Just in Case: Merry Christmas Everyone!

I have now taken the liberty to go into Christmas hibernation mode, which is to say, took vacation leave off work until the new year. I may (and, to be honest, probably will) post during the holidays but to all of you who may not read these during the season, let me extend the very best wishes for Christmas/Holiday Season/Time you are not being bothered by Christians or people living in Christian countries because they celebrate Christmas. Peace, respect and understanding across languages, cultures, colours, territories, generations, religions (or belief systems), technology gaps is what I am wishing everyone. Don't eat too much turkey, think of your loved ones, spend time with the children, relax and sleep in, party like mad, just have a good time!  


Wireless Democracy in Estonia

It was only a matter of time, I guess, and here it is: Estonia will allow its citizens to vote by SMS in 2011. However, the Estonians too have been watching the US Presidential elections in 2000 and decided hence that one needs some additional security to make it safe. Enter a chip that every citizen can apply for and get into his/her phone. If or if not this makes it really safe (my guess it that it should be possible to apply some decent security if the device is "hard-wired"), can (and probably will) be discussed at length by the experts. But it might just not matter much: I find it hard to believe that more people would actually jump through those additional hoops required to be admitted. 

Cool PR, Estonia, hats off. And see you behind the curtain at the good old voting booth (or whatever it's called) in a few years time. 


RIM eats Chalk

Blackberry maker Research in Motion is acquiring mobile content deployment solutions provider (quite a mouthful!) Chalk Media for $18.7m in cash. Chalk to what they call "pushcasts", which - if I understand it correctly - is basically pushing podcasts to smartphones. The Vancouver-based company is listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange, so it still requires shareholder approval, and the deal is therefore not closed yet.

The move is a neat one: podcasts are increasingly used in the corporate environment for staff communications of all sorts, and the enterprise being the stronghold for RIM, it makes a lot of sense to strengthen its service offering by adding such a tool.

RIM has of course got under fire by Apple's iPhone and this will presumably continue being the case also by the higher-end Android-based phones who have been nibbling away (see here and here) on the Blackberry's pedestal as the businessman's (and woman's) favourite gadget. A lot to defend then, and the price would therefore not seem to be excessive at all... Stringent rationale, me thinks...


Most Precious Mobile Operator Brands

And the winner is... China Mobile. Hard to guess, huh? Some research shows that the Chinese carrier's brand is worth $30.79bn. Vodafone and Verizon took the other spots on the podium. The top 10 is below (courtesy of the good folks at telecoms.com). And for some (by now a little outdated) comparison for how they rank amongst other industries, see here.

The study applies a royalty based on forecast of sales, brand strength (from qualitative panel data) which priced in market share, growth, price positioning, market scope, preference, awareness, relevance, heritage and perception. They complement these slightly fluffy markers with data on turnover, subs, churn, market share, ARPU, profitability, etc and then took the average score of the two to determine the royalty rate applicable. Apply tax and (low) discount rate and off you go. Pretty simple, isn't it? And, yes, I still think Cingular was cooler than AT&T... ;-)

China MobileChina MobileChinaAsia30,793
3VerizonVerizon CommunicationsUSNorth America20,382
4AT&TAT&TUSNorth America18,886
5T-MobileDeutsche TelekomGermanyEurope16,802
6OrangeFrance TelecomFranceEurope15,489
7NTT DoCoMoNTT DoCoMoJapanAsia14,871
8KDDIKDDI Corp.JapanAsia14,454
10SprintSprint NextelUSNorth America9,661


AT&T to go all Symbian

An article tells us that AT&T Wireless intends to run all their phones on one platform as soon as 2014, namely on Symbian. Is this odd? I mean: the iPhone isn't Symbian, is it? 

It is of course not odd. The carrier wants to avoid platform fragmentation (see also here and here) which has made it hard to develop mobile applications (and one might well now think that they indeed had a very powerful showcase paraded past them over the last 5 months: see here), and their Director of Next Generation Services, Data Product Realization (can't they have shorter job titles?), Roger Smith called Symbian "a very credible and likely candidate" to be "the One".

AT&T intends to
 provide an own-branded smartphones and they reckon - rightly! - that it would be a "support nightmare" would they run this on various platforms.

Mr Smith also came up with some damning verdicts about J2ME: it failed to deliver a simplification for application developers and, moreover, doesn't allow developers to get deeply enough into a phone's OS to deliver the kind of experiences consumers want (what are these, I ask? Not having to put up with clunky and unintuitive restrictions? Ah, now I get it).

Symbian, Android (see here) or another one: the path is, I reckon, the right one. And it is a milestone for Symbian (and one probably only possible because of the decision to go open source with it) as it would wrap up one of the largest carriers in the world under its wings.

iPhone content is recession-proof, too!

Is it becoming boring or is it becoming more and more exciting? However you view Apple's forays into mobile, it is very, very remarkable (and I do indeed think exciting) indeed: in ads in the NY Times and the Washington Post (see here), the company reports 300,000,000 downloads in 5 months (I leave the zeros in for mere impact...). That's 2.1m downloads per day - on a single handset model, which isn't even the single best-selling one (well, it probably is of recent, but not historically) and is normally only available through one carrier per country (which means that it could also have been, say, 10m downloads per day if extrapolated to the total user base). Woah! Is anyone still skeptical about the equation pretty hardware + pretty UI + hassle-free shop-front + single platform + single distribution outlet = success for content?

