Tag: smartphones (Page 1 of 6)

Mobile Gaming today: about whales, self-publishing and the like…

Didn’t the world change and quickly? Only a few years ago, mobile games worked like a supermarket: if you have shelf-space, you rule. The early kings of mobile gaming 1.0 (which many users today won’t even know about) were the ones that “owned” the relationships with mobile operators (or carriers if you prefer that word), OEM and the like. Those relationships guaranteed that you would be in front of consumers. Those of your competitors who didn’t? Well, tough luck. Today, the picture is very different. There were a few waves since those early days: the Wild West days of iOS and Android (which didn’t happen simultaneously but with similar patterns), the rise and fall of the Zynga empire (and folks who thought that that approach would cure all [business] evils of gaming and, in its latest pattern, the rise of Supercell, Kabam and King and the scratching of heads (and lay-offs of people) in a lot of other gaming outfits.

So what’s this all about then? Now, I won’t be able to offer you the full Monty in just one small blog post (it’s bloody late already) but there are a few pointers that show both the opportunities but also the pitfalls of the whole thing.

Fun Matters

Ilkka Paananen is the CEO of Supercell who are, arguably, the undisputed money-spinners these days. $2.4m/day is their benchmark, and that was a while back. In Q1/2013, they made $179m in revenues and $109m in operating profits (or so says the FT). Their two (!) games ride comfortably in the top-5 of the top-grossing charts of Apple all around the world, sometimes #1 and #2, sometimes #2 and #4 but never far off… When asked, Ilkka (who is as nice a person as you’ll ever meet) will always tell you that fun is what matters first and foremost (and I reckon this is what young master Pinkus wishes he had known earlier…). Ilkka managed to combine a dream of the free-wheeling nature of the likes of Valve, Inc. with the experience he gained in running as tight a ship as Digital Chocolate who, from the olden days of mobile gaming, were amongst the ones who had perfected the tightly-strung mastery of processes and engines. The result were – now famously – a number of canned projects plus two of the most profitable games (on an ROI basis) produced ever.

Alas, Ilkka will tell you that fun matters. If your game is rubbish and no fun, no one will like it, at least not longer term. Some earlier appstore succresses might have wanted to take note… It is an important bit to remember though: games are part of the entertainment side of things. And entertainment is about fun. No fun = no (long-term) success. There is only so much conning you can do…

Marketing is Part of Design

In the olden days, you had developers and suits. The former had grand ideas and the latter were a pain in the rearside. The success of a game always was due to the former and the success was always claimed by the latter. Now though, even the geekiest of developers has realized that you need to market efficiently if you want to be successful (which also means that your company has a chance of survival). Here’s a post you should read in this respect (it is a bit patronizing but there is a lot of good – if harsh – insight there nonetheless).

Building Brands is Cool (and Hard)

So, let’s go and build a brand, right? Because then we can replicate things, right? I mean, Rovio did this with Angry Birds, right? Yes, they did. How many others do you know who did? Not very many, right? Because, you know, it is not easy. Many tried (and are trying). Many see some traction. None I know of have had counterfeited bobble hats sold in San Francisco so far (yes, there are hand-knitted Angry Birds beanies on sale every weekend at the farmers market at the Ferry Terminal in SF! No, I haven’t seen beanies of the Cut-the-Rope frog yet…).

If you can get it right (and there is some magic (and hard work required), building an entertainment brand is insanely rewarding (just ask Walt Disney, George Lucas, Stan Lee, etc.). However, it is also very hard to do. And it is not for the faint of heart. So think twice… Oh, and hire the right people (two of Rovio’s rockstars just started his own thing in this realm. Go, Andrew!).

Those Bloody Whales

There was a time when only one-legged near-pirates hunted whales. Nowadays every game developer and their dogs (or cats or rats or pet hedgehogs do). According to Forbes, here’s (well, below) is why. Those are the folks who bring in the money. By my reckoning, the numbers Forbes calls out are not actually the industry benchmark but – perhaps – an averaged out number. This means that, if you’re good at what you do, you should be pulling in a lot more than what their article has you believe you should. And that is something that can be a little daunting. So, kids, there goes your easy career in game development…

Before I link to this Forbes thing then: it is not easy, mind the fun, get some kudos to them suits and be in for the ride… 😉

Here’s the Forbes article (from which I copied the infographic below and where you can get the fully scalable version).

