Need for Mobile Multi-Tasking Mostly a Myth

One of the most controversial aspects of some mobile platforms is their lack of multi-tasking, or the ability to have multiple applications run in the background. Windows Phone 7 Series, iPhone and iPad have all been criticized over this issue. My latest Engadget column takes on the myth of mobile multi tasking.

“The irony here is that one of the biggest criticisms for years was Windows Mobile’s lack of a task manager and the ability to kill applications that were running. Complaints were so high about multitasking that almost every phone shipped with some sort of third-party task manager. Likewise, the first software I download for any Android device is a task manager to kill background tasks and apps The reason is simple. Running in the background, too many third-party apps overuse system resources, memory, and network to the point where almost any machine with multitasking capability ends up running slowly and killing battery life.”

Androids doing battle for both consumers and brand presence

There wasn’t a whole lot of revolutionary news out of CTIA this week, it was mostly evolutionary stuff although the pace of evolution is getting scary. The biggest news were two Android handsets.

The Galaxy S from Samsung on an un-named US carrier was clearly the Android phone to beat with a 1ghz processor and a very nice Super AMOLED screen. And an hour later the HTC 4G did indeed beat it. It may have been the fastest I’ve seen a platform defining device dethroned. (which is not to say the Galaxy is shabby in any way, it’s just the combination of HTC hardware, screen size and resolution, performance, Sense UI and 4G speed make it VERY compelling).

If Sprint can bring the EVO to market at the right price with a matching service plan, this thing could literally fly of the shelves. The fluidity of functions combined with the performance of 4G made the demo experience I had quite breathtaking. Things just happen. Fast.

Both devices confirm my view that no one’s technology, platform or device from last year is going to be good enough for next year. It’s also going to be harder and harder for players to separate themselves from the pack. Kyocera introduced some Android devices this week. Hardly anyone noticed.

Raising the bar for the device is going to not only affect consumer buy decisions but impact which platforms and devices that brands are going to align themselves with. The velocity of mobile means you simply can’t bet on the wrong horse. Even signature devices have a much shorter life span. Droid vs. Evo comparison made the Droid look very much like “day old bread” (in the words of my friend Harry McCracken). The velocity of mobile makes this simple. You simply can’t bet on the wrong horse and if you do, you’re going to have big problems. As mobile and social networks collides with disruptive force, being on the right device and proper platform can make all the difference for brand presence. Anyone doubt that 2010 is an inflection point?

Interesting observation. No one from Google was at either product launch.

Nokia at the crossroads

Back in December, I took a look at the future of Nokia and wondered about their relevance in the mobile space. I spent several hours with them this past week in Las Vegas, here’s some thoughts.

Nokia was pretty candid about where they are in the marketplace and Sr. executives acknowledged their issues, especially in the US market. It appears they get it, which is important. It’s the first step. The question is can they execute in a timely manner. Executing against one platform strategy is hard enough. Executing against S40, Symbian and MeeGo is even harder. Harder still are three variants of Symbian. Nokia does point out that their development efforts are based on QT which means they can leverage across three platforms but that’s still a tough challenge. As it is, Symbian 3 at best brings Nokia on par with other modern platforms. Parity alone is not good enough.

The speed at which the mobile market is moving means it’s hardly game over for Nokia. Especially in light of the fact that no one platform will rule the space as Windows did on the PC. At this velocity, if the lead runners stumble it’s easy to gain ground in a short period of time. I’m not ready to change my view but I do thing with a proper strategy and execution plan Nokia can turn some of the negative inertia against them.

An update on my Nexus One/Android Experience

I first wrote about the Nexus One when it first came out, I’ve been carrying it as one of my daily devices for awhile now. Here’s some updated thoughts on the good, the bad and the ugly.

The Good –
It’s fast. It’s hard to use devices that can’t match a certain fluidity of use and the N1 delivers on that. Both in terms of overall device speed and T-Mobile’s rather speedy 3G network (when I’m in coverage) make it a delight to use.