The iPhone's fashion factor does, I think, not matter when it comes to the download numbers: If the above chain would not work, people might smile slightly embarrassed and continue fiddling around with the pinch-z
oom of pictures, etc but they would not come back time and again to get more content for the thing; I mean: just running around with it and placing it onto bistro, bar, cafe and probably even Starbucks tables will be enough to prove your membership in the circle of the hip and trendy media crowd.

There's only anecdotal reports (or rather rumours) about how much money is being made by developers on the platform (we still suspect a lot of it will be in the "free" category but one rather reputable games publisher apparently said that they're making more money on the AppStore than through all of Vodafone Global) but these numbers are - in any event - huge!

And it does show that content works if you let it work, i.e. if you make it easy to publish on a platform and if you don't try to be your customer's nanny and determine what's good for them. If people would realize this, and that would be the only lasting impact of the iPhone, that would surely be a lot! Thank you, Mr Jobs!


Mobile Gambling is Recession-Proof

The busy bees over at Juniper are in a pre-Christmas frenzy it seems; they're very active recently (see here and here). Today, they have enlightened us yet again: according to their latest report, there is a niche sector that will actually be completely unaffected by the doom and gloom of the world economy, and that is mobile gambling. They predict this segment to double in size in 2009 to a not too shabby $3.6bn, 30% of which to be coming out of the UK.

However, 3/4 of that are said to come from betting, which is to say it is mainly an extension of existing betting business: Ladbrokes, Bwin, William Hill, etc, all run mobile sites funneling punters into their regular business. The second-largest sector is casino games, which would be the likes of IGT-owned Million-2-1 early movers Spin3 and the likes. And there is presumably poker (Cecure Gaming has captured a good position there it seems: live on all UK operator decks).

What they don't say is if the numbers quoted are gross turnover or only the rake (which is only a small fraction of the total). But the rationale convinces me, too: people will gamble. Hope is a powerful consumer value driver! 

Lower Handset Sales in 2009

The financial crisis will - what a surprise - also catch the handset manufacturers. A report tells us that handset sales are bound to fall in 2009, by 5.6% or 1.215 billion units, to be precise. The backend of 2008 already sees the impact, too: growth predictions have been reduced from 10.4% year-on-year to 8.9%.

This is in line with reports from Blackberry maker RIM who reduced its forecasts today. Even mighty Nokia is expected to lower its forecasts.

It can probably be expected that this will also impact the mobile content market: it is widely accepted that consumers tend to spend on mobile content in the first 3 months after they got a new phone. So: no new phone, no new content... Moreover: the above reduction in growth does not actually show the whole picture. Mobile content uptake is much higher on high-end phones. However, these are normally bought by way of upgrades, and it is there that the most severe drops are being predicted.
“While new subscriber additions are continuing at a healthy pace and are poised to grow by 563.9 million in 2008 and by 506.5 million in 2009, an overwhelming majority of the new subscribers are coming from the rural areas of emerging regions,” Teng said. “These subscribers primarily are purchasers of low-cost, entry-level handsets. However, the pricier feature-phone and smart-phone market segments are driven by existing subscribers who are upgrading their mobile devices to take advantage of new features and advanced data services. As the economic climate deteriorates, these customers are delaying their purchases.”
All doom and gloom then? Well, maybe not: others predict that the recession (at least in the US) will actually drive the number of wireless-only households. And, after all, a mobile game at €/$/£ 5.00 a pop is not the world, is it?


Google to be a force in mobile, too

More research predicting world domination for Google! Well, somehow anyway. According to a new report, Google will succeed with its expansion into mobile. Now, I thought they were there already and had been doing a bit of business there for a while: they're the search engine of choice for quite a number of network operators already (although the jury is still out if this works: see e.g. here), and besides keep adding nifty apps to the mix (their mobile versions of Google Maps and Google Mail apps, well or at least for the Blackberry are pure bliss!). The latter are - for the time being - only an extension to their web apps without, notably, the ads; but this is only a question of time, I think: screen resolutions make AdWord a little awkward these days but higher resolution phone screens (such as for the new Blackberry Bold, which has widescreen QVGA) will likely change that. Google does offer AdSense for mobile already although there, too, no data on uptake or revenue is available (cf. press release).

On the carrier deck search side, I understand that this as well is more a question of land grab rather than actual revenues so far but the above applies, too. That is hearsay more than confirmed fact though.

Now, the aforementioned report thinks that Android-powered phones will grab 3% market share for smartphones in 2009 (corresponding to 8m devices). This is respectable. However, Apple's iPhone is said to hold 17% of the global smartphone market and it is predicted to ship 45m iPhones in 2009. Shouldn't Android phones be able to do more? I mean: Android is not only Google, it is also a gazillion other molochs of the mobile telecoms world (see e.g. here and here). Even if those numbers were right, they wouldn't give Google world domination (remember Nokia? They hold some 40% of the world market...).

