Top 10 Mobile Phones in January

Our beloved manufacturer of carrying cases for portable electronics, Krusell, enlightens us again with their top 10 list of best-selling phones for the month of January 2009 (or should that be best-selling phone holsters?). 

1. (1) Samsung SGH-i900/i910 Omnia
2. (-) HTC Touch HD
3. (9) Nokia E51
4. (-) Blackberry Storm
5. (2) Nokia 6300
6. (5) Nokia 3109
7. (7) Sony Ericsson X1 Experia
8. (8) Nokia E71
9. (-) Nokia 6220
10. (10) HTC Diamond

The number in brackets is the rank from the prior month.

Now, as compared to all of 2008, the iPhone went from #1 to nowhere. I explained this before: they track phone sales by the number of model-specific accessories sold, and I am still not sure if that makes any sense. I see this more in practical terms: the "suits" carrying around their business phones do not seem to have the fashion sense to realize that specific phone cases is nothing that one does (this is also popular with taxi drivers), and therefore it seems obvious that a lot of "business-type" phones are in the list (and none of the "classic" Blackberries because they have their uber-cool faux-leather holster in the box (and, yes, that's the piece I throw away first!). 

Let me know what you think!

Photo credit: http://blogfreespringfield.com/wp-content/uploads/image/holster.jpg


Next-Gen iPhone Will Wipe Out DS & PSP

Today, there was a piece analyzing recent reports whereby Apple was well on its way to wipe out DS and PSP from the handheld gaming sphere, and that it would therefore seek to address a number of weaknesses in its next iteration of the iPhone (and iPod Touch) that would add a few currently missing features that should bridge the - already slim - gap to the PSP.

You have of course read it here before but I would like to revisit this again. I had mentioned the huge advantage of having swift and global digital distribution, giving Apple and any developer pondering which platform to choose an easy solution. Accelerometer and multi-touch add new gameplay features. Plus the iPhone is lighter than its rivals (and of course does a number of other things pretty decently, too, namely playing music, making phone calls or surfing the web).

And then there are the numbers. It took Apple less than 3 months to boast 1.5x the number of games of DS and PSP combined (1,500). The digital distribution model keeps on impressing and shows that this is really what consumers want in terms of accessibility, purchase mechanism (download as opposed to physical cartridge) and - yes - perhaps also price (although there is rumour that Apple wants to introduce a premium segment).

So here is what Apple allegedly wants to change:
  • Enhanced graphics (to address its current lack of loading complex textures);
  • improved processing capabilities (through its own ARM chip, which is currently developing; this follows the acquisition of PA Semi last spring);
  • Better camera (minimum 3.5 mega-pixels) and video-recording.
Multi-tasking as demonstrated by the Palm Pre with its WebOS would be something I would like to see. 

No word if cut-and-paste will work as well, it seems... Oh well, I guess they need to leave something to complain about for the old-school geeks to who Apple still is the fruity devil... ;-)

Photo Credit: http://www.macblogz.com/Media/2008/6/iphone-flash-nand.jpg


Vodafone ponders and prepares to bulk up

Did you know about Vodafone's Flipfont app? No, I didn't think so; it seems to have gone more or less unnoticed. Well, it allows you to - listen to this - customise your phone frontpage. Woah! How cool is that? The downside? Well, you need to pay £1.99 for the pleasure, per screen! I don't think so... And, apparently, (now) so does Vodafone. Amidst the iPhone/AppStore rage and the "revelation" that UI might actually matter to people, they seem to have realized that changing a font will not necessarily change the uptake of consumption to new levels. And because they cannot have the iPhone (although it has the Blackberry Storm, which is performing much better than the initial damning reviews would have suggested), they will launch their very own app store, or so they said (if you read Dutch, that is; how nice that we have a Dutch blogger amongst us who translated it for us).

This is not the only bit of news though: Vodafone also wants to tighten relationships with two other players in the market, and these are none other than giants China Mobile and Verizon Wireless. Now if you thought that Vodafone was large, take this in: together, these 3 carriers combine 821 million (!) subscribers (Vodafone 280m, China Mobile 457m and Verizon Wireless 84m [although I believe that VF counts a number of VZW subscribers proportionate to its shareholding in]).

