Monday, October 31, 2011

On the verge of being flexible. Samsung promises flexible displays during 2012.


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.”

Microsoft’s HoloDesk. Sometimes Microsoft can be so transparent.

via GIZMAG >>

Microsoft Research pages >>

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?

Micorosoft’s visionary video: all the world’s a screen.

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.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Maybe flex is the next touch. Nokia flexes some muscle with this prototype device.

via IntoMobile >>

Talk about twist and shout.

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.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Microsoft’s chicken-and-egg problem. Angry Birds for WP7: same great taste, three times the price.

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.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Barometers in smartphones? Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus has one. Is the pressure now on the other vendors?

Is this sensible? A barometer in a smartphone?

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?

There have been some interesting explanations on several blogs. Mobile Magazine, for example, suggested that barometers could be used for crowd sourcing atmospheric pressure from thousands – even millions – of terminals for more accurate and hyper-local weather prediction.

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.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Changing of the guards. Samsung was the #1 smartphone vendor during Q3-2011. A first for Samsung.

WSJ Journal Post >> (might require password)

Vendor Q3-2011 Smartphone units shipped
Samsung: ~20m (+12.5m units YoY, +0.8m units QoQ)
Apple: 17.07m (+3m units YoY, -3.2m units QoQ)
Nokia: 16.8m (-9.7m units YoY, +0.1. units QoQ)

More info to follow.

How will Microsoft handle the growing problem of “Pinflation?” WP7's Live tiles makes it too tempting.

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?

Is the megapixel arms race officially over? The latest flagship smartphones don’t go overboard. A positive development.

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

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Is Samsung now the world’s largest smartphone vendor? Prepare for the boasts.

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.

Samsung isn't cooling off.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


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.

Is it time to get UP? This wearable accessory tracks every move you make and every nap you take.

Via Mobile Mag >>

Product pages via AT&T >>

MotionX, enabling technology >>

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:

Monday, October 17, 2011

Generation eX-print. What’s wrong with this picture? It doesn't move. The clock is ticking of physical media.


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:

Sometimes it’s simply time to let go:

QR codes are getting big. Literally. They are going you-can-see-them-from-space large.


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?

Note: don't try this at home. Patent is pending.

Assessment: neutral to silly.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Tongue in cheek: Rovio reaches new heights as it grows by leaps and bounds. Don’t try boxing them in. This is for real.

O Rovio, Rovio! wherefore art thou Rovio?

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:

Rovio is reaching new levels.

Mouse stress. Track your stress level as you work and play.

Source: DigInfoTV STORY >>

Three makes a trend?

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?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

4G nation. Or notion. As “4G” has become a near meaningless term, will American lawmakers pick up where standardization bodies have left off?

Senators look into defining “4G.” STORY >>

4G, or not 4G, that is the deception.

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.

America's largest 3.9G 4G network

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Is 802.22 an 802.16 waiting to happen? Or will WRAN go the distance?

MAN oh MAN, what will become of W-RAN?

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?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Blood simple. Can smartphone imaging double-duty as a medical sensor? It looks that way.

Via >>

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.

Have fun on the playground with your own ultrasound-enabled smartphone. Is this a sound product idea?

via MobiHealthNews >>

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.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Europe to bleed more mobile? If Ericsson gets out of handsets, there will be one major vendor left.

Then there was one.

The other day I wrote of Europe's growing mobile crisis. (See: European debt crisis? What about the growing European mobile crisis?)

On the other hand, Two of the largest infra vendors are European (Ericsson, NSN). Best of luck.

Sony sans Ericsson? Is Sony Ericsson splitting up? Is Sony getting the house and kids?


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? ]

It's been a colorful 10 years for this couple:

Tongue in cheek: Natural user interfaces gone too far. An example of a man–machine interface gone terribly, terribly wrong. VIDEO!

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:

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Steve Jobs: not the nicest guy you'll ever meet. There should be more like him.

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.

So, is it now time to get SERIous about voice UI? Listen up or get out of the way.

What's that you say?

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.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

European debt crisis? What about the growing European mobile crisis?

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.

    Is the sun setting on mobile Europe?

  • Monday, October 03, 2011

    $444m. The number of the beast? With paper, Microsoft has become a profitable Android player. Has the look-alike smartphone market become boring?

    Microsoft making millions milking monster OS. PCMAG STORY >>

    Oh where's the innovation these days?

    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.

    Smartphone developments have gone flat.

    Saturday, October 01, 2011

    Speak now, or forever hold your piece. Is voice the new touch?

    Voice Actions for Android, Google Blog post >>

    It's time to speak up. It's time to be heard!

    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?