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.