Saturday, August 17, 2013

Your smartphone evolving?

I've been using a combination of smartphones over the past few years from a range of vendors and a range of operating systems. Problems I've had with all of them as well as the recent move by Ubuntu, have got me thinking: What do people want to do with their pads? Playing games is fine, but even then wouldn't it be better if you didn't have to code for each platform (iOS, Android, XBox, PS3 ...)? We've spent a lot of years working on productivity software, such as Word, Powerpoint, Eclipse etc. and today the equivalents for pads are woefully inadequate. Of course we are unlikely to have to wait as long for them to improve on pads as they did on PCs, but it's still a waste of time and energy! And running services off the device is not only a waste of compute power/bandwidth, it assumes the network is always present, which it often isn't.

I hate to admit this, but maybe Microsoft have it right in a way with the Surface running almost a stock version of Windows so that the same applications that run on the laptop/desktop can run on their pad, and vice versa. Now maybe Apple will eventually do the same thing with iOS, but Android doesn't provide a migration path from or to the desktop. In the end this may well be a significant limiting factor for Android and one which Google will find very hard to get around, without perhaps adopting standard Java.

Of course applications need to be aware of the environment on which they run so they can take advantage of the form factor, network connectivity etc. There may well be applications that simply do not, or should not, be expected to work on the complete range of deployment environments (phone, pad, laptop, desktop etc.) But are they the exception or the norm? I believe they are the exception: most of the applications that run on my laptop are ones I'd like to run on the pad; most of the things I do on my pad I'd like the option of doing on my laptop or phone, particularly now it has a 5" screen.

What does this mean for the "open source" pad and phone market? I believe that unless Android actually allows for a wider variety of un-modified Linux-based applications to run on it, then it risks becoming marginalised. OK, this may be a strange thing to discuss when all we hear on an almost weekly basis is that Android market share is growing, but look at Apple in the 1980's before Windows came along. In fact Android's biggest threat could well come from the pure Linux pads/phones that we are beginning to see enter the market: the pads and phones can run stock Java and if Android is a requirement then there's always virtualisation. I think that the platform that has the best chance of winning (adoption/relevancy) is the one which most closely matches the OS that we use on our desktops.

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