Here's what Vodafone's CEO Vittorio Colao told the FT:
“If you think of three players, China Mobile is very strong in China; it’s a big country. Vodafone is very strong in Europe, Africa, India. Verizon is very strong in the US.

“If these three companies could work more closely... in the management of customers, procurement and service creation, we could be unbeatable, quite frankly.”
And right he is...


Carnival of the Mobilists #158

This weeks Carnival of the Mobilists, the definitive guide to the must-read blogs on everything mobile is hosted over at Tsahi Levent-Levi's VoIP Survivor blog. Check it out here.

Twitter on the Money Trail again...

Twitter is this phenomenon of which some people say it is the business that never was. Not that Twitter never was but that it never was a business... which is why they apparently need fresh money, or more specifically $20m, or so it is said (see also here) The valuation? A cool $250m. A lot, you say? Well, they allegedly recently turned down a $500m acquisition offer from Facebook, so it's a bargain!

Now, one of the issues they are facing is (never mind the unresolved business model) that a) they need to bulk up on infrastructure to cater for the 750%+ growth in 2008 and b) (OK, there are probably more reasons) they are trying to bring back SMS notifications to the UK (which it stopped last summer claiming it cost them up to $1,000 per user p.a.). And on the latter I wonder why: does anyone still uses this? I am using Twitterberry, cooler users use any one of a plethora of iPhone clients, and there are enough clients for "other" phones out there, too. It is more convenient, more powerful, a better interface and - for Twitter - much, much cheaper. If they are not satisfied with it, shouldn't they perhaps invest some $100k to build a Twitter client for all phones? I mean, it's not THAT complex...

As to business model, I am fairly confident that they will be able to translate this staggering amount of traffic into $$$. Their recent acquisition of Summize, which provides a newly introduced search option for Twitter, is one step. My hunch would be that they will utilize some of the momentum their growth afforded them will allow them to acquire some of the value-adding services (GigaOM names Twitpic and Stockwits) as well as ad-funded clients (e.g. Twitterific serves you - on the free version - an ad per hour of use).

Oh, and yes, I am a fan and Twitterer. Follow me here (vhirsch). And, no, if you're an investor, Stephen Fry's account on why this is so great will not necessarily convince you it makes sense (although he is VERY enthusiastic about it) ;-)


Mobile Social Gaming?!

I'll be giving a presentation at Casual Connect Europe in a few weeks and have hence been looking a little at the concept of social gaming. In particular with the iPhone success story, this concept has received its fare share of the limelight recently - and rightly so: the unique distinguishing factor of a mobile phone is that it is always with its owner and that it's always on, making it the perfect tool for connecting with people (well, this is what they were invented for in the first place), and the iPhone does that well not only with voice or SMS...

The "social" aspect of mobile gaming has mostly focussed on this connectivity and this is also what has been haunting it, at least in most parts of the world because of the horrendous fragmentation on the carrier and handset side. To make a fully integrated connected mobile game, one needs to integrate with a vast number of carriers (in the US, the situation is a little different - integration in only the 3 or 4 biggest carriers - Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint/Nextel and maybe T-Mobile, and you're in business big time; there is e.g. WPT Texas Hold'Em that scored tremendous commercial success, including full web-to-mobile-to-web play), and they cannot seem to resolve on a common standard; nearly every carrier runs its own little system...

However, do games really have to be fully connected multi-player with in-game chat, buddy lists, alerts, etc, etc, in order to be "social" games? I do not think so. They "merely" have to become a social object, and set in an environment to leverage the social aspect of this (there's more from Jyri Engestrom on object-centered sociality). This does not work for every game in every case but there are plenty of examples out there both in mobile and online: Playfish (founded by mobile games veteran Kristian Segerstrale) runs a number of games on Facebook that are stand-alone single-player games but integrated into Facebook in a way that pushed them all the way up the rankings. Digital Chocolate runs a very successful franchise with TowerBloxx on mobile and online - again a single-player game with hooks into existing social networks (the latter providing the environment that facilitates them becoming a social object). Orange Israel recently created a raft of online destinations around Totomi: a micro-site, a Facebook Group is all you need to create a community around a game.

