Friday, June 13, 2008

GTalk - Yahoo! Messenger Interoperability

The big news from Google this morning was the agreement to provide Yahoo! with access to Google's AdSense for search and AdSense for content in US and Canada. The Google press release and the Google blog post on this topic had another interesting tid-bit:
In addition, we will work to enable interoperability between our respective instant messaging services allowing users better, broader communication online.

And with interoperability between IM services, users will have easier access to even more of their contacts.

I hope they implement this interoperability soon. The previously announced interoperability with AOL and Skype messaging platforms has not materialized yet. The facility for GMail users with AOL accounts to login with their AOL IDs and chat with their AOL contacts from within GMail does not count as interoperability.

I wonder why IM platforms were not designed in the first place to function like email platforms: with the ability to message contacts on any other network. Now that IM platforms started out as walled gardens, what is taking the big IM platforms so long to implement interoperability with all other IM platforms, or at least with the major ones. Are they afraid that this will make their competitors stronger? Don't the big IM platforms realize that giving their users the ability to chat with friends on other networks is the best way to keep them on their own networks?

If I could use Yahoo Messenger to chat with my friends who are on GTalk, I might never use the GTalk client because I find the YM client to be more full-featured. Think about it Yahoo and get working on interoperability with GTalk ASAP! And while you are at it, don't forget to include voice chat in the interoperability mix.

PS: I'm not going to ask GTalk for anything here because my wishlist for GTalk would form a complete post in itself.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Andy Rubin demos Android

BBC's Darren Waters interviewed Andy Rubin, the main man behind the Android platform, and had him give a demo too. This is the kind of video I was expecting to see come out of the Mobile World Congress this year, only to be disappointed. Here's a video of the demo.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Challenges of Mobile Advertising

Mobile phones are intensely personal devices we carry with us pretty much everywhere. As such, it is hard-to-resist medium for advertisers. However, this platform can be a double-edged sword. Mobile advertisements are perhaps the most intrusive form of marketing, just a rung below telemarketing calls. So, there is a high potential for turning off prospective customers.

In this post we will examine some of the challenges of advertising on the mobile phone.

Limited Screensizes

Unlike TVs and computers with ever increasing screen sizes, the size of mobile phone screens will always remain small. Every millimeter of space on that screen is valuable. There are no convenient side bars, header banners and footer spaces where ads can be shown without too much distraction from the main content. So, where to squeeze some ad space without encroaching on content and irritating the user? One way of increasing screen space on mobile phones is to make the entire face of the phone a screen, with a touch interface, like the popular iPhone.

Reduced Receive-only Attention Span

By its very nature the mobile phone is a device for active interaction, whether we are talking or messaging. On every other platform, be it print, TV, radio or the computer, the amount of time we spend in non-interactive, receive-only mode is much higher compared to the phone. Receive-only mode is when we are only reading / viewing / listening to something, as opposed to interacting with it by providing our own inputs. Most of today's ads are geared towards audiences who are in the receive-only mode. These are passive ads.

Mobile phones are used in receive-only mode, only for short durations when we are looking for specific information or when we are passing time when waiting for an appointment or to reach a destination, etc. This substantially reduced receive-only attention span of mobile phone users presents another challenge for presenting ads.

This issue can be addressed in a couple of ways: a) Provide content which encourages people to spend more time in receive-only mode on the phones. b) Come up with clever interactive ads / marketing campaigns. These are active ads which require the audiences to play with them or provide inputs.

The one thing you do not want to do is interrupt the user with an ad when they are in active interaction mode - be it communicating with somebody or looking up information.

Rewards for unsolicited ads

The state of mobile devices and connectivity today is that showing ads on the phone involves a cost to the end-user. The ads may drain more power from the phone's limited battery source and it may increase the data usage for which the user may be paying by volume. In addition, the user will also be paying with her/his personal time and attention, which s/he might consider to be even more valuable than the battery power or data usage costs. As such, users will be loathe to consume unsolicited ads on the phone without being rewarded in return with something more than the information presented in the ad. Such rewards could be free voice or data connectivity, free phones, etc. As the market matures, I'm sure marketers will think of other innovative rewards with which to win over customer's attentions.

The rewarding of users with free stuff in exchange for viewing ads happens more often than we realize. Eg: Programming on many TV netword channels are available to us for free viewing, subsidized by ads.

Solicited Ads or Ads as (Search) Results

The most effective presentment of ads is as a response to a user request or search. I am not talking of contextual ads shown alongside search results. These contextual ads are still unsolicited ads because they are shown without the user asking to see them. Suppose, the user is looking for a store or a business via a search service or directory calling service on the mobile phone. The service would then show mostly (or perhaps exclusively) businesses which have paid to be listed as results of that search. This, of course, goes against the principles of fair and unbiased search results and such a service cannot strictly be called a search service. Nevertheless, if the results are of high quality and relevancy, it will be used by the people. Just Dial in India is one such directory service which charges businesses to list them as search results.

