Tag: Palm (Page 1 of 2)

Mobile Innovation; in Response to Scoble

Egoblogger extraordinaire Robert Scoble has never been known to be shy, and so he declared with his usual great fanfare that Europe did not matter any more in terms of mobile innovation. Why did he say that, you ask? Well, Nokia apparently took him to visit their research lab in Cambridge (no, not in Espoo) as part of a (Nokia-)sponsored geek tour. And Scoble was not impressed. Because (1) everyone appears to have been texting when he was on the tube (how quaint), (2) the N97 isn’t cooler than the iPhone and (3) Symbian is much clunkier than the iPhone’s OS or Palm’s WebOS, Scoble deduces that Europe has had it.

He reduces this loss of leadership in mobile innovation to handsets or, more specifically, to the coolness factor of handsets (“London’s cool kids are [not] hot and bothered” about the N97). And, with that somewhat tight limitation, he might actually be right. Nokia has been losing ground on the coolness and usability front for quite a while. However, when it comes to technical ability, their devices are still quite hot. Scoble basically uses the iPhone plus the first Android-based (Taiwanese [sic!]) phones to declare that the king is dead.

Hardware is a Commodity

Now, let’s try to differentiate a little. Would you say the US have the lead in computer manufacturing? Well, probably not. IBM’s ThinkPads are Chinese, then there is Sony, Samsung, Toshiba, and there is HP and Dell. There is of course also Apple (“designed in California”). Does it matter at all where the hardware is from? No, not at all, and no one really cares anymore. And why not? Because hardware is basically a commodity, that is in a world where one does not actually see that much of the hardware because the interfaces are software-driven. And these are from Microsoft, etc.

In mobile, this has not been true in the past because their were such vast differences in the available hardware that the usability was severely impaired should you have been using, say, a low-end Motorola device as opposed to a high-end Nokia. This is where the myth of European mobile superiority comes from. And, with Apple, RIM and maybe Palm again, this is firmly in North American hands. There are of course Samsung and LG, the Korean powerhouses who drive their market share up and up. Android devices G1, G2 and Magic are from Taiwanese HTC. However, given how far mobile software and indeed services have come: does it really matter either way today? I say it does not.

Here’s the Innovation: Services

If one wants to see where mobile innovation is happening, one would need to go to South Korea, Japan, Finland (not the Nokia research labs but, say, the public transport system where you can pay via SMS for the past couple of years already), Austria (mass deployment of mobile RFID-payments), South Africa (mobile wallets and very evolved mobile marketing services), Malaysia, the Philippines and even Kenya (mobile money transfers). Certainly not the US though, I’m afraid. They are still the country where “can you hear me now?” campaigns rule.

The iPhone has changed a lot of things of course. However, American Idol arguably did a lot more. It brought, shock, horror, texting to the Americans. SMS being, of course, a service. And why, Mr Scoble, should that be bad? Carriers (other than in the US) have made 25% of their revenues and 50% of their profits over the last 10 years with this unassuming little thing. That’s not too shabby, is it? The iPhone (and Palm’s WebOS) have introduced a new level of ease of use, and one that was long overdue. One that woke Nokia, which had comfortably dominated the space with less and less innovation on the software side, up (and Nokia might be a little slow to open their eyes properly). And one that will improve service levels all over the world.

Where the Big Market is

However, let us also not forget that the best-selling phone of all times is the Nokia 1100. No, it doesn’t do Java. It has a battery life of close to 20 years though and comes with a flashlight installed. Both very handy things to have in rural parts of developing or emerging countries. Nokia is having a fairly comfortable market share in these countries. I am not sure if that is a good thing to rest on though: as these markets, they demand more sophisticated devices. And because the computer penetration is much lower than in Europe, Japan, South Korea and North America, the significance of evolved mobile devices will be even more important. Nokia thought this would carry it through. However, we are seeing now that that might not be so: its smartphone market shares are rapidly decreasing.

