Verizon Wireless Looking To Follow AT&T's Lead…

Share


According to an article in Bloomberg Businessweek, it appears that Verizon – like AT&T – may be getting ready to implement a tiered data plan of their own, eliminating their popular prix fixe unlimited data option in the process. If this ends up being the case, it would mean the two largest wireless providers in the US will both be working to discourage bandwidth consumption on their networks, something that could end up being a big drag on the development of mobile services and other non-phone mobile technologies.

The irony here is that both of these carriers were willing to sell unlimited data plans when they knew that the devices they were offering them on couldn’t really make use of it. Now that mobile devices have finally started to catch up, those plans are being eliminated. On top of that, as carriers continue their rollout of 4G/LTE networks (which theoretically can offer significantly higher speeds), folks will simply find themselves running over their usage limits more quickly and racking up whatever overage charges their carriers’ may assess (which can sometimes be frighteningly expensive).

What’s desperately needed in the wireless space is innovation. The structural monopolies enjoyed by incumbent carriers make it easier for them to cut out any meaningful competition that could impact their businesses. The status quo favors them, so any change in the fundamental structure of the market isn’t welcome. They understand that their businesses depend in large part on preserving these advantages, making them less then ideal agents of change in this space.

Ultimately, the real innovation needed here will, by it’s very nature, be disruptive. It will upsets the marketplace and redefine today’s accepted terms of business. Given the nature of how wireless spectrum is managed, innovation will also involve more than just new technologies and algorithms. It will require a reconsideration of the regulatory and licensing frameworks that currently govern the deployment of wireless infrastructure, and demand a fresh look at the way access to the airwaves is allocated. It may also require that a larger chunk of spectrum be allocated specifically in support of the development and deployment of more creative wireless data solutions. There is some incredible research being done in this area, but it needs a path to commercialization if it’s going to get the funding it needs to become viable.

We will never see the promised wireless revolution take hold if the only options available to consumers are congested networks or capped and overpriced plans.

Change urgently needs to happen.

The Mobile Disruption (Part 1)…

Share

I was given a brief demo a few day’s ago of a beta version of the open source Moblin operating system. I went into it thinking: “Just what we need, yet another Linux variant”, but came out of it with a very different impression. Unlike more traditional operating systems, Moblin doesn’t try to be a generic foundation for any type of system, application, or user. Instead, it provides a more tailored experience built around the typical work flows of mobile users. It combines lightweight application support – with browsing, communications, and media playback – in a coheasive interface optimized for netbook screen size and power. This video will give you a quick introduction:

While I am quite impressed with Moblin, it isn’t the first OS targeted at this space. Linux vendor Xandros recently released Presto, a similar attempt to strip away most of the operating system details that can get in the way of a person simply using a device to get stuff done. Though both are based on Linux, these platforms are specifically not aimed at the “hardcore geek” Linux demographic. Their goal is to provide “run and gun” computing – letting people quickly get on, do something fast, and shut right down. They are not just targeting mainstream computer users – they are also targeting mainstream consumers that don’t fit the typical computer buyer demographic.

This new approach to operating systems recognizes that a rapid shift toward mobile computing is starting to take place. It is powered in large part by the runaway success of Apple’s App Store for the iPhone/iPod Touch platform, as well as the growing consumer adoption of netbook devices. While these devices are different in nature, both offer viable alternatives to more traditional computer usage. The “lower cost, easy on, always there” aspect of small, mobile devices is starting to trump the “higher price, fuller featured” aspects of full size laptops.

And it’s creating havoc in the software industry right now.

Software application vendors became obsessed with adding new features to their products. They attracted new users by delivering these extra features with each release at a similar price point to the previous release. They wanted to generate a perception of increasing value for the money spent. The goal was not just to get new people buying a product, but to sustain the lucrative revenue that came from existing users upgrading their now “feature deficient” software every 12-18 months. Adding features was the only way to make this model work.

Operating system vendors – specifically Microsoft – took a different approach. They aggressively pushed OEM agreements with all of the PC systems manufactures, and buried the cost of the operating system into the cost people paid for the computer. From a consumer’s perspective, the operating system came “free” with the hardware. They counted less on adding new features and more on new hardware sales to drive their revenue. And hardware sales were driven by PC manufacturers creating faster, more capable systems at roughly the same price points as the previous generation of hardware.

So why does mobile computing present such a problem?

