Phone Encryption

It’s been announced that both iOS and Android are going to have fully encryptable phones which will be a huge boon for our 4th amendment rights. As well as to protect us from more mundane things like theft or simply losing your phone. Our phones these days contain as much or more personal information as our computers do these days. The average person doesn’t have any sort of two step authentication on their personal accounts on their phones. In most case people do have some sort of password protection to get into the phone, but once in it’s fairly easy to get into many applications.

For end users there’s nothing better than having a stronger security measures as in many cases companies poorly manage their security. This can be highlighted from the past week of exploits and those celebrity pictures. Encrypting phones might not prevented the celebrity leak, but in many cases it could. It’s believed that some of the hacks of Paris Hilton years ago came from hacking her phone through a BlueTooth connection, so a fully encrypted phone may have protected her from that hack.

All these things are good, however, the Washington Post has decided that this encryption is a risk to public safety because it will help criminals. This is the exact same argument that people make against BitCoin and full disk encryption. BitCoin ended up spawning SilkRoad, which has been shut down and it’s more likely that more crime is committed with dollars rather than Bitcoin. Full Disk Encryption has been used by both criminals and the more technical savvy. With the recent changes where the government can simply take your laptop at boarder crossings without any sort of warrant. Which means anyone at anytime that could have been flagged by the NSA could have their computer searched at will.

It’s more likely that encryption will protect an average person from an arbitrary search than protect a criminal. It’s likely that without everyone being encrypted, having your computer or phone encrypted would have been a huge red flag, however, with these recent changes that can’t happen. Meaning the average person will be safer as well as the fully legal with nothing to hide security conscious individuals.

The Washington Post, FBI, and other agencies are wrong. Fully encryption on our phones protects our privacy, improves our fourth amendment, and give us more control over our own devices. If the FBI and the US government is successful in creating a backdoor the encryption will be worthless and the put us more at risk as we’ll have a false sense of security.

Powerful Microsoft investor wants MS to focus on Enterprise

According to the Washington Post an influential investor is pushing for a new direction at Microsoft. His goal is to get Microsoft to ditch the consumer market and focus solely on enterprise. He wants the X-Box gone (likely sold to someone), Surface gone (either sold or killed), and their other non-enterprise solutions eliminated as well. I think that from a Financial person’s perspective these are something of an obvious option. X-box isn’t killing it in the market, they are expensive and take a while to recoup the cost of development and all that. The Surface hasn’t had great sales – although it’s hard to separate weak sales of the Surface from the abomination of Windows 8 that sold with the bulk of them initially (I’d bet they’d be solid devices with Android on them).

I think it’s important to remember why Microsoft is Microsoft. It’s not entirely because of Enterprise. It’s because Operating systems are difficult to learn and people don’t want to learn more than one if they can avoid it. Only recently have the bulk of people been fluently on two different operating system – Windows/Mac/(few on linux) & iOS/Android/Windows Mobile/Blackberry. The most common interaction would have to be Windows & iOS and/or Android and Mac & iOS.

The reason for strong enterprise Windows sales is because of the massive consumer base that Microsoft has managed to hold on to despite it’s best efforts. If most people had to learn multiple different operating systems between home and work it would increase their stress levels at work. The skills they learned at home wouldn’t transfer well. I think this is also the reason why enterprise is conservative in upgrading their Windows OS – essentially skipping every other one. XP/Seven because those are the products that seem to build a strong enough user base on the consumer side. Most techies don’t like Win 8, so that hurts sales to Mom and Dad or their friends. They’ll tell them to avoid a product or get them to go back to Win 7 over 8 if possible.

The battle for the next OS is going to be fought on tablets and phones, before it’s fought on laptops and desktops. I know there are some tech experts out there calling for the death of the tablet, however, I think it’s far more likely that there will be a convergence between laptops and tablets. Where a tablet can meet our core needs of our laptop.

The more powerful of the two Surface products (Pro) was just that type of product. It was able to do a lot of WINDOWS laptop stuff, but in the form factor of the tablet. Should have sold well, except it cost a ton for a tablet or under powered laptop. I think that this really is the consumer space people will work from. We really don’t need more space unless we’re gaming and then people will build a desk top or buy a console.

