Tag: microsoft (Page 1 of 4)

Next-Gen Mobile Computing

So now I am no longer affiliated with a mobile platform provider, I can again afford to have a wider look at the world out there (publicly, that is), and how timely, huh? With Microsoft buying some of the remains of the once mighty Nokia and the iPhone 5S announcement, we have a bit to play with, I suppose.

Apple then? Are you underwhelmed? Hey, you can have it in blingy gold now, you know? Do you love the new design of iOS 7 (and, yes, we all know they “sought inspiration” from Windows, etc.)? Or do you turn away in disgust that the guys from Cupertino managed again to sprinkle pixie dust in their fanboys’ and girls’ eyes?

64 Bit and ARMv8

I tell you what, the (r)evolution sits elsewhere: I would posit that the switch to a 64 bit architecture plus iBeacon (see below) will have the biggest impact. Here’s why: the chip architecture (not only the 64 bit bit but also the ARMv8 stuff) offer some performance boosts today but, more importantly, set the stage for tomorrow: you can do a lot more with this (from RAM going over 4GB, to using Trustzone, ARM’s response to BlackBerry Balance – offering two virtual processors and hence “spaces” on one phone, so you can play Angry Birds on one side without your IT folks getting grey hair over compromising precious enterprise data on the other). But it also sets the stage for using your phone as the center point of your computing life: it is powerful enough to do all this (heck, it has more power than my wife’s MacBook from 5 years ago – other than RAM, for now, that is). In effect, you will be carrying the power of a proper desktop computer. More on why this matters later.

BLE and iBeacon (and NFC?)

Add iBeacon then. Another fancy Apple marketing term, right? Well, yes, because it is basically part of package that uses Bluetooth Low Energy (or “BLE”; it’s official branding is “Bluetooth Smart” now; see here for an overview), which was deployed first by – gasp – Nokia in 2006 (!) and is also present in the BlackBerry Z10, Q10 or the stunning Z30 – all of which also sport NFC on top). The HTC One has it, too, and a few more. So what’s the big deal? Well, BLE was always a big deal: the low-energy bit means you can run peripherals that can interact with your phone that will run for years on a single small battery. The range is better, too. And all of a sudden, you are looking at something which I have been hallucinating about for the past ten years: your phone as the center of your computing needs: you walk out of the door (yes, you can lock that door with your phone, too) and you have everything with you: files, photos, music, the whole thing. You walk into your office, your phone will pick up the BLE signal from peripherals such as keyboards, monitors, a mouse (or touchpad), connects with them and you have your office computer running. You come home (yes, again unlocking your fancy door), and it will connect with the same set up (or your TV if you don’t want an additional screen scarring your interior design approach) and you have all your stuff on there, too. Your central processing unit was in your pocket all the time…

It will be interesting to see if this will kill NFC. Google has supported NFC and only recently announced BLE support for Android 4.3. Some manufacturers (BlackBerry, Samsung, HTC) support both. But BLE’s advantage is two-fold: low energy and proximity. You see, NFC only works in close range (hence the name, I guess: “near-field” communication). This can make it a bit awkward: you have to be close (any London travelers will know that: you have to get that bloody Oyster Card out of the depth of your bag/pocket/wallet to make it work; imagine you could just walk through continuing to hold your Latte and free Metro paper, taking it all in your stride). In other words: BLE is a lot more Appelesque than NFC. It doesn’t only provide the functionality (connecting device A with peripheral B) but it also does it in the most unobtrusive and somewhat stylish way.

1 + 1 = 3+

So let’s put the two together then: you have a desktop computer in your pocket and have an invisible cable connecting you to the things you need to actually also use it as a desktop computer (or laptop). What more would you need, right? Yes, exactly, nothing.

Now, mind you, Apple wasn’t first with this (whatever their marketing folks pre- or post-Steve may want you to believe). There has been the Motorola Atrix, which was the dernier crie at CES a couple of years ago: a phone with a laptop dock and off you were with a full computer. Well, you had a keyboard, laptop screen and access to a browser. Alas, it didn’t have the power of a normal PC, so wouldn’t do the full trick (read the reviews on Amazon’s product page to get an idea). For an up-to-date version, have a look at the Motorola Atrix 4G.

The thing is this: as most reviewers will tell you, Motorola did not give you the comfort of a computer, only a more comfortable and more feature-rich way to run stuff.

