New posts on vhirsch.com/blog

Here's a new post for you (on Android device deployments this year).


New posts on vhirsch.com

On my new blog destination (http://vhirsch.com/blog), there is news for you: I commented on O2's reported deal for the Pre and on the 175th iteration of the Carnival of the Mobilists.


A new Home for My Blog...

After nearly 2 years on here, I have decided to grow up and start using my very own domain. I will continue blogging at:

All posts and comments have been transferred although I will keep this live. All feeds are being re-directed, so if you subscribe via e-mail, RSS, etc, you should be continuing to receive updates. However, you might want to bookmark the new location and tell all your friends about it, too!


Handset Choice: Ease of Use Rules!

A lot of iPhones later, the industry now also has it black on white: Ease of use is the primary reason influencing the choice of a handset for users. Or so we are being told. It is not that surprising, is it? Here's the top answers users gave on what they look at when buying a new phone. It is taken from 1,500 interviews that were conducted for Nuance, a top sponsor of MEX (which is, you guessed it, a conference on Mobile User Experience).

So any vested interests aside, here's the top results:
  1. Ease of use (69.0%)
  2. Screen Size (61.4%)
  3. Coolness Factor (61.1%)
  4. Camera (60.8%)
  5. Range of Accessories (58.4%)
  6. Keyboard (58.1%)
  7. Battery Life (56.6%)
  8. Music Playback (50.9%)

Qualcomm slowly admitting defeat?

I know this is a contentious headline but one could interpret the news that Qualcomm is opening its very own app store (which is probably the oldest one!) to any device on any platform on any carrier this way. The provider will open its Plaza service to non-BREW devices (BREW is proprietary to Qualcomm). This could be seen as an admission of defeat in the platform war, which it appears to be losing against GSM platforms.

However, I plead to see the bright side of this: it is a remarkable move to highlight and capitalize on a piece in its arsenal that has long been industry-leading: Qualcomm has long been offering merchandising solutions that do not have to shy away of the cutting-edge app stores of today. The new Plaza Retail will now bring to Java, BREW, Blackberry and Flash (Android , Windows Mobile, Palm, Symbian and Linux Mobile are apparently to follow) what BREW users have had for a while: a storefront, great device integration and flexible billing (micro-billing, subscriptions, etc). It also allows personalization and a recommendation engine (courtesy of last year's acquisition of Xiam Technologies). And it is a very proven platform that has showed its worth on many a bill to developers (the content-lock is much better than Apples; which may anger some users but will be welcomed by developers) This is quite cool!


Vodafone's App Store: Bigger than Apple?

It was only a question of time before the first carriers would release themselves from the iPhone-imposed stare and come out all action, and the biggest of them all (by sales), Vodafone, has now raised the curtains on its very own app store. It is the biggest app store to date: Vodafone has more than 289m customers who will - eventually - all be able to access the store (which makes it a cool 8x or so larger than Apple's). Unlike on Apple's App Store, you also do not need a credit card (which, however, you are likely to have anyway when you can afford an iPhone) whereas Vodafone, being a carrier, will bill to their customer's phone bills directly. Very, very cool, huh?

So imagine the power of an app that would go live on Vodafone's carriers all at once. But before we get carried away, let's have a look at the numbers:

Orange UK (in its recently released Digital Media Index; see here) suggested that 4.87% of its users downloaded one game in 2008 (770,000 downloads p.a./ 15.8m users) but this is without an app store but with the traditional catalogue-style offerings.

For Vodafone Group, this would equate to 38,500 downloads per day (289m x 4.87% / 365). If (or when) it includes this offering beyond its own 27 local carriers to its 40 network partners (including Verizon Wireless!), one would be looking at North of 1bn users and, hence, 100,000+ downloads per day. Now, with an app store, this should - theoretically - be further boosted, let's say doubled, arriving at 200,000 downloads per day.

How does this compare with everyone's darling/nemesis (delete as appropriate), the iPhone: I had previously calculated that Apple's app store sees some 4,000 per minute or 5.7m per day... This however includes all those free downloads (about 22% of all apps are for free), so let's say the ratio is 1 paid: for 40 free (which is on the high end of assumptions) or 1:15. This would equate to 144,000 to 380,000 paid downloads per day. So Vodafone's 200,000 wouldn't look completely out of order, would it?

There's even more: Vodafone's decision to bill to the phone bill is only one potential booster since it minimizes friction for the user (Apple: credit card/iTunes account, Blackberry: PayPal, Nokia Ovi: a mix?, etc). The other - and longer-term potentially even bigger one - is geo-awareness: since Vodafone owns the network, it knows where any of "its" users' mobile is at any given time. Now link app usage with geographical location and you could be on to something fairly unique. There is little in the market so far but then: had Apple run its campaign of "bettering life's little problems" in June 2008, it would have looked fairly bleak, too!

So: huge potential but where are the pitfalls?

There's UI and handset fragmentation, if I dare say so. Even though it probably hurts by now, let me repeat: Apple has one model and one deployment method and it nailed content discovery (not perfectly but better than anyone else). Job done. Vodafone has hundreds of handsets on its "to be supported" list. Some are like the Porsche's of their trade ("first available on s60 devices"; ooooh), others are the equivalent to a pedal-powered toy car. The costs for developers to support all these is significant, the cost of management is arguably, too.

Most importantly though, it takes the simplicity and thus ease of use out of the game. And I would posit that this is a big contributor to the (Apple) app store's success: simplicity from entry (ingest an app into the store), management (price, etc) to consumption (download and active use). This will be a tough one for Vodafone to overcome, and it is indeed the one point where OEMs have much better opportunities to "get it right". That the relationship between carriers and OEMs is not always without strain has only recently been proven again, sooooo: the jury is probably still out on that one.

Having said this, Vodafone is better positioned than most carriers though because of its sheer size and footprint. Smaller carriers might struggle to offer developers similar incentives to support their respective offering because they don't scale as well.

For Vodafone, I am concerned that the multi-level complexities they have to deal with (number of handsets x number of operating companies x number of languages x all additional info [geographical and otherwise]) might pose a strain on its ability to roll out quickly and decisively. It might not be as huge and life-changing as Apple's app store but it would certainly lift the "mainstream" of app downloads to whole new level. I am an optimist, so, come on, Voda!