Leap Motion: First Impressions

I signed up for the pre-order of the Leap Motion controller ages ago. And, of course, it must arrive whilst I was on vacation… But, hey, it’s here now and since I was asked by a couple of friends to provide them with my thoughts, this is my first ever product review. A few words of caution though: I am not providing a fully-fledged review, just a few bits and bobs and my thoughts on the overall thing. For more traditional things, see e.g. here or here (consumer-focussed simple overview) or here (more in-depth technical).

Installation Environment

I installed it on my MacBook Pro (13” Retina, 3 GHz i7, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD) running on the latest OS (at the time of writing, that’s 10.8.4). It comes with two cables, a long and a short one, which is a neat idea. Alas, I would actually have wanted a cordless one but the, I guess, it might be a wee bit early for some BlueTooth 4.0 magic, so I’ll let this pass. It does not come with a manual and whilst that is oh-so-valley-style, a “cheat sheet” for the various gestures might be a good idea: as it is such a completely novel interaction method, it would make peoples’ lives a lot easier if they could check back quickly in the old-fashioned style. I mean, you could do it hipster-infographic-style as a hat-tip to the Valley, could you not?

You plug in, are asked to go to a website and install the software. Simple.

The Start

The first thing you do is go through an “orientation” programme, which is sheer beauty and gives you the first, well, orientation on what to do (and what not). This is the first bit where it shows you what it sees (in rough but pretty terms):

Then it shows you what it really sees (in more accurate and mechanical terms):

The rest is play. Here’s my son practicing his signature:

Using Leap Motion…

Then I started off. There are quite a few pretty cool apps available already (the company announced 1m downloads today, a mere 4 weeks after starting to ship to consumers). The New York Times app is nice (if practical). There are some sweet ones exploring molecules, etc. There are, alas, also some that don’t really work (yet). The usual shenanigans every new platform goes through. Anyway, I then downloaded the “Touchless for Mac” app, which turns the Leap controller into a navigation tool for your computer. And it works: It took me the best part of 20 minutes to actually get going nicely. I could open web pages, scroll through my Facebook feed, open links, play (and pause) video, etc. without too much struggle or stress. Latency is basically absent.

Mind you, this is not Minority Report if you are in the early stages of use (there is a “basic” and an “advanced” setting; I haven’t ventured beyond “basic” yet). But what would you expect? It is new, you have never used gesture controls in space (unless you’re Tom Cruise of course), so you will have to learn. I have little times for nay-sayers that already point out that it’ll fail because it is not perfect. It is a very impressive start!

My son (18, slightly geeky [and designy] aspiring Physicist and skateboard apparel entrepreneur) was, unsurprisingly, a lot faster than I in picking this up. It took him the best part of 5 minutes to successfully navigate around the parts that caused me some trial and error (small buttons, e.g. the “close window” one). BTW: Even my wife thinks is cool, and she hasn’t even seen Minority Report!

Apps, Apps, Apps…

In the year of the Lord (if you are so inclined) 2013, we all know that any device is only ever as useful as the applications that exist for it. And this is where the whole Leap experience delights and, erm, shows potential for growth at the same time: there are some apps out there already (and bear in mind that it’s a mere 4-5 weeks they are in the market only) that show you what can be done with this. And I would say it shows great promise! There are, however, also some absolute dogs (I won’t name and shame as I have no inclination of rubbishing brave developers that took an early leap [sic!] of faith to get behind a new platform).

User Interface

The biggest challenge is the bridge between today’s computer interfaces (I have yet to play around with it on Windows 8; need to “borrow” my daughter’s computer for that) are either mouse- or touch-centric. This is to say that they do not take into account the intrinsic constraints of gesture-based UX systems. That is to say: there is a natural constraint in how the Leap Motion can work with today’s computer systems. That, however, is (arguably) not the Leap Motion’s fault. The promises are huge as it removes artificial middlemen between the content and the user’s natural input mechanism (of which gesture is one). However, the full power of it will only come to fruition if paired with an OS interface that is designed for it, and this might – at least in the short term – be the snag: Leap doesn’t have that.

They have done a lot of things right though (the developer uptake is testament to that for a start) and it would be thrilling to see it being married to an interface that is actually built for it. It is not that hard, I think: Leap Motion’s own store shows (in a webpage) how to adapt a few things that make it very usable indeed.

Big buttons, clear borders between items, etc. make it a whole lot easier to navigate fluently and quickly using the gesture input. This is running in a present-day browser, so can’t be rocket science. There are already some convincing implementations of the Leap’s controls into live services: Google Earth as well as Nokia’s Here Maps already allow you to use the Leap Motion controller as an input device and that works really well!

