Pay peanuts. Get monkeys.

Yesterday on AppleInsider, Daniel Erin Dilger shows that at least some of Android’s explosive growth is actually from Chinese forks of Android that aren’t part of the Android ecosystem (e.g. aren’t compatible with Android apps) and don’t benefit Google (e.g. don’t channel user search and maps through Google services).

Dilger, whose pro-Apple sentiments make John Gruber, say, seem like Paul Thurrott or perhaps Richard Stallman, tends to be very diligent in his research (and, like some of us, he has a long memory). His article makes three major points and backs them up well:

  • OMS is not Android.
  • Tapas is not Android.
  • Google’s handset market share includes large contributions from platforms that simply aren’t Android and don’t benefit Google.

Of the main Android vendors known here in the US (Samsung, LG, HTC, and Motorola), only HTC (coming off a very low base) has seen significant unit growth from 2009 to 2010 (Motorola and LG have actually gone backwards, and Samsung has gained sales but lost market share). The astronomical growth attributed to Android comes from handset makers in the “Other” category.

“Other” turns out to mostly comprise cell phones made in China for the Chinese market using OMS and Tapas, which are derived from Android but not interoperable and not tied to Google services. Dilger puts it thus: “Calling Tapas a version of Android is like calling Baidu a version of Google or Youku a version of YouTube.” This is perhaps a bit unfair — you could probably install vanill Android on one of these phones if you wanted to. It would probably be more similar to suggest that Chrome is a version of Safari.

It follows that Android’s alleged growth is basically fictional. The most charitable conclusion is that a minimum of 400,000 Android handset sales are in fact OMS/Tapas sales.

From looking over people’s shoulders here — and you may recall that I talked to the UPS driver who delivered my iPad and it seems like the Apple produce consumption rates here in Tuscaloosa AL seem to be a reasonable placeholder for the US as a whole — I see nearly as many Androids as iPhones in use.

Stat Counter Mobile Browser Share (late January 2011)
Stat Counter Mobile Browser Share (January 2011)

Now, bear in mind that these are raw, unweighted scores and that the vast majority of Stat Counter’s numbers come from US servers. The figures for China show UCWEB way out in front, having taken share away from Nokia (distant second) with iPhone (third) and Android (fourth) slowly climbing. The iPod touch figures in the above chart are interesting — I’m not sure if they include iPads or not. It looks like Opera got a sudden uptick for some reason which came at the cost of iPhone and iPod Touch, but that these have rebounded. I’m guessing we’re seeing some weird kind of sample bias.

Here’s the main takeaway point: Android’s share has gone from 4.5% to around 14.2% in a year. But supposedly 6-8x as many Android devices have been sold (and the existing installed base was small), so where are all these phones? The fact that Android mobile browser share has grown so much (without the help of China, where measured Android usage is still tiny) suggests that Dilger is reading too much into the Chinese component of “other”. On the other hand, if a huge proportion of Android cell phones were sold in the last twelve months, why has Android market share less than tripled?

I suggest that there’s a huge unmeasured factor here: the number of Android cell phones returned or exchanged. How many Android users are on their third or fourth phones? Given the rate of release of new Android models and the ability of consumers to return phones, pay a restocking fee, and get a brand new phone, I would suspect that a lot of phones get bought, activated, and then exchanged for a new phone. This is probably compounded by the fact that most Android phones are presented in Best Buy, etc., as inert plastic bricks. The end-user doesn’t find out how clunky the phone is until he/she has had it a day or two. I’d played with several iPhones for a couple of hours before I decided to buy.

Samsung and Microsoft tout “units shipped”.

Google touts “activations”.

You pay peanuts, you get monkeys. (I believe that’s from Guy Kawasaki.)

Spam is getting cleverer…

…or more flattering anyway.

It’s getting tedious dealing with spam comments on this site (I moderate all comments — as many as three a day) and I’m finding it increasingly annoying. The latest spam is generally literate, which means I often need to actually read it before hitting the spam button. It’s also a little disappointing to start reading what seems to be an enthusiastic comment only to realize that it’s content-free and linked to a pharmacy site. So I’m experimenting with linking Google Buzz instead of having local comments, although local comments remain active. The downside, of course, is that with built-in comments, the comments become part of the site content itself.

Ooooh, shiny

So for some reason John Gruber has been spending a lot of time thinking about the whole Gizmodo-buying-a-probably-stolen-prototype-iPhone thing. While I agree with pretty much everything he’s said (or think I do, given I haven’t been interested enough to read any of his longer posts or numerous linked articles), the basic question remains: who the frack cares?

First of all, Gizmodo’s cell phone was remote bricked — so they can’t tell us anything about its most interesting features beyond stuff Gruber had already leaked: it has a ridiculously sharp screen. Thanks.

