Finally… I-Play and Oberon today announced that the former would be acquired by the latter, allegedly for $110-120m. A deal involving I-Play had been rumoured to happen for quite some time, so good for Gosen and his team that they found a suitor. And not a bad one either: Oberon is an online gaming powerhouse, so a move across to mobile makes sense (and they had probably realised that their acquisition of Blaze (which itself was the combination of Synergenix and Kayak Interactive) last year wasn’t getting them anywhere close to where they need to be). I-Play with its CEO David Gosen certainly showed stamina. They published some pretty cool titles (including Gamevil’s critically acclaimed “Skipping Stone” and hit series “The Fast & The Furious”) and in spite of oft rumoured shortage of cash just hung in there.
UPDATE: Today (12 Sept 2007) I-Play announced 11 new games all drawn from Oberon’s back catalogue. They are Hexic and Mozaki Blocks (apparently from the creator of Tetris), Flowerz, Slinky, Fish Tycoon, Spin & Win, Bricks of Egypt, Bricks of Atlantis, Magic Match, Bubble Town and Saints & Sinners Bingo. It will be interesting to see what will win in the current battle of big brands and casual games; both are frequently cited as two of the key components of breaking into the mass market.
It does remain interesting, doesn’t it? Days after AT&T was confirmed to have the iPhone for a minimum of 5 years exclusively, Verizon comes back to announce the launch of the ultimate fashion device (in a rather literal sense), namely the Prada phone (or LG KE 850). Verizon was keen to stress that this will not be the only music phone they will offer but this seems to being the current main contender of the iPhone: it has similarly sleek looks, both have a touch screen and even the LG UI is somewhat Apple-esque (See review here).
One of the interesting things is to see how a phone that – in Europe – runs on the trusted MIDP 2.0 platform (and will, for Verizon, presumably run on the no less trusted BREW platform) will perform against the first one utilising Apple’s OS X. If Apple manages to have their OS run as smoothly and matter-of-factly as it does on their computers, we will all be up for a ride: whilst phones may not be as buggy as some of Microsoft’s earlier (or indeed current?) operating systems, Apple’s OS X is one hell of an elegant OS and supposedly superior to anything I have seen on the currently available systems. However, OS X requires quite a bit more in computing power than these, and this poses (at least) two challenges, namely a) battery life and b) speed.
LG’s Prada phone on the other hand has shown in the UK that it is a proper everyday device that works well (and looks good). It also comes with 3G (other than the iPhone) although of course it lacks WiFi. LG has recently shown that it has a nifty hand for great look-and-feel: the Chocolate, the Shine and the Prada phone all show a fantastically slick approach to handset design. Since LG phones run on a “usual” OS, all applications and games, etc that run on “normal” phones, also work for them. And Apple? Nothing I heard of. Even the iPod games have already been cracked (see here).
If one would assume that the iPhone performs well, it would however be sad if that was only for one operator/carrier. Will Apple make the same mistake it made on its superior Mac OS in the mid-80s, i.e. kill its market prospects by being to exclusive? One would hope that they have learned but perhaps their more recent success with a similar approach for the iPod has overshadowed the no doubt painful learnings they must have taken from being erased by Micrsosoft and the inferior DOS on the computer OS front. Let’s see…
It get’s boring, I know. But after the flurry over AT&T’s announcement that they will now step up their re-branding another notch in order to be eye-level to the uber-spin doctors from Apple for the launch of the iPhone, I cannot keep myself from making yet another comment on the branding debate: which one is better, AT&T or Cingular?
A lot has been argued and said about it (see e.g. here, here and here) but let’s stick to one simple fact (OK, there’ll be another one later): Millward Brown, the brand gurus who publish the annual “Brandz” ranking, something like the Forbes List (or the Times Rich List when you live in the UK) for brands showed that “Cingular” gained 39% year-on-year and slotted in at #70 with a brand value of $9.2bn. AT&T, well, didn’t make the top 100. Even if it was on #101, it would mean that its value would be at least $4bn less than Cingular’s.