So whilst I am and will remain a big fan of connected games (phones are to connect with people!), some simple data streams out (high-scores, etc) AND links into existing social networks are actually likely to activate a lot of the potential in there. 

I will be continuing to ponder this, and I would be most grateful for any input!


Carnival of the Mobilists #157

Another week, another carnival. #157 is hosted over at mjelly this week. Check it out here! Lots of goodies in there, including the Nokia biography by Tomi Ahonen, well something like that at least ;-)


Windows Mobile: we didn't mean it like that...

So following the conflicting news about what the strategy for Windows Mobile would be, some learned folks followed up and quizzed Microsoft. So here's what they said:

Microsoft will be focusing on building out the quality of the Windows Mobile experience, investing more in working with its partners to ensure the best hardware-software integration. While this may result in fewer phone models, Microsoft will continue working with our partners to innovate on the Windows Mobile platform.

Microsoft is committed to continued innovation of the Windows Mobile platform. Our goal continues to be working together with you to deliver exciting experiences to end users. The implication in The New York Times that Microsoft will limit the number of Windows Mobile devices is not accurate. In an interview with the paper, Todd Peters stated that Microsoft would be focusing on building out the quality of the Windows Mobile experience, investing more in working with its partners to ensure the best hardware-software integration.

So, there you have it. Despite it still being awkward that Todd Peters and Steve Ballmer would make such contradicting on the same day, the above would suggest that Microsoft has a couple of iPhone test devices running and now tries to catch up with the smooth overall end-to-end user experience (see also here) (or how would you read the first paragraph of the above?). With Windows 7 supposedly pushing into a tighter/more intuitive desktop-web integration, this would appear to being in line with an overall push to improve performance on this end.


Apple AppStore Rises and Rises: Now Past 500 Million Downloads!

It is quite breathtaking: it took them 3 months to hit 100m. Then, only 5 weeks after they announced that they went past 300 million downloads, Apple announced that they just raced past 500 million. This means 200 million downloads in 5 weeks, 40 million per week, 5.7 million per day or 4,000 per minute! Get that! Whilst numbers don't equate to happiness, I sincerely hope that Steve Jobs will be taking some comfort from this and recover well.

I will not tire of harping about the (nigh) flawless end-to-end experience that enables that: a gaming experience that challenges "traditional" handheld gaming devices like Nintendo DS and Sony PSP, an interface that promotes games beyond the hardcore crowd, connectivity that allows "social gaming" to evolve (see also here), and a purchase experience that does not force a user through onerous double-digit-click orgies and various ominous warnings.

So despite the fact that we still do not have clearer numbers illuminating the underlying commercials of the average application and game on their, I tip my hat, I take a bow, I applaud...


Mobile Music on the Rise: 40-45% of Digital Revenue for UMG

January is MIDEM time (even though, sadly, I cannot go this year), which means that music dominates the news. In an interview, the EVP of Universal's eLabs, Rio Caraeff on the revenues of Universal Music Group that:

"about 40 to 45% of our overall digital business is coming from mobile channels like Verizon and AT&T. [...] On much of our frontline pop or R&B or urban releases [...] we're seeing mobile comprising 20-45% of the [overall] revenue for those artists."
Wow! Universal's digital sales have been growing by 33% during the first 3 quarters of 2008, and they seem determined to fully converge "online", "mobile", etc into one:
"The consumer doesn't want a mobile-only experience - they want an all-digital multi-platform experience. They want to consume their music on their mobile handset [and] on PC and other online platforms. Partners like Verizon and AT&T wanted to have multi-platform online experiences as well. [...] Now at Universal, we don't have a mobile business. We don't have an online business. We just have one multi-platform digital business."
Amen to that! And how right he is. Universal also adapted pricing, so that a song costs the same no matter on which digital platform you buy it. And, apparently, mobile storefronts play a role, specifically Amazon's MP3 storefront, which is pre-loaded on the G1, the first Android phone. So it's app stores (or markets) all over this year, huh?

