It was a hit-or-miss marketing strategy: buy one, get one.
Yup, the BoGo was certainly a powerful marketing tool used so often by American wireless operators to catch the attention of potential subscribers. Or entire families. And how feature phones did rain down upon civilization.
But as average selling prices went up and certain handsets began getting more and more of the operator subsidies, the two-for one offers of desirable handsets seemed to elude consumers.
But now as the U.S. races past the 50% smartphone penetration rate, it could be that BoGo´s are making a comeback.
So, this would be a good opportunity to see where it all began:
Sure, I’m aging myself here, but I have to admit that I’m old enough to clearly remember the pre-smartphone days of the U.S. handset market. You know: the good ol’ days of RAZR’s and RIZR’s and KRZR’s and Stripes.
There were 53-hundreds and 6-oh-3-oh’s. There were 83-hundreds and C-4-oh-no’s.
Yes, what wonderful days and what wonderful claims. Sometimes products had numbers, sometimes they had weird-sounding names.
There was Cingular, Verizon and AT&T. And there were other wireless operators that are now history.
You buy one feature phone now, and you get one for free. Yes, everywhere in the U.S. was BoGo territory.
All mailboxes were stuffed with an offer or two. We like you so much, so here’s what we’ll do:
Come in today and sign on this line, then do it again as we had such a good time.
Bring a sister, a friend, a father, a mother. Two years and a day for one, then the other.
And of course we’re eager to seal the deal, so we give you some hardware and call it a steal.
Two handsets that could be identical twins, and we’ll be happy to tell you that it’s you who win-wins.
No, your kindness doesn’t go unrewarded: two commoditized phones, and you thought you could never afford it.
And so it was about half a decade ago. My gosh, how the two-fer offers did flow.
But now the smartphone age is now upon us, and those double-up deals don’t seem quite numerous or plush.
But wait... are BoGos making a comeback?
I admit that I have no real solid stats to back this up, but using eyeball evidence, it really seems to me that the buy-one-get-one offers have dried up quite a bit as operators began pushing higher-end smartphones. I do remember BlackBerry BoGo deals and perhaps a few for Windows Mobile devices. But as the smartphone market exploded, solid two-for offers for Apple and Android phones seemed non-existent.
ITU to T9 to SWYPE to some voice for some things. Is there room for a brand new touch input scheme at this point?
SnapKeys, the company behind the 2i software, calls it "The Imaginary Interface." (T be honest, I don't quite understand this yet.)
The world will get a closer look at 2i at CES next month. This is going against Nuance, a company few people know by name, but a company that is cornering the input market. I can't imagine it will be easy for 2i to take hold in 2012.
Mobile penetration rates in most developed markets are now well above 100%. In other words, the average person in countries such as Malaysia, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Germany, and Russia are juggling more than one mobile subscription, whether is be pre-paid or post-paid, or a combination of the two.
And a few countries such as Singapore, Portugal, Finland, Italy, and Greece are now pushing towards mobile penetration rates of 200%. These people are well-connected and know how to get the most out of a SIM card. Take a trip to Italy or Portugal and you'll witness how clever young people milk the network for every last drop of airtime.
So it should come as no surprise that, as the smartphone market develops, the dual-SIM smartphone market has begun to hit mainstream.
Some markets such as the Russian and Indian markets had been screaming for dual-SIM handsets for years until Samsung answered the call. So, which mainstream vendor is the first to market with dual-SIM smartphones? Of course it's Samsung.
Samsung just announced the GALAXY Y DUOS and the GALAXY Y Pro DUOS (PICS below), two reasonable-spec'd, Android-based, dual-SIM smartphones to be rolled out during the beginning of 2012.
Anyone who knows how the feature-phone market developed during the past five years realizes this is an incredibly obvious move. While these are not the first dual-SIM smartphones, they will likely be the devices that make the masses. Now we have to question, who will this hurt?
Vendors had better start looking for this gap in their portfolios, because there's no excuse in making the same mistake twice. That would be a dual dual mistake.
JK Shin, President of IT & Mobile Communications, Samsung: "With the tremendous success of the Dual SIM feature phones, we are now very pleased to be introducing the first Dual SIM smartphones powered by Android. We have been actively exploring this market and are well aware of the need for Dual SIM smartphones."
A duo of duals: Samsung's GALAXY Y DUOS & Y Pro DUOS:
Back in late 2009 and early 2010, as part of my foresighting work at Nokia, I put together a “Trends Constellations” package listing 20 potential trends for 2010 and beyond. (I’m happy to share this deck with my work colleagues. Please contact me via enterprise channels.)
One of my wild card predictions in that presentation was the re-unification of the Koreas. Why would this matter to the telecoms biz? Because a number of the wireless industry’s major players are just south of the border, and they could, at some point have quick access to some significant if a bit rough content talent sitting just to the north.
It’s not very well known that one of North Korea’s main exports to the world is kiddie content: inexpensive cartoons and games including mobile games. According to internet sources such as Wikipedia, some of the world’s largest content studios are actually North Korean including a company called SEK Studio that has more than 1500 artists working on content subcontracted or sub-subcontracted to them from more than 70 companies around the globe including Italian, French, South Korean, and American companies.
While some of this info is difficult to verify by normal channels such as public financial records, it does seem to be the case that television production companies in Italy and France are directly using North Korean animators, and some large global companies are using North Korean gaming studios to create computer and mobile games.
I’ll avoid using this blog to make any political statements, but you can Google around yourself to find the names of some of the Western companies involved in these deals and make your own judgements.
Whether my 2009 wild-card prediction of a Korean peninsula re-unification seems more or less far fetched now is difficult to say. But as former German president Horst Köhler advised South Korea a number of years back, prepare to reunify with the North sooner than you expect. And Köhler warned of the complications of re-unification. “Learn from us,” he said, referring to the re-unification of the two Germanys.
But along with the complications will come opportunities for companies such as Samsung and LG, and any other company quick enough to see a potential new talent pool. This certainly won’t be child’s play, and it won’t be all fun and games. But here’s hoping for a picture of happiness for future generations.
Getting along side-by-side. Reunification of North and South? North Korean animation and gaming studios could be a boon for Korean companies south of the border:
French “Prudence Petitpas” made in North Korea.
The “King Lion Simba” TV series (not Disney’s) from North Korea via Italy's Mondo TV:
As a follow up to my last post on the death of printed newspapers...
So, who invented the tablet? I still give a hat tip to “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry and his script writers.
But check out this vision from the mid-'90s from Knight Ridder's “Information Design Lab” talking about digital paper and tablets. (Knight Ridder was once a major American publisher of newspapers before being acquired.)
Knight Ridder exec, 1994: “Tablets will be a whole new class of computer...” Did Knight Ridder get their IPR issues in order?
Knight Ridder's Roger Fidler, Director of New Media & Information Design Lab from 1992 to 1995: “...our role is to ... develop long-range vision of where the newspaper industry is headed over the next five, 10, 20 years...” Note that this video was made in 1994.
Back in late 2010, the chairman and publisher of The New York Times, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., said that the writing was on the wall: printed newspapers won't be around much longer. “We will stop printing The New York Times sometime in the future, date TBD,” said Mr. Sulzberger.