Mobile computing is all about simplicity – getting things done quickly and easily. It doesn’t make sense to have products with hundreds of seldom used features crammed onto lower powered devices with smaller screens. There is a certain zen to the mobile computing experience that focuses people on what is really important to them. It creates a mindset that sees feature overload as diminishing a product’s value – not adding to it. And that mindset runs counter to the revenue model application vendors have counted on for the last two decades.

Operating system vendors face a different challenge from the mobile marketplace. Folks like Microsoft were able to leverage new hardware sales so profitably because of Moore’s Law – available computing power doubled every 18 months while the price stayed the same. Hardware vendors always had something new to replace the “old version”. But the push to mobile devices has flipped the benefit offered by Moore’s Law on its head. Instead of looking to double computing power, netbook providers are looking to ride the curve down and halve the price in that same timeframe.

Netbooks Under $200

The lower that the prices of these devices go, the less room there is to hide the cost of the operating system. This has driven most netbook manufactures to offer a Linux based derivative as a baseline system, and charge extra if someone want to take a version with Windows instead. It’s not clear that Microsoft, even with Windows 7, has a good answer for this. And if mobile is the real growth market of the next decade, they will need to come up with a viable offering in this space – not an artificially crippled version of their “mainstream” operating system.

——

You can sense a major realignment starting to form in the technology industry. Mobile computing, open source, software as a service, and search as a platform are all pressuring the status-quo from different directions.

This will be a very different industry 5 years from now.

Maybe sooner…

In The Mobile Disruption (Part 2), I’ll take a closer look at what Apple is doing in this space. There are some exciting things going on in Cupertino beyond the new iPhone 3G S.

Being A Publisher In A Digital World – Part 1…

Share

The frustration being voiced at The Cable Show ’09 was palpable:
blog-cableshow

“Should we be allowing Google to steal all our copyrights? Just take them? Not just Google but all the aggregators? Yahoo? And I feel that if you have a brand that’s strong enough, like the New York Times, they should be able to go to Google and say ‘no.’” So when you go to search on Google, it doesn’t show up.

- Rupert Murdoch, The Cable Show 2009, Washington, D.C.

The business model traditional media firms have counted on for decades has been rapidly slipping away. Many are struggling to get a footing in this new digital world – one that is fundamentally different from their far more predictable analog one. What Mr. Murdoch is grasping for here is a solution that will let him fit the new reality he’s confronting into the traditional media framework he has become so invested in. Unfortunately, the thinking behind that approach is more wistful than strategic. The publisher-centric model is dead, and has been for quite a few years. Any media company that wants to succeed in the future will need to come to terms with what it really means to be a publisher in our digital world:

Consumers are in control:

    People today want access to content on their own terms. You can’t bundle content together as a publisher and expect that that’s the way people are going to consume it. Aggregation doesn’t take place in the middle any more – it happens at the edge. People will pick their own ‘best-of-breed’ for each topic they have an interest in. They may like the bias of their local news provider for sports coverage, certain blogs for political or financial coverage, and a set of mainstream news sources for global news coverage. Now that people have a choice, bundling doesn’t work anymore. Each stream of content a media organization produces will need to live or die based on it’s own merits and the audience it can attract. For media companies today, it isn’t about being big. It isn’t even about being good. It’s about knowing who their audience is and bringing them compelling and unique value. If they fail at that, their brand alone won’t be enough to carry them into the future.

Content isn’t scarce – attention is:

    Attention is the currency of the digital age – not content. The digital world has opened publishing up to all comers. The ‘gatekeeper’ role of the analog world has gone away, never to return. This means that consumers now have many choices vying for their time and attention. They have – by necessity – become very selective where they choose to spend it. If any media firm wants to maintain and grow an audience, they need to aggressively compete for that limited attention. The biggest mistake any of them can make is to think that what they produce is irreplaceable. There is an incredible body of insightful and compelling content being produced by individuals and small organizations from all around the web. NO media organization – no matter how big or popular they are today – can afford to ignore this new reality.