Apple wouldn’t do that (not even in the post-Jobs era, I would think). And this is why the 64 bit architecture matters: because that *could* deliver just that (even if it might not do so yet, which is though not down to the hardware but the lack of application software). Fast forward not very much and that might be done. And then you would have what the Atrix wanted to be (and, believe me, I was very impressed when I saw it in Las Vegas on that cold January day in 2011).

There’s More…

Let us now have a very brief glimpse at the one feature Apple gave a lot more attention to during its 5S keynote, namely that fingerprint reader. In itself, it is more of a geeky delight: don’t we all love it (well, unless you hate Apple)? But do we have anything functional to do for it other than all of us now duly locking our phones (though iOS7 now forces you to do that anyway) as we should? Well, not that much.

Alas, bring back the memories of that computer in your pocket connecting to those peripherals and then add authentication by finger-tip. Now that’s looking better, doesn’t it? All of a sudden, that makes sense, huh? You can log into your company’s enterprise e-mail – by fingerprint, you can make those PayPal payments – by fingerprint, you can log into your Facebook account – by fingerprint (no more posting nasty or just not so very funny status updates in other people’s Facebook accounts), etc. It closes the circle of mobile-centric computing.

Fear Not: Not Only Apple

Of course this is not Apple country. As I pointed out above, many manufacturers had these things before. Apple however – and that deserves a hat tip even from the trenches of the haters – has (yet again) shown its capability of packaging things in a way that make them comprehensible to people who do not fancy setting up for hours on end, who want stuff to just work. Unlike the Atrix it is not only “almost” working, it does work. Unlike Oyster, you don’t have to touch, you just need to be there. If only my old folks at BlackBerry had that marketing department…

But we will see similar solutions from many folks. They’re not daft, you see (phew!). From Apple’s perspective, it might have managed to escape the Innovator’s Dilemma once more. This, alas, is no guarantee for the future… For now though, I reckon we might be seeing glimpes of the next generation of mobile computing and, boy, am I excited! πŸ™‚

Oh America, where art thou?

I am pretty angry, America (OK, American government; that is)! What on earth are you doing? (oh, and hello, NSA, thanks for checking in).

Let me open with Plato (Laws):

“Where the law is subject to some other authority and has none of its own, the collapse of the state, in my view, is not far off; but if law is the master of the government and the government is its slave, then the situation is full of promise and men enjoy all the blessings that the gods shower on a state.”

Those were the days, huh? Shame…

Daddy is Cheating…

You know, I have suspected for some time. But I didn’t want to believe. Lipstick on your collar? Hey, there’s a good explanation, right? Right? But now I saw you with that other girl. And, you know, she wasn’t even the gorgeous blonde where I might have grumbled but acknowledged that she’s pretty hot (sorry for the outdated simile, ladies). But what I am looking at is greed, suspicion, police state perversion. And that is not good!

So now the scene is set, let’s go. You see, I have been a loyal friend for decades. I have been working with your companies, furthered your wealth in the process, befriended your people. I am a fan of your forefathers (Jefferson and Lincoln count amongst my biggest heroes) and I defended your values (and, believe me, the latter wasn’t always easy, what with all that Bush, gun-slinging, death-penalty stuff that is often not easy to understand to Europeans). Other than being atheist, I think I’d fit (or would have fitted) right in with you (even though I’d order smaller burgers).

NSA Dragnets

And now this! So, you have been running huge dragnets, it seems (never mind the details, I will leave those to Michael Arrington); by the looks of it even the most rose-tinted version is pretty nasty).

And you also have the audacity to say that a secret court to which I cannot appeal is sufficient legal oversight. And the President (yes, I am looking at you, Mr Nobel Peace Price-winning Obama) doesn’t even dare to crawl out of his White House to defend this (being humbled wasn’t enough, it seems; you should have acted upon it!).

And then, quite besides the scale of this alone, you find it perfectly OK to just about capture everything from everyone who doesn’t happen to hold a US passport. Never mind if she has shown to be a friend of yours or not. Earthlings of a lower class we are then. You basically declare war on everyone else (because that is really what you do, right? It is OK to spy on people even to further the US cause; given your tight language these days, I take it this includes industrial espionage; I mean you were on it for a while, no?).

