Today the CEO of Barnes and Noble,Leonard Riggio, was reported to be looking for a way to take book store private and split it from its Nook e-Reader subsidiary. Meanwhile Hewlett-Packard sold part of its WebOS assets to LG for the latter to put the long suffering OS on TVs and possibly phones at a future debt. Meanwhile the Wall Street Journal is reporting on a growing conflict between Google and Samsung over Android; stemming from Mountain View’s concern that Samsung is taking over the platform and crowding out other Phone vendors.
I’ve said it before and I will say it again; platforms are hard. Creating a software platform, encouraging developer interest, getting OEM support, and maintaining it is a tall order. Its also expensive, time consuming, and possibly all for nothing. I should also add that hardware isn’t a cake walk either; especially in a market where one major player can lock up your device with one order for screens.
The consumer computer market unlike its business and technical counterpart can be quite fickle. It doesn’t pay attention to the long game or gives point to being early or original. It can make or break platforms base on more minute details than the college admissions process. Anyone going into this market especially at this point needs to realize it could all end badly.
Barnes and Noble and the Nook are an interesting case; it was one of the first of the major booksellers to adopt Android. It was also one of the first to offer a cheap Android tablet to the market. They were the first to offer cheap. smaller tablets but they were passed by others with stronger digital wares. Amazon is to many the defacto eBook seller and Google with the Nexus 7, brought the best Android experience. While the Nook grew to be a major part of Barnes and Noble’s growth, it wasn’t a big turn and it couldn’t protect them from the changes in the book market. Another issue they faced, and one I’ll detail later, was Android itself. It didn’t help matters that they wanted to take Microsoft to court over a licensing deal (which they settled with Microsoft investing in a spinoff Nook company).
HP and WebOS. Where to begin. Hewlett-Packard bought the OS and its parent company Palm because the CEO at the time, Mark Hurd, saw the mobile train coming and wanted a ride. Microsoft at the time wasn’t offering a solid offering and the struggling Palm must have looked like the best deal ever. When HP announced its plans for WebOS it was going to be on phones, tablets, and PCs. It was a beautiful vision but the man that brought to HP was gone and the man that was its heart and soul left Palm for Google as the deal was finalized. The products that came out of what was left came out to lackluster reviews. The whole sad affair, wonderfully detailed in this piece by Chris Ziegler, ended with the apocryphal words of its next (short stayed) CEO, “The tablet effect is real”. HP continued to tinker on the OS; many Palm employees left or were let go and HP publicly thought about splitting the hardware division off and pulling an IBM. They didn’t but they bought another company for another couple of billions, the next CEO was fired, and HP now finds itself selling a $169.99 Android tablet, along with Windows 8. Moral of the story, don’t take a bite if you aren’t going to finish.
Samsung and Google (like Rosarch and Deadpool). The biggest mobile platform and its biggest OEM are possibly butting heads for a good reason. While Android has grown to be the Windows of mobility its success hasn’t really trickled down to any of its OEMs except for Samsung. While companies like HTC and Motorola have had time in the sun, it was fleeting. Samsung, however, has rode the Android train to become the hardware company Apple takes to court. Samsung floods the market with Android it did so even in the OS’s earliest days. Samsung was also the first to put the free OS on a tablet with the first Galaxy Tab. The issue between the two companies is the same Google faces with Amazon; platform control. Google is worried Samsung is crowding out other device makers through things like app exclusives. It was Samsung that brought Flipboard to Android and it continues to get exclusives. This kind of concern is real; on the Windows side Microsoft went with HTC to create a hero device to encourage hardware competition. In some ways this is the price Google has to pay for gaining the mobile market. Google took the Microsoft OEM model and dropped the price (to prevent Microsoft’s growth in phones). They succeeded in becoming the alternative to iOS for mobile carriers and phone makers.
Android also allowed the OEMs and carriers a platform to customize and lock down to their heart’s content. This mix allowed Android to grow at the pace it did, but it also meant that it could be easily forked. This is what Amazon has done for the Kindle and Mozilla for Firefox. Another issue has been the fragmentation of software and hardware; Android keeps being iterated on but devices don’t get the updates. Lastly, Google hasn’t provided the protection against patent deals (especially from Microsoft).
For Samsung……actually Samsung is fine. It took a press beating when Apple took it to court over trade dress (their phones looked a lot like iPhones at first) and lost. For me as a Windows watcher Samsung is a mixed bag. As a major OEM, Samsung making Windows devices is important to Microsoft and its ecosystem. However because it gets the lion share of its profits from Android means Windows Phone and Windows 8 play second fiddle. Designs meant for their Android phones/tablets end up on Windows and the result are products that don’t seem to fit, look a little cheap. Its clear Samsung sees Windows as a hedge and not a major part of its portfolio.
So there you have, three tales of mobile woe and scandal, until later.