2007-09-18

O2 gets iPhone in UK - good or bad?

"US customer satisfaction is off the charts". These were the words of Steve Jobs on the iPhone, adding he was keen to bring this to UK consumers as well. Now, he would say that, wouldn't he? The lucky (!?) operator to grab it is O2 UK. Why? "We got to pick the carrier that felt most like home, and that's O2", says Mr Jobs.

From 9 November 2007 onwards, the iPhone will be available at a cost of 269 pounds which, converted to c. $540, is substantially more than the comparable price in the US (but then, the UK price includes 17.5% VAT, whilst the US price apparently did not include sales tax). From 35 pounds per month (but tied into an 18-month contract), you get an all-you-can-eat data service that also gives you free access to 7,500 Wi-Fi "the Cloud" hotspots in the UK. This is small consolation for the fact that - rather disappointingly - Apple does not offer a 3G version of the iPhone for the European release but is still running on EDGE; O2 is reported to have been working on upgrading its EDGE network in the UK, which is another addition of cost to what already seems to being a costly deal (since you wouldn't normally have to add this to a 3G-capable network). Also, it looks as if it was not unlimited after all: O2 said that "1,400 internet pages per day would break the deal as part of fair usage agreement." Over Wi-Fi, too? Why?

The remarkable spin abilities of Mr Jobs were again on show when he explained the reason for not adding 3G Here's what he said: "The chipsets work well apart from power. They're real power hogs. Most phones now have battery lives of 2-3 hours and that's due to these very power-hungry 3G chipsets. Our phone has 8 hours of talktime life. That's really important when you start to use the internet and want to use the phone to listen to music. We've got to see the battery lives for 3G get back up into the 5+ hour range. Hopefully we'll see that late next year. Rather than cut the battery life, we've included Wi-Fi and sandwiched 3G between Edge and a more efficient Wi-Fi." So in effect it is better to have 8 hours of battery life because your browsing takes longer than on 3G? Hmmmm...

The one thing everyone is really curious about is whether those recent speculation that O2 offered a whopping 40% revenue share on airtime (AT&T offered 10% USA). Sadly though, nothing has been confirmed to that end although the 10% seem more likely (and it is in itself a continuation of the small revolution Apple triggered with that deal in the US).

And, yes, I want one...

2007-09-17

Nokia pockets Enpocket

Nokia has agreed to buy ad-platform provider Enpocket for an undisclosed sum. The deal is expected to close later this year. This, coupled with Nokia's recent announcements concerning Ovi, shows the Finnish giant's push into other parts of the mobile content value chain.

Nokia's CTO Tero Ojanper√§ highlighted just that: “Nokia has already announced its intention to be a leading company in consumer Internet services and we believe that mobile advertising will be an important element in monetizing those services for our customers and partners. [...] This acquisition is a [...] move to bring the reach and depth of Nokia to organize the market across the world, and make it easier for an ecosystem to develop.”

Nothing much to add, I guess. It'll be interesting if they will manage to leverage Nokia's might to extend the reach of Enpocket or if the latter will simply be absorbed by the sheer size of the former...

2007-09-12

Mobile Mesh Networks: now we're talking...

Swedish firm TerraNet is trialling a mobile mesh network, we read. In a mesh network, each handset works like a little base station, too. It is a peer-to-peer technology without the need for a base station and, hence without a network operator or carrier. TerraNet's devices currently have 1km range, i.e. unless there is another device within a range of 1km, it will not work.

However, should this technology become robust and sufficiently scaled, the new Vodafones and Verizons would probably be Ericsson and Nokia Siemens Networks, i.e. the big network vendors. Incidentally, Ericsson is said to have invested $3m in TerraNet. At present, a maximum of 7 hops can be done, and this would be limiting the distance that can be covered. However, the company apparently also offers a network node via a USB dongle and this could then connect to a VoIP system to bridge long-distance and go into another mesh network closer to the recipient.

Would this technology be available on a larger scale (and perhaps ultimately without the constraints of so many hops), this would then result in lower cost for users because there would be one less mouth to be fed in the value chain, and it so happens that this is the hungriest mouth at present. Terranet is said to be recognizing that the telcos won't be delighted about this (multi-media evangelists like Nokia's Anssi Vanjoki will however be uber-excited as it will boost multimedia offerings and the opportunities over there). Oh, dreaming of the future...

At present, the offering is geared to scarcely populated areas (the company runs trials in Tanzania and Ecuador), and the above-described problems might not be an issue there. In the contrary, it could be that operators would embrace the technology to expand coverage. The company also targets urban areas where people make lots of local calls, which would then be virtually free.

In those more urban areas, there may be problems with having enough available frequencies, and the struggle with the regulators in the space might indeed slow the deployment down significantly. This would probably be made even harder due to the political concerns of many countries when it comes to weakening some of their economic powerhouses (because this is what carriers also are).

Other commentators are also concerned with battery life but also note that, if the phones are replacing landlines, they can be left plugged into a power source (which would be defeating the purpose of the notion of being mobile though, I guess). Surely this would be solvable though.

Very interesting indeed, I think!

Sony Ericsson to leverage PSP and Bravia brands?

According to the FT, Sony Ericsson ponders the release of PSP and Bravia (its TV moniker) branded high-end mobile phones, quoting SE's president, Miles Flint. The Bravia-phone is - I was surprised to learn - already a reality, namely as a mobile TV phone with DoCoMo in Japan. Regarding a PSP phone, Flint was cautious, saying that the technology was still some way from being perfected. “We need to make sure that it is a credible phone, and be sure we are justified in putting that identity on it,” he was quoted.