Consoles – the X-box isn’t just a console, it’s supposed to be a full multimedia PC replacing the need of a desktop. You pair the Surface Pro with an X-Box and you’ve got everything you need for your house. This is what Microsoft is envisioning. Everyone is still using Office on their Surface, Skyping on both X-Box and Surface, and everything is based on the familiar (sort of) Windows OS. Keeping it front and center.

Let’s say MS ditches the console and Surface. They’d have to license out Windows to run on tablets and wouldn’t have the ability to help shape those conversations. They are competing with 2 Rabid fan bases in mobile OSes, one that many companies are able to use for free (with some licensing fees to MS), Google is pushing to replace MS in netbooks and likely other environments – Chromebook and ChromeBox. All of these could threaten their dominance as the work station in enterprise. For the bulk of the work I do, I could probably do it on a tablet as long as I have a compatible office suite.

Furthermore, MS isn’t the only option in many of the enterprise spaces. They aren’t the only OS, Office Suite, or Enterprise service company (Dell, IBM, Accenture, SAP, etc…) it’s not a guarantee this process would work. Furthermore, people are already talking about an Android server for some activities. These are all threats to MS core business OS and Office Suits. Leaving the consumer space only opens them up to more threats as people will want to stay in a similar environment.

This is another example of the Innovator’s Dilemma and MS should look to use Lean to help solve their cash and process challenges. Both the Surface and X-Box are good products. They just need to figure out how to find the right market for the Surface.

Is Net Neutrality regulation commie nonsense?

Network Economy

Regulation’s a bad thing, right? Personally, I think there are instances where regulation is an amazingly good thing that drives innovation. We also need to be cautious about who is saying regulation is good or bad. Back in the 90’s we’d hear that regulating in anyway to prevent acid rain would cripple business and kill our economy. This clearly didn’t happen, we have acid free rain for the most part, we have more productive manufacturing than ever. We also hear that regulating CEO pay by median rather than average is significantly more complicated to the point that a place stacked full of MBA’s can’t figure it out. Then there are regulations that pick winners like Solyndra and turns out to be a disaster. These cause higher taxes and are actual drains on the economy (personally I’m on the fence about experimenting with new technologies and having the government support them, but that’s me).

What about the FCC “regulating” net neutrality? I think that it’s important to look at how this all started. First, I’ll start with a bit of a history with the telecoms, then move to how the internet was developed, and move to comparisons between other monopolies.

AT&T has been described as a natural monopoly. This was partially helped by the US government because the government wanted coast to coast telephony and selected AT&T as the standard for that activity. This gave AT&T incredible market strength, but was also extremely fragile as it was continually under threat of being broken up for being a monopoly (which is was). To do everything they could to avoid this, the geniuses at Bell Labs continually designed ways to keep their costs down, improve quality, and make very thing better. They also had some government deals that helped them a lot (military contracts for telecom stuff, like the first satellite). The value of AT&T’s network grew every time a person joined the network.

The fact that one person joined Network A over Network B could further impact the growth of that network. Let’s say Person A is friends with 5 people and is already on Network A, it’s likely, if they are really good friends and A is known for making good decisions, that those five people will join A on Network A. The value increases by more than simply 5, because all five of those people can talk to each other as well as every other person they know on Network A. Now if Person A has more friends, but not as good of friends and they actually are better friends with Person A’s friends they will also likely join Network A. This sort of cascade effect will continue to happen. This is also known as Metcalfe’s law.

When AT&T was force to break up, all of that interoperability remained. Instead of one big monopoly there were regional ones instead. As we’ve seen over time, these same regional operators have slowly re-joined back into 2 Bells versus the non-Bells. AT&T being split is a type of regulation for sure, but it did spur some interesting competition for a time.

How the Internet was designed:

The internet was originally designed to operate in many different application layers. Essentially the bottom of the stack was Internet Protocol which was agnostic to the type of information being sent across it. At the time, the most efficient method was over Ethernet so there was not any requirement to be concerned over the application medium. Over time there would be some concern, but that was really addressed by the protocol.