This shows that the majors learned from the pain of recent years and now get a grasp on the digital world. Good stuff that!

Best-selling Mobile Phones 2008

There is this Swedish maker of phone pouches and accessories, Krusell, and they deduce from the number of model-specific pouches (or cases) ordered from them the top-selling handsets each year. And the winner is the iPhone. Or is it only that iPhone users buy more pouches than others in order to protect their shiny toy? We don't know. 

Anyway, here's the list (via Cellular News):

1.       (-) Apple iPhone

2.       (-) Nokia 3109

3.       (2) Nokia 6300

4.       (-) Nokia E51

5.       (-) HTC Diamond

6.       (-) Nokia N95 8GB

7.       (-) Sony Ericsson K800i

8.       (-) Sony Ericsson C702

9.       (-) Sony Ericsson K850i

10.    (-) Sony Ericsson K530i 

() = last year’s position.


Win ME: Bigger, Better, Stronger, Less?

Last week during the frenzy that was CES, Microsoft put out two statements that I find slightly confusing. Statement no. 1 was the announcement from Steve Ballmer that more than 20 million Windows Mobile devices had been shipped in 2008. He went on to marvel 

"about the momentum we have…We have delivered 11 different mobile phones that have each sold a million units each, and in the past year, we’ve brought to market over 30 new Windows Mobile phones, or more than any other mobile platform in the market”
Statement no. 2 was made by Todd Peters (the VP Marketing for Windows Mobile) who said that we s
hould expect fewer devices with Windows Mobile on them. In his words: 
"I'd rather have fewer devices and be more focused [as] we get better integration [between phone and operating system]."
Microsoft apparently fears they would be diluting their efforts when they would support the 140 or so WinME devices that are out there today. Hmmm.

Both gentlemen obviously glanced at Apple and the iPhone (can you imagine the sting this must have given Mr Ballmer?). There, hardware and software come out of one hand and there is one device only. The result: great UI, happy users, more use of content, data, etc than ever before. Apple is famously paranoid about controlling all bits of the user experience, and they are masters of it. However, when there is success in the mobile handset space, there is also e.g. Nokia: many, many handset models, now all running Symbian (i.e. another smartphone OS), selling lots and lots of devices all over the world (OK, outside the US). Nokia has fallen behind on the ease of use that used to be a pillar of their rise to fame (and riches) but they serve the lower-end emerging markets as well as the top end of it (something like the N96 etc boast features like few others). 

So is the "1 OEM, 1 handset model" philosophy the only winning one? I doubt. Is MSFT maybe mistaken in believing that fewer handsets will mean better overall user experience? I for one do think so. Apple's success came through a winning formula that combines GUI design, user experience and superb marketing for an overall sexy product. Microsoft has always been lacking Apple's flair as well as the genial simplicity with which Apple manages to provide solutions that are often a lot less elegant and more complicated than Microsoft's. But, guys, you don't solve this by getting your OS out less. You have got to put some work into the OS and its APIs, and - as some commentators to Mr Peters' comment that they would "extract more from this license" noted - it helps to look at a product from a consumer perspective rather than from the corporate boardroom's product P&L, at least when you speak in public!

Update: There has been a bit of a media tussle over this. I posted an update over here.

Carnival of the Mobilists #156

This week's Carnival of the Mobilists is hosted over at Dennis Bournique's WAP Review. Read it here to get an inspired overview of last week's posts on all things mobile!

Comes with Music Comes to Mama

Nokia's "Comes With Music" service (unlimited downloads of 4m+ music tracks), which you get when you buy a phone, had been announced with much fanfare but it went a bit quiet after that. Now "early results" from the service show that it is mothers appear to be amongst the leading adopters, according to a Nokia executive. Unfortunately, that seems to be amongst the few bits of information they would let out into the public, the only other one being fairly obvious: recommendation is a driver (did they consult Amazon?) and chart coverage matters (Popularity matters? What?).

