Why Web OS Really Failed, and What it Means for the Rest of Us

The New York Times has an interesting article this week explaining why HP's adventure with Palm failed.  The latest explanation is that Web OS just wasn't ready for prime time, according to Paul Mercer, who was senior director of software at Palm (link).

Paul's an extremely bright software guy.  It's unusual for someone with his seniority to go on the record with criticisms of his former product, and I applaud him for it because it helps us all learn.  If Paul says Web OS was unready, I'm sure it was.  But respectfully, I don't think that's why Web OS failed. I think the company's business strategy was fundamentally flawed, in ways that would have almost certainly doomed Web OS no matter how it was built.

The point is important because other companies planning similar products might take away the wrong lesson from Palm's demise.  (For example, Information Week concludes that it's too hard for any startup to play in the mobile device market [link]; MIT Technology Review says the lesson is that you have to retain key employees [link].)  To explain what the right lesson is, I need to give you a little background on the dynamics of creating a new operating system.


New operating systems always suck

Sorry for my language, but sometimes it's best to be blunt.  An operating system is an incredibly complex piece of software, just about the most complex software you can write.  In the first version of an OS, the list of features you want to add is always much longer than what you can implement, there are always bugs you can't find, and performance is always a problem.  What's worse, there is a built-in tension between those three problems -- the more features you add, the more bugs you create.  The more time you spend fixing bugs, the less time you have to improve performance.  And so on.  As a result, every new operating system, without exception, is an embarrassing set of compromises that frustrates its creators and does not deliver on the full promise of its vision. 

Remember these beauties?

--The original Macintosh can't create a word processing document longer than 10 pages.

--The original version of Windows can't display overlapping windows.

--The original iPhone doesn't allow third-party native apps, and lacks 3G and MMS support.

The operating systems that succeed are the ones that survive long enough for their big flaws to be fixed.  That happens if the OS's supporter has a deep, multi-version commitment to it (Windows) or if the OS does something else so compelling that customers are willing to buy it despite its flaws (graphics on the Mac).  Your chances are best if you have both patience and differentiation.


Palm's problem: Lack of a compelling advantage

The Palm Pre and HP TouchPad had neither advantage.  Palm was not rich enough and HP was not patient enough to keep investing after the first versions showed a lot of flaws.  And more importantly, there was nothing compelling enough about either product to make people buy it despite those flaws.

Think about it, what was the one special thing Web OS devices could do that absolutely compelled you to go out and buy them?  And don't say "multitasking;" I'm talking about a genuine, easily explained benefit that would appeal to normal people, not technophiles.

I wrote about this problem back in 2010 when the Palm put itself up for sale (link).  To recap: you don't run TV ads featuring a Borg hive queen if you have something compelling to say about your product (link).

Hi, I'm here because the ad agency couldn't figure out anything concrete to say

Contrast those ads to Apple's current iPhone ads in the US, which are basically a 30-second demo of Siri (link).


The original Palm OS succeeded because it made a great appliance for managing your calendar and address book.  That jump-started the market, and all the additional stuff empowered by the OS came later.

iPhone succeeded, in my opinion, because it was the first device to make PC-style browsing work well on a smartphone.  That killer feature bought Apple the time and market credibility it needed to enable native apps, fix the phone's problems, and add a raft of additional features that fleshed out the product vision.

Android succeeded (in part) because Apple stupidly left a void in the marketplace that Google could fill.  In the wake of Steve Jobs' death, there has been a lot of well-deserved praise online for the brilliant decisions he made.  But I think one of Steve's biggest mistakes ever was the decision to wed Apple exclusively to AT&T in the US for multiple years.  That forced Verizon to find an iPhone competitor and market it aggressively.  Verizon's choices were Windows Mobile (unpopular with customers, and a vendor with a history of shafting its partners), Nokia/Symbian (unpopular in the US, and a vendor with a history of shafting operators), or Google (sexy web brand, believed at the time to be open and non-controlling).  People outside the US don't realize this, but in the US Verizon was the main marketing muscle behind the success of Android.  It forced the product into the market and kept pushing for a long time, giving Google the time it needed to improve Android and get it past the crucial first release.

The Pre and TouchPad had no patient sugar daddy.  And they had no breakthrough feature that would compel people to buy the first versions despite their inevitable flaws.  I think Palm's product strategy was broken, and so Web OS was probably doomed no matter how well it was implemented.


The lesson: Who's your daddy, and what's your killer feature?

Two companies are working on new mobile platforms scheduled to ship in 2012:  Nokia's next-generation Windows phones, and RIM's BlackBerry 10.  In both cases, the press has been focusing on their development schedules.  The schedules are very important, of course.  But the real questions to ask are:

1. Do they have the financial backing to complete versions 2 and 3, which will be needed to fix the inevitable flaws in version 1? and

2. Will the products do anything unique and compelling that will cause at least some customers to prefer them even if they have other drawbacks?

I think Nokia can probably say yes to question 1; RIM is in doubt.  And as far as I can tell, neither vendor has even started to address question 2.  If they don't, in a year or two we'll probably be doing more post-mortems.

40 comments:

TakingPaws said...

Excellent posting. Great points. You even bring it around to point to the future and things to think about for my own development.

This is why I have Mobile Opportunity in my RSS feed list.

Avi said...

Mike, I agree that Android grew in part due to the AT&T exclusivity forcing VZW's hand. However, your timeline is a bit off on Google, and the other big factor was pricing - something Apple still hasn't fully addressed outside the U.S.

The first Android phones were at T-Mobile. Verizon didn't fully back Android until 2.0, and first it gave RIM the opportunity to slot in an iPhone competitor a full year beforehand. RIM blew that opportunity; the BlackBerry Storm sold extremely well until consumers actually used it.

The other area where Android really established itself was at the low end. To this day, Apple isn't really competing for the prepaid or emerging markets (the iPhone 3GS is EUR 369. Better than before, but Huawei has Android phones for half that).

Anonymous said...

As a corollary to this, quite simply software takes time to succeed. Joel has a good article about how it takes ten years: http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000017.html

(Ironically that was written ten years ago.) It takes incredible self control in an organization to keep saying no at the beginning. Apple had people saying no to 3rd party apps, cut&paste and huge numbers of other things. Consequently what they did do, they did well.

