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!


Carnival of the Mobilists #165

The latest Carnival of the Mobilists (No. 165 already) is out and dancing over at VisionMobile. My post on Microsoft's app store initiative and why (or why not) it might succeed is included, too. It is not the only interesting post though, including one claiming the app store will fail! So have a look and check it out here!


Games Pulsating Through One Platform?

Here's one that nearly slipped through the (well, at least my) net: according to a recent press release, the Eclipse Foundation is set to unveil a unified development platform. It is said that some major players, including Nokia, RIM, Sony Ericsson, IBM and Motorola have joined this initiative already though Android and - predictably - Microsoft and Apple are notable in their absence.

The concept is oh so simple: a developer goes to the site, downloads the platform and is ready to rumble. The platform (called Pulsar) would pull together vendor-specific SDKs and off you go. It is clearly geared to tackle the fragmentation of the many, many handsets to be addressed when publishing to "mainstream" mobile phones.

At present, it's an initiative (as there have been so many) and the presence of industry heavyweights does not always guarantee their success. I am (cynicism coming with age...) cautious over black box approaches (remember Tira Wireless?). I would love to see this succeed but let's see what it comes to...

Image credit: digitalvish.com

Microsoft App Store Better than Apple!?

Microsoft has a central market place for Windows Mobile applications in the making. It is the latest (and maybe the last) of the big smartphone platform makers to come forth with such a model. And - with a probably already somewhat reflexive jab to its Cupertino nemesis (yes, Mr Gates' children are not allowed iPods), it vowed to be more open to outside software developers.

Apple is indeed not known for the most proactive approach to external partners but it does have a bit of a name for being a "good company". Microsoft on the other hand is, rightly or wrongly, not really known for this. It would be a nice move. Other than that - also somewhat familiar - Microsoft's store is said to be closely following Apple's lead, even the revenue share (70% to developers) is apparently the same. The only difference would then be the openness. This is presumably being highlighted following a couple of incidents where developers complained that Apple had not accepted their applications without giving them a good reason. If Microsoft were to make this bit better, it would constitute a significant improvement as it would save developers from spending money on application development only to see them canned.

The rationale for Microsoft's move is utterly simple: a) there are more Windows Mobile apps out than iPhone ones (20,000 they say). It is just a wee bit more difficult to find them, b) everyone else (RIM, Nokia, Android, hell, even Palm) does it, and c) Apple is insanely successful with it.

The big question that remains is if the integration of the store will be as seamless as Apple's. The key differentiator is that Apple has managed (which no other OEM has so far) to impose a strictly regulated environment from end to end: its program has an easy entry (a few paragraphs with a click-through agreement), a fairly well-controlled development environment and a unified output (the store), which is the same anywhere in the world. Even the biggest OEMs have struggled to impose anything even resembling this kind of control. Windows Mobile runs on a number of the tier-2 players (HTC) that have done the opposite to Apple: HTC willingly gives away its branding in favour of a carrier brand and is content to provide the hardware. Since it can be expected that at least the larger carriers will be keen to run app stores of their own, Microsoft will struggle more than Apple (which was a highly anticipated new market entrant with a tremendous brand message) to assert this type of dominance over carrier specs. The recent rumours of lower Windows Mobile output won't necessarily help either.

I would welcome a success from Microsoft; let Apple not grow overly content...

Smartphone Market Shares & Growth

World market leader Nokia had a bruising 2008, at least in the smartphone field. According to a study, the Finns' market share in this segment dropped by 10% to a - well - still fairly respectable 40.8% in Q4/2008 (as compared to 50.9% a for the quarter in the previous year). Painful!

The big winners were RIM (growth of 84.9% year-on-year), Apple (111.6%) and Samsung (138%) although the latter grew from a fairly low share (1.8%). HTC was up 20% but its carrier-branded handsets (T-Mobile G1, etc) were not listed under its own tab but under "others", so there might actually have been more (probable when considering that the company's profits rose sharply in Q4/2008 on G1 sales).

Apple, interestingly, is said to have suffered a fall of sales during Q4/2008 with growth in that quarter driven by the Blackberry Storm, T-Mobile G1 and strong Samsung sales. On the OS side, Windows Mobile made headway, mainly via the successful HTC Touch line and the Samsung Omnia.