Visibility is critical:

    If you want to remain relevant, you need to remain visible. You need to reach out to where people are and fit in to the ways they want to consume content. Demanding that your audience must come to you on your terms is simply arrogant. And expecting them to pay for the privilege is probably a fatal mistake. If anybody is really considering yanking their content off of Google, perhaps they should talk to Howard Stearn first. Howard was one of the biggest names on radio. He had a multi-media brand with enormous draw and influence. When he decided to make the jump over to Sirius – the satellite radio station – people couldn’t stop talking about it. He was given a 500 million dollar payday to effectively abandon his ‘free’ audience and move behind the pay wall of satellite radio. Some percentage of that audience – his real core fans – were willing to pony up the money and follow him over. But most simply found something else to take his place. It might not have been as good, but it was there and it was free. When all was said and done, Stearn effectively cashed out of being relevant. When he recently talked on his program of retiring at the end of his contract with Sirius, nobody even shrugged. It really didn’t matter anymore. Out of sight. Out of mind. Out of luck.

Leverage matters more than size:

    There was a time in the media world when ‘big’ was ‘good’. Size gave media organizations reach and distribution. It gave them the scale they needed to be cost efficient. It let them attract the talent they needed to produce compelling content. And that let them grow their audience in ways they could easily monetize. It was a model that built on itself, making the strong even stronger and discouraging competition. For decades, it worked brilliantly for them. Owning a media channel in a large market was like having a license to print money.

    But then the world turned digital.

    Today all of these large, vertically integrated media companies are struggling to survive. They are run by bureaucracies that lack both the will and agility to adapt. They recognize that the world around them is changing, but are effectively paralyzed by their structural ties to the past – the scope of change demanded by the digital world is simply too painful for most to contemplate.

    But rushing in to the void are countless smaller competitors that are perfectly positioned to thrive in the new world order of countless competitors and razor thin margins. Some of them are simple editorial teams, picking out the best content already published on the web, adding their own brief comments, and linking over to the original sources (eg – www.engadget.com). Others are focused on narrow niches, but explore them at a depth that the general media can’t match (eg – www.gamesindustry.biz). Still others are based on new revenue sharing models that compensate writers based on the traffic they generate instead of paying high salaries to full time journalists (eg – www.seekingalpha.com). And others are just offering new and innovative ways to share ideas and publish information (eg – www.twitter.com).

    What all of these upstart media businesses have in common is that they are looking for ways to leverage the scale of the internet instead of trying to compete with it head on. By exploiting this leverage, many of these young media companies will be able to find success while their more traditionally structured competitors struggle.

For many of the big media organizations, today’s market reality is a tough pill to swallow. In the content rich digital world we live in today, what they are producing – no matter how good it is – simply isn’t as valuable as it used to be. Supply and demand operate in the digital information market the same way they do in physical markets. A growing supply of news means fewer clicks per source. And it also means less revenue per click. There’s no way around the math.

So why is Google doing so well?…

Despite the protestations of Murdoch and others, it isn’t because they are somehow stealing everyone’s content. Any media company that wanted to could opt out of all of the search engines tomorrow if they thought that would solve their problems. But they know it won’t. The fact is, Google is doing well because they are in the position of distributing everyone’s clicks to them. Google is in the wholesale end of the click stream business where scale does matter, and that gives them the massive volume they need to make the tiny per-click margins they get pay off. Rather than being a gatekeeper, Google now fills the role of concierge – directing people to the things on the web they are looking for. The media companies, in contrast, live downstream from Google in the far more competitive retail end of the click stream business. And with the collapse of their gatekeeper model, this has become a far less lucrative place for them to do business in.

So what easy options do media organizations have these days?

Not too many…

If they decide to opt out of Google, they will become invisible. They’ll need to spend huge sums marketing themselves just to stay on the map. And if they try to charge for access to their content, some people may pay but most will simply replace them with sources that don’t. And if they decide to stay search-able and free, they’ll need to cut their cost structure significantly to align it with what are likely to be significantly reduced revenues. The facts on the ground have changed, and things are not going back to the way they used to be.

It’s clear the media companies don’t think any of this is fair, but to those on the wrong side of the shift, disruptive change rarely is. Being part of a digital world is the cold reality all of them must come to terms with. As painful as it may be for them, today’s media organizations will need to take some bold steps to shed their legacy operational model, streamline their cost structure, maximize the value of their existing assets, embrace technology without reservation, and aggressively pursue the new opportunities being digital offers.

But first they need to stop blaming Google.

The clock is ticking and they have a lot of work ahead of them…

In Part 2 of this post, I offer some advice to media organizations on what they should do to fundamentally transform their businesses and better leverage their assets and capabilities in the digital world.

