Tag: webos

Carnival of the Mobilists # 256

A new year, a new carnival (which will returned to weekly editions now, too). This week’s edition is hosted by Mark Bridges over at thefonecast.com, and he includes posts, such as:

  • Lots of reminiscing on the past year (on mobile marketing, the greater scope of the mobile landscape and – albeit in Spanish – a reminder of a joke from all the way back in 2004 when someone suggested in April Fools’ fashion that Apple – hold your breath – might launch a phone bypassing traditional network operators).
  • Of course some predictions (general ones as well as a look on where mobile development specifically might go) and Tomi Ahonen’s latest on why all roads lead to Mobile (as in tech, not as in Alabama).
  • A couple of posts on what might or might not happen to WebOS following HP’s open-sourcing announcement (comparisons to Symbian’s fate included).
  • More on dying platforms with a piece on mobile flash.
  • Ad performance benchmarking (Admob vs mobfox).
  • A call to prepare for the (presumed) ascent of the Kindle Fire.
  • And, finally, a nod to my two posts on Angry Birds and my take on the dubious assertion that “social lost its sizzle“.

The carnival is here! Go, read it! :) And if you’re a blogger wanting to participate, head over to the Carnival’s revamped homepage where you will find everything you need to know about submitting entries and even hosting one on your own blog if you are so inclined.

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

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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