So, let me break this down: for me as a European (although, as far as I understand, I might as well be a war-mongering nutcase of Klingon origin), you do not think I should be afforded any rights – and not even think of the rule of law or access to courts or any such fancy stuff? Further, even as it concerns your own people, you still think secret courts to which no one can appeal and that do not publish their opinions, that have none of the “checks and balances” that made your system famous are sufficient? Are you kidding me? Have you all – after all – inhaled and, for that matter, way too much?

Friends don’t Matter

This is to the first point: So you, America, think that no one other than you matters. Friend or foe – no difference. I find this appalling. What do you think this will get you? More friends? More visitors that hatch nasty plans for your downfall? Probably the latter. You know, I do not wish you bad. But I am not sure if I will be as motivated to go out of my way the next time. Don’t you know we live on a globe (as in global – get it?) with many people and regimes that require a certain amount of goodwill, trust and – for goodness sake – decency? What do you think? That we will just swallow shallow press releases referring to dubious “we acted within the law” statements? Whose laws? Who is overseeing those? Who is testing you? Who is checking your power? Where, oh where is due process?

You see, the American constitution is a blueprint for law students all over the world because it introduced the principle that the various powers within a state need to be checked and balanced against each other. They must not bloody collude to provide some lop-sided monster! Wake up! How can it be that not vast majorities of your lawmakers are up in arms over this? How can it be that this gentle, inclusive dream of a President (yes, we all loved you very much, Mr Obama) hides behind, I don’t know what. How can it be that he not only simply carried on but – apparently (I trust the Guardian more than your press releases, Mr President) – extended this highly doubtful grip on the world’s information? How could you have drifted away so far from the path of the righteous and right? I am horrified!

I live near Manchester. That is in the UK. We have an Abraham-Lincoln-Square there. And in the middle of it is a statue of the great man with a facsimile of the letter he wrote to the workers over here. Because they suffered when America fought for its independence. And Lincoln was grateful. Mr Obama, you failed! You don’t write thank-you-letters. You’d rather read our letters and try to extract as much information as you possibly can to further whatever cause it is you are pursuing. Shame on you!

Secret Courts, Habeas Corpus & Due Process

Now then, let’s knuckle down a bit. One of the pre-eminent rights that define the pride of the US Constitution is the right to due process. Would I first have to travel to the US, get myself arrested to be able to cry habeas corpus? If this your understanding of it, make yourself acquainted with the “effet utile” or direct effect: a law (or indeed the constitution) should be interpreted such that it gives direct effect. It is – if you need a reminder – related to your very own Implied Powers doctrine. And you are now saying that this only applies to US citizens? Oh, hang on, you do. You signed the treaty but did not ratify as you

consider[…] many of the provisions of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties to constitute customary international law on the law of treaties (source)

What the bloody f***? Get yourself some lawyers that think straight rather than trying to exploit every friggin’ loophole, will you? You consider it customary but don’t ratify? Huh? I’ll have some fun in that court…

What would you say if your citizens in the UK, Germany, Italy, France, Spain, etc. were being denied due process? You’d be howling. How dare we? And you? Do not give a flying [you get it].

So listen: a secret court is something for oppressive regimes, for states that have nasty stuff to hide, for the folks that you are so trigger-happy to pursue. They are NOT for enlightened democracies. Change it! Now!

The dichotomy between Sharing and Transparency is NONE

You know, I happily share stuff, I really do. I know Google scans my e-mails for keywords to serve me the “right” AdWords (it fails more often than not). That’s fine. You know why? Because they told me. It’s transparent. And that (Google and all you others, are you listening?) is the word! I am a little more suspicious about the moral compass of Mr Zuckerberg, but, hey, I’m in for the right. The thing though is this: the “contrat social” (that’s French, and, no, it’s not communist) in the digital world is one of reciprocity when it comes to being transparent. Tell me what you want to do so I can decide if I will take you up on your offer. Spying and dragnets are not included in this definition! Not by one bit (get it?)!