One company I worked for almost died because there was always one more feature that if we implemented it the salesforce promised would result in lots of orders. The net effect of course was that we had lots of features all with mediocre implementations and none strong enough to win over customers.

Things get worse for "platforms". Not only are you producing software, but you need to have a layer running on top of you. Producing SDKs and developer support are also a lot of additional work. You can find online stories of just how unpleasant that experience was for some Blackberry and WebOS developers. Search for [jamiemurai rim] and [jwz webos] respectively.

Joel West said...

Mike,

You seem to be concurring with an observation of 10+ years ago about Microsoft: their 1.0 always sucked, but (like the Borg) they kept coming and coming and by 3.0 it was usually pretty good. (Fortunately Intuit survived even if Netscape didn’t)

This is both your point about resources and also what Hamel and Prahalad used to call "strategic intent". By that test, Nokia will survive (even if shipping Android phones) but RIM will not.

However, there’s the other point that you hint at but don’t come out and say: when you're entering a market to compete with an incumbent, you’re not going to hurt him with your 1.0 but with your 2.0 or 3.0. This is certainly how Symbian and Android player out, even if the iPhone (and iPod and iPad) didn’t have to wait as long.

Joel

PS: Of course I totally agree that the exclusive helped put LG and Samsung in the smartphone business: in fact, you and I said that almost five years ago.

Andrew said...

The last part of your article confuses me quite a bit:

Two companies are working on new mobile platforms scheduled to ship in 2012: Nokia's next-generation Windows phones

As Microsoft has done since releasing Windows Phone 7 in Fall 2010, we are building the mobile platform (OS and development tools); Nokia (along with other OEMs) is building the phone hardware. The context of your article was all about the OS, correct? If so, I would expect you would refer to Microsoft and RIM, not Nokia and RIM.

But the real questions to ask are:
1. Do they have the financial backing to complete versions 2 and 3, which will be needed to fix the inevitable flaws in version 1?


Depending on how you count "versions", I don't see how it could be argued that Microsoft isn't already on at least v2 with the Mango/7.5 release, which would make the 2012 release you're speculating about at least v3.

And as far as I can tell, neither vendor has even started to address question 2.

Reviews of Windows Phone 7, especially Mango/7.5 have been pretty clear on a couple of things:

1.) Windows Phone is differentiated from both iOS and Android in ways that reviewers appreciate (Live tiles, app integration, Groups, etc.)

2.) Mango has already filled essentially all of what reviewers perceived to be gaps in the initial v1 release (aligning with your general point about initial releases vs. later ones, incidentally).

Now, even Steve Ballmer admitted sales haven't been "quite what he wanted" yet, but from your own analysis above, Windows Phone would seem to be well-positioned in 2012. That's why I'm so confused about your conclusion that Nokia (or, more properly, Microsoft) hasn't "started to address question 2". I think the article as a whole is actually right on, but it's like you have a blind spot when it comes to Microsoft doing things right.


(disclosure: in case it wasn't obvious above, I work for Microsoft. Also note that I am only referring to publically-disclosed information above)

Anonymous said...

I agree that Microsoft failed to really bring a killer feature to the party with their new Windows Phones so far (and I am a first hour WP7 user and developer).

It did a stable v1.0 on release which kinda sucked as some things were missing (some pretty important ones still are - Skype...) The biggest holes they left open in the first release were plugged when Mango arrived (v2.0) but some we heard from day one from users persist (Bluetooth, Local Sync, ...)

The next major release could be interesting if it really integrates deeply with Windows 8 for which I can see a LOT of potential (even more so as Windows 8 is supposed to deeply integrate with SkyDrive and Windows Live).

Addressing what Andrew said: The tiles and integration are great ways to go about things but in some ways are still limited (Hub-Integration by Apps for example) which makes them fall short of what they promise (you need no App for that - there's one Hub) and secondly even though WP7 does this better than iOS (more information) and Android (less problematic concerning battery usage of Widgets) it doesn't really fix something that is broken on other systems and is not instantly perceived as being a better solution.

horbee said...

i completely understand what he is saying in the article but i agree with what the MS employee said. its not nokia cause their hardware its MS cause its the OS and Rim OS are the two for next year schedule. addressing V2 or V3 MS has addressed V2 which i believe everyone is using now. when WP7 came out NODO was to solve some bug fixes for V1 and then a year later Mango came out a complete overhaul (my opinion) and completed changed how the OS works and feels. from the articles i have read Mango V2 exceeds what everyone expected, soon there will be tango which i call bug fixes for mango and then Apollo V3. MS has addressed V2 and has given a V3 a date on release with suggested features to come and usually MS keeps their word. MS will succeed as the third eco and maybe surpass android. imo

Dion Almaer said...

wrt:

"If Paul says Web OS was unready, I'm sure it was."

Paul is a bright guy, but he also left before CES, before webOS was actually released, and "his product" was a Java based OS.

I think that he can have a voice, but there are many others that should have stronger voices on the matter.

Walt French said...

Mike, thanks for another great post. The WP7 perspective is especially valuable as others are spouting nonsense re: its failure to attract consumers (“too consumer focused” ???); your Q #2 nails it. The purported leaked roadmap yesterday, showing a competitive offering only in 4th Q 2012, suggests they recognize that even their V2 is not on par with *today's* competition.

Regards Jobs's big error, another way to put it was that he failed to appreciate how compelling and timely the iOS multitouch innovations were. As Apple could not produce the hundreds of millions of devices demanded, they *caused* a fast-tracked competition. Sorta inevitable that it came from somebody unexpected, given the recent and pending failures at Palm, RIM, Nokia and MS, all of which failed your #1 or were too ossified.

Michael Mace said...

Thanks for all the great comments, folks. I'll come back a bit later and respond in more depth, but Andrew, I wanted to quickly clarify what I was trying to say about Windows Phone.

To me, a killer feature has to be more than a visible difference; it has to solve a meaningful problem for a significant number of customers. For example, the original Palm let you carry your calendar and contacts with you all the time. The original BlackBerry let you access your e-mail anywhere. Those were real life-changing benefits that a user could understand and value.

It's very hard for a UI innovation, on its own, to rise to this level, because the UI is mostly about "how" rather than "what." Maybe Siri can do it, but if you watch the Apple ad you'll see that they demonstrate it solving a series of problems, as opposed to just telling you how it works.

