GPS Most Wanted

The Global Positioning System (better known by its acronym GPS) sees a meteoric rise to popularity on mobile phones. According to a survey 24% of all Americans want GPS as a feature on their next phone, and they seem to be served: nearly every large OEM offers the feature in their higher-end models already and others rack up to get there (Nokia N95, HTC Touch, Blackberry 8800, to name a few). And - no buzz without the iPhone these days - there is rumour that one of the GPS leaders, TomTom, is developing the respective module for the iPhone.

As the feature shows appeal to a very wide demographic, this might become a feature like the camera today: initially dissed ("who needs a camera in his phone?"), camera phones are the overwhelming standard today and are putting ever-increasing pressure on digital cameras (well, OK, probably not the high-end SLR but otherwise).

This is not entirely surprising: one does not normally turn to one's phone when feeling the urge for a movie but it provides true value-add when you walk through the streets of an unknown city (or unknown district of your home town) looking for the right street, and you can actually turn to your phone's GPS function.

GPS of course provides a completely new take to the holy grail of mobile services, namely LBS (or: location-based services), too. I prefer the term location-aware as such offerings need not necessarily be "based" on this. Way beyond simple "sat nav", everything from dining out, clubbing, flirting, and generally looking for like-minded people in a given environment would be greatly enhanced by such features. Not to mention marketeers of retailers and consumer brands who are surely already drooling on the thought of what they could do when they could lure consumers into their shops with tailor-made offers just when they walk past their shops. ZagMe was a bit too early for this, it seems but then this was pre-GPS. Brave new world?

Mobile natives: home in Norway and elsewhere...

Norwegian incumbent Telenor has undertaken a survey, which found that 88% of all Norwegian 10-year-olds own a mobile phone, up 36% from 4 years ago. 9-year-olds are at 71% up from 57% last year. 60% of the kids teach their parents on how to use the thing... The leading "subjects" that are "taught" are camera, downloading music, SMS, Internet, MMS, video and radio.

Heavy users then... The whole concept of digital natives (vs. immigrants like me) may stand to be corrected (after a mere 5 years): are we now talking of mobile natives? Whilst in the good old days of 2001 Prensky (the inventor of the digital natives concept) mused that children, at the age of 15, would only have spent about 5,000 hours of reading vs. 10,000 hours of having played video games plus 20,000 hours of TV, this seems to shift, and not only in Norway: e.g. does my son (12, no 12 1/2 [!], with his own phone since he turned 11) check his e-mail only once every blue moon (it's so yesterday!), the most important pieces of communication are IM and his phone. He has a Facebook account (even asked me if I would allow him to cheat on his age - you have got to be 13 to sign up), which he rarely uses though (this will change, I'm sure. He is utterly annoyed that I would not buy him an iPhone -- because then he could IM and use FB and others on the move, too. Note to self: why are dads so stubborn, backward and generally obnoxious?). He is not really that interested in the XBox360 that was -- rather cunningly -- given to his dad as a Christmas present last year so as to be better able to regulate usage. Take away his phone though? Oooh.

Besides causing all sorts of concerns as to costs, imaging (could they actually look at "dirty" things earlier? well, according to that survey, 80% of all phones are registered by a parent, which means that they probably would pass through age-restriction-barriers; not my son though: his nasty dad signed him up to a no-data plan...) the much more interesting thing appears to be the actual shift in the ways how youngsters communicate and consume and compute information: communication via mobile (or IM for that matter) is normally limited to a radically reduced amount of information being shot back and forth in incredible intervals (I actually struggle to read my son's IM conversations with his friends: "hi m8, let's mt @4 in S park, s8ing should be cool td"). So arguably the information they consume is received (and presumably processed) in smaller chunks compared to previous generations. The Guardian (or, in the US: the NY Times) anyone?

Will this also extend to the way the next wave of savvy users will consume mobile content? Will that mean that they're less inclined to play 18 levels of Call of Duty because it is too linear in gameplay? May, in a few years time, that (and not the 39-year-old mums) be the reason why quick and easy games may be more successful on mobile (as they are - probably for different reasons - today)?

Prensky concluded that his students' brains had physically changed. What he meant is that children who grew up with digital media (I was a front-runner of my generation having played with my dad's punchcards) compute information differently to people who grew up in an analogue world. After a mere 6 years, this seems to have shifted again, this time involving the constraints of the mobile screen but adding several layers that are inherent to that medium: location-sensitive, instant, anytime. Ah, what interesting times!

