Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Doro Liberto 810. Is Doro now Scandinavia's hottest smartphone brand?

DORO PR >>

Good bye (Sony)Ericsson. Good bye Nokia. These former global smartphone leaders from the Nordics are going East. They're going West. But who's left in the middle? Doro, that who! Who?

Yes, there are still some smartphone players in Scandinavia. There's Finland-based Jolla of course, stirring up a potentially exciting potion in their mobile cauldron. And then there is Doro, a Swedish phone vendor who has been in the handset longer than many players on the market today.

Doro makes no secret of their niche intentions: the vendor is going after the senior market with simplicity. It's back to the basics with Doro devices.

So, here is the lastest Doro product: the Android-based Doro Liberto 810. There are few details on the company's website about the product (no price or intimate specs), but specs might not matter much to its intended audience. It is a touch display phone with a camera and limited screen litter by design.

Doro handsets tend to cost a bit more than mainstream handsets with more features stuffed. Minimalism always comes at a cost.

The Doro Liberto 810 3G Android smartphone: a little less for a little more.


I'm wazed and confused: why is the value of TomTom still beaten down and off the map?

Back in June of this year, when Google announced the purchase of navigation app maker Waze for $1 billion, I was sure that the next big deal to be announced would be a purchase of TomTom. TomTom is a leading vendor of navigation devices, but the real value in TomTom is their Tele Atlas digital maps unit. TomTom purchased Tele Atlas in 2007 for €2.9 billion or around $4 billion at the time. What's amazing is that TomTom's current enterprise value is $1.4 billion, or less than half of what it paid for Tele Atlas six years ago. And around 1/3 the current value of Yelp.

Over the years, smartphone vendors have been busy paying top dollar for location-related companies. Apple, for example, who previously told the world to "get lost" with their own-branded maps and navigation services, recently bought Locationary and Embark, to begin bringing more maps talent and code in-house.

Yet in the on-going location frenzy, TomTom and Tele Atlas were left alone -- and rather unloved. Many industry and Wall Street analysts (and I) have predicted that TomTom would be bought out by someone. Apple, Toyota, Microsoft. Somebody. But this hasn't happened yet.

Now this leads one to question the value of digital maps altogether. Has maps data been so commoditized by Google and crowd-sourced approaches that complete collections are worth practically nothing? I have to admit that I'm not sure what's going on here. Perhaps all the value has moved up the stack to services that run on top of maps.

So far for TomTom, the journey has not been much of a reward. Will anyone find value here?

Verdict: TomTom is hands down a loser in the location frenzy.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Microsoft's Pepsi Challenge. Would RC Cola buy 7-Eleven to take on Coke and Pepsi?

I do like Microsoft's Windows Phone. It's solid, swift, and smooth. But, unfortunately, rather lonely and disrespected.

So, Microsoft decided to make an honest partner out of Nokia by putting a ring on it after its original strategy full of good intentions went to hell: the one-for-one switch of market share from Symbian to Windows Phone never took place. I believe that the Nokia board decided that it was time to pursue other options after a drop in smartphone market share from 30 to 3%, the exact inverse of "to decimate." The exclusivity period was coming to a close and Microsoft could not afford to be left out of the mobile game altogether.

Now, Microsoft's hope is that by vertically integrating distribution, logistics, and design, it will allow the company to speed up and increase market acceptance of its mobile platforms. Whether Nokia can help bring out the best in Microsoft will take a few years to conclude, but Microsoft is soon to be one very wide and deep company.

Once again, I'll us my cola analogy for the mobile market. No matter how huge Microsoft is, they are still the RC Cola of the mobile world. Would RC Cola challenge Pepsi's market position if RC Cola and 7-Eleven became one? Or the two also owned some major bottling company? Or a global shipping firm? Is Microsoft addressing the apathy towards Windows Phone and their confusing tablet platforms with their purchase of Nokia's handset unit? No. Microsoft appears to be working on the wrong side of the equation.

The challenges now for Microsoft are greater than ever. In mobility, it looks like Microsoft will always be the bridesmaid, never the bride, no matter how nice the dress is. Rather than offense, Microsoft is stuck on the defensive end, desperately trying to protect lost ground. The hour is late and there is little room for error.

For Microsoft, this is no game of craps. The stakes are high, and it will take more than a sales network to threaten the existing duopoly while fending off new, young, ambitious market entrants. It's time for Microsoft to wake up and smell the coffee.

Will Nokia bring out the best in Microsoft?


Friday, September 06, 2013

PowerPoint Palace. Nokia's destiny was embedded in its HQ's namesake all along.

And today, a short history lesson...

In the very late '90s, a meeting took place between top Microsoft and Nokia executives at Nokia's sparkling new headquarters in Espoo, Finland. Literally a stone's throw away from Helsinki, Nokia House is a beautiful place with water views on three sides, a mostly unused helipad, and a slightly subsidized lunch menu that had some of the best food in town.

A legend was built up around acrimonious talks between then Nokia CEO Jorma Ollila and Microsoft's Bill Gates. The two companies intended to discuss the future of the mobile computing world. Nokia was the mobile leader at the time. Microsoft was the computing leader. The talks were destiny between giants. (At one point, the two would have a combined market cap approaching one trillion dollars.)

Nokia House would come to be known as "PowerPoint Palace" within certain circles, for the most part an endonym used around the four corners of Nokia's globe. Whether or not this term was a pejorative I never knew. I think that some wore the name with pride, and it did accurately describe the slide-based communications culture of the company. As one Nokia employee once said, slightly in jest: "Stop talkin' and just send me the fuckin' slides."

The apocryphal origins of the term "PowerPoint Palace" are worth a quick blog entry here, given it's an easy-going Friday morning, a breezy end to a historic mobile week. The term is said to have originated from the mouths of Microsoft executives —perhaps even by Bill Gates himself— who were shocked at the number of PowerPoint slides they had to endure as they met with various Nokia unit heads. Yes, even Microsoft people were amazed at Nokia's intoxicating use of PowerPoint. While Nokia House didn't manufacture hardware, it was a factory of sorts.

So the irony makes for weekend thinking: PowerPoint Palace didn't just describe the stream of deliverables coming out of the building, it described the company's fate. This will be fun to follow and I wish both segments of the company all the best.

PowerPoint Palace: a crystal castle on a shining sea.

PIC source: harrypwt via Flickr.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

The planned IBM-ification of Nokia is almost complete. So, who's next to be Sega-fied? Get ready for the dance.

Sometime in 2011 I predicted that Nokia would exit the handset business within three to five years. I just didn't think it would be Microsoft which bought the unit. Not that it matters. (I had been thinking Huawei, ZTE, or maybe even Foxconn.)

The writing was on the wall. To me, the pattern was clear: Nokia execs had the historic experience of picking up and leaving a business when all the lower-lying fruit had been picked. When the margins begin to fade, it's time to move on. Take for example, the set-top box business. Nokia was a top vendor of equipment to television broadcasters (and the world's #1 supplier of digital set-top boxes for a while), but when most of the profitability evaporated, Nokia picked up and left the industry altogether. Computers, displays, televisions. And there are other examples. Push aside sentimentality and adjust to the realities ahead.

Let's consider for a moment what IBM achieved under Louis Gerstner, as this was a big influence on Nokia. For many Nokia executives, IBM was not just a case study, not just an example, it was an idol. When IBM picked up and left the commoditized hardware industry in 2005, selling the ThinkPad and related sub-brands to Lenovo, IBM proved that it was possible to re-invent and refocus a company. Elephants could indeed dance. Old business models and ways of working would have to be placed to the side to make way for change.

IBM placed more emphasis on services leading up to and after the end of the IBM PC era. And Nokia executives realized that the same changes which took place in the PC industry would smack the handset business within a few years as well. It was time to prepare the company for similar changes. Nokia executives talked more and more about software and services. The company was reorganized adn re-reorganized. An "S&S" unit was created, service related companies were acquired. Maps, music, money, and more. Acquired growth. Organic growth. All options were on the table. The checkbook was out. Employees were shuffled around.

So now it appears that the IBM-ification of Nokia is nearing completion. While I had predicted that a large Chinese vendor would likely buy Nokia's handset business when the time came, Microsoft serves the same purpose: one potential Nokia strategy is complete. I'll even offer some conjecture now and say that Microsoft will further sell off much of what they are buying from Nokia, getting rid of factories and logistics and perhaps even the feature phone unit altogether.

