On big data and why Google’s Android is winning and fragmentation is no longer a problem

Google’s big developer conference began yesterday and we heard a lot of news about what Google has planned over the coming months. However, the big highlights centered around the Android platform. As I have indicated over the past 4 years, I believe Android will continue to take share and the announcements from Google I/O only further this view. However, more than that, with 75% of new handset sales going to Android, now there is the real threat that Android could become the Windows of mobile. Below are my thoughts on the news flow followed by links to a slew of articles released yesterday in support.

Big Data

Every year, Google brings its developers together for a big pow wow and make critical announcements on the future of software and hardware development at the company. As everywhere in the technology space, increasingly these events are going to focus on mobile, mobile-centric ideas and cloud computing. This event was no different. Google released a new Maps program. It made major changes to the Google+ social network. And Google launched a new music program to compete with Spotify and Pandora.

Behind all of these initiatives was a sense that everything is now oriented toward facilitating the crunching of big data across platforms and delivering content based on this data to end users. It’s not about maps, music or social networking per se but about creating an environment that allows consumers to use these products seamlessly across the various computing devices they have in as user-friendly a way as possible. For example, the holy grail of social, which was a major additive in all three of these initiatives, is the fact that social gives Google another data input to refine and tailor their offering and make it more useful and more-user friendly.

I would say the overarching theme of Google’s initiatives are unifying data streams across different platforms and apps to enhance user experience, actively predicting what a user needs based on data crunching and correlation rather than based on discrete user queries. The cutoff between useful and creepy is certainly going to be a big deal in Google’s quest to use big data to enhance user experience. And users will be sensitive to privacy issues, especially in a time in which the US government is can execute secret subpoenas and search data without an individual’s knowledge. But, I think there is an inexorable move amongst technology companies – Amazon and Google in particular – to take data across platforms and applications to either enhance user experience or better predict user preferences in order to make more money.

The Pandoras of the world use this power in an isolated way within a single application environment, predicting your musical taste in order to play music you like so that you will pay Pandora more money. And key here is that you want to get that same experience everywhere: on your computer, set top box, mobile phone or tablet. Google is trying to take this same concept and move it across applications, which in essence, means it has to unify those applications, weaving them together in order to enhance user experience. That’s what’s behind Google’s unified messaging, it’s Google wallet within emails and the Google now-like search features in Google Maps.

Now, when I first started writing this piece, I hd intended to focus on Android because I felt mobile was the theme. But as I went through the articles from Google I/O, it became clear to me the theme was more about using big data across the cloud in a mobile-centric world. It’s the data that leads and the mobile aspect that defines how the data is deployed and used. So that’s why I have led here talking about big data, something I usually first think of as an Amazon thing. But Google is a big data company too and this I/O makes that abundantly clear.

Android and mobile

With regard to Android and mobile specifically, what I thought were the biggest announcements were the stock Android Galaxy S4 one and the one about Google’s modular approach.

What we now know from Gartner’s data on Q1 2013 handset purchases is that Android now has 75% new purchase market share, 59% across all smart mobile devices. I find that remarkable. On some level, it is a bit troubling because it actually makes one imagine a future world dominated by Android to the exclusion of choice. And while that’s not a problem in a VHS-Betamax world, it could be a problem in a world in which one company controls the platform for the vast majority of computing devices, something we learned during the Windows days in the 1990s.

From a strategic perspective, however, what this market share advantage is saying is that Google is ‘winning’. I put winning in quotes because clearly from a profit perspective Apple is still winning. But, as I indicated in the December article linked in the last sentence, Google is winning the platform race hands-down.

The stock Android Galaxy S4 announcement is a big deal in that context. See, one thing people at Apple say is a problem for Google is that they have all these different manufacturers and telecom companies selling Android devices in different countries with different versions of the Android operating system and different skins. Amazon has even customized Google out of existence on its tablets. This might be great for the manufacturers and telecom companies. But it is bad for user experience. Take a look at what AT&T has done with Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S4. They have locked the bottloader which means they have tried to make it difficult for users to monkey around with the phone in a way that gets AT&T content off the phone or that makes the phone usable on other telecom networks. What AT&T is doing is using the fact that Android is ‘open’ to lock users in to their network. Not only do users have to stay with AT&T for two years because they are under contract in order to get the phone at the subsidised price. But AT&T customers also get locked in because the phone is locked to AT&T only. And if the user is daring or savvy enough to try to change this, they risk turning their phone into a brick because that’s what happens when you monkey around with a phone that has a locked bootloader. AT&T can do this because Google and Android allow them to.

