Original URL: https://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/10/04/android_mailbag/

Andrew grapples with Android in readers' Mailbag

Our most-rated story ever produces an unseemly bulging inbox

By Andrew Orlowski

Posted in Bootnotes, 4th October 2010 12:53 GMT

Andrew's Mailbag Are we all missing Anssi Vanjoki yet? I am, and he's still got six months to go before he leaves Nokia, after missing out on the top job. Speaking to the FT recently, Vanjoki compared to plight of manufacturers who adopt Google's Android to Finnish boys who "pee in their pants" to keep warm.

If you haven't heard that one before, you may have difficulty dislodging that metaphor it from your mind (don't they have Damart underwear over there - it's freezing). But Vanjokki was addressing a concern I raised here, via the Asymco blog - about profitability, and then elaborated upon here. That caused a bit of a stir.

In fact it got more ratings than any other story El Reg has ever published.

Far from arguing that Android would be a flop, I was challenging the idea that it would be sure-fire success, at the expense of Apple. The smartphone business is a product market, not a platform market, so making something that causes people to rush out to buy it (eg, a Razr) is a bit of a mystery to manufacturers. It certainly takes more effort than slapping a few widgets on the most fashionable OS of the day. Now here's the kicker. When every other manufacturer is doing exactly the same thing, with exactly the same platform, it becomes harder to make the kind of high value, high margin phone that means you can come back and try it all over again the following year.

This is the problem. It's what the PC business looks like - and we know nobody makes any money there. The only thing Dell and the others stick on a box is the badge. I think that's Vanjokki was saying too.

Over to you.

Read your article on The Register today with some interest. Watching Android vs Apple vs The Rest is one of the most interesting things in the computer world at the moment, apart from watching iPad vs The iPad Killed of course.

But I think you've overlooked something in your article. People bought into Blackberry, and people bought into iPhone. People (outside the nerd community) are not buying into Android. They are buying the latest and greatest, which happens to be Android (in many respects at the moment). That used to be Nokia phones, and it most certainly is the iPhone at the moment.

Android will win because it's prettiest in a market of buyers that care less about "the phone" than they do about the colours on the UI. Android as an OS is merely nerdy masturbation about how good an underlying OS may be, but at the end of the day, Tracey from Hull doesn't care about that, she merely cares about what is hip and cool, or at worst, how quickly she can make the desktop pink. iPhone makes her cool, pink makes her happy.

What Android won't ever do is sell to the wider market on its name (still unlicensed?) or the Google brand. People look at the Androidboys with that faint "i'm not actually listening to you but looking through you look" - people just don't care.

So yes, I fully agree with your speculation that Android is no better off than Symbian right now.

I do disagree with your later article about phones being packaged with a plan being successful.

Nokia were successful in the past (I used to be one of those people who would get the latest and greatest first) because they led the market from the front. The always had the best phones and had the features (remember the 7110 and WAP, and the 7650/3650 with a phone camera (you could pull in those days if your phone had a camera....)).

But Nokia lost it because they became complacent with their UI. The E61 is the only phone I have ever sold on the UI was so poor.

The iPhone kicked everyone into touch because here was a real UI on a mobile phone, with an app store that worked the way one should (you download and it goes on the device vs you download - you connect the phone - you work out which folder it should go in - you then open the phone - find that folder and file - run the install - and then work out where the app went again).

People bought iPhone because it worked so well. And that's what everyone is copying.

I make the prediction that even if Nokia gave away an ounce of gold for every smartphone sale, they will never regain the height they had in the 90s and early noughties. They will be consigned to selling crap handsets by the millions and that's about it.

If it comes down to raw numbers, I'm sure Android will win in the medium term, but it won't be because of the strength of the product but purely because people wandering into phone shops will buy the phone with the gaudiest UI colour scheme of them all. Much like Windows 7, where a 3 year old choose the colour scheme for the entire OS.

