Month: November 2010 (Page 1 of 2)

Handset Segments: Smart and Dumb? Or only Porsche and VW?

You hear it often (most recently by Average Jane): people who complain about unwanted features and complexities of mobile phones. And now here comes a company (not your ordinary OEM, mind you) who is bringing out just that: the ultimate dumbphone (I am referring to features not potential users). Meet John Doe’s new phone, the anti-smartphone: Dutch agency John Doe (sic!) premiered John’s Phone, which can do, well, make and receive phone calls. SMS? No. Address book? Yes, from paper with a pocket to stick it in at the back. Java? No. Apps? No. Anything other than making phone calls? No.

It is, I would posit, a luxury phone nonetheless, i.e. for people in countries where there is actually a choice of information and media sources. Alas, these countries (Western Europe, US, Japan) also are the countries with an ageing population and, judging by my own mum, they might well be fed up with all those fancy gimmicks they have absolutely no use for and, hence, yearn for simplicity (because, let’s face it, the fact of being reachable and able to make a call even when you’re out and about is intriguing, as demonstrated by the early success of phone booths).

The news highlights something I have been harping on about often and for a while (both in public and in private), and that is the fact that there is more than one market out there for phones (in much the same way that there are different segments for, say, cars). And whilst there are the Porsches of the mobile world (few models, high-end, high-priced), the Hyundais and Kias are often overlooked by the mobile afficionados and their attempts to read the crystal balls of mobile technology evolution. Porsche is (OK, was, prior to their misguided attempt to take over Volkswagen) the most profitable car maker in the world (as, incidentally, Apple is in the mobile space), Nokia and Samsung (and ZTE, and …) shift many more handsets. Who is better? Well, the answer is: this is the wrong question. Porsche and Kia do not serve the same segment and are, hence, not competing.

Nokia and Samsung could be described as the Volkswagen or Toyota of the mobile world: broad range of models attempting to also capture the high-end (Volkswagen through its Audi, Bentley, Bugatti ranges, Toyota with Lexus) and they do so with varying success (Bugatti and Bentley are, I believe, loss-making). However, they do it in any event with lesser margins than Porsche (it’s a distorted picture now that VW effectively owns Porsche but, hey). Again, is this good or bad? And the answer is again: neither.

When we bring this back to the larger discussion on Nokia’s demise (or not), we should probably just identify Nokia’s (alleged) problem on the high-end. Symbian might be high-powered VW but it is no Porsche. That will still leave the VW Golf as the top-seller in many countries though, meaning that and s40 and the likes might still be very viable (and appropriate!) platforms for large parts of the market. So not all might be lost. It is “just” that Nokia needs to look at the challenge of providing the broad range. And it might be worthwhile looking at VW as a comparison: they do share certain platforms but run Audi as a unit separately! And this is where Nokia differs. Might that be the solution?

As to John’s phone, I am not sure if South Park-esque icons appeal to the golden oldies but then, it either just might or (perhaps equally plausible) they might not even know South Park, which would be just as good. Will it shift? I doubt it. Why, you say? Because they don’t have the distribution of the Nokias and Samsungs of this world, that’s why (plus, it might be just too crude after all; or is that the geek-me?).

Thanks to @claireboo for the heads-up.

Carnival of the Mobilists # 243

This week’s Carnival of the Mobilists is up at Andy Farrell’s MobiThinking blog, and it’s a big one this time. Andy assembled intriguing posts from contributors old and – more importantly – new, including pieces on:

  • Mobile music
  • Phones to improve health
  • How mobile operators struggle to own the social graph
  • an interview with the MMA’s Michael Becker on brands and consumers
  • mobile commerce and fragmentation
  • smartphone platforms (posts on Nokia/Symbian, Android and Windows Phone 7)
  • and, finally, also my post on the thorny path for movie licenses on the iPhone.

As always, a very worthwhile read. Go and check the posts!

If you want to contribute to future editions of the Carnival, please provide a link to the post you want to be considered to

Mary Meeker’s Wisdom, 2010 Edition

Every year at Web 2.0, Morgan Stanley analyst Mary Meeker unveils her Internet Trends. I will not rattle down the entire list (the briefest of brief summaries over here at TechCrunch) but one thing that is really noteworthy as compared to last year’s edition (which I briefly covered here) is that mobile takes centre stage: in 2009, she started covering mobile in earnest on pages 28 et seq. This year, it is topic # 2 (but even topic #1 [Globality] has more than 50% mobile in it).

Now, the learned readers of this blog have (I suspect) known this all along but it is good to see that one of the more influential analysts of the web at large “decrees” this on the Web 2.0 (sic!) stage, too.

