Sunday, February 14, 2010

App Planet - 'tis app'ning at Barcelona !

El iPhone en el stand de O2 en el Mobile World...Image by blogpocket via Flickr
Mobile World Congress is here this year with more participants than ever. Now what is the b..( ah can't use buzz like before anymore let Google make it gbuzz ) big themes this time ? You guessed it right. It is the "apps" - the small applets that gained fame as finger food for iPhone users. Every platform now has it and service providers are starting to have their own app aggregation too. Mobile World Congress acknowledges the trend by having an App Planet program as a focused developer event. Spread over four days, App Planet has two platforms covered on each day, starting from Vodafone and Motorola and then on to RIM, Sony Ericsson and Google Android. For the first time Nokia does not have a presence at the Mobile World Congress in a business decision that apparently reflects Apple's approach which too does not make use of the Mobile World Congress to launch products. Apple does its own events which are designed to suit its interests perfectly and Nokia is also expected to do the same.

Google is building the second momentum after the Android push with plans for a super-fast fiber network to half a million homes across America. This should send alarm bells ringing for the traditional telcos. Google has also slowly but inevitably started to focus on hardware with its Nexus One phone. There is a lot of talk as to which entity would be able to pose a counter to Google's hurtling advances. Its not difficult to imagine Google taking a big chunk of the market by showing a will to controlling customers data. Now's the time for a player to like Nokia to consolidate non-American market by making (pretty) big investments on OS, platform and an ecosystem to take advantage of the latent period when the strong American players ( Google, Apple) fight it out among themselves.

What about RIM, the makers of the well accepted Blackberry smartphones? RIM had wriggled out of very tricky situations in the past and has gained strength in the enterprise segment significantly and is still the leader in the smartphone segment in the US market, which is a big thing seen along with the growth of iphone. During the course of last year some businesses had indeed switched over to iphones for their workforce. However this trend has not appreciably picked up and I think the Android moment had a side effect of delaying large scale enterprise shift from Blackberry centric policies. RIM is certainly a strong player with notable innovation strengths and is bound to play a dominant role in the near future.

The other news that has made a splash is that of Motorola splitting itself into two companies. Now the mobile phone business would be an attractive proposition for potential suitors. It has been a theme with Motorola to spin off the mobile phone business at an appropriate time and Motorola had driven cost measures aggressively and has got a measure of success. My hunch is that the mobile phone business would be lapped up by some PE group or the other option - being taken over by a big player - Google comes to mind... let us wait and see.

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Thursday, August 13, 2009 : Nokia and Microsoft shake hands when all's not well

Today the partnership between Nokia and Microsoft on putting Microsoft Office products on Nokia's smartphones was officially announced and it amounted to an acceptance of the primacy of their competitors in the smartphone market. For Microsoft, its Windows Mobile platform doing a rapid catch up could not bring the desired results on its own. Microsoft had to make use of its new datacenters and cloud infrastructure.

Microsoft's crown jewel is the Office franchise and in my view is far more valuable than the OS itself  ( If Office was available on say Linux, people would not mind switching to it ). Microsoft's immediate challenge is to beat back efforts from Google to cut into the office productivity market with its cloud offerings - the Google Apps notwithstanding the fact that Google is nowhere near challenging the Office products. However Microsoft would have been rattled by the slow and steady adoption of Google apps by an ever increasing number of enterprises wanting to reduce costs. This deal coming close on the heels of the search partnership with Yahoo takes the fight straight to Google. This move is a straight hit aimed at Google more than RIM. For Microsoft this will also make a first entry for its products into a open source platform which is what Nokia's phones would be built on be it Symbian or Maemo.

RIM is also losing market by the adoption of iPhone by some enterprises as the smartphone of choice. It has to be seen as to how an innovation leader like RIM would move when faced with such odds. As to Google, it has now seen the moves by Microsoft and Nokia and the company can now plan out its not-much-marketed wireless foray with very known targets. What will hamper the focus Google would want to give its wireless strategy is how far Bing and the new-fangled Yahoo partnership will light a fire under Google for Microsoft.