One downside is the “jump” if you scroll: it sometimes just drops when you move your finger forward (a “click”), essentially misinterpreting what you want to do. This then can open another app (because it got “hooked” in the app tray below) or do some other stuff you didn’t really want it to do. Because of the above-mentioned challenge with small “close window” buttons, this is not a welcome distraction.

Another challenging piece is to use the Leap Motion in concert with keyboard and touchpad: because your fingers move in and/or near the “vision” of the controller, it sometimes interferes by e.g. re-setting your pointer to somewhere else on the screen, which is somewhat annoying. For everyday use, this is even fatal: if you always have to activate/de-activate and/or connect/dis-connect, you will probably not be using it at all once the early excitement has worn off. But let this not deter you from the concept: this last challenge could very easily be abolished would OEM incorporate the controller into an actual computer: the moment you use the keyboard, the Leap controller would simply be “muted” (or something a whole lot smarter than that). None of the constraints are flaws of the technology but merely on how it interacts with today’s commercially available hardware. If you allow a crude comparison: a Lamborghini Aventador would not have been much fun on cart tracks in the 19th century: the device would simply not interact that well with its incumbent environment. Alas, we are not 150 years apart here: all components exist and could work hand in glove (I know, tacky pun) with each other with only very few tweaks.

And Onwards!

And this is where it gets exciting: imagine a controller like this for navigation tasks, voice, etc for things like text input and couple this with anything from Google Glass to Pico Projectors (fairly sure Wikipedia needs an update here) to proximity-aware screens in your environment (you walk into your home, it all comes alive on a 50” screen whereas it would happily play on your Google Glass-type screen whilst you are on your way from work in the metro/tube/bus/subway). You have the freedom to choose and use natural inputs (voice, gestures) depending on what makes most sense for the task at hand. Doable? Absolutely. Close? I suspect so!

Conclusion?

So what do I think? After the above, you’d appreciate this is only an interim conclusion. In principle: I love it! How often will I use it in the next six months or so? Not very much, I guess, as it still doesn’t have the critical bits I particularly need (I am one of the boring MS Office/Keynote/Chrome types). But what can it (and/or competitors, successors, subsequent evolutions of it) do? Enormous things!

Carnival of the Mobilists # 270

Greetings, friends. Due to the English inability to have bank holidays on days other than a Monday, this week’s Carnival of the Mobilists is a day late but it is here nonetheless, and with verve! I have spent reading through a plethora of good stuff from the trenches of mobile:

Our friends from All About Symbian (yes, that name is still around!) have a bit of a prolific blogging streak and brings us two contributions this week looking at aspects of device and OS design respectively. Since both are intriguing, they get a double mention.

First, the function of home screens (note the plural) is queried and the question is as simple as it is compelling: if you have seven (or nine or eleven) “home” screens, do you then actually still have a home screen? Do you also have nine homes? Steve posits that simplicity should arguably win it, which of course is the opposite of what the iPhone’s all-app grid or Andoid’s army of home screens do today. Interesting!

Secondly, Steve looks at the burgeoning size of smartphones. He points out that the Nokia N95 screen size of a whopping 2.6” was huge by the standards then. It is dwarfed by the Samsung Galaxy S III’s 4.8” screen though. And the question is raised when is big too big. The answer is suggested to be at the end of people’s arms: Steve points out that hands are not growing as quickly as the screensizes (if indeed at all) and that therefore there should indeed be a perfect size for a phone – which 4.7” or bigger is, alas, not.

Moving on to even bigger things, and it doesn’t get any bigger than the Chinese market. Andy from Mobithinking has looked at recently released figures from some of the bigger analysists in the space and compacted this in a post that gives us numbers that make the mind of even the hardened mobilista boggle. China has now more smartphones than the US (22% vs 16% of the overall market). China has 3x more mobile subscribers than the US (1bn vs 330m). The country’s largest operator, China Mobile, alone has more than 2x as many mobile subscribers than the population of the US (which is itself the 3rd-largest mobile market in the world – India is a long way ahead of it on #2 though). China has more than 430m mobile Internet users, which is more than the population of either Europe or North America. For more, make sure to read thoroughly!