Second, Gizmodo is kind of a dumb website. I cite as evidence the amount of excitement over Windows Phone 7 Series. The first words in this “article” are:

I’m sorry, Cupertino, but Microsoft has nailed it. Windows Phone 7 feels like an iPhone from the future. The UI has the simplicity and elegance of Apple’s industrial design, while the iPhone’s UI still feels like a colorized Palm Pilot.

Gizmodo is worse than a fanboy site, it’s a site run by people who aspire to be fanboys. To the extent that I am an Apple “fanboy” I both cringe at the label and try to second-guess myself. Gizmodo is a website for people with no life, no sense of priorities, and no ability to think beyond, “ooooh, shiny”. The thinking person’s ten second reaction to Windows Phone 7 is “wow, cool”. But after thirty seconds it becomes “how the frack is it supposed to work?” As Edward Tufte puts it:

The WP7S screens look as if they were designed for a slide presentation or for a video demo (to be read from a distance) and not for a handheld interface (read from 20 inches). …

… The titling typography does not serve user needs or activities. Instead it is about its designer self, and looks like signage on the walls of a fashionable building. Good screen design for information/communication devices is all about the user and should be endlessly self-effacing.

Indeed, he speculates that the design was optimized to look good in internal PowerPoint presentations rather than based on actual use of a life-sized device. Ouch.

I won’t dwell on this, the Gizmodo article is almost pathetically adoring of the Windows Phone 7 interface. My favorite bit is how rather than merely being user-centric, the interface is data-centric. As if this is a Good Thing. The Thing beyond user-centric, I guess. But how can it be? If the user needs data-centredness, then being data-centric is being user-centric. If not, not.

Argh, the whole damn website is so stupid it’s not worth criticizing. And that’s my point. But hey, they may be idiots, but at least they have some ethics… Oh, wait.

iPad Development in The Future

Nerves

Judging from Unity’s two corporate blog entries on the whole 3.3.1 thing, I get the feeling that they’re feeling less confident as of Wednesday than they were on Friday (it’s dated Sunday but it was posted on Friday).

The fact that PhoneGap has been given Apple’s stamp of approval is certainly a sign that platform abstraction layers can be OK, but bear in mind that PhoneGap is completely open source and lives on JavaScript…

JavaScript

You may recall that JavaScript is not mentioned in the scariest subclause of 3.3.1 — JavaScript apps run on top of Webkit, and thus don’t need to worry about how they access APIs, don’t represent a portability issue, and don’t represent any additional backwards compatibility burden over the rest of the web.

(By the way, I don’t see how you can reconcile PhoneGap’s approval with the “Apple just wants people to write real iPhone apps” view.)

Virtual Machines & Scripting Languages

But if you’re writing pedal-to-the-metal game software, chances are you’re going to need to compile your code to binary and call the OS APIs from inside it (even if it’s not much more than “hey, gimme a graphics context to vomit OpenGL commands at”). It strikes me that Unity3d could take the approach of opening the source code that interacts with the OS to deal with the first clause.

As to the second, forcing Unity to ditch internal scripting languages and the associated runtime is pretty rough (and it’s going to hurt all serious game developers — I don’t know of any game developers who don’t use some kind of script engine and virtual machine somewhere — Prince of Destruction, released in 1994 (admittedly, it was ahead of its time in many respects) had three internal script languages, one of which ran on our own VM, and it was a truly native Mac game, running on AppleTalk and using Macintalk). Of course, maybe the ban will only affect virtual machines Apple can identify really easily (such as Mono or Flash).

Life Cycle: One Day, You’ll Be Grown Up

Apple’s current restrictions don’t make any sense in the long term (even accepting they make sense right now). Inevitably, the iPad (and its successors) are going to need apps like Excel or Word (both scriptable). I may want to touch my data, but I’m still going to want to automate common operations. Whatever Apple is doing now is part of the lifecycle of its platform — what Apple is doing now while it builds its platform is not necessarily what it will do when the platform is more mature.

It follows that Apple needs to bear in mind the “feelings” of third party developers who are merely doing today something Apple doesn’t want for tactical reasons today but will want in the future. (One might argue that Adobe should have considered the “feelings” of Apple and Mac users when it gave us crappy products for the last ten years, but if you’ve used CS4 under Windows you’ll see that Adobe is fully capable of giving crap products to everyone with no malice intended. Basically, Mac users got a halfway decent UI with a crappy back end, and Windows users got a crappy UI with a crappy back end — but it’s 64-bit. Woo! And it’s not like Flash isn’t a horrible CPU hog and battery drain under Windows, it’s just not quite as terrible as on the Mac.)

So the important message for Apple is that while it needs to worry about building its platform now, it also needs to worry about the number of enemies it creates in the process. Software developers are smart and have long memories.