Then, say see local search being key, with which I agree. In their own words:
Local search will be key to market growth: innovations in mobile search and advertising will allow for improved local search, directly competing with 'yellow pages' type proximity marketing services. The challenge for Google is to encourage consumers to start performing functions on their mobile browser that they would previously have done on their PC in already established markets.
So: opportunity = local search and connecting this to Google's fantastic capabilities in "normal" search. Threat = no uptake. I would add: getting local relevance and context right is not as easy as one should think (when I walk through London's SoHo, do you think I am looking for media companies (Fox, Sony, etc.) or for Agent Provocateur?

I do think though that Google is indeed best positioned to get this one right: they solved the tough bit of the puzzle, and that is to sift through the vast arrays of the Internet to rank the "right" pages. To limit these to local relevant ones only, is surely "only" a question of adding another condition to your algorithms...

Also: the whole Android idea makes a lot of sense, and Google clearly has the lead in the Open Handset Alliance. So they "just" have to keep up with the innovative speed of the markets then... 

Note: I do not get paid by either Google or RIM (unfortunately) but I do use their services...


Juniper to the Rescue...

We can depend on the researchers from Juniper after all (or maybe they simply felt bad after reading my post on their last report). Whichever the reason, apparently the mobile content industry could be worth a hefty $167bn (!) if - yes, if - the operators would resolve to allowing a workable commercial environment, namely by limiting themselves to lower revenue shares. Whatever the caveats (which are, as usual, hidden in the expensive main report) this number is topping even the loftiest predictions to date; right on in times of the doom and gloom. The key apparently lies in whether operators would act as dumb pipes (no richness for anyone) or a smart pipe (lots of play money for all players on the value chain). In their own words:

"If MNOs are to benefit financially, they need to move away from their Dumb Pipe roots to the Smart Pipe model, though they will clash with the content providers which already dominate the Smart Pipe. A compromise needs to be found."
A smart pipe is understood as one where operators would offer flexible, application-centric value configurations, allowing lean, efficient content offerings from third parties. A dumb pipe is one where content (and value) would merely rush through the pipe without any value being added by the operator. The prevailing model in the mobile games world, namely the on-portal approach where operators implement comprehensive vertically-integrated models ("walled gardens") is suggested to be somewhat doomed as content providers would gain bargaining power (presumably through consolidation of the supply side plus entry of meatier traditional media players in music, video and TV).

This is all pretty speculative though, and without some background it is quite frankly impossible to analyse the numbers some more. Mobile content appears to include (as per their report from March) games, music, video, TV, social networking, adult content, gambling and so on, and so forth. However, the exact calculatory basis is again hidden in the depths of the report, so I don't know (do they e.g. take the gross gambling revenue or on;y the rake, which is only a few percentage points of the former). Anyhow, due to these foggy conditions, commentators seem to either merely re-print the PR blurb or mock it (Stuart Dredge thinks that "only gas could do that kind of money"), which is a shame really; just think what you could with this much money...


Vivendi Mobile Games is History

It had been announced previously and now it seems to be confirmed: Vivendi Mobile Games, the mobile games publishing arm of what now is Activision Blizzard, has closed its doors in Europe (after it apparently already did so in the US two weeks ago). 

Background information on any reasons is hard to come by. Inability to control costs is a rumour frequently heard. One might also think that the overriding business outlook of Activision, which has been licensing out its titles pretty successfully to the likes of Hands-On Mobile (Call of Duty 1, 2, 3, True Crime: NYC, True Crime LA, Guitar Hero III an IV) and Glu (Call of Duty 4 and 5) - and perhaps less successfully to the now defunct Infospace Mobile (see here where they ended up) who did or planned to do Tony Hawks et al on the one hand, and the Blizzard unit that has a game on its hands that is awesomely succes
sful but hard to translate to mobile (namely World of Warcraft) did not leave room for a unit that could successfully compete internally. 

Given that Activision's CEO had also announced (transcript of its respective earnings call here)  it would divest/retire a lot of its more casual Sierra unit (because they could not be sequelled on an annual basis; see some analysis here), the demise of VMG might therefore point more to a strategic decision on Activision's side.  

Blackberry's (My)Space

Would you believe it? The marriage of what was seen only a short while ago as the quintessential businessman's phone and the latter's presumed opposite, the music-centric, young, urban web 2.0-type has is complete. I am talking of course of the Blackberry client of social network MySpace: only a week after being released, the two partners, Blackberry maker RIM and MySpace, reported a rather staggering 400,000 downloads of the application and, perhaps even more staggering, 15 million messages sent and received through it, accounting for 2 million status and mood updates (that's an average of 5 for every user).

The stats in themselves are impressive. However, what it does show is that a) Blackberries aren't only for the cold-nosed investment bankers anymore (or maybe those investment bankers now have the time to go off on a social networking frolic of their own) and b) social networks are not only for the wild at heart anymore (or maybe they never were but we only never realized behind those nicknames).

It might only be a footnote in the mobile applications space but it is a noteworthy symbol for those two things: both smartphones and social networks are very much mainstream. The always connected worlds of both smart(er) phones and social networks always were somewhat akin to each other: both grow in value when availability is pretty much always there. So this shows once more the power of the concept of contextual and relevant connection and connectedness.  Hats off!


