Blogs & Comment

The rise of Android

It's always a pleasure — albeit an infrequent one, let's be honest — to come across some genuinely game-changing business or technology that's homegrown right here in Canada.

It’s always a pleasure albeit an infrequent one, let’s be honest to come across some genuinely game-changing business or technology that’s homegrown right here in Canada. But that may well be the case with Vancouver-based Recon Instruments and its GPS-enabled goggles with head-mounted display system. I last week spoke with Dan Eisenhardt, RI’s CEO, and what he had to say portends a particular future in consumer telecom that isn’t as Apple dominated as you might think.

Straight out of science fiction, the goggles are a technological marvel that discreetly projects various kinds of full-colour, real-time data (speed, position, etc.) within the user’s field of view. It’s a remarkable feat of miniaturization and optical technology, but it’s the software, not the hardware, that is just as interesting.

But in the current climate it’s sometimes hard to see anyone or anything being other than a speed bump on the road that Apple built: the company continues to motor along selling truckloads of iPhones and delivering astronomical profits (Q1 net income topped US$6 billion, up almost 50% year-over-year); the barrage of competing tablets that were to debut at CES and wow audiences instead underwhelmed; when iPad 2 hits sometime later this year, there is likely to be another competition-eclipsing outbreak of minor hysteria that will almost certainly increase Apple’s mind- and marketshare.

But here’s what Eisenhardt told me about his company’s decision to build the next iteration of its devices on the Android OS: “Android is where the industry is going. It’s not even a bet any more. That’s just the way it is.”

What most struck me about what he said was the absolute, unvarnished certainty in his voice. And it wasn’t because he had the obvious, self-serving reason to be an Android fanboy in fact he was unequivocal about his admiration for Apple and explained that RI’s “Recon HQ Online,” was inspired by Apple’s App Store. And the company he named as currently doing the most innovative work? Apple.

What Eisenhardt is speaking to is the divide between the consumer market and the business or middleware market. Apple can run away with the sleek and the sexythat consumers feel in their hands, but there is an opportunity for the people who create the unseen building blocks, like genetic code, that underlie the sleek and the sexy. This is the heavy lifting Eisenhardt says is better suited to Android rather than Apple’s iOS.

“All the companies are supporting it,” he says. “The growth is insane so its going to take over from Apple fairly soon, if it hasn’t already. And there’s a lot of flexibility with that platform on the app side in terms of talking with mobile phones.”

The reason for this is twofold: One, Android operates on a variety of devices from a variety of manufacturers, giving the OS a potentially larger footprint overall. Other media reports say that at about 130,000 apps Android now offers about half the number as Apple’s App Store. Research firm Canalys is predicting Android will this year grow at more than twice the rate of major competitors in the smart-phone market.

Second, the Android OS is a far more open API, unlike Apple’s mostly closed system (another fact Eisenhardt identified as unfortunate), and that typically makes it easier to develop for.

Does the 35-year-old Eisenhardt know what he’s talking about?

Well, he comes armed with a degree in mechanical engineering. He runs a team of scientists. He’s so well funded he says RI isn’t even looking for more at the moment. On the product front, its flagship “Transcend” ski goggles are sold out and RI will be branching out into other sports with similar technology. And RI was the darling of CES in Las Vegas. So he might be on to something. Check out what else Eisenhardt had to say in our “6 Questions” feature, which goes online tomorrow in our Innovation channel.