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O Lord, won’t you buy me, an Apple iPhone 19 January, 2007

Posted by paulgordon in I want one, mobile, telecoms.

I confess. Mine is one of the animated voices debating the future of Apple in the mobile phone industry. But I’m the heretic denying that we’re witnessing the birth of the Mobile Messiah. I have much love for Apple (even if sit typing this on a Sony Vaio). They have a knack of disrupting markets through intelligent and beautiful design. And the desirability of their brand is second to none. So they should be well placed to thrive in the mobile phone business. Right?

At the risk of being burned at the stake, I believe not. There is nothing in the iPhone launch announcement to suggest it will create market disruption. Sure, the iPhone looks beautiful. The user experience looks promising (unless you like texting one handed). And yes, it can do clever things. But nothing disruptive. Nothing to unsettle the status quo in the way iTunes unsettled the music industry. Nothing so different that you can’t wait for the end of your contract before binning your existing handset. And nothing to warrant the enormous pricing burden the iPhone will have to carry.

Apple are facing stiff competition this time. Nokia, Motorola, Samsung and Sony Ericsson may not all have the cache of Apple, but they are much beefier brands than the rag bag of competitors Apple whitewashed in the MP3 market. However, my heretic view is not founded on the relevant strengths of phone brands (even though we do work for Nokia). It is based on the dynamics of the industry. Among Nokia’s many reasons for success are their relationships with network operators around the world, their supreme global logistics operation, and their sheer economy of scale. Apple have none of these. Someone put me right here, but Apple are not exactly renowned for their partnership skills either? I can only imagine the scene when they realise the network operators have a compulsion for instructing manufacturers which features must go into their next product.

Of course, many of the faithful will queue overnight to satisfy their addiction to own all things shiny and Apple. At the launch, Mr Jobs proudly reminded devotees that there are 100 million iPods in the world. He omitted to mention the two billion Nokia mobile devices in the world, with the Finns adding to them at a rate of 350 million in 2006 alone.

So if you guys in Cupertino aren’t realistically expecting to take on Helsinki, what are you expecting to do? Is this a defensive manoeuvre against MP3 players in phones? If it is, you are one tardy bunch of Californians. Or is it the realisation that much of your future business will be wrapped up in mobile computing…of which voice communication is a critical component? Or are you hiding an industry disruption up your sleeve which will yet turn the entire market upside down?

I guess whatever your answer, it will be a reflection of your faith.


iPhone? Nein danke! (iBike? Ja bitte!) 18 January, 2007

Posted by robhollier in mobile.
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Few topics have inspired as much animated conversation within the agency recently as the launch of the iPhone. There are even rumours – which I can neither confirm nor deny – that two senior Banner executives have staked a reasonably hefty sum of money on whether or not Apple will still be in the mobile phone business in three years’ time.

Attitudes so far seem to fall into three main camps:

  • Apple has a new shiny product and I want one. It’s a mobile phone? It doesn’t matter, I want one anyway.
  • The iPhone is offering some radically new ideas (e.g. the touch-screen interface) that will shake up the industry.
  • The iPhone is a niche offering that isn’t going to keep Nokia awake at night.

I think there are questions about the scale of Apple’s ultimate ambition. And I suspect it will slowly dawn on the world through this year what a massively powerful and resourceful global distribution machine Nokia has built – with an concomitant acknowledgement of what an under-appreciated asset this machine is.

I also think there’ll be a rueful admission from Apple that, yes, the mobile business has turned out to be altogether trickier than we anticipated. In the short term it’s going to be very interesting to see how the Apple-Cingular (or should that now be Apple-AT&T?) relationship plays out.

In the long-term – in the unlikely event that anyone is interested – my personal hunch is that the iPhone is the last huzzah of the old order. It’s an old-fashioned way of doing things i.e. a walled garden hermetically-sealed black-box approach.

When the iPhone was announced, someone at Banner sent an excitable email suggesting that this should become the agency’s standard mobile device. To which our esteemed Financial Director sent a tart reply: “On your bike.”

In conclusion, therefore, I have to say, firstly, I think our Financial Director is bang-on. Secondly, I’d be very interested in seeing the Apple iBike. Now that could really be something and, as we all know, Apple is no longer just a computer company.

CESs-pit? 10 January, 2007

Posted by robhollier in digital home, mobile.
1 comment so far

Taking the long-term perspective, which is worse:

1. The news that North Korea has test-detonated a nuclear bomb, or

2. The realisation that, in the near future, people everywhere will be watching TV clips on their mobiles and annoying the hell out of other people who are trying to get on with their lives?

If, like me, you think the answer is 2, then the news coming out of this week’s Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show (CES) won’t make you feel much better. The show appears obsessed with TV. Last year, yet again, it was HDTV; this year, it’s the many different ways to get TV onto your mobile, not to mention IP-enabled TV sets.

“He had as much imagination as a pint-pot,” Shelley once said of his fellow-poet Wordsworth, and he wasn’t being complimentary. Sifting through the announcements from CES, I’m starting to think a similar lack of imagination must apply to leaders of technology companies.

Is this obsession with TV the best the consumer tech industry can come up with? Why are all these companies working so hard to turn us into a planet of brain-addled passive consumers, agog for whatever digital entertainment dull media companies condescend to pipe through to us?

The message appears to be this. We are going to hell in a hand-cart but, luckily, the hand-cart is now fitted with a SlingBox. And we’re meant to be grateful?