So, what's the TBD part? According to a study done by the University of Southern California, TBD = 5. In five years, it is claimed, most printed newspapers in the U.S. will be gone, replaced by tablets and smartphones and laptops and internet-connected big-screen TVs.
If not in five years, certainly within 10. And then we will explain to our children and grandchildren how the newspaper used to be delivered at our doorsteps just like our parents and grandparents told us how the milkman came each day to drop off a bottle or two.
Will print be missed? As the telephone became ubiquitous, there was grumblings of how that device would take away the charm of the personal messenger. And now this message is clear: it's time to move on. It's written in black and white.
Jeffrey I. Cole, director of USC's Center for the Digital Future: “Circulation of print newspapers continues to plummet, and we believe that the only print newspapers that will survive will be at the extremes of the medium – the largest and the smallest,” said Cole. It’s likely that only four major daily newspapers will continue in print form: The New York Times, USA Today, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal. At the other extreme, local weekly newspapers may still survive.”
Tablets are on a roll. Is it soon the end of newsprint?
IBM has an annual tradition of making five-year predictions trying to forecast what new technologies will move the needle over the coming five years.
Below I list the five trends and give my take. In general, I would say these are interesting but nothing ground breaking. Even a bit wimpy considering these things have been happening during the past five years. But still a fun read from IBM.
1) IBM: People power will come to life. (The use of kinetic energy to power devices)
my take: I've seen several kinetic-energy harvesting solutions pop on the market here and there over the past few years. Nokia, for example introduced a bike-charging solution early 2011. Of course there are environmental advantages to such solutions, but we should also think about the 1.5 billion people who don't have immediate access to power.
Nokia's bike charger introduced earlier this year.
2) IBM: Biometrics will replace passwords.
my take: I suppose we can forget about the demo effect during Google's official introduction of facial recognition in Ice Cream Sandwich. In general, I'd say this has been happening for years now in laptops. So sure, I'd say the technology will be well in place for wide biometric use within five years. But like with all trends, it comes down to user acceptance.
Smile for an Ice Cream Sandwich.
3) IBM: Mind reading is no longer science fiction.
my take: Don't think thought-controlled input is real? Think again. There are already products on the market now from companies such as Emotiv. I've tried this a few times in a simple game in which the player has to move objects via thought. It takes some getting used to. So IBM already has had this one right for a few years now. Good thinking.
4) IBM: The digital divide will cease to exist.
my take: We're seeing the cost of computing come down and the goal of real solid sub-$100 laptops and tablets is getting close. And pretty good smartphones (unsubsidized) have already reached that price point. The problems of connectivity and power still has some ways to go in being solved. Five years? IF IBM means everyone on the planet will be well-connected, that's optimistic.
5) Junk mail will become priority mail.
my take: A strange forecast among the others. As I understand it, IBM points to super-smart filtering and powerful data-mining to bring you only the information you really want. IBM is taking a wide definition of spam here, with even subscribed streams considered unwanted if they don't interest you. We've heard similar predictions in the past from the likes of Microsoft. Meanwhile spam has been a game of whack the mole. But the tide is turning.
An interesting signal for HTML5. TeleNav is claiming that they've "created the first HTML5 browser based navigation service for mobile devices!" This supports turn-by-turn navigation using the sensor features supported by HTML5.
Note that Nokia did introduce something along the same lines back in October: m.maps.nokia.com. Nokia's version supports offline maps to avoid data streaming. Believe me: you want this when roaming around Europe.
An interesting project to support text input for hearing impaired. Of course, such individuals could see and touch a screen just like anyone else. However, this could of course be a replacement for voice input for some people in certain scenarios.
Anyway, this is an interesting idea for the coming non-touch, kinect-like, gesture-filled world.
Microsoft's smartphone market share: how low can it go? How much longer can limbo last?
Purgatory is defined in some religions as being an "intermediate state" between the final paradise and the burning pains of hell. I have a feeling this is where you can find the Windows Phone project team at the moment.
Windows Phone is a certainly a solid mobile operating system. I do like it a lot. But its only major flaw is a zinger: almost zero market share. Literally. It's market share of the smartphone business is less than 1% and possibly less than half a percent. The truth is, few people really know where WP7* stands as Microsoft isn't talking in much detail about real-world unit numbers, and that's rarely a good sign.
So, the signal now is that Microsoft has put in a new head of the Windows Phone unit, replacing Andy Lees with Terry Myerson, a VP-level engineer within the phone group. Such changing of the guards tends to indicate that all is not well.
Microsoft's mobile global platform market share including both Windows Mobile and Windows Phone devices is now below 2%, down from around 14% it reached in 2008.
Windows Phone 7 and Mango and tango and zango and wango and whatever don't seem to be doing much to change the trajectory for MS: yesterday NPD reported that Android and iOS now have more than 80% of the U.S. smartphone market. This must be hell for Microsoft as it's no newcomer to market: it's a veteran whose been around in smartphones longer than Google and Apple combined.
Judgement day for Windows Phone is soon upon us: any year now we'll now if it will be heaven or hell for Microsoft's mobile team. Best of luck. I think you'll make it.
Is this the Windows Phone team? A depiction of purgatory by Venezuelan painter Cristóbal Rojas. (Image copied from Wikipedia)
This is no way for a once respected mobile platform to die. Is this cruel and all too usual? Given Palm's long and venerable history in the handheld space, doesn't WebOS deserve euthanasia rather than some sort of public flogging?
So, WebOS is going open source. It would be tempting to state that the track record for open source mobile platforms is miserable given attempts by some companies to open source their smartphone code, but one could also just as easily point to the Open Handset Alliance and Android. But Android is viciously maintained by one of the world's largest companies. I don't see HP giving the same level of support to WebOS, despite their stated plans to create WebOS devices. Second-hand open sourcing tends not to work too well.
I wish WebOS the best out there on its own: it can be a cruel world:
I like the idea of wearable computing. I do see lots of potential. Things like location-tracking shoes for people suffering from dimentia or shirts which can pick up heart rates and communicate the data with smartphones could make life a bit easier for some. But I'm not so sure about this product.
The "Wearable DJ Quality Drum Machine" won't just help you to loose friends and annoy people, you can also use it to discourage visits from parents and in-laws, and you can be sure to be the biggest loser at the party.
I'm not even sure I should include this two-minute+ video here. When it comes to geekiness, I'm not sure anything can beat this:
( and please note that this actually appears to be sold out! Hope you can get yours for the holidays. )
It’s best to give Mozilla the respect they deserve. They took on Microsoft to change the browser biz. And now on to new things.
So, Mozilla is working on a web-based mobile platform similar in concept to Google’s Chrome OS. The general idea is to center the user experience around the browser with a strong reliance upon cloud-based services.
Even Mozilla acknowledges that the goals of the Boot to Gecko, or B2G, project are rather, well, cloudy. But Mozilla believes that there could be B2G handsets on the market already during 2012.
B2G will be coming up against some interesting competition, not so much in the other boot to browser concepts that are popping up, but in established platforms that appear to be evolving in the same direction. iOS, for example, has developed very strong ties to the web for direct updates, storage and backup, and Apple is one of the biggest supporters of HTML5 development within W3C.