Carnival of the Mobilists #174

Here's another Carnival of the Mobilists, this week hosted by Ram Krishnan on his Mobile Broadband Blog. As usual, lots of goodies: a look at Blyk (check also my 2p here), Tomi Ahonen's reasoning on why the iPhone is better than a laptop, the wider implications of Facebook Connect (yes, there are phones are than the iPhone in this world!) and lots more. Go, go, read it now here!


Blyk scraps it! No, it doesn't!

Blyk, the ad-funded MVNO for 16-24 year-olds has been in the news lately a lot. The trigger was a piece by NMA according to which Blyk had announced it would scrap its consumer offering and concentrate on selling its technology/concept/both to other operators. This was quickly refuted by Blyk. The "final" position appears to being a little unclear.

Now, quite a while ago, I issued concerns about the viability of their business model as a stand-alone ad-funded MVNO (see here), and I stand by it (even if they have varied their model a little recently: from 217 free messages and 43 minutes of free calls per month to a £15 discount voucher). If they now claim that this was "only" a proof of concept, I must say that this smacks more than a bit of hopeful PR although this may just be semantics:

The pitfalls of an MVNO-only model aside, their approach is rather intriguing: if you can segment the market as they do and thus create consumer (or people) clusters that are much more homogenous than most media will be able to assemble (18-49-year-olds anyone?), you have a fairly powerful opportunity to interact with your people more directly, more intensely and - most importantly - more relevant messages than you otherwise could. And this has value, and lots of it!

Combine this now with the headaches of your ordinary operator, of which the biggest one probably (still) is churn. I am lacking current accurate numbers but, historically, an operator's churn rate (the percentage of users it would lose in 12 months) was up to 1/3. And this is painful, very painful! So get a tool that allows to reduce that churn significantly and you're off to the races. Combine this with a (functioning because highly targeted) advertising model and you can even increase your margins on this model. Sounds good? Certainly does to me!

And so it is not a big surprise that other operators are said to have shown a lot of interest in the model. Vodafone, for one, have had their own advertising-related announcement in the last week, and the use of Blyk's model and expertise could be quite compelling to them (as some voices already suggest). From Blyk's point of view, such a model is also easier and more quickly scalable than a stand-alone expansion and it should therefore greatly aid Blyk to build the critical mass it needs to stay (or become) relevant to advertisers.

It might still fly, you know...

Image credit: http://asetcenter.net/images/article/mobile_adv.jpg


Orange UK: Mobile Broadband Roars!

Orange UK, one of the large carriers in the country with 15.8m mobile subscribers, has released its "Fifth Digital Media Index", containing a set of interesting numbers on the data uptake on their network, and it makes for intriguing reading!

The carrier recorded a whopping 4,125% (!) increase in data use over dongles using their mobile network in the last 12 months with dongle subscriptions growing by 504%. Data use from handset increased by 108% and that, I might add, without the help of the iPhone (which is exclusive to O2 in the UK). The increase from dongles will be connected to a big push this offering has seen in the UK (as in other countries) over the past period. Carriers have been and are promoting these aggressively, helping uptake of mobile broadband significantly.

Here are some highlights from the report:
  • Music and video downloads increased both by 38%.
  • Games only grew by 8% (but at least they grew; anecdotally, some other carriers recorded sometimes dramatic drops in take-up) to a total of 770,000 downloaded games, which equates to a market share of 23% of all UK games downloads (the total UK games market would hence be 3.35m downloads for the year with Orange claiming top spot). From the top 10 downloaded games in 2008, 8 were part of the carrier's embed programme, which shows - again - that users appear more comfortable if they can try it out before (embedded games normally are trial versions).
  • Social network use over mobile increased by 129% in page impressions per month and 48% in unique users. The monthly average number of pages per user was 397. In terms of popularity of social networks, Orange's Mark Watt-Jones (@MWJ) fed us additional bits via the Twittersphere: Facebook dominates, Bebo is significant, MySpace less so and Twitter grows very quickly (what was the Oprah moment in the UK?)
  • An average of 386,000 GB of data have been transferred via dongles and handsets per month.
  • Mobile search grew by 120% with 45% of the results being "off-portal", i.e. outside Orange's domains.
  • Good old SMS still looking good, too: 19% growth with 1.7bn sent every month.
Another key point Mark brought us via Twitter: 99% of access to social network sites came from non-smartphones. This is quite noteworthy indeed as it arguably shows that mobile data usage now transcends beyond the power users on sophisticated handsets and also that content leads the uptake: give people compelling content, and they'll use it. Mobile data for the masses seems to have arrived!


T-Mobile, Nokia & Skype

Nokia's deal with Skype did not go down too favourably with German carriers T-Mobile and Vodafone, and there had been threats that they would drop the respective Nokia devices (including the long-awaited hero handset N97) from their device roadmaps. Today, T-Mobile provided some "clarification" on the issue: according to a spokesperson, T-Mobile apparently wants to ship the N97 but not with the Skype VoIP client installed ("it is up to us to decide what is on the device").

It was also said that the carrier was looking into options on how to deal with VoIP but that it was still early days. However, T-Mobile does apparently not block VoIP clients, neither Skype nor others... Hm, this does not sound like a convincing policy to me...

Android to grow 900% in 2009

There are reports and there are reports. From the latter category, we are being enlightened with the latest growth predictions for Android and they come out at a whopping 900% for 2009, compared to "only" 79% for the iPhone. The report does not hide the fact that the calculatory basis may not be fully comparable as it is expanding from a low base.

Moreover though, when looking at the models applied by Apple and the Google-led Open Handset Alliance, these are quite different and it is therefore to be fully expected that Android-powered handsets will overtake iPhone numbers sooner rather than later. Would they not, it would simply reflect on extremely poor performance: Apple has always applied a model that combined hardware and OS: both came from the same mould and from one hand. This is a huge contributor to its superior usability: it can be woven in a seamless way.

However, on the other hand, this is also what arguably cost Apple the war over the desktop: Microsoft-powered systems grew exponentially, last but not least because the OS was available on hardware from any number of manufacturers whereas Apple's OS was only available on, well, Macs. The same applies now to the iPhone. Apple's one product that bucked that trend was the iPod, which commands an impressive share around 70%. This however is the exception rather than the norm. And it is unsurprising, too: it is extremely unlikely that one manufacturer and the limited number of models it can bring out will be able to cater to the needs and tastes of any number of people and demands equally.