What would happen is that the applications that required information to be sent on either end would translate the information to be used by the layer below it to send out, such as a web browser to the OS, to the network driver to IP, across the internet to the network driver to the OS to the web server application. Across this entire process the actual data being sent was unknown to any of the nodes in between the application layers. (If you’re interested in this check out Internet Architecture and Innovation).

Of course the companies providing the bandwidth for that did not want to find itself in a similar role as they had after the break up of AT&T where they were forced to become “dumb pipes” for whatever people wanted to send across their network. To prevent this they created capabilities like deep package inspection and other tools to identify what content was being shipped across their lines. This also was the beginning of violating “True” net neutrality.

Why were they dumb pipes? Because they were defined as a common carrier to increase competition across the land line providers and ISPs the telephone companies had no choice. This lead to the explosion of ISPs like AOL, Century Link, and so on. What has happened since? The broadband lines have been ruled that they are not “Common Carriers“. Meaning that the data across the line can be treated however the companies that own the lines want.

Why is this bad in a network economy?

In a network economy, being able to fully control anything and everything can be very bad for the consumer if there is no other option. Now, you could argue that there are options, but in most cases because of other monopoly rules there are few options for allowing a new ISP.

A perfect example where a network monopoly isn’t a big deal is in Smart Phones. The iOS App Store is a natural monopoly in a network. The more people using the iPhone the more valuable it became and more app developers developed apps. It never became a problem that Apple regulates the entire experience BECAUSE there were other networks you could shift to, such as Blackberry, webOS, Windows (whatever mobile version you want to include), and, of course, Android. All of these ecosystems offer very different options for devs. Additionally, within Android there are competing App stores which further benefits the consumer. If there were no other competitors to iOS and it’s App Store the constraints that Apple puts on their product would likely be viewed as very anti-competitive and a type of “foreclosure.”

Market foreclosure is using one monopoly to enable another monopoly. Now, regardless of if you think that this should have happened or not, it did. Microsoft was hit for using it’s Window’s OS to foreclose on the internet browser market and was looking to do the same with their music player. What resulted was that MS was required to offer other browsers when a new Windows OS was launched and helped to reduce the market share of IE.

How does this apply here? Comcast is already trying to do the same with Netflix in the streaming video business. Comcast owns the content (Universal, NBC, etc), the connection (Comcast Cable ISP), the rules (data caps), and if they want to charge to access their network or not. Eliminating the rules of net neutrality tilt the table in the direction of Comcast to a degree that Netflix may never recover. If Netflix, at one point 2/3 of all internet traffic, had to pay for every bit they streamed to allow for an enjoyable streaming experience they would be bankrupt in very short order.

I get that Comcast’s of the world don’t want to be dumb pipes, they own the content and that’s king. However, not every ISP owns content (Verizon/AT&T) so they aren’t at such an advantage to companies like Netflix. However that’s where AT&T’s data plan comes in. Which would essentially level the table compared to Comcast. We, as end users, wouldn’t see any benefit out of this. It’s not that our subscription fees would lower or we’ll magically get faster internet. This is simply rent seeking behavior and bad for the economy overall. Only true new competition can lead to that. Changing these rules have zero impact on that competition.

What it does do though is negatively impact the creation of new businesses that want to stream video or provide a novel product that requires high bandwidth and equal rights to streaming. Removing the protections on net neutrality dramatically increases the cost of streaming that otherwise could go into building that startup’s infrastructure. Think of the problems at Twitch.TV with their growth. My subscription fees pay for the growth of the network that I subscribe to regardless if it’s something like Twitch or Comcast. Anything else will go to shareholders and CEOs.

Could we develop other options like a Mesh network? It’s possible, but for that to work the option would have to be a public/private venture. Most citizens aren’t going to help create that and likely don’t have the technology savvy to do so. To further complicate this issue many ISPs are actually pushing to make it illegal for cities to create their own ISP.

In many cases regulation is bad for business. However, in cases like net neutrality it’s returning the net to it’s roots and enabling much stronger competition based on the merits of the company providing the service, not the arbitrary whim of network owner.