The other problem with Android and Google in general is that they are not leading. They are followers. And Google wants to be Apple hence the arrogance that they launched Nexus One with - they thought their name would sell it - and gee it must hurt to watch Apple pull off the same stunt so effortlessly. But Google are following now, they are the new Microsoft in every respect, we're just 15 years down the line and Google are the new Microsoft. Everything Google is doing from here on is copying others (dayam they are desperate to face down Facebook), and anything vaguely unique is just killed by a thousand mouse clicks because its so esoteric.


Justin Clements

Love your analysis.

It is probably true (where is HTC in that chart?) that there's little money in someone else's platform when the differentiator is the software .

One point though: at the end you seem to be suggesting that a sizable R&D budget is required to innovate and that it necessarily has to come from the current profits.

I would argue that Apple innovated on top of BSD with virtually no cash and built a healthy share in the mobile market with no previous exposure to it.

I see why it is improbable but not why it is impossible for Motorola or HTC to embrace Meego or Android as a starting point, fork it and rapidly innovate on top of it.


"The economic consequences of the Android approach are also dubious, as Horace Dediu concisely pointed out. It leads to a low-margin, bargain basement culture."  

As Android doesn't generate hardware sales for Google they are focused on market share so the more cheap phones go out there the better as it will drive their search / internet business. Apple doesn't focus on market share but premium market share which is very profitable for them. I really wonder why Motorola would go with android were they so weak ? what are they left with technologically now as main point of their phonese comes from someone else? I can see them becoming 2nd rate forever in mobile a shame as i really liked their Razr and still use one that is 3 years old (and 5 year old design). HTC and LG ... are already 2nd rate so why would they care.

"The economic consequences of the Android approach are also dubious, as Horace Dediu concisely pointed out. It leads to a low-margin, bargain basement culture."  

As Android doesn't generate hardware sales for Google they are focused on market share so the more cheap phones go out there the better as it will drive their search / internet business. Apple doesn't focus on market share but premium market share which is very profitable for them. I really wonder why Motorola would go with android were they so weak ? what are they left with technologically now as main point of their phonese comes from someone else? I can see them becoming 2nd rate forever in mobile a shame as i really liked their Razr and still use one that is 3 years old (and 5 year old design). HTC and LG ... are already 2nd rate so why would they care.

Rostant Ramlochan

For all the obvious reasons, I know why you did not mention WebOS and Palm. However HP does have a history of figuring out the user experience thing (their printer and imaging group). Having a Palm Pre and iPhone 3G, the iOS is still better at the overall UI than WebOS but I find WebOS to be a better OS than Android.

Matthew Morris

Fair point about the omission, Matthew. WebOS is terrific, and the hardware isn't too shabby. But WebOS and Palm are still handicapped by the decision to appoint an exclusive carrier for each territory. Even Apple's dropped that now. So most people never get a chance to see it.

Good read, except for one part:

"I've been actively using S60 for much of the past eight years, and I still had to consult the manual recently (when reviewing the X6<http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/02/01/nokia_x6_comeswithmusic/>) to find out where Nokia has stuffed a particular setting this year. I don't think this is something a newcomer to BlackBerry or iPhone has ever had to do. Nokia and Sony Ericsson - the two dauphins of smartphones ten years ago - have cranked out some really impressive hardware over the past decade, which often succeeded in spite of the user experience, not because of it."

As someone actively involved in IT operations and support for my customers, I can safely say that every single model of a RIM device that my organization supports has differences in locations of things (even when the same model is present on multiple carriers, each carrier has made specific modifications to the OS and navigational paths to certain features).  So much different, in fact, that even common things like configuring external mail accounts is no longer included in the PDF version of User Guides available from RIM's site.

Cases in point:

-       I was trying to help a colleague today troubleshoot a POP email account on a Tour (9630).  Downloaded the user guide, and email settings are no longer part of the documentation (they'll tell you how to compose messages, though).

-       Two days ago, I was helping troubleshoot a BES synchronization problem with a new Torch (9800).  The hard reset/factory defaults configuration is accessed than the 9700 that I helped someone else reset a week prior.