The above does of course not mean that Apple did much wrong: the model seems to be working beautifully. The app store might only have contributed $20-45m or so in profit (or revenue?) to Apple (which is not that much considering that this is the harvest from more than 1 bn apps) but it also sold 13.7m iPhones and 22.7m iPods in 2008 alone, and this will have contributed nicely. Now, take this together with the Mac boom (which still only equates to c. 10% market share), which arguably is partly to "blame" on the popularity of iPhones and iPods (many users will experience the legendary UI only on one of these devices), and you have a good company.

The Android model is the opposite of this: here, a large number of companies get together to build an OS, which can then go (and be customized) on a myriad of devices from a myriad of manufacturers. At the start of the initiative, it was Google and 34 others, including China Mobile, KDDI, Sprint, TIM, T-Mobile, Motorola, Samsung, HTC, Intel and eBay (cf. here). Today, the alliance boasts (if I counted correctly) 47 members. As per the above equation, it would be very surprising if the numbers from this model would not exceed the ones from Apple's. In 2009, we will be seeing Android devices from HTC (the front runners on this with the G1 and the Magic) as well as from Samsung, LG, Sony Ericsson and probably dozens more. Can they sell more? Yes. Will they sell more Android devices than iPhones in 2009? I don't know. Maybe not. Will they still grow by 900%? Yes, of course, as we are still looking at small numbers at this time: if I make $100 turnover in year 1 and $900 in year 2, I still cannot live of that but I will have grown 900%... Will they be able to grow by 900% in 2010? That will be more difficult as their starting point will be different. Very wise insights, huh? ;-)


To Skype or not to Skype: Nokia vs Carriers

The most excellent German blog Mobile Zeitgeist alerted me (in German) to a little battle that illustrates the pitfalls of creating the seamless user experience: Nokia appears to being in a tussle with (at least) the German arms of Vodafone and T-Mobile over the pre-installation of Skype clients on some of its forthcoming handset models (including the long-awaited iPhone competitor, N97).

Vodafone and T-Mobile Germany (who have a combined subscriber base of close to 80m) have now publicly stated that they will not include any Nokia models into their catalogues, which will have Skype installed. Now, there's a market gone dead then... For other models, look to 3 in the UK (and my post on the Skypephone there...).

T-Mobile said that they "would not let their business be destroyed" by this. Their terms and conditions prohibited VoIP clients already but the carriers did anecdotally turn a blind eye towards this in the past. Nokia's push however now is apparently too much for the carriers who fear network issues. Interestingly, this surfaces on the same day where, in anther part of the world, some queried the sustainability of free data plans for the iPhone (namely the Wall Street Journal on AT&T's policies in respect of the iPhone). Predictably, Skype lambasted the move as "unfair practice".

The name of the game is - of course - the pipe (not new: see e.g. here and here): the WSJ quotes from an Alcatel-Lucent analysis of North American networks during the midday hour of one day, which apparently shows that web browsing consumed 32% of data-related airtime but 69% of bandwidth whereas e-mail used 30% of data airtime but only 4% of bandwidth. The reasoning goes that increased data traffic impacts the networks' capex whilst remaining - at best - ARPU-neutral (AT&T ponders to drop its data plan for the iPhone by $10), cutting down margins and hurting the carrier more than is healthy. Voice and SMS services are - on a bit for bit basis - very, very profitable as they use very little bandwidth.

To conclude though - as the WSJ does - that unlimited data plans should be abandoned "in the short term", pours the baby out with the bathwater: smartphones are paving the way into the wireless future (20% of US households are completely wirefree already!) and it is a space where the carriers have great gains to make; maybe not on the sumptuous margins they were used to but healthy and viable nonetheless. To do as the WSJ asks would be as if one would have asked ISPs to please stop flat-rate plans for Internet access; and look what has become of the Internet!

Accordingly, other voices argue that a) slowing voice ARPU is at least being part set-off by increasing data ARPU (which grew a healthy 32% year-on-year in Q1 and saw more than $10bn in wireless data plans being sold in the US for the first time), and b) that the carriers actually know this for a while now and, accordingly, upgrade their networks to better cope with higher bandwidth demands in order to make the move to data pipes; the fight is arguably now "only" about whether these would be dumb or smart: with app stores, VAS and business-to-business (and machine-to-machine) solutions opening up vast new segments that have been completely unexploited to date, one should think that there is room for the smart pipe operator. So fear not!

Carnival of the Mobilists #173

This week's Carnival of the Mobilists, the weekly summary of the best and brightest from mobile blogs around the world, is being hosted by Tsahi Levent-Levi on his VoIP Survivor blog. You can read it here. This week brings you gems from some of the heavyweights, like Tomi Ahonen (on mobile data), Andrew Grill (looking at Google Latitude), Russell Buckley (on an SMS/MMS ad service that works) plus many, many more! Well worth a read - as always really!

Top 10 Mobile Phones - April 2009

Everyone's favourite phone accessory makers, Krusell of Sweden, have released their top-10 list of mobile phone sales, measured by sales of accessories, for April 2009. And here they are:

1. (2) Nokia 3109
2. (1) Samsung SGH-i900/i910 Omnia
3. (8) Nokia 5800
4. (5) Nokia E71
5. (4) HTC Touch HD
6. (7) Nokia 3120
7. (3) Nokia 6300
8. (6) Nokia E51
9. (-) Sony Ericsson C702
10. (-) Sony Ericsson X1 Xperia
() = Last month’s position.

Krusell's CEO was surprised that a "simpleton" such as the 3109 would top the list. Maybe it is a sign of recession that people now start to protect even their not so precious phones with stylish Swedish holsters. Who knows?

Again: iPhone users seem to be too precious to cover their beloved one in holsters and Blackberry users have them already, hence less of a market here. For the remainder: judge by yourself...


Nokia Ovi's 20,000+

Nokia's interpretation of an app store will be Ovi, and it will launch later this month. This is a biggie since Nokia (according to its own numbers) still commands an imposing market share of - globally - 37%. True to its huge self, it now said it'll come out with all its guns blazing and kick its app store off with no less than 20,000 "items"! This is being compared to Apple's "few hundred" upon launch.