OK, but now back to Telenor's survey. Interestingly perhaps, it also shows that attitudes as to when children should have a mobile have changed considerably. The threshold for mobile phones is now 10 years of age, and the percentage of parents who think it is acceptable for their children to have a mobile, more than doubled from 9 to 10 (22% for the younger ones to 56% for 10-year-olds). Is this related to the entry into secondary schooling (it was for us)? In 2002, only 11% of parents thought it were acceptable to give a 10 year old a mobile.

Interestingly, parents seem to give their children mobile phones before the parents actually think they should have any (are Norwegian schizophrenic???): 93% of 11-year-olds have a mobile, only 63% of parents say they actually want them to have one at that age. So who on earth gives them these things???

Disclaimer: I have exaggerated slightly for good effect. My dear first-born also reads 400-page novels and engages in discussions happily. He regularly reads the Guardian and German mag, Der Spiegel, etc, etc... Not all is lost then... :-)

I had to clarify that as he would otherwise probably get back to me soon, telling me how single-tracked and utterly analogue I was in my thinking...


FC Porto & TMN: A new MVNO is born!

Here's something nice: after I mused extensively about the sense and nonsense of MVNO models. I have long been preaching that the true reason (other than price) why people might move would be driven by affinity marketing, namely the strong affiliation to a brand, a cause, an organization conveying something in people's lifestyle that they wish to publicly own up to. So what is one of the strongest affinities people have? Their partner? No, 50% of marriages end in divorce. Their car? No, it breaks down after a while. Their phone? No, they change it every 12-18 months. Their club? YES! Or have you ever heard of a Boston Celtics fan who converted to the Knicks, a 49ers man crossing over to the Raiders? You will not because they do not exist.

Enter the good folks of Portuguese carrier TMN and FC Porto, one of the country's major football (my American friends, read: soccer) clubs. Rather than fussing about sourcing handsets, staffing customer service and equipping shops in AAA locations, they focus on the real thing, namely the brand. The brief PR release outlines the service roughly: "The Dragao Mobile service offers calls to all networks at EUR 0.16 per minute and SMS at EUR 0.08 each, as well as personalised services for club members and fans. The club's name will be shown on the handset display, and users will benefit from exclusive content. Customers will also get 5 percent of the value of each top-up returned to their bank account for use on FC Porto products and services. The package includes a EUR 10 card and a Motorola W218 mobile phone for EUR 59.90."

There you have it. This is as it should be, in a previous post I called this "soft customization": they utilise and activate the brand values by personalizing the handset and giving users some goodies connected to the brand. For the remainder, existing channels, networks, shops, handsets are being used, making the whole thing a whole lot cheaper. For a network operator, this makes sense as it reduces churn (listen & repeat: "no one ever changes the allegiance to their club!"), i.e. fans will be significantly more likely to stay with a network if it is the one where they have the chance to show their allegiance.

I sincerely hope that this will be successful. I would otherwise have to bury my conviction that affinity marketing is one of the instruments of choice in this industry, and that would be a real shame! ;-)


Linux Mobile pouts its LiPS

Now there's been a lot of talk about Linux Mobile recently, with all that Google's or rather the Open Handset Alliance's Android stuff floating around (see e.g. here and here), and the good folks who aim to push this operaing system are quite naturally busy to ride the wave of excitement and attention over this (and are always very keen to stress that Android is a welcome addition to the forces rather than a bad competitor). LiPS is one of two consortia besides Android (the other being the LiMo Foundation) who intend to further the footprint of Linux in mobile, too.

And, just in time for Christmas, LiPS (whose members include Orange, France Telecom, MontaVista and Access) now has released its first specification. Well, to be honest, it is only the second half of what was already released in June but, hey, now it is complete: it provides APIs for telephony, messaging, calendar, instant messaging and presence functions, as well as - unspecified - "new user interface components." LiPS stresses that it wants to allow developers to develop applications that will work on all phones under the standard, and from that point of view the voice API should be particularly interesting (voice-controlled games? Ah!).

Unlike its "competitor" (compatriot might be the better word) however, there have been no news on any handsets developed under that specification yet. The LiMo Foundation scored first-line honours here with NTT DoCoMo recently announcing its impressively spec'ed P905i (by Panasonic; using the Viera brand - see here for similar use of brands) and N905i (by NEC) handsets released under the LiMo Foundation specs (see for a showcase of the FOMA 905i series here and here).

A lot of action happening, and good stuff, too! Now, bundle your resources, folks, and conquer!


Mobile Enters Upper Echolons of Culture

This is adequate for the more thoughtful pre-Christmas period where everyone reflects a bit more and focuses on culture a bit more: mobile phones have finally gone beyond the meagre mainstream, knocked on the doors of this most high-brow piece of (dare I say it) entertainment and gained access to the cast list of a Wagner opera no less!

