Tag: LiMo Foundation (Page 1 of 2)

App Store Fragmentation: Vodafone & Android

It’s been looming and was long expected but today Vodafone announced it would embed its Vodafone 360 app store on two Android devices next to Android Market. Vodafone says their store would give partners a richer retailing experience than Android Market – but then they would say that, wouldn’t they?

But cheap puns aside, the move does have some legs: Vodafone uses Qualcomm’s Xiam personalisation engine, which provides recommendations based on user behaviour. They claim – and you may have heard that before in any number of my talks – that recommendations are a much stronger driver than promotions, stronger by a level of 4x to be exact. This ties in with my preachings: nearly 3/4 of all purchasing decisions (not only mobile, all of them!) are made on the recommendation of friends. And, alas, this is where “user behaviour” as the applicable pattern comes short: do I care how many, say, Amazon buyers of Grisham novels are also buying other authors’ crime thrillers? No. Why not? Because I don’t know these people. Do I care what my friends may think I like? You bet! Why? Because they know me and my tastes. Doh!

Anyway, back to Vodafone. They have realised (and, credit to them, admit it!) that a vertical implementation where you only get the full scope of 360 services if you have one of two phones doesn’t work. And, well, that’s somewhat obvious, isn’t it? Or is it a reasonable assumption that all my friends will all of a sudden (and at the same time) exchange their various handsets for a Samsung M1? No, I thought not either.

Vodafone did divulge a little data sniplet that must encourage them though, and that is that 360 customers have a 3x higher ARPU than others. If you look at the above (recommendations, friends, etc), that is not completely surprising. So now the next hurdle is to roll it out across their whole range of handsets. And let’s face it: a simple store won’t cut that on its own. Going cross-platform also means that – depending which handset you fancy – you may find different app stores of differing attraction competing with Vodafone’s own for attention (e.g. does Nokia’s Ovi offering seem to have more traction than, say, Blackberry App World but the latter has – from a publisher’s perspective – vastly superior price levels). All in all pretty sub-optimal, I think.

On a sideline: I will be moderating a panel on “How to Make Money as a Developer” this week at Mobile 2.0 Europe in Barcelona and I will be having the immense pleasure of having two operators on the panel (Orange and Telefonica-O2) as well as Microsoft (representing the OS side). This Vodafone announcement highlights some of the challenges the industry is facing. Interesting times!

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?

More Fragmentation: Android & Motorola’s Motoblur

A new round of fragmentation looms. It is something I have been fearing for a while now: that OEM (and carriers) would make use of the open source of the likes of Android and LiMo to produce their very own flavour of apps. So after Vodafone’s 360 announcement (with customized LiMo storefronts, etc), Motorola announced so-called “signature apps” from a number of developers that are all delivered through Motorola’s new “Motoblur” user interface, which

is based on the Google-backed Android platform for mobile systems. Motorola [will] offer an additional SDK for its APIs beyond what is available for Android.

And then it said that

Over a period of time–we’re not there yet–we’ll allow the APIs to be available so people can develop many more applications than we can think of ourselves, but it’ll take us a little bit of time to mature ourselves to a place that we could open up APIs.

Ouch. An additional SDK. Which is not yet there yet. Whilst the Motoblur UI looks actually quite nice, this sounds suspiciously like another round of walled gardens, onerous internal and external QA, fragmentation and pretty much a fall back into the traps of the J2ME uber-customized world where one needs to support hundreds of devices for a commercial roll-out (with the trouble of course being that, all too often, that work meant that it would no longer be commercially very sensible). Oh dear…

It makes one want to call out for a quick advancement of HTML5 with Gears and all, so that one won’t need apps after all. The issue of connectivity and usability, etc would of course still be there. Such despair…

Vodafone 360: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

After much huffing and puffing, Vodafone unveiled yesterday what everyone had been waiting for for months and months: its new Vodafone 360 concept, which will replace Vodafone Live! It launches on – drumroll – LiMo-OS Linux phones from Samsung with touchscreen and GPS and, for the H1, AMOLED display (yum!), WiFi, HSDPA, etc, etc, etc. and also supports a fairly big range of Nokia (not on the N97 though!) and Sony Ericsson devices (although, judging by the screenshots, it doesn’t look as sexy on those).