However, that contains of course quite a bit of a PR spin: Nokia does not only include applications in its count but also videos and "mobisodes", and on this definition, one would need to count in the 40,000 or so videos, 3,000 TV shows, etc that the iPhone had on offer via iTunes (numbers via Wikipedia).

So where does Nokia truly stand in May 2009? The company, once famed for cool design (7110 - also known as the "Matrix" phone anyone?) and intuitive UI (yes, really: in the pre-Java age, Nokia's were second to none when it came to usability and interface) seems to have lost a little of its gloss. Its devices still boast technical excellence (the N96 technically outsmarts every iPhone or Android device easily) but the sex-appeal is considerably lower. Nokia anno 2009 has a little more of a Siemens-like flavour: very well engineered but a bit dull and maybe, well, a little over-engineered. At a time when content finally seems to go mainstream, this is more than only unfortunate: Nokia's often announced push into the US (where it holds an uncharacteristically small market share) has faltered (again) but the company also seems to lose market share in regions where it previously was unassailable. Moreover, its incremental products, such as the Navteq business, appear to struggle, too (Navteq recorded net sales of only €132m in Q1/2009; compare that to a purchase price of $8.1bn!), as it is arguably being challenged by the - free - Google Maps (which most people I know prefer over the - paid-for - Navteq services).

Nokia's competition comes less from its traditional foes, Sony Ericsson (struggling itself), Samsung, LG or Motorola but from the newbies like Apple, RIM or HTC, all of which focus on the upper end of the market and leverage this with smart phones that comes - app store or not - with a vastly expanded range of apps and services. Apple has leveraged this in breathtaking ways but one must not forget the gains Blackberry-maker RIM has realized. And while this was not on the back of its app store (Blackberry App World launched only recently), Blackberry devices had always been used for more than only voice and SMS - data services were always at the core of the product.

So where will Ovi sit? Will it revolutionize the mobile phone mass market on the content side, too? Nokia's attempts so far were something of a mixed bag: Preminet must probably considered a failure, its successor NCD (Nokia Content Discoverer) was always a little bit in the shadows, too. N-Gage is a distinctly high-end service (with - anecdotally - 1m or so subscribers, which is small when you look at Nokia's overall market footprint), the P2P service Mosh was known (to the people who actually did know of it) for the piracy taking place on the platform rather than for commercial success. In short: Nokia's moves into content have not been an overwhelming success so far. Ovi has the opportunity to change this. Due to its massive market footprint, Nokia has the opportunity to turn more than 1bn devices into shop windows for content, and this outmuscles anything Apple could even dream of achieving by large margins.

However, the success of an app store is not being defined by the sheer number of content available on or through it but but at least equally by the functionality, the usability and discovery. This is where Apple has been doing so well: the combination and seamless integration of hardware and software and its content strategy out of one mould (with no carrier intervention at all) has lifted the bar for an interface significantly. It might look easy to copy this but it is not. Nokia has also been very (!) late to the game (bear in mind they first announced Ovi in 2007!), and it acknowledges this itself. It will therefore be very interesting to see how Nokia manages to execute it. Be not mistaken: if it succeeds, the content revolution on mobile has truly begun!

Conference: Mobile 2.0 Europe

Mobile guru and blogger extraordinaire Rudy de Waele is bringing us the next iteration of the very successful (and exciting!) Mobile 2.0 conference to Europe this year. The 2-day event takes place in Barcelona on 18/19 June 2009 and focusses on the emerging mobile ecosystems and disruptive mobile innovation (for more on disruptive innovation [re-]read Clayton Christensen's "The Innovator's Dilemma"), grouped around six separate themes. This then looks as follows:
Rudy and his team have lined up a cool speaker line-up to illustrate each theme, comprising the creme de la creme of European operators, VCs, handset makers and application and service providers, including the CEO of Dopplr, Head of LBS at Vodafone, the CMO of Smaato, the Head of O2 Litmus, etc, etc.

The conference website can be found here. Sign up, it's well worth it!


Top 5 US Smartphones in Q1 2009

After all the talk (and more talk) about Apple's iPhone, a new report provides some new numbers reminding everyone that there are more phones on this earth than the sleek one from Cupertino. It is not about the iPhone (or not only) but about Blackberry, the iPhone, Blackberry and Blackberry. Yes, this is the first four places in the top-selling smartphones in the US in Q1/2009 according to market research specialists NPD Group (it is only the press release, so pretty lean on information).

Also: completing the top 5 is a phone with an open-source OS, namely the T-Mobile G1 (the first Android handset). I will be interesting to see if there is more to come from this last group (see my post on the state of play of open-source operating systems here).

So the top 5 are:
  1. RIM BlackBerry Curve (all 83XX models)
  2. Apple iPhone 3G (all models)
  3. RIM BlackBerry Storm
  4. RIM BlackBerry Pearl (all models, except flip)
  5. T-Mobile G1
So: even though they counted all of the 3G iPhones in, they still could not beat the Blackberry Curve. Well done, RIM!


Carnival of the Mobilists #172

A long May-Day weekend but eager bloggers still bring you the next Carnival of the Mobilists. This week's edition of the best in mobile blogs is hosted by Jamie Wells at the MobileStance blog and can be found here. Jamie covers two of my posts (Why an iPhone deal with Verizon would be cool and what open source OS makers are on about these days) but also points us to monetization of apps (as opposed to games), the rise of the mobile ad aggregators as well as a look at Motorola and mobile learning amongst others. And now head over there and do some reading!


The Others: Where Android, Symbian & LiMo are

The title of this post is not meant in any way derogatory but with all the hype about the iPhone it is sometimes easy to forget that we are talking about a niche product that will probably remain a niche product (albeit a powerful and cool one!). In the rest of the world (feature phones aside), a few consortia are fighting for the open-source market, which is - let's face it - a considerably larger piece than the small premium segment served by Apple.