I have yet to see Microsoft translate any of the features of Windows Phone into that sort of specific, compelling solution to a particular problem for a particular type of customer. Instead, it feels more like...well, the UI demos that Palm did for the Pre. They had some cool UI features too, remember?

I want you guys to be successful, which is why I'm pushing on this issue. I think Anonymous is right that there's potential for something killer in integration between Windows Phone and Windows 8, and I hope you guys are exploring that aggressively.

printing724 said...

I think some posters missed the point of point 2...
"2. Will the products do anything unique and compelling that will cause at least some customers to prefer them even if they have other drawbacks?"



Certainly WP introduced features that differentiate it. But the reality is that these features have not convinced significant numbers of consumers to prefer its shortcomings over the shortcomings of its competition.

There's no blind spot to Microsoft's abilities there, just an acknowledgement of what is real.

Certainly Microsoft has the resources and will to stick it out for as many iterations as are necessary.

But I think that Nokia is on a short timetable. They need to make phones that people will buy, and soon. The patience time frame of the market and shareholders is a lot different when you start from a position of strength rather than one perceived as desperate, and that's where I think Nokia is now. They won't have time for too many fixes before Plan B has to come out, whatever that might be.

If Plan B involves an OS other than WP, that will be another blow to the credibility of WP in the marketplace, and it will make the hill in front of Microsoft that much steeper.

Andrew said...

Thanks, Michael. Just two quick follow-ups while I wait for your further responses:

1.) The end of the article seems to imply Microsoft (Windows Phone) and RIM (Blackberry) are in effectively the same position, except that RIM isn't as well-funded. That's the main point of disagreement I have: if Windows Phone is on v2 heading for v3, by your own argument Windows Phone is significantly ahead of Blackberry, which has yet to ship v1 of BB10 on phones.

2.) I am curious what you would say is Android's compelling solution to a specific problem for a specific customer (particularly relative to Windows Phone)?

John said...

I am curious what you would say is Android's compelling solution to a specific problem for a specific customer (particularly relative to Windows Phone)?

I know what I would say: Google's customers are really the hardware manufacturers and telcos, who need something to counter-balance Apple.

By virtue of the fact that these customers have flocked to Android and now produce inexpensive phones in mass quantity, Android is the new feature phone in many parts of the world.

If Microsoft had had Windows Phone 7 a few years ago, they might be in position to capture much of that market, but they missed the boat. It remains to be seen whether the rest of the industry gives them another shot.

OS customers are almost never the end users, because they're just buying the hardware; the software is unavoidable and (effectively) locked.

John said...

Great overview. Kind of expressed most of my thoughts on the issue of webOS.

That is why I think people are definitely more optimistic about Microsoft - deeper pockets and willing to spend billions more to stay in the game. RIM doesn't can't print money like Microsoft with Windows and Office.

Funny comment on the Borg hive queen. That woman is a lot more human and attractive than the queen though. Forgot about that commercial - my brief blog post on that - http://www.8asians.com/2009/06/05/palm-pre-lets-you-command-an-army-of-asian-dancers/

Michael Mace said...

This is very cool. Not only are you guys answering questions before I can get to them, in many cases you're giving better answers than I could. I should probably just shut up and let you run with the ball, but I'll jump in on a couple of things...


Avi wrote:

>>The first Android phones were at T-Mobile. Verizon didn't fully back Android until 2.0, and first it gave RIM the opportunity to slot in an iPhone competitor a full year beforehand. RIM blew that opportunity; the BlackBerry Storm sold extremely well until consumers actually used it.

Very good point, although I wouldn't say RIM blew that opportunity -- this is the point at which RIM seriously debased its products by turning itself into an Apple wannabe. The result: RIM now has neither a good business product line nor a good consumer product line. Great move, guys.

There is a huge, important business lesson in this: Letting the mobile operators drive your product strategy is like letting a five-year-old shave you with a straight razor. The risks are immense, and you won't get a good shave anyway.


>>The other area where Android really established itself was at the low end. To this day, Apple isn't really competing for the prepaid or emerging markets (the iPhone 3GS is EUR 369. Better than before, but Huawei has Android phones for half that).

Fair enough. Android filled a number of holes that Apple left in the marketplace.


Anonymous wrote:

>> It takes incredible self control in an organization to keep saying no at the beginning.

Excellent point, and you are 100% right.


Joel West wrote:

>>You seem to be concurring with an observation of 10+ years ago about Microsoft: their 1.0 always sucked, but (like the Borg) they kept coming and coming and by 3.0 it was usually pretty good.

Except that now they are on what, the seventh or eighth iteration of Windows Mobile? I guess if you have enough money, you get an endless number of chances.

Michael Mace said...

Andrew wrote:

>>As Microsoft has done since releasing Windows Phone 7 in Fall 2010, we are building the mobile platform (OS and development tools); Nokia (along with other OEMs) is building the phone hardware. The context of your article was all about the OS, correct? If so, I would expect you would refer to Microsoft and RIM, not Nokia and RIM.

Does Microsoft really view the world that way? That Nokia is only a hardware vendor, and just one of them at that? I hope you're just quoting the official PR line and don't really believe it.

Here's the reality, in my opinion: People buy systems, not just hardware or software, and Nokia is making the hardware half of your system (plus some differentiating software of their own, no?) Nokia is the only major Windows Phone licensee making a deep live-or-die commitment to the platform. Everyone else is just hedging their bets. If Nokia's initiative fails, the stink it leaves on Windows Phone will be ineradicable. What other hardware vendor would ever make a deep commitment to the platform? You'll probably be stuck making your own hardware again, and good luck with that.

Nokia's announcements this spring are essential to the success of Windows Phone, and you guys should be doing everything you possibly can to make them succeed. Otherwise, you'll still be a tertiary player five years from now.

I don't want that. The market needs more competition. We need you guys to succeed.

That's why I cited Nokia, because it's their announcement that will determine the fate of your platform.


>>Reviews of Windows Phone 7, especially Mango/7.5 have been pretty clear on a couple of things

The problem with good reviews is that vendors sometimes believe them. That can give you a false sense of confidence. I recommend that you stop reading them. Seriously. Reviewers ain't customers. The Pre had great reviews too. Until you have features that move customers, you don't have differentiation.