Content is king, but if you build it will they come?

In yesterday’s blog I wrote a lot about the different operating systems and what differentiates them. However, I didn’t answer the question around how to build a user base or even more importantly the app base. For all operating systems there is a chicken and egg problem, which comes first the apps or the users – you can’t get users with out apps and no users will go with your system with no apps!

I think a look at how two companies have worked to overcome this is crucial to provide a path forward for the other operating systems. First of all, Google entered the mobile market in exactly this position. I wrote a paper on this while I was in my Master’s (written 2011) the really details this if you want to read that. Google decided to approach the app issue from a very different direction than Apple. First, Google offered a good deal of money for developers to begin making apps for the operating system. Second, Google create a different reimbursement structure for their purchases of apps that provided incentive for developers to develop apps for them. Apple would essentially take ~30% of the total price the developer charged for their apps. This rent seeking behavior of Apple means that the developers could make more money on Android if they sold the same number of apps in both ecosystems. Both of these provided incentives for developers to develop – free money and more money for development. Furthermore, Google made it extremely easy to port an app from iOS to Android which increased the app development rate – Apple of course worked to eliminate this benefit. Finally, Google had different payment schemes than Apple for ad revenue and is a significantly better company for dealing with ads than Apple to this day. All of these provided a great deal of incentive in addition to the fact that there have always been anti-Apple developers and consumers.

The second case (which I didn’t do a research paper on) is of course Amazon. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post Amazon rarely makes a profit on any of their Kindle sales. Amazon’s current foray into tablet’s was not a serious surprise to me. The Kindle was clearly an effort to learn about their users and their consumption habits. Amazon first targeted their most loyal customers, book readers. Tablets weren’t really on the horizon at this point as anything beyond a novelty that Microsoft was pushing and eReaders had a questionable spot in the market when Amazon came out with the Kindle (the same year as Apple’s iPhone – I feel that the Kindle was a bigger step for Amazon than the iPhone for Apple). It was widely successful. I personally bought a second generation Kindle in 2009 (and have since upgraded to Paperwhite 1st gen). Amazon over time continually refined the Kindle and looked for more content to bring to the users. Amazon began to experiment with browsers, apps, and other features. Even at this point the Kindle was Android based, but their own custom version. This marked on of the first forks in the operating system. Amazon also developed applications for iOS, PC, Chrome, and Android for Kindle users. This helped to increase adoption and encourage Amazon that digital content is extremely valued by consumers. When Amazon introduced the Kindle Fire line of tablets they continued to focus on content. This is apparent from the design of the operating system. Content is first and foremost. Books, TV shows, and Movies are easily accessible and essentially the default view for the device. Through a different type of content Amazon has attracted users, furthermore, they are likely attracting a different set of users than the iPad or Nexus market. These users are very consumption focused and less engaged with applications.

Amazon has continued to push the quality of their products and can now compete spec to spec with any top of the line Android or iOS device. Their advantage is the Amazon ecosystem (which many tech writers scoff at), which is more accessible and connected with prime on their devices.

How can other operating systems learn from these cases? The owners of new operating systems need to provide an easy development platform. Many of Android’s applications are developed in HTML5 which should make it easier for porting from one OS to another. Another option is to partner with a third party company (if you know about it or not) like Microsoft did with Blue Stacks where it is possible to play any Android app on a computer. Google is doing something similar with the Chrome App store and browser, essentially turning any Win8 machine into a Chrome OS computer. Firefox OS could go this route on any computer and help to encourage developers to think multi-platform like this. Of the two problems, I believe that the app problem is the easier one to solve assuming it’s easy and there are the right incentive for developers. There are many platforms or tools that can even the playing field. Including marketing that users are able to use other platforms on your platform.

The more difficult type of content to pull is the licensed content from the RIAA and MPAA type organizations. I think that there could be a way for this content to gain the same feel as the Amazon experience. A mobile OS could partner with either Hulu or Netflix to provide an exclusive or personalized experience for the app that allows tighter engagement, then partner with B&N and build a strong app presence for the Nook. The next step would be to develop a seamless transition between the Nook application and Netflix/Hulu so that on one hand you knew when you switched, but it felt painless and enhanced the experience. Such as recommending books or movies based on your consumption of the other.