Your behaviour – and the obscene ignorance to the present day you show whilst displaying it – does also highlight the antiquity of ancient laws (you know that your own spying law dates from 1917, right?) when it comes to digital communications. So let’s get this straight: I use the services of Google, Facebook, Skype Apple, Amazon and Microsoft and, rarely (I’m a little old, you see), YouTube (I don’t use the others – and hadn’t even heard of PalTalk before the Guardian/Washington Post revelations). And that’s perfectly fine. I know they collect data. Because, you know, we all know they’ve got to live and there’s this great big network thing going on with ads and stuff; that’s OK. Now, am I in any way related to the US? Not really, right? I mean: I have visited but never lived there. I am working with Americans in various ways (this is not a bad thing, right?). But to treat me as a subject because my domain happens to be hosted stateside (which I guess it is), because I happen to use the above services is, frankly, ludicrous. It is like establishing an exclusive jurisdiction in China for owners of iPhones. Because, you know, that is where they actually are built. And you don’t even blink? Shame on you! Is this where your great big dream descended to? Good Lord, this is sad – and, of course, scary.

What do you want me (and all us 6.5 billion non-US-Americans) to do? Stop using the “nasty 9” plus DropBox, Evernote, Twitter, Instagram and everyone else because, you know, it can only be a matter of time before you haul them in, too? That’s great. Just great! I suspect you really believe you’ll get away with it, right? And the worst thing is that you probably will. But you haven’t understood a thing.

This is not what this was set up for. A good society – and the digital one is built on this very concept – is based on concepts of trust and reciprocity. Your cold-war antics don’t fit into this. They won’t help either. Don’t you realise that stuff gets worse, not better, the more you behave like a rogue state? You won’t be winning like this! And that would be sad. Because that was one cool dream you had!

You, America, are – can I say it? – getting paranoid about way too much stuff, America, and it spoils your good looks, you know. The country where milk and honey flows, the place where the grass is greener starts looking aged and not so bright anymore. Ruthless and reckless you appear more often these days. This is not good. Because, you know, I’d like to like you again. Your recent behaviour doesn’t do you any good whatsoever. And you, Mr President, have a whole lot of work to do to win me back!

Bad day!

PS: BlackBerry did not endorse this message. As forΒ everything (but particularly on this post), this is my very own and personal anger…

PPS: To my American friends: you know I still love you! πŸ™‚

Carnival of the Mobilists # 257 (#COTM)

This week’s Carnival of the Mobilists comes to you from Kansas, more specifically from Steven Hoober, and here’s what he has in stock for you:

  • Will larger screens lead to poorer mobile web sites?
  • Do apps beat browsing?
  • What will be the best mobile advertising networks 2012?
  • Do QR codes work? Someone had a look at TfL’s (better known as the operator of the London Tube) numbers.
  • What can advertisers expect from the Kindle Fire?
  • Would you close your business for two days per week? A look at retailers and the benefits of mobile-optimized websites.
  • Will Windows Phone 7 be cutting it?
  • Android and Apple have not won the smartphone war.
  • Have you ever heard of a “wearable computing equation”? Check it out!
  • What is the spectrum/bandwith crunch in Boise, Idaho?
  • My little piece on the revolutionary (well, perhaps, “only” disruptive) French operator Free.
  • Image processing in Generation M

The carnival is live here. Go read! πŸ™‚

Carnival of the Mobilists # 249

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Remember one of the most wonderful resources for mobile bloggers? yes, it is the Carnival of the Mobilists and this month’s version is live now! It is a best of digest of May’s mobile-related blogs. This month, there are some real goodies! You will find:

  • GoSub60’s Sean Thompson musing the question of whether to “go free”;
  • James Coops from MobyAffiliates looking at the commercial opportunities of – you may have guessed – mobile affiliate marketing;
  • Mobile marketing veteran Russell Buckley looks at mobile couponing as the next billion dollar market (mobile Groupon anyone?);
  • Industry thinker and Futuretext founder Ajit Jaokar looking at whether the “two-sided market” model may not actually apply to carriers (and I tend to agree; here’s another blog post… ;-));
  • Our very own Peggy Anne Salz of MobileGroove (f/k/a MSearchGroove) focuses on marketing to digital natives;
  • The Fonecast’s James Rosewell makes a case for Microsoft to buy Nokia (the rumour of which has just been refuted by Mr Elop himself though);
  • Dennis Bournique of the WAP Review looks at where MeeGo is at these days;
  • Richard Monson-Haefel looks at “omni-mobility”; and
  • finally, my own bit on the evolving role of publishers also found a mention.

