Month: November 2009 (Page 1 of 2)

Carnival of the Mobilists # 201

Here’s this week’s Carnival of the Mobilists (its 201st iteration in fact). This week, the Carnival is hosted over at Phil Barrett’s Burning the Bacon blog, and he has lots of goodies to share, including my own post showing an example of why Nokia struggles. Besides this, you will find posts on:

  • Android-based tablets
  • Droid taking out a bite on RIM (or will it?)
  • a nice post on the ubiquity of SMS and
  • NFC (near-field communication for you ignorant ones… 😉

Go now and give it a good read. You’ll find the carnival here.

Conference: Mobile 2.0, Berlin

It is conference season and one of the more exciting ones kicks off in Berlin this week: Mobile 2.0 opens its gates on Tuesday and boasts an exceptional line-up to look at the future of mobile.

The very, very high-profile set-up of speakers includes:

  • Olivier Laury, Content Director, Bouygues Telecom
  • Jonathan MacDonald, Managing Director, JMA
  • Damien Byrne, Head of Entertainment, T-Mobile
  • Mark Curtis, CEO, Flirtomatic
  • Amer Hasan, Sr Manager Apps & Developer Programms, Vodafone Group
  • Alistair Hill, Analyst, Comscore
  • Antoine Vince Stabyl, CEO, ItsMy.com
  • Romi Parmar, CEO, The 3G Dating Agency
  • Olaf Kroll, Director Business Development Europe, MySpace
  • Chris Wade, CEO, Shozu
  • Antony Beswick, Global Strategic Product Manager Social Networking, Ericsson
  • Stefanie Hoffmann, Founder Aka-Aki
  • Jonathan Medved, CEO, Vringo
  • Mo Firouzabadian, Global Business Line Director – Carrier Solutions, Buongiorno
  • Ilja Laurs, CEO GetJar

and many, many more, including, yes, yours truly (I’ll be on two panels, namely on the succinctly titled panel on “redefining the mobile content marketplace: exploring the growth, development and industry implications of mobile app stores” and on “building strategies around the drivers of innovation in mobile web 2.0”).

You can register here, and, believe me, it’ll be worth it. It is an exciting topic with top speakers in an exciting city. Make your way over and join us!

See you all in Berlin! Ping me on Twitter (@vhirsch) if you want to get in touch.

Good bye Symbian?

First, Samsung announced it would drop Symbian from its smartphones in 2010 in favour of its new, home-brew bada OS. Then Nokia said it would drop Symbian (albeit not immediately) from its flagship N-series devices replacing it with Maemo, the OS that premiered on a Nokia device on the recently released geek dream, the N900.

It is said that there are

no current plans for Maemo devices in the […] X-Series range or the popular [?] E-Series enterprise range

but the word “current” suggests that this might well change soon, too.

This would leave Symbian without its two largest OEM supporters. Will there still be a future for it?

Symbian of course boasts a still very impressive number of legacy devices, and it will therefore be here for a while. However, what does the long-term outlook look like? Android, LiMo, etc all “boast” a nimbler, more agile set-up, allowing for faster development and, arguably, better user experience. This is not necessarily Symbian’s fault (it carries with it its legacy around) but it makes it that much harder for it to reinvent itself.

I am not sure if there is place (and – timewise – the runway) to reinvent itself without the backing of big OEMs. I would be surprised if carriers would use it; they – even more than OEM – require adaptability and customization, which the newer platforms seem better suited to serve. Vodafone’s choice of LiMo for their first two Vodafone 360 devices is testament to that.

The ever-bright Tomi Ahonen suggested a comparison with DOS/Windows and MacOS: he compares Symbian to DOS, Maemo to Windows and iPhone to MacOS: MacOS led in UI and leads to this day. DOS outsold MacOS in spite of its dramatic inferiority because of the legacy instal base. Windows then overlaid DOS and rolled out on all the legacy devices with MacOS, as a result, always playing second fiddle despite its superiority.