It might only be a little sideline but here it is: a Samsung G800 is featuring in the latest iteration of the children's version of Wagner's "Nibelungenring" at the Vienna State Opera. The "world" premiere (is Vienna not part of it?) will be in Tokyo.

The SGH-G800 is a leading member of the cast, it is reported: it fulfills not only one but several roles in the play, the most important one being taking a picture of the sleeping Bruennhilde; "it" then shows the picture to Siegfried and is therefore essential for the progression of the story...

And for the cultural barbarians amongst us here's the explanation of the director, Matthias von Stegmann: "This independent play is meant to spark children's interest for Wagner's world. With Samsung's unique camera phone we're able to give a mobile phone an active role in an opera for the first time and thus create a link from virtual mythology to today's reality."

Samsung of course worked "in cooperation" with the Vienna State Opera on this and is understandably proud of its achievement.

So keep your eyes open! The first to spot one in Bayreuth, perhaps even in the hands of Wagner descendant Nike will win a price...


Verizon's group hug: now it also supports Android

Verizon's U-turn continues: the carrier now announced that they would support the Android OS promoted by the Google-led Open Handset Alliance. This comes only days after Verizon was met with a lot of raised eyebrows after it declared it would open up to handset manufacturers, service and application providers. Upon the launch of Android, Verizon was amongst a select few that were visibly reluctant to support the initiative, reportedly for fear of impinging on their customer base by not being able to control the user experience.

This move may well be an attempt to prevent Google from bidding in the 700 MHz spectrum, the auction for which goes ahead tonight: Google may not see the necessity to bid just as aggressively if it can basically fall back on an OS-agnostic carrier as it can then continue doing what it does best, namely sell ads. The proximity of the dates may indeed point into that direction.

Verizon Wireless had created the most profitable U.S. cellular business by tightly restricting the devices and applications allowed to run on its network. However, its management apparently now came to conclude that it was time for a radical shift: this will have been out of fear to be isolated in a niche when the rest of the market was overrun by new, more powerful devices as well as media empires old and new both of which would bring a richness of offerings mid-term that Verizon could not have supported within the constraints of its tightly-controlled environment.

It may also have thought that opening up would help them to keep growing while containing costs; probably a bit of everything. That last bit is of course one of the reasons that led many partners to throw their weight behind the various OS campaigns that recently appeared to have picked up pace: the LiMo Foundation, C-based Nokia-owned OS Symbian and the Sony Ericsson and Motorola-owned UIQ (in which Motorola had just acquired a 50% stake; see here) will also be driven by the OEM's attempt to contain cost. Unified OS make mass production much cheaper (and the famously robust Linux kernel also will allow stability whilst being flexible enough to allow enough flavours to keep every marketing and UI expert happy, too).

Everyone coming to their senses? Oh, brave new world.

German iPhone exclusive again...

German carrier T-Mobile today scored a victory against competitor Vodafone: the court declared that the exclusive deal the carrier struck with Apple over the distribution of the iPhone, the coveted darling of mobile fashionistas, in Germany.

The court ruled that it could not find a violation of German competition or anti-trust laws. Vodafone had invoked an injunction forcing the sale of unlocked devices, following which T-Mobile offered the unlocked device without a contract for a whopping EUR 999. This let a competitor, Debitel, into offering a cheaper contract to owners of such unlocked iPhones under the terms of which they would also get EUR 600 back (the difference between the T-Mobile price for locked and unlocked models).

The decision is not final; Vodafone has the right to appeal. Also, the judgment does not do away with the fact that French law prevents the closed business model favoured by Apple where it is also on offer unlocked. Under European law, unlocked French iPhones can be re-sold in every EU country once deployed in the marketplace.

The biggest impact of this of course is that it effectively puts Apple's approach to force operators to pay it cut of the usage revenues under threat. This might now be averted as cross-border trade will likely remain marginal compared to overall sales.

Circular Entertainment is with you -- or not...

What's mobile in the following? Well, Nokia is involved and it is a development that would surely affect the mobile screen! A survey commissioned by Nokia found that, by 2012, one quarter of all media will be created and consumed from within a circle of peers rather than from traditional media. The ongoing rise of social media then, which the survey dubs "circular entertainment".

In the course of the study consumers from 17 countries were interviewed about their digital behaviors and lifestyles signposting emerging entertainment trends. Combining views from "industry leading figures" with Nokia's own research from the 900m people that use their phones , Nokia apparently "constructed a global picture of what it believes entertainment will look like over the next five years." Bless them...