MobileGroove has a post from guest author Jeff Hasen on something that piqued my interest significantly when I heard about it, namely the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) attempt to regulate the disemination of content via social media (and mobile). Jeff’s background as a reporter and marketer of previous Olympic Games adds further insight. The long and short is that the IOC has set up a “hub” that will post content for more than 1,000 current and former athletes directly from their Facebook and Twitter accounts (which I would suggest is the antithesis of social media). Restrictions as to what you can share apply, however, also to ticket holders (so don’t you dare tweeting that photo of Usain Bolt using a Mac; Acer is a sponsor!). The predictable result? Uproar, mayhem and another big old body having to bow to the anarchic power of social (and mobile) media!

Lastly, something more (seemingly) mundane but (evidently) more practical: MobyAffiliates has a post on AppStore optimization, namely a guide what you need to do in order to make sure that your app doesn’t sink in between those other apps upon launch. This takes everything from app title, keywords, description, icons, imagery, etc, etc. An eminently useful post if I may say so!

As is good tradition on this blog, I will not choose a winner – I think all of them are good and important reads! So go ahead, get a coffee (or glass of wine) and do yourself some good! 🙂

Next week, the Carnival will be hosted by MobiThinking. If you want to submit something worthy, please e-mail us at mobilists [at] gmail [dot] com by the end of the week. And if you need more information on the Carnival (or to catch up on a wealth of information from all the previous Carnivals), make sure to visit the Carnival’s own site.

UPDATE: we have had a late bloomer to this week’s edition but I wouldn’t want to omit this, so here we go: The Mobile Payments Today blog brings a report on the jungle that mobile payments still are (using the example of Google Wallet) and highlighting the apparent complexities in connecting the various ecosystems (different POS systems, card providers, loyalty programs etc).

Facebook’s IPO with no mobile revenues

So here’s the mother of all IPOs then, and it was coming a long way. The web was buzzing, today analysts of any couleur are commenting and reading through the fine print of Facebook’s registration statement (known as the S-1) in order to find valuable nuggets of information that they had not had before and myriads of bloggers and journalists drool over the new wave of young wealthy people in the Valley.

No mobile revenue

Whilst I’d love to join into this frenzy, I want to focus on one point in the S-1 that caught my eye, and which might pose some interesting challenges for the social networking giant going forward, namely the large abyss between mobile use of the site and revenues derived from it. You will likely have read about the huge amount of Facebook users regularly using the site from mobile devices. According to the company itself, 425m active users (out of a user base of 845m) accessed the site using mobile devices; that’s more than 50%. And yet, Facebook does not derive “any meaningful revenue” (quote from their S-1) from it.

Why (these) ads don’t work as well

This is, of course, because it – thus far – did not find a good way to display ads in their various guises to mobile users. The screen real estate is scarce and it would be easy to destroy the user experience by doing so. However, with that growth in usage, they may have to review this approach. The challenge is then to successfully marry user experience on a small(er) screen with revenue-generating activities. And, alas, the latter are so far mainly display ads of various sorts. How successful will those be? My guess is not very much. It is likely one reason why Facebook so far has shied away from using them: it might just destroy the user experience to an extent that its users would be seriously upset.

And yet, it is only the latest case of highlighting one of the common fallacies of migration from web to mobile (and I am not even saying they are wrong to move that way; their user growth and occuption of that space will likely counter-balance that; I think it was Accel’s Rich Wong who said that it is easier to find revenue streams once you have 100’s of millions of users than to find 100’s of millions of users with a (pre-)defined revenue stream). Nevertheless, none of us would watch a TV commercial showing you a static picture and someone reading something out from the off (this is exactly how TV advertising kicked off). We were not overly thrilled by early attempts of online advertising; they were merely an attempt to convert billboards and printed circulars to the digital realm. It was not until Google’s AdWords that online advertising really hit it off. So why would we now be content with a mere port from another form of media?

The Japanese way?

Japan has shown that there are other ways. Japan’s GREE reportedly records similar revenues from about 5% the user base than Facebook does. It does so mainly with virtual currencies and goods (and, yes,  it has moved to a slightly different target market); users can customize their experiences within that social network by buying “stuff” to embellish their avatars, play, use, customize content, etc. Japan has always been something of the Galapagos Islands when it comes to mobile usage: what worked there didn’t often work elsewhere (anyone remember i-mode?). However, we are seeing a similar effect on smartphone applications: 65% of the top-grossing apps these days use some sort of “freemium” feature. This approach might be too late for Facebook now though. Its users would be up in arms would they start charging for features that users have come to see as free.