Overall smartphone sales in Q4/2008 were 38m and 140m for the whole year. This seems to tie in roughly with the numbers I discussed earlier this month.

The changes are of interest to the content industry, too. Smartphones make for a disproportionate amount of content consumption, and smartphones also lead the way for the new app stores that are breaking through everywhere after Apple showed its competitors just how much consumers are craving content. RIM is out of the blocks, as is Android. Nokia announced its Ovi Store and runs similar programmes with N-Gage, NCD and Comes with Music already and Windows Mobile has just announced the shop it will launch itself. Remains to be seen where Palm will go with its Pre and WebOS: it only had 0.9% of the market (some faithful Treo users!) and hence lots of catching up to do. And what about the newly coined JavaFX?

Here are the charts (courtesy of Gartner via Cellular News) for 1) Q4 2008 by vendor, 2) all of 2008 by vendor, 3) Q4/2008: by operating system and 4) all of 2008 by OS:

Worldwide: Smartphone Sales to End Users by Vendor

(Thousands of Units)

Company4Q08 SalesMarket Share4Q08 (%)4Q07 SalesMarket Share4Q07 (%)4Q07-4Q08 Growth (%)

Worldwide: Smartphone Sales to End Users by Vendor, 2008

Company2008 SalesMarket Share 20082007 SalesMarket Share 2007Growth

Worldwide: Smartphone Sales to End Users by Operating System, 4Q08

Company4Q08 SalesMarket Share 4Q08 4Q07 SalesMarket Share 4Q07Growth
Windows Mobile4,713.912.4%4,374.411.9%7.8%
Mac OS X4,079.410.7%1,928.35.2%111.6%
Palm OS326.50.9%449.11.2%-27.3%
Other OSs436.91.1%411.31.1%6.2%

Note: The "Other OSs" category includes sales of Sharp Sidekick devices based on the Danger platform.

Worldwide: Smartphone Sales to End Users by Operating System, 2008

Company2008 SalesMarket Share 20082007 SalesMarket Share 2007Growth
Windows Mobile16,498.111.8%14,698.012.0%12.2%
Mac OS X11,417.58.2%3,302.62.7%245.7%
Palm OS2,507.21.8%1,762.71.4%42.2%
Other OSs1,519.71.1%1,344.01.1%13.1%

Note: The "Other OSs" category includes sales of Sharp Sidekick devices based on the Danger platform.


Carnival of the Mobilists #164

Another week, another Carnival of the Mobilists. This week's edition is being hosted by Mark van't Hooft at Ubiquitous Thoughts and brings you all the goodies from the mobile world in the past week (including my post on the recession-bucking smartphone sales). So go over there and get wiser...


Social Networking World Forum

Everyone who is in London next week Monday and Tuesday should be checking in for the Social Networking World Forum and the Mobile Social Networking Forum, which are held concurrently at Olympia in London. Everyone from MySpace, Bebo, Sulake/Habbo Hotel via LinkedIn and Yahoo! all the way to Coca Cola, MTV and British Airways will be there, so should be interesting!

See you there? Ping me... Twitter me... Whatever works.


Top 10 Mobile Phones in February 2009

Here's the list of the 10 best-selling phones (judged by accessory sales) as compiled by Krusell, our Swedish holster-maker friends. I will not comment further on the sense or nonsense of this information but reference what I said previously about it.

So without any further ado, here's the list (in brackets the ranking from the previous month):

1. (1) Samsung SGH-i900/i910 Omnia
2. (2) HTC Touch HD
3. (5) Nokia 6300
4. (3) Nokia E51
5. (4) Blackberry Storm
6. (8) Nokia E71
7. (6) Nokia 3109
8. (-) Nokia 5800
9. (7) Sony Ericsson X1 Xperia
10. (-) Nokia 3120

The most noteworthy new entry is the Nokia 5800 (XpressMusic), and the holster-maker's CEO reckons it would shake up the top 3 next month. After Nokia's most recent US launch disaster (see even more poignantly here) for the device, this will sadly but almost certainly not be driven by US sales though...

