Tag Archives: Android

Lies, Damn Lies, and Predictions

[Rant on]
Is it just me, or is anyone else bothered about all the rumors and predictions that seem to dominate the technology news stream? I would hazard a guess that more top articles in the technology space are gossip or guesswork than actual reporting.

Crystal Ball / Glaskugel

Part of this trend, perhaps the most annoying part, is the tendency to take the guesses of other people (predictions,forecasts,…) and report them as fact. Recent examples from the news:

“Sorry Android, iPad to Dominate Tablet Sales Until at Least 2014”

which should have read “Gartner has forecasted that the iPad will Dominate …”

Asia Pac app-gasm to hit five billion this year

meaning “Ovum analysts forecast that…” But the article even reads “The Asia Pac app market will hit 5 billion downloads by the end of the year with revenues from mobile phone apps poised to reach $US871 million.” It’s only several sentences later that you find that this is a prediction.

“Unemployment to stay above 10% in state through 2013”

which might mean “Government analysts are predicting that…”

Android To Beat iPhone in Download Stakes

This one uses weasel phrases like “Research points to” to avoid admitting it’s a prediction until the next paragraph. Such analysis may indeed turn out to be true, but it’s reported as if it’s already fact. Closer inspection usually reveals flaws in such predictions as well, for example in the app store battle, percentage growth rates are extrapolated as constants. Give that the Android marketplace is smaller than the Apple (AAPL) one, it has a lower numerical growth rate at times, but always a higher percentage growth rate. So if you project that rate as constant into the future you get monstrous numbers that are of course ridiculous. Numerical quantities of actual increase in apps on a regular basis are far more accurate. If you take those numbers, and look at their rate of increase, you can make a much more reasonable estimate of what will happen.

You see how easy it is to get confused in the details of these predictions, which frequently turn out to be wrong though that isn’t discussed as much. But to report such as fact is lunacy. If you get a chance read Future Babble: Why Expert Predictions Are Next to Worthless, and You Can Do Better by Dan Gardner. It’s very interesting.

Most of these examples come from the mobile space, which at the moment may be worse due to Apple mania, but the problem is pervasive.

The second annoying one is another case of truly bad journalism. In the rush to be the first to report, endless nuances are gleaned from seemingly innocuous statements. The more ethical writers will explain that they’re making a leap of faith, but more often than not, the leap is taken as fact. For example the recent noise based on Al Gore saying that new iPhones are coming. Headlines read:

“Al Gore Lets Slip Secret IPhone Launch Details”, “Gore’s loose lips let new iPhones slip”, etc. What Gore said was “the new iPhones coming out next month”. Based on other rumors (that may or may not turn out to be true) that there will be two new iPhones coming next month, people construed Gore saying “iPhones” to mean two models. One could just as easily construe this to mean that a lot of iPhones will be sold. Maybe Gore just meant “You’re all going to have your iPhones”. Who can say? Sure, you can speculate and such nonsense, but you could just as easily throw a dart at a dartboard to get such accurate forecasting.

I understand the lure of reporting first, of being the first one to figure things out, or speculating about what may happen. The issue isn’t the speculation, but rather the attempt to pass speculation off as truth. As a reader, I tend to be critical in choosing who and what I read so that I have some chance of seeing the real trends. I look for realistic assessments, and try to understand the methodology. If it’s suspect, fine, but if it’s suspect and disguised, then I have a problem with that source. Open honest coverage is in everyone’s benefit.
[Rant off]

Google and Motorola – What Will Googorola Do?

In case you haven’t followed any tech industry news in the last several days – Google (GOOG) and Motorola Mobility (MMI) have agreed on an acquisition to the tune of .5 billion. Some are calling them Motoroogle, but I prefer Googorola, especially since Google is the one doing the buying – their name should come first.

This is a pretty big step for a company like Google that is essentially a software play. Naturally people are asking what’s it all about. In order to figure out what may come out of this we need to try to understand why Google would buy a mobile hardware company. Unfortunately, the truth is there is no way to really know what Google was thinking. There are a couple of prevailing theories.