Didn’t like WAP? Let down by 3G? How about 4G? 5 September, 2006

Posted by Jay Ball in mobile.
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OK, so WAP was a dog. Despite the hype and promises of the internet on your mobile, the reality was so far behind to make most users (all 3 of them) give up in despair. But that was OK because 3G came along to solve all that. Make video calls. Watch TV clips. And get the internet on your mobile (again – no really).

The take up of 3G services has been slow to say the least. As Kim Ki-ho, Samsung’s senior VP told delegates to the Samsung 4G forum,

“3G was a failure. The market did not respond, and it is already becoming an old-fashioned technology.”

The solution is, of course, more bandwidth. The new technology, imaginatively named 4G, will offer 100 megabits per second for users on the move and a pretty pokey 1 gigabit per second when they are stationary.

But is the problem really in the technology or is it in the marketing?

3G has largely failed to capture the imagination of customers outside of Japan (where it accounts for some 50% of the market). In some areas it suffers from the network effects principle (it’s not much use if you can make video calls but none of your friends can). In others it suffers from mobile form factors that don’t deliver a rewarding viewing experience – the people who are expected to watch TV on their microscopic mobiles are the same people who are rushing out to buy 42″ plasma TVs. And the ability to watch clips and shows is being directed at an audience that is quickly retreating from traditional push media.

It’s as if the SMS lesson hasn’t been learnt. SMS succeeded because it enabled predominently young users to communicate quickly, cheaply and in a way that differentiated them from the grown up world around them. It was fast and two way – and even better, created its own language.

3G, as it is currently sold, is typically passive. Watch this. Listen to that. Play this game (by yourself). If 3G (or 4G for that matter) is to capture the imagination of non-business customers then it needs to find applications that help people make connections, reinforce bonds, and communicate with others in new and interesting ways. Without this, no amount of additional bandwidth will make a difference.

Source: Reuters

The 700 square kilometer hotspot 29 August, 2006

Posted by Jay Ball in internet, mobile, telecoms.
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Singapore will have wall-to-wall WiFi by the end of the year. No more looking for a friendly Starbucks or trying to leech off an unprotected wireless router, simply boot and go (well that’s the plan). This initiative is part of a wider effort (the Intelligent Nation programme) which extends into many government services and which is looking to line Singapore up with the world’s tech elite nations.

Now, all they need is a subscription music service and some WiFi-enabled players.

Source: news.com

What work? What life? 26 August, 2006

Posted by Jay Ball in mobile.
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Another day, another work:life study.

According to some research for headhunters Korn/Ferry International, 80% of executives are always connected to their work – whether through mobiles, PDAs, laptops or whatever. And 77% of these believe that the technology behind all this enhances their work:life balance. The study covered 2,300 executives in 75 countries (which when you do the maths is just over 30 per country – so not the most robust sample ever).

Sadly I don’t have the breakdowns per country but our experience at Banner has shown that these attitudes vary radically by geography. In research we’ve done over the last couple of years, we’ve seen a vast range of results from enthusiasm in the US and UK through to outright rejection of the idea in Germany (and Italians simply find the devices too ugly to contemplate).

In a related piece of news, Rutgers University has questioned whether employers may be legally liable for their employees’ crackberry addictions. Gayle Porter, associate professor of management at Rutgers has been working on a study that examines the impact of this technology on workers’ lives and which looks at the employer’s responsibilities for protecting them. A flavour:

“There are costs attached to excessive work due to technology,” says Porter. “Information and communication technology (ICT) addiction has been treated by policy makers as a kind of elephant in the room – everyone sees it, but no one wants to acknowledge it directly. Owing to vested interests of the employers and the ICT industry, signs of possible addiction – excess use of ICT and related stress illnesses – are often ignored.”

On a basic level, I’d question whether this is some kind of jumbling of cause and effect – the employee works too much so it must be the technology that’s causing it. Porter goes on:

“Employers rightfully provide programs to help workers with chemical or substance addictions…Addiction to technology can be equally damaging to the mental health of the worker.”

Are employees really addicted to the technology? I’m not so sure. They may be addicted to the experience of being in control. They may covet the feeling of elevated self-esteem (look Ma, I’ve made it, I’ve got a BlackBerry!). But equating this with a substance addiction feels wrong-headed.

Over the years, I’ve sat behind the glass of many focus groups and have talked to the kinds of people both these studies are referring to. For the most part, they are not the air-punching go-getters of the first study, nor the hopeless addicts of the second. They are by and large pragmatic people who use the technology at hand (quite literally) to navigate the world around them. They often see using these devices as a way of using dead time better, getting out of the office earlier, seeing more of their kids.

Of course there are some toxic companies who are happy to overwork their employees. And yes, crackberries (of all makes) are one more way of doing this. But the symptom is not the cause.

Work:life balance, I believe, is largely a fallacy. It sets up a way of thinking that’s at odds with how many of us in information work experience our days. Work is life. Likewise, life is work. Today, it’s less about balancing and more about blending. Progressive companies realise this and hand over the tools for employees to blend it the best they can.

I’m writing this at home on a Saturday night. But the same technology allows me to take my daughter to school at least once a week, it means I can respond to my team when they need me and, of course, I can always find the off button.

Good night.

Sources: Reuters, Rutgers (via CrunchGear)