So, where were we? There is the LiMo Foundation, which is onto establishing a mobile Linux standard. There is the Symbian Foundation and there is Android, a Linux-based OS from the Open Handset Alliance led by Google. One by one then:

LiMo Foundation

LiMo boasts a membership based comprised of the Who's Who in mobile. Powerhouses from around the world like Vodafone, Orange,
Verizon Wireless, NTT DoCoMo, Telefonica, SFR, TIM and SK Telecom, Samsung, NEC, LG, Panasonic, Huawei, Motorola, and ZTE (and quite a few more) are all in there. LiMo has released an SDK a while ago. Now though, they decided that enough is enough and that the world should know that their OS was actually making headway. In 2009, there will be new handsets based on LiMo's s
tandards released by Orange, Telefonica, Vodafone, NTT DoCoMo, SK Telecom and Verizon Wireless. Now, that's a statement. Non-phone devices are in the works, they say...

There are already more than 20 LiMo phones out there (without very many people having realized it). They include such mundane devices like Motorola's U9, ROKR EM30, ROKR Z6 and ROKR E8 as well as the RAZR2. Panasonic and NEC pboth produced a whole raft of devices for NTT DoCoMo. See here for a list of available phones.


Symbian of course is coming from a differen
t mould: having been (co-)owned by Nokia for, like, ever, there are already over 200m devices running on its OS. After going open-source, they are working on consolidating the sister formats S60, UIQ and MOAP(S) now into one. Membership-wise, they're not doing badly either: they target to having more than 100 members by year-end. Membership with them is only $1,500 p.a. It remains to be seen to what extent they will extend their handset footprint beyond Nokia though. Little has been heard so far...


Both foundations felt compelled to state their cause, also in response to Eric Schmidt's continued mantra that 2009 will be very, very strong for Android. The Open Handset Alliance had gone off to a well-publicized start with the T-Mobile G1. They recently announced that it had sold 1m devices (regarding which some people pointed out that Apple shipped as many iPhones on the first weekend), and are now gearing up more devices for launch (Vodafone got its hands on the HTC Magic). Samsung, LG, HTC and Sony Ericsson have all announced Android devices this year, and the first Samsung (I7500) has just been officially confirmed.

Multiple Membership

Wait a minute? Samsung? Weren't they part of the LiMo foundation? Well, yes, and that is part of the problem: a lot of the big players have their fingers in all the pies (and why should they not?). This is favouring Apple since they are a single organization producing hardware and software. It could also be argued that it is favouring Android because Google throws so much marketing and PR behind it. However, maybe not. The big OEMs and the big carriers all work according to their own agenda. And this might very well be a very different one to Eric Schmidt's: to an OEM, production cost, stability and versatility without impacting standardization are key. To a carrier, a lot will (also) ride on the ability to customize the handset so as to give it a distinct branded feel. Less PR from someone like Google makes it easier to them to focus on their own brand.

So: rock-solid, clean code, transparent and clear SDKs, no hidden hooks will mean that a lot of the feature phones that create the vast majority of handset sales (even if sales of the "classic" J2ME ones had been declining in 2008 when compared to smartphones) will quite possibly see a larger and larger move towards the open platforms. It makes it cheaper to produce and, with Apple having given the world the app store idea, content should flow in sooner or later. They "only" need to keep the standards, well, standard!

The iPhone is of course looming large, and it is the one device that has shown the old school of the telco world how 21-st-century marketing can impact market perception and sales. They have also all realized that this might actually be a very good thing, hence the eager discussions many are purported to be having on getting their hands on the next generation. However, last time I looked, the streets were not full of Porsche Boxsters either. Quite a few Hyundais, Fiats, Peugeots, BMWs, Volvos, well, you get it...

Why an iPhone Deal with Verizon Wireless would be Cool

Today, interesting reports surfaced (or re-surfaced?) according to which Verizon Wireless and Apple are in discussions about bringing the iPhone to the former. However, because Verizon runs on a CDMA network and Apple has only ever supported GSM, commentators reckoned that this deal might be for Verizon's next-generation LTE network. And this is when one can start dreaming...

To recap: Verizon will be amongst the (if not The) first tier-1 network operators rolling out the next generation of wireless networks under the LTE standard (see here for more on this). Under LTE, unprecedented wireless bandwidth will be available, comparable (or exceeding) what households in Western and Far-Eastern countries have in their homes today. But then you would have it of course wherever you are (well, if the respective technology is installed).

Due to the immense speeds, a lot of people think that the first big change will be on the (computer) broadband side of things: no need for wireline access if the speeds are the same and you can actually wander around and through town and always be with your provider. Simplicity, ease of use, bliss of connected life.

When it comes to mobile handsets (previously known as phones), the iPhone is of course (and despite the heckling by its many critics) arguably the most successful multimedia device known to man (so far). To marry this with these speeds? Ah, what would await us (see here for earlier thoughts). The iPhone (if they can fix the battery life) would be perfectly suited to bring the new lush wireless life to the masses (albeit first to the more affluent ones): rich graphics, innovative inputs and the fairly unique form factor would show the opportunities off rather beautifully and could hence aid to avoid the post-3G hangover where people asked themselves why on earth they should get 3G phones: there was nothing much to do with them (other than being able to make "faster" phone calls...).

The most common uses would arguably be music and apps with the latter being even more successful than the former: it is estimated that iTunes took 6 years to record 6.8 bn downloads; the App Store did 1 bn in only 9 months (or 1.3bn p.a.), which would equal 7.8 bn in 6 years if no further growth would occur. Anyway, with 1.1 bn downloads p.a. not being too shabby either, let's take both, so what do we get?

On the music side, it would either mean quick and high-quality downloads or, more likely (?), streamed music. The same applies to the VOD and movie segments.

On the apps side, LTE would arguably push the envelope into two directions: (1) high-end, graphically rich games, and (2) ultra-connected social games that seamlessly bridge media platforms. Now: both types had their advent on the iPhone. Speak to any number of high-end games makers, and they will tell you that their life became much easier since the iPhone was there. Look at products like EA's Scrabble (with full Facebook integration), Playfish's games (coming from the other end, i.e. from Facebook to iPhone), etc and you have the foundations laid here, too. With LTE, all this becomes mass-marketable to a much higher extent. And this would be real fun!


