EA times 4

Gaming behemoth Electronic Arts announced it would be splitting the company into 4, namely EA Games, EA Sports, EA Sims and EA Casual. The first two cater for the classic console and specific sports properties respectively and - rather remarkably - the 3rd creates a whole division for one single property, namely the ludicrously successful Sims. It would seem that this is a sign for more to come, that is after Sims packs some of which 3rd party-sponsored/endorsed/branded. So we are probably here to see the first moves towards an MMO, an online community, etc, etc.

EA Mobile will become part of EA Casual (this piece had been announced a few days earlier). Reuters interestingly speaks of casual games as "games, which are usually played online or on mobile phones, are a small but rapidly growing part of the industry." So now mobile games are already part of the "usual" - great news!

EA Mobile will surely continue to serve as the mobile extension for EA's other divisions' properties and licenses, such as Tiger Woods, FIFA, Need for Speed, Madden NFL etc. The division's new President, Kathy Vrabeck formerly of Activision, at least mentioned something along those lines, so no big news here.


R.I.P. Tao Group

Tao Group has apparently perished. According to reports, the group is in administration. Their IP portfolio was apparently sold off to Cross Atlantic Capital Partners, a VC that lists Tao Media Ltd as a portfolio company. No further news though...

This marks the demise of a remarkable company: their Intent platform presented an opportunity to run console-quality 3D games on existing chip sets that would blow you away (at 3GSM 2006, I saw a demo of an FPS on a Motorola V3x chipset that was simply awesome!). Besides whatever internal issues there might have been, their trouble might just have been the chicken-and-egg-thing: developers shied away from developing heavy native 3D games whilst the platform was not installed anywhere. Carriers hesitated to commit for similar reasons and the OEM waited until content was available and carriers in place to distribute it (which was important due to existing data thresholds for games.

My favourite piece of technology of theirs was, however, the BAFTA-winning, fantastic miniMIXA, which you can learn about a little here. The website for the product itself is down as of today but there is a good article here... Some rather cool videos showing samples of the software in real-life action can be seen here and here. They also ran the music for their party at 3GSM 2007 entirely through a miniMIXA-equipped Windows Mobile handheld. Awesome!

Make sure to also visit the blog of Tim Cole, miniMIXA's daddy and a very fine man indeed.

Mobile YouTube lukewarm

YouTube appears to have put its mobile site live: under http://m.youtube.com/ you now get a slimmed-down version of the YouTube service. However, that's about it. The site starts with a warning: "YouTube Mobile is a data intensive application. We highly recommend that you upgrade to an unlimited data plan with your mobile service provider to avoid additional charges." I see, OK, well, why didn't you adapt this more appropriately then? Isn't this somewhat scary???

What follows is clips varying in length (tonight, there were 2 with more than 4 minutes length in the top 10). A couple of categories (highest rated, newly added, etc - in short: the usual suspects) but absolutely nothing that would suggest a specifically mobile offering. I find this rather disappointing. Shouldn't we be able to expect more when "two kings have gotten together"?

So what is this? Don't they understand mobile? Didn't they have enough time to study this during their Verizon exclusive that now expired? Do they not have the resource to design their mobile service so as to provide more than a simple extension of their existing site into mobile (but without the functionalities the online version has)? The WAP offering lacks the very features and navigation, etc that arguably contributed so much to YouTube's success. They'll have to up the ante drastically to get going on the small screen, too. This doesn't cut it!


iPhone, iPhone, iPhone, iPhone, anything else?

Now, I wonder if this is damaging to the readership of this blog: this must be the 3rd time or so in the very young age of this that I have been drawn into the debate about the device that reinvents telecommunications, interaction on the go, human interaction and also orders you a coffee at Starbucks. Holy Jobs, what have you done? However: there have been a couple of interesting pieces written on this wonderous affair, so I'll have another crack:

The WSJ has a piece about the iPhone and its "answers", which are, alas, no answers. They compare the HTC Touch, the LG Prada (of which you could read here, too), the Samsung UpStage and the Nokia N95 (reported on here). It steers the debate to the probably most important aspect of the not so secret secret of Apple's success, namely the combination of smart technology with very smart marketing. It is not my words (or thoughts) but the ones of very, very smart Yankee analyst John Jackson who said "Any handset maker is more than capable of making clever devices. But it's really about business models. That's where Apple maintains its business advantage."

However, the hype has been less in Europe and Nokia's market position is stronger in Europe and because the N95 has everything the iPhone has (except for brand and the looks) and some more (namely 3G although that might well come in the iPhone's European iteration) AND because the N95 is out in the market and kicking some substantial rearsides, this might well work (remarks another smart analyst, namely Mr Greengart.

