Monday, January 21, 2013

MediaTekifikation. For those in the handset business who still haven't heard of MediaTek, it may soon be time to meet your maker.

Many people I speak with in the wireless industry have still never heard of MTK. To me, that's like meeting a kid who has never heard of Lego's.

Stories for your consideration:
MediaTek & OmniVision tie-up for ADVANCED SMARTPHONE IMAGING >>
Forbes: More Americans Learn About Taiwan's Amazing MediaTek >>
Taipei Times: MediaTek’s chips transforming China’s smartphone market >>

...some thought continuation from my post about the "Chinafication" of the global handset industry:

Back in early 2008, in an internal report I wrote for Nokia management, I noted that a Chinese handset vendor named Tianyu had become a top-10 global brand. Even though I followed the industry closely, I had never heard of Tianyu before this. I decided to highlight the potential competitive threat of local vendors such as Tianyu who could appear out of nowhere in short order in vital growth markets.

I received some immediate feedback about my observations from one manager based out of Nokia's Beijing office: "Forget Tianyu: the company to really keep an eye on is MediaTek." That was a great tip.

Taiwan-based MediaTek may not be a direct competitor to smartphone vendors, but the company is an enabler of increased competition, lowering barriers to entry to the handset market. MediaTek offers complete chipset and software solutions allowing anybody with the desire to enter the handset business. It is MediaTek which enabled many of the "shanzhai" players to beat major vendors such as Nokia, Samsung, and Motorola to market with what appeared to be very similar-looking feature phones with risible brand names such as "Nokla" and "Sansung."

About two years ago, MediaTek announced their intentions of entering the market for smartphone ARM-based chipset solutions. The impact has been enormous: last year more than 110 million Chinese smartphones were based on MTK chipset solutions. This is greater than Qualcomm's market share in China.

MediaTek now offers solutions for both the higher-end of the smartphone market (quad-core) as continuing to enable very low-cost Android-based devices.

MTK has found its place in the mobile value chain. There are times when you shouldn't just look sideways to find your emerging competition, but at the bottom of the stack.

MediaTek's MT6575 optimized for low-cost Android 4 smartphones:

Friday, January 18, 2013

Is the "Chinafication" of the global handset industry inevitable?

For your consideration:
-ZTE's new Budget-Oriented, 5-inch, Quad-core Smartphone >>
-Digitimes Story: Chinese smartphone brands steal CES spotlight >>
-Lenovo the first smartphone vendor using Intel's Clover Trail+ >>

Back in the 1950s there were more than 60 American-based television manufacturers. By the 1990s, there were none. The stats for Europe are similar: most Western European countries had a national TV-set brand or two. Now few do. The hardware business went East. But the profitable content business stayed behind.

So, will the mobile device torch soon be passed East as well? And for good?

To me, there is no doubt that commoditization is the largest general trend in the handset business. The underlying software has taken center stage and service providers such as Google, Facebook, and wireless operators look at devices as little more than screens for their services.

Most smartphones and more basic handsets are already made in China regardless of the label. (I'm not sure if any smartphones are assembled outside of China.) But one of the key recurring themes during the last few quarters of sales as well as at CES 2013 is the growing strength of Chinese brands. Brands few had heard of just a few years ago are now making headlines across the globe: ZTE, Huawei, Lenovo, TCL, Coolpad, Xiaomi, Tianyu (K-Touch), Haier. And it looks possible that Chinese vendors could take half of the top 10 spots among handset market leaders within the coming quarters taking total global volumes greater than 25%.

About five years ago I was speaking to one Nokia executive about this subject. As he said at the time, "Chinese vendors make great copies... but they won't be making copies forever."

What will the mobile hardware business look like in 10 years? I suspect the writing is already on the great wall.

Ascending to greatness? The Windows Phone 8 Huawei Ascend W1:

More printernet of things. Download and print your own Nokia Lumia 820 case.


First a caveat: in a list of top trends I'm working on for 2013, my top trend concerns the incredible hype we'll be seeing around 3D printing. I've read how some analysts are predicting the death of the factory, and I'm sure those analysts have their agendas. But the truth is mass production has nothing to fear.