But the stock Android Samsung Galaxy phone sold directly by Google cuts the telecom guys out and even gets rid of Samsung’s Touchwiz customization. Basically, you get a phone that can be used anywhere on any (GSM) network out of the box without all the bloatware that manufacturers and telecom companies put on it. AND, Google promises to update the phone promptly, something the telecoms and manufacturers don’t do. For customers, this is huge. And I predict it will add a massive uptick to the sales of the Galaxy S4. This is paradigm-shifting stuff really. Eventually, users will become accustomed to just buying a phone the way they buy any other electronic gizmo, except you cut out the middleman retailer and that boosts margins or lowers price. In conjunction with T-Mobile’s move to move away from subsidized handsets, I see the unlocked stock Samsung Android Galaxy S4 as a big game changer.

Apple has also disparaged Google’s so-called ‘open’ Android platform because it allows for fragmentation i.e. users working on different iterations of the operating system. It’s kind of like having 20% of your user base on Windows 2000, 20% on Windows XP and the rest on Windows 7, with more and more upgrading to Windows 8. I don’t think it’s a big deal for the user, honestly. However, for application developers, it is a big headache. And Apple has used this fact and the fact that Apple users pay more per App than Android users to keep developers on their platform at the expense of Android – despite Android’s massive lead in market share.

Google addressed this problem initially by slowing down operating system iterations. However, at the Google I/O, it announced that it had moved to a modular design platform that allows it to update the guts of ALL device operating system software to the same standard irrespective of which iteration of the OS the system has. What this in effect means is that the developer can go out and build an application for Android phones and tablets without having to worry as much about fragmentation. They can build one application and be more sure that it will work well on many different devices. And since Android is now taking 75% share, that is a compelling reason to go forward with Android app development.


I think all of this – the social and data unification and the mobile defragmentation – is going to make Google a killer for Apple’s business in mobile. Apple is still a hardware company. And while they have done well for a long time because of some great hardware products that have hefty price tags and margins, the reality is that the hardware business is usually a low margin business. In today’s mobile, cloud-centric world, the hardware is going to become a commodity. And so the only way a company focused on hardware to make money is going to win strategically is by controlling the platform that its hardware uses. To data, APple has done this well. But they are losing share at an alarming rate. Amazon and Google are big data companies and that means they don’t care about hardware margins. They are actively enabling downward margin pressure through their strategies. And with Google’s Android dominating the mobile operating system race, I believe Google is increasingly well-positioned for the future.

Links below

Google Maps Gets a Completely New Look and Better Location Discovery

“Google announced a new version of Maps for Android, iOS, and the web today, with a new look and a focus on location discovery.
On the desktop, Google’s gotten rid of the Maps sidebar for a more map-centric experience, with a floating search bar on the left side. When you search for a location, the results show up on the map, but not on a big sidebar on the left side. You can filter the results and click on them for some dropdown cards that give you more details. It’s a very cool interface, but it looks like it could be a little frustrating if you want a more traditional list.
Google has also added a new feature that highlights personal landmarks, like favorite restaurants and other locations (sourced by the same data that sources Google Now) that help you orient yourself. Certain restaurants may show up on your map by default, but not on others, and you can also see locations on your friends’ maps (sourced by your Google+ circles).”

What Google was thinking when redesigning the new Google+ — Tech News and Analysis

“Google’s reworking of its social network, Google+ shows that the company has started to marry data with design and craft new experiences. Will that be enough to turn you and I into active participants? Who, knows, I am just happy it doesn’t look like Facebook.”

Google Now Features Voice Search, Reminders and More Languages – Ina Fried – News – AllThingsD

“Search needs to answer, converse and anticipate, and Google is working on doing all three, Singhal said.
In a demo, Johanna Wright demonstrated searching by voice for “things to do in Santa Cruz,” getting a page of results.
A follow-up query of “How far is it from here?” generated a result of “an hour and 21 minutes” from her present location. Wright dictated an email from Google’s mobile app and then added a reminder to call a particular friend when she gets to a city.
Google Now is adding support for reminders and public transit, along with info on upcoming TV shows and information on other entertainment types, such as books and videogames.”