Nokia's VP multimedia Mark Selby said that "[t]he trends we are seeing show us that people will have a genuine desire not only to create and share their own content, but also to remix it, mash it up and pass it on within their peer groups - a form of collaborative social media." So the NY Times' executive editor, Bill Keller, was right when he suspected that the "media tsunami" that is aggregated and re-purposed content today is threatening the place of traditional media.

The chaps from the Future Laboratory, who conducted the survey, went even further: "Key to this evolution is consumers' basic human desire to compare and contrast, create and communicate. We believe the next episode promises to deliver the democracy politics can only dream of." So Bush and Putin aren't all that scary after all? Phew!

I have some doubts if the survey really captures the mainstream, or otherwise society is further than I would have thought. These are the numbers they posted (based on the 9,000 consumers they surveyed):

  • 23% buy movies in digital format
  • 35% buy music on MP3 files
  • 25% buy music on mobile devices
  • 39% watch TV on the internet
  • 23% watch TV on mobile devices
  • 46% regularly use IM, 37% on a mobile device
  • 29% regularly blog
  • 28% regularly access social networking sites
  • 22% connect using technologies such as Skype
  • 17% take part in Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games
  • 17% upload to the internet from a mobile device
A simple test: if the above was representative, then a cool 1.1 billion (!) people regularly upload to the Internet from a mobile device and we would have more than 1.8 billion regular bloggers and mobile TV is a massive reality with 1.5 billion consumers using it (that would be 55% of all mobile users today). Hmmm. Hey guys, where are you???

It goes on: as part of the research Nokia says it has identified four key driving trends, which are - apparently - Immersive Living, Geek Culture, G Tech and Localism. What? You don't know what G Tech is? Yes, it is derived from the coveted G Spot and here's what it is (according to Nokia): "G Tech is an existing social force in Asia that will change the way entertainment will look. Forget pink and sparkly, it is about the feminization of technology that is currently underway. Entertainment will be more collaborative, democratic, emotional and customized - all of which are 'female' traits." Localism of course is the intrinsic interest in the locale (which is easy when you live, as I do, in the town of Ian Curtis, the unforgotten lead of Joy Division but what do you do when you live on Exit 7 of the Interstate 40 West in Oklahoma?).

With all due respect to Nokia, a company I really and truly greatly respect: this looks both a bit airy-fairy to me and bears succinct resemblance to a result-driven PR release. Or am I wrong in suspecting that Nokia has a certain vested interest in pushing location-sensitive content and information? What was the price of Navteq again? $8.1bn? Ah, I see...


EA makes more with mobile than with PS3 and PSP!?

Someone went deep into EA's financials to find that the gaming giant actually makes more money with its mobile games than it does with releases on the super-high-end Sony PS3: the numbers are apparently $37m for mobile vs. $21m and $17m for PSP and PS3 respectively, and this is despite a shallow 5.7% revenue growth (industry leaders Gameloft grew by 51% in the same time).

However, one must of course take into account that the PS3 was only released in spring 2007, so will have a smaller install base and - arguably most importantly - it leaves aside the first big season for the PS3, namely the upcoming Christmas sales, which traditionally account for a huge amount of console and game sales.

It is nonetheless very encouraging that even mighty EA, despite the huge marketing effort by Sony, made more from mobile, which is still being perceived niche by many, than from Sony's new flagship!

Verizon opens up

US #2 carrier Verizon, the famed high priests of the walled garden said they would open their network to 3rd party devices, applications and services. Skeptics say this might just be a move ahead of the spectrum auction for the 700MHz range, in which Google had declared an interest, too. Commentators say it might be an attempt to discourage Google from throwing its head into the ring but they maintain that VZW will not be seen to reducing itself to a bit pipe.

However, the commitment to open its network may also mean that Google, in the wake of its Android OS promoted with the Open Handset Alliance (see here), may no longer feel that they have to spend billions of dollars to acquire the bandwidth necessary to pave the way to customers: with an open network environment, Android-based devices may very well also be running on Verizon's network so Google may no longer need to go to the expense to providing an alternative route.

Apart from the considerations mentioned above, Verizon is under pressure to encourage device makers also from the neighbouring areas such as tablet PCs, dedicated gaming devices, etc to build hardware that works on its on EV-DO network rather than only on the UMTS-powered networks of most of its competitors. With ongoing convergence of the various screens and their inherent agnostic approach to whichever technology is being used, it is important not to fall behind as Verizon's network might otherwise become an isolated island with only sub-par devices and less choice than with competitors.