Google Integration. If you use Google services, nothing delivers at the moment like Android. Gmail, Google Cal, Google Voice, etc are all tightly integrated into the platform.
Hardware. HTC is delivering killer hardware these days. N1 is an example of state of the art.

The Bad –
Battery life. This one’s sort of mixed. At first, I had a hard time getting through a work day. After lots of tweaking of settings, sync services and other stuff, I can now easily get through a full day but it took literally weeks of tweaks for me to get there. The average user wouldn’t have a chance.

Games. Or lack thereof. I don’t have to worry about running down my battery by playing games as I have none installed. Zero. I just can’t find a good Android game. Maybe I’m missing something but I do a lot of gaming on my iPhone. A lot.

The UI. Sorry, I don’t like it. One of these days I really need to get Sense on this device. Too much time on silly things like animated wallpaper, not enough on things people use.

The Ugly –
Keyboard. It’s awful. Google I can’t believe you shipped this thing. Fortunately it’s relatively easy to hack HTC’s rather EXCELLENT keyboard on the device. Sadly, there’s no real version of Swype available for the N1. Swype should just be the default for every Android device.

Anything Non Google. As great as Google services integration is, anything not Google is well, mediocre. Two email clients? Sheesh, why do I want that? Exchange integration is about the worst I’ve ever seen with limited support for email and contacts and no calendar support at all. Media sync? It’s non existent. Too many table stakes features missing.

Overall? The N1 is a great device if you use Google services (at the moment, I depend on them). For my critical mobile functions of email, PIM, RSS and Twitter the N1 delivers well. For my secondary app level functions including media, gaming and long tail apps, the N1 still falls short. The velocity of mobile we saw this week does show what happens when Android is in the right hands. Both the Samsung Galaxy S and in particular the HTC EVO 4G show what state of the art mobility look like. Both are built on Android 2.1, although you’d never know it. Perhaps, that’s as it should be.

When you leave your laptop behind

Last week I tried an experiment to see if I could do a week of heavy business travel without a laptop. In lieu of my laptop, I travelled with an HTC HD2, Palm Pre and iPhone with Mophie Juice Pack.

What I learned is the topic of my latest SlashGear column. Read it here.

Bottom line? Leaving your laptop is fine for short trips, where the focus will be email, light content viewing and very minor editing. For now, the phone, no matter how good simply can’t supplant a real personal computer when it comes to getting work done. For those that suggested a netbook, to me that’s the same as a PC for all intents and purposes. Now, if only there were some device that lived between the PC and Phone that could replace the PC for heavy business travel. But that’s a topic for another column, after April 3rd…

The Velocity of Mobile is Unparalleled

One thing that’s clear here at CTIA is the velocity of mobile technology is something we’ve never seen before. The speed at which something goes from being cutting edge to stale bread is staggering.

I’ve talked in the past about how the diversity of platforms in the mobile eco-system is not sustainable.

What’s rapidly emerging are four trends.

1. There isn’t room for ten mobile platforms (at my last count) to survive long term. Consolidation is happening now.
2. One platform will not dominate the mobile space as WIndows did on the PC
3. The market will shake out to three strong players sooner than people expect
4. The rate and pace of the market means it’s too early to call the three that survive (although that’s becoming clearer to me). A runner that stumbles can change the game overnight.

Breaking Windows is a good idea for Microsoft’s Mobile Efforts

Latest SlashGear column can be found here

Among the most glaring things missing from Microsoft’s consumer strategy was a cohesive message between diverse business units. There needed to be a clearly articulated message that recognizes that mobility features among products are interrelated. That means that Windows 7, Windows Phone, XBox, Xune etc all have to work together. It looks like Microsoft is finally getting that message and taking users to that place. Breaking compatibility with older Windows Mobile devices was a hard decision, but it was the right way how to get where they need to be. Sure, it means older stuff takes a hit but more importantly it means there will much more evangelism and excitement for developers who will be able to leverage Microsoft technologies such as Silverlight and XNA to develop across platforms.