Go now and read it over here on Francisco Kattan’s blog and have a great time! πŸ™‚

Oh, and if you want to be part of this, make sure to look up the Carnival online and follow them on Twitter (@COTMobilists).

Microsoft & Skype

Allegedly, this morning Microsoft will announce it will buy Skype for $8.5bn. It is Microsoft’s largest investment into the digital realm so far (and a nice cash-out for the people who bailed Skype out from eBay a while ago; the valuation at the time apparently was put at $2.75bn). Besides these being big numbers (and allowing Skype not having to worry about an IPO anymore), this opens an opportunity for a new kind of animal in the communications corner of things. And here is why:

Microsoft is legendarily late to the party when it came to smartphones. Their Windows Phone 7 OS was labelled as too little too late although it received positive reviews on the merits. Then it struck a much discussed deal with Nokia, the ailing (former?) phone giant to ship its phones with WP7. So, if we add Skype, will this create the torso of a new type of communication service? Think Nokia handset + Windows Phone 7 + Skype = mobile VoIP on a large scale.

Did we forget an ingredient though? Ah, bandwidth. Hm… Skype is understandably much maligned by most carriers (with the notable exception of Three) as it shifts revenues from (high-margin) voice to (lower-margin) data. With most carriers struggling under the increased network loads higher-end smartphones consume in terms of data, a discussion started recently about contributions for such data throughput. Now, a lot of the larger carriers are multi-play animals: be it Verizon, Vodafone, France Telekom/Orange, Deutsche Telekom/T-Mobile, Telstra, etc, etc, they all provide both mobile networks as well as fixed-line broadband. It will hence be not that easy to just walk around them and “just make it so”.

Many people have talked about the ubiquity of WiFi hotspots and such like in many areas but I would humbly suggest that this is daydreaming rather than a robust basis for a truly ubiquitous device such as a mobile phone just yet (and it perhaps never will). The future would seem to lie in mobile networks rather than fixed-line anyhow (LTE and all), which means that there will need to be some sort of rapport between vendors and service providers (such as Nokia/Microsoft/Skype) and carriers, and even mighty Nokia has already lost a fight over Skype in the past (see also here). Likewise, Google had come out with lofty promises as to carrier integration and has failed miserably to deliver the goods so far (carrier billing on Android Market anyone?).

So voices that hail the arrival of a new era might well be a little premature. Now, given that Microsoft can work with Skype on the desktop side of things as well will ease the transition significantly. However, the be-all-end-all solution it is not, at least not yet. And if Microsoft and Nokia can deliver remains to be seen, too, I guess.

Back to work then…

Which handset? An update…

Two months ago, I mused over handsets, packages, and the like. The reason was – if I may briefly recall – that my contract ran out. I reported on a number of options but never told what happened. Here’s what:

The Carrier

I hinted as much before: it is Vodafone who have me in their grip now. The data roaming rates did it (although they have fairly decent international rates, too, specifically with Vodafone Passport, which must be one of the first programmes where a large multi-national carrier leverages its geographical spread; T-Mobile, take note!).

The Handset

Quick recap: I was looking at device options (the contracts I tend to be on are unhealthily big, which normally gives you a free device on top of it, and why the heck not). Since I already have an iPhone (3 and 4), a Google Nexus and various Nokias, I thought what next? Do I try out another Android device? Do I give Windows Phone 7 a go? Or do I return to my old love, Blackberry. And the last one won me over. So I fell for it, and went with the brand-new Blackberry 9800 Torch. Touch screen plus QUERTY plus Blackberry e-mail. You should think that that’s pretty need and, really, all you could wish for (sorry, Microsoft, I didn’t dare – yet).