Anyway, best of luck to Mozilla. The smartphone market could use a good kick to move things forward a bit. Will this be the real WebOS? Can Mozilla pull a Firefox out of the hat?
With talk of secure virtual SIM cards as network identifiers, it would be fair to wonder how much life the physical SIM has left. I would have thought the micro SIM card which Apple a house-hold name would have been a possible last iteration. But now we have the “nano SIM” from Giesecke & Devrient. This is yet to be standardized, and apparently G&D is working to push this via ETSI’s specification-making machine.
Sure, it’s smaller and could lead to some interesting form factor devices and will likely support more machine-to-machine communication, but isn’t it time to move beyond the SIM card and numbers as identifiers? It’s so 20th century.
It’s time to make a big moves in the growing identity crisis.
A huge development? G&D's Nano SIM measures 12mm x 9mm vs Micro SIM’ is 15mm x 12mm.
Back in October I predicted that Microsoft’s Windows Phone would be the third man of the smartphone platforms market. But not with this attitude.
It’s difficult to say exactly what Microsoft’s market share is of the smartphone platform market. And Microsoft ain’t talking. But such a sound of silence means only one thing: the numbers are down and they are very bad. Pitiful probably. A bit of reverse engineering, looking at Android, iPhone, BlackBerry, and Symbian numbers, puts Windows Phone Q3 share at less than 1% of smartphones shipped during Q3 and probably closer to 0.5%. So with numbers like that you’d think Microsoft would be wearing the attitude of a challenger.
Nope. So, here we have Ballmer providing some indirect guidance to Google on everything they’ve done wrong on their way to reach more than 50% market share.
In other news, Michael Dell provides some excellent advice to Apple’s CEO on what to do with the company: “What would I do? I'd shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders.” (October 1997.)
Putting some hot new dual-core chipset in that new smartphone you’re designing? Sorry to tell you this, but it looks like dual is like so five minutes ago.
It seems like it wasn’t more than a year ago when dual-core processors in handsets were the absolute cutting edge. A speed war was brewing among smartphone vendors. There was chest pounding of specs: “1 GHz dual-core.” But there wasn’t much talk of actual benefits. But just as the megapixel arms race morphed into a speed race, the core battle is now upon us.
The other day, NVIDIA officially announced its Tegra 3, a quad-core mobile processor with five cores! The Tegra 3 is based on ARM’s Cortex A9 CPU with each single core running up to 1.4 GHz, supports full HD 1080p video playback and 7.1 surround sound audio, and it runs a 12-core GeForce GPU for what NVIDIA says will lead to three times the video performance. When you start talking a dozen cores, you’re bound to get some early adopter interest.
Pay for four cores, get the fifth for free! An interesting development with the Tegra 3 is the introduction of what NVIDIA calls the “Companion Core,” a fifth lower-power and slower (500 MHz) core to provide CPU support to for less-intensive tasks such as stand-by. This is a clever way to drive battery efficiency. In face, NVIDIA is claiming the Tegra 3 supports up to 12 hours ov video playback on the device, a 60% increase in battery performance over the Tegra 2.
We’ll soon be seeing some intense video, audio, and gaming experiences on tablets and smartphones thanks to chips like this.
So, is it a dual to the finish? And soon a finish to the dual?
A few years back, UMA was the talk of the town. But like all hyped technology, the fizzle comes before gradual takeoff. Is some form of UMA on the verge?
This interesting story is spreading across the blogosphere: A new U.S. MVNO called Republic Wireless has popped up with an all-you-can-eat voice/text/data deal for $19 per month.
Republic Wireless will rely on “Hybrid Calling” to bring down the costs, using WiFi for core connectivity with Sprint’s CDMA network for complementary access. (So, this is not the 3GPP standardized version of UMA for roaming between GSM and WiFi.)
Users will need to buy a customized Android handset from Republic. There’s not much in the way of detail yet, but launch is on November 8th.
One of my favorite wireless networks for voice of my choosing and data is iPass. If will be interesting to see is service providers like Republic Wireless provide a service too good to pass up.
ARM processors in HP servers? Pretty cool. Literally.
It’s interesting to see that ARM-based chips aren’t just being tested in laptops and tablets but also in servers. In general, they’re more energy efficient and run cooler than processors from vendors Intel and AMD, so there could be consider savings in energy and space.
So, here’s news of HP testing ARM-based processors in servers. These test machines will be based on what HP calls the “Redstone” platform, rack-mounted hardware with 72 small server boards, each with four 1.4GHz ARM Cortex-A9 design-based processors made by Calxeda. The server will be running a 32-bit version of Linux.
Glenn Keels, director of marketing for HP’s Hyperscale Business Unit: “We want to get the technology out there so that people can start testing their applications for suitability.”
A few weeks back I wrote about some attempts by lawmakers in the U.S. to come up with some solid definitions of mobile broadband such as 4G. Unfortunately, operators around the globe have been throwing “4Gs” and “3Gs” around as meaningless marketing terms without the real bandwidth to back them up.
So, I’m happy to see more signals in the “Let’s talk numbers” trend.
Ficora, Finland’s telecommunications regulatory agency, issued more detailed instructions to operators about including accurate information about the bandwidth of mobile as well as land-line broadband. As of the beginning of 2011, Finnish operator were required to list bandwidth ranges, but it seems going forwards, even more realistic numbers have to be provided, and fewer theoretical figures.
There hasn’t been very much WOW around these days. Perhaps Siri, but we’ve really seen that before in various forms. Look at the smartphone market and it’s a game of follow the leader in which each vendor tries to create a more rectangular, blacker, touchscreen device. Nope. Tech vendors talk about the pursuit of WOW. And they bring us more of the same.
Oh, other than this: Microsoft’s Kinect. If senses, it listens, it looks, it responds. And it’s only one year old.
But even at that young age, Microsoft sees that Kinect is ready to grow in all directions. With a new commercial SDK for Windows, Kinect might soon be sitting at the adults’ table: it could be a solid prototyping tool, an involved teaching aid, an enabler of the immobile, and the future of the future living room.
What form factor changes will flexible screens bring about? More wearable computing? Displays in backpacks and knickknacks?
Start your imaginations. Samsung promises to start supplying flexible displays during 2012, and while this might not change the boring flat, black form factor that has become so ubiquitous in the smartphone market, it could lead to displays used in very new ways.
Remember, Samsung isn’t just the world’s largest vendor of smartphones, Samsung Electronics is also a key component supplier selling displays and memory and lots of other gut parts.
Robert Yi, Samsung Electronics Vice President of investor relations: “We’re looking to roll out flexible displays sometime in 2012, hopefully the earlier part rather than the latter.”
Here’s a fun research project from Microsoft. It’s “HoloDesk,” which uses a clear display, a projector, and a Kinect to allow users to interact with virtual 3D objects. While this doesn't seem like a very mobile implementation, you never know how these things develop. Remember how multi-touch seemed out of touch?
Here’s another one of those visionary videos and you know what that means: the world is full of young, attractive, very happy & extremely productive people. Music is everywhere, and all people and things are so very well connected. And so clean.