Patent Protection

One is that Google sees this as a way to protect Android intellectual property against patent suits, especially from Apple (AAPL) and Microsoft (MSFT). Larry Page mentioned this in the Official Google Blog on Monday. Many pundits and analysts have lined up behind this theory. In fact it was mentioned by almost every single android manufacturer.

End-to-end Production

The other popular theory is that Google wants to be able to reproduce the capability of full ecosystem offerings like phones from Apple, Rim, and HP. This gives Google the chance to control the hardware, software, user-interface, and in short the complete user experience. This is a straight-on attempt to duplicate the popularity of the iPhone.

Analysis

While I have to agree that the patent protection side is at least part of the reasoning, I am doubtful that it’s the only reason. Recall that during the recent hissy fit between Google and Microsoft re the Nortel patents, it came out that Google had the chance to be part of the winning consortium, but choose against it. Google claimed that it was smoke and mirrors on the part of Microsoft, since if it was part of the group it couldn’t use the patents to protect against a lawsuit by the co-owners of the patents. However, it’s undeniable that they also couldn’t be sued by the co-owners of the patents over the same said patents. Clearly they were after something other than just protecting Android.

In addition, Apple has been moving forward in their suit against Motorola. Florian Mueller has discussed this in depth over at Foss Patents. Obviously if Motorola can’t protect themselves from suits by Apple, they can’t protect Google and Android either.

This leads us to the other alternative – Google wants to build phones. This will be clear to all soon enough. Either Google will divest themselves of the phone-building part of Motorola, while keeping control of the patents, or… they will start building phones. If they divest, then what they claimed was all they’re after, and you can quit reading now. But the interesting part is what happens if they do start building phones.

One can’t deny that Google hasn’t gotten a lot of traction with their Nexus phones. On the other hand, the iPhone is the single most-popular smartphone out there. Anyone who wishes to seriously compete with them needs to take a serious look and try to understand how they’re succeeding. Leaving conspiracy theories about fan-boys etc aside, the conventional wisdom is that Apple’s ability to control the software and hardware gives them a serious edge in end-user experience. Let’s presume for a moment that this is at least part of why Google would spend such a premium on Motorola.

The question then is how does it all work? Google can isolate Motorola, run them as an independent company, and treat them on a level playing field with all other phone vendors. This is what Google is claiming so far. I don’t see it happening – if that’s the plan, why spend so much? This would essentially make it a pure patent play, and in that case the price was simply too high. More likely Google will feed Motorola first, possibly even giving them exclusive access to extra functionality. Given Motorola’s past success with popular phones from the RAZR to the DROID, I expect this could be a pretty big hit. It sounds very interesting to me.

End result then is the next step. What does it mean for android and android customers? Well, if you’re a Samsung or HTC phone fan, you might want to start checking out what Windows has to offer, because I expect both of them will be adding Windows to their stable. I don’t expect they’ll drop Android, but I won’t be surprised to see them pay less attention to it.

If you’re a Droid fan or Nexus fan, lookout. This could be a truly amazing set of phones coming from Google and Motorola working together in an unfragmented way. I’d be pretty happy right now if I was a Droid user.

As for Android itself, well it depends on how it all plays out. If Google starts competing with their hardware partners, then they will look for alternatives. Microsoft has a chance here to really make a great competitive offering at a great price. It might even end up being cheaper to license Windows than to pay royalties on Android. This could be the thing that they need to really finally get Windows Mobile off the ground. Android will survive as long as Google needs it and uses it, but it’s day’s of dominance in the mobile space may be numbered. Ironically, in an attempt to compete, Google may be strengthening a major competitor in Microsoft. Only time will tell.

[Update 2011-08-17]
One other possibility is that Googorola is interested in set-top boxes. It makes sense.
[/Update]

[Update 2011-09-29]
The Justice department is is asking for more info about the Motorola deal. This may or may not mean anything, depending on who you ask. Me, I’m not sure, but I don’t think it’s overly serious.
[/Update]

[Update 2011-10-06]
So Intellectual Ventures has filed a patent infringement suit against Motorola Mobility. Apparently Motorola’s patents can’t even defend themselves. So much for the “Google only wanted their patents” theories.
[/Update]

[Update 2016-03-12 – Google has long since spun Motorola back out – so their IP play didn’t really work and they never really leveraged the hardware capabilities of Motorola]