Anyway, Cellular News published some information on the average potential iPhone user (courtesy of Solutions Research Group), which is this:

If they can sell the 10m devices to this user base, then AT&T (I still prefer Cingular) and all other Apple partner will be happy chappies indeed.

And the beat goes on... but what would you say if the one, the only, the incredible Hummer phone would take all the glory? Doh!


Amp'd files for Chapter 11 - Revisiting MVNO's

One down... Amp'd files for Chapter 11, citing the need for more time to ramp up its systems for demand. I wonder: shouldn't $360m in VC monies be enough to build systems that can cater for 200,000 customers? Given that Verizon provides the network and Motorola the handsets, that would mean that they took $1,800 per customer on all the rest; a bit stiff. Verizon is the biggest creditor with some $33m in receivables. So their wonderful ARPU wasn't that great after all, huh?

It's a bit of a bleak outlook, and whilst the offloading of debt might work this time, it puts some serious question marks behind the model of MVNO Amp'd tried to implement, namely one that tries to build a full infrastructure other than the actual base stations. Now, the question is old: is this really necessary? It has failed often: they are not the first to stop. ESPN did it. Has anyone ever heard of Extreme Mobile again? To remind you: they had announced a Vodafone-powered MVNO in the UK... and the site still says "coming soon".

Might perhaps be the call for a network provider that possesses some smart backend infrastructure allowing printing of customised invoices, sending of customised messages and provision of customised content be the way out? It would arguably be dramatically cheaper to have a network that rides on the back of a) a brand, b) retail distribution through the likes of Carphone Warehouse, BestBuy, MediaMarkt, FNAC, El Corte Ingles (depending on where you live) and c) "soft" customisation (i.e. through packaging rather than retail channel, etc).

What would be in it for the Vodafones and Verizons of this world? Lower churn! It is hard to get to real numbers but lore has it that the cost of one Mannesmann D2 customer when Vodafone bought them was a whopping $7,800 and that with - allegedly - 30% or so churn p.a. Surely no customer can use their phones enough to make that money back, me thinks... If churn could be reduced by, say, half if customers would stick with the brand due to higher loyalty, then the supporting carriers would make a killing! Customers are way more loyal to the football club they support, their politicial party of choice, the National Trust, U2, their Almer Mater, their home town - you call it affinity marketing, a concept that has been a great success for years e.g. for credit cards. Wouldn't a combination of this make a lot of sense? The thing that killed the market so far is greed: everyone wanted to own the customer front to end - when all the customer really wanted was good service, etc and this fuzzy warm feeling.

Get onto it. I believe it would work. Anyone here to try?


Prince-ly Guitar on Verizon

One I've been waiting for for a long time: an opportunity to post something on one of my all-time heroes (strictly music-wise!) , the man who plays at least 167 instruments, the only one who can walk on 19'' stilettos, the artist with the infallible fashion sense, namely the incredible Prince. We read that Verizon and Prince entered into a collaboration which they claim is an industry-first "direct-to-mobile relationship". Prince will release new single "Guitar" exclusively via Verizon. This leads a promotional campaign up to the new album "Planet Earth" which will be released in July.

Verizon will promote artist, song and - incidentally - its V Cast service via print, TV, radio and cinema. This strikes me as rather traditional really... However, Verizon and the artist have tied up a rather need package featuring nearly every sexy must-have service around these days: V Cast customers can hold their handset up to the TV set to identify and download the song - IF their phone as Song ID, that is. They can also simply go to Verizon's website and download it there. Upon release, the video will also be available on "licensed sites" YouTube, MySpace, Revver and Veoh.

As Prince isn't signed to a label, this will be the main piece of promotion for the album, and that is certainly a rather revolutionary affair, at least one never tried by people who weren't signed because they couldn't find a label (as had happened to the Arctic Monkeys a while ago who, having started off on MySpace, have since grown to become an established acts signed to Domino). This together with a hole bouquet of recent activity of the artist (everything ranging from new website, concerts in Minneapolis [7/7/7] and London [21 Nights, selling 140,000 tickets in 20 minutes] to a new perfume and cosmetics range [not sure if I'll try that one]) suggests a serious assault on the classic set-up of the music industry and the labels' stranglehold onto it. This had been weakened by the arrival of digital media but never broken.

If it pans out? I sincerely hope so - less for revolutionary zeal, more for one of the greatest artists of recent decades. But in any event is this one of the more exciting music promotions of recent times. Well done!

Although, I don't want to hide the bad: the world there is again defined as being North of Mexico and between the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean only... Or are we non-Americans not worthy of some Prince-ly mobile musical delights?