Carnival of the Mobilists #171

I missed the last one due to travel and dodgy Internet connections whilst on the move, but this week's Carnival of the Mobilists is - as usual - unmissable and unmissed. It is being hosted by Abgail Adams on their Catalyst Code blog, and you will find it here. This week's edition boasts lessons for toddlers to be learned on the iPhone, social networking going mobile, and a - daring - outlook on the (economic and social) aspects blogs in the year 2025. And now head over for some inspiration!


Social Mobile Convergence in Gaming

At the European Mobile Media Conference earlier this week in Prague I gave this presentation on social mobile convergence in gaming, which I thought might contribute a little to de-mystifying this conundrum of buzzwords.

Have a look, tell me what you think...

Opinions on LTE

The Opinions in Mobile project asked this week about our thoughts on LTE. Having recently had the pleasure of speaking at Alcatel-Lucent's 4G Symposium at CTIA, being members at their ngConnect programme and with general curiosity (and excitement), this is something I find quite interesting. Head over to read what some of the industry leaders are saying It's here.

Image credit: http://www.watblog.com


Mobile Games on Twitter

Birds (sic!) do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it, and now even Oprah (have you been there before her? Check here)... so: what about mobile games companies tweeting? Now, there's many of them already out there (see list below) but how much sense does it make (that it makes sense for your business I demonstrated recently)?

Looking at a few of them, you'll find anything from very 20th-century in-your-face selling (probably not so efficient) to enlisting (or trying to) followers to help in everything from game design, logo colours to community components that should go into the next iteration of the website. And it is in the crowdsourcing where I see a bit of potential: most mobile games companies are fairly small, and money to spend on sophisticated research, focus groups and what not is scarce or AWOL. If one can draw on the opinions and insights of friendly followers to learn about their (the consumers') preferences, this is surely all good. Since Oprah is on there now, too, there is even a chance that your followers will not only be fellow industry professionals...

Although, even to the industry, Twitter is as powerful a tool to the mobile games people as to anything else (maybe with the exception of the global car-wash industry - everyone who's been to CTIA Wireless will understand the reference): it is a great channel to get the message out to people who matter to you (and who actually show that they care by following you), which puts trade marketing (even if not in the strict sense of the word) onto the list on why you should do it.

So here's a (surely incomplete - please excuse and feel free to add!) list of mobile games companies who tweet:

Gameloft: @gameloft
Connect 2 Media (yes, that's us): @connect2media
Oasys Mobile: @oasysmobile
Hands-On Mobile: @handsonmobile
Digital Chocolate: @dchocgames
I-Play: @iplaymobile
Tag Games: @taggames
Fishlabs: @fishlabs
Gamevil: @gamevil
Distinctive Developments: @distinctivegame
Lemonquest: @lemonquest

Oh, and I'm out there as @vhirsch...


123 Play at Metro

123 Metro could be the name of the latest Major League Soccer franchise but it signifies a neat deal that 123Play, a service that wraps mobile games with ads free to end users, has just struck with the newspaper mavericks from Metro (they're the guys with the free newspapers; see here for UK and here for the [seeming] inventors of the concept).

I like this deal a lot as it is so natural: Metro is a very successful advertising-driven medium and it ties in extremely well with 123Play's model. Seamless, simple, very neat: anecdotally, a lot of people play games on their mobile when they have time to kill. Likewise, a lot of people read Metro when they have time to kill, namely when they commute on public transport. One challenge will of course be that there is no mobile reception in the London tube (or most other undergrounds for that matter) but the overall concept should work.

Disclosure: my company works with 123play.com (although I don't think this post will bring me front-page coverage on Metro...).


22/23 April: European Media Conference, Prague

I have mentioned this earlier: Next week, I will be headed to beautiful Prague in order to attend and contribute to the European Mobile Media Conference. If you can, make sure to head over (there is even some last-minute discount).

I will be speaking about the phenomenon that is "social games" (are there really that many non-social games?) and I am fairly excited to be able to meet and learn from a couple of rather remarkable people that promise to bring fresh views to the mobile entertainment table. Speakers include carriers (Telefonica/O2, Vodafone, T-Mobile will all be there) and distributors (the CEO of Aspiro, Gunnar Selleg, will be amongst the speakers), OEM and technology platform providers (Nokia, Nokia-Siemens, Ericsson) but also - and maybe most remarkably - a few luminaries from the classic agency world, namely Mark C Linder (WPP) and Jonathan MacDonald (Ogilvy) whose views will surely be tested by the godfather of mobile advertising, Russell Buckley.

Have a look at the full programme and ping me if you are coming!


Top 10 Mobile Phones - March 2009

The monthly numbers on best-selling phones from our accessory-maker friends over at Krusell are out. In March, it looked like this:
1. (1) Samsung SGH-i900/i910 Omnia
2. (7) Nokia 3109
3. (3) Nokia 6300
4. (2) HTC Touch HD
5. (8) Nokia E71
6. (4) Nokia E51
7. (10) Nokia 3120
8. (8) Nokia 5800
9. (5) Blackberry Storm
10. (-) Samsung M8800
() = Last month’s position.
Not too many changes as compared to last month. The trend to higher-end phones is maintained (or is it that owners of shiny touch-screen phones tend to spend a little more on that stylish holster?).

Be it as it may be (and my earlier comments on the holster-phone correlation probably stand true to an extent), the numbers are roughly in line with the previously noted growth of the smartphone sector, which continues to outperform the rest of the handset market.

Photo credit: http://www.crunchgear.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/cellphone-holster01.jpg

Thumbplay raises more Cash

US D2C giants Thumbplay were called by one competitor the "kings of the web" (referring to their prowess to customer acquisition enlisting web-based search). And now - recession or not - their founder and CEO, industry pioneer Are Traasdahl and his team apparently raised another $6m in funding. Thumbplay's model seems to be slick enough (pay-per-click web search ads rather than fairly unpredictable TV spots) and they have a capable team in place.

