I previously looked at recession-busting sectors and products, and here’s more proof that not all is bad: two reports point out that smartphones continue to outperform the market rather significantly, recording growth figures of 25.9% year-on-year in Europe; the growth for all of 2007 vs 2008 was even more impressive: they grew by 36.1%. In the US, smartphones increased their share of the overall mobile phone market from 12% in Q4/2007 to 25% a year later. Good numbers!
Half of the (US) smartphones now come with touchscreens, with 70% “instead” (?) having a QWERTY keyboard (my best guess is that this includes phones with a slide-out keyboard, such as the T-Mobile G1
or the Sony Ericsson Xperia
So how come? The iPhone but also other devices like Blackberries
, Nokia’s higher-end phones (e.g. the N95
) have powerfully demonstrated that the use of a mobile for things other than using voice and SMS (and take the occasional snap with a so-so camera) is not the end of all things. The overall feature sets of smartphones but – possibly more importantly still – the overall user experience is generally significantly better on a fairly comprehensive scale, and this – in particular in times of recession – would suggest a much higher value for money (“if I pay £50, then I get 4x in value of what I would otherwise have.”): they now all contain decent cameras, enough storage to work as a decent MP3 player (or in Apple’s case even as an iPod…), they do e-mail, connect more effortlessly to the Internet, play more fulfilling games and generally provide a much richer content experience (did I just hear “widgets”?).
For the content industry, this is good news: more powerful devices are generally easier to address and provide a better route to transport brands and production values across to the small screen. The iPhone has shown (see e.g. here
) that users DO use their phones for all sorts of things if one makes it easy for them. Therefore, the smarter the phone, the higher the consumption. Good, good!
There’s new data out on the bestselling handsets, and this time it is not being derived from accessory sales (which may have its flaws as I pointed out here) but from a survey amongst service reps and store managers across the 4 big US mobile networks (Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile; these comprise 85% of the total subscriber base). Now, this would arguably reduce the recorded sales for the iPhone since this is also being sold via Apple’s own retail stores as well as Walmart, Best Buy, etc. So again not an entirely accurate yardstick, huh?
It is noteworthy that only one handset is available on more than one carrier (and, yes, it ranks prominently amongst the top 1) and that Nokia, despite all waiting, has still not managed to break the top 10.
It is also noteworthy that most of the handsets would certainly be classified at smartphones (the Samsung Rant might be the exception). And this is certainly good news. The T-610 and RAZR may finally have left the building…
So here we go (number in brackets is the previous month’s rank):
1. (1) Blackberry Curve
2. (2) iPhone
3. (3) Blackberry Storm
4. (6) LG Voyager
5. (4) LG Dare
6. (5) Blackberry Bold
7. (-) Samsung Rant
8. (9) Samsung Behold
9. (10) Samsung Instinct
10. (8) LG Env2
Source: Rankings are by Avian Research LL.C. (via the above link)
Funny little press reports today tell us that T-Mobile “ditched” Nokia handsets that are capable of supporting the Finnish giant’s Ovi (Finnish for door) multimedia portal. The German originator of these news is slightly more cautious: they also report that T-Mobile denied this and merely point out that T-Mobile has less Nokia phones on offer than a week ago and has – quite noteworthy indeed – removed all those that were “Ovi-enabled”.
The background is of course Nokia’s move into the multimedia service area (on which I first wrote about here). Nokia scored some early successes, namely with Telefonica (see here) and Vodafone (see here) but the threat to operator-driven content offerings was clear from the start. Whilst Telefonica and Vodafone were quite content on having the Ovi portal to music, video and games offered from Nokia’s platform, on their desktop alongside their own offering, T-Mobile allegedly sees this as a threat to its own plans. It is, hence, yet another iteration of the fight of carriers for their ground in the media sector.
T-Mobile might feel strong in the media space due to its iPhone monopoly in Germany but even if (and I suspect that that is not the case), it would be a somewhat desperate attempt: if such drastic moves as locking out the market leader’s handsets are required to keep customers on its own content offerings, is it then not a clear sign that such offerings might not actually be cutting it? In particular when the competitor is an OEM that in itself does not really enjoy a particular flair of creativity and buoyancy in media terms…
I would suggest that Nokia is (only?) a noteworthy competitor because of its market share in the OEM market, and not because it is such a good media company. Constraints with a view to placement on the phone’s “desktop” as well as walled gardens and consumer fear for super-high data charges (see an absurd example here) drive people to what is there, not what is best. This is not even disrespectful to the fine folks at Nokia; it merely is to demonstrate that a lot of players are not even there yet, so that it is too early to say who is best. The desperate moves of the carriers as well as historical performance on the content side suggests, however, that carriers may not be the best suited ones. Given that content is only a fraction of their data revenues, this may not actually be a bad thing: could it not be pointing them to do what they’re really good at, i.e. operating a network. If you want to call it a pipe, fine, but just make it a very, very smart pipe, and everyone (most importantly your customers) will love you!
