Category: mobile

Cars, TVs, Watches, Toasters…the Power is in Your Pocket

The-Internet-of-Things-InfographicIf you work in any company or venture connected to technology than by know you’ve realized that the next frontier is the internet of things (IoT); namely that so many things we use everyday will be connected. What started with computers, morphed to phones and tablets, and found its way to TVs, and more recently wearables (wristbands, watches, etc.) will now pollinate to cars, appliances, and more. It’s the natural order of things. What may be implicit but hasn’t been discussed is that all of these things will rely on one thing you use and can’t live without, the phone that lives in your pocket. The worst kept secret that Apple and Google are in a land grab for the automobile world largely broke this week with Apple’s announcement of CarPlay and Volvo showing a video demo to the world (below). Add Google’s announcement of the Open Automotive Alliance and the battle is on.

Auto makers are hedging their bets, many planning to offer both Apple and Android inside their cars and for good reason. iOS and Android have proliferated to the point where its a neck-and-neck two-horse mobile race (sorry Microsoft, Blackberry, others) and therein lies the advantage. No matter what thing is connected, they will all be an extension of what is running on your phone.

CarPlay and undoubtedly Google’s offering (possibly called projected mode) will be a second screen manifestation of what you have on your phone. Think of it as AirPlay and Chromecast; you can enjoy the things you do on your phone in a more auto-friendly way on a beautiful nice screen. If you’re working in a company or thinking about starting an auto-focused infotainment system or app you should think twice. The internet of things will all be tied back to control from the smart phone, not device specific implementations across the spectrum of devices. For consumers it means that all of your devices could (in theory) work seamlessly, extending your experience (whether powered by iOS or Android) to all the connected things you care about. For developers it provides more consumer touch points. For Apple and Google its a battle to the death to become an increasingly integrated part of our lives. Something we couldn’t walk away from if we tried, all monetized through the services on these devices that bring us search, ads, and apps.

At the D Mobile conference last year I asked Eric Schmidt how Google views the connected home. His response was “Google thinks of Android as the OS for all connected devices, everything from a tablet to a toaster.” Its happening and in the future, when you ask your toaster who has a special on bread it will point you to a store in your neighborhood. Your car will tell you the closest place near by. Your phone might send you to the website. And Google will get paid. Pure genius.

It’s Time Your Smart Phone Earned Its Name

Photo borrowed from The Verge

2014 will be the year your phone actually earns its title of being smart. Up until now smart phones have that label simply because they allow us to do more than the older flip/feature phones we had in the 90s-early 2000s (Blackberries, or really Blueberries notwithstanding). The iPhone exploded on the scene in 2007 and shortly thereafter our love affair with apps gave life to our phone and we considered it smart. Problem is, phones don’t do anything without being told. Phones are dumb. 2014 is the year that changes on a large-scale.

Today at CES, Yahoo announced the acquisition of Aviate, a start-up that focuses on making your phone smarter through context – understanding time, usage, behavior, and need, and then serving up the most relevant information at the time. Aviate is one of a crop of companies that are focused on actually making your smartphone smart including Chameleon, Cover, and others I’ve written about in the past (Disclosure: I work for Synacor, who acquired Teknision the company behind Chameleon). What is interesting is that Marissa Mayer used her keynote address at arguably the year’s largest technology events to announce Yahoo’s move into context-aware technology and making your phone smart. Google Now, Apple’s Notification Center, and Windows Phone dynamic widgets are all already playing in this space but these efforts have been part of the OS, almost spoken about as a feature. Mayer’s announcement is the first time that a major tech company has shone the light squarely on this arena.

Google Now is clearly the king of context at this point. It’s all about data and Google Now is freaky good due to the insane amount of data and reach Google has to draw from both on your phone and your habits across the web. Search drives data and with their reach on the web, Yahoo and Microsoft are in great position here as well, possibly even better than Apple, but not as deep as Google. Mayer said on stage that the future of search is contextual search and as TechCrunch mentioned in their post on the subject;

Yahoo SVP of Mobile and Emerging Products Adam Cahan says that the company isn’t interested in turning Aviate into some sort of ‘all Yahoo apps’ portal. For now, it will expand the beta program and get more users checking it out. “Think of this as an extension of [Yahoo] Search,” Cahan says. 

The extension of search metaphor is an apt one, as contextually aware home screens will be all about using anticipatory ‘searching’ through our apps, habits and use cases to provide us with better experiences. Aviate will now be able to tap deeply into Yahoo data like search, weather, maps and more to inform contextual experiences.

Aviate and other launcher apps have always suffered from the chicken and egg problem – to the average person the default OS is good enough and going out of your way to change it means you need to first be convinced of the value of doing so – why is the new thing better? In order to demonstrate that a more personal, context-aware phone experience is better, launcher apps need to gather data from a person’s usage, which only happens if people first install the launcher…which they don’t because they don’t see the value. Search data provides the baseline for context and the Aviate team will now have an immense amount of data to leverage as they make Yahoo mobile properties react and respond without being told. They’ll also have a massive marketing channel to push an alternative Android experience if Yahoo chooses to go that route.