If their business is as great as they wanted people to believe, they would not need this for operations, so is this money for acquisitions? And if so, where? Thumbplay so far stuck to the US market where they made some great moves (partnering with everyone from MSN through AOL to Comcast) but have been silent elsewhere. Some of their rivals did dare making the move to Europe (though not followed through with the noise perhaps to be expected), so will use the cash to take on the likes of Fox Mobile (f/k/a Jamba), Buongiorno, recently acquired Arvato Mobile (D2C brand: tj.net) and Zed over here? Ah, the excitement... ;-)


iPhone all-time top 20 apps, countdown to 1bn downloads

I've been raving about it many a time and I still won't stop but then: Apple does neither. When, waaaay back in January, I looked last, the App Store had raced through 500 million downloads and I calculated this to equate 4,000 per minute. Well, that's history: We're now through a 948 million total (count taken on 13 April, 11.23pm UK time from Apple's site [check the little clock]) and look at 6,000 downloads per minute (or 100 every second of every minute of every hour of every day!) or so some learned friends have summed it up to.

Apple also revealed a list of the top 20 all-time top downloads, both paid and free, which (courtesy of MoCoNews) is this:

So here's the good stuff for my gaming friends: 14 out of the top 20 paid apps are games! Yes, baby! 6 out of the top 20 free ones are, too. Way to go! I haven't looked at the pricing for the above paid apps but MoCoNews did: ¢99 is the prevailing price-point at the moment but $4.99 seems to be the price point of choice for "premium" games.

Carnival of the Mobilists #169

The latest Carnival of the Mobilists is on now at Chetan Sharma's Always On Real-Time Access blog. You can check it out here. Besides gratefully including my last post on 4G mobile gaming, he lined up some of the heavyweights and their contributions, including Tomi Ahonen on how to monetize mobile social networking (or not), Ajit Joakar on 4G and telcos, Russ Buckley's musings over 1984 and more.


4G, LTE & Games: Casual On Speed!

Next to app stores (or markets or marketplaces or app worlds or, well, Ovi), the dominating theme of CTIA Wireless was 4G/LTE. Now, as sexy and de jour as app stores might be, the latter has a hugely larger commercial impact (the Verizon Wireless contract for their LTE network will be a multi-billion deal alone!). But what is a network without applications?

So it was just as well that, one day before CTIA Wireless, I had the great pleasure of contributing to the "Connecting the Consumer" panel at Alcatel-Lucent's 4G Symposium (with Disney, Samsung, Buzznet and Atlantic Records all contributing, providing for the various facets of content [games, video/film, music, web]). The ground had been laid by the keynote of the formidable Mitch Singer, Sony Pictures CTO and a long-standing thought-leader in changing sectors (he's one of the people who brought the original Napster down and - in his own words - "look was the music industry has become"). Mitch had reminded us of "The Innovator's Dilemma" (Read it! It's worth it!), which deals with how businesses should tackle change...

And this brings me to the nucleus of this post, which is how the content industry will (should?) approach the next big thing that is LTE.

By way of background: LTE (Long-Term Evolution; don't ask why but this is apparently what it stands for) is largely seen as the successor to current third-generation (3G) networks (UMTS, WCDMA, HSDPA, HSUPA, CDMA2000, EVDO, call me if you want more acronyms...). LTE appears to have won the "fight" against Wi-Max (as some early commentators predicted) with carriers (Verizon Wireless, Vodafone and China Mobile amongst them) and vendors (Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, etc) strongly supporting it. The standard is capable of delivering speeds well in excess of 10MB/s over wireless networks. So, world, be prepared!

One of the obvious beneficiaries should be the games sector home of the tech-savvy early adopters: ultra-high broadband, super-speeds, fantastic opportunities. Or so they say...

The games market can probably - to this extent at least - be simplistically divided into a) hard-core and b) casual games. The former would comprise massively multi-player online games (MMO) as well as fast-paced, high-end racing and action games. The latter is, well, everything from Solitaire to Scrabble and Tetris. And, yes, the latter is the one genre played by far more people, including the online gaming industry's "golden customer", the proverbial 42-year-old housewife from Ohio (absolutely no offense meant, implied or indeed merited!). Whilst it is easy to see how a high-end action game would benefit from high bandwidth, the case may be slightly less obvious for the casual games space (on PCs alone, this is a $2.5bn+ market already today!).

Given the casual games' higher adoption across a much broader demographic, it is however conceivable that carriers (the ultimate gate keepers for mobile content at least in the world as we currently know it) would want to reach that broader demographic: higher spending power than geeky kids, faithful, not necessarily wanting to change things every 5 minutes, predictable spending habits - this is a much safer and more promising target demographic than my 13-year-old son who will happily switch allegiance to a provider the moment another one has something cooler, cheaper, slightly funkier, whatever, ... to offer.

So what can 4G do for the (mobile) casual games space? It brings, quite simply, wireless (or wire-free; remember that sweet tagline from Orange days long gone?) digital media to par with the wireline one (and will, in very large parts of the world, effectively be digital media (or do you think Brazil, China et al will dig up their vast countries to lay down copper or fibre cables to connect their non-urban consumers?).

So what, you say? Well, this allows consumers to actually play as they did before the arrival of the first crude iterations of the Internet, and that is socially: what was a game before computers and gaming consoles took over? An intrinsically social activity (cards, board games, petanque, golf, you name it). We have seen a huge uptake of social games on the Internet with tens of millions of consumers enjoying fairly simple games on Facebook and other platforms. And the next generation wireless will enable that again wherever you are (see here for a presentation I recently gave at Casual Connect in Hamburg on the topic).

So, high connectedness it is then! Games that will allow to interact with peers, friends, total strangers that happen to have the same passion for the same type of game around the world. Games become a social activity again. It is a less fancy, less futuristic vision than all-immersive high-end niche products such as World of Warcraft (which will also see its fair share of fame once the wireless networks can support it) but it is one that will finally make any wireless device as ubiquitous as many in the industrialized world (East or West) have learned wireline connected devices to be. And it actually takes some of the sting out of concerns that (digital) games will make video zombies out of our children.

This development (with LTE as the backbone) opens a market to be counted in billions rather than millions, and most of them will be wireless (the number of mobile phones outnumbers the number of Internet-connected PCs by a ratio of 2.5:1 already today!). And this is where the true market opportunity lies!

Carnival of the Mobilists #168

Due to the Nevada frenzy also known as CTIA Wireless there wasn't much from me last week but, thank goodness, there were others, and so I suggest to browse to this week's Carnival of the Mobilists, hosted this time by James Cooper on his mjelly mobile 2.0 blog over here. Lots to read there: why games are to blame for the iPhone's incapability to multi-task, what operators need to do to innovate (hint: listen to your customer...), mobile advertising, and, and, and... Go and enjoy!