It would be wonderful would Nokia actually release a showcase of what it achieved with the service. I appreciate that they will want to wait since the service has gone live in the UK first and that only recently but I do hope that they will enlighten us... 


iPod Touch mounts Handheld Gaming Challenge

A recent article discussed the rise and rise of the iPod Touch (that's the iPhone without the phone). It apparently surged to the top of Amazon's sales charts, and mobile ad firm AdMob reports that ads served to the device more than tripled between November and December to 292m. This growth is said to even shadow growth of iPhone ads served and is being called, well, unprecedented. People are said to shun the forced marriage with AT&T's long-term phone plan that come with the iPhone. Makes you think (if you're an operator).

That's all fine and dandy but I thought this was probably a good time to look at the iPod's role as a handheld gaming device again. This was sparked by a remark from one of the Kleiner Perkins' chiefs (they're the ones who set up the iFund, which invests exclusively into companies active in the iPhone/iPod Touch ecosphere) noting that the iPod Touch was now asserting itself as a more versatile alternative to the Nintendo DS or Sony's PSP. This has of course been discussed for a while. The sales figures of the iPod Touch now seem to back these early (and initially largely theoretical) thoughts. 

Nintendo has been keenly aware of this even before the recently published app download numbers were out. In the words of the CEO of Nintendo US (from the above WSJ article):
"Whether you chose to play on your DS or listen to music on your iPod, we're already in the same competitive space for time."
And whilst one could argue about the pound-for-pound comparison of pure touchscreen vs devices with gamepads for certain types of games, the huge upside Apple has created is the hassle-free and easy distribution model for games: a DS developer needs to buy the cartridges (and pay for them up-front), find retailers, and then sell. This means huge cash outlay and very significant commercial risk over and above the development cost, making for a much less risky business model. And as to the input: some of the accelerometer-powered racing games are significantly better to control than with any game pad.

The DS is and arguably will be for a while a formidable gaming platform (as the father of a 10-year-old girl I can certainly vouch for that) but the sheer number of games available on the AppStore is likely to create a space longer term that may well tilt the balance in favour of the latter: you've got a) the arguably best music player in the market, b) higher WiFi usability (the DS doesn't really allow you to surf the web), c) e-mail, maps, and all those nice little (and often useless) apps, d) much, much more choice of games at lower cost (anywhere from $0.99 to $9.99 as opposed to $30 for, say, Cooking Mama 2) and - to top it all of - e) the coolness factor of the sleek Apple form factor. Tough competitor, that.

For mobile games developers and new iPhone game entrants this constitutes and exciting development as it opens the revenue potential further up, and all that at a comparatively efficient and high-margin market place.

Finally: a new Palm

After bloody ages (and 425m Elevation dollars later) Palm came out with a bang yesterday at CES by unveiling the Pre and its new WebOS. Palm's shareholders will be chuffed as the stock surged in the hours afterwards. Now, what is it? And does it have legs? One of the first reports (even containing a minute-by-minute live-blog of the presentation) notes that

'its form factor is a blend of the HTC Touch and the iPhone. The software looks an awful, awful lot like that of the iPhone — multitouch, gestures and so on. Many of the apps also have a very strong likeness to the iPhone [...]."
That in itself is of course not a bad thing. And other reports confirm high hardware quality and nice UI. However... Aren't they a bit late? And where will the content come from? Palm used to have a faithful following on his Tungsten and Treo product lines but this is a while ago now and there have been some awesome devices in the interim, some of which - most notably the iPhone and the G1 as well as RIM's Blackberries and the higher-end Nokia devices - have amalgamated a great device with a great UI and commercial environment into a huge following. Apple AppStore, Android Market, N-Gage and Ovi, Blackberry Application Center, etc, are all there or there about. And Palm will be up against that. The fact that it has - at least initially - tied itself to Sprint only will not be much help there.

WebOS is said to be easy to develop for. Allegedly HTML, CSS and some other stuff known from the web would be enough to develop for it. But will anyone do it unless there is a device base large enough to make it a compelling commercial case (which even seems to hit platforms like Nokia's N-Gage; THQ has just apparently dropped its "Worms World Party" development for this).

It's nice to see they're back but I think that the jury is still out on the success of this.