-       From the admin side, in the BES/BPS world, every time RIM releases a new device, you have to update the device.xml and vendor.xml files to the BES instruct the server on how to handle the flavor of the week.  I've had to perform this updates on various customer servers in the last few months when my customers have gotten the Bold, Storm 2, and Torch devices.  So much for standardization.

RIM suffers from the same problem that the automaker GM suffers from-product lineup bloat.  There were are so many editions and versions that it's easier just to choose something NOT RIM than to try to sift through the piles of manuals and different menu steps to achieve the same thing from device to device.

[name withheld]

The thing to remember about RIM is that the US didn't really adopt SMS for a long time. The Blackberry became the text-messaging perk of having a white collar job. Even after it became possible to use generic standard hardware and operators to do messaging, people held on tight to their Blackberrys, and Blackberry servers.

Well, it's a theory.

What a bunch of bunk!!

Why doesn't the register open a comments section, so that people can actually comment on articles (critique and expose flaws or counterarguments).

Seriously, what a bunch of bunk.


Thanks Doug. You make a persuasive case.

Hello Andrew,

I just finished reading the article you wrote title Why Android wont worry RIM and Apple, and I have to say, its some of the worst written lopsided trash I have ever read.

You do realize that Android has already overtaken Apple in market share done you? As evident by the link here. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/techchron/detail?entry_id=69183

Moving on from that, while it may not stifle the sales of Apple or RIM, it will do very well on its own. Apple will always have the fanbois that by every gadget with a fruit on it that hits the market. RIM, while not as fancy, caters more towards business persons. Both are niche groups. Large niche groups, but niche none the less.

"Android is new. It hasn't experienced the problems that Symbian experienced, because manufacturers are throwing new models out of factories as fast as they can, and haven't really noticed where they land".

That has to be the work of pure comedic genius right there. No seriously. I guess that you don't use, or understand the working of Android at all. For instance. The first Android, better known as the G1 came out in October of 2008. So the OS has been in the wild for almost two years now. Sure, it just went mainstream in the last year, but that's really not what you said now was it. In comparison, the iPhone is on its 4th revision making it only 4 years old. So, I guess at 2 you can be considered "New", but after 4 years you're established? Apple pushes out a new iPhone every year. Your only choices are limited to how much memory you want your device to have. That's all of what, 3 choices theses days?

Meanwhile, there are many phone manufactures putting out Android devices. HTC, Samsung, Motorola, Dell... just to name a few. Many of the first main stream Androids to hit the market were baseline models, with comparable specs to that of the original G1. As the popularity of the devices grew, so did the demand for better high end devices. Like the HTC EVO, Samsungs Galaxy S line (including the Epic). All with specs that rival, and in some cases shame, the iPhone 4. I guess you have never went without and wouldn't understand the need to make devices that cover the range of affordable to seriously who would pay for all that? Which is yet one more reason for different models.

"My confidence in Apple rests on its comparative advantage in the user experience (UX) - it's still streets ahead of the rivals in ease of use. If you don't believe me, try a test with someone who has a new, rival touchscreen phone; invite them to change the wallpaper or the ringtone."

Really? Let me tell you have easy it is to change the wallpaper on an Android. Just in case you aren't familiar with it. I can use the "Menu" button and look, there is an option for WALLPAPER. That's tough huh? Easy of use? Really. Its a touchscreen. How hard is it to drag your finger across the screen?. The app tray is easy enough to understand. I'm willing to bet that if you pair person that has never used an iPod/Touch/Phone or an Android, they would fair just was well with either device. The ease of use is just as, if not easier, than it is with the iPhone, and its not locked down.

I wont even enter into discussion with you about RIM. Ive seen, and used the Torch and its junk. It may be better than the BB Bold, but the person that had it came from a standard blackberry and still couldn't figure out how to access her email. Not to mention that the BB Torch had to have a price drop after its first week of being on sale. Perhaps maybe the next time you write an article you actually familiarize yourself with everything in which you are writing about instead of what you think you know.