>>Now, even Steve Ballmer admitted sales haven't been "quite what he wanted" yet, but from your own analysis above, Windows Phone would seem to be well-positioned in 2012.

Aw, Andrew, you're asking some really good questions here, please let's not gum them up with marketing stuff. If by "well-positioned" you mean that Windows Phone is in danger of becoming irrelevant again this spring if Nokia doesn't have a blowout launch, then yes I'd say Windows Phone is well positioned.

You guys come across in public as way too comfortable, considering that you are the #4 horse in what's shaping up as a two-horse race. I strongly recommend that you try to be humble and nervously excited, not confident and relaxed.


>>it's like you have a blind spot when it comes to Microsoft doing things right.

Could be. I spent a long time competing with Microsoft and it's possible that I have a blind spot. But on the other hand I've been very enthusiastic about Windows 8 (check out my posts on it), and that's a Microsoft product. My worry about Windows Phone is that it's not at critical mass in the real world, but the Microsoft team seems to think it's well-positioned.

I hope my comments don't come across as harsh. I am really, honestly just trying to be clear and to make sure that you guys understand the urgency of the situation. Please don't view me as a critic; view me as a friend who sincerely wants you to succeed and is worried that you're not in touch with reality.

Michael Mace said...

Anonymous wrote:

>>The next major release could be interesting if it really integrates deeply with Windows 8 for which I can see a LOT of potential (even more so as Windows 8 is supposed to deeply integrate with SkyDrive and Windows Live).

Yes, yes, yes! A (hopefully) hot new desktop OS, and potential synergies with the phones. There's something that Android cannot easily duplicate.

But can those two separate parts of Microsoft cooperate deeply enough? Do their managers even like each other? I hear horror stories about Microsoft internal politics. That scares me.


horbee wrote:

>>MS will succeed as the third eco and maybe surpass android. imo

I would settle for WP being a viable number three. Overtaking Android isn't a realistic goal for a long time, I believe.


Dion Almaer wrote:

>>Paul is a bright guy, but he also left before CES, before webOS was actually released, and "his product" was a Java based OS. I think that he can have a voice, but there are many others that should have stronger voices on the matter.

And I'd love to see them speak up, once they have their packages from HP.


Walt French wrote:

>>Regards Jobs's big error, another way to put it was that he failed to appreciate how compelling and timely the iOS multitouch innovations were.

Interesting thought. I wish I knew more about those original negotiations with AT&T. Whose idea was it that Apple would do an exclusive with AT&T for that length of time? If it had been only a year, Apple could have done a lot more to head off Android in the US.


printing724 wrote:

>>Certainly WP introduced features that differentiate it. But the reality is that these features have not convinced significant numbers of consumers to prefer its shortcomings over the shortcomings of its competition.

Exactly.


>>But I think that Nokia is on a short timetable. They need to make phones that people will buy, and soon. The patience time frame of the market and shareholders is a lot different when you start from a position of strength rather than one perceived as desperate

And in addition, Microsoft has a cash cow that can fund Windows Phone almost indefinitely. Nokia has no such backup.

Michael Mace said...

Andrew wrote:

>>The end of the article seems to imply Microsoft (Windows Phone) and RIM (Blackberry) are in effectively the same position, except that RIM isn't as well-funded. That's the main point of disagreement I have: if Windows Phone is on v2 heading for v3, by your own argument Windows Phone is significantly ahead of Blackberry, which has yet to ship v1 of BB10 on phones.

Nah, that wasn't my point, so I'm sorry that I was unclear, and thanks for pointing it out. My point was that both platforms are coming to decisive inflection points in 2012, and in my opinion neither one has answered the "what's your killer feature" question effectively. That's what they have in common.

If BB10 fails, RIM probably goes out of business or gets bought. If the Nokia launch fails, the Windows Phone management team probably gets fired, and the next team tries again in 18-24 months, but without a major licensee. Good luck with that.


>>I am curious what you would say is Android's compelling solution to a specific problem for a specific customer (particularly relative to Windows Phone)?

Excellent question, and that's why I said that a platform has to answer at least one of the two questions (who's your daddy and what's your killer feature). Android never has had a killer feature, and that's why I was so skeptical about it early on. But what I failed to see is that it had a huge market niche that it could fill -- a really big daddy. The operators needed an alternative to Apple, as Avi pointed out there was a price opportunity in many places, and the handset vendors loved the idea of a "free" operating system. Android filled all those needs.

Unfortunately for Windows Phone, now that Android has filled that role in the ecosystem, it is not available to anyone else. So you guys are stuck with the need to create a killer feature that will win you the loyalty of a slice of the user base.


John wrote:

>>I know what I would say: Google's customers are really the hardware manufacturers and telcos, who need something to counter-balance Apple.

You said it better than me.

Apocryphon said...

I find it interesting how most of this dialogue is about the current "alternative" OS's of BB and WP. However, webOS may return, depending on how generous HP's open licensing is, and whether or not they will actually support the development community (which may be dubious at best). However, if HP was to turn over a new leaf, could any of the old failings of webOS be instructive for the future of the operating system? After all, at the very least, an open webOS neatly side-steps most of the troubles of the other platforms, including Android's patent wars, and webOS seems somewhat more polished than other mobile open source efforts.

Nitin SuperByte said...

Excellent insight..

Yuvamani said...

Great insight about the fact that v 1.0 always sucks. Its well known but often forgotten and overlooked.

I think you are missing the utter beauty of WebOS when it did come out. It was a beautiful product on paper and had tons of compelling differentiating features.

1. Synergy - All your contacts in one place .. integrated facebook and twitter and linked in. Copied extensively as a proof of its compellingness.
2. multitasking - you may poo poo it, but it has been copied extensively after that. It was elegantly executed.
3. Integrated Chat . Gtalk messages etc. Apple also copied it now. All chats at one place is awesome. seamlessly transitioning from gtalk to sms is unbeleivable
4. Beautiful notifications. Apple copied it only now.
5. That universal search.

And did I meantion the beauty of the platform.

Anyone of these features could have made a compelling commercial . Sadly the ad agency should be burnt alive. Apple made a 30 second demo of video conferencing into a commercial . These features were revolutionary too ...