So whichever good or bad intentions Verizon may have, it is opening the walled gardens a little bit more, and that surely is a good thing!


Vodafone Germany envious of T-Mobile's iPhone deal?

German news reports say that Vodafone Germany has sued T-Mobile over its exclusive iPhone arrangement with Apple. Vodafone challenges the "combo" of iPhone and a 2-year-contract and asserts that this might be contrary to fair competition laws. Vodafone Germany's chief describes the iPhone as the "fall of man", which is pretty funny, come to think of it. The manager says they would fear that the likes of Nokia and Motorola would follow the example and do the same, which would heavily distort the market. Hmm. Who had this thing with its logos on handsets again? Who was the only carrier distributing Sharp handsets? Ah... Given Vodafone's approach with the rather successful Sharp GX series, which was exclusively (sic!) available to, yes, Vodafone customers, the suit does not feel entirely sincere. One might plead that Vodafone fails on the "clean-hands" doctrine (which, alas, is unknown to German law).

This is of course also noteworthy as Vodafone Global CEO Arun Sarin went on record saying that the iPhone makes for a "pretty poor experience" (unless you are in a WiFi area) and all.

Why then do they insist this is such a bad thing? Do we take it as a sign that the lost iPhone deal might after all have a certain sting to the mighty carrier? This is in spite of it still possibly proving to have been the right decision, with Apple's share in user fees and all. It may well all come down to branding: Vodafone is thought to have spent hundreds of millions on trying to build its Vodafone Live! brand, which it all but abandoned recently. It was the first big carrier to partner with Nokia on the latter's Ovi initiative (see here), which in itself may be seen as an admission of failure of its own service.

Whilst I understand Vodafone's move from the view of the German lawyer I (also) am, the overall approach has something of a child envious of another one's toy.

UPDATE: Further reports shed more light onto this. T-Mobile may be forced to sell unlocked phones and also give up the 2-year tie-in, i.e. offer consumers to buy the iPhone without a contract. This would be a major blow to the Apple business model and one that might force others to open up, too: MoCoNews reports that French laws have similar provisions.

Most importantly perhaps, European laws on the freedom of goods and services would prevent anyone stopping grey imports into other EU member states where Apple struck other exclusivity deals (e.g. with O2 in the UK), which might become a real threat to Apple's business model altogether.


Microsoft buys Musiwave

It did not take too long to bring down the value of mobile music spearheads Musiwave from $130m to $50m. The former was the price Openwave paid for the French company in 2005, the latter is what Microsoft now splashed out to buy it from Openwave ($46m in cash and $4m in assumption of debt). And at this price, it looks like a rather good buy for the world's largest software maker.

Microsoft has acquired what was an early leader in mobile music. Musiwave is a giant in mobile distribution of music content - everything from ringtones, ringbacks and full-track downloads to music recognition, etc. Whilst Microsoft will have seized access to a trusted carrier-grade database and provisioning environment as well as Musiwave's extensive relationships with all players on the mobile music circuit - labels, carriers and device manufacturers. Now it will have to show that it can marry it to its own music-centered services, in particular around its Zunes device and service.

All in all, Microsoft seems to be a much more natural home to Musiwave than Openwave would seem to have been. Good luck to the tall guys in Musiwave!


Vodafone walks through the Ovi with Nokia

Following their relatively recent announcement of a multimedia initiative, Nokia reports a big win with Vodafone having agreed to carry their Ovi platform on Nokia devices that are distributed through the operator. Ovi, which is Finnish for door, was to be Nokia's next big push towards becoming a multimedia company. One of its flagships under that umbrella, the Nokia Music Store, will now run alongside Vodafone's own music service.

Nokia's risk with the introduction of Ovi was that operators would reject having the Ovi links on the phones that they were distributing (not uncommon for them to do), so to have the "world's largest operator by revenue" amongst their ranks is no small feat. Otherwise, Nokia would have seen limited distribution in markets where handset prices are subsidised by carriers, which is true in most!

With Nokia having bolstered its portfolio of offerings in recent months even more (the acquisition of Navteq being the biggest one), this opens the pipeline to a much richer content experience, and this is what might have pursuaded the good folks at Vodafone: with carriers struggling to come to terms on the "right" treatment of content to maximise sales and user experience, a door to a fully-packed store of content and applications must sound tempting.