Yes, in the future, all the world is a screen and everything is a piece of cake.
OK, prototypes are what they are: prototypes. They’re mouth-watering technology demos sometimes miles away from reality. They create some excitement, curiosity, and even envy. I’ve seen my share. But then they disappear.
So, here we something a bit different from Nokia: the use of a flexible display for input. Flexible displays is one of those inspirational technology enablers that we’ve seen pop up now and again during the past five years, but never make it on any mainstream device. (The thought of a roll-up or foldable large-screen device is something many of us are waiting for.)
So, Nokia's "Kinetic Device" is a crowd-pleaser if nothing else. I read in one interview that Nokia thinks that such devices could come to market for real and “hopefully soon.” That would be a stretch. But then again, perhaps Nokia is really becoming a more flexible organization.
Are apps for Windows Phone 7 devices three times as good as they are for iOS devices? They’re sure priced that way:
Would you pay $30 for an album at a certain mall you could easily get for $10 at a different mall? Such an expensive mall is likely to be rather empty.
This is a tough one for Microsoft and Windows Phone vendors to solve: the small installed user base of WP-based phones means application developers need to charge higher prices for the same apps that are found on Apple’s iOS app store. This makes the ecosystem that much less attractive for consumers, and, in turn, less attractive for developers. It’s a vicious cycle.
Over the lifetime of a device, this could be meaningful for the more engaged users. With all the yap about the importance of ecosystems, I see a disconnect here.
This is a tough one to crack. But it’s clear that someone is going to have to take a hit to get things going in the right direction. I’d say it’s time for Microsoft to get cracking.
It seems like each year, about one new sensor makes it mainstream in smartphones.
There were antennas of all sorts, cameras, proximity sensors, light sensors, GPS chips, accelerometers, digital compasses, and now NFC. But wait, there’s more…
When Samsung and Google unveiled the Galaxy Nexus, they mentioned during the stage presentation that the phone had a barometer. Not very much detail was given and for the most part, the development flew under the radar. This left many guessing: what use is a barometer in a smartphone?
The explanation given on several blogs, and one that makes immediate sense, is barometers can improve GPS time to first fix. The reasoning is that barometers provide indirect information about altitude which in turn can be used by the device for faster and more accurate GPS locks. (It seems that the Motorola Xoom tablet has a barometer for this purpose, which I wasn’t aware of.)
But in the long run, developers will certainly find interesting and yet unimagined uses for barometers. Perhaps they can be used to track the relationship to heart rates and body temperature and calorie burn to barometric pressure. Perhaps there will some clever barometer-based games. Put the APIs out there and the developers build.
Will other vendors be left out in the cold? I’m not sure what the effect is on BoM, but if you’re in the smartphone business, there’s a little more pressure today to add one new sensor to your devices.
The atmosphere is ripe for more innovation.
Will barometers become a norm in smartphones?
The pressure could be on vendors and platform providers.
Dedicated Windows Phone 7* users know this problem well: wall-to-wall tiles. They just keep growing, and growing, and growing.
Live Tiles in Windows Phone is a great feature for sure. These widget-like large, square icons can change to reflect the content underneath. Weather tiles that are constantly updated. Traffic tiles. Radio station tiles. Reminder tiles. E-mail inbox tiles. News tiles. Financial tiles. Map tiles. Oh, miles and miles and miles of tiles.
Let’s call the problem "Pinflation:" the extremely tempting and somewhat addictive ability to pin anything and everything to the homescreen in WP7.
So from a usability point of view, I have to wonder if Microsoft has some plan to stuff the worms back in the can. Live Tiles are smooth, but I wonder if they can be a little bit organized.
Miles and miles and miles of tiles. Has Microsoft created a monster?
0.3, 1, 3.2, 5, 8, 12... STOP! BACK IT UP A BIT NOW... Perfect.
Is the megapixel arms race officially over in the smartphone market? It seems that way. It’s shutter speed, it’s sharing features, it’s the pure quality of the imaging experience. The numbers game is over — for now.
The other night, the Motorola DROID RAZR had the honor of being the global flagship Android handset — for about five hours. Then came Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus, the first commercial handset to run Android 4.0. This new build of Android is looking very smart.
Of particular interest are the imaging specs of the Galaxy Nexus. A 5 megapixel camera on a flagship device is counter intuitive, especially coming from Samsung, the vendor which has always been among the fist to boast of big numbers. Component vendors are already talking of megapixels in the 20s. Canon even showed off a 120 megapixel CMOS sensor last year. But now the cart has been put in back of the horse again with the camera on the Galaxy Nexus.
The focus was on the features and usability with the device: shutter speed appeared fantastic, there were a series useful of real-world features demonstrated, sharing was always one click away, and the panorama mode added some wow. (Although it doesn’t beat Microsoft’s "Photosynth" app in my opinion.) Galaxy Nexus also records video in 1080p@30fps HD.
Looking at the DROID RAZR and iPhone 4S, two other flagship products floating around, both have an 8 megapixel camera. Considering 8Mpix smartphones have been around for several years and some other vendors are above 12, we see that both Motorola and Apple also saw little need to challenge with numbers.
When it comes to imaging, it’s nice to see that the focus has turned to real-life use cases. This is a smart development: brains over brawn. Smartphone vendors: it’s time to get some pretty smart imaging features working. The numbers game is over.
Demo of Ice Cream Sandwich’s imaging features using the 5Mpix camera on Samsung's Galaxy Nexus
With the release of calendar Q3 2011 results, we now know that Apple shipped 17.1 million iPhones during the quarter. This compares to 14.1 million during the same quarter a year ago and is down from 20.3 million iPhones shipped last quarter. While this is not the first sequential volume decline for the iPhone, it is by far the largest. (During Q2 2010, iPhones sales dipped to 8.4 million from 8.8 during the previous quarter.)
So now we can speculate whether Samsung is now the global smartphone volume leader for the first time. It looks likely given strong sales of the Galaxy S II and other Android-based phones. Samsung probably sold in the neighborhood of 19 million smartphones during Q3, meaning bragging rights for the top smartphone spot (volume) will now come out of Korea. If it’s a close call, Samsung will do whatever it takes to make the numbers work.
As amazing as Apple’s numbers have been over the past years, it should be acknowledged that Samsung’s smartphone surge is just as amazing: during Q3 2009, the vendor shipped 1.2 million smartphones, and a year ago Samsung shipped less than 8 million smartphones.
As I write this, Samsung is launching the Galaxy Nexus, a device that will probably be considered the world’s flagship Android smartphone, running Android 4.0 -- Ice Cream Sandwich.
Earlier today I wrote about UP. And here’s another product that wants you to get fit. They just won’t give this a rest, will they.
This evening Motorola announced the “MOTOACTV,” a device that’s a cross between a Garmin GPS sports watch and an Apple iPod nano. Plus it acts as an external display for reading messages received on an Android device (likely Motorola devices only).
Like the UP device, MOTOACTV tracks activities such as running, biking compiling data on distance covered, speed, and calories burned. But as this is also a music player, Motorola says that MOTOACTV can learn which music motivates the user the most.