Advertising on mobile phones is not an easy proposition due to the scarce screen space, reduced attention span of users and risks of antagonizing the user by being too intrusive, or worse, costing her/him time and money to merely view the ad. However, the rewards are enormously high for anyone who successfully cracks this puzzle as effectively as Google cracked the contextual ads puzzle.

In a future column, we will explore some of the possible options for displaying ads on a mobile screen with the least intrusion to the user.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

It's a gPhone debut parade!

We had reported earlier on rumors of a gPhone debut at the Mobile World Congress, which opens next week. The rumors have taken on a tone of all but confirmed reporting in the past few days. Apparently, we won't see a debut of just one or two godPhones, but a parade of upto a dozen gPhone prototyes, according to this article on CNN Money:
As many as one dozen handset makers and chip companies are expected next week to unveil mobile phone prototypes designed to operate with Google Inc.'s (GOOG) new Android software platform, a source familiar with the situation said Friday.

One analyst said the number companies preparing to show off their wares at the GSMA Mobile World Congress in Barcelona amounts to "a small but symbolic step" forward for the Internet search and advertising giant, which has set it sights on the nascent but potentially lucrative mobile ad market.

"Having prototypes is a signal, but not a promise, that the phones will be out there," said Bill Hughes, analyst at In-Stat consultancy.

Hughes said the success of Google's effort to develop a next-generation mobile phone will largely depend on convincing independent developers - whom Google is counting on to add all the bells and whistles to its mobile phone software - that there will be a broad market for their applications.
Couple of points:
a) How many of these "phone prototypes designed to operate with Android" will actually be running Android? I ask this only because the Winstron GW4 was being shown off as the "first Android-capable phone" at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, although it was decided not running on Android yet!

b) The above CNN Money article claims that, "the success of Google's effort to develop a next-generation mobile phone will largely depend on convincing independent developers". I have heard a similar thing from many others about how independent developers will make or break Android. Well... no! We have repeatedly seen great-looking, shiny new mobile phones becoming a huge hit in the market with no independent developer support. All it would take is the introduction of just one Android handset which one-ups the iPhone, and everybody, their grandmothers and their kids will be lining up for it. So, no, the success of a new mobile phone or platform does not largely depend on independent developers. However, I don't deny that independent developers do make an important contribution, especially towards the long-term adoption and sustenance of a new computing platform.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Android Class at MIT

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is offering a computer science class based on the Android platform this semester, as reported in the Boston Business Journal.

The class will be 25 students strong, covering the ins and outs of the Android platform, along with building applications on the platform. It is led by Professor Hal Abelson. It will also feature guest instructors Rich Miner of Google, Dave Mitchell and Eric Carlson from ConnectedBit, and Rajeev Surati and Andrew Yu of MIT.

Android is probably the tool / platform which made it fastest from the industry to the classroom. Heck, it has not even made it to the market yet! I am thinking the only other software tools that appeared in the the classroom even before hitting the market were the ones which were developed right there on campus.

[via Boston Business Journal]

Monday, January 28, 2008

Android Developer Challenge Deadline Extended

The deadline for the first round of the Android Developer Challenge has been extended upto 14th April 2008. Previously, March 3rd had been announced as a hard deadline. Here's the updated timeline as per the Android Developers Blog:
April 14, 2008: Deadline to submit applications for judging
May 5, 2008: Announcement of the 50 first round winners, who will be eligible for the final round
June 30, 2008: Deadline for the 50 winners of the first round to submit for the final round
July 21, 2008: Announcement of the grand prize winner and runner-up.

[via Android Developers Blog]

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Adword Conversion Tracking Challenges on Mobile

Effectively advertising on mobile phones without alienating the user is a challenge that is far from being solved by anyone right now. I am quite surprised to learn that Google has a more basic challenge right now: it can't even track Adword conversions on mobile phones! In other words, when someone clicks on a Google ad on a mobile phone, Google might not always know about it and so may not get paid for it. This is a serious flaw indeed!

Accuracast talks about how a large number of Adword conversions on mobile devices can go undetected because many mobile browsers do not allow JavaScript or cookies, the basic essentials for Google to track ad clicks.

When Accuracast questioned Google, the response they got from a Google Adwords account manager not only confirms this, it even suggests that disabling images on a phone browser can prevent tracking Adword conversion:
A significant percentage of mobile browser and carrier combinations do not support cookies. Google adds cookies to a user’s mobile device when he or she clicks on an ad to track conversions. Therefore, if users are using mobile browsers or carriers that do not accept or support cookies, they will not be included in your conversion tracking statistics.

Additionally, cookies on mobile phones expire faster than the ones created for PCs. Therefore, a significant number of conversions for your site may go unrecorded after a certain period of time. When viewing conversions for a specified time period, note that conversions are assigned to the date on which the ad click occurs, not the date on which the conversion occurs. In addition, we will not be able to report conversions for users who disable cookies.