China Mobile puts on turtleneck

The theme starts becoming lame, I know (and I herewith promise to look for new semi-funny references to Steve Jobs). However: if the world's largest operator by subscribers changes its dress culture, that is to say swaps from a tightly controlled walled garden to a free store concept, that surely merits this. So, without further ado: China Mobile plans to launch its very own AppStore. Its Chairman & CEO Wang Jianzhou (who was, I think, not sighted in Mr Job's favourite garment) announced this at the GSMA Mobile Asia Congress in Macau. Now, with a whopping 436.1m subscribers, this opens fairly interesting vistas for mobile content - if, yes if, one can hit Chinese taste, that is. They specifically cite Apple's success with its iPhone as a trigger for them to do it. Truly impressive that a company so big would move so quickly.

This will surely hit the news wires some more in the coming days but I will now retire and brush up on my Mandarin...


Et tu, Juniper?

It must be truly bleak: even the best friend of every young telecoms entrepreneur on the fundraising trail whose reports rarely failed to feature as a footnote in an investment memorandum for the next big digital thing now sounds a word of caution. Juniper (whose reports I still cannot afford) issued its latest report on mobile gaming and it actually reduces (for the first time, I'm sure, even if I haven't checked) its prior predictions on the growth and size of the sector in the next, erm, 20 years...

They see growth stifled by the restrictive operator business models. Dare I say it? May they be right? They refer to Apple's AppStore, which is the anti-christ to every operator's walled garden: free for all, free price-setting, Darwinian survival of the fittest (or least-charging), thousands of applications, games, etc, etc, and relatively generous revenue shares on top (although 80% of $0.00 is not very much at all).

Juniper points however to 2 important and true factors: the tolls demanded by the operators to access their precious customer base are very high indeed considering that many do not provide a very compelling service in return. Secondly, marketing and marketing opportunities on-deck normally - well - suck. This was all well and good as long as their were no alternatives (other than the likes of JambaThumbplay and few others). But with the ascent of the iPhone, everyone seems to erupt into a frenzy of trying to replicate the "beautifully simple and compelling UI" for which the purveyors of the Big Black Turtleneck are so famed for. This, Juniper fears, will lead to players exiting that business (I have heard unconfirmed rumours that SEGA decided to call it day on internal J2ME development following their huge success with Super Monkey Ball on the iPhone). 

Other than that though, not much new. And Juniper would not be Juniper if they would not predict "significant" growth in the next 5 years (conveniently long in order to be basically unpredictable): they see the market to roughly double in the next 5 years, which would be 20% growth per year (on today's terms), which is not all that bad after all. 

Blyk's CEO speaks

I post on Blyk, and the next day its CEO rushes to give an interview... Was he upset about what he read and unleashed a PR storm to rescue his company to fight sentiment of the blogosphere? Perhaps, perhaps not. Well, maybe not. On the merits, there is nothing dramatically new but it is worth mentioning, I guess, nonetheless. Judge by yourself.


Blyk gets money

I know I have been depriving you lately (the day-job demanding more of my nightly attention than I would like) but this is remarkable: Blyk, the ad-funded MVNO, which I have covered previously (here and here), raised - financial crisis or not - a rather substantial amount from its existing investors, namely €40m (which apparently translates into $50.4m). Now, do they not read my blog? Or do I not get it (as Blyk's UK MD would probably suggest).

Blyk has by now collected 200,000 subscribers and wants to roll out internationally, namely in Germany (as if the cut-throat market there, including Aldi and Tschibo's money-scraper MVNOs, wouldn't be enough), Spain and Belgium, which would constitute decent growth. My concerns over the financial viability still stand though (cf. here): I cannot see them making money from this longer term (unless you mean the really, really long term; then it might work). And perhaps, just perhaps, the words of Blyk's CEO, Ala-Pietala, who noted (which MoCoNews somewhat fittingly called "ominous") that Blyk also felt the impact of the world's financial situation, point that way, too. Is that to say that they might have got money but they don't make any (or not enough)? Do I get it after all?


Mandalay buys AMV

Twistbox owner Mandalay has bought European D2C firm AMV for $22.8m in cash, shares and deferred consideration. AMV operates the D2C brands Bling et al.. The new European HQ is to be at AMV's UK location in Marlow, which presumably means a demotion of Twistbox's Charismatix branch.

The rationale of the deal appears to be this:
The combination of Twistbox's global on-deck distribution with AMV's direct-to-consumer expertise uniquely positions Mandalay Media to deliver compelling consumer propositions while maximizing revenues for its wireless operator and content partners," stated Twistbox CEO Ian Aaron.
Whether or not this position is "unique" does not really matter. And why a D2C offering maximizes operator revenues is at least unclear, too, but hey, who cares? What is true is that Twistbox runs some operator decks and has - through the old Charismatix links and its adult footprint - some decent links on a number of carriers in Western Europe. To bolster this with £10m of D2C revenue (this is the number the AMV website would make us believe) makes sense as the sensitivity of carriers to accept competing offerings outside their decks might well lessen. In this case Mandalay/Twistbox/AMV may indeed be onto something. The remaining question might be if the (current) breadth of distribution they have is enough. But it's not the end of days...

Mandalay/Twistbox has by now ramped up a decent amount of venture cash (see here for a previous round) and is yet still seen to be breaking into the top tier. Come on, guys!

