Month: October 2009 (Page 1 of 3)

N-Gage dies (again)

Nokia’s N-Gage game service has just been declared dead, well dying anyway. always been a concept that has under-delivered painfully. In its first iteration, the device, it was a gutsy but maybe not entirely thought-through attempt to combine phone and dedicated handheld gaming device (it was always going to lose as one simply looked outright silly even when putting the thing towards ones ear to make a call – even when stood at a Star Trek convention, and that is telling). The “new” iteration, the software platform, struggled to take off. Nokia tried mightily to produce showcases demonstrating the superior gaming abilities of the platform compared to “regular” feature and smart phones but the efforts were thwarted from a number of angles:

Too expensive

It was a costly affair to deliver a game optimized for the N-Gage platform. When there is no proven distribution model that can guarantee decent returns, there would always be limited uptake from developers and publishers.

Too small a niche

N-Gage was always geared towards dedicated gamers. All marketing was directed this way, the positioning was distinctly high-end, no non-game applications were shown (or even contemplated, I guess). The power of the platform thus was funneled into a niche of a niche, i.e. high-end gaming. I would suggest that one could as easily have positioned it as a powerful media platform full stop. One that allows for beautiful execution of any number of simple or complex apps (and a game is basically “only” one app category).

There’s an app for that

The iPhone then was arguably the final punch. In spite of developer frustrations growing over discoverability within this pile of 100,000+ apps, the platform has spurned exceptional games galore, and not only casual ones either. Real Racing is as punchy a racing title as one will ever get one on a handheld. And with people flogging to the app store in drones (rather than visiting it once to rarely if ever return), it appeared a less risky (and certainly more fashionable) move to leave it at that. Notably, Apple got the positioning piece (see above) right: even though it is a powerful gaming platform in its own right (anecdotally, the good folks at Firemint managed to string Real Racing to up to an impressive 82 fps), it never looked at this as a sole or even the main focus of the platform. There is a good reason why their already famous moniker says

there’s an app for that

rather than

there is a full 3D, 60+ fps, multi-player, high-end, Bluetooth and WiFi-enabled fighting game with dedicated combo mode for that.

And Mark Ollila, Nokia’s Director of X-Media Solutions and a games and general industry veteran, nails all of this down when he says that

One lesson is the complexities of offering rich games content on a global scale. […] How do you handle the billing, the local marketing intricacies and the type of gaming experiences that work in different markets? And what do consumers actually want – is it the high-end games with connected features that N-Gage was delivering, or a much broader catalogue?

At the heart of it is the conceptually different approach of monolithic, super-rich and highly integrated platform versus a more modular approach: in Apple’s app store ecosystem (or in Android’s for that matter), you can integrate most if not all of N-Gage’s features, too: multi-player gaming, communities, trial versions, etc. But you don’t have to. The former lacked flexibility, which made it susceptible to the nimbler, faster moves of a modular system.

Well then. It at least gives Nokia the opportunity to focus solely on building out the Ovi platform and fix the bugs it has been plagued with at the start. Nokia clearly feels the pains of the rapidly changing market place and it struggles to adapt swiftly (which is – and one should appreciate this – much harder when you are running a product portfolio that has a market share of well double your nearest competitor and stretches all the way from the most basic feature phones to the most advanced smart phones) but it has people that should be capable to turn it around. Not easy, mind you but they’re a mighty player that has shown its ability to innovate numerous times, never forget that.

Empowered Media, Mobile and why @mashable is Wrong

Mashable founder & CEO Peter Cashmore (who I hugely respect) declared in his recent CNN column the death of privacy and has also found the culprit, i.e he spotted

social media hold the smoking gun.

With all due respect, this could not be further from the truth (although, to be fair to him, he really only used it as an opener).

The term “social media” is self-referential and, hence, pretty meaningless.

The term “social”

refers to the interaction of organisms with other organisms and to their collective co-existence.

Media is the plural of medium, which means

something intermediate in nature or degree.

Therefore, media in the context of communication is – by definition – a tool (sic!), which connects one (human) being (also kown as the publisher) with another (also known as the user, recipient, reader, consumer, …). When “media happens”, one therefore looks at (at least) two (human) organisms interacting, which is – again by definition – social behaviour. QED.

Thou shalst not blame a tool.

To “blame” social media is akin to blaming a shotgun for dead people (and a regular reply to the latter argument would bear “interesting” implications on the former indeed, namely result in advocacy for censorship!).

When Peter Cashmore claims that social media was to blame for the loss of privacy, what he really means is that the (relatively) new tools interactive media provides users with and – maybe even more importantly – the cost of these tools (or rather the lack thereof) has led to an explosion of “publishing” activity by every man (and – PC calling – woman) and his/her dog. The published opinions of all these men and their dogs lead to the creation of something like a “meta-opinion” (which need not always be true of course: cf. the example of billions of flies eating excrements).

