Posts tagged Possibilities
If you really love Facebook on your smartphone, today is a big day for you. Facebook Home – the social giant’s new skin for Android – launches today. Facebook also has a dedicated phone running home, the HTC First, which is now available at AT&T stores. Are you so addicted to the world’s largest social network that you would turn your phone into a Facebook-centric love fest?
Are there any other services that you cannot live without where you would want your smartphone to be all in all the time with it? For instance, would you want an Instagram Phone? Maybe a Spotify Phone? Twitter Phone? Or maybe it would be an Amazon Phone? All of these companies could do what Facebook has done and create a launcher skin that lays on top of Android and give their service the front-and-center treatment.
If you could have any skin you wanted on a smartphone, what would it be? That is the topic of this week’s ReadWrite Mobile poll.
What Facebook Home Does
The HTC First – also known as the “Facebook Phone” – is really just an Android with an application layer that gives the user the option to use Facebook as its application “launcher.” That is Facebook Home. A launcher is the user interface that companies use to differentiate experiences on Android. For instance, Samsung’s “TouchWiz” is technically a launcher. So is HTC’s “Sense.” In fact, if we really want to get into it, the stock Android user interface that can be found in Google Nexus devices is technically its own launcher as well. Another term for launcher is “skin.”
On the HTC First, if you do not want to use Facebook Home, you can strip it away and the launcher left underneath is just plain Android.
When you turn on a device with Facebook Home, you get a screen that slowly scrolls through your Facebook newsfeed. This is called Cover feed, where you can swipe to see recent updates from Facebook. If you get a message from Facebook Messenger, your friend’s head will pop up on the screen, no matter what app you are using. You can toss the head around the screen, then throw it out on the bottom when the conversation is done. This is known as ChatHeads and it is oddly pleasing, in a weird, sadistic type of way.
The launcher will allow you to open any apps that you have downloaded through Google Play. The app drawer accessible through Home is essentially the portal between Facebook’s custom user interface layered on top of Android and Android itself.
That’s it. Facebook Home is not complicated (though it can be a little confusing going between the Home experience and Android). It is sleek, kind of fun and really delivers exactly what it sets out to do – make your smartphone all Facebook, all the time.
Opportunity For Everybody
Because Home is so simple at its base level, Facebook has essentially created the blueprint for any company to do the exact same thing to Android. Facebook does have a bit of an advantage because it has a variety of services it can bake into Home (like Messages, Camera, Newsfeed, Pages and so forth), but the basic principle is easy to replicate.
There are several third-party launchers for Android available through Google Play. There is the ADWLauncher, GO Launcher, Launcher Pro, Regina 3D Launcher, Crazy Home, Zeam Launcher and an endless count of others. These all provide interesting user interfaces for Android but none are really tied to a specific service.
For instance, Twitter could probably make a great launcher for Android. The micro-blogging service is transforming from a straight message platform to get into the TV space, the music space and direct people to apps and media through its new Cards feature that it is rolling out. We call this Portal 2.0 and it would look great as a central user interface to a smartphone.
Amazon could easily do the same thing. The e-commerce king has the transactional elements to turn your smartphone into a buying machine while also serving up music, video and apps. An Amazon Android phone has long been rumored to be in the works. Amazon is likely more interested in forking Android (creating its own build based on the source code that Google releases) than just layering its own functionality on top the way Facebook has. That is, after all, what it did for the Kindle Fire device.
Instagram? Why not. It doesn’t have the apps and media, but it can use Android for that and have deep Facebook integration anyway (it is owned by Facebook). And you could have all those pretty Instagram pictures scrolling as your home screen.
The possibilities are basically endless. Heck, even Apple could create a launcher for Apple based on iOS features. Are custom-built launchers from prominent third parties something that users want? You tell us. Take the poll and let us know in the comments how you would skin and Android to make it the perfect device for you.
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Research In Motion, the BlackBerry pioneer that lost its way, finally admitted last week that it’s in need of a major transformation. After falling way behind rivals Apple and Google in the smartphone industry, RIM must reinvent itself or else.
The possibilities for RIM range from a quick sale to a slow, successful rebuilding process. There isn’t a single, obvious outcome. And it doesn’t look good: Almost all signs point to RIM reducing its staff significantly.
Option 1: Drop It Like It’s Hot
One option is for RIM to sell itself right now for the highest amount it can get. While the BlackBerry phone platform isn’t competitive anymore, and the once-iconic brand isn’t worth much, there are parts of RIM that could be useful to someone.
For example: Its back-end service infrastructure and business. Its millions of subscribers around the world. Its patents. Its large corporate contracts to outfit companies with thousands of devices. Or its direct access to promising engineers in Waterloo, Ontario, graduating from Canada’s biggest engineering university.
The trouble with this scenario is finding a buyer willing to pay an acceptable amount of money for the company, knowing its assets are declining in value and the company is in disarray. Any acquirer would be forced to quickly reduce headcount, with the baggage that comes along with that.
Why buy RIM today for an amount you know will shrink as time goes on? When I first wrote in 2009 that Microsoft should buy RIM to jumpstart its mobile business, it would have probably cost $35 billion to get the deal done. Today, the market values RIM at less than $7 billion. Anyway, Microsoft – still the most logical acquirer – is busy with Nokia right now. That may or may not be the right long-term bet, but adding RIM to the mix just adds more chaos.
Other buyers could potentially include Facebook, Amazon, Google or even Apple. But none is likely to spend more than the bare minimum for whatever scraps it finds useful. That doesn’t give this scenario much hope. So I’m assigning a 20% probability to RIM selling itself within a year for $7 billion or more.