Playfish fishes for big bucks

Playfish, the social network gaming company founded by wireless industry veteran Kristian Segerstrale, announced a series B round worth a very respectable $17m from Accel Partners and Index Ventures. Playfish boasts 10m monthly users and claims that 4 of its 5 games are in Facebook's top 10. The company also said it recently joined Google's in-game advertising solution and presumably banks on capitalizing on this success. No word on financials but they surely are getting their slice of it (just how thick that slice is, I'd like to know). No word either on any mobile activities (which might be coming given Kristian's background as founder of Macromedia).

Playfish's mantra is to enable people to play games with their real-world friends via the infrastructure provided by social networks, and I can confirm that this works: I am an avid player of their games, particularly "Who has the biggest brain?" (I am no. 5 amongst my friends so far; a list which is topped by Kristian and I cannot help but think that he might possess cheat codes...).

A round of this size by investors of this pedigree raised in these times deserves our unreserved respect. You rock, guys!


No more Landlines

According to research firm Nielsen (whose mobile arm incorporates what was previously known as Telephia), more than 20m household in the US (0r 17%) have ditched landlines in favour of mobile (or as they would call it cell) phones. It signifies a rather steep increase.

Here's the highlights of a white paper they published on the issue (which you can download here):
- U.S. cord cutters tend to have lower income-levels—59 percent have household incomes of $40,000 or less.
Smaller households, with just one or two residents, are more likely to cut the cord than larger households.
- Moving or changing jobs are the biggest life events associated with cord cutting: 31 percent of cord cutters moved prior to cord cutting and 22 percent changed jobs.
- Wireless substitutors tend to use their mobile phones more than their landline peers, 45 percent more per phone, but still save an average $33 per month in a household of one subscriber, less $6.69 for each additional wireless resident, when they cut the cord.
Now, what I do find surprising is not the fact but rather the apparent reasons given for "wireless substitution". It is cost...

On data, Nielsen also speculates:
“Landline wireless substitution may just be the start. [...] As wireless data networks improve and speeds become more and more competitive with broadband, some consumers may cut the Internet cord, as well, favoring wireless data cards and other access through carrier networks.”
Now this I understand, and the study shows indeed that wireless-only consumers use the mobile Internet more than twice as often as their primary access to the web than the good old-fashioned rest (11% vs 5%). It will be interesting to see how quick this substitution works though for the masses: people with money tend to retain their landlines, which suggests that a wireless-only solution is still less convenient. With hardware (computers, phones, etc) becoming increasingly able to access multiple wireless standards (i.e. via the mobile networks as well as WiFi, etc), this factor might however be evaporating relatively quickly.


What's a Smartphone?

Application vendor Handango published its 2008 Yardstick report, which one might slag off as some (rather shameless) PR on content consumption on "smartphones". According to this, 

[t]he Games category leaped from fourth place at year-end 2007 into the second spot behind the Entertainment category.

It also reports that

'Ringtones' was the most searched term in the first half of 2008, and 'games' was a near second, up from number three in the second half of 2007. 'Themes,' 'GPS,' 'weather,' and 'music' also make the list of the top 10 searches."

Surprisingly then, in none of the measured platforms (RIM, Palm, WinME, Symbian) does a single game make it into the top 10... Now, does that mean that places 11-98 were all games? Hmm...

 I then asked myself what the heck is a smartphone? Mobile advertising guys Admob note that

[t]here is no standard industry definition of a smartphone. We [Admob] automatically classify a device as a smartphone when it has an identifiable operating systen and continually update our list as new phones with advanced functionality enter the market.

Globally, Nokia rules the pack: the top 4 smartphones are all from the Finnish giant (Admob numbers), and all N-Series devices, namely the N70, N95, N73 and N80. In the US however, there is not a single Nokia phone (or rather, as they would put it, "multimedia device") amongst the top 20 smartphones. According to Handango, 2 Blackberry devices (8830 and Curve) were the top 2 devices, according to Admob (not representative), it was the Blackberry 8100, the Palm Centro and the Blackberry 8300). Globally, these don't really feature: Nokia has a market share of a whopping 62.4%!  

The more interesting facts are unfortunately from confidential information from the likes of M:Metrics. Without giving too much away, the top devices for games consumption (downloaded) are the iPhone and Nokia's N95, both with quite some margin ahead of everyone else (and the iPhone with quite some margin ahead of Nokia's performance monster). This does indeed show that a powerful handset (or at least one with powerful UI) promotes content consumption, which is, I'm afraid to say, old news indeed.

So, no news then?


No ad-supported content after all? Really?

We will all remember that ad-supported content was the flavour of the month a short while ago. There were successful trials and a lot of hype all around, hell, there are even MVNO based on this model. Now, however, there is a survey that suggests that people will pay to avoid ads (if you are a true believer, look at the end of this post though...). Who's right then?