Now, this has been puzzling me for years: the US carrier policy (I am not sure how many still do it) of charging the recipient of a text message for that message. How odd is that? You sit in a restaurant, the waiter brings you a bottle of wine that you did not order. You do not drink the wine (because you did not order it and you do not like wine) but you are being charged nonetheless. There is even a bolder version of this: the same waiter works for a winery, and they send you that bottle as a marketing trick, say to lure you into booking travel to the Loire wine region. Yet again: you did not order it, you did not drink it, they charge you. No, you say, this is surely not possible. And I agree.
However, the US arm of T-Mobile (and I am sure others before them) is doing just that: if users that do not hold a special data plan (something like a don’t-pay-for-wine-you-did-not-order-plan) are being charged for every SMS they receive, be it your teenage son telling you that he didn’t make it [home/to school/to your appointment 3 hours ago], be it your partner announcing that he/she is on the tube and will be home in 10 minutes or be it the tourism authority of the Loire region working hard on improving travel to their area – you pay.
This now seems to backfire as there has been a class action filed against T-Mobile US seeking redress for exactly that. According to the report about it, “the plaintiffs allege T-Mobile USA’s texting policy violates federal telecom law and Washington state’s consumer protection-unfair business practices act” but, quite frankly, I would have thought it would also violate a string of other, more mundane laws about contracts and invalidity of coercive business practices, etc. Unfortunately for all of us who like to drool over those incredible sums in US law suits, “the suit did not contain a dollar figure for alleged damages.”
It is about time that this stops: it estranges your customers, it provides for horrendous customer experience, and, really they shouldn’t say they didn’t see it coming…
German carrier T-Mobile today scored a victory against competitor Vodafone: the court declared that the exclusive deal the carrier struck with Apple over the distribution of the iPhone, the coveted darling of mobile fashionistas, in Germany.
The court ruled that it could not find a violation of German competition or anti-trust laws. Vodafone had invoked an injunction forcing the sale of unlocked devices, following which T-Mobile offered the unlocked device without a contract for a whopping EUR 999. This let a competitor, Debitel, into offering a cheaper contract to owners of such unlocked iPhones under the terms of which they would also get EUR 600 back (the difference between the T-Mobile price for locked and unlocked models).
The decision is not final; Vodafone has the right to appeal. Also, the judgment does not do away with the fact that French law prevents the closed business model favoured by Apple where it is also on offer unlocked. Under European law, unlocked French iPhones can be re-sold in every EU country once deployed in the marketplace.
The biggest impact of this of course is that it effectively puts Apple’s approach to force operators to pay it cut of the usage revenues under threat. This might now be averted as cross-border trade will likely remain marginal compared to overall sales.
German news reports say that Vodafone Germany has sued T-Mobile over its exclusive iPhone arrangement with Apple. Vodafone challenges the “combo” of iPhone and a 2-year-contract and asserts that this might be contrary to fair competition laws. Vodafone Germany’s chief describes the iPhone as the “fall of man”, which is pretty funny, come to think of it. The manager says they would fear that the likes of Nokia and Motorola would follow the example and do the same, which would heavily distort the market. Hmm. Who had this thing with its logos on handsets again? Who was the only carrier distributing Sharp handsets? Ah… Given Vodafone’s approach with the rather successful Sharp GX series, which was exclusively (sic!) available to, yes, Vodafone customers, the suit does not feel entirely sincere. One might plead that Vodafone fails on the “clean-hands” doctrine (which, alas, is unknown to German law).
This is of course also noteworthy as Vodafone Global CEO Arun Sarin went on record saying that the iPhone makes for a “pretty poor experience” (unless you are in a WiFi area) and all.
Why then do they insist this is such a bad thing? Do we take it as a sign that the lost iPhone deal might after all have a certain sting to the mighty carrier? This is in spite of it still possibly proving to have been the right decision, with Apple’s share in user fees and all. It may well all come down to branding: Vodafone is thought to have spent hundreds of millions on trying to build its Vodafone Live! brand, which it all but abandoned recently. It was the first big carrier to partner with Nokia on the latter’s Ovi initiative (see here), which in itself may be seen as an admission of failure of its own service.
Whilst I understand Vodafone’s move from the view of the German lawyer I (also) am, the overall approach has something of a child envious of another one’s toy.
UPDATE: Further reports shed more light onto this. T-Mobile may be forced to sell unlocked phones and also give up the 2-year tie-in, i.e. offer consumers to buy the iPhone without a contract. This would be a major blow to the Apple business model and one that might force others to open up, too: MoCoNews reports that French laws have similar provisions.
Most importantly perhaps, European laws on the freedom of goods and services would prevent anyone stopping grey imports into other EU member states where Apple struck other exclusivity deals (e.g. with O2 in the UK), which might become a real threat to Apple’s business model altogether.