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!