Launchers, which I’ve called Apperating Systems, are popular in Asia but less so in other parts of the world most due to the somewhat unregulated and wild west Android ecosystem in China. Apple’s re-design with iOS7 was more about making the experience smarter and more reactive but don’t look for Apple to open up the iPhone to third-party experiences, it will stay locked down. This is all about Android which keeps getting better and better with each version and the baked in context-engine Google Now keeps getting smarter. It will be difficult at best to out-do Google, Apple, and Microsoft on the OS itself but Yahoo, Facebook, Synacor, and other companies battling in the context-aware world will bring us apps and experiences that react without being told just based on what we’ve done and what we’re doing. Gone are the days of the dumb icon, privacy issues aside, in 2014 our smart phones will start to earn their name.

Apperating Systems: The Blurry Line Between App & OS and The Coming Launcher Wars

A slide from the Facebook Home launch event shows how Facebook Home sits between the Android operating system and apps — i.e., it’s an apperating system. Photo: Alex Washburn/Wired
A slide from the Facebook Home launch event shows how Facebook Home sits between the Android operating system and apps — i.e., it’s an apperating system. Photo: Alex Washburn/Wired

Earlier this year Facebook launched Facebook Home and the (tech) world took notice. Here was a totally different user experience built on top of Android and not specifically tied to a company device (unlike Amazon’s Kindle Fire). Although it still allows you to get to the underlying Android apps, etc., Facebook Home effectively replaces the Android user experience, manipulating the operating system and how we use it. In the Android world these are called Launcher apps; an app that takes over and becomes what you see when you turn on your phone (or tablet) and dictates how you use it. Its an app that acts like an operating system, or as Wired recently called them “Apperating Systems”.

This isn’t new. There are a bunch of these launcher apps in Google Play with varying degrees of quality. Amazon’s Kindle Fire has its own apperating system running on top of Android. It’s not easy to create something that is going to be as fluid, responsive, and intuitive as the operating system it lives on, but when done right these apps bring more features and functionality than we get out of the box. It is difficult but you don’t need to be a large company to pull it off; Japan-based Go Launcher for example, brings more widgets, custom transitions, and greater flexibility to Android, and rated 4.5 after 1.2M+ reviews, has been downloaded over 50M times. Yes, 50M and growing.

Ottawa, Canada based Teknision is causing waves with their launcher named Chameleon. This thing is an Apperating System in the truest sense. Not only does it present a different user experience, widgets, and customizability, it works to understand you and what you might want at anytime of day. As Teknision says it’s “A homescreen designed to fit your lifestyle.” From the site…

“Chameleon lets you create multiple home screens each with your own layout of widgets and apps. Chameleon widgets are designed to give you the most relevant information that you want, when you want it. Your information needs may change throughout your day, so Chameleon includes an innovative context system. Through our context system you can create rules so that whenever you unlock your device you are presented with the Home Screen that is immediately valuable to you.”

That means you can wake up in the morning and turn on your tablet and you’ll get weather and maybe the morning news. Check back at work and you’ll see industry and work related content. In bed at night? Maybe videos and social. The focus here is an experience that is always relevant to you. Pretty cool stuff.

Being the first thing people see when they turn on their mobile device is extremely valuable real estate. Apple and Microsoft tightly control this; maintaining rules on what developers, OEMs, Carriers, and content companies can/can’t do on their devices. The effect is the everyone other than Apple and Microsoft are always a click (or much more) away; behind an icon or tile and fighting for app/content discovery and engagement.

With its open nature, Android steps in and has become the playground for the UX creative masses and opportunistic. Within some Google rules, companies can power the default Android homescreen experience and actually how people use their device. I can’t over-estimate how powerful that is. Wired’s article is titled “Move Over Apple and Google: Apperating Systems are Taking Over Your Phones”, and correctly notes this loss of control is a gift and a curse;

“As apperating systems spread and improve, they will help Android and iOS better serve niche audiences and serve as labs for features that migrate back to the host system and into general use. At the same time, they’ll raise thorny questions about the appropriate balance of power between operating system vendors like Google and Apple on the one hand and app makers like Facebook and Amazon on the other.”

There is a titanic industry shift underway where the hardware provider may not be the hardware experience provider. You can buy a phone because you like how it feels and the megapixels the camera has but then install the apperating system of your choice. In a tech world where the giants have been racing to control the full stack, this is very disruptive.

Facebook Home has put a spotlight on the space and in a sign that things are heating up, the money has started flowing. Yet to launch Aviate has recently raised a round of funding from some very note-able VCs and angels. My bet is we’ll see more investments soon.

Kindle, Facebook Home, Go Launcher, Chameleon, and Aviate all have their own goals and company objectives and its early days; the concept of being able to actually change the experience on your phone isn’t mainstream and whether it gets there depends on how much more compelling these apperating systems (or launcher apps) are versus the default mobile OS. Apple and Google will continue to work wonders on iOS and Android respectively and at the same time we’ll see more ways developers are extending those experiences. What you choose is up to you but what it all means is a consumer-focused, innovation driven world in the palm of your hand.
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