It might actually mark a turn in the market: could it become the handset manufacturers who will take the lead in the content space and become the funnel through which content providers feed their wares to the consumer? It would make sense in that it is arguably easier for an OEM to ensure that there is optimal performance for a product on a device (after all, they manufacture the device). Such a model would bring relief to the operators who would continue to control the billing relationship with the consumer and hence alleviate fears of removing that bond but they would be a big step closer to becoming the dreaded bit pipe as had happened to ISP on the Internet. I have argued before that this process would - in any event - take longer, so that might alleviate fears.

It is breaking into the control-driven model of operators, and that is a significant development in itself. Nothing will of course change for the content providers, at least not in the short term: it is just that they need to ring a different doorbell now (or rather an additional one...).


The G-System: Google's mobile OS aka Android arrives

So, no GPhone -- yet. Google, with quite a number of partners, today announced the already much-rumoured "Open Handset Alliance" under which a Linux-based OS, nicknamed Android has been launched (the SDK will allegedly be available in a week's time). Here's a video explaining the deep thoughts of the creators (be quick: YouTube has removed it already...).

The whole industry had been waiting for this, and Google seems to have come up with a black-white thing: it goes back to its roots in open source but overlays it with Java, which has caused the content community a lot of headaches (every mobile phone translates it slightly differently, so one needs a gazillion ports). However, Google has teamed up with no less than 34 partners for the launch alone, including such giants as China Mobile, KDDI, Sprint Nextel, TIM, T-Mobile, Motorola (who seem to be dancing on a lot of weddings recently: UIQ and Linux Mobile are also on their plates), Samsung, HTC, Intel and eBay.

So what does it all mean? According to the members of the alliance, it will be better, bigger, faster for everyone: open source means more applications, less bugs and less cost. According to Google CEO Eric Schmidt, it is "a fresh approach to fostering innovation in the mobile industry will help shape a new computing environment that will change the way people access and share information in the future." Commentators note that there is apparently one caveat: you’ll have to use Google for navigation. Now: does that bother anyone? Give me Internet on my phone on broadband speed and I happily surf with whoever gives it to me, I'd say. To enact a platform, supported by a lot of sector muscle, that makes the developers' life easier should be good for everyone indeed as it will undoubtedly bring more usage. Traditionally, carriers feared for the consistency of the user experience. Apparently, Verizon and AT&T have already voiced such concerns also here although the explanation sounds defensive at best: they fear too much advertising. Would it be safe to say they rather fear loss of control?

Quite a few companies have tried to take on mobile as the next frontier and quite a few fared rather miserably on the complexities of the environment presented by the sector (Disney's MVNO attempts, Infospace and a few others spring to mind). With Google's might this might be about to change though. A fresh breeze and a unified development platform would, in any event, be a good thing.

Interesting though that, as in recent releases on OS-driven initiatives, Nokia is again absent. This is not promising any good in terms of unifying the landscape, it seems. However, both Linux Mobile (on which Android is apparently based) and Symbian (in which Nokia holds a huge stake and which it intends to make its platform of choice) are C++-based. And that would be easing development pains after all: much easier to deal with than the Java layers, which until now were statutory but might only be optional going forth.

UPDATE 7 Nov 2007: Nokia has said its participation in Android is "not ruled out at all". It would work with it if it would see sense. Now, a convincing statement sounds differently but it IS noteworthy that the Finnish giant felt the need to comment on it so quickly.


3 with dedicated Skypephone

Hutchison's 3 has had a Skype service under its X-Series for a while now but they have now announced the launch of a dedicated Skypephone, which they developed jointly with Qualcomm (to make use of some specific CDMA features) and Skype and which has dedicated Skype buttons. It is said to being produced by Chinese manufacturer Amoi. The service rolls out in the UK and Ireland from this week and will move to 3's other territories (Austria, Australia, Denmark, Hong Kong, Italy and Switzerland) thereafter.

The move manifests where 3 sees the future value, and it is not in being paid by minute of voice used. The value clearly lies in mobile data. Now, granted, this is easier for 3 to achieve than for many other operators: 3 started as a 3G operators straight away. Their entire network is high-speed, they don't have any old black-and-white devices hanging around anywhere, etc, etc. However, what it does show is a gutsy approach to break with tradition amongst network operators.

Can the situation be compared with the change from dial-up, pay-per-minute Internet to unlimited broadband? It probably can to an extent. What was the result of that? The change of a commodity-driven business model (bandwidth) to a service and product-driven one (e-commerce, advertising, etc) with the subsequent reduction of previously mighty ISP to mere bit pipes that delivered the data but were otherwise largely interchangeable. This is also the sore spot for network providers because they fear that this will happen to them, too. According to reports, a Skype spokesman reported that Skype was usually told to "go away" by operators, noting "obvious tension".