Option 2: Control-Alt-Delete
Rebooting RIM may be the best long-term strategy to keep the company independent. This concept has been successful for IBM, famously. But it’s a lot easier said than done.
The move that makes the most sense now is getting rid of RIM’s handset business and trying to make the BlackBerry platform something that corporations and governments can’t live without, regardless of their choice of devices. Selling handsets still represents the majority of RIM’s sales – 68% last quarter – but it’s a money loser.
Still, this means shedding a huge number of employees and betting on a software and services platform that might never catch on in the open market. (Pulling out of the handset business, then, would have to be a carefully calculated move.)
This means RIM will shrink in all metrics and may never become as big as the RIM of 2008. But that’s reality, and you can’t recreate the past.
This is a bold strategy, but RIM’s new CEO Thorsten Heins may finally be ballsy enough to do it. I’d say that there’s a 40% chance RIM will announce plans to widely open its platform within a year. (It’s already starting.) And there’s perhaps a 10% chance it’s wild enough to also announce plans to wind down the handset business. (This may not make sense right away, though it would be the strongest way to proclaim RIM’s new mission.)
Option 3: Slip and Slide
Another strategy – the one that RIM’s old bosses had been using for years – is to stick with the status quo, pretend everything is fine, and assume that whatever RIM will be able to ship next year will be better enough.
Under this model, RIM would likely continue to lose market value and financial viability, until it’s either sold in a fire sale or goes out of business.
Given RIM’s history, there’s perhaps a 30% chance that sticking with the old plan will also be the new plan. But it does sound like Heins actually knows he can’t do that.
Option 4: Miracle Comeback
One last possibility is that RIM will orchestrate one of the world’s greatest all-time comebacks. This is admittedly far-fetched and probably less than 1% likely. But it’s not completely impossible.
It would require creating a product or service that leapfrogs Apple, Google and the rest of the mobile industry, and becomes an immediate must-buy. Something so amazing that I’d drop my iPhone and run to the Verizon store to buy RIM’s new toy.
This sounds unlikely, especially given RIM’s track record. The iPhone was truly an unbelievable product when it launched, but Apple had that capability in its DNA. Even before Steve Jobs came back to rescue Apple, it was still shipping the best computers in the world. Apple just wasn’t moving in the right strategic direction or thinking about the future in the right way, and Jobs changed that.
It would be tough to argue that RIM has the right recipe of talent, leadership and vision to make this reality. But it’s not completely impossible. And it would make for a truly amazing story.
More likely: A modest push toward becoming primarily a mobile service provider and away from hardware sales. This is probably the safest and soundest bet.
Previously: The End of RIM As We Know It
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Speaking at the D9 conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. today, Hewlett-Packard CEO Leo Apotheker said that it is a possibility that WebOS might end up on devices other than what HP manufactures.
“It is certainly something we would entertain,” Apotheker said, according to AllThingsD. About 130 miles south in San Diego, WebOS head John Rubinstein said that licensing the operating system to select original equipment manufacturers is something that HP might consider. Licensing WebOS could be a great way for HP to broaden its horizons in the mobile market and cut into the market share of Apple, Android and Windows Phone 7 while bringing dynamic new Palm smartphones to the market. Will there ever be a HP WebOS Palm phone brought to you by Motorola or HTC?
HTC would be a prime target for HP to license WebOS. A lot of its recent success has been built off of Android but the OEM also makes Windows Phone devices. Samsung is a strong manufacturer that also creates devices for different mobile operating systems including Android, WP7 and its in-house OS, Bada.
The question would be whether or not HP would allow the likes of HTC, Motorola or Samsung to customize WebOS. Samsung Android phones are layered with the TouchWiz user interface and HTC has the popular and well-designed Sense. The answer may come from Windows Phone, as none of the devices from different OEMs differentiate WP7 except for the hardware specifications that go into the devices.
Best Of Both Worlds? Control Like Apple, License Like Android
HP could decide not to license WebOS and try to control the entire vertical ecosystem, the way Apple does with iOS.
“Our model is not to be in the licensing business. There is tremendous strength in building the whole ecosystem,” Rubinstein said, according to MarketWatch.
Even though it seems like there is a new phone coming from the major OEMs every week or so, manufacturers indeed have a finite amount of resources to feed devices. If HP can gain market share and divert equipment resources away from Android and WP7 devices, it is a double win for HP and validate the acquisition of Palm in April 2010.
Apotheker also said that HP will make WebOS available to enterprises and small business channels.
“It’s not correct to believe that it should only be on HP devices,” Apotheker said according to AllThingsD. “There are all kinds of other people who want to make whatever kind of hardware they make and would like to connect them to the Internet. We’ll make it available to enterprises and to SMBs. It will run on lots of HP devices.”
Tablets, Computers and Clouds, Oh My
WebOS is going to be HP’s major push into a couple of key arenas important in the tech ecosystem right no – mobile devices and platforms along with the cloud and Web services. WebOS will find its way to tablets and smartphones, like the HP TouchPad, but will also live alongside Windows on HP computers. It is not out of the realm of possibility to see Web-only notebooks, a la Google’s Chrome operating system.
HP WebOS has 2% of the mobile market share, according to Nielsen with pre-acquisition Palm WebOS still holding onto to 1% or less of the market. Basically, anything that HP does from here will be sure to improve that, whether the company ends up licensing WebOS to OEMs or not.
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