Finally, I think the crucial step is to find the right market. There are tons of under served markets especially in the smart phone/tablet sector. Firefox OS is going after the extremely low budget market, while it’s likely that both Ubuntu and Cyanogenmod are going to be going after the extreme high end market. I think those two are going to have more competition with the Nexus line up of devices and the extra support Google is providing to non-Samsung manufacturers like ASUS and LG. Google is doing everything they can to keep the market competitive and not owned by a single manufacturer. Cyanogenmod and Ubuntu could also work those same manufacturers to help them develop other markets that aren’t served by Google.

I think that the battle is going to be on the low budget space. Amazon is working hard to capture that with powerful but affordable tablets that are subsidized by ads. While Motorola is going after a similar market with the Moto G, a high power phone that is affordable. However, if a company looks at the base of the pyramid they are likely to find a huge untapped market that will never even own a laptop. They will go from a phone only capable of texting directly to smart phone or tablet. Developing tools that these underserved users can exploit will create a huge market that will catapult the operating system past all the others in global market share. It’s just a matter of figuring out how to survive on little to no margin.

Content is king, but if you build it will they come?

We are in a time when the number of operating systems are growing incredibly rapidly. This is essentially a throwback to the time when every company that made a Mainframe or Minicomputer developed their a custom operating system for that line of systems. This was because it was difficult to translate operating systems from one system to the next, each system had such radically different components that were hand built by the engineers designing the system, and the OS was a differentiator on the market that would increase sales based on its capabilities.

As it is the mobile operating system market has already gone through at least one round of expansion and contraction. Blackberry is on the brink, Palm was bought by HP and then sold to LG, Windows Mobile replaced by Windows RT (or just Windows 8), Nokia’s Symbian, Nokia’s MeeGo, Samsung’s operating systems Pre-Android Bada, and there are likely others. In general these have contracted down to two primary operating systems: iOS and Android on mobile. Windows is still trying to threaten with Windows 8 (the ARM version) but their market share is very limited (4.5% in August of 2013). Which essentially puts it down with all the other new operating systems that have recently come to market.

In my opinion there are two front runners for OSes not based on Android that have a chance to take market share. The first is Firefox OS, which has just begun shipping phones. I would argue that Firefox OS is actually more similar to Chrome OS than to Android because it’s very webcentric and focuses on apps that can be developed for Firefox and HTML5. I believe this does allow for a great deal of flexibility as Firefox is a great brand and already has a set of applications for the browser. These, hopefully, will be easily transferred to Firefox OS from the browser.

The second OS that I find especially interesting is Ubuntu mobile OS. This operating system I believe offers the future path that all OSes need to be considering. While running purely on battery it enters a scaled down operating system and power consumption, but when the phone or tablet is plugged in it converts to a full blown Linux operating system with a significantly higher level of processing power behind it. I believe that in the long run this type of operating system and processor combination will ultimately be the future (Samsung is doing some of this with their 10.1 2014 edition), because we will want to eliminate as many of our computing devices as possible. Tablets are already beginning to do this, and with the Phablet tablets are being replaced in some sizes. The lines will continue to blur and I think Ubuntu will be in a unique position to take advantage of that in the upcoming year.

There is one other dark horse OS that I know very little about, it’s Samsung and Intel’s joint venture. It is Linux based like Ubuntu and Android and it’s called Tizen. This has little to no adoption, but could be a player in the very low cost market. Which is where Firefox OS is positioning itself, while Ubuntu is putting itself at the high end market.

As for the Android derivatives, the most successful and largest threat to both iOS and the general Android platform is Amazon’s Fire OS. Amazon has had a long practice of pushing content over the cost of the product. In fact with most of their Kindle products they are barely breaking even or making pennies on each one sold.

The other derivative is also wildly popular but with a specific type of user. Cyanogenmod has offically become its own company and recently raised $23 million from venture companies. This is going to be a change for Cyanogenmod because they will not longer be able to use the Play store, which may not be that big of a problem because they’ve had an underground app store for some time.