MOTOACTV will come in an 8GB version for $250, and a 16GB version for $300. These can be paired with Motorola's new Bluetooth headphones with built-in heartrate sensors which pick up blood flow in the ear. The headphones are not included and cost between $100 and $150 depending on the model.
Motorola said that the MOTOACTV is “built on the fundamentals of Android,” the meaning of which isn’t so clear. It has a 600MHz processor, FM Radio, scratch-proof capacitive touchscreen, outdoor readable display, is sweat-and rain-proof. Workouts can be uploaded to Twitter and Facebook.
It was a bit of a surprise to see Motorola get into this business. While many are comparing the MOTOACTV to the iPod nano, this is really Motorola getting into Garmin-Polar-Nike+ territory here. This is a niche but growing market: this won't drive MOTO profitability, but it’s nice technology display. We’ll certainly see a growing trend of passive collection of health-related info. Let’s watch this space.
If you’re working with mobile accessories, this is certainly something you should check out.
So, let’s see what’s up today.
Here’s something that could add a touch of wow to an otherwise boring mobile accessories market. It’s “UP,” a bracelet-formed accessory that uses motion technology to keep track of your every movement as well as your inactivity. The device works together with an iPhone app to support "healthy living" and has some useful features.
The vendor claims that UP not only tracks every movement you make, but counts steps, distance, pace, calories burned, and active vs. inactive time. It also tracks details about your sleeping time including hours slept, time to fall asleep, sleep phases, waking moments, and overall sleep quality, and will even wake you at an optimal time during your sleep pattern.
If it works as promised, this is a nice use of sensor technology to passively collect info about us for better living. No price given that I can find.
Here’s a nice video of incredibly, happy healthy people. See what they’re UP to:
Show a ten-year-old child of today an old rotary-dial telephone, and they might not quite know how to work it. Heck, they might not even recognize it as a phone.
Let’s look where things are heading for print media. How many music CD's do your children buy? None would probably be the most correct answer. Physical media is facing a floundering future.
How many more generations are left that will buy physical magazines and newspapers? It’s sad to say this, but it’s soon time to move on. This won’t be a painless disruption: lots of jobs are on the line. Think of all the magazine kiosks around the world. And the delivery people. And the production departments. And, well, lots of change.
But of course this mean opportunity for someone. Tablet and handset makers: this is your market now. Get it right and ride the wave.
Here’s a cute little home video that’s probably going to go viral if it hasn’t already. What’s wrong with this picture? Well, it must be broken:
QR codes and its mobile barcode cousins are popping up all over the place these days: on billboards and cereal boxes, on soda cans and window displays. And now it seems that the use of QR codes has gone through the roof. Or at least on it.
A public relations firm called Phillips & Company has introduced service they call "Blue Marble" by which they will QR-code enable the rooftop of a building. So, as you can see from the picture below, a ginormous QR code is printed onto the top of building.
Why in the world would you want a huge QR code on the top of your building? The idea seems to be that you can maximize your company's exposure on map services offering satellite images, such as Google Earth and Google Maps. Consumers who happen to come across the QR code while using Google Earth using a PC could then take a snapshot of the code.
The starting cost for the service is $8500, plus some recurring service fees. I think it's fair to say that the cost is through the roof too. For $25, couldn't they hire some kids to spray paint the company's URL up there?
Where art they? Where art they not? They art u-beak-uitous.
No, Helsinki has no fury like a she-bird scorned.
So, how about those Angry Birds -- they are breaking out, and breaking free. There’s no holding them down now. It looks like the sky’s the limit for Finland-based Rovio.
It’s an amazing success story of a company that found the ability to fly high because they refused to be boxed in. They aren’t just a game maker: Rovio has created a parallel world of crime and punishment. A world full of bitter-sweet revenge. They catapulted themselves onto the world stage by challenging the audience with beautiful simplicity. We can all learn something from Rovio.
So, here’s to the smashing success that is Rovio. It must be music to their ears. Let the party begin... and roll the tape:
In a few years from now, we might be thinking back to days like today and wonder why devices that we held for hours each and every day didn’t tell us a little bit more about ourselves.
So check this out:
Japanese university researchers have developed a technique using pulse-wave sensors in a computer mouse to measure blood flow in the fingertip. Then they developed an algorithm that they say can determine stress levels from the data gathered.
This sort of data could be fun to track over time to determine what days and times you are most stressed. Or when your heart rate is highest. What activities make you anxious. And how does your body react to playing “Angry Birds.”
Touch me and tell me: computer mice do double duty. Can we put this in handsets?
So, can anything be done about generation inflation?
The term 4G has been vague from the beginning. But it’s been getting vaguer, especially in America, where every major operator has hung out a “4G” shingle. Given the lack of clarity, can the U.S. Congress be more consistent than the ITU in defining 4G?
ITU originally pointed to LTE Advanced (and above) and IEEE's 802.16m as two technologies that would meet the criteria of 4G. So at first, not even LTE (as opposed to LTE-A) was considered a 4G technology by the ITU, although most within the mobile industry did consider LTE to be the start of fourth generation wireless services.
But the definition and requirements for 4G were further redefined --and diluted-- by ITU late 2010. Suddenly not only did LTE meet ITU's requirements for 4G, but so did HSPA+, a 3.9G technology. Anyway, some operators who had been offering 3.9G services figured it was fair to round up anyway, so 3.9 became 4.0.
Given the rather meaningless 4G term, it’s somewhat encouraging to see several members of the United States Senate proposing the establishment of a firm definition of 4G mobile services. (I wasn't aware that a similar proposal was made in the U.S. House of Representatives this past June.)
So, as 4G has become a moving target, there has been consumer confusion and even, I think it’s fair to say, some deception. How does one operator’s 4G compare to another’s? How can LTE-A be 4G if HSPA+ is 4G?
It’s time to start talking numbers: like real download and uplink bandwidth. Perhaps Congress can make 4G the exclusive club it was intended to be. Otherwise the generation gap will only get worse.
There's been a fair amount of coverage lately of the recent completion of IEEE's 802.22 "Wide Regional Area Networks" spec. But there hasn't been anything close to the hype that surrounded 802.16 "WiMAX" work back in the mid-2000s. In other words, things are probably off to a good start for WRAN.
You see, the bar hasn't been set high or at all yet for 802.22 and it will probably service a needy niche providing low-cost data access to remote areas. The pressure is off and the market can take the technology as it sees fit.
WiMAX was a bit of a conundrum. It was positioned as a 3G technology and a 4G technology. But it lacked devices, it lacked wide operator support, and it had frequency issues. There were complaints that WiMAX didn't work well indoors (likely at 2.3GHz to 3.65GHz) at distances more than a mile or so from a base station.
And of course WiMAX was strongly backed by Intel. And when it comes to wireless, Intel has a track record of betting on the wrong horse. It seems that WiMAX is another example of Intel's bad luck --or bad judgment-- when it comes to mobile.
And in the end, LTE was the odds-on audience favorite and the clear winner.
So where does 802.22 "WRAN" fit into the picture? 802.22 is a cognitive radio technology which gives it the flexibility to bounce around unused TV spectrum between 54 - 862 MHz allowing it to support ranges of up to 62 miles (100 kilometers) at a max speed 22Mbps per channel. A radius of 62 miles would give a single base station coverage of 12,000 miles.