But, alas, the nasty consumer wants to have it all, it seems. I quote:
While the vast majority (56%) believes that content downloads to mobile phones should be free of charge, there is a growing number of consumers that are so averse to advertising that they are now willing to pay a premium in order to avoid it, signifying a shift in how operators need to be tailoring their offering. A substantial 25% of respondents said that they would rather pay for a download if it guarantees them immunity from advertising.
Now, what then? Free content? And who is paying us poor sods who produce it? Hmm. Now, it gets even more confusing: according to the study, in particular the younger demographic shuns ads. 35% of the 16-24 year-olds would rather pay than get ads vs. only 17% of the (presumably battle-hardened and more cynical) 35-44 year-olds; one would have thought so that the elders with their higher spending power were more likely to pay... Hmm, hmm.

There is another interesting twist to this though. Another quote:
One symptom of this trend is the increased resistance to targeted advertising on mobile phones. Whilst 47% of people feel that adverts tailored to their individual tastes and interests are a good idea overall, half of those who were willing to receive targeted ads on the internet were not happy to receive them on their mobiles.
This would suggest that there is a trend (or rather demand) to bridge the boundaries between media: offer content and do, by all means, use advertising to finance it but do stream the latter to other user screens (presumably the PC first and foremost). Are there any models out there to address that? I haven't heard of any and I must say that I find implementation of this rather tricky to achieve. Just another study then? Hmm, hmm, hmm.

NOW, just when I clicked "publish", I received one of my favourite newsletters, the very recommendable VentureBeat, who published an interview with Nielsen's SVP Mobile Media, Jesse Goranson, and, what can I say, he says it's all good: according to yet another study he cites (which I cannot access), 53% of advertisers (ah, not consumers then) anticipate a rise in mobile ad-spend in the next year. Goranson does, however, also state a flux and indeed uncertainty about where it is going to go revenue-wise. More hmmm's then, I guess. Good night!


Funny. Sometimes a theme somewhat haunts you... After I have posted about the demise of Tira Wireless (and added some alternative views on the labyrinth that is platforms and handset fragmentation; also go and revisit my posts on the same topic here and here), today we can read that it will all get worse (or maybe not). I bet they read my recent post on the issue... ;-)

The article only mentions somewhat curtly two new platforms, namely iPhone and Android (both of which I have covered before, namely here, here and here - amongst others), and then goes on to report on a panel at CTIA where a panel sponsored by the "Symbian stakeholders" apparently dismissed the whole notion, stating that the market would solve it. Now, it will have to, I guess. However, it is not all that bleak: Symbian, UIQ, Linux, BREW, Win ME and ultimately the iPhone OS are all C-based. Most of them (with the notable exception of the iPhone) also run Java Virtual Machines (JVM), so you can either code in J2ME (which is arguably the most widely supported language) or go native and code native in C+/C++ with then much easier ports to the varying iterations.

The challenge naturally remains (and, yes, I have voiced this previously) with a view to supporting all those odd handsets here and there and everywhere but, let's face it, a lot of them are being imposed on publishers by the carriers who want to make sure that even that last customer that hangs on to his SE T-610 will be served with content (even though he won't ever download a piece). Wouldn't it be so much better marketing if they would simply return a message telling that poor customer:
"Hey, we noticed you tried downloading content to your T-610. You may not have realized that this phone is utterly outdated and will give you no joy when playing games. We would like to offer you a discounted upgrade to the brand-spanking new N76/ W880i/ Pearl/ iPhone/ Viewty/... and your life would be so much cooler. We are confident that you would then also have more luck with the girls/boys... Best. Your carrier"
What I am trying to say is that a lot of the fragmentation issues are (nowadays) artificially imposed, not technologically warranted. Any carriers reading this? Think about it, folks. It won't harm you, I bet!


Thumbplay and Comcast: convergence looming?

Comcast (for you fellow non-Americans: this is one of the larger broadband providers in the US) and Thumbplay (for you fellow non-Americans: these are the guys who kick serious a** in D2C mobile content over there) announced a deal whereby Comcast will sell mobile content source from Thumbplay through a dedicated website to their highspeed Internet customers. Items available comprise everything from Thumbplay's catalogue, that is to say, music, ringtones, video, games, you name it.

With Comcast recording serious traffic (14.4m highspeed Internet customers, 3.7bn page views and 17.6m unique visitors per month) and Thumbplay offering one of the larger catalogues on mobile content (100,000+ pieces), this could be intriguing: consumers have so much better opportunity to look and choose if they can do so in the warmth of their home and the giant size of their 21'' computer screen rather than on a 128x128 mobile phone screen. Content discovery, previews, all the bells and whistles long known on the Internet could thus be married to mobile content as well. Will it work? I am thrilled to hear about it. Traditionally, one loses a lot of people whenever one crosses from one medium to another (Internet to mobile), so the question will be if the additional churn recorded there is less than the probably improved conversion rates due to the superior content choosing experience online.

Tell us more, guys, when you know it!

Apple's App Store rockets through 100m

Following the iTunes success story, we could see it coming, I guess, and indeed after a mere 3 months of going live the mother of all black turtlenecks informs us that the Apple App Store rocketed past 100m downloads for iPhone and iPod. Impressive numbers! And another example how simplicity and a good eye for ease of use wins the day: put applications (games are apparently leading the pack, too, with no less than 700 of them [that's nearly 25% of the total available]!) into one place where a) people can find them and b) it is easy to download, install and run them, and you are on to a winner (operators, listen to this!).