There is already some speculation that Nokia proper might re-enter the smartphone business with Nokia-branded Android devices in 2015. I'm not buying that unless there is some fantastic value-added they can discover. By 2015, smartphone ASPs and margins will have slipped further down toward the bottom of the consumer electronics life cycle. With luck, Nokia will be deeply busy with services and solutions, working with hardware and platform vendors of all sorts: smartphone manufacturers and auto makers, cloud-based internet services and big-data gatherers.

Next on deck is BlackBerry, a company I already predicted would soon leave hardware behind for services of some kind. Perhaps some vendor looking for a world stage will license the BlackBerry brand.

And prepare for more placement changes from vendors such as Apple and Samsung. As any fund investor knows, past performance is no guarantee of future results. When the company that completely dominated an industry only a few years ago essentially exits the business, it's time to get ready to jump to the next hot thing.

I think about the recent news articles covering a potential strategy shift at the world's largest shipping company, Maersk, where executives talk about moving away from the shipping business to more profitable services. I commend their foresight. I've heard Maersk described as the IBM of Denmark, and that Danish elephant is getting ready to dance. And more.

You see, elephants have to do more than dance these days: they have to reach new heights.



Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Battle of the brands. Will the Nokia brand name be Microsoft's next of Kin, or will there be a Halo effect?

Patents, distribution, manufacturing, design, a fantastic contact network? What exactly was the icing on the cake for Microsoft in buying Nokia's handset unit?

It could be the brand. In much of the developing world, the Nokia name remains a strong and trusted stamp of approval. While Steve Ballmer cannot even pronounce "Nokia" correctly, the brand name still means something to so many around the globe. Although Microsoft won't be using the Nokia logo on smartphones, it can use the brand on lower-end phones and could do some clever co-branding as it upgrades the developing world from dumb phones to smartphones.

Each year when branding consultancy Interbrand releases their list of the world's most valuable brand names, Nokia is consistently ranked among the best. While I always found the values they assigned to brand names rather random and a bit suspicious, even if their calculations are in the ballpark, Microsoft got one heck of a deal with the Nokia brand. Not long ago, back in 2009, Nokia was ranked as the world's fifth most valuable brand. That year Interbrand placed a value of $35 billion on the Nokia logo: so, throw out all the chairs and patents, buildings and pens, and Nokia would still be worth $35 billion according to Interbrand.

OK, that was 2009. Let's look at what's happening now. According to Interbrand's 2012 report, Nokia brand was the 19th most valuable brand on the planet, worth around $21 billion. This means someone has some explaining to do. How could Microsoft buy Nokia's handset unit for around one quarter of what the brand name is supposed to be worth? Either Interbrand or the Nokia board are way off on their numbers.

Brand building takes decades in most cases. I was quite certain that an Asian tech vendor would come along and take over Nokia's handset unit for the attraction to the logo in developing markets. But unless a counter offer comes a long within the next few months, Nokia is to be a Microsoft sub-brand, a sort of next of kin. Hopefully for Microsoft, there will be a halo effect.

From Interbrand:
http://www.interbrand.com/en/best-global-brands/previous-years/best-global-brands-2009.aspx

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

European Mobile Crisis reaches a critical phase.

There was Ericsson, Nokia, Siemens, Alcatel, Philips. In mobility, Europe led the way. They set the standards. Literally. The had the users.

And then there were none.

If the future of computing is in mobile devices, Europe has a void. But fear not. The hardware business was already on a downward spiral. Now to encourage to latest and greatest in mobile software and services. The best in mobile health and well-being. Small is the new big.

Microsoft does buy Nokia ('s handset unit). Make me a pair of orthopedic shoes for I stand corrected. So, is the future of Microsoft's new Sidekick in Danger?

Woops. I got this one completely wrong. Back in January 2012 I wrote a blog entry entitled "Breaking news: Microsoft still isn't going to buy Nokia. And Franco is still dead." And here we are: the top business news today is that Microsoft is indeed buying Nokia's handset unit.

I had been hearing rumors for more five years about Microsoft acquiring Nokia. It was water cooler talk when I worked at Nokia's headquarters in Espoo, Finland. It was hot chatter among many industry analysts and Wall Street brokers: Microsoft needed Nokia's manufacturing prowess. Its distribution network. Its partners and patents. And none of it made any sense to me.

With contract manufacturers such as Compal and Foxconn in the world, why would Microsoft need to buy Nokia? Why would a company of 100,000 employees add another 32,000 in order to be quicker and more nimble?

This does give off a slight odor of desperation on the part of Microsoft.

If Microsoft were to lose Nokia to Android when their current arrangement comes to a close, Microsoft's smartphone market share would dry up. Already a niche player as is in handsets and tablets, Microsoft is certainly reading the writing on the wall: the best of the PC world is behind us. The world has now really moved beyond the PC.

I can imagine that this is a sad day for many in Finland. It's the end of an era. And looking back at Microsoft's mixed track record of expensive acquisitions, one has to wonder about the future of Nokia. Microsoft's $6.2 Billion aQuantive purchase and subsequent write down. Its $500 million purchase of Danger in 2008, and shut down a few years later. Massive, WebTV, Yammer, and almost Yahoo! Microsoft has made some good investments too, but I have to wonder if Microsoft's latest Sidekick is simply a shot-gun wedding.

The $7.2 billion dowry Microsoft is paying (which includes licensing fees for some of Nokia's key patents) is almost half of what Google paid for Motorola, and only $1 billion more than Microsoft paid for aQuantive. And ironically a lot less than Nokia was valued at before it partnered with Microsoft to abandon Symbian for Windows Phone. So Microsoft could be getting a deal here.

So, I that non-prediction I made about Microsoft and Nokia was wrong. But I've also said several times that Nokia would be leaving the handset business within the next few years, with some other company taking the Nokia name. I'll call it a wash, with one prediction in the debit column, one in the credit column.




Wednesday, August 14, 2013

It's official. Windows Phone reaches RC Cola status during Q2 2013. Congrats to Microsoft and partners.

From Wikipedia: The rule of three as put forward by Sheth and Sisodia in 2002 and states that in a mature market, there will normally be three major competitors and several others, who only succeed if they are able to operate in a niche market.

KEY MOBILE TRENDS: RC Cola Status, Platforms & ecosystems, Rule of Three.


Coke, Pepsi, RC Cola. Xbox, PlayStation, Wii. GM, Ford, Chrysler (domestic). Gold, silver, bronze. Friends, Romans, Countrymen. The good, the bad, the ugly. Yes, three is the magic number. So now please stop, look and listen. The smartphone market has reached an important milestone this past quarter.

About one month back, in a blog entry I predicted that BlackBerry would soon "Sega-fy" itself: the company would likely abandon the hardware market altogether and concentrate on providing secure enterprise messaging. BlackBerry would become a software and services company like Sega. No more BlackBerry QWERTY devices. And no more BlackBerry OS.

For the past few years I've been writing that Microsoft would establish Windows Phone as the third ecosystem in smartphone platforms and settle to around 5% market share. For Microsoft, there is too much at stake for it to fail. And unfortunately for BlackBerry, Microsoft has too cash flow to fight the tape.

This is not to say that Microsoft and partners have succeeded in their original goals. Microsoft never intended Windows Phone to be the RC Cola of the platform market. The smaller, third player which feeds on the crumbs. But this is how things developing, and Microsoft must learn to live with less.

According to IDC, 79% of smartphone shipped during Q2 2013 were Android-based, followed by iOS which had 13%. Windows Phone took 3.7%, up from 3.1% a year earlier. Windows Phone outgrew the market, giving it some nice forward momentum against BlackBerry, which dropped to under 3%. The smartphone market has matured quickly, and BlackBerry has fallen below the critical mass required to be a vendor worthy of consumers', developers', and operators' consideration.

Windows Phone has reached RC Cola status (the third brand name in the U.S. cola market). This is the real thing now. But decide for yourself: can other smartphone platforms still come up with a formula for success?

Q3 2013 smartphone platform market shares. Source: IDC.




Friday, August 09, 2013

Smartphones: The changing of the guard continues. Panasonic out. China Mobile, Xiaomi in big push.

