adults, its usage is uniform across age demographics (see below).  And we all know how incredibly sticky email addresses are.  Yahoo! has over 260 million users of its email service, and AOL has long maintained audiences with its legacy email accounts.  Gmail by Google, while growing, is a surprising distant follower.  I’d bet many of the younger users of Facebook would easily use an “@facebook” account, or any separate brand Facebook might come up with, especially if it was appropriately integrated into their social messaging platform.  Facebook might even do something really interesting by providing POP access to its social messages to drive adoption.  Putting aside the details of how Facebook sorts/presents email from chat or social messages, it would seem like a great way to start building an organic presence in email for a huge audience you control.

Other possibilities could be expanding Facebook’s chat platform.  While they have their own internal chat function, why not approach Meebo or eBuddy to acquire their tens of millions of interoperable IM users.  Like Twitter, they likely share attributes of “high usage, light revenues”.  In addition, Facebook could launch a VoIP based voice service that it embeds into their chat platform and their smart phone mobile applications. 

Imagine the converged communications possibilities.  Facebook would have the SMS market cornered via Twitter or its own offering, it could have not only the internal usage of their Chat application but also corner interoperable IM services via acquisition, it could have users starting their sticky email “lives” with the launch of @Facebook/ @nameyourbrand so users can communicate with all those “adults” outside the Facebook ecosystem, it could have applications messaging enabled by the open Facebook platform, and it could have voice (VoIP) services embedded via the web and the downloadable mobile app.  While pure speculation on my part, one can see how the innocent Twitter play could be one small step towards Facebook aggressively trying to converge our messaging platforms.