However, when it comes to customization and one-offs, 3D printers offer incredible potential. This is exciting. Here's another example of the printernet of things: download a case for your Nokia 820.

3D printing won't replace mass production anytime soon,
but it will be the arts and crafts of the coming decades.

Tongue in cheek of the week: Thinking bigger. Product managers must use all the utensils at their disposal to make their point.

For a product manager who works with a team of designers and engineers, it's not always easy to cut to the chase. Getting the product specs right takes many meetings and the right mix of diplomacy, demands, and understanding. You'll come across a few forks in the road, but in the end you'll be all set. ROLL THE TAPE:

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Fingerprint readers in next iPhone and Galaxy? The signals point toward more biometrics in smartphones.

A touch of class under the glass? Biometrics will go beyond geek.

STORY: APPLE to put fingerprint sensor below home button >>

STORY: SAMSUNG puts fingerprint sensor below the screen >>

There's nothing new or amazing any longer about biometrics. Laptops have had fingerprint readers for years, and they are slowly appearing on some smartphones. In addition, software on phones is enabling voice-based security and facial recognition.

But is Apple about to make one of their amazing discoveries by implementing the better mousetrap? One rumor of the day is that Apple will implement fingerprint reading in their soon-to-be-announced iPhone 5?S. This is backed up by Apple's purchase of a sensor component maker. When Apple buys a company, they do it for a good reason.

The key here is that Apple engineers have supposedly been able to place the fingerprint reader below the device's single hard button. This would allow the phone to keep its minimalist design while offering a touch of WOW. And it's certainly easy to envision Apple's CEO standing on stage and wowing the audience with a single finger gesture.

As its competitors have learned, Apple has the incredible ability to drive new technologies mainstream. If Apple does include a fingerprint sensor —perhaps combined with other biometric methods— in their future generation of phones, it could leave other vendors one feature behind. And if Apple can prove this is a legit security method, it would be an interesting enterprise selling point.

Looking beyond Apple, last week at CES, Samsung demo'd a smartphone secured by a fingerprint scanner that was below the display. If implemented, this could lead to some improved natural user interfaces and great use cases for mobile finance.

For other vendors, please take note that it may soon be time to put your finger on it. I just thought I would point that out.

At CES 2013, Samsung demos a fingerprint reader below the screen:
(Photo from

Fingerprint reader on the MOTO Atrix 4G. A touch too geeky?

Fujitsu’s Tegra 3 fingerprint reader below the camera lense.
(Photo from

Facial recognition:

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

joyn or go over the top? joyn's window of opportunity is closing fast, but operators still have a chance to get rich if they get it right.

GSMA's Rich Communications Suite "joyn" appears to have some momentum now. But is it enough to push the service over the top?

Take for example, Korean operators offer joyn to users >>

Joyn is looking to be the theory of everything for mobile services. It covers voice, messaging, video, chat, presence, location, phonebook, sync, file sharing, and more, is intended to work cross platform, and runs atop operators' IMS networks allowing for efficient use of existing investments.

But joyn is coming late to a crowded rich communications party. The market is filled with successful free and air-interface agnostic over-the-top services such as Skype, FaceTime, Facebook, Google Talk, WhatsApp, Kik, and Viber. And now W3C's WebRTC (Real Time Communication) API which enables a similar suite of rich communications directly within browsers is being supported by Mozilla, Google, Opera, among others. To be clear and fair, joyn, OTT services, and WebRTC are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and can in fact be complementary.

Mobile World Congress 2013 is next month and the joyn-branded Rich Communications Suite of services will be one of the key themes. We can expect to see GSMA touting its RCSe architecture by listing the growing number of operators across the globe who have at least some plans to support joyn.

At best, joyn will experience a bumpy ride. Historically operators have a mixed track record of rolling out their own content services (this is especially the case in an all IP-environment). Some services have been mega hits —SMS and ringtones come to mind here— others, such as operator content portals, have tended to have little lasting impact on consumers.