So what were palms mistakes
1. Sprint exclusivity - Droid happened 3 months after palm and changed the game forever. Palm could have had a VZ partnership from the get go and things would have been very very different
2. Performance ... It was bad enough that the launch sucked, But the fact that Palm couldnt improve performance was terrible
3. Apps - specifically games. The initial palm dev kit did not have the ability to create games. Games ARE the biggest sellers among all apps.
4. The network effects of apps. Apple had launched the app store by then and the network effects were starting to be debilitating for all its ocmpetitors. Android was far sighted enough to beat Apple to the developer war, so it had atleast some apps. But even it had and continues to have issues with Apps as network effects .

Palm just mistimed it and did not have enough in the tank to continue the fight. It was just terrible luck . If they had a little more time to execute, things would have been very different.

Jonas said...

Android fulfilled about the same needs as the Iphone for consumers at a lower price point.
For phone manufacturers such as Samsung, LG, Sony Ericsson et al it was really the only way to stay in business. They had to put their best guys on making excellent Android phones. That meant that there were many Android phones at different price points to chose from.
Nokia made a bold (folish?) move by chosing MS.
The differntiation they provide by adding apps such as navigation on top they maight just as well have done on android.

Dianne Hackborn said...


>> >> Regards Jobs's big error, another way to put it was that he failed to appreciate how compelling and timely the iOS multitouch innovations were.

>> Interesting thought. I wish I knew more about those original negotiations with AT&T. Whose idea was it that Apple would do an exclusive with AT&T for that length of time? If it had been only a year, Apple could have done a lot more to head off Android in the US.


The way I recall seeing this is that there was a significant unavoidable change coming to mobile: a switch in focus from hardware to software. Heck, we knew this at PalmSource, and went through a number of iterations of software platforms to try to catch this change. Unfortunately it never worked there, partly because of PalmSource, but also because of bad timing with being a bit too early.

This switch in focus from hardware to software was a fundamental part of Android's strategy... Android wouldn't make sense if each hardware manufacturer could continue to create successful products with each of their own custom software platforms. I think the hardware manufacturers generally saw smartphones as just a slightly more complicated version of the feature phones they had been building, but I think smartphones actually represent an inflection point in the industry where software platforms develop the same importance as they have in the desktop world.

Or another way to look at it -- the mobile industry is going through the same process that happened in the PC industry in the 80s, where the software needed to make a competative product became more complicated than hardware-oriented companies could manage.

(Apple is the big exception to this, they are fairly unique as a hardware company that has been able to develop and maintain a first-class software platform. But as a rule I think hardware-oriented companies just don't work in a way that allows them to do great software -- I know this was a problem at Palm which carried over to PalmSource, it seems to be a problem for RIM, for Nokia, Motorola has struggled with it, etc.)

Personally I think this switch to software platforms was inevitable, it was just a matter of when it would happen.

The introduction of the iPhone made this happen faster. Suddenly all of the hardware manufacturers watch Steve Jobs do his great sell job of Apple's new phone, which is all about the software, and it is clear where things are going and how far they are from being competative in software.

Reducing this to "iOS multitouch innovations" is really missing what is going on. In fact multi-touch is not needed at all -- you can still build a consumer-oriented smartphone without any multi-touch at all. Android didn't have multi-touch in its UI until after the original Droid.

I think Apple left a gaping hole that basically assured they wouldn't be the dominant platform. If you think of mobile devices as the next evolution of computers, what Apple did was set things up as them vs. the rest of the computer industry. If it's not Android, it will be Windows Phone 7, or someone else who steps in to provide a software platform for everyone else. I don't know if it is inevitable that the computer industry standardize on one dominant software platform, but there are certainly a lot of forces that push it that direction.

Dianne Hackborn said...


>>Excellent question, and that's why I said that a platform has to answer at least one of the two questions (who's your daddy and what's your killer feature). Android never has had a killer feature, and that's why I was so skeptical about it early on.


I don't think it was quite that bad. :) In the original G1, the integration with Google services (syncing all your contacts, calendar, e-mail, etc) was a big selling point for a lot of people.

I've actually been thinking recently about how iOS vs Android have evolved, and I think there was a fundamental difference in their goals that is still reflected today: the iPhone was designed as a media consumption device (browsing the web being one of those consumption activities), and Android was designed as a communication device.

So iPhone/iOS has and still in some ways is stronger as a consumption device: iTunes, aggressively animated and dynamic UI, etc. Android has been stronger as a communication device, with the focus on notifications, multi-tasking and fast switching between apps, syncing all kinds of stuff over the network, etc.

The two are converging their feature sets to address the weaknesses they have compared to each other, but even today you can see how these different original design goals impact them.

(Also I do think that Android as an open-source mobile platform qualifies as a killer feature. That is certainly something that counts as a feature that factored into its development, and along with being open source the need to support a strong app ecosystem was a corner-stone of the 1.0 release.)

Michael Mace said...

Wow, more excellent comments. Thanks, folks!

Before I discuss them, I wanted to link to a great post that Dion wrote regarding this issue. I hadn't noticed it before, or I would have linked to it originally. It's here.


Apocryphon wrote:

>>webOS may return, depending on how generous HP's open licensing is, and whether or not they will actually support the development community

I hope you're right. Big open source projects seem to do better if they have a corporate sponsor willing to lead when necessary. Is HP willing and able to play that role? I don't know.


Yuvamani wrote:

>>I think you are missing the utter beauty of WebOS when it did come out. It was a beautiful product on paper and had tons of compelling differentiating features.

Tons of elegance, I agree. I was enraptured by the Pre's attention to detail when I saw it at CES. But it was a lot of little things, and they were not enough to overcome the typical drawbacks of any version one product, as the Pre proved. When you're going up against an entrenched platform, elegance is usually not enough to move customers. If elegance is your differentiator, you are far better off layering that elegance on top of an existing platform instead of creating your own.


>>Sadly the ad agency should be burnt alive.

That's like blaming the KGB for the crimes of Stalin. After watching the hive queen commercials again, I agree that they're awful (even worse than I thought). But remember that Palm chose the agency and wrote the creative brief and approved the commercials. They say a lot about how Palm viewed itself; it was trying to be Apple-er than Apple, which is suicidal. I blame the client at least as much as the agency.