I am fairly confident that the good folks of Facebook are here to stay but I am still thrilled to see if, when and how they will begin to adapt. With all the very smart people in the company, we may just see the next wave of mobile monetization, and I wonder what it might be…

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? 🙂

@scobleizer or @tomiahonen? Who is Right?

Every now and again, war breaks out on the web. Or, rather, a full-on discourse of learned scholars on the world at large or, in our case, mobile in particular. This week saw one such blog fights and, no, I am not talking about Wikileaks. The formidable Robert Scoble (he of recent European ignorance but, hey, he is American after all… ;-)) and Tomi Ahonen (Rat-Hat of Forum Oxford and a certain [but not blind!] Nokia-fandom but, hey, he might live in HK but he is a Fin… ;-)) brought it on about the fall or not of Nokia.

It started with one of Tomi’s long, long posts on “Some Symbian Sanity” to which Scoble responded “Why Nokia is Still Doomed“. Because he referenced Tomi, he – if you know him, you’d say “of course” – responded with another long post defending Nokia’s smartphone strategy and execution. You should think Tomi has the harder corner to fight, right? 😉

Let me briefly summarise the warring parties’ viewpoints. I will then offer my own take on this to decide who’s right.

Scoble’s Opinion

Scoble first, he, never shy for words, delivered a swift and damning verdict on Nokia: Illustrated ventured Eastwards again to LeWeb last week and took stock of Europe’s smartphone pulse.he reckons that Nokia is dead because none of his friends has one or, if they do, they don’t like it. People pile up in Apple stores and wax lyrical about the apps they find on the iPhone and iPod Touch. Nokia is arrogant rather than cognisant of its shortfalls and he has not recently heard of a strategy. The people (and/or Scoble’s friends) love iPhone. Case closed.

Tomi’s Original and Scoble Riposte

It’s always a little more difficult to summarise Tomi’s posts as he doesn’t do quick ones. Who knows him is aware that he is a big fan of numbers, of big numbers, in fact. And this is why he hangs on to Nokia: because, you know, their numbers are big! His original post goes – very, very simplified – like this: he sets off to compare Apple with Porsche (as opposed to, say VW). He didn’t reference my recent post on this (tut, tut, Tomi) but the gist is the same: Nokia doesn’t only do Porsche, it does everything from VW Polo (or Chevy Matiz, Kia something or other) to Bentley (well, maybe that not anymore unless you count Vertu in). Its competitor is therefore not Ferrari but Toyota or – in the mobile world – not Appele but Samsung.

He then dives into Nokia’s strategy. And this is when it goes a little, well, foggy. Symbian being miles ahead (yes), Symbian kicking a** today with the N8 (erm, no), Apple’s original (sic!) iOS failing when it comes to phone features (well, yes, maybe, but who is using the “original” iOS today? Or the original Symbian for that matter?). And then he goes on to run the numbers. Now, according to him (and I didn’t check the numbers) Nokia + Japan = 45% smartphone market share for Symbian in 2009 (down a whopping 11% even by his count from 2006). Now, here’s where the questions start (more later). Then onwards to the mass market (more later). And, Tomi (being the very smart man and learned scholar he is) recognises Symbian might be a bit old and clunky and (rightly and unsurprisingly) pits MeeGo against this: new, open, Linux-based, etc. A winner, right? (more later). Therefore, Tomi heralds Nokia as being the perfect example in moving from “dumbphone” to smartphone.

Following Scoble’s burst of opinion as per above, Tomi reverted with more (as he does). I’ll skip through most of it. However, one point he raises is that the US is only 8% of the global market (true). It is though higher on smartphone consumption and (one language, one currency and all) provides a cool launchpad in a rich (yes, still) market. And Nokia is the Robbie Williams of the mobile world when it comes to the US: never managed to break it! He goes on to answer the “Nokia’s not cool” argument and refers to eco-friendly. Well, Tomi, that’s a little lame. Face it: Nokia lost its cool. Period. No argument! Apps? Yes, I know Ovi is catching up but, come on, the app store changed the bloody ecosystem (Nokia had about 4 iterations pre-Ovi who all miserably failed; Apple provided the paradigm-shift – face it).

Who is right?

The weird thing is that they both are (or, more controversially, neither is)!