CHINA MOBILE's $80 & $210 SMARTPHONE. STORY >>

PANASONIC SET TO LEAVE SMARTPHONE BEHIND >>

Xiaomi looks to take low-end share of the Chinese smartphone market >>


KEY MOBILE TRENDS: commoditization, decling ASPs and margins.

Last month, NEC announced it was leaving the smartphone business and possibly the handset business altogether (see my entry: "NEC's Minolta Moment"). NEC was once a top global handset vendor and number one in Japan.

Now, according to sources out of Asia, it appears that NEC's compatriot Panasonic will exit the smartphone business as well. The reason is clear: on-going losses in a increasingly competitive market. It's time to move on. Barriers to entry keep coming down, and so are ASPs and margins. Panasonic's smartphone push was doomed.

In reality, the marketplace won't notice the void. Panasonic's share of the pie was so thin, this is hardly worthy of much reading. However this is another signal of how drastically the handset business has changed during the past decade or so. During the mid- to late-'90s, Panasonic was consistently a top-five global handset vendor, and was a market leader together with NEC in Japan. Expect more big-name brands to sneak out of the hardware business during the coming years.

One of the key trends in the smartphone business is the changing of the guard. The old-time players are leaving, new blood is coming in.

So here is news of a smartphone push from two Chinese players, China Mobile and Xiaomi. I remember Xiaomi well from a report I wrote back in 2007 when I was a Nokia employee, highlighting this growing Chinese player. One Nokia manager got back to me to assure me that top management knew all about Xiaomi and in fact, Nokia's CEO at the time marked the company as a top future handset competitor in the Chinese market. Commoditization was always a key concern, and drove strategic thinking long before most industry followers realized.

The China Mobile news is not unprecedented: operators have been introducing in-house branded handsets for decades. But China Mobile is not just some operator: it's the world's largest by a margin. With 740 million subscribers, if you want to gain real market share in China, you want to work with China Mobile.

China Mobile's two handsets, Android devices based on MediaTek guts, support TD-SCDMA, China's own 3G standard. Many vendors, including Apple, do not have TD-SCDMA models yet.

Note that China will soon have 300 million Android users, which is about the population of the United States. China in becoming Android nation.


China Mobile's first branded smartphones: Androids for $80 and $210

Friday, August 02, 2013

Extreme phone makeover. Android lovers, is it time to meet your maker? Check out Motorola's new "Motomaker" service. Customization is in style.

"As you like it" Shakespeare once said, so I'll take mine in teak with the front cover in red.

From shabby chic to shoes for your feet, the goal these days is to make it unique. And this is what Motorola does with their "Motomaker" service for their new "MOTO X" device. Your phone, your design. The evolution from "as long as it's black" has been a bumpy one in the handset business, but Motorola might be the vendor to drive this mainstream.

Customization started almost two decades ago in the handset business. Ericsson offered changeable covers in the very early '90s. And then came ringtones and wallpaper downloads which enabled soft solutions to differentiation. And Nokia took things further with printable faces and 3D printable cases. Heck, Nokia even offered a Motomaker-like service back in 2008, allowing fans to design their own Supernovas using the online "NokiaBuild" tool. (That Nokia service was tested in a few European markets and wasn't taken further as I can recall.) To give credit where it's due, Nike's NIKEid may have been an inspiration for such customization. And Nike may have been inspired by large-scale PC and automakers and small-scale tee-shirt vendors.

No, Motorola wasn't first with the one-off. But handset vendors would be wise to keep an eye on consumer acceptance and expectations here, especially as devices and accessories become more wearable and more variable. Lean mass customization might not be unique for much longer.

Motorola's Motomaker. Check it out:


Nokia's 3200 from 2003. From print your own faces...


...to print your own cases. Download and print your own Lumia case from Nokia.


NokiaBuild from 2008. Design your own Nokia 7310 Supernova.



Shoes to fit the person and personality: Nike, Converse, Vans...







Friday, July 26, 2013

The right side of 40. Smartphone vendors, get ready for "Megapixel Arms Race 2.0." Nokia's new 41Mpix Lumia has ended the d├ętente. Soon Sony, Samsung...

Smartphone vendors might need to start playing the megapixel numbers game again.

Nokia recently reignited and re-excited the market for high-end camera phones with the impressive Lumia 1020. With a 41-megapixel camera and top-notch imaging features, Nokia introduced a product with some clear consumer WOW. 41 is a big number to beat, but other vendors are probably already working with imaging component vendors to pump up their flagship devices with more megapixels.

Take for example the rumor of Sony's upcoming Cyber-shot like Xperia i1 Honami camera-centric phone. It's key-selling point is expected to be a 20Mpix camera with 2/3" Exmor RS sensor, Xenon flash, and advanced on-board image processing.

Smartphone vendors have known for years that there is still significant opportunities to make the adjacent move into the market for good point-and-shoot cameras, and possibly beyond. Back in 2010, former Nokia executive Anssi Vanjoki predicted that cameras in smartphones would eventually get so good, they could even replace SLR cameras.

It will be interesting to see how the competition develops now. Nokia led the way this round, but competitors expected the device after the introduction of the Symbian-based 41Mpix "808 PureView." This market is filled with fast followers, so Nokia's window of opportunity could be gone in a flash.


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Authentic opportunity? Enabling the audience to avoid counterfeit products could mean real big business.

Related story: REAL FINE WINES GET RFID CONNECTED >>

KEY MOBILE TRENDS: NFC, counterfeiting, RFID, internet of things, logistics, big data.


Currency, clothes, Converse, cosmetics, and car parts. Airplane brakes, batteries, baby formula, and watches. DVDs, pocketbooks, toothpaste, pharmaceuticals, cigarettes, and toys. If it gets bought, it gets faked, and even some of the world's most reputable retailers have found counterfeit goods in their inventory, and are often victims of fake returns and low-life distributors.

So, could all this fakery be a genuine opportunity for smartphone vendors, components makers, security firms, and developers? Yes.

According to some stats, the counterfeit economy is worth hundreds of billions of dollars. Add in the monetary value of reputation-killing headlines like exploding phone batteries and electrocuting chargers and it's clear that brands around the world have every incentive to fight the fakes. But perhaps now it's time to enable the consumer to protect themselves.

In the wireless world, we've been talking about the real opportunities in checking authenticity for years. But now the technology enablers are really falling into place: well-connected devices, NFC, RFID, low-cost components. And the incentives are huge.

Here's one interesting use case for the implementation of connected anti-counterfeiting technologies: fine wines. Expensive wines, as well as other high-end spirits, are sometimes consumed years after purchase, and far removed from the original point-of-sale. Selinko, a firm specializing in end-to-end authentication solutions, is working with distillers to digitally certify bottles using RFID tags which allow retailers and consumers to authenticate the items via NFC-enabled smartphones (apparently only Android-based devices at the moment). As the secure RFID tags provide a unique identity to each bottle, this goes beyond barcode scanning.

Systems such as this also provide consumers, retailers, distributors, and manufacturers with more detailed information about the products and their flow via the logistics chain. Educating the audience about the wide problems of counterfeits could drive the creation of a new service industry and a smartphone upgrade cycle or two.

So, for smartphone vendors looking for opportunities to complement shrinking margins, this could be the real thing.


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

NEC's Minolta Moment. NEC Casio to leave the smartphone business. No surprises here.

STORY >>

I've been predicting for a while that many current second-tier handset vendors will pick up and leave the business over the coming years. Last week I wrote about the coming "Minolta Moments" in the smartphone industry: big names leaving the business just like Konica Minolta left the camera business due to shrinking market share and profitability.

And here we go: today NEC announced its departure from the smartphone business, and likely the handset business in general.

With minuscule market share and partnership prospects gone, it was time for NEC to throw in the towel. A solid brand name, great technical pedigree, but only a tiny sliver of global market share.

NEC was once an industry leader. It had one of the first clamshells on the market, was among the first to make camera phones, and always had some of the most interesting device form factors in the pipeline. Back at their peak, in the mid-'90s, NEC mobile was a top-five global player, and a top-three vendor in the United States and APAC, and the dominant vendor in Japan with 30% market share.

Expect more Minolta Moments during the coming quarters in the smartphone business. Device ASPs are coming down along with margins, the importance of innovation is fading, and there will be few winners in this game of follow the leader.