The 360 thing is, according to the press release

a brand new set of internet services for the mobile and PC which gathers all of a customer’s friends, communities, entertainment and personal favourites (like music, games, photos and video) in one place.

It has an address book with nodes into Facebook, IM (Windows and Google) and will “soon” also cover Twitter, Hyves and StudiVZ (the German Facebook clone). Two tailor-made (!) handsets that use a proprietary (!) interface based on LiMo’s release 2 mobile Linux OS. Users can create groups across different networks (which is very neat!), an app store with 1,000 apps at launch (no word so far what this comprises) and syncing with your computer.

So is this the big thing then? Here’s the good, the bad and the ugly:

The Good

  • The service reaches out. It acknowledges (this is a big step for most carriers!) that users have a life outside their carrier. Facebook, Live Messenger and Google Talk are a bit thin, I’d say, but let’s cut them some slack; the others will follow.
  • It has a couple of neat twists built-in: I mentioned a few above but there is also a feature that uses some spooky thing called the “Vodafone’s proximity algorythm” and which basically automatically favourites your most-loved people: the most frequently contacted people (like your mom?) come closer to the front.
  • At least on the custom-built devices, it looks much better than previous attempts by carriers to make something look and feel a little more user-friendly.
  • I hear that the whole widget-thing should be really neat. Now, I haven’t seen any of it as yet but the concept sounds good.
  • It works across different operating systems (at least LiMo and Symbian).

As a funny side remark, the PR blurb points out that

The beauty of Vodafone 360 is that all the services work together and they are easy to use.

So they weren’t before, huh? 😉 — sorry, couldn’t resist…

The Bad

Some commentators mentioned that the cloud-hosted address book and generally aggregation of contacts, networks etc through a provider rather than through the handset would tie people to the provider more closely (which might not actually be anything Vodafone would object to). I am not sure how tough it would really be (as you have your computer back-up), so easy on that.

It is still very much a closed-circuit affair: It is Vodafone and no one else. It is proprietary, tailor-made and not open. This is not good (and, yes, I know that the oft-cited iPhone is proprietary and tailor-made, too). Alas, its applications are not – unless your name is Spotify; then it takes a little longer… 😉

The Ugly

The underlying proprietary thinking is nothing I can see working longer term. In a world that is (Vodafone press speak)

a substantiator of Vodafone’s new brand expression – ‘power to you’ – which is focused on putting the customer in control and enabling simple and easy to manage communications, both mobile and fixed

this is also a little bit of a contradiction.

But I will say that it seems to be the nicest operator-built environment I have seen so far. And for this to come from the world’s largest operator is no mean feat and might actually yield some results. Go on, guys, tweak it, improve it, show us!

Qualcomm slowly admitting defeat?

I know this is a contentious headline but one could interpret the news that Qualcomm is opening its very own app store (which is probably the oldest one!) to any device on any platform on any carrier this way. The provider will open its Plaza service to non-BREW devices (BREW is proprietary to Qualcomm). This could be seen as an admission of defeat in the platform war, which it appears to be losing against GSM platforms.

However, I plead to see the bright side of this: it is a remarkable move to highlight and capitalize on a piece in its arsenal that has long been industry-leading: Qualcomm has long been offering merchandising solutions that do not have to shy away of the cutting-edge app stores of today. The new Plaza Retail will now bring to Java, BREW, Blackberry and Flash (Android , Windows Mobile, Palm, Symbian and Linux Mobile are apparently to follow) what BREW users have had for a while: a storefront, great device integration and flexible billing (micro-billing, subscriptions, etc). It also allows personalization and a recommendation engine (courtesy of last year’s acquisition of Xiam Technologies). And it is a very proven platform that has showed its worth on many a bill to developers (the content-lock is much better than Apples; which may anger some users but will be welcomed by developers) This is quite cool!

The Others: Where Android, Symbian & LiMo are

The title of this post is not meant in any way derogatory but with all the hype about the iPhone it is sometimes easy to forget that we are talking about a niche product that will probably remain a niche product (albeit a powerful and cool one!). In the rest of the world (feature phones aside), a few consortia are fighting for the open-source market, which is – let’s face it – a considerably larger piece than the small premium segment served by Apple.