Disruption And The Incumbent's Dilemma…

Share

When a market or industry is stable and predictable, the incumbent players can have what appear to be unassailable structural advantages – solid revenues, top talent, access to capital, and economies of scale just to name a few. But those advantages can end up being the catalyst for their undoing during times of disruptive change.

blog-incumbentdilemma

For a timely case study, consider what’s happened in the print news industry.

A decade ago, newspapers were high-margin businesses. Because entry costs were high and distribution was physical, they could effectively operate as localized monopolies with little competitive pressure. Outside of a few nationally recognized publications, most newspapers served a particular city or region, and local businesses saw them as the most effective way to advertise to the regional demographic they wanted to reach. When they combined this with the classified advertising component of their business, newspapers enjoyed an operating model that was both predictable and highly profitable. That, in turn, attracted larger media conglomerates who started buying up these local newspapers, often at incredible valuations.

It was a great time to be in the newspaper business.

Fast forward to today. The newspaper business is on the brink of collapse. The industry has spent the last several years struggling unsuccessfully to recreate itself into something that is both relevant and financially viable. The key factor in this reversal of fortune has been – no surprise – the accelerating adoption of the internet. It isn’t that everyone in the news industry missed what was happening here or simply chose to ignore it. Most understood the corrosive effect the internet was having on their traditional business model and created their own web properties to try and offset it. What they quickly found out, however, was that the revenue they can produce from online advertising is no where close to what they are used to getting from print advertising. This has left them in a ‘no win’ position. They are sitting at a significant tipping point in the business being asked to choose between a new revenue model that can’t sustain the business they’ve built, and a current revenue model is just plain unsustainable.

And that’s the dilemma all incumbents ultimately face.

During periods of disruptive change, the only solutions that are rational for an incumbent to consider are ones that contain some recognizable form of themselves at the new “end state”. They don’t have the luxury of being able to envision optimal future states, and working backwards to reconstitute the assets they have into a form that can be successful there. They need to work from where they are and find a way to move forward.

But their obligations to the present can be overwhelming…

The additional irony here is that the options they can realistically pursue are likely limited by the very elements that made them successful businesses in the first place. This is the point where the advantages they had as incumbent’s can come back to punish and even paralyze them.

  • Solid Revenues – Revenue is something that may be pried from a company’s hands, but is almost impossible for them to let go of it on their own. They’ve typically developed an operational cost structure that depends on it – one that’s optimized for the current business model and could be difficult and disruptive to change. If a company is publicly traded, they have shareholder expectations that they are obliged to consider, and that puts pressure on them to optimize for the near term even at the expense of the long term. Before making any significant changes to their business/revenue model, a company will need a reasonable understanding of the current market dynamic. Unfortunately, while it may be possible to predict that a tipping point is coming, timing when it will arrive is really just guesswork. And that means most companies won’t make any significant changes until after a tipping point has been crossed. By then, it may be too late.
  • Top Talent – The ‘Top Talent’ at most firms is the driving force that effectively runs the business. They provide both the strategic vision and tactical execution a company depends on to succeed, and they are typically well paid for doing so. The challenge here is that these individuals have a vested interest in maintaining the model that rewards them so well. They will instinctively direct their considerable talents toward optimizing and preserving the status quo, and not risk taking effective action until failure seems imminent. During periods of disruption, “Top Talent” can move rapidly from being an major asset to an expensive liability.
  • Access To Capital – Any firm that tapped into the debt markets or accessed credit lines or private equity has taken on an obligation to service that debt. Debt is an anchor that ties a company to the past. It requires a level of cash flow beyond immediate operational expenses. It is normally tied up in longer term projects, some of which may no longer be relevant or economically viable. It may have operational triggers attached to it that may force early payment or changes in rates. In times of change and realignment, debt is a liability that can destroy an otherwise viable business.
  • Economies Of Scale – When a company points to their “Economies Of Scale”, what they usually mean is that they have optimized their processes and relationships to cost effectively deliver very specific services the market is looking for. Almost without exception, optimization comes at the expense of flexibility and adaptability. So when a marketplace is in transition, optimized organizations can find themselves at a loss for how to respond, and become extremely vulnerable to more nimble rivals.

While I used what’s happening in the newspaper industry as an example of struggling incumbents, this isn’t a situation that is unique to traditional industries. In fact, many technology companies find themselves in very similar situations.

