This post is now at Technology Report:
Update: Andrew Seybold’s reply: http://www.andrewseybold.com/blog.asp?ID=132
Tonight PBS covered the smart phone market, and asked for input from Andrew Seybold. He should have been a great choice and clearly has an insider view, so how could he say something this transparently absurd?
ANDREW SEYBOLD: As much as I respect Google, the wireless industry can’t be an extension of the Internet because wireless bandwidth is finite. It’s a fixed resource, and it is shared bandwidth. The more people who use it in a given area, the less data speed they have.
Andrew, with all due respect – and considerable respect is due, I think you’ve missed something profound here. Sure, wireless capacity must increase to accommodate all the data, and it certainly will. There are already technologies like WIMAX and EVDO that will scale up to meet demand, and it’s likely that improvements and new technologies will emerge very fast in response to this cash rich, market. In any case, it is now *crystal clear* that all players in this space are moving to converge the phone experience with the internet experience. It is not clear exactly how that will shake out and eventually become seamless, but you are suggesting this is not even the *direction* in which things are moving.
ERIC SCHMIDT: I completely disagree with the characterization that somehow the wireless network is going to be any different than the wired network, because there’s enormous spectrum becoming available through licensing programs, better radio design, faster computers, and so forth.
Thank you Eric, you are absolutely right. In fact I expect you already have several plans in place to make the higher speed and broader bands available to prospective gPhones and Google Phones and Android equipped phones.
Update: The headlines are misleading. This phone is not by Google, but will be able to run “Android”, the Googley operating sytem from the Open Handset Alliance. This is an important development but different from a true phone from Google.
There are reports that a Google Phone or gPhone will be out shortly. Here are some pictures. There is not much buzz about this yet so I’m not clear about the source of these rumors, but it makes sense to me that Google will put something out much earlier than the “middle of 2008” we’ve seen in a lot of reports.
Based on the early pix I’m not sure this device is going to win any design awards – looks more like a geek design than the stylish iPhone design that has helped make Apple the clear “smartphone to beat” and brought them such success in this market. However on balance I think that *cost* will be the key. If the gPhone can come in under $100 and do all the neat things promised by Android and the Open Handset Alliance, I think it’ll be so broadly adopted as to be an unstoppable mobile force.
OK, I just got it. The Kindle does have a market. Bezos is correct of course that the reason books persist in the digital world is their ergonomic appeal. With the Kindle he’s working to maintain that book advantage while adding the digital improvements modern technology can offer – that is a library of Alexandria at your fingertips.
Yet the obvious challenge here is what I’ve noted before – laptop users won’t switch to a device that offers ergonomic improvements but less functionality and more cost, and non-tech people won’t adopt tech approaches this quickly. So, who does that leave in the Kindle market? Jeff Bezos is one person, and I think he’ll buy one. I’d probably buy one if I had money to burn on a redundant but somewhat better device for my reading.
So the Kindle market will be heavy duty book readers who *also* like technology *and* have a fairly high threshold of disposable income. This is not a trivial number of people, though it’s probably only in the neighborhood of about 1-2% of the US population. Let’s assume that the number of people who are heavy readers and would like a Kindle and can afford a Kindle are 2% of the US population. That’s a potential market of 6 million people, which does not seem all that problematic. If they can penetrate 10% of this market and sell 600,000 devices along with the many books people will buy at 9.99 maybe it won’t lose money, and perhaps even could evolve into a device with broader appeal.
But I wouldn’t bet on this.
Amazon’s Kindle just does not make sense to a lot of folks blogging about it. Including me. Today the device was introduced by Jeff Bezos of Amazon via a presentation that appears to suggest he thinks this is the new evolution of reading. Cuniform, then books, now the Kindle. Actually, I sort of “get it” when you reasonably suggest that in a digital world the book is a cumbersome technology, containing only a single work in a relatively heavy casing. The Kindle is thus a virtual library of Alexandria in 10 oz plastic box. That’s pretty cool, right? Right, if we did not have alternative technologies that offered even more. As I see this the Kindle is a superior reading device to a laptop or iPhone because of better ergonomics. However, given the cost and limitations (you can’t call with a Kindle), I agree with Forbes that this device may be obsolete before it even hits store shelves.