So, where were we? There is the LiMo Foundation, which is onto establishing a mobile Linux standard. There is the Symbian Foundation and there is Android, a Linux-based OS from the Open Handset Alliance led by Google. One by one then:
LiMo Foundation

LiMo boasts a membership based comprised of the Who’s Who in mobile. Powerhouses from around the world like Vodafone, Orange,
Verizon Wireless, NTT DoCoMo, Telefonica, SFR, TIM and SK Telecom, Samsung, NEC, LG, Panasonic, Huawei, Motorola, and ZTE (and quite a few more) are all in there. LiMo has released an SDK a while ago. Now though, they decided that enough is enough and that the world should know that their OS was actually making headway. In 2009, there will be new handsets based on LiMo’s s
tandards released by Orange, Telefonica, Vodafone, NTT DoCoMo, SK Telecom and Verizon Wireless. Now, that’s a statement. Non-phone devices are in the works, they say…
There are already more than 20 LiMo phones out there (without very many people having realized it). They include such mundane devices like Motorola’s U9, ROKR EM30, ROKR Z6 and ROKR E8 as well as the RAZR2. Panasonic and NEC pboth produced a whole raft of devices for NTT DoCoMo. See here for a list of available phones.

Symbian of course is coming from a differen
t mould: having been (co-)owned by Nokia for, like, ever, there are already over 200m devices running on its OS. After going open-source, they are working on consolidating the sister formats S60, UIQ and MOAP(S) now into one. Membership-wise, they’re not doing badly either: they target to having more than 100 members by year-end. Membership with them is only $1,500 p.a. It remains to be seen to what extent they will extend their handset footprint beyond Nokia though. Little has been heard so far…

Both foundations felt compelled to state their cause, also in response to Eric Schmidt’s continued mantra that 2009 will be very, very strong for Android. The Open Handset Alliance had gone off to a well-publicized start with the T-Mobile G1. They recently announced that it had sold 1m devices (regarding which some people pointed out that Apple shipped as many iPhones on the first weekend), and are now gearing up more devices for launch (Vodafone got its hands on the HTC Magic). Samsung, LG, HTC and Sony Ericsson have all announced Android devices this year, and the first Samsung (I7500) has just been officially confirmed.
Multiple Membership
Wait a minute? Samsung? Weren’t they part of the LiMo foundation? Well, yes, and that is part of the problem: a lot of the big players have their fingers in all the pies (and why should they not?). This is favouring Apple since they are a single organization producing hardware and software. It could also be argued that it is favouring Android because Google throws so much marketing and PR behind it. However, maybe not. The big OEMs and the big carriers all work according to their own agenda. And this might very well be a very different one to Eric Schmidt’s: to an OEM, production cost, stability and versatility without impacting standardization are key. To a carrier, a lot will (also) ride on the ability to customize the handset so as to give it a distinct branded feel. Less PR from someone like Google makes it easier to them to focus on their own brand.
So: rock-solid, clean code, transparent and clear SDKs, no hidden hooks will mean that a lot of the feature phones that create the vast majority of handset sales (even if sales of the “classic” J2ME ones had been declining in 2008 when compared to smartphones) will quite possibly see a larger and larger move towards the open platforms. It makes it cheaper to produce and, with Apple having given the world the app store idea, content should flow in sooner or later. They “only” need to keep the standards, well, standard!
The iPhone is of course looming large, and it is the one device that has shown the old school of the telco world how 21-st-century marketing can impact market perception and sales. They have also all realized that this might actually be a very good thing, hence the eager discussions many are purported to be having on getting their hands on the next generation. However, last time I looked, the streets were not full of Porsche Boxsters either. Quite a few Hyundais, Fiats, Peugeots, BMWs, Volvos, well, you get it…

Carnival of the Mobilists #166

This week’s Carnival of the Mobilists is hosted by the formidable Caroline Lewko at WIP Jam. I am very happy to note that my latest post on Apple’s growing relevance as a gaming platform is included in last week’s line-up. For the remainder, there’s stuff on LiMo (for some background on where they came from see here) and some very worthwhile piece on mobile marketing amongst much more. And now go to read it here!

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