Tag Archives: Smartphone

Is the App Store heading for legal trouble?

Fraser Speirs thinks yes, and I think he might be right.

Last year I posed a simple question:

“But what happens if Apple’s market share grows to the point where it has a monopoly – 70-, 80- or even 90% market share? That might take ten years, but it’s certainly not beyond the realms of possibility, and it’s certainly something that Apple would like to have.

At that point, does Apple’s control over third-party applications become an abuse of a monopoly – something that is, of course, illegal in both Europe and the US?”

Fraser’s essential point is that Apple doesn’t actually have to reach that kind of high market share figure to potentially fall foul of anti-competition law:

“The Essential Facilities doctrine rests on the control of a particular resource by a monopolist. Apple is not a monopolist in mobile phones, mobile phone operating systems. That’s not the issue.

Apple is, however, a perfect monopolist in “technologies necessary to sell an application to an iPhone owner”. How many iPhone App Stores are there? Exactly one. Who controls it absolutely? Apple.”

So is he right? What do you think?

(Photo by slowburn)


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Come, gentle readers: Help me buy a new phone (Part 2)

Having vented about my frustration with the iPhone, it’s time to look at the other two contenders: Android, and Palm Pre.

Android

Ahh, the gentle, warm embrace of the Googleverse. Who could resist? Well, me for a start. While I like some of Google’s apps, I tend to sneer at them a bit too. Outside of search, a lot of their technology is… well… actually pretty lame.

Android, though, seems to be gathering some momentum. Every phone maker other than Apple seems to either have or be planning an Android phone. While the first lot of Android phones were more than a little clunky, the next wave looks a lot more appealing. And the hardware is finally up to the speed of the iPhone and Pre. Certainly, hardware development on Android is outpacing the iPhone.

And – wonder of wonders – Android multitasks. Yes, this means you can end up running too many apps at the same time and consigning your battery to an early grave, but as I previously said, that should be my choice to do if I please.

What’s bad about Android? Mostly that the number of applications is, at the moment, small. But as John Gruber pointed out, what matters is not the number of apps, but the quality. Sadly, there are few stars in the Android app world, at least not yet.

However, does this matter so much to me? After all, I have a perfectly good iPod touch which can run most of those lovely iPhone apps. And having a separate media/games/stuff player makes sense for me: I want my phone to have enough battery left to do real work, like email, calls, and, erm, Twitter. Running out of battery and missing a call because I played Championship Manager till my eyes bled would be a bad thing.

Sure, it’s less convenient to carry two devices – but it’s really not that big a deal for me.

Until I have one of the newer Android phones in my hand, though, iPhone will be a safer bet. I know iPhone, it’s good points and bad. Android is less-known territory – and that, on its own, makes me err towards iPhone.

Palm Pre

I want to love the Pre. And there’s a lot to love about it. The fact that apps are HTML, JavaScript, and so on makes me happy (and no, before you say it, they are not “web apps like on iPhone 1.0″. If you don’t know why they aren’t, go read a book or something.)

The screen is lovely. The pebble shape is lovely. The charger thingy that works without wires is lovely, like a little bit of magic.

There’s only one problem: the keyboard blows. Badly. I’ve tried it and I know damn well that I would just not bother typing anything longer than 140 characters on it.

That, on it’s own, is probably enough to rule out the Pre. Sorry, Palm.

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Scoble is right about iPhone users. But the game isn’t over yet

Robert Scoble has a post up about why Apple’s key advantage is the breadth of the app store. And he’s right – but the game isn’t over yet.

85,000 is the headline figure, and what it allows Apple to leverage is a classic “long tail of usefulness”. For me, 99.99% of those applications are (to me) useless crap that would have no bearing on whether I stick with iPhone. Unfortunately for everyone else, that still leaves 8 or 9 apps that act like heavy anchors, dragging me back to Apple’s platform.