The core of it then is people (and lots of them) grouping their proverbial voices to create a storm. This has often been seen and some stories like the one of the Stolen Sidekick have made history. Was Sasha’s (the girl who stole the Sidekick) reputation killed by Evan’s (the guy who published the story) website? What did it then? The server? A script? Some lines of HTML code? Hardly. What it did was the overwhelming response of the public (all those men and their dogs) reacting to something Sasha (the person) had done (stole the Sidekick). And – just as a reminder – stealing something is bad!

The Tube to The Power of Mobile or: the Rise and Fall of Ian

A more recent example concerned a (now unemployed) fellow named Ian. He is a guy who appears to have a problem with anger management. Unfortunately, he worked in a customer-facing job, namely on the tube platforms in London. He lost it and had a “little” rant at a passenger (“I’ll sling you under a train”). Happens every day. BUT: it should NOT happen. Not every day, not any day!

This time, something was different, namely there was a guy standing next to him who filmed it on his mobile. He then posted this to YouTube, blogged it, twittered about it and, soon after, it was on the front pages of newspapers, online and on TV. Ian never saw it coming. Admittedly, he was particularly unfortunate that the guy filming happened to be Jonathan MacDonald, one of the more prolific and knowledgeable “social media” gurus. Suffice to say that Jonathan has a good handle on how to get word out.

Reactions to this (as well as to the Sidekick story before) were wild and (sometimes) violent, in all directions. One common outcry was the one of “trial by social media“. Hang on. What did Jonathan do? He used YouTube (which is open to everyone, including Ian), he used a blog (dito), he twittered (dito). Via Google (or any number of other tools), everyone can get the Twitter handles of newspaper editors, TV news anchors and everyone else in the “professional” media in minutes (Ian, too). A trial is one where one side (the prosecutor) prosecutes and the other side (the defendant) defends. The person that decides, however, is the judge (and/or the jury depending in which country you live).

Therefore, even if one would slap the nasty tag of “prosecutor” on Jonathan, he still was only a little piece of this. And he was NOT the judge! If there was a “trial” by any media, one could/might/wish to look at the “professional” media who picked it up although I understand that they actually have been speaking to Jonathan but also tried to get word from TfL (the tube operator) and Ian. No reply, it seems. Which is whose fault precisely?

He could have responded. TfL could actually have used this publicity to turn it around: Ian has apologised (now), TfL could have shown that they do not tolerate this AND that they are constructively tackling issues when they know of them. Jonathan even offered his collaboration in that. Alas, all London mayor Boris Johnson had to say was that he was “apalled by the video”. He did it on Twitter, mind you. How very 21st century. The tool maybe, the reaction not.

Don’t Be Evil

Google’s famous motto “Don’t Be Evil” was first smiled at as being “quaint”, then hailed as revolutionary and then queried in the face of the company “balancing” acts e.g. with a view to their self-censorship in China).

As a general motto, however, this is what is at the very heart of society. It is the motto we are all (hopefully) being brought up with. Don’t do wrong. It is, I would pose, a fairly broadly supported smallest common denominator of society.

Back in the olden days, a true gentleman would be good for his word. He would stand up in the face of evil and would defend the poor and defenceless. Honourable. And men had to be responsible for their own actions and inactions. At its core, it is all about this:

Self-responsibility is the ability to respond yourself.

Then it all went South (or so said my late grandma).

Empowered Media

Grandma would be delighted though: for we are now in a position again where the straight-forward “man and his word” (and indeed woman, too) can be re-ignited. And the driver (or, in Peter Cashmore’s words, smoking gun) is a variety of newly empowered media.

Empowered media describes the causes and effects of what we are witnessing much better than “social”: digital media become empowered by the tools (devices, software, etc.) that can be deployed to help communication – of fact and opinion – from people to people. Period.

Distinct to the ancient past of newspapers, the number of people able to “publish” has vastly increased because the costs of doing so has decreased to virtually zero. The same is true for the receiving end (which can instantly also turn into a publishing side itself). Very powerful. Also a little intimidating maybe. Well, at least if you have a problem with anger management or need otherwise a broad shoulder to hide behind.

That broad shoulder, the “excuse” by reference to some foggy higher-ups, gods in the clouds, “superiors”, etc is being removed by the ability to record and report fairly accurate accounts of actions and inactions of basically everyone. It empowers everyone (including Ian) to respond: we just re-gained the ability to respond ourselves.

Mobile is the Most Empowered

Mobile is the most powerful tool in the armoury of digital media: it is with you at all times. It is switched on at all times. It is connected at all times (well, the new generation is anyway). It can record audio and video. It can transmit audio, video and text. And it’s yours, and yours alone. And whilst it is so personal, it opens a gateway to potentially 6bn people. That’s a lot of power.