While joyn will enjoy some time in the spotlight at MWC 2013, attentive analysts and bloggers will be looking for the vacuums: joyn's success could suffer from significant interest gaps as a number of key operators have shown ambivalence or complete apathy towards the service. In addition, the lack of native platform support could create significant provisioning nightmares for operators. Solid handset integration will be one requirement for wide adoption.

Operators do have a real opportunity with joyn. The industry has been talking about embedding rich services deep into handsets for more than half a decade. But talk is cheap. Joyn will need wide adoption and flawless implementation including clear and fair pricing to squeeze it through the closing window of opportunity.

Suite. joyn for young...

...and old alike:

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Finding MeMo. The $150 7-inch tablet from ASUS, the "MeMo." Sub-$200 tablets are here to stay.



It wasn't long ago when we were wondering when someone would come along with the sub-$200 smartphone. Now low-cost tablets are dripping onto the market. And usually when it rains, it pours.

Today ASUS introduced a low-cost tablet called the "MeMO Pad." It has a seven-inch, 1024 x 600 resolution screen and runs Android 4.1 on top of a 1GHz single core processor, and comes with 16GB worth of on-board storage. The hardware isn't the amazing part, it's the price: at $150 this is almost at the impulse-buying level. We've been seeing a number of decent tablets now at the $150 range.

Let's see if Amazon brings the price of its 7" Kindle tablet down a bit now.

Next, get ready for the sub-$100 tablet you can buy at the supermarket checkout. For any new competitors entering the tablet market, please keep devices like the MeMo in mind, and make sure you add a dash of WOW rather than introducing a MeToo.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Going "lumpy." Another cool demo from Tactus. Buttons appear from nowhere my dear.

BBC Story >>

Thanks to HM for sharing this link.

Here is some more WOW potential for the handset vendor who gets this right.

Can you have your QWERTY and eat it too? Here is what Tactus Technology has been talking about for several years now. Production begins late 2013, early 2014 according to the interview below.

BBC interview with Tactus:

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Samsung bends the rules. Flexible screen technology demos via Samsung CES 2013.

The earth is not flat, do not forget that.

Black rectangular screen, black rectangular screen, black rectangular screen, black rectangular screen, black rectangular screen, cool foldable big-screen device you can spread out, black rectangular screen, black rectangular screen, black rectangular screen, bla... whao, what was that?

Was that something different in the world's most boring market filled with look-alike products? Could it be? Could things be about to change?

I would have more hope and be less cynical had I not seen similar presentations year after year. But these things do take time. Here's some hope from the display component guys at Samsung. Device makers looking for some WOW, higher margins, and lines out the door: get on your marks, get set, bend.

Fold it away boys:
(WARNING: the second video below is one of those visionary beautiful-people types.)

Thanks to MB for the links.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Tongue in cheek of the week: CES 2013 summarized. Mark my words, history may not repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme.

CES is always a great show; too bad for 2013, I couldn't go. But I've attended the show several times during the past few years, and I've learned that there are always similar themes and trends year after year. So, below I created a quick CES 2013 summary combining some guess work with my past trade show experience and some headlines I've scanned during the past few days. I hope this is fairly accurate, somewhat useful, and to the point.

Yup, CES Las Vegas: I've been there, done that, and I've had my fill, so I know the drill: There's loud crowds and loud music. There's personnel gawking and keynote talking. You had booth babes, you had to bring your shades. You give and you take, you take the giveaways. There is slight of hand, smoke and mirrors, under-the-table deals, and a few free meals.

There was probably NFC, RFID, BCI, and CGI. There was GPS, LED, and AT&T. There was quad core, dual core, dual band, dual screen, dual SIM, 3M, 3D, and 4G. You had multi-core, multi-threading, multi fashinoned, and multi-dimensional.

There was Intel inside, and there were big balloons outside. There was low-cost, Hi-Fi, high-tech, nanotech, restaurant checks, indoor maps, and power naps. There were flexible displays and firm handshakes. There were taxi receipts and company suites.

There was roulette, blackjack, slot machines, virtual machines, and coffee machines. There were iPhone cases & lots of aces. There was oxygen, helium, sodium, carbon, and probably some lithium. There were netbooks, networks, networking, tablets, phablets, kidlets, and booklets.