Sun Microsystems, the company that powered the first push to the internet, never recovered from the market crash of 2000. After building a reputation and business model based on proprietary hardware and software, they were never able to adapt when the industry shifted to high performance commodity systems running open source software. Even though they have remained technically innovative with developments in areas like JAVA and the NFS file system, they never regained commercial viability. The rumor circulating now is that they will likely be acquired by IBM. If that doesn’t happen, I could easily see them shuttering the business.

Even the massive, technology savvy firm Microsoft is struggling with changes that are happening in the marketplace. Each of their key business franchises is under pressure from significant long term shifts that are taking place. Many corporations are starting to view the internet & browser as their real operating platform – not the desktop operating system and office suite. They have shown little interesting in doing costly upgrades to Microsoft’s Vista or Office 2007, while their investment in web delivered platforms and services remains reasonably healthy. Microsoft’s server business is being threatened by open source technologies, specifically, Linux, MySQL, and Lucene, that offer exceptional performance with no licensing fees. And the big macro trend – cloud computing – is maturing rapidly. It has the potential to overtake the traditional software industry and reshape it significantly. Microsoft has jumped into this space with their own Cloud-based platform called Azure, but it isn’t clear that this could become a viable replacement for their existing business models. What essence of what Microsoft is struggling to respond to is a an irreversible move to low cost or free software and services. This shift is starting to erode their pricing power, and is commoditizing any proprietary value that may have delivered in the past. This hasn’t reached the tipping point quite yet, but it is coming. When it arrives, it will likely undermine their entire business model and threaten their survival in any form that resembles the Microsoft of today.

Change like this is a constant. It ruthlessly prunes anything that lacks value, and provides an opportunity for the new and innovative to grow and flourish. There’s a quote from American social writer and philosopher Eric Hoffer that speaks to this so eloquently:

In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves beautifully equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.

The disruptive change he observed in this quote isn’t something new. It’s the force that has shaped our history while bringing the promise of opportunity to our future.

And its happening faster than ever.

News Flow, Public Opinion, And Trends…

Share

There seems to be an interesting relationship here…

This is trend chart from our product InfoNgen plotting significant media mentions of both John McCain and Barack Obama for the period July 3rd to November 3rd.

Click Chart To Enlarge

You can see from the chart that Obama tended to have more media coverage than McCain for most periods outside of a brief window following the announcement of Sarah Palin as the Republican Vice Presidential nominee. You can also see a significant Obama spike that happened around the Democratic national convention.

After looking at that chart, I wanted to see how this media centric view to election coverage compared with contemporaneous public sentiment. To do that, I grabbed this chart from Pollster.com showing polling data trends for the two candidates over that same period.

While not identical, there are some interesting similarities between the two charts…

Both charts follow roughly the same shape, though with less overall volatility in the polling data. You can see the same brief crossover for McCain at the same point in both charts, as well as the broadening gap in favor of Obama as the election drew closer.

There isn’t enough evidence here to draw any hard correlations between the two data sets, but the similarities do suggest that the two are not completely unrelated.

There are three possible factors at work here:

  • Advertising spend by the two campaigns influenced both public sentiment and media coverage. That would certainly be an interesting additional pair of trend lines in the chart.
  • Media coverage directly influenced public sentiment. Media bias has often been cited as a factor in various election cycles.
  • The media is simply responding to swings in public sentiment. This could raise some interesting questions about the balance in media between integrity and profits.

No doubt, the truth here lies in some combination of each of these.

But this does point to something broader and very significant…

As we start to collect more and more data points around any complex subject we follow, we’ll start to see trends, patterns, and relationships emerge that were never apparent to us in the past. Some will help to illuminate the causes of past behaviors, and some will even be useful in predicting future behaviors. Our continually improving ability to connect the dots in these data sets is probably one of the most exciting area in information discovery.

Finding the data that is in no one place, but is hidden everywhere…

*Many thanks to Karen Smith, one of my colleagues at InfoNgen, for originally sending me the trend chart of media coverage of the candidates.

I'm Giving Paper A Pass…

Share

Continental Airlines has given me a new digital option…

Though it has been available for quite a few months, I have finally decided to take the digital route for my flight later today and use what Continental calls their ‘mobile device’ boarding pass:

I rarely have access to a printer when I’m traveling, so being able to handle this all on my iPhone can be a welcome time saver – especially when I’m cutting it close schedule wise. My only concern is that the folks from the TSA may not recognize this as a valid pass for security purposes.