Thanks, Gene  

What I was struggling to understand is what awe-inspiring features where supposed to be on display in that demo of TBMSOTY. The ability to create groups of contacts ? Having messages scrolled and interlaced ? Providing an easy way to inform the entire universe that you had a shit 10 minutes ago and are now eating a cheese sandwich ?

I'd suggest the first two have been around for a while now (and _not_ led to world domination for anyone, yet) and the last is off dubious value to most folk even if it _were_ difficult to do elsewhere. These are the non-funky things I guess you're talking about.. ?... and ... what ? These are compelling, unique features... really ?

That aside, what else did I miss from the video I wonder... ooooooooh yes. Letting people know what i'm listening to.


No. Wait a minute - it's not is it ? Even you, I think, are conceding that.

Which leaves us with bar-code reading.... unique ? Nah. New ? Nah. Useful ? Not in my circles but - i'm willing to concede - perhaps other know the reality of the world better than I as to why this is such a sensation.

So to summarise what i've gleaned from the video, and badly quoting from someone, I forget who (Enrico Fermi ?)

"There is much which is original and good - unfortunately that which is original is not good, and that which is good is not original"

Tim Parker

That's completely missing the point, Tim. BBM isn't cool because of any of those features, and nor are those features really new, either. We probably agree on that.

But it doesn't matter.

What makes BBM important is that it's the UI for the entire phone. It's an active list of people to call, and who are responding to messages. To a BBM user, everything else on the phone is just a "setting" - or just a means to an end. You need to watch them do it.

As someone who works deep in the industry, I (personally) believe you're wrong about RIM's chances of survival.

The fact that Android is extremely easy (and cheap) for OEMs to drop onto phones is a huge plus; as you say, we're seeing a lot of devices coming out, and there's nothing (except perhaps Ellison) on this horizon to dampen that.

Thing is, these devices, viewed objectively, are good smartphones; Android has a number of nice features, webkit, integration, apps, etc, and buyers genuinely like them and see them as a huge step up from their previous device which is often a 2007-era feature-phone.

Sure, iPhone is gorgeous, and is hard to compete against - but the landscape is dramatically different now to when the iPhone launched, and almost entirely because of Android - you can hardly argue that RIM, Symbian or Microsoft have produced anything convincing in response to Apple.

Don't you think that Android has already surpassed Blackberry OS?  In terms of features, bling and usability it appears to have beaten WinMo and Symbian and all the other remaining mobile OSes with a big stick.

How will RIM compete with Android? Their entire stack software stack is based on 2000-era J2ME technology with lots of customization. It's slow, antiquated, feature-poor and clunky compared to Android, AND proprietary AND apps are not readily portable to/from any other popular platform. (Unlike Android which now has NDK, making ports of high-end iPhone games rather straightforward, see Gameloft's stuff)

RIM can't beat 'em and they won't join 'em*, so they're dead.

I am guessing RIM will be a distant memory by 2015

Cheers, DrTune

I remember reading that back in 2001. In fact, I remember writing that back in 2001. RIM was once a pager company unable to adapt to voice. Doomed! Then RIM was a proprietary enterprise email company with Microsoft gunning for them, with a cheaper alternative. Doomed! Then RIM was trying to crack the consumer market with the most unfashionable reputation imaginable. Doomed! Then RIM was taking its creaky biplane of an OS into the modern 3G smartphone era, and would be unable to cope. When you're wrong so often, it's worth pausing to ask why.

RIM seems to prove you don't need a highly advanced technical platform to succeed if you can get the HI right.  I wouldn't bet against them, but who knows what we'll be using phones for 2015. They may not be able to cope.

"the winners can only be the companies with huge economy of scale advantages, which means Nokia, or ultra cheap, corner-cutting no-name manufacturers we've never heard of."

Or, alternatively, HTC, who are the giant elephant missing from this entire article. They're a large and well-established company with considerable expertise in both hardware and software engineering, they make mid- to ultra-high end phones, and they make almost exclusively Android phones, these days. They're certainly not 'no-name' to anyone with a passing interest in phones. Any article discussing Android without mentioning HTC is missing a large part of the puzzle.