And as for the remainder: I remain skeptical about the measure (holsters). Other surveys (based on sales, like Sound-Scan used to do for CDs) show VERY different results.

Blackberry App World Gets a Pal

Blackberry Maker RIM launched a holding site ahead of the launch of its Blackberry App World (the equivalent to Apple's AppStore), and it had a little surprise in hand: billing appears to be handled via PayPal (the fine print does not need translation: "to be able to purchase applications from BlackBerry App World, a PayPal Account is required").

This is two things: a) a massive win for PayPal and b) and nice move from Blackberry because PayPal is one of the simpler mechanisms, which will feel, like, so totally easy to many users (everyone who has tried to download applications and pay via credit card on their Blackberry will know how onerous it is/was).

I am thrilled to see this coming on. Apple has had 9 months free reign, and it's about time that its competitors step up and bring commercial stores out. Blackberry will be fantastically suited as - due to e-mail having been its central USP - its users traditionally are on data plans anyway, and will therefore be less reluctant to dig in properly.

MEF's Crystal Ball

Industry body MEF had put out its top 10 predictions for the year a few weeks ago (inexplicably missed by me; well it was somewhere around Mobile World Congress, so probably at least excusable), which they gathered from their members and deep discussions around this. They believe that 2009 - recession and all - will be the year in which mobile entertainment (if you count everything in, apparently a $25bn industry) will start to deliver returns.

So now, without any further ado, here are the predictions:
  • The ‘iPhone effect' -Mobile applications have emerged as a new content category and the mobile internet will finally come of age
  • Greater value and transparency for consumers will help sustain demand in 2009
  • Some delay in the proliferation of mobile advertising
  • Telcos begin to acts as enablers for the Entertainment industry with services such as billing, authentication and zero tariff data
  • The emerging dominance of services that operate at a multi-platform level
  • The rise of ring back tones
  • Social networking becomes an important driver of mobile entertainment consumption
  • 2009 will be the year that mobile video really takes off
  • Emerging economies will become an increasingly important driver for mobile entertainment worldwide
  • A proliferation of touch screen devices drives discoverability and content usage
Now, now. I am glad to see that a lot of this ties in with "what I have been saying all along"... ;-) But let's have a closer look at a few of the points:

The iPhone effect. Yes, I have elaborated on this plenty a time, so I will only refer to previous posts, for instance here, here and here.

"Some" delays in mobile advertising. Also: dealt with on numerous occasions, and a while ago, too (see here and here)...

And now for a whole bunch of stuff that can, I believe, be grouped, namely greater (perceived?) value to consumers and carriers moving into smart-pipe models. The jury is still out on this, isn't it? Although it has to be said that there seems to be a learning curve indeed. But is this from new-found wisdom or because of the fruity pain from the guys in Cupertino?

Another group: multi-platform services and social networking. I would class the latter as the shining beacon of the former: social networks do one thing. They connect the dots, they are the switchboards of the digital life. And since users per se do not really care on which screen this happens, a lot of them have seen significant value contributions from mobile (e.g. MySpace sees incredible growth rates).

So there you have it...


SendMe Raises Cash on Premium SMS Services

US Premium SMS service specialists SendMe Mobile raised another $12m (bringing the total to $35m) in order to fund their further expansion into the - what they call nascent - Premium SMS space. New boys Triangle Peak Ventures joined return investors True Ventures, Amicus Capital, Spark Capital and Grand Banks Ventures for the round (note to self: VCs need to get more creative in finding names for their firms). SendMe wants to use the cash for 3 purposes, namely a) working capital, b) acquisitions and c) "unforeseen challenges" of the economy. Unforeseen, huh?

