Tag: microsoft (Page 2 of 4)

What matters: Handsets or Packages?

It is this time again: my phone contract comes up for renewal. And – as anyone who is following this blog will know (to recap, look here), I have not been all too happy with the treatment I got from O2 UK. So today I started looking around. Given my rather fat tariff requirements, carriers normally throw in all sorts of goodies (scil. free handsets), so started there. I have an iPhone 4 and a Nexus One already, so started to see what else is out there, as there are:

Then I started looking at where, what, how I could get it and at what price, and the UK carrier labyrinth was entered: The Omnia 7 is carried by 3, Orange and T-Mobile, not by O2 or Vodafone (at least I couldn’t find anything to that end). The HD7 is an Orange exclusive, the Trophy is a Vodafone exclusive. The Galaxy S and the N8 seem to be with all of them.

Step 2: tariffs. With an unhealthy amount of traveling abroad to do, my main cost item on phone bills regularly is data roaming, so this is where my sensitivity lies (because of the eye-watering bills I regularly get, I am not bothered about 600 or 900 UK any-network minutes costing £5 more or less), and it became clear quickly: Orange, T-Mobile and 3 are out of the race (their charges are even higher than O2’s). Vodafone looks good (about 1/3 of O2’s rates) but O2 claims to still have their Blackberry tariff for international data roaming (although I struggled to find it on their website). Now, THAT would bring my bill down by a cool £150-200 a month or so. Enter Blackberry. The Bold (which I dearly loved when I had it) or the Torch (which gets decent but still very mixed reviews)? And then: O2 again? In spite of my anger with them?

And then I started to compromise: anything exclusive to Orange, T-Mobile or 3 was out of the question (because data roaming is pretty much a killer for me), which boils it down to Blackberry and O2 or any of the others on Vodafone (which would mean that I couldn’t get what started being my favourite, the Samsung Omnia 7). Hang on: I compromise over some shoddy pounds? Is the handset then not so all important as one might have believed when reading all those blogs, news blitzes and tech publications over the last months?

And, yes, I think it is true to say that – at least in instances where there are certain usage requirements (in my case data roaming), the package is what rules. This is perhaps then the wedge that the carriers –  scrambling for meaning in this new app store world – could use to pry that dump pipe/smart phone dichotomy open. How’s that for an idea?

So, good folks at the carriers, listen up: do it (oh, Vodafone, and get me that Omnia 7, will you? 😉 ).

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!

Conference: Mobile 2.0 Europe, Barcelona

On 17 June, a wonderful conference opens its doors: organized by the formidable Rudy de Waele and his team, the beautiful city of Barcelona (but without the usual Mobile World Congress stress and with better weather than in February!) is host to Mobile 2.0 Europe.

You will find a great line-up of speakers from across the mobile ecosystem, which should allow for a wonderfully balanced overview of what’s going on. The organizers have lined up senior guys from the giants of the industry, such as:

  • Nokia
  • RIM
  • Vodafone
  • Opera
  • Telefonica
  • Orange
  • PayPal Mobile
  • Microsoft

But they then coupled them with the nimble and agile guys like us, so you will also find:

  • Distimo (analytics)
  • Scoreloop (yes, I will be speaking)
  • The Astonishing Tribe (UI experts)
  • W3C
  • Future Platforms
  • and more…

As if this wasn’t enough, the AppCircus will also stop at the event with an on-stage show of the best and brightest apps around.

Join us, it should be tremendous fun! The registration page is here.

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!

App-sharing coming to iPhone and Android?

iphone-3-0The breath of fresh air that Apple has been bringing to the mobile content industry does not seem to end. However, this time, it is not so much fresh air by Apple but rather a borrowed deodorant from Microsoft (more specifically the iPod killer called Zune) and that is app-sharing. Whilst this might be largely superfluous for the Zune (how often will you find a group where more than one person has one? – as the good folks from the Apple Blog mention), it would be upping the usability game again and, for iPhone and iPod users as well as for the quickly growing Android device-base, it would arguably impact the market a little more. This also since the iPhone has become so much of the benchmark every OEM tries to emulate.

So what is it? According to Business Week who have been speaking to someone “familiar with the technology”, the iPhone 3.0 software kit provides for a functionality that could “if activated by Apple” allow users to share apps between them (note to self: ask my contacts familiar with the technology if they came across this, too).

Technically, it’s compelling and simple, well, the latter at least in Apple’s case: It was a nightmare for an engineer (as much as a dream for every “guerilla” marketeer) in the face of a gazillion different handsets with a gazillion different screen sizes, heap sizes, soft key allocations, etc, etc. In Apple’s case: 1 device, 1 screen size… off to the races…

Now, the same thing is supposed to happen with Android devices, too. And there, this might actually be a little harder to achieve; different devices, etc – well you get the gist.

From a user perspective it is of course fantastic: you can try things out before you have to commit to buy (rather than relying on the voluntary “lite” versions). So rather than buying an app that a friend likes (which increases the likelihood you might to but does not necessarily give you certainty to part with your precious cash). So: try it out. You like it, you buy it… It also (as mentioned above) is a big one on the marketing side: the strongest sales people will be happy users. So if a happy user recommends it to their peers, it is so much more likely that they will give it a go. All good stuff.

Would someone from Apple please confirm this? 😉

Apple's Gaming Platform

I wrote about this topic a couple of times already (here and here) but here‘s an interesting update/summary. The gist of the argument remains, only the numbers got better: Microsoft’s XBox has sold 29 million units, and that is fairly respectable (in particular when you consider that people regularly fork out $30 and more per game). Apple however (Mr Gates, I hate to say it) outsold its dear competitor by selling more than 30 million iPhones (and, well, iPod Touch).

The hardware install base is fairly similar then. There are two differentiators (besides the price point as per above and the fact that an XBox is not so portable nor meant to be): 1) Apple took a lot less time to get there, and 2) there are more than 25,000 applications for the iPhone, of which about 1/4 are games. That’s a lot!
And with its fairly awe-inspiring iPhone 3.0 update (more here or watch the entire keynote), one can now also add in-game micro-payments to the mix, which enhances the flexibility of billing models beyond anything its console or handheld rivals have on offer. Add to this the points raised in my earlier posts and the neat additions to the new iPhone SDK (use music stored on the device in the game, in-game voice chat, push notification waking up an app, stereo Bluetooth, etc, etc) and we are hopefully to see yet another wave of innovative, intelligent implementations of this. It is pretty cool indeed!

Games Pulsating Through One Platform?

Here’s one that nearly slipped through the (well, at least my) net: according to a recent press release, the Eclipse Foundation is set to unveil a unified development platform. It is said that some major players, including Nokia, RIM, Sony Ericsson, IBM and Motorola have joined this initiative already though Android and – predictably – Microsoft and Apple are notable in their absence.

The concept is oh so simple: a developer goes to the site, downloads the platform and is ready to rumble. The platform (called Pulsar) would pull together vendor-specific SDKs and off you go. It is clearly geared to tackle the fragmentation of the many, many handsets to be addressed when publishing to “mainstream” mobile phones.
At present, it’s an initiative (as there have been so many) and the presence of industry heavyweights does not always guarantee their success. I am (cynicism coming with age…) cautious over black box approaches (remember Tira Wireless?). I would love to see this succeed but let’s see what it comes to…
Image credit: digitalvish.com

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