I would submit though that there is actually less to fear for network operators than there was for the traditional Internet ISP because the billing relationship is - as yet - harder to replace for mobile customers than it was for the Internet customer. I believe this to being the case because of two reasons, namely a) the perceived security (perceived because it does not necessarily reflect reality), and b) the limited input mechanisms of mobile devices (punching in credit card details via your mobile's number pad is a proper pain in the neck and nothing consumers will like to do). Due to restrictions of the screen and device size, this remains the case even if one uses smartphones with a Qwerty keyboard or touch-screen devices.

The above will not guarantee the operators' spot forever but it will certainly make life easier for another couple of years. But then? Well, you better be well-positioned for when the inevitable happens: with most operators already starting to open data services, it can surely only be a question of time until a more liberal approach to what their customers are and are not allowed to use will appear; consumers may well ask what added value an operator had to offer.

3 UK CEO, Kevin Russell, does then expect initial "detractions" from its revenue but hopes to make up for it by adding incremental customers, not only through new additions but also reduction of churn and increased loyalty.

3 does what it has shown to be good at, namely leading change from the front: it has shown that it can sell more content than competitors with many times its market share, and whilst it might all be born frmo sheer necessity (where else would 3 turn to survice), it is good of them to again putting pressure onto the others.

Focus on Nokia

This is less of a commentary of the way you would normally find here but more a reference to a rather good Forbes article on Nokia. It is a glowing review for one but it also recapitulates Nokia's changing fortunes in particular in two areas, namely its various attempts to converting itself into a media company (or a hardware company with a powerful media side to it) and its dealings in the US market (where Nokia has fallen to an astonishingly low market share of only 10% by failing to realise that US Americans love clamshells; its global market share is 39.2%).

On the media front, Nokia has been rather busy recently, both on the buy side (Enpocket, Navteq) as well as with another internally conceived programme (Ovi) and some new investments through the fresh Nokia Growth Partners fund, such as Vollee (streaming rich PC games to mobile phones) and Kyte (in short a multi-platform YouTube). And, as Forbes reports, it now also seems to make strides in the US market: it has entered a deal to supply phones to AT&T (starting with the 6555 tailormade for the US market), and also seems to work with Verizon on improving its footprint there.

Nokia will apparently ship 430m units this year alone. In doing so it grabs 80% of the industry's profits on 39.2% of the market share. Going from strength to strength, it seems.


End2End buys Terraplay

Not too much is being divulged about the latest deal in the consolidation of the mobile sector other than that it happened: The Danish mobile platform company End2End has acquired the Swedish multi-player enabler Terraplay. If well-managed, this could be a smart move: End2End has shown some strength recently in managing the mobile content platforms for a couple of operators whilst Terraplay had quite a few wins in the early land-grab to becoming the operators' partner for the facilitation of multi-player gaming. Combining the two propositions is an imminent win: the true value of mobile games (beside killing time) is its always-on, anytime, anywhere nature. A mobile phone is a communication device, and connected gaming makes use of just that - communication.

Given that most operators/carriers seem to choose an outsourced solution (presumably because they have no internal bandwidth for this - relatively speaking - niche opportunity), the combination of a platform provider with a connected applications enabler is a great move. End2End had a need to ramp up their footprint to avoid becoming a little shadow player in the big land-grab. They have just added this little extra now!

Facebook for Blackberry

At CTIA, Facebook, the new $15bn company, and Blackberry maker RIM presented a downloadable application that powers Facebook on Blackberry devices. This is noteworthy for two reasons:

1. It shows the significance Facebook as gained in older age segments. Facebook is recording incredibly high numbers of new users from "older" segments, and these coincide nicely with Blackberry users who traditionally tend to come from the group of "mobile professionals". At the same time, RIM will certainly try to add to its cool factor for non-business use, and what better thing to waste your data allowance than Facebook?

2. The really noteworthy thing however is that the Facebook app for Blackberry shows how connected mobile applications should work: it is slick, quick, with good UI and works. This should be a wake-up call to OS providers, OEM and carriers alike: the Blackberry has a very close environment, and it controls much of the in and out. It is therefore comparatively easy to build an application that actually does what it says on the tin. This however is not god-given. With a unification of the crucial APIs on the carrier side and the platforms on the OS and OEM sides, it should be possible to create a basis for this to happen with all sorts of applications. I am very keen to see the first usage data for this app, and I really hope that FB and RIM will divulge this. They could do the whole industry not only the "next frontier in social networks" (Facebook's Moskovitz) a huge favour!