And, yes, the image shows the reception area (!) of the Bellagio... Oh dear...


Conference: European Mobile Media

On 22/23 April, the glorious city of Prague will play host to the European Mobile Media conference. The event will cover the entire spread of the mobile media sector from content (games, music, TV) through to advertising and marketing with a focus on - what a surprise - monetization. There's a great line-up of speakers, including mobile advertising guru Russell Buckley from Admob, agency heavyweights Jonathan MacDonald (Ogilvy) and Mark C Linder (WPP) as well as one of the industry's brightest analysts, Peggy Anne Salz (mSearchGroove) and, last but not least, yours truly.

The spice will hopefully added by the combination of executives from the production, publishing and distribution side with their counterparts from network operators with a large number already confirmed to attend.

Come along! Prague in spring is wonderful on its own. And a good conference won't spoil it.

Off to Vegas: CTIA Wireless 2009

On Monday, I shall be boarding a plane to visit Las Vegas for the All-American wireless love fest that is CTIA Wireless.

I will have the great pleasure of discussing the next generation of mobile entertainment services under a 4G LTE environment with executives from Samsung, Walt Disney, Atlantic Records, Buzznet and others. Alcatel-Lucent, who recently won a tender providing the infrastructure to Verizon Wireless for roll-out in early 2010, are hosting the respective 4G Symposium.

And otherwise? These are exciting times across a wide range of industry segments: network infrastructure and ultra-high bandwidth, the coming of age of smartphones and their widespread take-up as well as the respective changes for the content industries which can now offer services people could only be dreaming of a few years ago. Stay tuned!

Get in touch if you want to meet up during the show. Best to drop me an e-mail at volker (dot) hirsch (at) gmail (dot) com.


Carnival of the Mobilists #166

This week's Carnival of the Mobilists is hosted by the formidable Caroline Lewko at WIP Jam. I am very happy to note that my latest post on Apple's growing relevance as a gaming platform is included in last week's line-up. For the remainder, there's stuff on LiMo (for some background on where they came from see here) and some very worthwhile piece on mobile marketing amongst much more. And now go to read it here!


Apple's Gaming Platform

I wrote about this topic a couple of times already (here and here) but here's an interesting update/summary. The gist of the argument remains, only the numbers got better: Microsoft's XBox has sold 29 million units, and that is fairly respectable (in particular when you consider that people regularly fork out $30 and more per game). Apple however (Mr Gates, I hate to say it) outsold its dear competitor by selling more than 30 million iPhones (and, well, iPod Touch).

The hardware install base is fairly similar then. There are two differentiators (besides the price point as per above and the fact that an XBox is not so portable nor meant to be): 1) Apple took a lot less time to get there, and 2) there are more than 25,000 applications for the iPhone, of which about 1/4 are games. That's a lot!

And with its fairly awe-inspiring iPhone 3.0 update (more here or watch the entire keynote), one can now also add in-game micro-payments to the mix, which enhances the flexibility of billing models beyond anything its console or handheld rivals have on offer. Add to this the points raised in my earlier posts and the neat additions to the new iPhone SDK (use music stored on the device in the game, in-game voice chat, push notification waking up an app, stereo Bluetooth, etc, etc) and we are hopefully to see yet another wave of innovative, intelligent implementations of this. It is pretty cool indeed!


Twitter Can Save Your Business or How Virgin Media uses Modern Customer Service Tools (off-topic)

This is not strictly within the realms of topics I normally cover in this blog but it certainly deserves wider notice.

We run a game development, publishing and distribution business and, just before Christmas, moved offices. Our ISP is Virgin Media, part of the Branson empire that bought erstwhile ISP NTL a while ago. Virgin was quite forthcoming to accommodate our move and were, I'd say, happy that we would stay with them. They needed - or so they said - 6 weeks to make the full switch but told us to accommodate us with a DSL line in the interim. Whilst this is stretching for the HQ of a digital company, it was only for a short time so, hey, roll with the punches...

Then we were told that all would actually take "a little" longer. A little became end of May 2009; this would have been nearly 6 months from our office move. Impossible! Software engineers, deployment teams, sales force, marketing, project management all over a DSL line? Our worst nightmare!

That Friday night, after I had heard this - fairly solemnly delivered - verdict of the Virgin customer service, I vented my frustration on Twitter, namely by addressing a tweet to Sir Richard Branson, entrepreneur extraordinaire, customer service evangelist and face of Virgin. Sir Richard was at the time, I believe, on an around-the-world trip with his various Virgin airlines...

Then the power of Twitter, ordinarily available only to the digital and real-life celebrities with North of 25,000 followers, also showed its might to me: inside 12 hours, I had direct messages via Twitter from the MD of Virgin Media and their Sales Director for the business division of which Manchester is part. By Sunday I had their mobile numbers and arranged for a call with the MD on Monday morning. By Tuesday, we had a tentative date (20 March), which was then bettered to 17 March. And as of 1pm of that day, our business was, well, back in business (the engineer delivering the router et al was actually a full half hour early). Within 15 minutes our IT manager, sys admin and my good self were peppered with careful inquiries from various sources within Virgin asking if all was in order. Wow!

Besides this being a nice war story, it does show what Twitter can be used for: Virgin Media will have identified a need to address the - anecdotally very poor - customer service levels of the NTL business they acquired. Now, one could of course (and rightfully) claim that I should not have needed to go to one of Britain's most successful entrepreneurs to get a response from somewhere in the bowels of this organization. On the other hand did they manage to demonstrate in exemplary fashion the passion and dedication they have: I mean, an MD of a large ISP twittering you on a weekend? Impressive.

Whilst this does not solve the root of any general customer service issues Virgin Media may (or may not) have, it does allow their management to manage change from the top, and it does - whilst not replicable (at least not through MD treatment) - allow them to accelerate sensitivity and awareness for such issues within the organization whilst displaying (and in a convincing fashion) their will to improve (and don't we all happily fall for a show of good will and effort!).

The only question that remains is whether Sir Richard has a Twitter Manager or if he actually forwarded my tweet to his lieutenants himself... I do thoroughly thank everyone involved there; a great example of how it can work, a great showcase on what Twitter can do to help your business, faith restored!