Sponsored data and YOU!

This could be your lucky day, your cellular provider is going to start offering packages where certain content doesn’t cost you anything in your data cap. This is awesome. You can start streaming more and more video/music/whatever it is that you stream from your favorite services. However, not all of your favorite services will be free of data charge! So make sure that you tell your favorite service that YOU want THEM to sign up and make their content data cap free to you! All those service providers have to do is pay your cellular provider money to stop the data caps! No, seriously, AT&T wants to do this.

Is this a problem? I think it depends on who you are. For a consumer in some cases this is pretty awesome. Let’s say you love to watch video games being streamed on Twitch.tv by your buddies over at KBMOD and Twitch decides to pay money to prevent your data from being charged against your data cap. But you’re also a huge fan of MLG and MLG just decided to start their own Twitch competitor but they can’t afford to pay those same fees. Well, guess you’ll be only watching MLG from your PC or on wifi. Too bad your favorite shows are on while you’re not able to use Wifi though! O well, Twitch is there for you though!

This is a niche market obviously. Not everyone cares about watching someone play streaming video games or even streaming video games to your phone so you can keep playing a game you were playing from home. A lot of people care about TV and movies though. We can look at this as something that’s really analogous to what Comcast was trying to do to Netflix close to two years ago. In April of 2012 Comcast announced that its Xfinity streaming service would not be charged against your Comcast data caps while Netflix streaming service would be. Netflix’s CEO argued that this violated Net Neutrality because it provided preferential treatment to one source of data over another.

What is Net Neutrality? Well, there are two different arguments, which I discuss in a blog here, where one is saying everything must be treated equally, while the other one argues that there are nuances and we can treat data differently because we need to “Groom” our networks. Internet and network purists believe that you shouldn’t even be able to determine what the data is or what the source of that data is if you’re a point along the network, just where it most recently was and where it needs to go next. The only application that can read the data in the package is the application that requested it.

AT&T’s plan, similar to Comcast’s, is in violation of Net Neutrality and the FCC will step in to regulate this type of “service” because it’s, in the end, bad for the consumer. Unfortunately, there are limitations to what the FCC can do and even potentially what AT&T can do.

There has been much more of a push for encryption and it’s likely that these pushes may actually enable more of a return to the true meaning of Net Neutrality. If all of our data is fully encrypted, deep packet inspection tools (which tell if the data you’re getting is video, music, or whatever), won’t work very well as that information will be encrypted. Furthermore, if your application’s data is all encrypted and AT&T won’t be able to tell if your data is your data then there’s no value in paying for “privileged” data status from AT&T.

It’s one of the reasons why I’ll likely support company’s like Wickr, an encrypted Snapchat competitor, which told the FBI to screw itself when they were asked to put a backdoor into their encryption. It’s important that we work to protect our data and support companies that do so in terms of Net Neutrality and encryption.

What companies do you support that encrypt and fight for net neutrality?

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).