Be it as it may be but there are a couple of points remarkable on this (though not that remarkable if you know Russ Klein, their CEO, who is a really bright cookie!):
  • Premium SMS is considered nascent in the US (when it really is a fairly old hat in old Europe). Is simplicity saving the day? Should European firms maybe looking to repositioning this beautifully simple monetization tool rather than turning to more complex matters such as micro-billing, etc?
  • Raising that amount of money in this day and age is respectable in itself. It does keep you wondering though where they are running with their cap table: on $35m total, their valuation must be somewhere in the region of $50-100m. That is big considering that the likes of Glu trade at 0.2x revenues or so.
  • The aforementioned report mentions that reverse auctions ("SoLo") had a "break-out year" for SendMe in 2008. This would arguably fly even higher in a full-blown recession ("darling, I just got ourselves an iPod for $1.34"), so might well have been the angle that made for convincing forecasts.
Big shout to Russ & team: you guys rock!


iPhone Dominates the Mobile Web (as yet)

The iPhone has a meagre 1.2% share of the overall phone market. However, it has true worker bees as users. No, honestly, these guys are sooo much busier than everybody else: they produce a whopping 2/3 of the world's mobile web traffic, or so says a report. Yes, that's right. Number 2? Shared between open-source-newbie Symbian and - remarkably - Android with 6.15% each, which is, erm, less than 10% of what the iPhone accounts for (and in spite there being a gazillion more Symbian-powered phones out there than iPhones). Next one in the queue then is Blackberry with 2.24%.

Interestingly, the researchers find that the runners-up are quickly gaining market share, which begs the question (again) if the iPhone was only a big marketing coup: did people only need the Jobs magic in order to be shown what they could actually do with their phones (and, yes, did operators need Mr Jobs vision to realize that fair use might exceed, like, 137 kb per month)?

The answer? No! 4,000 downloads per minute are more than a marketing fluke! That web traffic is not a mirage! What the iPhone did do is trigger a stampede towards better usability, better discovery, a better environment, more ease. It is no surprise that the Google-dominated Android phone is catching up so fast (in spite being the youngest platform): Google itself has a knack for simplicity and ease of use. And from the platforms that have been around for a little longer, Blackberry (traditionally equipped with flat-rate data plans and affluent users to go with it) and Symbian (highest install-base on smartphones) are best suited from the pack to catch up quickest. The only question is the one for Windows Mobile (ooh, and Mr & Mrs Gates children are not allowed iPhones...).

The most encouraging bit of that report is therefore not another staggering stat on the iPhone but that the others are catching up. A race to the top then (even if some say that, content-wise, it currently is a race to the bottom; I'm sure that that will sort itself out fairly quickly but of this another time...).

"Recession? Where?" Asks the Smartphone...

I previously looked at recession-busting sectors and products, and here's more proof that not all is bad: two reports point out that smartphones continue to outperform the market rather significantly, recording growth figures of 25.9% year-on-year in Europe; the growth for all of 2007 vs 2008 was even more impressive: they grew by 36.1%. In the US, smartphones increased their share of the overall mobile phone market from 12% in Q4/2007 to 25% a year later. Good numbers!

Half of the (US) smartphones now come with touchscreens, with 70% "instead" (?) having a QWERTY keyboard (my best guess is that this includes phones with a slide-out keyboard, such as the T-Mobile G1 or the Sony Ericsson Xperia).

So how come? The iPhone but also other devices like Blackberries, Nokia's higher-end phones (e.g. the N95) have powerfully demonstrated that the use of a mobile for things other than using voice and SMS (and take the occasional snap with a so-so camera) is not the end of all things. The overall feature sets of smartphones but - possibly more importantly still - the overall user experience is generally significantly better on a fairly comprehensive scale, and this - in particular in times of recession - would suggest a much higher value for money ("if I pay £50, then I get 4x in value of what I would otherwise have."): they now all contain decent cameras, enough storage to work as a decent MP3 player (or in Apple's case even as an iPod...), they do e-mail, connect more effortlessly to the Internet, play more fulfilling games and generally provide a much richer content experience (did I just hear "widgets"?).

For the content industry, this is good news: more powerful devices are generally easier to address and provide a better route to transport brands and production values across to the small screen. The iPhone has shown (see e.g. here and here) that users DO use their phones for all sorts of things if one makes it easy for them. Therefore, the smarter the phone, the higher the consumption. Good, good!


Carnival of the Mobilists #163

This week's carnival (a week after the real one) is hosted at the aptly named Golden Swamp. Make sure to go there and check out what the mobile blogging world has to offer to you!