What is REALLY concerning though is that the brand they abandon actually gained value to the tune the Cingular brand did (3rd biggest climber overall). The fact that the Cingular brand is younger, more dynamic, does not conjure up memories of the old wretched monopoly the old AT&T once was – well, I leave that to the real marketing freaks but you really cannot argue with that, huh?
To end it: here’s what GigaOM‘s readers think:
So ESPN Mobile is being reborn, this time as EPSN MVP and exclusive to Verizon V-Cast. To remind you: ESPN Mobile 1.0 was an MVNO that was mothballed 9 months after launch with an undisclosed but presumably low number of subscribers. The new ESPN Mobile is an application available on a couple of Motorola and LG phones (including all the very fashionable ones) and is apparently a pimped up version of the original application that had come pre-installed on the former MVNO’s phones. Apparently BREW and some more dev makes it faster and sexier than the original Java app did.
The new MVP application is available for free to VZW’s high-end data subscribers, which are those who subscribe to the V-Cast service and buy its $15-monthly VPak subscription.
Mobile games outsell other types of content, including ringtones and wallpapers on Orange UK, we read. Orange published its first digital media index which also showed that Orange customers send 872m text messages a month, with most sent between 4pm and 8pm as people plan a night out.
In Q1/2007, almost 750,000 games were downloaded. This compares to only 65,000 and 250,000 tracks, ringtones and music video. This is rather noteworthy. So why is it?
Games are the only category of the above that is tied to the commercial ecosphere of today (be it via carrier deck or from a D2C portal, etc): I can download a picture from the web and bluetooth it or sideload it to my phone and it will work. Phones understand jpeg. I can do the same with a music track. Phones understand mp3. I cannot do the same with a Java game. Phones do understand Java but it is an executable, so you need an installer file, etc. Higher complexity. Too complicated to do it for me, buy it then…
Games have an additional particularity and that is that they need to be thoroughly adapted to the small screen. A song sounds the same (assuming you have a good pair of headphones), a picture will be, well, smaller on a small screen but otherwise undistorted. A game requires interaction, and this is being done very differently on a phone. So we may well see the above numbers drifting further apart…
Real steps it up again: After their acquisition of WiderThan last year (ring-backs, music-on-demand, etc) catapulted them to the forefront of mobile music services, they have now acquired Sony’s NetServices division that runs Vodafone’s audio-streaming services in Germany, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Portugal, Romania and the UK as well as the one for TeliaSonera in Finland.
The whole audio-streaming thing still puzzles me though: the original commercial model for ringtones was clear but it was based on hardware barriers and constraints rather than the fantastic content (let’s face it, monophonic ringtones were pretty horrific). However, with Bluetooth and memory cards now being on virtually every phone and storage of 1GB and more not raising an eyebrow anymore, this would seem doomed (also see my post on declining sales here).
One could argue that it is sensible to then move on to streaming but can anyone explain to me why I should pay for what basically is radio when even a shabby old Nokia 6230 comes with a stereo FM receiver that does the trick, too, and for free? That, I believe, is the difference to ringtones: I do have alternatives to getting to basically the same content – it then comes down to packaging, ease of use, etc and carriers haven’t been particularly good at that, have they?
Consolidation of the mobile marketing sector seems to happen faster than people can blog: Italian mobile content distributor Buongiorno has acquired UK and US operations of Flytxt for c. $ 5.4m. With Buongiorno’s platform and D2C focus and Flytxt’s background (they provide a tool that allows marketing types to run their own campaigns), this is a somewhat different twist to the approach Microsoft, Google, Yahoo! and others have been taking. A D2C player should really be better positioned to bridge the gap between advertiser and consumer as they are much closer to the latter.
Here’s what they say: “Mobiles allow marketers to reach individuals in new ways, which are not possible with other media and open up dramatic new opportunities for marketers to interact with consumers. Flytxt’s work with Orange on its ‘Orange Wednesdays’ campaign is testament to how powerful the use of mobile can be as a marketing and advertising tool”. By way of background: Orange Wednesdays are a BOGOF cinema service that has mobile ticketing components (i.e. you can sign up/participate via mobile), and if we get this right, the mobile component is based on Flytxt’s propositions…