Such ranges will allow service providers to offer data connections to remote and very sparsely populated areas. We could see TV broadcasters get into the ISP business or perhaps the use of 802.22 for use by municipalities.
Fortunately for WRAN, it's not infected by the dangers of hype. This could give 802.22 a greater chance of really going the distance.
For rural access, will IEEE's 802.22 go the distance?
I always find it clever when app developers find new uses for existing sensors. Shopkick, for example, takes advantage of the fact that a device's microphone can pick up sounds that humans can't necessarily hear. So rather than depending on NFC or location-tracking for check-ins, Shopkick uses sound beacons. An RSS (really simply solution).
Over the past few weeks I've come across a couple of projects that rely on a device's camera to take blood measurements in the finger to report such things as heart rates, blood oxygen, and possibly stress levels. According to some reports and reviews, this can be done with an impressive degree of accuracy. And all on a device at a subsidized prices of around $99 that you carry around with your almost 24x7.
Instant Heart Rate from a company called Azumio is an app for Android and iOS (it works best on the iPhone rather than iPod Touch as the flash provides a strong light source for accurate measurements) which quickly provides the user with his/her heart rate. It could be used after walks or runs to find recovery times. Results can be stored and monitored over time.
This is how it works, from the app's own on-device manual: "The application tracks color changes occurring on the surface of your fingertip. With every heartbeat, the color of your skin's surface changes due to an inrush of new, fresh blood. Instant Heart Rate tracks these changes and calculates your heart rate. It functions similarly to a medical pulse oximeter."
Azumio recently received $2.5 million in venture funding. Clearly this is being taken seriously.
A team at the Biomedical Engineering lab at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts is working on a similar project (and likely inspired by Azumio). The team is developing algorithms that can be run across videos taken of blood flow in the fingertip to report vital signs. According to WPI, the Android phone they are working with can report results as accurate as traditional medical equipment.
Hopefully there won't be any bad blood between your smartphone and you going forward.
Now it's easier than ever to share your inner-most feelings with your friends with your own connected mobile ultrasound machine!
There are all sorts of cool mobile accessories popping up on the market these days, cementing the smartphone as the center of our personal universes. And some of these have some serious uses too. Mobile healthcare is one industry in the embryonic stages at the moment, but just look at the type of products that are appearing on the market.
Mobisante, a company based out of Redmond, has just released the "MobiUS," a portable "smartphone-based ultrasound imaging system." This $7,500 system combines a standard USB ultrasound probe, a Windows Mobile smartphone, and software to enable ultrasound imaging on the go.
It's interesting to note the use of a Windows Mobile device rather than iOS or Android. The key reason given is the support of USB input. And of course this package has been several years in the making: the healthcare business has its own cocktail of regulatory red tape.
Will such portable medical devices begin to make its way to the consumer market? This looks like it could ultra fun at a party.
After ten years, is this relationship on the rocks?
Not a surprise and the rumor has been going around for years actually, but the reports are louder than ever that Sony is going to buy out Ericsson's half of Sony Ericsson. I'm not sure what a loss-making entity like that goes for these days, but the general idea makes sense. What hasn't made sense is the confusion of different products: a tablet from Sony, a PlayStation phone from Sony Ericsson that isn't really a PlayStation phone, the PSP that sort of competes against SEMC's devices.
As we approach the age of the internet of things, this makes sense for Sony.
So, is it goodbye to Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications and hello to Sony Mobile?
[ This raises a lot of practical questions: will development stay in Sweden? Will they continue to use Android, or might they hedge their bet and also use WP? ]
Please remember to use the power of voice UI for good instead of evil. Don't drive the end user crazy by steering them in the wrong direction.
So, is voice UI about to make its big professional debut? Is it about to play in the big leagues and sit at the adults' table along with its ITU, QWERTY and touch contemporaries?
Maybe. But any implementation can be pushed too far. When developing natural user interfaces, it's important to decide just how much natural should go into the mix. In reality, reality isn't always that great.
So UI designers, please be careful: you don't want to drive users up the wall with overly realistic interactions. Give them a break at times. Or is that, brake? Roll the tape:
I've come across several people over the years who had reported to Steve Jobs for some sort of Apple project or another. I've heard that he's demanding, hands-on, belittling, stubborn. In other words, the type of guy you want in charge of the company you work for if you aren't into the idea of standing on the unemployment line.
This is a tough market. It requires tough decision makers.
I've heard that Apple never uses consumer research or market forecasts. It came down to gut instinct for Jobs. Would there be an iPad today had Apple looked at market predictions made even the best analyst firms? No.
Here's to gut instinct and those who have the guts to use it. Not many companies do.
And here's to the man that probably cost me my job: Jobs.
When it comes to foresighting, the great unknown about any development is consumer adoption. When? If?
Last week I wrote about the potential trend of voice input for smartphones (see "Speak now, or forever hold your piece"). I understand that bad user experiences until now may have left a bad taste in consumers' mouths when it comes to voice UI. But it wasn't many years ago when I heard some ludicrous arguments against the use of touch-screen input. And then some handset vendors got left out in the cold.
I've gotten a few e-mails about my last voice UI entry and why they would have no interest in using voice as an input method on their handset. I say, listen carefully: if the platform you're pushing doesn't do things like this soon, you're about to miss another form factor: non-touch.
Don't get even, get angry (birds). And lots of them.
On September 29, Nokia announced the planned closure of their handset factory in Cluj, Romania. Manufacturing would be moved to other Nokia plants, especially those in China. To me this site closure was the exclamation mark on the de-Europeanization of the mobile industry. It's headed West. It's headed East. But it's not staying in the middle.
Back in the GSM heyday, in the mid-'90s, Europe became the center of the mobile world. Countries such as Sweden and Finland would brag of mobile penetration rates of greater than 25%, then 50% of the population.
And development happened on the Continent. Handset vendors and component suppliers of all sorts would gather in cities in France and the Netherlands, and other reasonably nice places across Europe to work on and influence wireless standardization, and mingle with the big European vendors and operators. There was Nokia, Ericsson, Siemens, Philips, Alcatel. There was ETSI and GSM. Those were glorious days for Europe. It was the center of the new mobile world as Europeans looked with pity and scorn at the U.S., a country with networks that could barely handle text messaging at the time. The U.S was in the the mobile dark ages.
I always liked to say, when it comes to mobile trends, Japanese teenagers do it first. But it truly happens big in Europe.
Now welcome to the new mobile century. Let's look at where things stand now:
All major smartphone platforms are from the U.S. (iOS, Android, WP). Symbian has thrown its hands up in defeat. (We could debate about RIM/QNX, Bada, here as well.)
Approximately 95% of handset industry profits are earned by vendors outside of Europe (using Q2 2011 numbers).
More than 80% of industry revenues are generated by non-European vendors. (I include half of Sony Ericsson's revenues in my calculations.)
Only 1.5 of the world's top-ten vendors are European (Nokia and Sony Ericsson.)
Standardization efforts are shifting to organizations such as W3C and IETF, as services take center stage.
About 95% of all handsets are manufactured outside of Europe.
