Android vs. iPhone vs. Microsoft Mobile, the Great Electric Ride, Product of the Week

Probably the biggest announcement last week was Google’s entry into the cell phone space. Regardless of whether it is successful or not, the entry will likely change dramatically what we will be using, even in the PC space, in a few years.

For me, one of the most fun things I did was test-drive the Vectrix high-end electric scooter. Given that gas is supposedly going to US$4 a gallon, this may become the only way we can get to where we need to go and still afford to eat, short of using public transportation.

Finally, product of the week is a transcoding product. Increasingly, we are using portable devices to consume video, but getting the video to work on the device is a pain in the butt. Corel’s DVD Copy Plus 6 has been a godsend for me recently as a result.

Google’s Android: Vapor With a Kick

If you want to talk about the shot heard around the world, it was the announcement of Google’s Android platform. In many ways Google is approaching the phone market in much the same way Microsoft initially addressed the computer market. This is assuming we are approaching the same inflection point with smartphone-like devices that we had with PCs in the ’80s.

The differences are that Google is vastly more powerful than Microsoft was, relatively, in the ’80s, and Google doesn’t have the biggest company in the legacy segment — as Microsoft had with IBM — backing it.

The final difference is that there really was nothing in the computer market like a carrier, and the power shift in computers was from hardware to software. The power shift we are looking at here is from the carriers to the service provider. Google apparently does have carrier support, so the IBM difference may actually be more of a difference of type and quality of support.

This is the long way to say Google created a “Holy Crap” moment for Symbian, Microsoft Windows Mobile, Research In Motion (RIM) and the Apple iPhone Group.

Both Symbian and Microsoft have platforms with existing rich development environments, Apple has what is currently the most popular smartphone that has ever existed in the consumer space and RIM the most popular single vendor platform in the business space.

At this point, no single vendor owns the smartphone space across all segments, and smartphones as a class are a small fraction of overall cell phone sales. This is about to change. At the recent Phoenix Technology Strategy 2008 conference, which is attended by PC companies, the consensus of the forward-looking analyst panel was that smartphone-like devices are likely to replace PCs in many segments, and may be the platform that dominates from the get-go in emerging markets.

When Android launches — and be aware it is little more than vapor right now — it will have one thing no one else currently has, and that is cash. Google’s model is based on advertising revenue, so rather than walking in asking someone to buy what it has; it walks in with enough cash to cover more than the cost of what it will provide.

Also, Google is a hardware-independent vendor, much like Microsoft and Symbian, which adds to the advantage over Apple and RIM from the carrier’s standpoint. Google doesn’t want to support multiple platforms if it doesn’t have to, but it does still want a variety of hardware.

Netting out the cash side, right now the cellular carriers pay a good chunk of the cost of every phone — it’s called a subsidy, and Google is offering to pay this for them. Assuming $200 for every iPhone, 1 million phones costs AT&T $200 million, a similar Google phone at the same volume potentially adds that $200 million to the carrier’s bottom line.

Now, Google has just given all of the existing platform companies a year to figure out how to match it in this regard. This is Google’s first OS; it has an experienced team but as a company, it’s learning on the job.

This means the first-generation product will likely be late, at least in some markets. My guess is RIM and Microsoft are likely the safest initially, because both have substantial dependencies in the business space. However, consumers could flock to it quickly. The fact that HTC, which is probably the most capable Microsoft platform cellular phone vendor in the world, is supporting Android and has a phone in late development indicates that, if late, it will likely be more like weeks or months and not years.

This will be big, folks, and it will be incredibly interesting to see this effort develop.

Vectrix: The Best Insurance Against $4-a-Gallon Gas

My bicycle is a Wavecrest IO, which uses technology initially developed for the military and it is a great way to get around locally. However, I’m still tied to my car for distance.

While I’m looking forward to the Tesla Roadster launch, at $100,000 and only in a sports car (I currently drive an FX45 SUV), I can’t afford it in terms of size or price.

I sure as heck don’t want to drive the car if I don’t have to, and really want to get on the whole green/electric bandwagon. I’m personally so aggressive on this, my roof is covered with solar panels, the house is lit with LED lights, and we use a tankless water heater. I’m serious about Green.

What makes the Tesla exciting is you don’t give up performance for green, and that was what attracted me to the Vectrix scooter. Unlike the typical electric scooter, most of which are junk, this is a serious ride.

It will do 62 mph; it has a low center of gravity and it takes off like a sports car. It has cool stuff like regenerative braking and, with the exception of a fan to cool the electronics and the whine of the electric motor, it is dead quiet.

Granted, at around $11,000, it isn’t cheap either, but it protects you reasonably well in weather and it actually looks, for a scooter, kind of hot. I have to admit I was impressed with the ride, and it even has reverse in case you need to back it out of a parking space.

If you have a motorcycle license and are near a dealership (they tend to be in high-end car dealers) or go to a motorcycle show, check it out. Also, check out the Web site — Vectrix is thinking of doing a high-end performance bike that would be an incredible thing if it ever makes it to market.

Product of the Week: Corel’s DVD Copy 6

I’m a long-time user of DVD Copy and have used this product since the beginning. The problem with previous versions was they were only focused on making a copy of DVDs and most of those are protected. What I really needed was something that could convert other file types which aren’t protected, and do it fast.

Corel’s DVD Copy 6 improved on 5 by doing exactly that. It is fast, it is easy and it even works with iPods.

Corel has been kind of like Adobe for folks on a budget, and it has a number of products ranging from PaintShop Pro, which does amazing things to pictures and seems to win awards every month or so. Corel also offers Perfect Office, which is the only mature alternative to Microsoft Office, and it even has the best software DVD Player in WinDVD Pro. Wwhat makes it the best is you can speed up movies and still hear the soundtrack, which gets you through all the mushy parts of action movies quickly.

However, the product I use the most has always been DVD Copy, and that’s what makes this latest version my product of the week.

Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.

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