And it’s in your hand!

Conference: Symbian Exchange & Exhibition

The conference formerly known as Symbian Smartphone Show (or something along those lines) is back this year as the Symbian Exchange & Exhibition (or SEE09). It kicks off this Tuesday in London’s Earl’s Court Exhibition Grounds and boasts a rather impressive line-up:

Jimmy Wales (Wikipedia Founder and one of TIME’s 100 most influential people) will be the headliner. There will be keynotes and panels with senior executives from the world’s leading vendors and carriers, including Nokia, IBM, Sony Ericsson, NTT DoCoMo, Vodafone, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, Samsung, as well as application pros from the BBC, Guardian, GetJar, Navteq and many, many more.

SEE09 is the world’s largest event for the Symbian platform, which is – even if recently often maligned – still the largest smartphone platform anywhere!

Attendance is FREE. You can register here (it’s not too late…).

I’ll be there, too, so please drop me a line if you want to meet for a coffee (or beer at the party – attendance of which is also FREE). See you in London this week then!

Glu Mobile: You only live Twice (or Thrice)

After Greg Ballard’s announced and Jill Braff’s fairly sudden exits and the persisting rumours of financial frailty, many were waiting for Glu Mobile to fall.

However, at least in revenue terms, they seem to be doing OK: according to reports, Deloitte has put them at #129 in the fastest-growing US technology firms in their “Technology 500” list. The results, alas, are based

on fiscal reports between 2004-2008, during which time Glu grew by 1,000 per cent.

All good but let us remind ourselves what happened in those years: Glu acquired Macrospace (which was founded by Kristian Segerstrale, now of Playfish fame), iPhone, Superscape, MIG (did I forget anyone?). They went public, splashed out on licenses (much to the dismay of competitors who often felt priced out of the market) and only just managed to achieve positive cash-flow in Q2/2009 (i.e. not in the period covered by Deloitte and on decreasing revenues and with negative US-GAAP results).

What does it tell us then? That this strategy worked in terms of revenue growth? Yes, certainly. And I have often paid tribute to that. That it is a good company in terms of putting its working capital to good use? This is – although I truly and sincerely wish them really well – at best doubtful. What more? Ah, well, that Deloitte’s Technology 500 list is probably as trustworthy as the banks they audited… Ouch, did I just say that?

Mary Meeker’s Iconic Economy & Internet Trends

Updated

I do not normally do this but when Mary Meeker, the iconic Morgan Stanley researcher, came up with her annual economy and Internet trends, this is too good to let it slip (and too voluminous to blog in detail), I had tried posting her presentation here. However, this was subsequently removed by Sribd (presumably) on Morgan Stanley’s behest, so no download anymore, I’m afraid.

A (shortened?) or just another version is here though. Mobile starts in earnest on slide 28 et seq. Enjoy!

Carnival of the Mobilists # 196

The Carnival of the Mobilists is hosted this week over at “A Consuming Experience” and deals with handsets, learning, Amazon’s recent entry into mobile payments (on which I also blogged here) as well as an excellent post from Ajit Jaokar expanding on a talk he gave at CTIA (which I sadly missed). Go there, read it and become a better person… 😉 It’s here.

Spotify Mobile: 3UK bundles with HTC Hero

A couple of weeks ago, I pondered Spotify’s impact on music business models and suggested that mobile may have a role to play in the monetization end of it (which is, unless you’re Twitter, an inherent part of a business model indeed). It didn’t take them long:

Today, the UK arm of 3 – always one of the more creative carriers – announced a handset (and not a bad one either) to be bundled with Spotify Premium (i.e. on the go and no ads): users will pay £99 up front, and then £35 a month for 24 months for a tariff including a Spotify Premium subscription covering both PC and mobile, 750 minutes voice calls, unlimited texts, data and Skype-to-Skype calls. Listen up: all bandwidth included. For a streaming service. Now we’re talking!

3 said that the Spotify Premium service was

worth £240

which suggests that they might want to stick to the £9.99 price point (which would surprise me). But then it is hard to tell which bit of such announcements is marketing and which actual price-setting for the sake of royalties and such like…

3 also said

that the deal with Spotify would extend to other products in the coming months, including 3’s mobile broadband service.

Again, I am curious about the price point: the way it is, it would be a nice marketing deal for Spotify but it could be said that not much was going for taking exactly that offer vs just signing up as it is already. A little discounted however (with the difference paid for by 3’s marketing department) might change the ball game altogether…

It’s all good though: I for one am truly intrigued by the prospect of having more than 6 million tracks (equating to, what?, 6 terabyte or so of music) on my phone!

And one little thing on the side: it is – again – an app and not the mobile web that they choose – in spite of bandwidth apparently not being an issue at all. It is thus another argument for the superiority (for the time being) of apps over mobile web when it comes to UI and input constraints.

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