Hopefully, it wont be a problem.

But I’ll be taking a paper boarding pass along just in case…

Content Discovery: Bridging The Gap…

Share

The internet has transformed how information is published…

There are no “gatekeepers” anymore. Anyone, anywhere, can create and distribute all manner of content to a global audience. It happens in real-time and at almost no cost. The breadth and depth of content that is freely available today is testament to transformative power of this new publishing model.

It has left traditional media struggling to adjust to the “new order”…

But while the web has redefined the way content is published, it has had a far less significant impact on the way it is consumed. Advances in information management and discovery simply haven’t kept pace with the explosion of new content – and new content channels – that advances in publishing have enabled.

But I believe that gap may soon start to close…

I gave a talk yesterday at Enterprise Search Summit West discussing some of the changes in the content arena that advances in technology are starting to enable, and the impact those changes could have on the way we discover and consume content.

During the talk, I called out three key attributes of this evolving “discovery framework” that I would like to share with you here:

    It needs to be Persistent: Given the continuing growth in content production, discovery can’t be a transactional exercise. It needs to be a continuous process – a framework that makes us aware of any content specifically relevant to our interests. For this to happen, it needs to create a sufficiently rich contextual framework around all the content we need to connect with, allowing for effective filtering and ranking.
    It needs to be Pervasive: The content we need to work with every day comes to us in many formats, is delivered across many channels, and is stored in many different information silos. Discovery needs to happen seamlessly across all of them, and still provide granular insight within each of them. To become really effective, it needs to be a natural extension of every aspect of our daily workflow. – not an isolated portal or a bolted on feature.
    It needs to be Personal: While having common, global taxonomies is an essential dimension to information discovery, on their own they aren’t sufficient. We all think about information differently. We may look at certain subjects with expansive depth and breadth, while barely acknowledging that others even exist. The taxonomies we use to discover and navigate information need to reflect this personal perspective. These global and personal taxonomies can effectively coexist – but they do both need to be there.

This is an incredibly interesting and rapidly evolving area of knowledge management. It offers the potential for totally new ways of navigating and consuming content.

The days of the traditional content portal are numbered…

I am planning put together a video (or several) covering the full presentation I made. Stay tuned.

Using Clouds To Cut Through The Fog…

Share

Tag Clouds have been around for a while…

They offer a great visualization of what topics are ‘hot’ within a given framework, and they can work in a variety of settings. You could have a tag cloud of search terms being used on Google, stocks mentioned in posts on Twitter, or tags assigned within a single blog. A tag cloud works by showing the most common items as large and bold while the less common ones are small and somewhat faded.

They give you a good feel for what’s in a content set with just a quick scan…

That why I found these Tag Clouds produced by Thomas Hawk so interesting:

Flicker image by Thomas Hawk

Politics is full of words. They can create a fog of ambiguity that confuses issues and obscures positions.

And sometimes politicians choose words specifically for that purpose…

What Thomas Hawk did is a great way to cut through that fog. The top cloud is an analysis of terms that were used in John McCain’s acceptance speech, and the bottom is of the terms used in Barack Obama’s. It’s great way to see what images each candidate is trying to invoke, and how they are using words to shape perceptions about themselves and their agendas. There are clearly some similarities in these two clouds, but also some interesting differences.

Dig in and enjoy…

NOTE: I am posting this is a completely non-partisan context. The only endorsement going on here is for cool data modeling approaches.

Google Chrome: Browser Wars Are History…

Share

The “browser wars” are history. Everyone knows that…

So then why is Google launching a new browser called Chrome?

The answer is quite simple. “Chrome” really isn’t about bringing yet another browser alternative to the market. That would be pointless for a company like Google – they are already a key component of every major browser on the market.

Instead, it’s about bringing a Microsoft Windows alternative to the market…

This isn’t just the release of some gee-whiz technology from Google Labs. This is the next phase of a strategy Google has been playing out over the past several years.

With the launch of GMail, the acquisition of sites like Blogger/Picassa/Orkut/YouTube, the release of Maps, support for mashups, the development of a full online office suite, and the release of Gears, Google has been building up a portfolio of capabilities that – when combined with their core search capabilities – touches every aspect of the web ecosystem.