Good bye NEC Casio Mobile Communications. You will be remembered as the leader you once were. Now who's next?

NEC Casio Mobile Communications to fold. Too bad.

Get ready for BlackBerry's "Segafication." Prediction: BlackBerry will soon announce their hardware departure.

There's gold, there's silver, there's bronze, and then there's a patronizing pat on the back. Nobody remembers the fourth-place finisher.

In January of 2001, Sega announced they were leaving the game console business to focus on software. Although the company's Dreamcast console was considered by some to be the best gaming device ever made, the "rule of three" was a force too strong to fight: there was Sony, there was Microsoft, and there was Nintendo.

Sega's board of directors certainly had a difficult decision to make at the time. Sega's hardware was loved by devout followers, but Sega suddenly found itself competing not just against its compatriots Nintendo and Sony, but by newcomer Microsoft, a company that was known to have the patience of Job when it came to RoI.

Sega was in the fortunate position of having strong, established sub-brands, mainly Sonic the Hedgehog. Such well-known characters could port well to other platforms.

Within the coming quarters, some big-name smartphone vendors will begin to acknowledge the rule of three. This is conjecture on my part, but I believe the first will be BlackBerry, which will, like Sega, announce that they will leave the hardware business to become a third-party software publisher, providing secure enterprise messaging software and services via its now eponymous platform. There will be boos and jeers from the audience, but this isn't the breakup of the Beatles. This isn't a boxer getting out of the ring while at top: BlackBerry is fading fast with new product and platform iterations being greeting with indifference at best.

So for screaming BlackBerry fans, get mentally prepared for the Segafication of your love. BB will be IBMified, and there's not much that can be done about it at this point. The game is over for the iconic BlackBerry QWERTY device. Time for the next level.

Will BlackBerry soon be Segafied?

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Chrome begins to shine. Google's Chromebook is the one star in a shrinking PC market. And it highlights major shifts ahead.

PCMAG STORY:
Chromebook Sales Growth Bucks PC Market's Downward Trend >>

MAJOR TRENDS: Cloud, HTML5, low-cost, commoditization, business-model changes

Back in February, I wrote about the next potential screen of death for Microsoft: Google's Chromebook. ("Is MS about to be Wanged?" Feb 25, 2013). At a price of $249, the Samsung-made Chromebook is an extremely capable, super sleek, cloud-centric laptop. It's solid and secure, low-maintenance and high-value. Set it and forget it. But now it's getting tough to ignore.

According to research firm NPD, Chromebooks dominated the low-cost segment of the U.S. laptop market during the half of 2013 with as much as 25% share. And according to Gartner, Chromebooks accounted for almost 5% of all U.S. laptop sales, up from around 1% — 2% in 2012. Considering that Samsung's low-cost Chromebook has been Amazon.com's top-selling laptop since December 2012, none of this is surprising. Americans are really learning that remote is the new local, and that thick-n-chunky, virus-friendly operating systems are a hindrance rather than a requirement to get things done.

But now as the Chromebook is going global, significant changes can begin to alter the entire market for PCs and really provide a boost to cloud-based ecosystems. Starting back in April of this year, Google began selling Chromebooks in 10 other countries. Chrome OS might soon reach escape velocity and become a platform worthy of a lot more respect from developers who'll accelerate the shift of their focus to web-based technologies such as HTML5.

Big changes are coming to the PC industry and Microsoft executives have certainly received the wake-up call: last week Steve Ballmer announced a corporate restructuring around "Software & Services." What's amazing about this new & improved Microsoft is the amazing parallels to the new & improved Nokia in 2006 when company executives promulgated its new organization focusing the future of the company on a P&L center called "Software & Services" to effectively compete against the GYM players (Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!).

During the coming years we will certainly see many more major company adjustments, some of them late and desperate last-minute attempts to acclimate to the on-going cross-industry shifts which are underway. Some platforms will be abandoned, some new ones will be adopted, smart players will make successful business-model transitions, and some big names will fade fast. Chrome OS is one of the lights at the end of the tunnel.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Vision of the future smartphone? Another projector-based form factor.

I've been seeing similar projector-based form factors for a number of years from other university research labs and company visionary slides. These are playful concepts which might complement devices at some point. But I'm just not seeing the light myself with these visions.

From Reuters: "Researchers at the University of Tokyo are developing indoor projection technology that incorporates a sense of touch for interactive devices of the future. The system emits ultrasonic waves to generate pressure a user can feel and could one day render keyboards, smartphones, and even pens obsolete. Ben Gruber has more."



Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Garmin HUD Navigation

Nice idea. It would be great to see this as a common accessory for smartphone drivers:

STORY | GARMIN PR



Monday, July 08, 2013

Will the smartphone industry soon have its own "Minolta Moment." Expect some major smartphone vendors to leave the business over the coming years as profits fade. This won't be a pretty picture.

January 19, 2006: "Konica Minolta quits photo market. Konica Minolta said the market had become too competitive, and added it would sell its digital camera business to Japanese electronics giant Sony..." Source: BBC


Back at the beginning of 2006, despite a fantastically photogenic pedigree, Konica Minolta picked up and walked away from the camera business. Even with two strong brand names, both synonymous with photography, the company sank in an evolving industry until their market share was less than 3%. As competition increased and profit margins faded, the board of Konica Minolta made what must have been a very emotional decision: it's time to leave for greener pastures. Today Konica Minolta competes in the market for office copiers and printers. Photography is only part of the company's history now.

Industry shakeouts are nothing unprecedented in consumer electronics. Radios, televisions, telephones, computers. As average selling prices decline over time, the creamy profitable layer of the industry disappears, and the market self-corrects.

So now it's time to wonder which major smartphone vendor will be the first to surprise the industry with a "Minolta move" to an adjacent industry. Will it be Nokia, BlackBerry, Motorola, HTC, LG? This is conjecture, yes. But when market shares slip to the very low single digits, and only the absolute top-tier vendors are making a profit, we can be sure that some major market adjustments are afoot. It should be noted that many segments of the consumer electronics industry have historically followed a first-in-first-out pattern, with the early industry innovators vacating, leaving more room for the fast followers. (When's the last time you saw a Motorola car stereo?)

Several top-ten handset vendors from the '90s have left the business including Ericsson, Siemens, and a number of significant Japanese manufacturers. In the coming few years, there will be a similar pattern among smartphone vendors. Some brand names which are essentially synonymous with street talk will pick up and walk away. The enablers for extreme smartphone commoditization have quickly fallen into place: the hardware, the software, the distribution. The shakeout is going to happen. This will be an interesting development.


Minolta management, Jan 19th, 2006: "In such a changing world, profits for camera and photo businesses worsened in recent years, and it became necessary to drastically reform business structure for the further growth of Konica Minolta. Ever since we decided and announced restructuring guidelines of our businesses on November 4, 2005, we have been considering practical and detailed plan, and we would like to announce our decision made today as follows: we have decided to withdraw from camera business, such as film cameras and digital cameras..."

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Will the Fox-Fox partnership disrupt? Mozilla+Foxconn could change the market, but partnership success is spotty at best.

PRESS RELEASE >>
NEWS >>

Mozilla Firefox OS pages >>

KEY MOBILE TRENDS: HTML5, commoditization, Foxconn.

Last week manufacturing powerhouse Foxconn confirmed plans to support Mozilla's Firefox OS with a series of white-labeled devices. If the announced intentions are followed through, this has the potential to impact the handset market in several ways, disrupting both the feature phone and smartphone players.

To begin with, Firefox OS could establish HTML5 as a legitimate mobile ecosystem alternative and slowly dilute native development environments from the bottom up. This won't be easy given the entrenchment that iOS and Android now enjoy. And new ecosystems are notoriously difficult to get going. But HTML5 has the power of the next web behind it, and Apple and Google are largest contributors to the standardization work.

The initial impact of Firefox OS would be felt in developing markets in South America and Eastern Europe, where Mozilla execs believe the platform has the best chances of growing a user base. Firefox OS-based devices are expected to reach significantly lower price points compared to current smartphones on the market. Retail prices of Firefox OS devices should come in below $100, and possibly sub $50 as some point given the smaller hardware profile.