European consumers upgrade their handsets at a slower pace than consumers in the U.S. and most key Asian countries.
America has become the center of mobile software and services. There's Android, there's iOS, there's Windows Phone and Facebook and Google and Foursquare. And not only does Asia have key handset vendors such as Samsung, HTC, LG, they also have the world's largest mobile manufacturing based out of China. There's Foxconn (a Taiwan-based company). There's Compal (a Taiwan-based company).
To be fair and clear, there certainly are fantastic on-going European success stories: ARM comes to mind. [I could also add Opera, Spotify, and Skype here.] And Nokia is still the world's largest handset maker in pure volume terms. And of course there's Finland-based Rovio, the maker of "Angry Birds."
But it will take a lot of angry birds to make up for lost opportunities. It seems that mobile development has flown the coop.
If I were a smartphone vendor, I'd be very concerned about long-term industry profitability. The majority of smartphone vendors are currently losing money... and that's in a booming market. Imagine how things will look when the market levels off. The smartphone market is starting to look a lot like the airline industry.
According to a recent Goldman Sachs report, Microsoft will make around $444 million this year from Google's Android via licensing fees for its embedded IPR. And as Microsoft continues to pursue IPR and licensing deals on top of Android, getting somewhere between $5 to $10 per pop, Android could become a billion dollar business for Microsoft. (Ironically, Android is currently more profitable for Microsoft than is Windows Phone.)
Of course, in reality, Microsoft is looking for a way to boost Windows Phone, and by working the other side of the equation to increase Android handset prices, Microsoft will have a more competitive platform on their hands. A $10 licensing fee is significant amount of money on a device with a bill of materials that is approaching sub-$100.
For years, the employees of legal and IPR departments in companies around the world have been worried about potential of "submarine" IPR attacks against Linux, with some troll waiting around for a large installed user base before rising to the surface. In the end, it was something much larger.
As the smartphone battler gets more vicious, it will take some heavy guns for any platform to succeed. The business is now as much about collecting patents as it is about innovation.
As the world awaits the next iteration of the iPhone, the truth is, we already know to expect more of the same: some nice marginal improvements, but nothing revolutionary. And competitors will match feature-for-feature in this follow-the-leader market.
Touch devices didn't storm onto the marketplace in 2007. Rather, there was a decade of light showers of touch. Devices of all sorts were breaking in consumers to a touch-input world: ticket machines at airports, ATMs, cars, palm pilots. It was slow going for a while, but now the majority of smartphones sold come with touch displays.
After using verbal input in Google Maps on Android, I'm convinced the same is about to happen with voice input for phones. And like touch input, we've been broken into the concept of voice input for years now, shouting instructions into telephone menu systems, looking up names in feature phones, voice Googling on the PC, and even talking to cars.
Most smartphone platforms currently support voice input of one sort or another, whether it be at the application or OS level. For the most part, it borders on amazing, especially for native speakers of a supported language. Try, for example, Nuance on iOS or Voice Actions on Android. Try voice searching (voicing?) for a complex address in Google Maps for mobile. You'll be sold.
So Tellme something: are you ready to start talking?
When I had a job with a major handset vendor reporting on market conditions and disruptions, market shares and market movements, I often liked to remind the audience of what the market looked like going back five, 10, or 15 years. This acted as a reminder just how much things can change over time.
Right now I'm looking at some market stats I have from 1994, which is when the handset market was just taking off in earnest. That year around 27 million handsets were sold globally. To put that in perspective, significantly more handsets were sold last week. And considering that last quarter something like 350 million to 375 million handsets were shipped, 27 million is almost a rounding error.
Needless to say, the market of 1994 looked a lot different than it does today. Motorola was the dominant global player with more than 1/3 of the global market, followed by a distant Nokia and an even more distant Ericsson. And at least four of the top-ten vendors were Japanese (NEC, Panasonic, Mitsubishi, Oki).
Only five years later, in 1999, Nokia became the dominant global handset vendor and was also running away with the U.S. market. For those analysts and journalists who write that Nokia has never been strong in the U.S. market, consider 10 years ago Nokia had 40%, about three times the number two at the time, Motorola. (Those were the grand pre-Cingular AT&T Wireless TDMA days.)
So now it's time to think different. Who will be the global handset market leaders in five years from now? In 10 years? Will it be Apple or Samsung? Amazon or ZTE? Nintendo or Nokia? Perhaps Lenovo or Micromax or Foxconn?
It's not too risky to guess that it will look very different than it does now. And new business models, new platforms, and new architectures will alter the landscape more than we can imagine.
Global Handset Market Shares, 2016 (please fill in the blanks):
Guess what. Here comes another potential disruption to ruin your rock-solid business model. And your day.
Sure, you had a good thing going. A unique skill set. Quality merchandise. A loyal customer base. You chipped away day after day to grow your business. You left no stone unturned. You left no loose ends untied. It was great while it lasted. But now this.
So, is this new thing a passing fad or a real long-term trend? Is it the next hot must-have product, or just the flavor of the month? It's not always easy to tell.
One thing is certain: it's vital that you be honest with yourself and prepare to change. Prepare to adjust. And prepare to retrain. There's no use living in the past.
Extinction doesn't sound like much fun, so if there's a window of opportunity for the future of your business, take it, or your company might be history. Please remember: the future isn't written in stone. And for all you know, this might be a golden opportunity. Roll the tape:
Can you teach an old dog new chips? The great Mitchell & Webb
When it comes to mobile, it seems that Intel is always a bridesmaid, never a bride. And now, after being left at the alter, Intel is in a quick rebound OS relationship. But this is something a little different.
Intel is breathing new life into MeeGo with the formation of “Tizen,” a platform being described as a next-generation Linux-based mobile platform. Tizen will bring together the experience and remaining energy from MeeGo (which itself was intended to be the best of Intel's Moblin and Nokia's Maemo platforms) with LiMo. Like MeeGo, Tizen will be hosted by The Linux Foundation. This time Intel has partnered with Samsung as the key handset vendor. Samsung's involvement isn't strange: I've always said Samsung never met a mobile platform they didn't like.
The twist here is the intention to skip directly to an HTML5-biased mobile platform, an evolved form of life where mobility meets the cloud.
Imad Sousou, director of the Intel's Open Source Technology Center, wrote in a blog post: "We believe the future belongs to HTML5-based applications, outside of a relatively small percentage of apps, and we are firmly convinced that our investment needs to shift toward HTML5. Shifting to HTML5 doesn't just mean slapping a Web runtime on an existing Linux, even one aimed at mobile, as MeeGo has been."
The Tizen website claims that the OS will be developed for television sets, tablets, and netwbooks as well as smartphones. So here's the problem: this all sounds so familiar. Tizen is coming from a dubious pedigree with a rocky track record.
To their credit, Intel is forming a respectable league of Linux. Teamed with the power of MeeGo, the blood of Moblin, the speed of LiMo, the strength of The Linux Foundation, and the determination of Samsung, will Intel be able to get itself out of this one in time? Can Tizen leapfrog other platforms in a single bound? Stay tuned. But note, history isn't on their side. Let the battle begin.