(You almost mentioned them when you invoked the Nexus One, but missed out by saying Google did it themselves. Google mostly did the software, but HTC built the phone.) And, of course, there's Motorola, who are tying themselves pretty firmly to the Android mast, and building their nicest phones for a long time.

I'm still clinging on desperately for Nokia to announce something nice and Meego-y, but if they don't get around to it soon I'll just give in and get something Android-y from HTC. Or Samsung.

I think you're a bit behind the curve on RIM, as well. They're flailing. Version 6 of the Blackberry software isn't turning anyone's crank, no-one's buying the Torch, and they don't have any particularly buzzworthy new models coming up either. The most telling stat I've seen lately was a survey on whether existing iPhone, Android and Blackberry users would buy the same type of phone again next time; I forget the exact numbers, But it was something like 90% yes for iPhone, 75% yes for Android, and 40% yes for BB.

Adam Williamson

I'm confused by this statement:

"If you don't believe me, try a test with someone who has a new, rival touchscreen phone; invite them to change the wallpaper or the ringtone."

On my Android phone I press "Menu" and then select "Wallpaper" to do the former, or "Menu, Settings, Personalize" to set the default ringtone.

That didn't require the manual, and was perfectly obvious when I went looking to do so.

I don't know if early Android phones were hard to use, but the recent ones seem about as easy as the iPhone when I see people playing with them.


There is a word of sympathy for Nokia, though.

At times it's pretty hard to read El Reg without wondering wether the authortards are just plain incompetent or simply biased.

Well, you gave me a couple of good laughs, so why should i complain?

Is Ovi dead? Is Apple king of the ring?

Let me start out with a couple of titbits from the past.

I remember when O wrote an app, as you call it nowadays. Just a simple game, a rippoff of the good old classic Arkanoid (or Break-Out, however you may call it). You know, I even made it into the top ten of Nokias Softwaremarket. Ahh, what a bright future. They have the address to their softwaremarket imprinted in every device they sell. Just wait till they add other payment plans (which kid as credit card after all?), or they start advertising their market (they several thousand apps there after all).

Well, that was over half a decade ago, well before the iPhone. Could have had it all well wrapped up.

I can only assume why Nokia didn't care shit. Didn't want to piss off the operators. Only cared about hardware sales. Who knows.

iPhone? The current going prices on Amazon here in germany are 1000€+. You got to be kidding me. Affordable? Sure. Total waste of money? Definitely. Desire? Galaxy? Nice phones. Phones. I don't spend that much on a phone. N900? As a die hard Linux user this one nearly had me. The possibility of assigning a dyndns address (or simply polling a webserver of my choice) and ssh-ing into the phone or installing apache and writing a simple php to access to the camera and speakers is intriguing.

Well, 300€ and i would have been a sure customer. Wildfire? Cheap versatile Android. Would have been my second choice. So, what DID i get. Nokia 5230. Wifi would have been nice. But hey, 640x360 touchscreen (only resistive), GPS, SD card slot and HSDPA. At 140€. Got putty from Sourceforge and a nice filemanager for free. No appstore required.

No wonder Nokia sells the most phones. And, so what does most phones equal? Biggest installed base. The combined revenue the operators make with mobile software just dwarfs Apple's app store.

Maybe time for Nokia to get a decent share.

So what should Nokia do? Innovation? WTF happened to morph? http://www.nokia.com/about-nokia/research/demos/the-morph-concept iPhone looks like old shit compared to that. Meego? Well, at least try to get this right. If you can get a full Linux distro onto a phone, screw Android ... and dont even mention that legacy bullshit iOS.

Syren Baran

[And then Nokia realised they were doing so well, they got rid of their CEO]

Finally, how not to get noticed in Andrew's Mailbag. Take it away, Javier Conti:

"If you don't believe me, try a test with someone who has a new, rival touchscreen phone; invite them to change the wallpaper or the ringtone."

Hi, I admit I stopped reading your "article" after that sentence.

And Javier, I stopped reading your "email" after that sentence.

You must at least pretend to have read to the end. ®