At such low price points, feature phone vendors will need prepare for a consumer expectation shift. If Firefox OS is designed with the future in mind, most current feature phone platforms are descendants of 20th century technology. Vendors such as Samsung and Nokia will need to evaluate Firefox OS. Already Alcatel TCL, ZTE, LG, Huawei, and Sony have announced some interest in the platform. Dismissing Firefox OS could be like snubbing Android in its early days.

But now the Foxconn partnership should be a wake-up call to the industry. While Foxconn will not be selling their own labeled devices, their support should lower the barriers to entry for all vendors great and small to bring Firefox OS devices to market with a rather immediate effect on the feature phone market and lower-end smartphone segment. A trickle-up could put more pressure on smartphone vendors' mid-price ranges and hit ASPs and margins across the industry.


However, it should be made clear that historically, such mega mobile partnerships have a very mixed track record of success. I think back to 1999 when Nokia and Palm, two of the biggest industry names at the time, announced a partnership to create the mobile platform of the future. But despite lots of travel between California and Helsinki, there was nothing to show for the initial market excitement beyond an a press release. And Mozilla's is not the only new platform looking to establish itself. Fresh open-source mobile operating systems from Ubuntu, Intel (Tizen), and Jolla, among others, are appearing on the market.

Nonetheless, history is always on the side of change. Mozilla has shaken up the market before and chipped its way forward against Microsoft's Internet Explorer. History could repeat itself.


Friday, June 07, 2013

Lifelogging: dashcams of our lives. Try and catch the wind.

KEY MOBILE TREND: lifelogging, ODLs.

A 24 minute video on lifelogging.




Friday, May 10, 2013

TweetPee. Networked diapers.

AdWeek STORY >>

Here is an interesting concept device that uses sensors to monitor diaper moisture and keeps parents informed via the home network using a dedicated iPhone app. This is a very limited trial in Brazil, bordering on a publicity stunt.

And once again, this will only with with iOS, so if you're an iPhone user, you're in luck.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Big proactive in Japan. Personal agents keep you on your toes. DoCoMo video.

KEY MOBILE TRENDS: big proactive, personal agents, proactive, ODLs, lifelogging, wearables, voice input.
EVENT HORIZON: two years.

Proactive is where it's at. Stay one step ahead.

Kwikset Kevo. Digital key to the future for iPhone users. Other platforms get locked out.

MASHABLE STORY >>

Like phone numbers, the days of physical keys are numbered in my opinion. It's time to make a bolt for the digital home of the future.

Here's an interesting product from American lock maker Kwikset called "Kevo." Kevo works in partnership with an iPhone via Bluetooth. The lock senses when an authorized iPhone is close by and then allows the lock to be opened with a simple touch. (The lock also works with a conventional key in case of emergency.)

This isn't the first electronic lock on the market, and there are even locks available which become part of the home network with the ability to alert the home owner of possible intrusions. But Kwikset (owned by Black & Decker) is one of many hardware companies which are pushing their wares into this young century with a digital twist. According to Mashable, Kevo will be priced around $250 without installation.

It's worth pointing out here that this is only iPhone-friendly, although there may be an Android app at some point. Once again, other platforms are getting locked out of the latest and maybe greatest products.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Walk it off. Fitbit's Flex fitness tracker. Another lifelogging device hits the market.

KEY MOBILE TRENDS: lifelogging, ODL, wearable computing, well-being, sensor fusion.
EVENT HORIZON: three years.

via Apple Insider >>

Build it and they will run?

The biggest uncertainty is almost always the consumer. Cool lifelogging devices such as this new Flex fitness tracker, and Nike's FuelBand and Jawbone's Up and other 21st century pedometers have been hitting the market during the past few years. But will this drive more consumers to hit the pavement?

The Flex fitness tracker from Fitbit is another wrist-worn, sensor-filled device. It boasts auto real-time syncing, and 24x7 life tracking. For $100, it could be a potential life-changing bargain. But will devices like this go mainstream?




Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Wedding Crashers. It's another Third-Man Commercial. The RC Cola comparison continued...

Because nothing sells like a violent party scene. Fortunately the staff always knows best. Yes, the fight to be the RC Cola in the mobile platform battle continues:




Monday, April 29, 2013

It's official: SMS is for old people. New-world messaging surpasses old-school SMS says Informa.

KEY MOBILE TRENDS: over-the-top services take over.
EVENT HORIZON: minus one year.



via BBC >>

Smoke signals, telegraph, telegrams, telex, carbon paper, fax machines, electronic mail, SMS.

WhatsApp, Viber, Skype, Kik, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, in-game chats, Snapchat, more. Kids these days, they simply don't respect their parents ways.


So... Informa is reporting that the number of messages sent using over-the-top chat services such as WhatsApp has now surpassed the number of SMS messages being sent. While this news comes as no surprise to anyone who has smartphone-toting kids, it is a shift that will have an impact on operators across the globe as revenue flows from fantastically profitable, low-priority information packets recede.

Yes, subscribers have gotten hip to being connection agnostic. WiFi is in the air nearly everywhere, cellular is now the complement, and messaging is platform neutral. Another section of the wall is coming down. It's time to break on through to the other side.

(Does anybody else remember operator reaction to "Club Nokia?". How things have changed.)



Sunday, April 28, 2013

Liquidmetal. This new material could enabled Apple to be more beautiful with age.

via Patently Apple >>

Liquidmetal is an interesting material developed by a company called Liquidmetal Technology. I won't pretend I understand the details, but the key to takeaway here is that Apple has a patent agreement with Liquidmetal meaning we could see this used in future Apple devices.

Apple could use Liquidmetal to make extremely robust phones, even making them airtight and waterproof. And, Apple being Apple, this new material will probably be used to make stunning-looking devices. Watch this video:

Take a powder: Oakley Airwave - GPS-enabled ski goggles.

KEY MOBILE TRENDS: augmented reality, wearable computing, LBS.
EVENT HORIZON: three years.

Product Pages >>

These $600 skiing goggles from Oakley are specialized computers implementing sensors and a near-to-eye display to bring the sport of downhill skiing into this fresh century. It's a new reality. Take a look.

"Welcome to innovation beyond the limits of possibility. Oakley Airwave™ goggles combine world-class performance, protection and comfort with a display that integrates GPS, Bluetooth® and more with a host of onboard sensors to give you instant access to a world of information. The revolutionary design allows you to view jump analytics that show distance, height and airtime. With preloaded maps available for many resorts, you can find your location and even track others in your group. Additional sensor information includes altitude, speed and vertical descent data. Bluetooth connectivity allows pairing with a compatible smartphone for immediate viewing of incoming calls and text messages, and if your Bluetooth-enabled smartphone has music, your playlists can be accessed and controlled."

Will it trend: Lifelogging? Will we soon all be wearing the equivalent of dash cams around our heads?

KEY MOBILE TRENDS: wearable computing, lifelogging, ODLs, privacy.
EVENT HORIZON: four years.


Robert Scoble's interesting take on Google Glass includes this key observation: "I will never live a day of my life from now on without it (or a competitor). It's that significant."

So, are we really seeing a technology shift in front of our eyes which will change our lives forever? The next passenger jet? The next internet? A technology which will become so pervasive, so embedded, we will soon wonder how we ever lived without it? Another so-called paradigm shift for better, or for worse?

Devices like Google Glass enable users to capture and store the most ordinary events of everyday life. And there are more where Glass came from. Memento, a Sweden-based start-up, is developing a miniscule wearable connected camera to help users seamlessly capture moment after moment. A day in the life of the user.

The technology-enablers are no longer the issue. Components are getting small enough and cheap enough so that items like Glass could become just another household purchase. Another creature comfort for the 21st century. The real question about disruptions is rarely the technology, but rather, consumer acceptance. How will individuals and society's norms adjust to ubiquitous recording? And how will privacy laws react to a 24X7, capture-capable society?

Will life-logging devices crash and burn, or lead us into the future? Let's take a look ahead.

The ubiquitous Russian dash cam. Are we headed in this direction?


Momento, the lifelogging camera. Imagine capturing every minute of your life:




Friday, April 26, 2013

Dual-SIM Samsung Galaxy S 4. The trend now is dual-SIM flagships.

KEY MOBILE TREND: dual-SIM.
EVENT HORIZON: immediate.


via Android Beat >>

PRODUCT PAGES >>


This isn't another entry about the dual-SIM smartphone trend; this is another entry about the dual-SIM flagship smartphone trend. A big difference.