And it is of course blindingly obvious: large parts of the world leapfrog the desktop Internet simply because they do not have access to desktops. The access instrument of choice is mobile. And these parts of the world just happen to be the ones where most of the growth occurs.

Incidentally, Meeker’s third point was social ecosystems. And there as well, we are seeing the huge impact of mobile. If you take Tencent, China’s IM/Social Networking solution of choice with a whopping 637m active IM users, and compare that with the Chinese Internet users (384m), we have a delta of 250m people who are accessing this via mobile. Just like that… Again, it is not that surprising: after all, mobile is – by design – the most personal digital medium we have ever had and when this coincides (as it does) with it being the prime access for digital content bar none, you create a very powerful mix indeed. And this will not be constrained to the somewhat crude experiences of feature phone WAP browsers either: in 2011, we will see smartphone penetration breezing past the PC size (desktop and laptops alike). It is mobile, mobile, mobile!

If you want to have a read through the presentation, you find it here.

Social Gaming Summit (Slides)

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of delivering a talk at the Social Gaming Summit in London (which was fun even though it was at Chelsea FC…). Given that the audience was fairly clued up on all things social, I was focusing a little more on the mobile side of things – highlighting market sizes, roll-out speeds and platform risks (and opportunities!).

Here’s the deck, I hope you enjoy it:

Conference: Social Gaming Summit, London

Sometimes, the good things come quickly and without much fanfare. Tomorrow (that’s 11 November), the Social Gaming Summit will open its doors at the Stamford Bridge home of Chelsea Football Club in London. And  I will talk about how to bring the social element into the mobile sphere (and, yes, regular readers of this blog will be rather familiar with my stance on this).

So if you fancy a trip to Fulham to hear from the social games gurus from Playfish, Facebook, Playdom, RockYou, PopCap, etc, etc, please come along (a full speaker list is here). It is a tremendous line-up and should be tons of fun!

The conference programme is here and you can sign up here.

Handset Rankings: Apple moving up

Both Gartner and IDC have recently published their handset rankings for Q3/2010, and both have Apple moving into the #4 spot globally. That is impressive, as this is not measuring smartphones but all phones, and it is not measuring North America and Western Europe but the world.

In Smartphone-only terms, Apple has leapfrogged RIM into the #2 slot.

On a platform-basis, Apple’s iOS is now #3 behind Symbian and Android but ahead of RIM’s proprietary Blackberry OS.

Interestingly, IDC has the rankings identically but the market shares of the leading players lower, which would suggest a higher share of the “others” (which is probably unduly diminutive for such companies like Motorola, HTC or Sony Ericsson).

IDC’s smartphone numbers are here.

The Mobile Landscape: It will all change. Or will it?

Recently, previously civilized and subtle top executives of the world’s big mobile handset makers took the gloves off and became, well, a little more outspoken. What sticks from this is, of course, always only the most figurative snippets. Because all of these esteemed people have the most vested of all vested interests, their statements tend to distort reality a little. And because of that, we have increasingly lively debates at hand. But, alas, these debates may not necessarily lead to enlightenment.

So I thought I undertake a little mapping exercise and see where we end up…

The War of Words

I don’t know who started this. But we have had a couple of outbursts recently. Nokia’s soon to be former smartphone maestro Anssi Vanjoki (of nGage and other fame) likened switching to Android to boys who pee in their pants for warmth in winter. What he wanted to say is that it gets worse after brief relief. Apple supremo Steve Jobs sees no one (and in particular not RIM) getting anywhere near his beautiful iPhones anytime soon (he probably has not forgotten Mike Lazaridis riposte to the iPhone 4’s Antennagate). Others are convinced that Apple cannot beat Android. Period. Everyone wonders what Nokia will come up with (and, no, we do not think the N8 is it). Etc, etc, etc.

A Lot of Little Worlds

When one looks at the world map and then listens to the good folks cited above (and others), it appears that there is not one but many little worlds out there. Nokia is sitting high and dry in overall handset rankings with over 35% market share across all handsets. It is estimated to ship more than 500m handsets in 2011, too (so hold back with your obituary just yet). However, it is nowhere to be seen in the US (and even less in US smartphones where it is fighting a close fight with Palm around the 4-5% mark). Samsung (one of the few big boys not to participate in the above bickering) is building out its #2 spot with around 20% market share. Apple is well behind (although recording fairly impressive numbers given that it is basically a single handset company).

Does this matter in the discussion who is “winning”? No, it does not. An iPhone is useless if you are in an emerging (or developing) country with no 3G coverage and no abundance of power outlets from where to re-charge your fancy beauty every 8-12 hours or so. On the other end of the spectrum, a Nokia 1100 is useless if you would like to navigate on your handset through the urban jungle of Manhattan whilst shooting photos for the ones at home. But it runs forever, doesn’t mind a bit of sand or water and will never ever break. Ever.