GSM Association is on the Money; with Western Union

A lot has been said and heard about the role of mobile telephony to boost the economies of developing and emerging countries, and the same is true for micro-finance, so perhaps this should not come as a surprise: the GSM Association, an umbrella association for 700 GSM operators, has announced a project with Western Union, the money-transfer specialists, under which they will roll out a P2P (peer-to-peer) framework that mobile operators can use to deploy services that enable consumers to send and receive low-denomination, high-frequency money transfers using their mobile phones. The first commercial services that make use of the framework are anticipated to be rolled out beginning in the second quarter of 2008.

Similar services have also been developed by private sector start-ups, such as P2P Cash. However, the combination of a giant like Western Union with more than 300,000 "cash points" around the globe and the dominant trade association of operators shifts the focus, in particular as the project is driven by a host of operator groups with interests in countries that will be on the forefront for such projects. They include Bharti (India), MTN (Africa and Middle-East), Orange (Europe, Caribbean, Africa), Orascom (Africa and Middle-East), Smart (Philippines), Telenor (Norway with interests in Europe and Asia, including a majority stake in Grameenphone in Bangladesh, more of which below) and VimpelCom Apparently, already 35 operators with a reach of more than 800 m customers in more than 100 countries have confirmed their participation in the programme.

The significance of small amounts of money for the development of poorer nations has last but not least been highlighted with the award of the Nobel peace price 2006 to Muhammad Yunus and his Grameen Bank from Bangladesh: it was awarded for "their efforts to create economic and social development from below". One of Mr Yunus'/the Grameen Foundation's projects was the so-called "Village Phone". A sister company of the bank holds a 38% stake in Bangladeshi mobile provider Grameenphone. And thus the circle closes...

The idea is simple: combine the two major development drivers, namely communication and money transfers and you're on to a potentially very powerful lever for economic growth. Great effort!


Motorola loves UIQ

US handset maker Motorola acquired half the shares in UIQ, the smartphone software unit, from Sony Ericsson. Sony Ericsson had bought UIQ from handset OS maker Symbian last year. UIQ is essentially a graphic interface adding components to the Symbian OS. Symbian in turn is 47.9% owned by Nokia. Under UIQ, native programming can be made in C++ although the software does support the - in the mobile games space - ubiquitous J2ME standard. Motorola's new flagship Z8 (nicknamed "MotoRzr" as in "riser") is running on it already. The battle of the OS giants begins...

It is an interesting move since Moto has been the most active OEM for the use of Linux Mobile: it has released a whole range of phones for the open source OS featuring the penguin. It is also one of the founding fathers of the LiMo Foundation, an initiative it embarked on together with industry heavyweights NTT DoCoMo, Vodafone, Samsung, NEC and Panasonic (and which was recently joined by LG, McAfee, Broadcom, Ericsson and others). Now, I understand that Linux and C++ work together but must admit that my knowledge is more than limited here. It is in any event noteworthy that Motorola goes with a UI based on Symbian rather than straight-forward Linux. Motorola was quick to state that UIQ would only be "one of the actions to support [a] strategy" adding more investment in multimedia product segments.

With hundreds of millions in development cost at stake, it is probably too early to tell but it certainly is a new twist in the quest to uproot Nokia's top position with the Symbian s60 platform. So, what's next?

Oasys out of Chapter 11

Oh, the bliss of creditor protection... US mobile publisher Oasys emerged from Chapter 11 after defaulting on a rather sizable $8m debt earlier this year. They had $2m in assets versus $11.8m in debt. Not good. Now they apparently managed to persuade investors to convert debt into equity and off they go again. It was all - more or less - pre-arranged: their investors Associated Partners and Rock Hill Partners had apparently agreed to swap debt for equity, and agreed some interim funding, which apparently allowed them to continue product development. Sitting tight in the interim, they now managed indeed what they had told, namely to emerge as the Phoenix from the flames. For how long? Heaven knows. They have announced a couple of titles but will find arguably not find it easy to compete against the ever tightening battlefield that is mobile game publishing. They had been quick to assure that they would continue "business as usual" and - in particular - would pay licensors pre- and post-restructuring, which will be crucial if they want to see the light of day.

UNO and Phil Hellmuth poker are good titles. Will they be enough though? Their investors seem to think so: the restructuring plan, which the investors apparently supported, foresaw to turn away from their attempts in the D2C market and want to run as a "normal" ASP and publisher. If they can win the carrier decks, this might just work. However, in the poker category, my dear employer's WPT Texas Hold'Em and Glu's World Series of Poker titles go strong, and Oasys will face an uphill struggle with their title. UNO could be cool though it won't be a home run either. Nonetheless: competition is good though! Go on, guys!