They are essentially packaging the web as a new type of Operating System…

When looked at in this context, developing their own browser makes perfect sense. Google is solving a part of their own their “last mile” problem by working to take control of the final link connecting users to their content and capabilities – the browser footprint. This is a big and necessary step for leveraging their dominance in search into the broader application platform space.

But it isn’t the final one…

I expect Google to aggressively integrate Chrome into their Android platform. This will probably launch under the guise of providing an optimized mobile experience, which will no doubt be the case. But it will also be the first step in moving Android upstream. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some early ports of Android over to a couple of the more popular ultra mobile computing platforms starting to come on to the market – devices that blur the line between laptop and phone. This is a broad category, and will likely be the highest growth component of the computer market over the next several years. They can gain serious market share simply by being a more attractive platform in this space than Windows Mobile – something that isn’t that hard to do. And with devices like the iPhone validating the viability of application delivery in this space, it is clear that the market is open to moving in a new direction.

Don’t judge your first experience with Chrome in terms of it being just a browser. It isn’t.

There’s a lot more going on here than a simple play for browser market share. This is a “hearts and minds” battle for the future direction of computing, taking place between the two largest players in the market. This is completely different from anything we saw during the “browser wars”.

And this time around, Microsoft’s luck may be running out…

WWDC'08:Beyond The iPhone 3G…

Share

As everyone knows, I’m a huge fan of the iPhone…

Having used the original iPhone since it’s release, I can say without reservation that I’ve been extremely satsfied. It is an incredible piece of technology that I depend on every day – and I am pretty demanding of the tech gear I use.

And the free update to the 2.0 version of platform will only make it better.

Wireless performance (or lack thereof) on AT&T’s EDGE has been the one real disappointment I have had with my iPhone, so I will be moving over to the new iPhone 3G as soon as I can get my hands on one. But outside of that (and real GPS), the software update will give the old and new models fairly equivalent capabilities.

That is the beauty of the software centric approach apple has taken to the consumer electronics space. Devices can really age gracefully until they just don’t have the memory or horsepower to keep up.

But as sexy as the new iPhone 3G is, it really wasn’t the most significant announcement yesterday.

The big announcement was the update to Apple’s online service ‘.MAC’…

During the keynote, Phil Schiller spent some time introducing what Apple has decided to call ‘Mobileme‘. Outside of the questionable service name choice (and the snicker inducing ‘me.com’ domain), this service has the potential to deliver enormous value to the average person.

Mobileme is a cloud based service that will let you keep contacts, appointments, todo’s email, bookmarks, photos and files in sync – dynamically – across all of your computers and your iPod Touch and iPhone. If you change a meeting on your iPhone calendar, it can be updated dynamically on your work PC, your Macbook, and your iMac at home. Add a new contact to Outlook at work, and it will be updated everywhere, including your iPhone – and without having to dock it.

Though I haven’t seen Apple state this explicitly, I believe the new Mobileme service will support calendaring sharing (you can currently do it in .MAC). Combined with dynamic syncing, this would let families/friends maintain common calendars and tasks they can schedule around, with pretty much the same flexibility business users have through Exchange server.

To get a better sense of what Apple’s offering here, check out their guided tour:

Mobileme isn’t sexy, but it delivers the basic things people are looking for to support their mobile lifestyles. It doesn’t demand a persistent internet connection like web only alternatives do, and it has true cross platform support. I know that you can do some of this using free web services, but nothing ties it all together for the typical non-technical user like the Mobileme package. And a family plan subscription (up to 5 people) is less than $12 dollars a month – not cheap, but certainly not unreasonable.

Apple has been delivering on what everyone is talking about recently. They are building out a cloud of services that work on Mac’s, PC’s, and iPod/iPhone. They have iChat, iTunes, and now Mobileme and the AppStore (I’ll post more about this one in the future). Apple is building a whole segment of their business in the online space, and doing it in a way that leverages the broader Apple ‘ecosystem’. They have great penetration in the consumer, academic, and media professional markets and are starting to tie them together with these cloud based services.

It seems to be the correct strategy…

Combined with the new aggressive pricing on the iPhones ($199-$299), Mobileme might end up being a lot more successful for Apple than the niche offering .MAC has always been. It’s very powerful, yet simple – the two hallmark features of every successful Apple product. I’ve been a long time subscriber to .MAC, so I’m pretty excited to give Mobileme a try.

Who knows. I might even grow to like the name…