The early indications suggest that RIM’s vision for its new OS and device line may fall short of revolution, and if that’s the case the company’s chances of recovery are slim. The demonstrations of Blackberry 10 suggest that while they’ve changed the GUI and keyboard, there’s little or nothing new in the cloud-to-device relationship. I’m also, at least so far, not seeing anything meaningful in creating a more portable application ecosystem via HTML5.
Nobody thinks of Ubuntu Linux as a mobile strategy, but it’s worth taking a look at Ubuntu’s Webtop-like concept to see what might be done to change, even revolutionize, phone/tablet development. Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, had developed a new Linux shell/GUI called “Unity” and they’ve ported this to Android to create (no surprise in the name) Ubuntu for Android. The framework that’s created is much more computer-like for developers, and it offers the kind of multi-platform application options that Windows 8 is promising. Not only that, applications that run with Ubuntu for Android will sync with a desktop or another version of the Unity desktop automatically, creating an easy workplace-swap when you stop using the phone and get to the office.
With Ubuntu for Android you get something very close to the notion of a fully portable and sharable virtual workspace that floats among your devices. It seems to me that’s what RIM (and Microsoft, and Apple) need to be looking at and thinking about. The question is whether something like this will drive any of those big mobile appliance guys in the right direction. It’s unlikely that Ubuntu for Android will succeed unless a phone player (or Google itself) were to pick it up. I’m not prepared to say that couldn’t happen, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. The biggest chance of an uptake in interest would be from a host of “rootings” of devices to run the software, and that could happen if phone manufacturers don’t keep their versions of Android up to date. A flood of older tablets are expected to be upgraded to Ice Cream Sandwich before the end of spring, and if that doesn’t happen then disgruntled owners might be induced to pick up the Ubuntu strategy for themselves, especially if Canonical promotes the idea.
If RIM had something like this, they could build direct value to the worker because the kind of cross-platform synchronization and coordination that Ubuntu for Android provides automatically is just what enterprises would like to see in productivity enhancement tools for mobile platforms. Few workers are persistently mobile; most are “corridor warriors” who are regularly in and out of their cubicles. Most disappointing for me is that here’s Canonical pushing a free open-source platform and here’s RIM unable to field something comparable even given an example from the market, and given a profit motive of such magnitude it borders on desperation. Come on!
Comcast, whose quarter showed it’s still shedding video customers to competitors, is expanding its alliance with Verizon’s wireless unit to a total of 10 areas. These are NOT the geographies where FiOS competes with Comcast, not surprisingly, and the whole thing could fall apart if the FCC doesn’t approve the spectrum part of the deal. I doubt it will fall apart; Verizon has little to lose by working with Comcast as long as it doesn’t step on FiOS, and certainly Comcast needs to be able to promote bundled services including wireless against AT&T, a competitor to both firms.
Comcast has lost video subscribers for five or six quarters now, but the biggest reason may not be competition. My data says that the problem in the video space is that more and more young adults are still living at home for economic reasons, and this reduces the number of “adds” for cable service. Since there will always be some subscribers who die or move, the total number will drop unless new ones come in to replace the losses. I think that the broadband data supports this conclusion too; older families who don’t “need” faster Internet may be induced to get it if Junior/Sis comes home from college and sets up residence in his/her old room. There’s still no reliable data to show that cord-cutting as an affirmative step is impacting cable companies.
Speaking of cutting the cord, there’s a lot of buzz in the streaming video space on whether Hulu might be changing its whole business model. The problem, so I hear, is that a lot of Hulu’s TV network partners have decided that TV Everywhere is going to be…well…EVERYWHERE. As I’ve pointed out in the past, streaming video commercials earn so much less than broadcast linear commercials that networks can’t afford to have the former substituted for the latter. However, supplementing them is fine. The problem Hulu’s model creates is that you don’t have to be a linear subscriber, so for the networks Hulu creates that risk of moving customers from the profitable to the starvation model of ads. Thus, these networks are telling Hulu that they don’t want their video served to viewers who don’t have the channels as part of their broadcast subscription. Thus, Hulu would no longer be a force for cutting the cord. Which it never was for those who are realistic. This is proof that TV Everywhere is the only thing that matters in streaming video.