>>Palm could have had a VZ partnership from the get go and things would have been very very different

Are you sure? Was Verizon willing to play? I can't imagine Palm would have coosen Sprint as its launch partner if Verizon had been willing to feature the Pre aggressively.


>> It was bad enough that the launch sucked, But the fact that Palm couldnt improve performance was terrible

But my point is that you always have problems like that with a new OS. You have to plan for that by having a killer feature that overcomes the drawbacks of your product. Otherwise you don't have a viable product strategy.


>>Apps - specifically games. The initial palm dev kit did not have the ability to create games. Games ARE the biggest sellers among all apps.

I don't think availability of apps drives the initial success of a mobile platform. Otherwise, how did Android get its initial sales?


>>It was just terrible luck. If they had a little more time to execute, things would have been very different.

I know what you're saying, but respectfully I disagree. Is there a scenario in which Palm could have succeeded? Yes. Is it a high-probability scenario? In my opinion, no. They needed everything to break perfectly in order to succeed. That's not luck, it's magical thinking.


Jonas wrote:

>>Android fulfilled about the same needs as the Iphone for consumers at a lower price point.

Okay, I got you. So the killer feature of Android form a user standpoint was good mobile browsing and a touch UI, same as iPhone. Only Android made that available through broader channels that were hungry for an iPhone alternative. OK.

Michael Mace said...

Dianne Hackborn wrote:

Hi, Dianne! Thanks very much for commenting!


>> the mobile industry is going through the same process that happened in the PC industry in the 80s, where the software needed to make a competative product became more complicated than hardware-oriented companies could manage. (Apple is the big exception to this, they are fairly unique as a hardware company that has been able to develop and maintain a first-class software platform.)

Agreed. Android filled a need that the phone manufacturers didn't even know they had until the last minute, and timed its market entry beautifully. I agree.

My one quibble: Apple isn't a hardware company, it's a systems company. That's why the hardware companies have so much trouble competing with it.


>>I think Apple left a gaping hole that basically assured they wouldn't be the dominant platform.

I believe they probably didn't see the hole. If they had, they would not have signed an exclusive with AT&T for so many years. I think Apple was caught up in minutiae of the business relationship with the operator -- things like the revenue sharing that they insisted on with the original iPhone. That forced them to do a long exclusive. Apple tried to innovate on too many fronts, including the business model, and wounded itself.

By the way, the definition of "dominant platform" is tricky. It's not necessarily measured by unit sales.


>>I don't know if it is inevitable that the computer industry standardize on one dominant software platform, but there are certainly a lot of forces that push it that direction.

That is the next big question, and something I'm hoping to write about when I get the chance.


>>the iPhone was designed as a media consumption device (browsing the web being one of those consumption activities), and Android was designed as a communication device. So iPhone/iOS has and still in some ways is stronger as a consumption device: iTunes, aggressively animated and dynamic UI, etc. Android has been stronger as a communication device, with the focus on notifications, multi-tasking and fast switching between apps, syncing all kinds of stuff over the network, etc.

Interesting perspective. I will definitely buy that Apple has focused on media consumption. Not so sure that I see communication as a dominant theme in Android, at least in terms of user features (I'm thinking of the awkward multiple mailboxes in the original Android products). But you're much closer to the product than me, so I shouldn't argue with you about Google's intent!


>>I do think that Android as an open-source mobile platform qualifies as a killer feature.

From the perspective of handset companies and other partners, absolutely. Not for users, most of whom do not know the difference.

Unfortunately, a lot of the partner trust that Google created with its open stance was destroyed later by the manipulation of certification to force handset companies to do things, the surly treatment of Amazon, and most of all the purchase of Motorola. Whatever Google's intent, the impression you guys created is that Google treats openness as a tactic -- honored when it's convenient, but ignored when it becomes inconvenient.

I'm not saying that's what Google believes, but that's what your partners believe about you. They won't say it to your faces because they're afraid of being punished. So just as there was an opportunity for Google to give an alternative to iPhone several years ago, there is now an opportunity for somebody else to offer what is perceived to be a less manipulative alternative to Android.

Enter Microsoft, stage left, carrying candy and a bouquet of flowers.

Avi said...

"....there is now an opportunity for somebody else to offer what is perceived to be a less manipulative alternative to Android. Enter Microsoft, stage left, carrying candy and a bouquet of flowers."

And enter Microsoft's imposing new boyfriend, Nokia. Anyone with a long memory remembers what happened when you invest in a common platform with Nokia. I'm not saying that getting Nokia was bad for Microsoft's WP7 prospects - far from it - but it does mitigate the Google/Motorola impact.

A bigger factor is that Samsung/HTC/LG/Sony/etc. are making all of their money on Android at this point. They can place a side bet on Microsoft, but they can't hedge their bets too much or risk losing what they already have.

Tatil said...

For the end users, Android filled the need for price and different form factors (and different carriers if they did not want to go with Apple's exclusive.) Handset manufacturers and carriers already customize Android interface to differentiate themselves, so Android does not have a well-recognized face for customers. That leads me to think most customers are not asking for an Android phone specifically, but a general package at the right price. That is an advantage for Nokia. It can push its products as another attractive non-iPhone if it offers a couple of well-designed form factors at different price points. If it can focus on only a handful of different models, it can differentiate itself based on brand name recognition (we are back!...), hardware quality (many people still remember an indestructible Nokia phone that they used to own), additional apps such as a better mapping software and parts of the ecosystem that Android is not really offering through MS, such as music, movies, and Xbox integration. (eBooks is probably not a very important aspect of the ecosystem, as long as B&N, Amazon or their foreign equivalents offer their apps.)

The phone market currently supports four sizable platforms. Most customers personally know users of three of these, so switching from Android to WP7 (or BB10 if it pans out) is not the same scary proposition that switching from Windows to Mac used to be. Besides, most apps on Android are free, so they don't constitute as much of an investment. Thus, a customer who bought an Android phone last summer can easily consider a Nokia with Windows Phone OS when he is replacing his phone in 18 months. If Nokia is not at least as successful as HTC by mid-2013, it will be due to its own faults (marketing, distribution, design, pricing etc.) more than the OS.

Anonymous said...