No mainstream vendor has been on top of the dual-SIM trend like Samsung. Here's the dual-SIM Galaxy S 4 for the Chinese market. When one just isn't enough.



AT&T's Mobile-Home Connection. Operators look to secure revenue streams.

KEY MOBILE TRENDS: mobile home, security, internet of things, internet of things, services.
EVENT HORIZON: two years.


Back in the year 2000, I started working in the business development group of a unit of Nokia called Nokia Home Communications. There were lots of talented people working on stuff just like this, well ahead of their time. They had great vision, but the timing was off a bit.

AT&T is looking to expand their services with home monitoring and security by outfitting homes with cameras and sensors and charging a monthly fee. Prices start at $30 per month with an installation fee of $150.

As margins in handsets and tablets start to thin, it's a good time for device manufacturers to look into new hardware possibilities. And perhaps even getting directly in services. And for wireless operators who are dealing with penetration rates of 100% and declining ARPU, it's time to add some security to your future.

AT&T Digital Life Automated Home Security:

A river runs through it. The display that's like electric Play-Doh.

via Mashable

The world isn't flat. Perhaps our someday displays will reflect that.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jTCI0UM0G0s

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Samsung invests in BCI for tablets. Very thoughtful.

via MIT Technology Review >>

KEY MOBILE TREND: BCI.
EVENT HORIZON: four years.



Why it matters? A brain-controlled mobile device could give paralyzed people more ways to interact with the world while also improving functionality for all of us. MIT Technology Review



Samsung is collaborating with the University of Texas in Dallas to develop thought-controlled user interfaces for tablets. The more immediate goal is to help those with with mobility impairments, but long term, brainwaves could be yet another way to interact with devices.

Most smartphone makers have been seriously looking into BCI for mobile devices for years, but I see that the race is on in earnest for some vendor to bring some WOW to the market with this. Nonetheless I expect one of the big-three game console vendors to break in the market to BCI within the next few years with a mainstream accessory. Auto manufacturers could be the Cinderella story however.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Concussion-Detection Application

Mobile apps. What will they think of next? [ via TrendHunter ]

Is MHL a mega trend? Mobile High-Definition Link becomes a mainstream feature in 2013 in phones, TVs, more. Make the connection.

KEY MOBILE TRENDS: MHL, the mobile home, television, ecosystems, 1080p, MTK, screen-mirroring.
EVENT HORIZON: ½ year.


Mobile device and alternative platform vendors: Is MHL on your device roadmap? No! Better get crackin'.

I came across a story about a series of bargain 1080p television sets Walmart will begin selling under the brand "Hisense." For $378, you can buy a 40-inch 1080p LED smart television stuffed with features including a Mobile High-Definition Link connector.

MHL has been around for several years already, and most high-end Android-based smartphones currently on the market support MHL. And I have noticed more higher-end audio and video equipment supporting MHL and even some newer in-car entertainment systems.

But now as mainstream equipment on the receiving end is becoming MHL enabled, now is the time to ask if Mobile High-Definition Link has become a smartphone "hygiene" feature.

Samsung announced two Mega smartphones the other day, the Galaxy Mega 5.8 and the Galaxy Mega 6.3. The latter is the hardware leader of the two, but neither is a killer device. But notable is the fact that the Mega 6.3 supports MHL, the 5.8 does not. So let's call MHL a semi-mega trend at this point.

Asus, Huawei, HTC, Lenovo, LG, OPPO, Pantech, Samsung, Sharp, Sony, Xiaomi, ZTE, and several other Android vendors already support MHL on many of their higher-end smartphones. In February, MediaTek announced an MHL-enabled smartphone platform which can be expected to help drive the feature even lower and deeper into the market. And now that MHL is trickling down to many living-room black boxes, it could be time for all vendors to make the connection. Link up while you still can.

The $378 Hisense K360M 40″ 1080p LED TV with MHL support:
Mid-level smartphones now make MHL connections to mid-level TVs.


Some good MHL use cases shown here:

Friday, April 12, 2013

Key mobile trend of week 15 2013: Changes ahead in television broadcasting, the last wall to fall.

KEY MOBILE TRENDS: TV, content, walled gardens, mobile home convergence.
EVENT HORIZON: two years.


Yes, something big is going on in TV land.

Lots of interesting television broadcast-related signals this past week, especially in the U.S.

For your consideration:

-Broadcasters concerned over 'Zero-TV' homes >>
-Ericsson buys Microsoft's IPTV set-top box software biz >>
-American TV networks threaten to take their toys back after Aereo court victory >>
-Microsoft Xbox could take over your TV >>

First of all, hats off out of sincere respect for the most amazing run in the history of walled gardens. No, it's not over quite yet. The U.S. broadcasting industry still has some years left of protecting itself from real competition. But the writing is now on the walled garden. Big, fat cracks have developed.

It's nice work if you can get it: do you want to subscribe to channel A? You're in luck, because today we're running a special in which you get channels A — G for an extra $30 per month. What?! You don't want B or C or those other crappy channels? You don't like sports? Or Cooking? Or the very classy "Jersey Shore?" Tough luck pal. What's this look like, a restaurant. You can't pick and choose what you want.

But wait, what's this? You're going to Netflix? YouTube? Terrestrial? You're cutting the cord altogether. Hello? Hello? Are you there? Hello?!

Yes, things are really changing now as a new generation of subscribers is getting wise and enabled to consume media in the 21st century way. There is a strong mobile connection here as networks will have to learn that content is content no matter what the screen. Content owners and operators will have to become more flexible in order to adapt to a more tech savvy audience.

So, the Xbox might become the set-top box of the future? Interesting, but not amazing. A current-day Wii already runs Netflix and YouTube. An iPad can stream TV over cellular. A PC gets you much of CNN.

According to Nielsen, there are now five million "Zero TV" households in the U.S. So around 4.5% of Americans rely on the internet via some means for their TV/video content.

Here's a cable to the industry: the balance of power is shifting over the coming years.

Honey Boo Boo, hold the phone.


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Will it trend? 5 is like so 5 minutes ago. Will ~6-inch smartphones trend with consumers?

KEY MOBILE TRENDS: big smartphones/small tablets, form factors
EVENT HORIZON: Immediate.


via The VERGE
SAMSUNG PRODUCT PAGES >>

A smartphone with a 5.8-inch and 6.3-inch display. Why not? This isn't amazing news per se, as this Samsung device has been widely leaking and it's really just another phablet as we've seeing. And even though these are bigger than Samsung's 5.5-inch Note, Samsung is calling these "smartphones."

Other than the size of the screen, the specs are not amazing: no LTE, 1.4GHz Dual Core, 720p, ...

The big question is: now that 5-inch displays are established as the flagship norm, is it already time to bring out the really big guns? It's in the hands of the consumers now.


SAMSUNG: SEOUL, Korea, April 11, 2013 - Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd, a global leader in digital media and digital convergence technologies, today announced the Samsung GALAXY Mega, a device that combines the portability and convenience of a smartphone with the power, multitasking capabilities and extensive viewing experience of a tablet. The newest addition to the GALAXY family balances an optimal viewing experience on a 6.3-inch HD screen, yet is ultra-thin and portable enough to put into a pocket or hold in one hand. The GALAXY Mega offers a mix of popular smartphone and tablet features such as an effortless user experience, a split screen, multitasking between video and other apps and more...

The Samsung Galaxy Mega smartphone with 5.8-inch display. (Needs something to scale it.)



The next Nest? Honeywell's connected smart thermostat.

KEY MOBILE TREND: mobile-home, smart home, internet of things
EVENT HORIZON: Immediate.


You know it: another happy beautiful people video. Anyway, more evidence of the smarter home. And the very well connected home. Stay warm:

Flexible follower: holograms?

KEY MOBILE TREND: holograms, form factors, displays.
EVENT HORIZON: ten years.


And after flexible? I'm looking forward to hologram displays:

Cool vision.

How soon to the flexible form factor? Some flex signals from the past few days.

KEY MOBILE TRENDS: form factors, flexible, materials, displays, follow the components.
EVENT HORIZON: five years.


For your consideration:

-LG could beat Samsung to market with commercial flexible displays >>
-Apple Patent Reveals Advanced iDevice Flex Display Features >>
-Apple job listing for 'flexible display' engineer >>
-Flexible keyboard, clickable buttons >>

Back in the year 2000 I saw a really nice, super sharp color mobile display at an industry trade show. However, I didn't see any mainstream phone with a screen like that until around 2005. That's an example of the time gap from component demos to store-shelf ready implementation.