And here’s why (hint: Tomi did get it right but then got carried away on the Finnish ticket): Tomi nailed it in his first post when he compared Apple to Porsche. Apple is not (or not yet?) competing with the Volkswagens and Toyotas of the mobile world. Now: in the automotive world, Porsche failed with the big coup (but, let’s remember, only just!). Apple might yet pull it off. The starting point is not dissimilar: super-high margins, a very comfortable lead in the luxury segment and loads of cash. Porsche over-reached (driven by a perhaps over-zealous ruler). Apple might, well…

Scoble looks at the US first and foremost. And it is – in spite of the many struggles – a formidable market still. And Apple made one of the most impressive market entries of all time! Now, will it be equally easy to capture China, India, Brazil, Russia, Indonesia, etc? I doubt it. Does Scoble see this? No.

As to Tomi: you may want to count in the likes of Foxconn in the more formidable competitors of the mighty Finns. But that aside, yes, it’s mainly Samsung today. As a matter of fact, we need to start looking at handset (and OS) segments a little differently. Symbian might be a smartphone platform in the old definition but it does not (usually) stack up against Apple’s iOS or the slicker iterations of Google’s Android in the new world. This is why Nokia keeps losing market share in the high end rapidly (and loses market capitalization equally fast) and why Apple’s market cap is at an all time high! Will it win the war? No, not necessarily. And Nokia still has a shot. But the N8 was too little too late: hardware specs don’t count, the user experience does. And Nokia lost it on that front (compared to its up-market rivals).

So, folks, just re-read my post on Volkswagen and Porsche, will you? And settle your little tiff… 😉

Handset Segments: Smart and Dumb? Or only Porsche and VW?

You hear it often (most recently by Average Jane): people who complain about unwanted features and complexities of mobile phones. And now here comes a company (not your ordinary OEM, mind you) who is bringing out just that: the ultimate dumbphone (I am referring to features not potential users). Meet John Doe’s new phone, the anti-smartphone: Dutch agency John Doe (sic!) premiered John’s Phone, which can do, well, make and receive phone calls. SMS? No. Address book? Yes, from paper with a pocket to stick it in at the back. Java? No. Apps? No. Anything other than making phone calls? No.

It is, I would posit, a luxury phone nonetheless, i.e. for people in countries where there is actually a choice of information and media sources. Alas, these countries (Western Europe, US, Japan) also are the countries with an ageing population and, judging by my own mum, they might well be fed up with all those fancy gimmicks they have absolutely no use for and, hence, yearn for simplicity (because, let’s face it, the fact of being reachable and able to make a call even when you’re out and about is intriguing, as demonstrated by the early success of phone booths).

The news highlights something I have been harping on about often and for a while (both in public and in private), and that is the fact that there is more than one market out there for phones (in much the same way that there are different segments for, say, cars). And whilst there are the Porsches of the mobile world (few models, high-end, high-priced), the Hyundais and Kias are often overlooked by the mobile afficionados and their attempts to read the crystal balls of mobile technology evolution. Porsche is (OK, was, prior to their misguided attempt to take over Volkswagen) the most profitable car maker in the world (as, incidentally, Apple is in the mobile space), Nokia and Samsung (and ZTE, and …) shift many more handsets. Who is better? Well, the answer is: this is the wrong question. Porsche and Kia do not serve the same segment and are, hence, not competing.

Nokia and Samsung could be described as the Volkswagen or Toyota of the mobile world: broad range of models attempting to also capture the high-end (Volkswagen through its Audi, Bentley, Bugatti ranges, Toyota with Lexus) and they do so with varying success (Bugatti and Bentley are, I believe, loss-making). However, they do it in any event with lesser margins than Porsche (it’s a distorted picture now that VW effectively owns Porsche but, hey). Again, is this good or bad? And the answer is again: neither.

When we bring this back to the larger discussion on Nokia’s demise (or not), we should probably just identify Nokia’s (alleged) problem on the high-end. Symbian might be high-powered VW but it is no Porsche. That will still leave the VW Golf as the top-seller in many countries though, meaning that and s40 and the likes might still be very viable (and appropriate!) platforms for large parts of the market. So not all might be lost. It is “just” that Nokia needs to look at the challenge of providing the broad range. And it might be worthwhile looking at VW as a comparison: they do share certain platforms but run Audi as a unit separately! And this is where Nokia differs. Might that be the solution?

As to John’s phone, I am not sure if South Park-esque icons appeal to the golden oldies but then, it either just might or (perhaps equally plausible) they might not even know South Park, which would be just as good. Will it shift? I doubt it. Why, you say? Because they don’t have the distribution of the Nokias and Samsungs of this world, that’s why (plus, it might be just too crude after all; or is that the geek-me?).

Thanks to @claireboo for the heads-up.

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