Come on in, the water's fine. There's plenty of room for everyone. What's this? A party crasher? No problem. Welcome, welcome, welcome. Just find a seat in the back there somewhere.
Knock, knock. And who could that be? ZTE, Huawei, Lenovo, Tianyu! Well come on in. You've come this far. And what's this? Even more. Well, you can come in too, but I hope you brought your own booze. And your own hope.
And oh brother, who's this big guy at the door? Why it's Amazon. You already had an Android “appstore,” so I had a premonition you would show up. What's that you have there in your hands? A little Android-based tablet? Well, you qualify.
Yes, the entry of Amazon into the market marks some real changes going forward. The smartphone market: it's officially a jungle out there.
Things are starting to get rather crowded for sure. Something tells me this isn't going to end well.
Is the "rule of three" about to take effect in the dark, shadowy underworld of the smartphone platform market? It looks that way. So, here's the mystery question: who will be that third man? The answer is quite clear now.
From experience I tend to completely dismiss most analyst forecasts, especially when it comes to predicting smartphone platform market shares. If you take a look back to some forecasts made only two years ago by some major mobile industry analysts, none predicted Android or Linux would take 50%, most predicted Symbian would be in the lead going into 2014 and beyond, and Microsoft's miserable Windows Mobile was expected to inch its way up to become a top-two contender.
In other words, most forecasts have been completely useless, and some have been so far off that taking them even slightly seriously could have been harmful to your business's health. I do appreciate that making predictions, especially about the future, is very risky.
Those analysts who had forecast that Windows Mobile would be a top-spot contender now have some explaining to do as Microsoft's total smartphone platform share has reached record low after record low during the past few quarters. This week BGR blog wrote about an NPD Group study which offered some hope to Microsoft. NPD, which does consumer research, points to what I would call casual interest in Windows Phone from future users. According to the American consumers NPD contacted for the study, 44% said they would consider a Windows Phone device for next smartphone.
As the smartphone platform market concentrates around the balance of three major players ("the rule of three"), it's clear that iOS and Android will make the podium. But who will take the bronze? Windows Phone is looking like the favorite. WP has a solid user experience, an expanding ecosystem, and the backing of the world's most stubborn company. Throw in the fact that most of the world's largest handset vendors including Nokia, Samsung, LG, and HTC are in the Windows Phone business, it would be a shocker if WP flops in the long run.
While things are looking grim for other mobile operating systems to be anything other than a niche player down the road such as Bada, BlackBerry, QNX, MeeGo, and WebOS, things still aren't so black and white, it's never wise to dismiss any competitive force.
But provided Microsoft plays their cards right, by hook or by crook, it's soon time to welcome Windows Phone to the adults' table at the platform party. It's time for WP to coming out of hiding. It's time to welcome the third man.
A classic mystery. Who will be the third man in the smartphone market? Is Windows Phone about to come out of the shadows? Very likely.
Back in the year 2000, I saw a great presentation about the potential of the mobile wallet. The presenter was working with the world's largest handset maker at the time, and he gave a convincing mobile finance pitch: he pulled out his wallet and began pulling out one plastic card after another after another after another. The use case was clear: this mess would be cleaned up with an electronic wallet embedded in our handsets. The presenter assured the audience that within a few years, this would be the case.
So, here we are, almost a dozen years later, and such concepts of convenience haven't gotten very far. At least until today. Google has just rolled out its "Google Wallet" service together with U.S. operator Sprint via the Nexus S smartphone. The Nexus S is a vanilla Android phone, but Google did have the foresight to NFC enable the device, thus making it a good technology demo machine for mobile finance.
Eventually, a MasterCard, Visa, American Express and/or Discover card could be embedded in your device as well as many loyalty cards to be used at payWave- or PayPass-enabled point-of-sale terminals.
Will Google Wallet succeed? One thing is for sure: Google's timing is very good: the cost of NFC has come down considerably, and we can expect most mid- to high-end smartphones coming out over the next few years to be NFC enabled. And Android's critical mass could be the key driver: around 50% of new smartphones shipped run Android. But success is a double-edged sword, and the other major U.S. operators aren't so keen to give up this business development opportunity. Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile have their own mobile payment partnership project, ISIS. And Apple will likely give Google and the operators a run for their money with the iPhone 5.
So who will spark the mobile finance market for real? My money is on Google. They have the global reach, critical mass, adjacent services, and name recognition to pull this thing off. It's in the cards.
Consumers, cameras, codes, and connections. This gives the hands-on shopping experience a whole new meaning.
I've been seeing the use of mobile-readable barcodes such as QR codes more and more in both Europe and the U.S. lately. Practically every street-level billboard has one, such as those at train stations and bus stops. But I've yet to see something quite like this: a virtual store linking the consumer to an entire shopping experience through the use of QR codes.
This concept by UK-based Tesco developed for their South Korean subsidiary redefines the retail experience. It brings the store to the wait instead of waiting to go to the store. I'm not sure I would use this myself, but that probably shows that I'm just not busy enough. But is this what's in store for all of us sooner or later?
This is not a supermarket, but an incredible simulation.
When it comes to usability, it seems that automakers are going in reverse. Who will become the Apple of the auto industry? There's opportunity here for somebody.
A few weeks back I rented a Ford Focus, a compact car with an expansive user interface. Ford clearly stuffed a PC into the dashboard, not because it was useful, but because they could. The car had one screen, and then another, and even another. It had irritating glowing lights and buttons and more buttons and menus and sub-menus and sub-sub-menus. You had to dial and press and select and dig and find and figure. At times I was certain a DOS-prompt would pop up. Ford together with partner Microsoft took the simple and obvious and made it confusing and obscure. And this in an environment in which clarity could be a life-or-death situation.
When it comes to stuffing technology into a device, it seems the auto industry is going through the same growing pains that handset vendors went through earlier last decade. Car makers have discovered feature creep as if it were a good thing, and they are driving it hard onto the consumer.
I have to wonder if the auto industry has taken any notice of what has happened in the smartphone market, and how quickly vendors can be leapfrogged when a sleeker UI comes along. It's good to learn from your own mistakes; it's better to learn from the mistakes of others.
For your consideration, please check out this Engadget video (the link opens in a new tab) of a ludicrous concept in-car user interface from Volvo. All knobs and buttons are replaced with screens and menus with the goal of "cleaning up" to create a "nice, clean interior." But clutter comes in many forms. After watching the Volvo video, watch the hilarious "Macbook Wheel" video embedded at the bottom of this post by the Onion. "Everything is just a few hundred clicks away." Was this Volvo's inspiration for their "clean" UI?
Here's some advice for automakers: it's time to Focus on usability. We drivers can take the clutter of big, clearly-marked buttons. And for smartphone vendors, there's some great opportunity here to correct the mistakes being made by Ford, Volvo and their contemporaries. Give them a crash course in usability.
A mad dash toward tech heavy. Does Ford know how to Focus on usability? The vast, space-aged, mind-boggling interface of a Ford. Blue screens of death?
Volvo's concept UI. It seems like everything is just a few hundred clicks away. Is Volvo giving customers features they don't even realize they want? (Click on the PIC below to watch the video. It opens in a new tab.) http://www.viddler.com/explore/engadget/videos/3176/