Europe is not Europe

One last word on Europe: distinct to what Mr Scoble appears to have in mind, Europe is not a country, and this is not meant to be sarcastic. Europe is a pile of little countries and in each of them a couple of carriers rule like little kings. It makes for an extremely complex (and, consequently, low-margin) playground to deploy services. The US (as well as some of the huge Asian countries) have the incredible opportunity to deploy applications and services in one language through less than a handful of carriers to hundreds of millions. No such thing in Europe.

And this is why the US should lead in every aspect really: it is an evolved, competitive economy and it enjoys the tremendous upside of being (almost) completely aligned as to the framework: language, currency, carriers, billing systems, legal system, etc. This is the reason why the US has indeed leapfrogged Europe, the continent, when it comes to basic mobile applications: economies of scale are much easier to achieve there.

Software, Services, Interfaces

When one looks at Nokia in its current state as the sole indicator of where European mobile innovation is, one might be disappointed (as I pointed out numerous times, e.g. here). However, when one looks at how concert tickets are being sold via mobile, public transport, parking fees and vending machines all using mobile as a wallet solution, or indeed Obama making his latest speech available via SMS (there are more than 10x as many mobile phones in Africa than PCs according to Tomi Ahonen), then one can and should still be awed. And, no, in spite of its President the US is not (yet) close in this respect.

I hope, however, the US will catch up on this front sooner rather than later, too. Because of the size of the market and the aforementioned advantages, it would unleash incredible opportunities that would bring all of us fantastic new services and applications. And, Mr Scoble, it does not matter if these are 160 characters or polished web pages; it depends on what you want to do with it (as you, being one of the most prolific Twitterati, surely know).

I did not text anymore because I hated the UI and could not stand the clunky interfaces (in spite of T9; I’m too old, I guess). I started again with the iPhone. Why? Because – distinct what some people say – it’s a great interface: it displays the conversation, it looks neat and I have a full keyboard (the touch screen works much better than I feared; and I used a Blackberry for years and years). But that is not a question of the device or the technology, it is solely a question of the software. I would be much happier if I could also use my iPhone (or any other phone) to buy my newspaper (which I can with an RFID-equipped credit card in this country and which I could do in, say, Austria, a country with 2/3 the population of Illinois and a footprint smaller than Maine).

What Scoble misses (or omits in his post) is that the next leap in innovation will be a service-driven one (just as we saw on the Internet: first hardware, then basic apps, now sophisticated services).

Mobile has had the hardware phase, it is going through a “basic” app phase, and some European, African and Asian countries have entered the value-added services phase already, some years and years ago in fact! Compared to the US, they’re leading, by a lot! They’re perhaps just too small for the Robert Scoble to realize they’re there… But, as I said above: this is not about Europe leading the US (apart from the fact that it would appear to being Asia that is truly leading and has been for a while): it is about the evolution of an incredibly powerful communication device that is being unlocked for more and more applications and services; and this is independent from country and nationality!

Along those lines: why, Mr Scoble, should it be a bad thing that Europeans now “must” visit Cupertino and Mountain View. California is nice, isn’t it? Not a bad thing to go visit every now and then at all! We’re living in a large world, Mr Scoble, not only on a single continent, and mobile is a facilitator spurning new ecosystems, not only a device.

Image credit drawing: http://www.aartkom.cz

Palm Pre syncs with Apple, and more!

Palm came out with a bit of news that reiterates the old wisdom of joining who you cannot beat. The Pre will apparently be able to sync with Apple’s iTunes and iPhoto apps. Apparently, the Pre makes iTunes think it is an iPod or something. The whole thing apparently fails on the DRM side, so no “old” iTunes for the Pre then… What Apple will say to this? Well, that remains to be seen. They surely won’t be happy. But on the other hand, they will probably want to avoid any in-depth tussle over the question of their proprietary software, monopolization and all.

We also learned that, because Palm Executive Chairman Rubinstein is an old Apple hand, “the engineering culture at Palm bears some similarities to [Apple’s]”. There you have it.

But the Pre is doing even better on the music front: its MP3 player includes onboard support for Amazon’s MP3 Store. Files are downloaded directly over the air to the device. Now that’s pretty cool!