Conversion tracking is also not supported when users disable images on their mobile phones.

Although Google cannot record every conversion due to the reasons mentioned above, your conversion rate, cost-per-conversion, cost-per-transaction and value/click are adjusted to reflect only those sites from which we can track conversions.

I am also surprised that this is not bigger news.

[via Accuracast]

Friday, January 18, 2008

Issue Tracker for Android SDK

The Android Developers blog has announced the launch of an Issue Tracker for the Android SDK. Here's the link:

As reported previously on this blog, an Issue Tracker had been one of the top items on Android developers' wishlists.

[via Android Developers blog]

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Magellan’s Maestro Elite 5340 - first GPS unit with Google Search

Magellan's Maestro 5340 with Google Search Thanks to lousy wireless data channels, GPS units have traditionally tried to cram local information into their own memory, instead of relying on expert data indexers like Google to serve the latest information. It has taken so long for someone to put Google search into a GPS unit. Well, better late than never. Magellan’s Maestro Elite 5340+GPRS becomes the first GPS unit to feature Google Local Search. Scheduled to ship in Spring of this year, this GPRS-only-no-Wi-Fi unit costs a whopping $1,299 plus a monthly fee for the GPRS connection! Compare that to the Dash Express, which costs $599 plus $10-$13 monthly, and has both GPRS and Wi-Fi connectivity. But then, the Dash features Yahoo! Local, which is not as good as Google Local.

GE Phones - first with Google button!

GE Phone with GOOG-411 Button GE cordless phones (non-cellular) become the first phones to come with a dedicated Google button. The button is for Google's excellent free 411 service (1-800-GOOG-411). The phones will be available in April 2008.

This is no different from Google's earlier move to put short-cuts to its web-based mobile apps on the BlackBerry home screen. If an easy short-cut to a great service is available right in front of them, people will use it. This is a great move by Google to boost usage of its 411 service and to get more users to train its voice recognition algorithms.


Sunday, January 6, 2008

gPhone Race Kicks Off - Wistron Starts Claims

Wistron GW4 Looks like the race to see who will bring the first godPhone to the market has kicked off... albeit without anyone demo'ing a handset actually running Android. It's all just a race of words right now.

PC Magazine reports on the Wistron GW4 handset unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas today. Right now, the handset is running a version of MontaVista Linux 2.6. But Wistron claims that the "GW4 will be running Android by March, when Wistron will start selling it to more prominent firms for branding." However, I wouldn't hold my breath in March. It does not look like Wistron will actually sell a gPhone in March or April. The PC Magazine article concludes with the line:
The GW4 will come out during the second quarter of this year, Wistron execs said.
So, to summarize, the GW4 in its current version with MontaVista Linux, will only be available in the second quarter of this year, despite a working prototype being shown at CES 2008 right now. So, it is safe to assume a g(od)Phone avatar of the GW4 will be available even later. Never mind what enthusiastic PR people say about the GW4 running Android by March. They were probably only thinking of that happening in their labs.

[via PC Magazine]

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Challenges of Android Development

It is always nicer to read the opinions and experiences of developers actually working on Android, compared to the commentary of bloggers / reporters who get their development-related information second hand.

Nazmul Idris of the Developerlife blog seems to have waited over a month after initial release to check out the Android SDK and he's been at it for only a couple of days now. Nevertheless, his Google Android Musings about the challenges of developing for a mobile platform in general, and for the Android platform in particular makes some worthwhile reading:
In Android, there is no Swing or AWT, so you have to familiarize yourself with the new GUI APIs (hierarchically nested Views) that are part of Android. That’s not so bad… since they have lots of pre-built widgets, and they provide lots of data binding support for diverse data models. Having said that, the biggest difference in building an Android app, from one that runs on a desktop/server/laptop Java VM is that the Android app runs in a managed container. The SystemManager is responsible for taking the app through various discretely defined lifecycle states, which allows for apps to be interrupted by network coverage issues, or incoming phone calls, or just being turned off, as examples. An Android app that has a UI is called an Activity. Activities run in their own Linux process, and they have one default thread (Swing-like-EDT), that can not be hogged for more than 5 seconds, otherwise, the SystemManager will shut the app down. This requires users to know how to create background tasks, which is not easy. Also, the UI metaphor in Android is one of building “screens”, rather than building apps which have nested panels and complex layouts and centralized state management. This is a very common approach to taken when building UIs/apps for mobile devices. The idea is to split up an application into many discrete loosely coupled pieces… some that are bound to the screen (Activity), and others that are “headless” (Services). Additionally, there are lots of container managed persistence and data exchange mechanisms that are available. However, given that these pieces can be swapped out with different pieces, and that any screen can be paused or activated at any time makes life more tricky for the app developer. All of this raises the barrier to entry so to speak. And I’m not even going into the optimization techniques that you have to adopt to write code that runs fast.

The above quote is just a small part of the article. Visit the blog to read some more on the topic.