The market place in mobile looks different though: DOS was nigh dominant (outside the mainframe and large enterprise side of things) whereas Symbian “only” covers about 5% of the current market. It is big but probably not big enough to bridge the DOS/Windows migration gap. With Android, Blackberry, Windows Mobile, LiMo, JavaFX (if that ever takes of properly), etc all on the map, too, the situation is very different to the DOS/Windows/MacOS world. Would Nokia be quicker in execution, I might still look at it differently but, unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be that way.

So is it good bye, Symbian, then?

An Example Why Nokia Struggles

Yesterday, Nokia announced the “Nokia 5330 Mobile TV Edition”,

“an entertainment hub that combines mobile broadcast TV (DVB-H), social networking, music and gaming in one compact 3G device.”

Let that sink in: it is – apparently – not a phone. Mentioned nowhere. Well, it is of course but one might ponder if that is the message you want to get across. Focus?

Be not mistaken though, it offers some rather incredible specs: a full six hours (!) of mobile TV broadcast without re-charge. That is 3 football (my US readers, scil. soccer) matches (although I am not sure where, when and why one would do that). Compare that to the iPhone where you could watch maybe 30 minutes of highlights IF you have downloaded the respective clips when you were in a WiFi zone last. The headset doubles as an antenna.

QVGA on a 2.4″ screen, 3.2 megapixel camera (presumably with the trusty Carl Zeiss lenses, LED flash, video, free music via the “Comes with Music” service. It also says (well in the punchy headline above anyway) that it will also have specific gaming capabilities.

Phone calls? That is so last year… It is not a phone, it is an entertainment hub, baby!

The device but even more so the press release exemplify the challenges Nokia faces. It is not the technology; the Fins are good at that. It is not distribution network; they have excellent carrier relationships the world over. But the package and its presentation makes it almost anti-climactic – and probably unfairly so because the thing does even look pretty neat!

Now, if one needs TV broadcast is a discussion all by itself (the fact that you can set reminders “to make sure key episodes aren’t missed” sounds almost quaint in the age of TiVo and the iPhone’s Sky+ app).

But even apart from this, it is an example that demonstrates the approach: Nokia tries to answer calls querying its continued leadership by building monolithic technology beacons. But that is not why users flog to the iPhone; they merely want something that looks good and works beautifully. Dear Nokia, IF you equip a phone (a phone, not a multimedia hub!) with every gadget under the sun, this is cool – it really is! But do not sell it on technology, sell on user experiences. Users do not generally care much for tech talk (well, maybe some boy racers and hardcore coders do), they care for ease. Give them ease!

Apple’s overriding design goal is (and has been for a while) to de-clutter the user environment and experience. Then they execute nicely on it. That is what makes them so superb. Try to emulate this. You have all the tools. Now get the pitch right, will you?

Android 2.0 a Motorola Exclusive???

There have been reports (referred to by this here) pondering if Motorola grabbed an “exclusive” deal with the Google-led Open Handset Alliance for Android 2.0 on its Droid (or, in Europe et al, Milestone) handset. There does not appear to being any formal confirmation of this but it was mentioned that, anecdotally, other vendors (and fellow members of the Open Handset Alliance) like HTC, LG, Kyocera and Samsung were still deploying version 1.5.

They quoted industry analyst Ross Rubin as to why Android 2.0 debuted on a Motorola device:

[…] There could be several reasons. Verizon’s subscriber strength and more direct competition with AT&T and the iPhone may have led it to push for Android 2.0 to be more competitive. Or it could be simple product development timetables. Moving forward, HTC will want to put its Sense user experience on top of Android 2.0, which requires development time. Google wants a healthy Android ecosystem and a competitive Motorola contributes to that.

The article went on to refer to the respective releases for 1.0 and 1.5 (both to HTC). However, one might argue that, for the first two releases, there was not much harm done in working more closely with HTC as they were the front-runners on deploying an Android phone, so that the concerted marketing buzz etc might have been justified. However, now that there is a large number of vendors deploying, one might query the compliance of the term “open source” with such exclusivity arrangements.

It also highlights the dominance Google has in the Open Handset Alliance which might, longer-term, lead to assertions that Google is in fact using the open source road as a cover to push what is effectively an OS largely driven by them. I am not implying that it is and a healthy ecosystem with multiple strong is important in particular for the launch of a new OS in a space so full of powerful multi-nationals but there is a fine line to walk in order to get it right.