1. webos kit is much better in the last update.
2. "But I think one of Steve's biggest mistakes ever was the decision to wed Apple exclusively to AT&T in the US for multiple years. That forced Verizon to find an iPhone competitor and market it aggressively." I don't think VZ was ready for iphone at time. at least not in the CDMA version of it. In addition, Motorola went with VZ, we all know what that happened. Steve may be smarter than you.
3. agree with the rest. Good post.

Michael Mace said...

Avi wrote:

>>A bigger factor is that Samsung/HTC/LG/Sony/etc. are making all of their money on Android at this point. They can place a side bet on Microsoft, but they can't hedge their bets too much or risk losing what they already have.

You're probably right, and I'm sure Google is counting on that. But it all assumes that the handset vendors are completely rational. History says that we should never underestimate the ability of the handset folks to do something self-destructive if they get pissed off enough.


Tatil wrote:

>>That leads me to think most customers are not asking for an Android phone specifically, but a general package at the right price. That is an advantage for Nokia.

Tatil, that is a great, great point. It's at moments like this that I wish I had about $30k to do a big quantitative survey and find out how much OS awareness there is among Android users. I bet you're right that it's pretty low...


Anonymous wrote:

>>I don't think VZ was ready for iphone at time. at least not in the CDMA version of it.

Apple made the original iPhone work on 2.5G. I'm sure a CDMA iPhone could have been produced if Apple had wanted to do it.


>>Steve may be smarter than you.

Steve was massively smarter than me. Apple's decision to invest heavily in the Apple stores was one of the most brilliant, counterintuitive things I have ever seen in the tech industry. I thought he was a dope at the time.

But on this particular issue, with the benefit of several years' hindsight, I think it's clear that Apple misread the tea leaves.

Chris Dunphy said...

"There is a huge, important business lesson in this: Letting the mobile operators drive your product strategy is like letting a five-year-old shave you with a straight razor. The risks are immense, and you won't get a good shave anyway." -- This is the quote of the week. I wish every past Palm executive had as intuitively known this as you did.

On this issue of signing such a long-term exclusive with AT&T:
"But on this particular issue, with the benefit of several years' hindsight, I think it's clear that Apple misread the tea leaves."

I don't know... My gut tells me that Apple was making such an unprecedented request of AT&T - complete control of the branding and UI and even OS updates - that it probably took an extreme exclusive offer to get AT&T to agree. Remember, AT&T took the iPhone sight unseen.

- Chris

Chan said...

Awesome post...

something I've been worrying lately, I actually wanted you to do an article on how platforms evolve, a bit of a history lesson, what matters and why I think Android - iOS clash looks, a history is repeating at best, and as a consumer what and why we should be happy or worry. I personally think Android was a needed fragmentation to the mobile industry which done it wrong way.

What you say that what hardware guys think of Google says much the same thing.

I have written something in the lines which I have to finish and share with you to do a post may be

Also,"iPhone succeeded, in my opinion, because it was the first device to make PC-style browsing work well on a smartphone.  That killer feature bought Apple the time and market credibility it needed to enable native apps, fix the phone's problems, and add a raft of additional features that fleshed out the product vision."

Plus iPhone succeeded cos, tabs and lists only UI tha's how Apple nailed the industry's UI nightmare.

I had been working on mobile kiosks for banks for years, we always strugle to be consistant with one of the simplest touch screens, think ATM screens. Untill we saw iPhone we could not figure it out how to deliver enterprise apps simpler, they were nightmares even to us who developing them let along bank guys got to get trained to use those.And I remember my beloved Treo (or iPaq) had the same ui as a desktop computer with zillion controllers, menus, buttons, bars all that some were actually off screen of a touch screen!Excellent post

Anonymous said...

"Apple made the original iPhone work on 2.5G. I'm sure a CDMA iPhone could have been produced if Apple had wanted to do it."
Mike,
you forgot the battery. IPhone 1st came out with battery last less than a day! What you think if it was on CDMA? ;-). I rest my case.

Pata said...

There is actually one exisiting technology that Microsoft/Nokia could build into Windows Phones that would give it a compelling advantage in the eyes of both carriers and end users: NFC.

The mobile payments industry is going to explode in the next few years and US carriers, for their usual misguided reasons, want a piece of that. Google already had a run-in with Verizon over Wallet. Apple, if they do get around to implementing mobile payments as the WSJ reports suggested, are even less likely to cut the US carriers in or share access to the hundreds of millions of iTunes accounts. Microsoft on the other hand has already implemented carrier billing into WP. Nokia has similar relationships with many carriers world wide. The US carriers might find WP more amendable than iOS to their mobile payments strategy and at the same time it'll easier to standardize NFC on the WP platform compared to all the various Android configurations.

Mobile payments is a feature that sounds more appealing to users in theory than in actual practice. There are other applications of NFC that are more consumer focused. For example, the NFC connected headphones and speakers that Nokia created for the N9! Apple introduced iconic headphones with those famous iPod commercials but over the past decade they've ignored the clamouring calls to provide to provide wireless options (aside from a poorly designed quickly discontinued bluetooth headset for the first iPhone). Nokia already makes some of the best bluetooth headphones in the world. A range of much easier-to-pair wireless accessories would be both fashionable and useful and would lend itself well to demos and tv commercials.

Another consumer focused use for NFC would be local wireless sharing. WP already has wireless sync (over a year before iOS too) but other wireless sharing functions are.practically non existent. Bluetooth file sharing that was standard on smartphones (including Windows Mobile)half a dozen years ago is still not implemented in iOS and WP. Google has beat everyone else to market with NFC file sharing but Android Beam is available on only a few handsets right now and is not a feature most users are aware of. If Microsoft could standardize NFC on WPs by Apollo, and perhaps even get it working with Windows 8, WP would be a huge leap over Android.

NFC isn't cutting edge technology; it's been around for a few years now. It just needs someone to implement it in a useful popular poduct to drive adoption. Microsoft has designed an elegant platform but now needs differentiating features to pique the interest of users. (The second generation of WP actually has fewer differentiating features--the wide hardware diversity of the first generation has been replaced by a similar set of candybar phones). Microsoft probably has dozens of ideas they are working on to drive adoption of their platform and I wish them the best of luck.

Michael Mace said...

Wow, Pata, that is an excellent comment. Come back and post anytime.