Trials and Tribulations

But, alas, it was not so. It turned out that two-odd years in the claws of the iPhone and Android had seriously spoilt me, also – and this was concerning – with respect to e-mail. I first learned that I could actually type pretty damn quickly on a touch keyboard now (better on the iPhone, less so on the Nexus), so the keyboard did not really do it. But that was not really it. The little things did it:

  • Checking multiple e-mails at once so you can delete or file them all in one go? I’m sure there was one rather ingenious shortcut to do this but it was not very obvious and I had forgotten how it worked. Do I look it up on the web? Nah, it should really just work, shouldn’t it? It just felt clunky.
  • Maps: a nightmare! It put me regularly miles away from where I was (and I was actually on home turf, so – thankfully – was able to survive without accurate directions.
  • Browser: unusable (and, yes, I know it already is a little better than the old one).
  • App World: slow and not very well stocked, is it? And, mind you, I was not looking for a gazillion funny novelty apps like light sabers and such. But even some fairly standard ones were not available.
  • Speed: the handset does not run on the quickest of processors, and you could feel it. Some latency in certain processes, no really smooth pinch-zooms, etc, etc.
  • Camera: OK but not more.
  • Even the beautiful Blackberry Messenger (or BBM as it is also affectionately known) managed to confuse me a little: where on earth can I find that 3D barcode that allows me to add a contact on BBM? I still haven’t found it. Once up and running, it is a beauty as it always was. However, there are now many IM apps that are similarly good, and with most smartphone users on data plans, the fact that BBM is free might no longer matter as much.

On the good side? There is of course Brickbreaker (new high-score: 28,350 (!!!)) but, aside from that, the fairly solid feel of the handset, the nice rubbery back (really nice in fact) and the somewhat quaint but familiar design lines plus decent touch was all very good. I really liked the handset as such. But what was in it, not so much.

The New Kid

So – you probably guessed it – I gave it back and exchanged it for an HTC Desire HD. Only a couple of years ago, this would have been unthinkable. Not only was I a fairly die-hard Blackberry fan but to replace a Blackberry with a Taiwanese newcomer handset? Voluntarily? Noooo! However, it is gorgeous (besides being a bit of the big – no, really big – side). It does all the things that so frustrated me on the Blackberry so much better. Well, slicker at least. E-mail set-up is a breeze for Gmail but only a little less onerous than on the Blackberry for others (and, yes, the QUERTY does help for weird password combinations), but, once done, it works really well. And then, there’s of course the little things: 8 mega-pixel camera with stunning quality (although the lens sticks out a little at the back, which might be not so good), comparatively wholesome goodness when it comes to apps (in spite of the shortfalls of Android Market), heck, it synced all my apps from my Nexus automatically. And, Apple get this, it adds little raindrops (and a windscreen wiper) in one quick animation should it rain where ever you are (which, in England’s North-West, it does quite a lot, I’m afraid). Sweet! Browser works beautifully, maps come with proper satellite navigation on par with dedicated devices, and so on, and so forth.

Mind you, I am not yet sure if I may not change back to my iPhone 4 (which is, let’s face it, damn slick!). But I will give the Desire its run, and it does pretty well so far.

Blackberry Needs to Up the Ante!

But let’s look at my old friend Blackberry. Read through the last two paragraphs, and you know where Blackberry needs to up the ante. The Torch – its newest handset with its newest OS – feels slow, sluggish, dated, laboured.

But not all might be lost: last week, at CES, I could catch a glimpse of the future: RIM’s Blackberry PlayBook, which runs on QNX, rumoured to be the foundation for the next generation of “proper” Blackberries, too. And a beauty it is: much more hardware power (dual-core processor, namely a 1 GHz Texas Instruments OMAP 4430), swish graphics (1080p video inclusive), really impressive multi-tasking (HD video + game + websites + whatever open in parallel and seamless change from one to the other in an easy and casual swipe with no lag in any of it), and it will apparently be available on Sprint’s 4G network. Check here for the full specs.

It did however lack e-mail! Yes, you read that correctly: you can apparently not get RIM’s mother of all killer apps on the PlayBook – unless you also happen to have a “normal” Blackberry (or something to that end; the folks at the Blackberry booth were a little shy about this). What were they thinking???

But let’s take stock. What does RIM have? A – so far – healthy balance sheet, good hardware, still great e-mail service infrastructure (albeit not as unassailable as it used to be), in BBM a hit in the youth market and – arguably – a bit more of a runway than most because of the – again arguably – longer times it will take enterprise IT departments to swap systems (or something along these lines; Dell is probably an exception so far). In QNX, it also seems to have a really powerful OS at its disposal (just add e-mail, please). And, finally, it has a proud history of very good handsets (the Bold must have been one of the best ever) as well as demonstrated expertise to break into new verticals (as the Pearl had shown).

So, my dear friends from Waterloo, Ontario: do it. I think you can, just show us, will you? πŸ™‚

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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