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...