Who will buy this expensive, highly specialized gadget and then pay fees to read things they could read for free on a computer? Forbes has a more balanced story than Newsweek’s favorably hyped “Future of Reading” silliness that I think was more a product of some exclusive they got from Jeff Bezos than a reasonable analysis of what the Kindle offers readers.
But enough negativity. I want to thank Jeff Bezos for spending so much money helping to design a product that will at the very least help to create the next generation of devices. As a heavy user of heavy laptops I know we have a long way to go here. We need a world where your phone/pda/mp3/browser also functions as a book reader. I think that will come from the phone side of things rather that a separate “reader gadget” Kindle approach, but who knows? Maybe this is the breakthrough device to get the luddites computing? Is their interest kindled with this innovation? Wait….nope….they don’t even know it exists.
The Android SDK is out. This would be geek speak for saying “let the cell phone games begin”, and perhaps market speak for “Palm’s Dead and Symbian is probably screwed”.
The Androids haven’t just landed though, they are bearing suitcases stuffed with cash for developers who bring neat applications to market. This is more of the normal Google cleverness at work. Don’t just make it free, *pay* people to make it, and make it better than anything that has come before. Brilliant!
Unselfish of Google? Hardly. With their lock-grip on online advertising don’t forget who will be the big winner in a world saturated with mobile users surfing around a lot more stumbling upon super relevant geo-targeted pay per click advertising. For those of you in the back of the class, that winner would be …. Google.
Over at Om’s blog somebody in the comments suggested that Open Handset seemed like a solution looking for a problem, which seemed very ill informed to me. It solves two big problems – crappy phones that will soon be like iPhones, but much cheaper, and it will bring more organization and convergence to our harried digital lifestyle by blending mobile and online worlds more effectively than the current players have managed to do.
Maybe I’m missing something but I agree with those who see the Open Handset Alliance approach as a profound sea change in mobile, and something that will shake things up quickly (though not necessarily the prize money because $10,000,000 is a drop in the bucket of cash at stake here – over a trillion dollars in the coming decade. )
I’m *already* anxious to get rid of my nasty Palm Treo software (and maybe the whole phone) given that it won’t even synch anymore without me losing all my data. I envision a mobile future where my phone, PC, GIS, picture, and online needs all merge *seamlessly*, are accessible from all my devices easily and without any extra steps, and where I pay *nothing* for services in exchange for viewing ads or pay something if I want to get rid of the ads.
Open Handset is going to make that happen fast, and I wish them well.
Rumors that Google might buy Sprint appear to be mostly just that – silly rumors to catch a headline. Not so much that it would be a bad idea – for Sprint it would be the rescue they can only dream about as shifts in subscribers and the mobile landscape do not appear to favor Sprint right now. As a Sprint customer with 4 phones on the plan you’d think I’d be rooting for them, but my misadventures with bad coverage here in Oregon and back east, the overhyped Treo 650, and a ringtone scam I had to *remind* them remove too often has basically soured this customer.
If Google buys Sprint the Champagne should be popping – but probably not at Google though the economics of a deal like this are well beyond my expertise – probably anybody’s for that matter.
Google clearly wants to enter and effectively destabilize and reinvent the mobile market and they’ve already taken a major first step in the direction with the Mobile Handset Alliance. Also true that Google can keep a secret as the recent Myspace “Open Social” partnership made very clear. But I have a hunch they’ll do this more indirectly than managing their own mobile network. Cleverly, Google is poising themselves to be the keeping of most mobile advertising which is where the “extra” cash is now laying on the table. Open Handset Alliance phones will combine with mobile services and ads to bring a lot more advertising revenue into this market fairly fast, and Google is making sure a Google mobile OS, or something very compatible, is waiting there to scoop up the bucks.
Why buy the cow when you can get all that milk … for free?