This approach would continue SE's strategy to leverage Sony consumer electronics brands in its phone business, which it has done with the ubiquitous Walkman (now turned video player) and its digital camera brand, Cybershot. This strategy has apparently helped to double its margins - in addition to moving up one spot from #5 to #4 in the leading manufacturers' list.

It seems eminently sensible to try and build on Sony's considerable fame in consumer electronics, in particular as Nokia (most recently with its high-powered and feature-packed N95) and new entrant Apple seem to be pushing the edge of the envelope, and LG adding on the design front (the Prada phone and the LG Shine spring to mind). SE's approach of weaving the trust it enjoys from consumers for its electronic devices into the mobile phone branding may well be suitable to counter this race. However, as was also noted, Mr Flint did not forget to point out the most important thing: “We need to make sure that it is a credible phone, and be sure we are justified in putting that identity on it." There you go!

The statements probably come on the back of reports during the last weeks (e.g. here and here) that SE was to release a games phone with a games-oriented user interface and styling, and comprising - geek excitement levels rising through the roof - things like motion-sensitivity, which will pave the way for Wii-like gameplay on a handset (be aware of flying handsets on your commute then).

2007-09-11

Mobile Coupons gaining traction?

Mobile coupons have long been a story lots of people have tried to get their heads around (the oldest blog entry I found dates back to 2003). There is a large number of players working on and with this and there have been the occasional successes: Austrian firm 3United (acquired by VeriSign) sold mobile tickets for a Britney Spears concert in Vienna as early as 2005 and 10% of all tickets sold were sold via mobile (they upsold additional content to 85% of those users!; see here). Scottish company Mobiqa is rolling out a mobile ticketing solution for MLB through tickets.com (see their showcases here). There are countless more applications in the area (apologies for not mentioning everyone...)

Cellfire now reports "about" a million people who have signed up for their service in the US. The WSJ ran an article about this (read it here; note: this might go to behind their subscription wall soon...). Redemption rates are reported to be good: they say they've been seeing them at 15%, which is a whopping 3x that recorded for old-fashioned paper vouchers.

Besides the usual critical mass and all I suppose it comes down to mainly two points then: more information about the line one must not cross in respect of bombarding consumers with advertising and retail brands picking up on the mobile screen as an advertising and indeed customer retention tool in earnest (so far, most of what we are seeing are trials or fashion-driven PR affairs). Given that there are more mobile phones in the world than toothbrushes, this should be a no-brainer! And with customization and segmentation of the customer base increasing by user, a very targeted approach should be possible. This is something Cellfire clearly realizes: they do not share phone numbers... Well done, them.

Twistbox on the money

Twistbox has announced it has raised a healthy $19.5m from ValueAct Capital (rather secretive firm: you require a user name and password even for accessing the "overview" section of their site) and "other strategic investors". It also announced that former Vodafone Global content supremo Graeme Ferguson has joined its board of directors.

Twistbox was the result of the acquisition of German developer Charismatix (authors of e.g. Anno 1701, Taito's Arkanoid, etc) by (predominantly) mobile adult (which they call "late night") content provider Waat Media from LA (who work with the likes of Private and Vivid)After a lot of buzz around them a while ago (and every year again at 3GSM when everyone gets gibberish over their licensees' parties - no, no scantily-clad girls there worth mentioning, ever...), it had gone a bit quiet. The last we heard was a deal they signed with Fashion TV.

Presumably, the new money and director will get them out into the public eye a bit more again. According to the release, they plan to use the funds to launch web-to-mobile storefronts and play-for-prices games. They also want to push into advertising (but then, who doesn't?).

We all suspect there's money in this "late night" content but little has been seen to quantify the opportunity. Juniper said in 2005 it was $1bn. Forbes didn't quantify in 2006. I have seen analysts who put the share of erotic games to 12% of the total mobile gaming sector, ranking them above racing and arcade games (7% and 5% respectively) but that's somewhat unconfirmed. Moreover, video and pics will presumably be even hotter sellers - if and when they get through the varying publishing thresholds in the different countries (from PG13 in the US all the way to "behind-the-curtain" adult content in some European countries. An overview on various attempts to put a number to that market can be found here (courtesy of adult mobile pioneers, Cherrysauce).

As it will in general still be arguably safe to say that sex probably still sells, we might expect Twistbox to go on to further strengths. Just get your parties up a notch, guys... ;-)

Finally, a note to all you dear readers: this post contains links to adult sites. Do NOT click if you are offended by adult content.

2007-09-04

Games 2.0: UGG (or user-generated games)

The wonderful guys from French Flash specialists Mobitween launched a user-generated-games portal called ugenGames. Here's the PR blurb: "The site invites players, developers and designers to create, upload, customise and share web and mobile Flash-based games. It also offers the chance to personalise and share games with others players by embedding them into social websites such as Facebook and MySpace or blogs like Blogger and Wordpress."

Mobitween's CEO, Philippe Chassany, reckons that this approach "bridges the gap between web and mobile game developers and players allowing them to create, customise, embed and share an endless library of games".

The concept is intriguing: basic casual game engines that can - because all done in Flash - be easily customized even by amateurs. Moreover: as the creator can adapt screen sizes, you can also choose to have it output in Flash Lite flavour - suitable for higher-end mobile phones! It is a rather sweet accompaniment to the 2.0 revolution.

However, will Flash Lite become J2ME's nemesis and revolutionize mobile gaming? Probably not just yet but the potential would certainly appear to be there: with over 200m enabled devices it is no match to the other technologies around but it is reaching a size where development for it might make a lot of sense: it is faster and cheaper than J2ME or BREW (last but not least because the porting nightmare falls away due to the vector-graphics approach used by Flash). Given that the limitations of input via mobile handsets limit the complexity of game play anyhow, the inherent limitations of Flash might not actually be too much of an impediment. Interesting...