However (there had to be a but, huh?), what the master of PR did not tell us is how much money was actually made with this. We hear the following stats:
  • There are 3,000 apps on the App Store, 600 of which are for free. Now, for what percentage of downloads these 20% are responsible for, we are not being told though...
  • 90% of the apps are priced at less than $10 (this will include the 20% free ones, I guess). However nothing is said if it is $9.99 that is the prevalent price point or perhaps $0.99 a pop.
The App Store certainly is a success for Apple (in particular considering the relatively low number of devices that access the store, and this deserves our unreserved applause! The only thing is: it might just be that 90% of the downloads were of the unpaid kind and another 8% of the less-than-$3.00 kind, and that would mean that it is actually not such a great success for the developers hoping to make a buck from it (rather than only showing off the funky logo on investor presentations).

The Apple App Store provides a wonderful opportunity to test market prices and all that even though there are probably a lot of people who currently publish stuff there because of its "strategic" value, which will contribute to distortions of the true numbers in terms of values and price points. However, notwithstanding those distortions it would be great if they could share somewhat more meaningful numbers with us; just so we know how hard we should try to flog to those green Apple meadows.

Oh, and, yes, I write this on a MacBook... :) 

Re Tira: there are others!

My post on Tira Wireless' apparent demise triggered a few e-mails, and it was pointed out that, whilst my observations generally seem to have been accurate, I forgot a few players that actually do deliver porting solutions across platforms (e.g. from J2ME to BREW) rather successfully (and do work with some of the larger publishers, too). There is for instance Innaworks, whose Alchemo solution is pretty powerful.

So, I stand corrected: it is actually possible to ease porting nightmares with smart transcoding solutions. I would still maintain though that porting from a single J2ME build (rather than a reference code base) to all devices under the sun is only possible with severe constraints. If that is understood though, the likes of Innaworks and Metismo provide a great ease of pain!

Mobitween bought by Zed

Every reader of this blog will have realized for some time that I am a fan of mobile Flash and the good folks at Mobitween (just see here and here), the mobile Flash pioneers from Paris. And, boy, would I have wanted to work with them some more but, alas, it seems this will remain wishful thinking as they have been the first prey of D2C giant's Zed M&A fund: yes, they have been acquired.

The deal - unfortunately for me, I guess - makes a lot of sense to Zed, who have been raising their revenue numbers to heights so dizzying they would nearly make the initial investments comprehensible... (if only the initial investors had seen anything of that success; but well...): Zed famously claims to make up to 85% of their revenue with
 predominantly in-house produced generic content, and when it comes to speed and efficiency, mobile flash in general and the guys at Mobitween in particular have no match.

So, well done them, and let's hope Flash will continue to roll as it started to promise, so that we can all marvel at dramatically reduced time to market and, consequently, hopefully a vastly improved content offering all around (oh, and buy Zed shares if you can).

Tira in Tears?

Are they no more? I haven't called or sneaked around their offices, so couldn't tell. However, my much more investigative fellow blogger from the MobileGamesBlog seems to know more: according to him, Tira Wireless is no more.

Tira Wireless had a bit of a mixed following: there were the ones who didn't believe in the black box (one build in, builds to support 500 handsets out), and there others who thought this was the best thing since sliced Siemens phones. Now, I admit I ranted mercilessly on a panel (ironically sponsored by Tira) at MEM back in 2005 or so against the black box approach, and the width of their endeavours might have killed it (if it did then; no one can confirm or deny as yet...). To use one build and port it across to handsets from the (in)famou
s T-610 to the N73 is hitting natural constraints, and this is arguably a reason why they never got their hands on the heavy hitters of the sector: their customer list doesn't show a Gameloft, EA, Glu, Digital Chocolate, Hands-On, etc, etc...

A leaner (meaner?) and more focussed approach can get you there as is currently shown by mobile games veteran John Chasey's (of IOMO and Finblade fame) Metismo: not another black box, they don't even claim to being able to do everything under the sun and then some more; theirs is a cross-compiler from J2ME to native C++, and this alone is worth quite something. Smart coding and development environments can and do ease the pains of handset fragmentation, and to have dedicated experts for this makes sense, considering the significant cost contribution of porting to the overall cost of producing a mobile game.

Anyone with more solid news on Tira's fate, please call, e-mail or comment on this thread... Thank you!


Mobile Games: Platform Standards!?

Mobile games blogger extraordinaire, Arjan Olsder, provided for a great guest post by Qualcomm games guru Mike Yuen, and it's well worth a read! Mike addresses this most horrible of issues to mobile game developers that is called fragmentation or, in his words, "[t]he lack of platform and hardware standards continues to be a major inhibitor to mobile game growth in the United States [and elsewhere; ed.]. This diversity in development platforms (Android, BREW, Flash Lite, iPhone, Java, Linux, Symbian, WAP, Windows Mobile) and hardware configurations (display resolutions, RAM/heap memory size, processing and graphics power, audio formats, keypad and other input modes."

Mike rightly points out that, "[i]n many cases, the costs associated with individualizing software builds to the particularities of each handset, operator and language account for more than half of the overall development budget for new game titles. It’s a simple, but important concept. If fewer resources were diverted to porting a title from handset to handset, operator to operator, more resources could be dedicated to advancing the development of new and innovative gaming concepts."