Top US Handsets in Q3/2008

And it still goes on, it seems: Nielsen published its (digital) media top 10 lists for Q3/2008, and the once cool Motorola V3 still rules the United States - and by a HUGE margin. A whopping 9.3% of all phones in use are RAZR's, more than 7 points ahead of its sibling, the KRZR. Apple's iPhone follows on #4 with 1.5% share. And Nokia's call to arms with a view to the US market has as yet to materialize: its best handset is the 6101 series with a meagre 1.1% (compared to a reported global market share of the Finnish giants of close to 40%). Sony Ericsson and Samsung are both notably absent from the list.

Here's the top 10 table then:

1 Motorola RAZR V3 series (V3, V3c, V3m, V3i, V3i DG, V3) 9.3% 

2 Motorola MotoKRZR series (K1m, K1) 2.0% 

3 LG VX8300 series 1.6% 

4 Apple iPhone 1.5% 

5 LG VX8500 series (Chocolate, VX8500, VX8550) 1.2% 

5 RIM BlackBerry 8100 series (Pearl,8110, 8120, 8129) 1.2% 

7 Nokia 6101 series (6101, 6102, 6102i) 1.1% 

8 LG VX8350 1.0% 

9 Motorola V325 series (V325, V323, V325i, V323i) 0.9% 

9 Nokia 6010 series 0.9% 

Source: The Nielsen Company, Q3 2008 

Time for a lot of people to shake things up!


Silver Lining for Games...

... And a full-blown sunblast on Christmas Day, or so it would appear as per the latest PR from Try-and-Buy solution provider M-Biz Global. According to them, 2008 was a good year for mobile games (though I am not sure if the likes of MoConDi, Vivendi Mobile Games, Telcogames, Mighty Troglodytes, etc would agree). M-Biz's numbers would rather suggest that the market may be shifting a little (or is re-focussing the better word?) towards pre-loaded trial versions of games. It is this segment that M-Biz is addressing, and it is therefore unsurprising that they saw downloads on Christmas Day soar to 6x (!) the average daily sales in the UK: a lot of people get new phones for Christmas and if something is on the handset already (a trial version), one is much more easily enticed into actually clicking that link.

All in all, M-Biz reports a 62% increase in revenue year-on-year, and a 21.29% and 50% increase in EMEA and the UK respectively in December 2008 compared to the average of the previous 11 months. All good! 

It tellies well with the findings open to see for everyone when looking at Apple's AppStore: make the purchase process easy, make things transparent, and people will buy. The difference to both the AppStore and a pre-installed trial game is that it does not take the user 8+ clicks, a download, various cryptic messages (of the "this application is unsafe. Do you really want to install? Really, really, really?" ilk) to get gratification. I have mentioned on the Opinions on Mobile blog that I would expect this to be an area of focus for this year, and the numbers quoted by M-Biz would appear to being ample support of this.


Light-Green Moto

Motorola has recently been struggling a little to get the Koolaid out; it wasn't often the pinnacle of cool recently. However, today they unveiled a new phone, the "W233 Renew" (catchy name, huh?), and that phone is made of recycled plastic bottles. Now people might jump to the fineprint to see what the percentage of re-used components is, etc but, hey, let's just acknowledge that the concept is pretty cool, don't you think? 

However, from their press release, there are little bits that do annoy me a little. They say that:
"When designing the packaging, Motorola was able to reduce its size by 22 percent and the box and all of the materials inside are printed on 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper."
Now, why on earth can't you do this with all your phones? It surely is not that big a thing, is it? And that would give Moto also a big 2l PET bottle of KoolAid: imagine the headline telling everyone that Motorola embarked on a company-wide strategy to go green. Woah!  


Hungry for Opinions?

Happy new year, everyone! And to get you a good and informed start into 2009, here's a pointer to a nice new service from Hungry Mobile, a blog run by Jan Rezab: he asked a few of us to contribute short assessments to a question he will ask once a week. Contributors include content industry executives, publishers, mobile marketing gurus, bloggers and mobile evangelists, and this should allow for a quick take from an inside circle of multipliers (as I think you call them/us) on various bits and pieces of our industry. I am chuffed to be asked to take part but I am also horrified that he allows us a full 400 characters per answer (not words, characters!).

Well done, Jan, and the rest of you, check it out here