The point is that there is more than one market here. The market is not mobile phones. The market is not even smartphones. There are many. And in some of them, Apple is looking really weak. And in others, Nokia is looking really weak.

Single Segment vs. Multi-Segment

Nokia’s strength (and, to an extent, curse) is that it wants to be everything to everyone. The N8 is a great handset from a hardware perspective but, after having played around with it for a week or so, I think it has a distinct 3-years-ago feel to it. It makes great phone calls though (which, well, the iPhone does not always). However, will Apple be able to challenge Nokia (and Samsung) in the broad lower-end mass market? Not for a long time, I would say.

The situation is a little more serious for other single-segment OEM. RIM used to live off the fat of the land in the enterprise sector. And it continues to thrive there. In recent years, it has seen a huge upswing amongst kids – because of the now almost legendary BBM (Blackberry Messenger for the uninformed). However, can you successfully build or expand on a single feature? And then on one that could really also be mimicked, worked around or substituted by something similar? Tricky.

Tricky in a different way is the situation for the likes of Motorola, HTC or Sony Ericsson: they have all committed their life to the Android platform. With Google’s muscle in the Open Handset Alliance, this means that they depend more and more on hardware design only. It feels a little like the movie business: hit-driven. And that is a tricky situation to be in. HTC looks good at this: this is home turf for it. On top of this, it has quickly started to try some gentle steps to distinguish itself (HTC Sense; Google Nexus One, etc) from other Android makers. Motorola’s Blur was less successful initially. And Sony Ericsson has yet to show its hand.

Vertically Integrated vs. Multi-OEM

All this does of course not bother Android (and perhaps also Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7) as they have the advantage of being able to bringing many weapons to the battlefield. Android’s huge advantage is one of price due to its open-source nature: For Windows Phone 7, you need to pay a software license. Android is – basically – free. Both have multiple OEM that fight their corner though. Which is, or at least can be, good. Google will not really care if the next killer phone is produced by HTC or Motorola or Sony Ericsson (or Foxconn directly for that matter).

Apple will likely struggle to match the sheer number of iterations being thrown at it. And therefore it is likely that Android will be winning, or rather continue to win.

Does this matter much to Apple? Possibly not. The margin discussion will, in all likelihood, be one that Apple execs will happily take. They will look better at it. However, will it manage to break the old Mac vs. PC pattern? Probably not. However, Apple’s position looks much brighter than it did in the decades of 5% OS-share mediocrity. The company has perfected the hardware-software-service-sex-appeal equation, which looks likely to cement a much more comfortable niche for it (just have a look at its market cap).

Vertically Integrated Multi-Segment

Nokia and Samsung try (or seem to try) a different way. Nokia is betting on MeeGo (its Symbian support sounds more and more hollow by the day). Samsung, which traditionally bet on almost every horse, made a big push for its proprietary bada OS.

This approach could be a winner: with their strong grip on emerging markets and the ability to roll out a proprietary OS across multiple segments, it presents an opportunity to nurture users in emerging markets (where the real growth will be in the next 5 years) into the use of their respective ecosystems. It did pay off for Nokia the first time around!

The Real Battlefield

In the more saturated markets in the Northern hemisphere though the battlefield is likely to be one involving OEM and network operators. This is where Apple really shook up the markets. A lot of the revenue streams from the iPhone simply bypass carriers. The Android OS opens similar avenues. The reason why Apple managed to pull this off is likely to be seen in the branding side of things: it enjoys such pulling power that carriers were bending over backwards to get their hands onto it (and then of course started moaning about the strain on their networks). Android is now being positioned as the alternative. At least, carriers can put competing offers onto Android devices.

Now, in markets where handset purchases are also driven by the overall package (cf. my recent post on this), this is likely to be important.

Nokia, Motorola, RIM, Samsung, etc all enjoy good distribution relationships with carriers. Apple is in a special position because of a) its brand but also b) its price; not much flexibility here, I suspect.

Nokia for instance struggled however to assert itself with some further-reaching ideas it had: some carriers pushed it back over e.g. plans to put Skype onto its handsets. It apparently has less brand power than Apple. Or the carriers were more used to having a say over what gets onto its handsets and what doesn’t.

Conclusion: We don’t Know What We don’t Know

We are, hence, in essence still in a fairly foggy situation: other than Apple’s brand power, we really don’t know as yet what, who, how will prevail. And that is in itself good news. Because it means we will have some time left with competing concepts, competing OEM and competing approaches. And with more CEO banter of course…

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