GiffGaff: A People-Powered MVNO

We live in a world where sharing has become an It-word. Contribution, engagement have all fast become pinnacles of every marketing expert’s arsenal.

And now O2, not always famous for the radical and new, has taken this concept, embraced it, turbo-charged it and took it to a whole new level. Enter: giffgaff (fashionable with no upper case). giffgaff is the world’s first people-powered MVNO (or “mobile service” as it calls itself), owned by O2 but apparently independently run. Here’s how it works (or supposed to work):

The network is a good (?) old-fashioned solid one, namely from O2. But that’s where it ends. Sales, marketing, customer service, brand development and the general business decisions will apparently all be made (or at least proposed or advised on) by giffgaff’s own users. I already found an entry in its forum calling for users calling for two rotating board-seats for users (though that will probably remain to be seen). giffgaff does have a gaffer (CEO in old-fashioned corporate speak) with a back-room (management team) overseeing the whole thing (and that team, according to early commentators who have met them, seem to be for real). The service appears to run on a SIM-only model and aims for “simple” tariffs that include voice, text and data (mobile web without restrictions).

The prices for the service should be significantly lower because there are no armies of marketers, sales professionals, account managers, customer service representatives, customer service managers, etc, etc – or at least much less of them. At the same time, the “sharing is caring” credo has shown its power and quality in many ways on the web so far (and with giffgaff people will apparently earn rebates if they contribute). And in particular on customer service it should be easy to beat virtually any carrier hands down, shouldn’t it?

So will it work? I think it would be wonderful if it would. I am not sure though if this experiment will be a massive success (maybe a small success is good enough anyway). And the reason for this is power law distribution: only very, very few people contribute significantly (Clay Shirky gives a wealth of examples) and most people contribute hardly anything (the question would then be if the rebates are enough to break that mould). Whilst this works well with something like Wikipedia, I am not sure if a user of giffgaff would be all too happy to wait however long it takes for a member of the community to answer his/her particular query, at least not if it concerns some core functionality. Such a user would arguably be disappointed and thus relatively quickly discouraged. Which would be the end of him/her as a user of the service. Which would be not so good.

I would be more than thrilled if they would pull it off. And I will clap and shout for them. It would really be a whole new level of sharing. Go on, guys!!!

What about this Dell Phone?

Dell, after a lot of denials, finally confirmed release of its first smartphone, the Dell Mini 3. The device will run on Android (as well as on China Mobile’s specific Android flavour, called OPhone) and features a 3.5” touchscreen. Otherwise? Erm, not much known. No WiFi for China to be sure, at least not at the start.

In a move that was ridiculed by some, Dell chose China Mobile and Claro Brasil as its first partners to distribute it. Some sources suggested this may be “crazy” but I am wondering why that is so? Because it’s not – no offence – Idaho? China Mobile has 508m subscribers, that is 200m more than the population of the US. Claro has 28m subscribers in Brazil, its holding company America Movil has 194.3m subscribers. That’s not shabby! And there is larger growth potential in these markets, too. The raised eyebrows may simply come from the fact that this is (or at least appears to be) the first time that a US vendor chose emerging markets as its launch territories. I would suggest that this is only the beginning: it is these markets where the large majority of user growth resides. Good move that.

Now to the more critical points, and a small one at first: They could have done better on the marketing. Apple shows everyone how it’s done: come out with a bang and woe them. I do not think there is a need to outperform competitors on the technical side but a strong launch allows you to tell your story rather than leave it to a plethora of commentators to pave the way.

The larger question will be if and what the Dell smartphones offer that others don’t. Will a Dell phone connect more seamlessly with a Dell computer (or any computer for that matter?). Will it have some nifty little features that have the power to make a difference? Never mind that Michael Dell may not have the coolness factor of Steve Jobs; that’s fine. But will the devices be good? Dell has shown it can do it (with its PDA Axim that of course died together with the rest of the market). The smartphone market is only starting to evolve, so the timing might be better this time. Let’s see…

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