Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Third Mobile OS

I have updated this post to reflect some new developments in the Mobile OS industry.  If you've already read this post, skip to the bottom to read the update (21-Feb-2013).

I call it the 3rd 'Mobile' OS because I don't believe I or anyone that I know of, has invented a new name for this kind of an OS.  An OS that extends itself through all your 'smart' devices - from the mobile device (typically a smartphone) all the way up to your connected/smart/media living-room device (typically a television) and everything in between (typically a handheld tablet.  BTW..., oops sorry, by the way, the living-room is increasingly of "intense interest" to many OS developers in the recent past year.

What do I mean by "An OS that extends itself through all your smart devices...?"  Lets say you're on your commute back home from work on the subway.  You have several applications open on your smartphone; WhatsApp, an ebook reader, a game, music and YouTube.  Obviously you are an excellent multi-tasker!  Once you get home, you want to ditch that 3/4/5/?/? inch phone / phablet and move everything to your tablet so you can finish watching that short YouTube video, continue messaging your friend on WhatsApp (which was disrupted due to the lack of connectivity on the subway) and resume that game which you paused earlier; all on a larger screen to enhance the experience.  Lets move on over the course of the evening.  Its time for prime-time!  You watch your favorite show on the TV, which has a great interface and menu, all within the same OS ecosystem. Download movies, shows and music to enjoy on your TV, all the while controlling the TV from your smartphone.  You want to play a game?  Why not open it on your smartphone or tablet and control it from that device but view the game on the TV?  Use Skype and view your caller's video on the TV.  Set the OS to 'TV mode' so you're not disturbed by unnecessary notifications on your TV.  Remember, with all the multitasking going on, your apps are running behind the scene across all device categories.  Some content and apps are going to be device-specific, for example full-length feature films that you download on to the TV won't automatically appear on your tablet, unless you want it to through an option when downloading the video. OS's and apps can easily identify the device type that's sending the IP request.

Some of what I have described above is possible with various service offering from OS developers such as iCloud from Apple and limited synching across smartphones and tablets within the Android / Google ecosystem via Google Play, Google Drive and Chrome.  But I haven't seen true OS scalability that converges multiple device categories for the same user from an OS developer (I'll come back to why I added "...for the same user.").  

Wait hold on! Ubuntu you say?  Yes, the open source linux based Operating system, Ubuntu, has been working on the forefront of Mobile OS.  Their product offers OS scalability and convergence across devices categories. Unlike Apple and Android, Ubuntu includes the TV as one of the device categories and with that, Ubuntu covers them all....well...except for wearable computers.  No, AirPlay and Google TV don't fit the bill.

Going a step further, imagine having multiple user accounts per device, baring the smartphone, which everyone likes to have their own.  I certainly don't want to invest in smart TVs for every member of my family.  And 2 or 3 tablets between a family of 4 might even suffice.  So if I am done using the tablet, I can logout with a touch of a button and my wife can log onto it with her thumb print - no need to type your user ID and password.  While she's surfing the net, I can grab my smartphone, fire up the TV app and switch it on, again logging in with my bio-metric authentication.  Voila!  all my streaming videos brought to me via Hulu, Netflix, Aereo, HBO Go, etc, etc are exactly where I left off from the previous night. If my phone rings, I can have the TV automatically pause and resume after I am done with the call. Don't like it that way? That's OK, change it in settings.

Anyways, I am getting carried away with the perks of such a system.  My point is to have all my entire digital world under one umbrella, device-agnostic.
How is everything kept (uh oh don't use the s-word!) synchronized?  (Noooooooo!)  Well for a lack of a better word, we'll have to go with sss...ynchronized.  Actually lets call it everything everywhere or EE.  Our talented OS hackers will need to create lines of code to juggle real-time data and apps between devices.  Given the development in device-to-device connections, such as WiFi Direct, EE will be possible.

Advertisers will love the platform.  They'll be able to track your online habits across all device categories, watching the differences in the way the user consumes bits and bytes on different devices.  Couple this with programmatic Real-Time Bidding, and we're going to see fireworks in the Ad Tech industry!

Open Source and An Open Ecosystem
I don't see Apple embracing this concept, especially the multiple user per device.  Apple likes to make its margins on hardware and tries very hard to hold on to any high margins before giving it up to counter threats from competitors.  Apple doesn't want to make a cheaper iPhone, but it may have to to counter the threat of an increasing global market share of Android.

Top Smartphone Platforms
3 Month Avg. Ending Dec. 2012 vs. 3 Month Avg. Ending Sep. 2012
Total U.S. Smartphone Subscribers Age 13+
Source: comScore MobiLens
Share (%) of Smartphone Subscribers
Sep-12Dec-12Point Change
Total Smartphone Subscribers100.0%100.0%N/A
Credit: comScore

Enter Google.  The 'Do No Evil' company doesn't make money on licensing its Android OS to smartphone manufacturers because it makes its money on ads.  Regarding the multi-user per device, some Android Tablets already offer that feature, so Google is on-board.  In fact Google doesn't care about any of this, it cares about making boat-loads of money on ads.  They can even afford to buy a hardware company and use it to increase revenues from ads...desktop, search, mobile...the whole gamut.  Wait a sec...they already bought a hardware company!  Motorola, one of the oldest and biggest mobile communication hardware manufacturer in the world. Trust Google to make a huge bet on a completely different business model and then turn it around to fit in with its own cash printing mantra.  Google is finally showing the world what it intends to do with Motorola.  The latest rumored X Phone will certainly feature the very best of Mobile OS.  I see the pillars of the 'Everything Everywhere' concept slowly being erected within the Google ecosystem.  Next step, make the X Tablet and then the TV or a set-top box.  Layer all the devices with Android and there we have it! And you thought the the FTC was done with Google.  Wait till the regulators knock on their door when Google monopolizes the digital world with EE.

Update (21-Feb-2013): Ubuntu has just announced that it will be releasing its Operating System for Tablets. This is great news for the software company since this new development includes the 3 device types I talk about in this post.  The design of the OS is beautiful and tactful with all sorts of input gestures and multitasking.  Most importantly, Ubuntu has included a robust multi-user feature that even supports a guest user. This feature, again, goes back to one of the hypothetical OS features I talk about in my original post above.  The multi-user feature is an important element of the second screen concept and to the Ad Tech industry. Ubuntu now has an OS ecosystem that integrates the TV, Tablet and Smartphone to some extent if not to the full extent I have described in this post. Note that I don't even mention the desktop as a device type because all you have to do is add a keyboard (virtual or physical) and mouse to your tablet and voila!  

I haven't reviewed the product so I am not sure how much the Ubuntu OS converges across the 3 device types.  The Ubuntu ecosystem has some catching-up to do with the 2 dominant players in terms of app offerings, but I think its an alternate OS to keep an eye on.

Watch the awesome video below hosted by Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical, which is the commercial entity behind Ubuntu.  The Tablet hardware in the video looks like a Google Nexus 10, made by Samsung. The video shows how the Tablet OS seamlessly integrates with the Smartphone OS - you can use the phone apps on the tablet. However, its not clear what technology is used to port the phone screen over to the tablet screen (this is the part where the phone is shown mysteriously disappearing behind the tablet at 5min and 10 secs). Similarly, Mark talks about converging the TV into the ecosystem. I see this company moving towards total OS convergence.

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