There are others, I’m not trying to display an exhaustive list of mobile operating systems. What I’m trying to display here is that there’s a lot of competition in the mobile operating system space that is only going to become more difficult.

For a mobile operating system to be successful they need two things, applications and content that is viewable in those applications. This is the number one thing that most tech pundits talk about when discussing which platform is better between iOS, Android, or Amazon. In fact, they argue that Amazon’s weakest because of the limited number of apps partially because they do not have access to Google Play. Currently, Android and iOS are well over a million apps each. Which essentially means that they both have a huge number of apps and most of them are never used. It will take years for Amazon to come close and even longer for the other OSes to reach those numbers.

How can the other operating systems over come this limitation? I’ll answer that question in my next blog (published on 12/20/2013).

Disrupting Mobile Phones – Google’s taking the lead and Apple is going to lose

http://news.phonebloks.com/

Photoblok’s high level picture of their design

For some people, Motorola’s Project Aria, in partnership with Phonebloks, is going to be a game changer, while others are kind of like, meh. I think that the end result of this phone will actually be a game changer, but not everyone will switch to this format of phone. Many people will continue to buy phones that have been designed for the full experience. However, I do think that theses phone will significantly impact in how many people think of phones.

These phones represent a disruptive shift for the phone industry. Why are these disruptive when I said that Kayak isn’t disruptive? Well, in the book Innovator’s Dilemma Dr. Christensen argues that when new industries are formed the leaders are companies that are able to combine all the pieces that are needed for producing that good under one roof. In the case of airline travel all the booking used to take place through the airlines, eventually this was outsourced to Travel Agents which were something of an extension of the airlines. The first disruption came when other groups were able to use the internet to book reservations. The act of reserving a seat on a plane became decoupled with the actual flight and service.

So, in the case of mobile phones, specifically smart phones of course, the most successful firms were the ones that were able to combine everything you needed for the phone to be useful. Blackberry did this, but Apple was clearly the best at it. The original iPhone was basically an iPod with a cell antenna in it. This was an amazing thing though. Apple had disrupted the music distribution industry with iTunes and was able to leverage that innovation into smart phones. This of course was a disruption in that industry because everyone was focusing on productivity first, Apple approached it from a content perspective. Content always beats out productivity. In a very real sense, the market changed over night. Apple owns everything in their cell phone, the OS, the design of the chip, the distribution network for apps, music, movies, etc. This is a very classic example of fully integrating as much of the supply chain as possible.

This is exactly how computers started. Large companies like DEC and IBM built everything for a computer. The boards, the operating system, the software, and the interfaces. These companies were large and structured in a way to make money from extremely expensive mainframes which had a very small market. Between Xerox and IBM the personal computer as we know it today was invented.

Our PCs today are modular, which means that every portion of the computer can be built and designed by different firms. This allows a lot more innovation across the platform because it doesn’t rely on one firm to create everything. It allows specialization and diversification for an assembly company. It was because of this modular nature that Intel, Dell, and Microsoft became successful. They were able to leverage the platform that IBM delivered with the PC and grow and develop new capabilities.

This modularity also allowed just about anyone that wanted to the capability to built their own custom made computer. This has become less so with laptops – you can’t buy an empty laptop but you can customize it from a company. This just isn’t the case with smart phones – which are essentially mini computers. The new tablets coming out are as powerful as computers from the early 2000s.  The modularity of PCs offer an additional benefit, you have the ability to easily fix them. If your processor dies or your graphics card does you can buy another and simply pop it in. Even if the motherboard goes, you can still replace that and plug all your existing components into the board. The case is the only thing you don’t have to change if you don’t want to.

With phones the screen is like the case. You don’t really need to upgrade your screen every time. Especially with how hard the screens are unless you drop the phone and crack the screen you don’t need to replace it. Furthermore, we’re getting to the point we are with TVs that the resolution of the screen isn’t going to make much of a difference. Yes, we’re in a DPI battle between Amazon, Google, and Apple but we’re getting close to the point where we can’t tell the difference. Which means that the screen is a perfect thing to act as the phone’s “Case” for modularity purposes. The modularity will help immensely with repariability, which current scores pretty low, if you’re interested in those scores check out iFixit.