Google Unites Gmail And G+ Chat Into “Hangouts” Cross-Platform Text And Group Video Messaging App | TechCrunch

“The messaging space has become a battleground recently with independent messaging apps like WhatsApp and Line competing with Apple, Facebook, and Google to rule private communication. Everyone wants to become the high-tech successor to SMS.
For Google, messaging could create a wealth of engagement and monetization options. Of course Google could monetize Hangouts directly by cramming ads in it somewhere, or selling special effects for video chat and stickers for text.
A stronger, cross-platform chat experience in Gmail could boost time spent there, where Google already shows ads. It could also finally give people a real reason to use Google+.
Most importantly, though, Hangouts could humanize Google. Still viewed as a search and ads company, people don’t think about it first when they want to socialize. Hangouts leverages all of Google’s powerful technology to bring people closer together.”

Google+ Gets 41 New Features, Including an Awesome New Interface

“Google+ is getting a huge update today with 41 new features, including an awesome new column-based interface with some nice customization options.”

Google Unifies Chat Messaging With New Hangouts – Mike Isaac – News – AllThingsD

“Not one to be left behind in the messaging space, Google on Wednesday unveiled its revamped take on Hangouts, cobbling together a number of the company’s communication tools into one unified system.
Pretty straightforward stuff: You’re able to chat with friends through five different types of Google properties — Gmail, Google+, iOS and Android devices, and the Chrome browser.”

Google To Begin Offering Unlocked Samsung Galaxy S4 With Stock Android For $649 On June 26 | TechCrunch

“Google is offering a version of the Samsung Galaxy S4, arguably one of the top current Android devices, with Jelly Bean 4.2 unlocked on Google Play beginning June 26, the company revealed at I/O today. The news is big because it’s the first non-Nexus device to get blessed with this opportunity, and Google says it will be updated in time with all other Nexus devices.
The Galaxy S4 will cost $649 with no contract, and will be usable on both AT&T and T-Mobile in the U.S., Google said today. At that price it isn’t exactly cheap, but people are probably willing to pay for an untouched Android experience on some of the most powerful smartphone hardware available.”

Google Play Games service officially announced

“Google has officially announced a new Google Play Services API, one we all know as Google Play Games. Google Play Games will introduce services developers can build into their games to provide an all new gaming experience that features things like cloud-saving, achievements and leaderboards, low-latency multiplayer matchmaking and more. These features are rolling out today as part of a bigger Google Play Services update that is available for all Android devices with Android 2.2 or higher.”

Google I/O statshot: 900 million Android devices activated — Tech News and Analysis

“Here are some of the key data points coming out of Google’s 2013 I/O keynote”

Google Apps set for a communication upgrade with deeper Google+ integration — Tech News and Analysis

“There may not be any new hardware announced at Google I/O, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be any surprises. Multiple sources have told us that Google is going to bring Google+ into Google Apps as a back-end communications system, allowing you to talk to co-workers while simultaneously working on a document.”

Google Launches “Google Play Music All Access” On-Demand $9.99 A Month Subscription Service | TechCrunch

“Google just launched an on-demand subscription music service at I/O called “Google Play Music All Access”. Its web and mobile interfaces feature millions of songs you can play instantly, recommendations, charts and playlists, and instant radio stations. The Spotify competitor launches today in the US for $9.99 a month, comes with a free trial month, and sign-ups before June 30th get it for $7.99.”

Google Play Services Bring Notification Syncing and More to Android

“At Google’s I/O conference today, the company announced some interesting new APIs as part of Google Play Services, which developers can use to enhance their apps. Some of the most interesting ones include single sign on and notification syncing, so you get alerts and can sign on just once across all your devices.”

Commercial Drone Startup Gets $10.7 Million From Andreessen Horowitz – Kara Swisher – News – AllThingsD

“Airware, a startup that is creating a software platform for commercial drones, said it had raised $10.7 million in a Series A funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz. Google Ventures also participated. As part of the deal, Andreessen Horowitz partner Chris Dixon will join Airware’s board.
The Newport Beach, Calif., company said it would use the money to expand staff for its universal development platform as the market for non-military drones expands.”