Devices were water proofed, moisture resistant, splash guarded, hard boiled, drop tested, and thief protected. There were tough phones, tough screens, tough tablets, tough love, and touch computing. There was Bluetooth, BlueAnt, Blu-ray.

There were connected cars, open bars, and probably some Swedish guy named Lars.
There were Snapdragons, snap decisions, and snap-to-it's.

There was a Z phone from Sony, an S phone from ZTE.

There were over-priced french fries and over-utilized WiFi. You had cloud computing, hotel commuting. There were smart homes, smartphones, smart watches, smart people, smart glasses, smart TV and of course, thieves like me. ROLL THE TAPE:

This great George Carlin piece doubles as a great CES summary:

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Is that an Apple I smell in your pocket? Move over brand names, brand logos, brand colors, brand slogans, and brand theme music. Here come brand scents.

Nissan will introduce an official brand smell.


This might not be directly mobile related, but thinking someday we might be holding a "smell-e-phones" in our hands or watching smell-e-vision, it might be time for your company to start working on the official company odor.

For brand building, here's something pretty sweet: an official brand fragrance. Nissan will be introducing their official scent at an upcoming auto show, and the same scent will be used consistently across showrooms and all marketing venues.

So, does your company have its official brand scent yet? You might want to get to work before all the good smells are taken.

Another one for the senses. NTT's Frangrance Phone from 2008:

Nissan executive discusses appleaing to the senses.

PaperTab: Is this the paper of tomorrow?

More "big proactive." Stressing big data with the Neumitra Bandu. This watch collects stress data and advises.

via Ecouterre >>


Here is another good example of using big data for the power of good. The Bandu from a Bostn-based startup called Neumitra is a watch which has sensors which are able to collect info from the body about stress levels. The data is then uploaded to the cloud where it is stored and analyzed on an on-going basis. The service provides feedback on relaxation and also has a location-based element as it layers stress on the map.

So please take five and watch the Bandu video to get a better understanding.

Microsoft's IllumiRoom project. More super cool stuff from Microsoft we'll probably never see.

Here's another nice research project from Microsoft, the IllumiRoom Project creates an Immersive Gaming Experience. Not much detail is given which usually means smoke and mirrors. But it looks like a great idea:

Good times. More just think about it. Rejection has never been easier.

Here's a touch of wow in a rather boring marketplace: a cool working brain-computer interface for a smartphone which enabled the user to just think about rejecting a call. It will be interesting to see how far BCI will go in the coming years.

Thought-controlled hangups. Skip to 1m:45s if in a hurry:

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

MORE "Just think about it!" MORE "Just look at it this way!" Haier shows TV with eye-put, brain-computer interface!


Here is another signal in support of eye-put and BCI. To be honest, this has been shown before. But this acts as a good reminder for device makers to be on top of new UI shifts.

At Haier's CES 2013 booth, their "TV of the future" shows the possibilities of eye movements and thought for input.

Video from 2011 showing BCI on a Haier television set:

Kidlets. Polaroid's $150 Android tablet for kids pushes commoditization to new levels.



Tablets as kids toys for $150? Yup. Let's call them kidlets. Tablet commoditization is reaching new heights.

Here is a child's tablet from Polaroid Corporation (which really has nothing to do with the long-bankrupt instant camera company). This tablet runs Android 4, has a seven-inch screen, customized apps for kids including a Nook eReader app, and appears to be a pretty tough device.

The inclusion of an eReading app could lead to some interesting content-based business models.

This isn't the first kids tablet. In fact, Toys R Us has been selling kids tablet computers for several seasons now. So, is this a sign that the tablet market is one to get into? Or perhaps one to get out of?

Polaroid's PTAB750 $150 kids' tablet:

Touching non-touch video. PrimeSense Capri 3D sensor.

I have a vision that someday we will all live in a world in which visionary videos like the one below aren't quite so goofy. But until that day comes, here's one for the senses:


Canopy Sensus. Making the case for the back of the case. But whatever happened to LucidTouch from Microsoft & Mitsubishi?