He goes on to draw an interesting comparison to the Korean and Japanese markets where there are not as many handsets (and platforms) around and where consumers are more than twice as likely to download mobile games. He then goes on to look at market disruptors like Apple (iPhone anyone?) and others only to conclude, sadly, that "[m]obile gaming is in a state of flux – platform and hardware fragmentation has clouded the once blue sky of gaming’s future and positive disruptive products such as Apple’s iPhone have changed industry perception and consumer expectations about the future of the mobile gaming device. I’m not expecting us to reach consensus anytime soon. Fragmentation is an inherent element of the mobile industry and perhaps always will be."

Now, is that really so? He is of course right in his analysis of the current environment. But does this really have to be like this? The mobile space suffers from too many very large companies with very large markets. And if this wasn't enough, there's two different groups of them, with diverging interests, namely operators (carriers) and handset manufacturers: the former want everyone to be on their network, the latter to be on their handsets. Both are more often than not big old molochs of companies with a lot of market power in their segments. However... the markets seem to gravitate (under consumer demand) towards a more open set-up: operators seem to be accepting the fact that they cannot reign their users into walled gardens forever (more and more resign to flat-rate data and open the mobile web to users) and OEMs seem to realize that they need awesome numbers of users to have a real impact and so most of them gravitate to more open platforms (or, in the case of Nokia, create them).

As most of the newer platforms appear to be based on C++ or siblings thereof (Symbian, UIQ, Linux, Android [yes, I know that they us a JVM], BREW, Win ME, etc), it would appear that a reduced complexity might be nigh. Not as easy as online, mind you, but light at the end of the tunnel nonetheless. And it makes sense as the current fragmentation isn't really helping anyone: consumers grow frustrated with ever-changing platforms. They want cool content, not a proprietary operator-variant of cool content. Hope, my friends, there is hope!

Ticking off Idle Screens

Ever heard of response-based segmentation? Super-cool, isn't it? You can group your customers depending on their actions... Israeli firm Celltick has now published the results of its first trial, an unnamed Brazilian operator. According to the press release, "the results demonstrate a 60% increase in the number of users responding to teasers on the idle screen, and an incredible 80% increase in the overall number of clicks-per-day since the service enhancement."

So... this means that 60% more users respond to things happening on their idle screens than normal. What happens normally? Nothing. So 60% more than what? Now, don't get me wrong: I find the concept pretty intriguing but the context is somewhat unfulfilling ("you're not doing anything. So I, the infamous MS paper clip, think you might want to play a game..."; not very likely).

The Celltick platform seems to have it all: "[it] is designed to provide mobile operators, content providers and advertisers with a mobile marketing media channel [...] that maximize response rates, customer retention and enhanced revenue opportunities. User profiling through RBS compliments LiveScreen Media’s existing segmentation capabilities which include location based broadcasting, handset segmentation and time-sensitive campaigns." How cool is that? Alas, no details are given... I would really, really, REALLY like to learn more substantative things about this but this turns out to being a relatively meaningless PR blurp. The fact that the "Brazilian operator" prefers to be unnamed doesn't really instil more confidence, does it?

Celltick: please provide us with some meat. Then you'll get good coverage here, too. And: EVERYONE would love a success story such as yours. Bring it on, guys!


Zeemote, the 3rd...

My dear friends at Zeemote, I've been giving you a hard time on this blog in the past (first here, then here). Now, in my second post on the device (which is, for the ignorant few, a bluetooth connected controller for mobile phones) I issued two concerns, namely

  1. distribution (which I suggested would only work with bundling) and
  2. usage (the keys, wallet, phone dilemma).
You will have seen that my mood is somewhat mellowing, and this is indeed connected to the fun one can have with this little thing.

So it came as no surprise that on the first point, the good folks at Zeemote have been impressively busy in the recent months. They managed to strike a number of rather noteworthy deals, the perhaps most impressive one (to date) being with Nokia. At the Games Convention, they announced that they would bundle (see? I told you!) the Zeemote controller with some N-Gage-enabled devices. Here's the clou though: it will be tied in through a dedicated little application in a way that allows users to control every game available on N-Gage via their Zeemote, even if the games and applications themselves do not have the precious lines of code in them. And that it is pretty cool indeed as it circumnavigates the dilemma of having a device that no software supports and which is therefore not being used. I played it, it works. Awesome!

A couple of weeks before, Sony Ericsson launched a bundle in a test market (see here), so they seem to be gaining traction indeed. I hear there's more to come soon but I'll wait till the news is out...

Now, as to the other question, namely if people would take it with them? Well, we'll have to wait as only time (and hopefully many users) will tell. What is undeniable though is that the Zeemote lowers the threshold to play as it greatly facilitates access and controls when playing a game on mobile. If users get the device together with their new phone, I am rather sure that they'll give it a try. The device will be best shown off (initially) with games and apps that are hard to control and where users are more likely to be put off playing them with the fiddly controls of a phone. If this is being put to work (which I trust the Zeemote folks are smart enough to embark on), there is a good chance, they'll convince people enough to make them use it more and more. And once they're hooked? The sky is the limit.

And then, there are also uses for it at home: you don't have a Wii but 2 Zeemotes, a TV and a phone? Go on and play! Works! True! Check here.