More coolness comes with search: the Pre searches, and then – if you want – it searches some more, in Google, in Twitter, … Neat, very neat!

Now, on to the app store. Oops, it is called “web catalogue” at Palm. How many apps at launch? Um, “a dozen or so”… Ah…

So will it succeed? Of course it will: according to Roger McNamee, managing partner of principal Palm investor Elevation Partners, all iPhone users with expiring contracts will switch to the Pre at 4.25pm. There you have it, again!

Palm Pre & iPhone: O2 wants it all

o2_logo_no-bubblesO2 has won the exclusive distribution rights for the Palm Pre in the UK it is reported. This is noteworthy as the carrier also is the exclusive distributor for the iPhone in the country, so putting the iPhone “killer” next to the ubiquitous uber-smartphone might be a bit of a daring move? Or is it? Let us bear in mind that there are a lot of voices that caution about the operators’ for the iPhone: huge average data consumption on flat rate plans is not likely to drive ARPU. Apple managed to break the old operator model by taking chunks of the revenues realized through its devices and it does not share in any content sales. Apple does not allow anyone to put their brand onto its device (I am struggling to find any O2-related information on my iPhone, and even I think they might have taken it a bit too far… So, the Palm Pre deal actually does a couple of things:

  1. It gives O2 a shot at what might (or might not) be the next big thing (although analysts expect that – at least initially – sales will be much lower than for the iPhone: “Its going to sell principally into the base, to existing Palm owners and existing Sprint subscribers”).
  2. It allows O2 to put a little more leverage in its relationship with Apple. Having a device on its roster that has a powerful specs, an appealing interface and something like a cult following (although the cult appears to being a smaller one than the one of the Apple fashionistas) would help O2 in future negotiations.
  3. If (or when?) the exclusivity period for the iPhone ends (which commentators expect to happen soon), O2 would have another uber-cool gadget exclusively (I for one swapped over to O2 to get my hands on an iPhone).

So whilst few people do not know much, the combination of the above provides any number of good reasons for O2 to go for the Pre (assuming the business model agreed with Palm is not too bruising; but one can expect Palm, which has to fight its way back into the market, to be slightly less demanding than Apple), which promises to being a fairly cool device indeed: besides having a lot of all the things the iPhone has (touchscreen, multi-touch, cult following) and some more (QWERTY-keyboard) it beats Apple on home court: take Apple’s aversion to cables, the Pre doesn’t have to be “plugged” into anything; you just place it next to its touchstone charger and it charges by magnetic induction. Steve Jobs will be fuming about this one… oh, and it runs 15-20 apps simultaneously. The one question might be: which apps? But, hey, let’s see where they’ll get to…

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!

Smartphone Market Shares & Growth

World market leader Nokia had a bruising 2008, at least in the smartphone field. According to a study, the Finns’ market share in this segment dropped by 10% to a – well – still fairly respectable 40.8% in Q4/2008 (as compared to 50.9% a for the quarter in the previous year). Painful!

The big winners were RIM (growth of 84.9% year-on-year), Apple (111.6%) and Samsung (138%) although the latter grew from a fairly low share (1.8%). HTC was up 20% but its carrier-branded handsets (T-Mobile G1, etc) were not listed under its own tab but under “others”, so there might actually have been more (probable when considering that the company’s profits rose sharply in Q4/2008 on G1 sales).
Apple, interestingly, is said to have suffered a fall of sales during Q4/2008 with growth in that quarter driven by the Blackberry Storm, T-Mobile G1 and strong Samsung sales. On the OS side, Windows Mobile made headway, mainly via the successful HTC Touch line and the Samsung Omnia.
Overall smartphone sales in Q4/2008 were 38m and 140m for the whole year. This seems to tie in roughly with the numbers I discussed earlier this month.
The changes are of interest to the content industry, too. Smartphones make for a disproportionate amount of content consumption, and smartphones also lead the way for the new app stores that are breaking through everywhere after Apple showed its competitors just how much consumers are craving content. RIM is out of the blocks, as is Android. Nokia announced its Ovi Store and runs similar programmes with N-Gage, NCD and Comes with Music already and Windows Mobile has just announced the shop it will launch itself. Remains to be seen where Palm will go with its Pre and WebOS: it only had 0.9% of the market (some faithful Treo users!) and hence lots of catching up to do. And what about the newly coined JavaFX?
Here are the charts (courtesy of Gartner via Cellular News) for 1) Q4 2008 by vendor, 2) all of 2008 by vendor, 3) Q4/2008: by operating system and 4) all of 2008 by OS:

Worldwide: Smartphone Sales to End Users by Vendor

(Thousands of Units)

Company 4Q08 Sales Market Share4Q08 (%) 4Q07 Sales Market Share4Q07 (%) 4Q07-4Q08 Growth (%)
Nokia 15,561.7 40.8% 18,703.3 50.9% -16.8%
RIM 7,442.6 19.5% 4,024.7 10.9% 84.9%
Apple 4,079.4 10.7% 1,928.3 5.2% 111.6%
HTC 1,631.7 4.3% 1,361.1 3.7% 19.9%
Samsung 1,598.2 4.2% 671.5 1.8% 138.0%
Others 7,829.7 20.5% 10,077.3 27.4% -22.3%
Total 38,143.3 100% 36,766.1 100% 3.7%

Worldwide: Smartphone Sales to End Users by Vendor, 2008

Company 2008 Sales Market Share 2008 2007 Sales Market Share 2007 Growth
Nokia 60,920.5 43.7% 60,465.0 49.4% 0.8%
RIM 23,149.0 16.6% 11,767.7 9.6% 96.7%
Apple 11,417.5 8.2% 3,302.6 2.7% 245.7%
HTC 5,895.4 4.2% 3,718.5 3.0% 58.5%
Sharp 5,234.2 3.8% 6,885.3 5.6% -24.0%
Others 32,671.4 23.5% 36,176.6 29.6% -9.7%
Total 139,287.9 100% 122,315.6 100% 13.9%

Worldwide: Smartphone Sales to End Users by Operating System, 4Q08

Company 4Q08 Sales Market Share 4Q08 4Q07 Sales Market Share 4Q07 Growth
Symbian 17,949.1 47.1% 22,902.5 62.3% -21.6%
RIM 7,442.6 19.5% 4,024.7 10.9% 84.9%
Windows Mobile 4,713.9 12.4% 4,374.4 11.9% 7.8%
Mac OS X 4,079.4 10.7% 1,928.3 5.2% 111.6%
Linux 3,194.9 8.4% 2,675.9 7.3% 19.4%
Palm OS 326.5 0.9% 449.1 1.2% -27.3%
Other OSs 436.9 1.1% 411.3 1.1% 6.2%
Total 38,143.3 100% 36,766.1 100% 3.7%

Note: The “Other OSs” category includes sales of Sharp Sidekick devices based on the Danger platform.

Worldwide: Smartphone Sales to End Users by Operating System, 2008

Company 2008 Sales Market Share 2008 2007 Sales Market Share 2007 Growth
Symbian 72,933.5 52.4% 77,684.0 63.5% -6.1%
RIM 23,149.0 16.6% 11,767.7 9.6% 96.7%
Windows Mobile 16,498.1 11.8% 14,698.0 12.0% 12.2%
Mac OS X 11,417.5 8.2% 3,302.6 2.7% 245.7%
Linux 11,262.9 8.1% 11,756.7 9.6% -4.2%
Palm OS 2,507.2 1.8% 1,762.7 1.4% 42.2%
Other OSs 1,519.7 1.1% 1,344.0 1.1% 13.1%
Total 139,287.9 100% 122,315.6 100% 13.9%

Note: The “Other OSs” category includes sales of Sharp Sidekick devices based on the Danger platform.