Could this change user interactions going forward? And backward?

PC World STORY >>

From what I can see, there's not too much exciting coming out of CES 2013, yet. For the most part, what's happening in Vegas can stay there for now.

Indeed, one of the more interesting products to be announced is an iPhone case, the Canopy Sensus. Sensus enables the back of smartphones to be used for touch input. It's an interesting approach. But not a new idea.

Back in 2007 Mitsubishi together with Microsoft introduced the "LucidTouch" input system. LucidTouch (please see the second video below) was an interesting approach to making touch a more natural user interface. Why block valuable screen real estate with multiple fingers when the back of devices go completely unused? And since then, other companies patented similar back of device uses. None have come to market.

It's interesting to note that Mitsubishi made one of the first true multi-touch products, the DiamondTouch, which was being shown years before the iPhone.

Companies such as Mitsubishi and Microsoft are great at showing off lab-based innovations. But it's time for some real-world excitement. Hopefully for them, ideas such as LucidTouch can help them with a comeback.

Canopy Sensus case for the iPhone, CES 2013:

LucidTouch from 2007 via Mitsubishi Electric Research Laboratories (MERL) & Microsoft.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Microsoft says Google isn't playing nice. But can Microsoft learn to play niche?

WARNING! Major mental adjustments ahead.

So, Microsoft is complaining that Google isn't playing nice [STORY]. The question is, can Microsoft learn to play niche?

What a difference a decade makes for Microsoft.

I've come across some recent smartphone market share numbers for a few specific West European countries which, unfortunately for Microsoft, indicate almost 100% consumer apathy in Windows Phone-based devices. In fact, if these numbers are correct, Microsoft's smartphone platform market share is basically a statistical rounding error in these markets.

Who would have guessed the market would develop so? Back in the late '90s, many mobile industry executives considered Microsoft the handset industry's greatest threat. Microsoft looked like it was about to dilute the influence of so many mobile industry players when the smartphone market was still in its embryonic state.

And it wasn't just phones: for a while it looked as though Microsoft's influence was going to keep growing across all household devices. The company was pushing software for set-top boxes, televisions, PDAs, cars, and even coffee makers and watches.

At work and at play, it seemed as if we were to live in a Microsoft-dominated world.

I still maintain that Microsoft will emerge as the third wheel in the smartphone market — only because the company has no choice. If the stars are aligned in its favor, Microsoft could push itself to 10% in smartphone and tablets at some point in the coming two years.

But 10% is a long way from 90%, which is a figure I assume Microsoft employees are more accustomed to. Moving from a dominant to subordinate market position isn't a fun ride. Can Microsoft learn to be a niche player in somebody else's market? How does a company of 90,000 employees adjust its strategy to become the third string player (and that's if things work out for them)?

Certainly it wasn't Microsoft's wish to be niche, but with luck, MS can replenish before they vanish.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Tobii or not Tobii? Will eye-tracking soon go mainstream as a UI element?


TOBII company homepage >>

Here we see another example of "eye-put." Is the eye phone trend for real?

Eye-tracking techniques could certainly solve several real-world usability flaws on PC and smartphone platforms and lead to advanced natural-user interfaces. In mobile devices, one of the more annoying real-world UI issues is that of screens jumping into dark battery-saver mode while you're actively reading an article.

Some device vendors are trying to address the issue. Samsung's "SmartStay" feature in the Galaxy S2, for example, uses the phone's front-facing camera to detect when the user's eyes are looking at or away from the display and adjusts the screen's lighting status accordingly. SmartStay is a nice thought, but it's not the thought that counts, it's the execution. User reviews of SmartStay have been mixed. Being pretty good usually isn't a strategic goal.

Tobii, a Swedish company which develops eye-tracking solutions, has introduced an eye-tracking accessory called "Rex" for Windows 8 machines. In essence, it enables the eyeball's gaze to act as a computer mouse.

There's some interesting potential uses for eye-tracking. Market researchers, for example, realize that gazes can be worth a thousand words. The use of eye-tracking input could cut across phones, computers, televisions, cars.

It could be time for platform vendors to be more forward looking and support looking forward.