Yes, companies that design components begin hocking their wares years before they will implemented in products. In fact, they start showing off working and non-working prototypes behind the curtains in deep non-disclosure agreement meetings. Ordinary folks like us don't get a peak until development work is nearly complete. And then it still takes years and years for real products to hit the streets. There are few surprises for industry insiders.

Now we're getting to a point where flexibility is getting close. How close? From experience, I would say five years until some mainstream product hits a mall near you. The displays are getting there, the batteries, some of the guts. We could start to see modularity, with wrap-around displays here and there a bit sooner.

There is hope: the most boring market in the world will become more flexible someday. For now, however, the world remains flat.

Another look at Samsung's YOUM flexible display technology happy, pretty people video:


image via Patently Apple:

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Building Experiences with Glass. A 50-minute video on Glass app guidelines aimed at interested developers.

The post-smartphone era could provide a fresh start for many industry players. Look at this as a potential opportunity.

KEY MOBILE TRENDS: Post-smartphone era, Lifelogging, Augmented Reality, developers.
EVENT HORIZON: Four years.


Here's a video recommended for all app & service developers who might want to start thinking about the post-smartphone era of devices. I also recommend this for smartphone executives who need to keep on top of longer-term trends for threatening industry shifts. It's speculative, but it is a vision.

The user experience is very different with HUDs and will take some new approaches from UI designers and developers. There are certainly some re-skilling required.

PS: Please let's not start calling this a "technology disruption" five years down the road when we know all about it now.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Shock and awe. Sony Xperia smartphones now double as an entry-level game console. VIDEO.

via TechCrunch

KEY MOBILE TRENDS: mobile-home convergence, games.
EVENT HORIZON: two years.


As a followup to my April 3 entry entitled "Game of Phones" in which I explore the possibility of the smartphone converging with the living-room game console, here we already have a signal of things moving exactly in that direction.

For the past decade, Sony and Sony Ericsson talked about leveraging Sony's content library of movies, music, and games to give it a unique advantage in the mobile industry. It never really worked out that way. But here's an interesting new development: Sony has just released software enabling a wirless PlayStation DualShock controller to work with Sony Xperia smartphones. Hook up the handset to a television set and you have a near game console experience from a little phone.

I'm just thinking out loud here for a second, but I'm starting to wonder what will become of Nintendo and its library of characters. Might Samsung or Apple be interested? It could make a nice Fit.

Pretty cool. Apple, Microsoft|Nokia, Samsung, others... it's your move:





For those looking to network with Chinese mobile players and understand the market: the kind producers of the Global Mobile Internet Conference 2013 and the extended "G-Trip" contacted me to share a 25% discount code with any readers who might wish to attend. You can register your attendance at http://beijing.thegmic.com/register/ and paste in the following code into the "discount code" section: GMIC-VQ9596MT

GWIC 2013. Be there. And see Tiananmen Square.




Monday, April 08, 2013

As I live and breathe. Biometrics gone wild. "Breathprints" & "pass-thoughts" could be your secure ID, someday.

Get ready for biometrics to go mainstream in smartphones: fingerprint, facial, voice & retinal recognition, and perhaps someday breath & thought recognition. Pretty wild stuff.

Berkeley School of Information | via TechCrunch

KEY MOBILE TRENDS: , biometrics, BCI, mobile security.
EVENT HORIZON: 4 years.



The other day I came across a story about the potential of "breathprints." Now here's a story about wild biometic security: pass-thoughts.

It's amazing thought: think your password and you're in. Researchers at Berkeley's School of Information are working on using off-the-shelf, consumer-grade EEG accessories (in this case Neurosky's MindSet) to think in your ID. The cost of EEG biosensors have come down to such a degree, they really can become a common, everyday sensor.

So, when it comes to biometrics, you can't just put your finger on it.

(Oh. Thought hacking is another issue to think about.)

Berkeley professor John Chuang wearing
a Neurosky MindSet brainwave sensor:

Smart glasses. 3 of 4 search giants could be in. Good vision or blind hype?

Is this the start of the post-smartphone era? The future of search?

Related story: RUMOR: MICROSOFT ALSO RELEASING SMART GLASSES >>

KEY MOBILE TRENDS: smart glasses, post-smartphone era, wearables, AR, proactivity, lifelogging.
EVENT HORIZON: Four years.


Smart glasses: there's lots of noise now, but exactly where is the market opportunity? The search is on.

Companies are throwing their chips on the table. There's Google, Baidu, Vuzix, Motorola Solutions, and Sony. I have also heard talk of advanced heads-up display accessories coming from adjacent industry players, so expect a headset computing flood during the next four years. In fact, now Microsoft is rumored to be developing a product in this category as well. Clearly there are those who see market potential.

It's interesting to note that the world's largest search service providers —Baidu, Google, and possibly Microsoft— are entering the un-market for such devices. Despite the fact that prospects are entirely speculative, the greater risk for these players is being absent early and then very late to market: search of the future could be very contextual and augmented right in front of your eyes.

The great unknown is not the technology or pricing, but rather it is consumer acceptance of the the product category. While interest in Google Glass appears sincere among developers and the "innovator" consumer class, mainstream adoption could face a long line of hurdles.

The concept is not entirely untested. Head-mounted displays or near-to-eye displays have been around for more than a decade. I've tried several of these headsets at industry trade shows over the years and have found the experience rather bizarre, like watching a move through a child's View-Master. But studies have shown that users of NEDs did enjoy the experience and were positively surprised by the display quality. But if you are wondering why you don't see many people wearing NEDs on your morning train, check out the picture at the bottom of this post.

Yes, there is the social stigma of looking like a Star Trek character, but in addition to the fashion police, consumers will have other concerns. For example, the police police, the potential adverse health effects, and privacy worries.

But for smartphone vendors, the worry could be that the post-smartphone era is in sight. Devices like Glass could combine the latest in miniaturized computing with the freshest business-model thinking. We could begin to see local search and other contextual services become an integral part of devices. So, smartphone vendors, don't look away: the day might come when it's time to get in your customer's face.

CNET's Top-Five Reasons for Google Glass:


A NED nerd. How many of these have you seen around? Sony's head-mounted display:

Twelephone. Remember when every webpage wasn't a real-time communications node?

via Janne K's CoIP and VoIP blog >>

Check out this WebRTC-based CallMe Widget from a firm called Twelephone. There could be some interesting business models popping up around such services. Traditional carriers: the ball is in your court now.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Apps for Cadillacs. Developers, here's a chance to test your motor skills: in-car app store opportunities.

MOBILE MAG STORY >>

KEY TRENDS: auto domain, developers, ecosystems.
EVENT HORIZON: two years.


Developers, are you looking to create the latest killer app (metaphorically speaking of course)? Your next big opportunity could be sitting in your driveway.

Talk about mobile computing. Cars these days are essentially a bunch of moving parts wrapped around a computer. Automakers are stuffing CPUs, memory, storage, touchscreens, and connectivity into the heart of the modern car. And now you can download tools including SDKs and iPad-based emulators to build auto-centric in-car applications .

And as part of the expanding auto ecosystem, car manufacturers are opening app stores to provide a destination for developers to sell and for car owners to buy innovative programs.

The APIs will give developers hooks into on-device sensors providing data such as tire pressure, engine temperature, speed, and weather. This will allow developers to think beyond the smartphone box, finding ways to optimize the auto experience for the driver, perhaps by devising ways to minimize gas consumption or tire wear.

This market can pickup relatively quickly: there are currently more than one billion cars in use around the world with an average life span of around 10 years. So as more mid- and high-end new cars enter the global fleet, the penetration rate of compatible cars will grow. And the development tools leverage existing talents. GM's development environment, for example, is based on HTML and JavaScript. Essentially anyone who can develop webapps can develop auto apps. So current programming skills are quite convertible.

Actual application pricing and business models will vary.

Engine of growth? Mobile apps: the market for in-car apps could develop fast.


Computing power:




Friday, April 05, 2013

The key mobile trend of week 14-2013 is: the mobile-home

KEY MOBILE TRENDS: mobile home convergence, internet of things.
EVENT HORIZON: 2 years.