But suppose Nokia, Android, or whoever got the developers of those apps to port them to their platform? Great! They’ve won me as a customer. But the problem is that this is a long tail: maybe four or five of those would be common ones, but three or four would be ones which only me and a relatively few other people wanted. So the actual base of applications that are “must haves” would be much wider, in the low thousands at a guess. That’s a long way from Robert’s claim that you need all 85,000, but it’s still a pretty daunting number.

And the experience of Apple in the 90′s, when the Mac was on the back foot, proves that it’s no good having “equivalent” applications – once people get used to having app X, they want app X, not app Y which does pretty much the same thing.

However, there’s a catch: it’s worth remembering that most people haven’t bought smart phones yet. Smartphone penetration remains comparatively tiny, and in the biggest growth markets for phones (Africa, BRIC) it’s still dirt-cheap simple phones which are driving the growth.

And people are used to buying phones on hardware features: the best camera, for example, is a big influence. That’s why Apple has been advertising with “there’s an app for that” – raising a flag for the one big advantage they have. But until you actually use a phone which is infinitely malleable via applications, it’s hard to appreciate why it’s so cool. So it’s not a totally easy sell.

(As an aside, this is the reason why the iPod Touch is so important: it’s a “gateway drug” for the app store. You might not buy an Apple phone, but you might replace your old iPod with the touch… and then find that you love the apps. At which point, you’ll buy an iPhone next time.)

So the game isn’t over yet, and there’s plenty still to play for. But Apple has a head-start, and if I was a betting man, I’d place my money on the iPhone. Essentially, it’s Apple’s lead to throw away – but, as others will no doubt point out, Apple has thrown away leads before.

(Update: John Gruber’s written an interesting response to this, and I’ve written a further response posing what I think is an interesting question: What happens when there aren’t 100,000 apps on the store, but one million?)

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3′s Spotify/Android deal could be a game-changer

Image representing Android as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

Quick heads up on this, and I’ll probably write more later, but 3 is apparently going to do a bundle of the HTC Hero Android phone (widely-regarded as the best of the current crop) with a premium Spotify account for the two year lifetime of the contract.

And, by strange coincidence, it’s priced at the same level as the cheapest o2 iPhone package.

More to follow, no doubt.

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“Please don’t call this an iPhone killer”

The phrase “touch screen phone” is synonymous with “iPhone” in some people’s minds. That’s tough on the other phone manufacturers, but indicates the extent to which Apple has managed to dominate the market – if not in sales, at least in marketing.

But the Apple way of making a touchscreen phone, which focuses on the software above everything else, isn’t the only way. With the Arena, LG has concentrated on making a phone which offers excellent audio alongside high-quality pictures and a compact, easy-to-use phone. It’s not fair to compare it to the iPhone – it’s a very different kind of touch-screen.

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Apple owns the touchscreen phone conversation

LONDON - JULY 11:  A man in the queue to purch...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

I went along to a blogger’s briefing on the new LG Arena a couple of evenings ago, and – of course – the iPhone came up as a topic of questions and conversation.

What struck me was the way that Apple has managed to come in and completely dominate the conversation about touch screen phones, owning the space and creating a benchmark that every other phone is measured against. And what’s interesting is the way that other manufacturers are pulling against this, and get the conversation back on to territory where they are strong.

The Arena is a case in point. I’ll write up a proper review of it in the near future, but it’s fair to say that it’s terrific hardware. The touch screen is a great improvement over that of the LG Viewty, the camera is 5mp and feature-packed (120fps video, 6-shot burst mode, face tracking, etc), and audio is really good thanks to some new gubbins from Dolby.

But it’s not open in terms of development, it doesn’t have an application store, and the web browsing experience is no more than adequate.

In other words, it’s aimed at people who want music, video, a good camera, and a small phone: People, in other words, who probably wouldn’t even think of an iPhone. It’s not in the same market. And yet, because it has a touch screen, we’ll undoubtedly see lots of reviews which start with the question “is this phone an iPhone killer?” – when it’s not meant to be.

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