So, how does Phonebloks come into all of this? They are essentially pulling an IBM by creating a system that can be modular. Google’s Android will be the operating system of choice, but it’s likely that even this could be flexible in the manner that PCs are today. It’s unlikely that iOS will be on these phones legally, although I’m certain someone will figure out a way to install the operating system on these phones. This will hurt Apple in the long run as people will not be using their operating system will leave their ecosystem and prevent them from making as large of revenues in the future. People will still buy their products, but there will be much less sales. Apple could be repeating history if they don’t offer to sell their operating system for phones like this.

Why do I think that these phones are going to be winners? Well, it will increase the longevity of the phone. With phones costing upwards of $600 for the top of the line phone anything that can increase the length of time that a person is using one is a good thing. Secondly, as Android and other OSes evolve they require more capabilities from the phone which means older phones aren’t able to use the latest operating system. Buying a much cheaper CPU to install would be a lot better for end customers. This will also disrupt the supply chain as companies like Qualcomm aren’t used to selling directly to customers. Finally, as long as the design is good, then it won’t seem as much of a burden to have the same phone year in and year out. It will require people to think differently, but that’s something that I believe Motorola and PhoneBloks can over come.

These phones are going to change the industry and possibly enable other companies to develops phones in the same way. Hopefully they pick one standard interface like the Motherboard that all companies conform to. This will allow companies like Google and Microsoft to go back to innovating on operating systems and to get out of the phone building business.

Router = Computer

According to the online magazine Techeye.net an ADSL modem/router is considered by a German court. The dispute is over if a user is allowed to install software that changes the ADSL modem’s firewall settings. It was actually a battle between two companies, the company that makes the router and the company making software for the router. I think that this ruling has some extremely interesting implications.

First, by defining a router as a computer it opens the door for a HUGE number of devices to be defined as a computer. Most of us wouldn’t think of a router as a computer. It’s a switch, it has a very specific purpose of deciding which packet gets through to the network at a given time and to prevent congestion on the network. In this case, it has the additional function of pulling out the high speed data from the phone line as well. It does have a user interface, but it’s typically restricted to a web browser. This is hardly something the average user would consider a computer. Which tells me something about the judge in the case – he understands technology and computing. The US and rest of Europe could use more judges like this.

Second, since a broad range of devices are now considered devices, at least in Germany, it could force companies to open up their hardware to user software manipulation. I see a few areas where I think this will cause major companies problems.

The first would be video game consoles. If a router is considered a computer there is no way that a company could argue that a video game console is not a computer. Consider the following, you are able to install software video games onto the console, you actually interact with an operating system, you are able to browse the internet and of course play games on the console. These are all things you are able to do on your PC. There are more restrictions on the console than the PC of course. Now, let’s say a third party company wants to come along and create something that will allow you to increase the functionality of the software or the machine in someway. In Germany, the user should have the right to do that.

The second would be cell phones. It’s pretty obvious that cellphones are computers and this ruling would just cement that. I think this will cause more problems for iOS than for Android. For two reasons, first Android already allows third party app stores onto the devices which increases the control of the end user over the computer. Second, Apple controls what software can be allowed into the app store thus controlling what a user is able to install on their computer. The German ruling basically says that a company cannot stop a user from installing software onto their computer if they want to install it. Apple and the App store are directly controlling what a user can and cannot install onto their device. I would not be surprised if this type of control is challenged in the German courts.

One other implications could be that as you own the computer user may be able to stop companies from remotely installing software onto their computer they don’t want on there. For instance, in the US it’s not uncommon for Verizon Wireless to push software out to specific devices without notifying you. You are giving implicit consent by using their networks. However, if the same thing happened to my PC from Comcast there would be a law suit. Since phones are in a weird quasi state of rights in the US there isn’t the same sort of feelings. However, I believe as the gap between PC and phones close and the desire to control what goes on the phone and what doesn’t increases there will be lawsuits over installing and deleting software from your computer.