Smartphones as television remote controls, smartphones soon to be as powerful as game consoles, Samsung Experience stores in 1,400 BestBuys where they have the potential to show off smartphone-connected washing machines, more rumors of an Apple television (which I can't say I understand).

Update: Ericsson to buy Microsoft's IPTV set-top box solution Mediaroom giving Ericsson a connection to the living room. RP: http://www.ericsson.com/news/1691160

To remain competitive, smartphone vendors and platforms must find their spot in the home.



Setting presence status with the mind. Rejection has never been easier: just think about it.

POPSCI STORY >>

KEY MOBILE TRENDS: BCI.
EVENT HORIZON: 4 years.


It's not always nice to think about rejection. But here's something that can make it much easier. It's all in your head.

Here's an EEG headset that picks up on the wearer's mental state and sets a smartphone presence status accordingly. So, for example, if you are busy in thought, it will intercept phone calls.

While BCI has been solidly inching forward, it's still years away from mainstream for mobile interfaces. I do expect some game console maker, perhaps Nintendo, to introduce a mainstream EEG accessory quite soon. It usually takes something like that to break in the market.

So, smartphone and platform vendors: how big is your BCI unit?


[photo via POPSCI}

Home. Improvement? AT&T allows Facebook's identity to be the key to services via Home. And they're not alone. Is this an official OTT victory?

"Yes. OK, we're a dumb bit pipe. Are you happy now?"

KEY MOBILE TRENDS: over-the-top content, walled gardens, identity.
EVENT HORIZON: on-going.



Yesterday Facebook unveiled their "Home" app for Android. Rather than a stand-alone mobile platform as some expected, Home turned out to be a UI layer which runs on top of existing Android builds. Home is essentially a deeply embedded social phonebook, allowing Facebook to become the absolute experience center of the device.

While much of the product news had been leaked, there was one significant surprise during the presentation: the inclusion of AT&T's president & CEO, Ralph de la Vega. And this certainly highlights a most notable development: wireless operators are acknowledging over-the-top services as never before.

For me, this is a great opportunity to take a step back and realize how much things have changed during the past decade. I immediately thought of the story of Motorola's V710, an unremarkable clamshell introduced in the year 2004 for Verizon. While a key feature of the phone was to be Bluetooth, Verizon required Motorola to disable much of the Bluetooth stack. Verizon claimed this was for security reasons, but many in the industry suspected it was to help secure the operator's bottom line as content on the device such as photos and phone book had to be synched over Verizon's network at significant cost to the subscriber.

I won't second guess Verizon's true intentions, but I do know that operators' "dumb bit pipe" fears were real and influenced the industry in many ways. When the Open Mobile Alliance was being formed, for example, and standards from other specification-making bodies were to be recognized, IETF e-mail standards were considered "controversial" as e-mail was a direct competitor to profitable operator services such as SMS and potentially MMS. (And now I wonder what will become of Joyn.)

The notion that an operator would take a backseat to Facebook or Skype is not unprecedented. In 2008, operator 3 in the U.K. introduced the INQ1, what some called the Facebook phone or Skype phone as such OTT services were highly integrated into the device.

But 3 was not a leading operator in the U.K. They needed a fresh approach to gain some young subscribers in a saturated market. But AT&T is not a 3. It's not a T-Mobile USA looking to shake things up. AT&T has 107 million subscribers in the U.S. For AT&T to risk its identity is a bold move. Despite the on-stage group hugs, my spider sense was picking up a touch of unease in the chemistry. For AT&T there might be no going back.

AT&T executives once said they envisioned the day when everybody in the U.S. would get a unique, operator-issued phone number at birth as their key identifier. Forget the tax number. Who would have pictured operator execs taking a step to the side to make room for other services to take the lead?

There was one feature noticeably absent during Mark Zuckerberg's presentation: voice. VoIP and video chat were apparently persona non grata at the show. Voice remains an operator safe zone for now, but could be the next to fall.

20 years ago many wireless service providers didn't even allow handset vendors to have their brand on the phone. There was to be no middleman between the operator and subscriber to complicate the relationship. Facebook's Home highlights the extreme makeover of the industry. The identity crisis is coming to a close.

Motorola's V710: Verizon wanted Bluetooth disabled. Could they do that today?

Tongue in cheek of the week: Are you waiting for the next hot thing to come along? Remember, mobile opportunities come in unexpected shapes and sizes.


Mobile business development is a waiting game: a delicate balancing act in which timing is critical. Rarely do disruptions occur according to schedule, but when opportunity does come along, hop aboard and hold on tightly as you may be in for quite a ride. The handset business is all about change; there's no time to clown around.

So, it's time to get a move on. What are you waiting for? ROLL THE TAPE:

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Why wearable computing? "Because people are starting to get a little bit bored with the smartphone."


KEY MOBILE TRENDS: wearable computing, ubiquitous computing, natural user interface, sensors
EVENT HORIZON: 2 YEARS


"Now is the right time for wearables..."

It's funny: we know more about what some vague acquaintances had for lunch last week than we do about our own bodies. Hopefully we are in for a change very soon.

So, smartphone vendors, if these people are right, it's time to understand a new generation of product opportunities. Please get ready to get it on!

Samsung's Sweet Sixteen Ambitions. Samsung aims to ship 500 million handsets during 2013. That's 16 phones every second of the year.

Question of the day: Are Samsung's economies of scale becoming insurmountable to other vendors?

GSM ARENA STORY >>

KEY MOBILE TRENDS: logistics, economies of scale, vertical integration

Already back in 2009, Samsung started chatting about becoming the world's largest handset vendor. Given Nokia's dominant position in the market at the time, it was easy to dismiss Samsung's talk as being slightly delusional. I know I did.

Back in 2008 Nokia reached a long-term goal of its own by claiming 40% share of the global handset market. For the full year 2008, Nokia shipped almost 470 million units. It was an amazing number and many within the company liked to talk about the amount of devices shipped per day (almost 1.3 million) and even per second (~15). It really was a logistical achievement.

So now Samsung is talking about shipping 500 million handsets during 2013 which would be a 25% increase from its 2012 volumes. This is in addition to its tablets and Windows & Chrome laptops.

Half a billion units per year would amount to almost 16 units per every second of the year. Most handsets have more than 100 components, some much more. But to be conservative, let's say that each handset is built with 120 components, from box to battery. This would require management of 1,900 components per second. How many companies could manage this?

No other handset vendor that I can think of enjoys the same level of vertical integration that Samsung does. Nonetheless, many components in each handset are sourced. Given its massive volumes, Samsung's leverage with suppliers --including platform vendors-- is reaching omnipotent levels allowing it to push deep and bargain hard. Samsung's influence and economies of scale are reaching levels that few companies in any hard industry have ever enjoyed.

Samsung has established itself as the power player in the handset industry. But as we've learned, power can fade quickly in this business. So, do other vendors have a second chance?

Putting the pieces in place.
Can other vendors chip away at Samsung's powerful logistical advantages?


image via Gadget tweet




Wednesday, April 03, 2013

One with two? A flagship dual-SIM? Might HTC put two SIM slots into a Chinese version of the One?

ANDROID BEAT STORY >>

KEY MOBILE TREND: dual-SIM smartphones

More than 50 countries have mobile penetration rates greater than 100%. Yes,there are many tariff arbitragers in markets across the globe.

Dual-SIM feature phones are old hat, agreed. And dual-SIM Android smartphones have been around for a few years, but mostly at the low end. But if this HTC leak is legit and not counterfeit, might we see more dual-SIM smartphones at the high-end?

Here's something that might be a dual-SIM HTC One for the Chinese market supporting WCDMA and GSM, but no 4G of any type. There do appear to be two micro-SIM slots. Given the fact that the features are so different from HTC's One as it was recently introduced, this may be something quite different.

Most major and many minor Android vendors have introduced dual-SIM smartphones at this point. I lack the stats to report how well any of those are selling, but I do remember that some Samsung "duos" feature phone models did sell very well in some Eastern European countries a number of years back. All vendors should monitor the potential.

(Nokia does have dual-SIM Series 40 phones, which is considered nearly a smartphone platform. Will we see a Windows Phone dual-SIM device soon or a BlackBerry dual SIMer? Apple seems very unlikely.)

HTC One with two?