Google updating Android without updating Android is the biggest news out of I/O 2013 | Android and Me

“Google’s answer to fragmentation has been fully realized at Google I/O 2013. Google has developed around the vastly different configurations of Android, breaking down the various walls keeping Google from updating core apps and services that really shape your Android experience. If you were to break down the most important aspects of Android that dictate user experience, you could easily include everything Google updated today, without having to actually update Android. That means that not only will Nexus users experience Android the way Google wants you to, but HTC One, Samsung Galaxy S4, Sony Xperia Z and Oppo Find 5 users will as well.”

Google’s Larry Page says Oracle among those holding back tech industry | Technology | guardian.co.uk

“Page blamed a “focus on negativity and zero-sum games” for the industry’s failure to achieve its full potential. He said: “I’ve been sad that the industry hasn’t been able to advance those things.”
Computers were slow, the web was not advancing as fast as it should be and big technology companies were not co-operating enough, he said. “I think it’s kind of sad we have all these computers out there that are connected to each other by a tiny, tiny, tiny pipe that’s super slow.”
Page named the tech giant Oracle as one of the roadblocks to faster progress. “Money is more important to them” than having any kind of cooperation, he said. The two companies have clashed repeatedly over patents.”

Google Folds Wallet Support Into Gmail So You Can Send Money As Attachments | TechCrunch

“Google Wallet support has been baked into Gmail, so users will soon be able to send each other money by simply shooting each other emails.
In the coming weeks and months, a dollar sign will start popping in Gmail accounts of people who already use Google Wallet, and a quick click lets users define the recipient and the amount they’d like to send along as an attachment. Since all of these transactions run through Google Wallet, the usual caveats are in place — sending funds from a connected bank account is totally gratis, but those who prefer to pay with credit or debit cards are subject to an additional 2.9 percent fee tacked on. You also need to be over 18 to take part in the funding fun, though.”

New Google Maps Sign-up Page Goes Live Briefly, Reveals All Sorts of New Details – Droid Life

“A new version of Google Maps for the desktop was leaked last week showing a new look that provided a more full-screen experience while matching up to the Google Now-esque card style of other Google services. A release of this version seemed imminent, but most of us figured it would wait for a Google I/O unveiling. Tonight (the night before I/O), the sign-up for this new Google Maps was live briefly, giving us a glimpse at what we can expect when it officially goes live.
The first highlight of the sign-up page mentioned a “tailored map for every search” that you perform, so that you’ll always have a map which shows you things that matter the most. We’re talking custom maps or at least maps that learn from you the more you use them.”

Android 4.3 confirmed by Google developer website | The Verge

“Android 4.3 is still largely a mystery, but the update is expected to support Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and the OpenGL for Embedded Systems 3.0 graphics specification. BLE would help conserve battery life on mobile devices that connect to peripherals like smartwatches and speakers, and OpenGL allows for advanced visual effects in games and graphics-intensive applications”

The Magic Of Google’s APIs and Algorithms, The Bread And Butter Of The Google I/O Keynote | TechCrunch

“the attendees heard more about how Google has developed new ways to turn data into services. The highlights were not some fancy hardware but the magic of Google’s APIs and algorithms, the bread and butter of what Google does.”

Google to Launch Music-Streaming Service – WSJ.com

“Google Inc. GOOG +2.49% is set to launch a paid subscription music-streaming service akin to that of Spotify AB as soon as this week, according to people familiar with the matter.”

Nearly 75% Of All Smartphones Sold In Q1 Were Android, With Samsung At 30%; Mobile Sales Overall Nearly Flat: Gartner | TechCrunch

“Gartner has just released its Q1 figures for mobile handset sales, and the key takeaway is that Android continues to steal the show, led by handset maker Samsung. Google’s mobile platform now accounts for nearly 75% of all handset sales, a jump of almost 20 percentage points on a year ago, and equating to 156 million devices sold in the three-month period. Smartphones sales grew by 63 million units to 210 million for the quarter, making up nearly half of all mobile phone sales overall, at 425 million. With the number of mobile handset sales up by a mere 0.7% on a year ago, it’s clear that higher-end devices are very the much growth engine for the mobile industry at the moment.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the more interesting figures from Gartner.”

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