Top 10 Smartphone Games & Apps 2008

Smartphone content vendor Handango releases a smartphone “yardstick” every year containing the top sellers from data in their store. Anecdotally, smartphone apps are more often sold via direct stores (rather than operator decks) than “normal” (not smart?) phones, owing of course to the better connectability (not necessarily connectivity) of high-end phones: input mechanisms (Querty, touchscreen, better D-pads), almost always 3G phones, etc make for a more satisfying user experience (try inputting a web URL via a basic phone keypad… painful!).

They had just under 10,000 apps on offer (spread across Blackberry, Windows Mobile [pro and standard], Palm, Symbian and Android). The average price point was a rather healthy $19, and users downloaded 1.12 apps on average.

Handango also says that games rose as part of overall “top category” sales (whatever that is) from 11% in 2007 to 19% in 2008. This is encouraging. Even so, there is no game amongst their overall best-sellers for 2008. Here’s the list (price points at the end of each line):
1. Spb Mobile Shell 2.1.4 (today screen plug-in) – $29.95
2. MobiTV (streaming television) – $9.99/month
3. Ringtone Megaplex (ringtones) – $19.95
4. Spb Backup 2.0.1 (file backup) – $24.95
5. Spb Pocket Plus 4.0.2 (today screen plug-in) – $29.95
6. Pocket Informant 8 (today screen plug-in) – $29.95
7. Spb Phone Suite 1.3 (phone features) – $19.95
8. VoiceControl (voice command) – $6.00
9. Colour Your Trackball (trackball customizer) – $4.95
10. eWallet (Professional Edition) (PIM manager) – $29.95

The top 10 games across platforms for smartphones is this:

1. Spb Brain Evolution 1.2 (puzzle game)
2. Aces Texas Hold’em® – No Limit (card game)
3. TETRIS (puzzle game)
4. Guitar Hero 3 Mobile (music game)
5. Bejeweled (puzzle game)
6. Aces Solitaire Pack (card game)
7. The Sims 2 (strategy game)
8. Jewelrumble 2 (puzzle game)9. Sudoku Puzzle Pack (puzzle game)
10. Solitaire Buddy Gold (card game)

And here’s a chart of the game categories – and, no, still no first-person-shooters in the top 10:

A noteworthy bit in the “Yardstick” is that Android already makes up for 10% of their sales (or so would the below graphic tell us). 

From this, it also occurs that Handango does not consider the iPhone to being very smart. Hm… Well, it’s probably that everyone who buys content on that one will buy not buy it from Handango but through the AppStore. OK then…

Finally: a new Palm

After bloody ages (and 425m Elevation dollars later) Palm came out with a bang yesterday at CES by unveiling the Pre and its new WebOS. Palm’s shareholders will be chuffed as the stock surged in the hours afterwards. Now, what is it? And does it have legs? One of the first reports (even containing a minute-by-minute live-blog of the presentation) notes that

‘its form factor is a blend of the HTC Touch and the iPhone. The software looks an awful, awful lot like that of the iPhone — multitouch, gestures and so on. Many of the apps also have a very strong likeness to the iPhone […].”

That in itself is of course not a bad thing. And other reports confirm high hardware quality and nice UI. However… Aren’t they a bit late? And where will the content come from? Palm used to have a faithful following on his Tungsten and Treo product lines but this is a while ago now and there have been some awesome devices in the interim, some of which – most notably the iPhone and the G1 as well as RIM‘s Blackberries and the higher-end Nokia devices – have amalgamated a great device with a great UI and commercial environment into a huge following. Apple AppStore, Android Market, N-Gage and Ovi, Blackberry Application Center, etc, are all there or there about. And Palm will be up against that. The fact that it has – at least initially – tied itself to Sprint only will not be much help there.
WebOS is said to be easy to develop for. Allegedly HTML, CSS and some other stuff known from the web would be enough to develop for it. But will anyone do it unless there is a device base large enough to make it a compelling commercial case (which even seems to hit platforms like Nokia’s N-Gage; THQ has just apparently dropped its “Worms World Party” development for this).
It’s nice to see they’re back but I think that the jury is still out on the success of this.

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