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…
Did you know about Vodafone’s Flipfont app? No, I didn’t think so; it seems to have gone more or less unnoticed. Well, it allows you to – listen to this – customise your phone frontpage. Woah! How cool is that? The downside? Well, you need to pay £1.99 for the pleasure, per screen! I don’t think so… And, apparently, (now) so does Vodafone. Amidst the iPhone/AppStore rage and the “revelation” that UI might actually matter to people, they seem to have realized that changing a font will not necessarily change the uptake of consumption to new levels. And because they cannot have the iPhone (although it has the Blackberry Storm, which is performing much better than the initial damning reviews would have suggested), they will launch their very own app store, or so they said (if you read Dutch, that is; how nice that we have a Dutch blogger amongst us who translated it for us).
“If you think of three players, China Mobile is very strong in China; it’s a big country. Vodafone is very strong in Europe, Africa, India. Verizon is very strong in the US.“If these three companies could work more closely… in the management of customers, procurement and service creation, we could be unbeatable, quite frankly.”
And the winner is… China Mobile. Hard to guess, huh? Some research shows that the Chinese carrier’s brand is worth $30.79bn. Vodafone and Verizon took the other spots on the podium. The top 10 is below (courtesy of the good folks at telecoms.com). And for some (by now a little outdated) comparison for how they rank amongst other industries, see here.
|China Mobile||China Mobile||China||Asia||30,793|
|3||Verizon||Verizon Communications||US||North America||20,382|
|7||NTT DoCoMo||NTT DoCoMo||Japan||Asia||14,871|
|10||Sprint||Sprint Nextel||US||North America||9,661|
The theme starts becoming lame, I know (and I herewith promise to look for new semi-funny references to Steve Jobs). However: if the world’s largest operator by subscribers changes its dress culture, that is to say swaps from a tightly controlled walled garden to a free store concept, that surely merits this. So, without further ado: China Mobile plans to launch its very own AppStore. Its Chairman & CEO Wang Jianzhou (who was, I think, not sighted in Mr Job’s favourite garment) announced this at the GSMA Mobile Asia Congress in Macau. Now, with a whopping 436.1m subscribers, this opens fairly interesting vistas for mobile content – if, yes if, one can hit Chinese taste, that is. They specifically cite Apple’s success with its iPhone as a trigger for them to do it. Truly impressive that a company so big would move so quickly.
So, no GPhone — yet. Google, with quite a number of partners, today announced the already much-rumoured “Open Handset Alliance” under which a Linux-based OS, nicknamed Android has been launched (the SDK will allegedly be available in a week’s time). Here’s a video explaining the deep thoughts of the creators (be quick: YouTube has removed it already…).
The whole industry had been waiting for this, and Google seems to have come up with a black-white thing: it goes back to its roots in open source but overlays it with Java, which has caused the content community a lot of headaches (every mobile phone translates it slightly differently, so one needs a gazillion ports). However, Google has teamed up with no less than 34 partners for the launch alone, including such giants as China Mobile, KDDI, Sprint Nextel, TIM, T-Mobile, Motorola (who seem to be dancing on a lot of weddings recently: UIQ and Linux Mobile are also on their plates), Samsung, HTC, Intel and eBay.
So what does it all mean? According to the members of the alliance, it will be better, bigger, faster for everyone: open source means more applications, less bugs and less cost. According to Google CEO Eric Schmidt, it is “a fresh approach to fostering innovation in the mobile industry will help shape a new computing environment that will change the way people access and share information in the future.” Commentators note that there is apparently one caveat: you’ll have to use Google for navigation. Now: does that bother anyone? Give me Internet on my phone on broadband speed and I happily surf with whoever gives it to me, I’d say. To enact a platform, supported by a lot of sector muscle, that makes the developers’ life easier should be good for everyone indeed as it will undoubtedly bring more usage. Traditionally, carriers feared for the consistency of the user experience. Apparently, Verizon and AT&T have already voiced such concerns also here although the explanation sounds defensive at best: they fear too much advertising. Would it be safe to say they rather fear loss of control?
Quite a few companies have tried to take on mobile as the next frontier and quite a few fared rather miserably on the complexities of the environment presented by the sector (Disney’s MVNO attempts, Infospace and a few others spring to mind). With Google’s might this might be about to change though. A fresh breeze and a unified development platform would, in any event, be a good thing.
Interesting though that, as in recent releases on OS-driven initiatives, Nokia is again absent. This is not promising any good in terms of unifying the landscape, it seems. However, both Linux Mobile (on which Android is apparently based) and Symbian (in which Nokia holds a huge stake and which it intends to make its platform of choice) are C++-based. And that would be easing development pains after all: much easier to deal with than the Java layers, which until now were statutory but might only be optional going forth.
UPDATE 7 Nov 2007: Nokia has said its participation in Android is “not ruled out at all”. It would work with it if it would see sense. Now, a convincing statement sounds differently but it IS noteworthy that the Finnish giant felt the need to comment on it so quickly.
Vodafone has lost 12% of its brand’s value, which is now “only” worth some $21 bn, says brand experts MillwardBrown. It’s brand value is dwarfed by China Mobile with a cool $41 bn, which makes it #1 amongst telecoms and #5 amongst all brands.
Who holds #1? Google (tempted to say “of course”) – the brand is valued at $66 bn and it recorded the highest value rise over the last year with 77%.
In telecoms, a notable mention must be Cingular, a brand that is being eliminated, which added 39% (the third highest climb overall) in value in 2006 and slots in as the 6th most valuable telecoms brand with AT&T, the brand that will replace it, nowhere in sight…