I think the big problem for mobile payments in the US is that the basic credit card infrastructure here isn't broken. Most people who have money to spend have credit cards already and find them extremely easy to use.

In that situation, the industry is trying to fix a problem that doesn't exist. Reminds me of OpenID, only more so.

Mobile payments have done better in countries where the credit card habit was not well established.

Anyway, I like your emphasis on finding other problems to solve with NFC. And I agree 1000% that initiatives like that need a corporate sponsor driving them, and Microsoft could make an ideal sponsor.

Michael said...

Wow. You are one of the few people really understand smart phones softwares.

To clarify a fact:
Verizon never tried Windows Mobile and Nokia/Symbian,
their first push was Storm from BlackBerry, remember buy 1 get 1 free?
The storm was a total failure, then they pushed Android.
(Actually, Nokia wasn't making CDMA smart phones because of Qaulcomm patents war.
And there was no touch-screen Windows Mobiles phones to speak of.)


Killer features on Nokia WP7:
1. Nokia Maps (It's offline,it got whole world coverage. That's feature alone is worth buying to many people.)
2. Skype with Video call (Very likely to launch with Nokia Lumia 900,They put a front camera, right ? )
3. Games, XBox Live (XBox is the leading gaming console. )

Michael said...

Second thought:
If Android can success without killer feathers when it was launched and 2 versions after.
Nokia WP7 may not even need to be better.

Think about the mind of whole world of carriers.
They really hate this iPhone/Android now.

Look at Verizon's earnings, Sprints and the carriers in Europe.
Even China!

Anonymous said...

Mike wrote: "The original Palm OS succeeded because it made a great appliance for managing your calendar and address book."

That's wrong, dead wrong.

In fact, the original Palm OS succeeded because it made a great appliance for managing your calendar and address book and TO DO LIST and MEMO PAD. All in all, it provided a great way for people to maintain some valuable personal data in a form which could be accessed and managed on your desktop and away from it.

Later, of course, in response to competitive pressures, Palm attempted to market its devices in a way which drew attention away from the core features. That was unfortunate because the marketing struggled to cope with the perception that the capabilities of the later device did not quite deliver on what was promised.

EricE said...

@Michael Mace "Interesting thought. I wish I knew more about those original negotiations with AT&T. Whose idea was it that Apple would do an exclusive with AT&T for that length of time? If it had been only a year, Apple could have done a lot more to head off Android in the US."

I think you and many other commenters are completely dismissing the importance of the AT&T exclusive. AT&T took a HUGE leap of faith with Apple. They had NO input into the iPhone. No other phone had ever been designed with NO input of the carriers. The iPhone was the first phone that was designed for end users, with the carriers being an ancillary concern.

Android, WebOS - none of it would exist as it is today if it wasn't for that AT&T exclusive that Apple negotiated. It's easy to forget that - that's how much of a radical change it was.

@Dianne Hackborn "The way I recall seeing this is that there was a significant unavoidable change coming to mobile: a switch in focus from hardware to software."

Actually, your thinking too much like a techie. It's no longer just hardware or software but experience and ecosystem. HP/Palm had the ingredients, but neither the wisdom of what they had nor the will to follow through. To me it looked as if the whole Palm initiative was Marc Hurd's vision and died with him on his exit. Maybe that's an overly simplistic view.

"I think Apple left a gaping hole that basically assured they wouldn't be the dominant platform"

Really? Seriously? They have 90% of the profit. I wish I had a "gaping hole" in my product line that had that kind of results!

I think this is another techie blind spot - focusing on irrelevant metrics like "market share" when in the real world "winning' is measured by tangible things like profits. Kind of what started this whole post about Nokia, except it's the lack of profit in Nokia's case.

@Michael Mace "I believe they probably didn't see the hole. If they had, they would not have signed an exclusive with AT&T for so many years."

Again, what hole? It appears you and Dianne are assuming Apple's goals are 100% market domination - and that couldn't be further from the truth. Apple is perfectly content to leave the high volume no profit bargain end of the market and the nightmare it represents to those who can't innovate on their own. Harsh? Hardly. Apple owns the majority of the profit without the majority of sales for a reason. And the gap is growing, not shrinking.

"Apple made the original iPhone work on 2.5G. I'm sure a CDMA iPhone could have been produced if Apple had wanted to do it."

What Apple wanted was irrelevant - this is *VERIZON* we are talking about here! The killer of features on phones, manipulators to the extreme. That the open source Android zealots think Verizon is their savior shows either gross ignorance or a serious willingness to overlook their "saviors" past for the sake of convenience. They only got the iPhone after being basically beat into it by the market. If they hadn't, they would have definitely lost their #1 status as the largest carrier in the US (something that the Alltel acquisition narrowly avoided).

"I think it's clear that Apple misread the tea leaves."

Like a fox...

Milind R said...

Brilliant blog, and comments especially. Encyclopaedic, instructive.

Maybe some ideas of how it works in other markets will throw more light.

In India the carriers and mobile phone manufacturers are completely decoupled, except for 1 or 2, and sometimes, the iPhone. Rightly so, both are too busy doing their own thing to bother with each other. Besides the flexibility of switching plans and phones is implicit here.

So fortunately people haven't yet discovered the mistaken joy of locked phones and contracts.

iPhone is in some distant edge of the market. Only those who are

1) quite rich
2) aren't technically adept

have an iPhone in India. Once they buy it though, they stay hooked, much like the rest of them.

This is quite understandable if you look at the cost of an iPhone (45000 INR = 900$), and even more earlier. Thats quite greater than an average middle class young adult's salary.

Android basically has succeeded here because of variety. You even get these dual SIM phones. Removable batteries, changing SIMs, and non-manufacturer approved repairing, are all simply compulsory.

Blackberry is seen as compulsory by corporate professionals, but the preference is changing fast as the corp pros got "cooler".

Windows Phones are as low market share here, as of the rest of the world, or maybe slightly lesser. One reason is cost, which is still quite high.

See : http://trak.in/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Smartphone-OS-market-Share.jpg

Another is network effect. And they failed to bring any other feature that would appeal to the Indian market (induce operators to create apps to check billing and usage info in a nicer and reliable format? You don't need a contract to install an app).

So seeing android take over more market share world over is simply a delayed market correction according to me. (It's my opinion :) ).

Keep the comments coming, wish to learn more about strategies.