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...