Android and the Linux Desktop

I’m going to break one of my own rules by making a prediction. The year of the Linux desktop will be in 2014. Now, let’s talk about how I’ve arrived at this conclusion.

Android is picking up steam, and from what I’ve seen, I don’t think there will be anything to stop it. Apple currently owns more market share and the iPad will give Mr. Jobs a momentary boost, but the problem is this; Apple controls the hardware and the software. There is no room for any other company to make money. And companies love money.

In the past, this would have meant that Motorola, Samsung, et al would have gone it alone to attempt to control a piece of the market. But, with android they can join forces to an extent and take advantage of a huge development community. This “friendly” competition will push prices down and keep android more affordable than the iPhone. Also, this results in Apple vs. the world, AND Apple doesn’t have significant vendor lock in. Additional factors are: AT&T’s quality of service, and the Google factor. There should be a strong and steady migration to the android smartphone platform with a strongly superior market share by mid 2011.

The Ipad may revolutionize computing, but my bet is more like a solid selling niche product. However, android is hot on it’s heels in this market as well, with a number of tablets soon to be released at significantly lower price points. Based on early price projections, the rest of the market is aiming to undercut the iPad significantly. At the current estimates, I would expect for android to surpass the iPad’s market share by late 2012.

With one or two important computing platforms invading people lives, it will eventual become necessary to get more serious with some of the data and applications. While touch interfaces are a leap forward in usability in the mobile arena, they aren’t very information dense compared to a keyboard. Imagine writing a book using gestures. Therefore, there will be a natural progression toward systems that allow the user to more fully utilize the android environment.

This may come in the form of an android based netbooks or a full linux distro. I’m expecting android netbooks to hit the market around mid 2012. If the price point stays in line with the currnet android tablet projections, there should be significant market share by early 2014.

Thus, we have the year of the Linux Desktop (er, netbook)

Android is more than a phone

Google is a self described information company, so why would they enter into the phone market? One obvious answer is that they see mobile as a major advertising platform and wanted to capture the market. While this is true, it’s not the full story.

Google’s thing is information and this has to be captured in some fashion. We all know that Google makes use of the data we submit in searches, gmail and gtalk. They have even sent around street view vehicles to take pictures of our houses and streets. But with android, they no longer have to do this. We are doing a lot for them. Through use of android, we are a mass of mobile information gathering nodes for the Google collective.

For example, Google would be very interested in the locations of the wireless hotspots you’ve run into today. You can also correct navigation data on the fly and crowd-source traffic information. You already upload pictures to picasa with geotag information. And the GPS records your coming and goings while driving, working and shopping. All valuable information to marketers and this information is silently recorded by your android handset.

In many ways this is a little creepy. Big brother and all that. But in others, this is a great experiment in digitizing the human experience. We just need to be vigilant that our rights are not trampled along the way.

The biggest threat to Microsoft is Microsoft

I was reading this article on Microsoft having it’s revenue eroded because of low cost hardware. The author made some interesting points, but I think there is a bigger issue that Microsoft is facing. While the market is pushing toward lower cost hardware, this trend has been going on for years and isn’t the big problem. The elephant in the room resides in your pocket, lets mom know you’re safe and comes with nifty ringtones.

Modern PC’s are used for a great many tasks and they do them quite well. So well in fact that the only technological advances that we’ve seen in this area have been incremental. Quicken 2008 looks like 2009 and 2010. We’ve plateaued, at least for now. Current innovations are in real-time, portable, personal media and communications. PC’s aren’t the platform and never will be.

Smartphones are the new technological touchstone. They are dynamic, constantly following us on our kinetic lives, connecting us with our loved ones and documenting our adventures. And now they are the interface for the human experience. Witness the smarthone’s effect on the Iranian revolution. Apple saw this to some extent and threw fuel on the fire with the iPhone. RIM(Blackberry) is playing catch-up but appears to be hobbled by their devotion to corporate America. Android is a small but growing contender. Microsoft, however, completely blew it. It has had a foothold in smartphones since the Palm days, but couldn’t close.

The reason? Microsoft’s financial foundation is built upon legacy revenue streams. It is this market that it’s afraid to disrupt. And all new technology is fundamentally disruptive. Smartphones could eat into the PC’s market if they became too powerful. Why buy Outlook when your email and calendar are in you hand? And who will buy a $300 package for a smartphone they probably got for free? It’s not a platform for Microsoft’s sales model.

Thus they made the conservative choice and failed to innovate. This is a very serious problem for them as it appears that the consumer market is moving away from the platforms that Windows is geared towards. Windows 7 is a move in the right direction, but the competitors are nipping at its heels. The reality is that Microsoft is being outflanked in nearly all areas, with the possible exception of the Xbox.

What will the future hold? Microsoft has touted that Windows is installed on over 75% of all new netbooks. However, this is considerably less than the 90% dominance that it enjoys on the PC market. If this trend holds, then we will see further market erosion. Firefox has already established itself on 30% of PC’s and according to some sources will soon approach 50%. Clearly, Microsoft is losing consumer mindshare. The safe money appears to be on the open source software movement from which Linux, Android, your beloved Tivo and to some degree Apple Mac OS X are built upon.