Nokia on its part was losing market share steadily against RIM and Apple and along with the enterprise segment which was already lost, even the non-enterprise smartphone share was shrinking. Once leading the mobile phone landscape ( and even now with substantial momentum ), Nokia had not done enough to revamp its OS efforts and it shows in the jaded user interface Nokia phones sport model after model. Nokia would expect to buy some time with this deal with Microsoft before it takes a hard look at its OS offerings. Nokia would like to think that having Microsoft Office on its phones is a first major step that would make its OS a favorite with the enterprise customers.

Nokia's stock performance after today's announcement

and how Microsoft fared.

Google's performance

RIMM's performance Nokia - switch to Maemo, "not" ditch Symbian (rumor)

Nokia N800 makes for a great OpenStreetMap vie...Image via Wikipedia

Now Financial Times, Germany speculates about Nokia finally giving up on Symbian as a smartphone platform in favor for Maemo . Maemo, the community developed Linux platform for mobile devices is Nokia's choice for its internet tablets.

FTD goes on the write citing sources close to Nokia about Symbian becoming too complicated a piece of code ( 20 million lines ) and Nokia having to do some contortions to add touch to its N97 flagship model. If this were true Symbian would be confined to low-end phones which Maemo would not fit. The fact about this might out by October, when the N900 smartphone based on Maemo is expected to be released.

Nokia has been steadily losing market share to niche players - RIM, HTC , Android - not to mention Apple. Its North American strategy has also not clicked as it should have. Symbian is great but I thought it would be very easy to customize it until I could not see much of a change in the UI in phone after phone. When all handset makers were really struggling to differentiate the UI and menus, Nokia with its momentum and distribution channels could afford to not do much about it till the iPhone came along. Apple had not only a great UI but also an ecosystem that delivered pure numbers.

Nokia might change the game a little, with Maemo smartphones since it is rather an unknown quantity which will keep the competitors busy to figure out Nokia's strategy. Nokia also has to do spec up the hardware a little like how RIM did with the Blackberry Bold and recently Toshiba with the TG01. If this news turns out to be true, it is good as Nokia can concentrate on a more recently platform and still use Symbian for the large segment of low-end phones.
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Friday, August 7, 2009 : Great options on CDMA handsets

In traditionally GSM markets like India phone users are reluctant to take up CDMA service since it meant that they are restricted to their career in terms of handset choice. CDMA providers. CDMA Development Group (CDG) has taken an initiative over the past year actively to change this scenario with the Open Market Handset. In short, this initiative is to allow buyers of CDMA phones buy the handsets without worrying about which carrier to choose. You can buy any CDMA phone from the retailers and use it with any carrier of your choice. You do not have to stick with the limited choice that used to be the case if you have to choose your carrier first. CDG has chosen the Indian market to pilot this initiative and has done well in the choice. 

If the Open Market Handset initiate gets going in India, it could well be a success anywhere since India is a market where GSM is well-entrenched. India has reached a milestone of 100 million CDMA subscribers and it is just as well that these subscribers finally get the choice they deserve. Handset vendors will also be greatly relieved from having to factor in the carriers at quite an early stage in their development.

Technically, the gizmo which enables this is called the R-UIM, which is the analog of GSM's SIM. When I first encountered the SIM-less handsets of CDMA, initially I was struck by the unimaginative idea of the whole thing, and later on probing came to understand that the vested interest of the carriers was blocking a simple function for the users. Now with mobile number portability (MNP) on the anvil and GSM bloc trying to run away with 3G, CDG has done well to provide the original choice of GSM subscribers to the CDMA lot. All's well that sells well is the golden rule by which this CDG plan of putting more choice in the hands of users will be measured.   

Monday, July 20, 2009 : How to get the best toll free numbers

Businesses require a very easy way to communicate with their customers. Toll free phone numbers are an essential tool that are used to get new business as well as provide service to existing customers in an effective manner. I would like to highlight here about the options available for setting up a toll-free number for your businesses and merits of these options.

The first option is to get your toll free number from a toll-free number provider with instant signup and activation. Some of the toll-free providers do have a nice bouquet of services including vanity numbers and a wide choice of numbers to choose from. Combined with hassle-free billing, pay as you go packages and minimal contracts, it has become very easy for even small businesses to provide their service using toll-free numbers. The toll-free numbers provided by these providers are universal in the 1-800-nnn format. I will elaborate what this means when I explain the second option. Very often we find that these toll-free providers also provide virtual PBX services which can also be availed to drive better efficiencies in backoffice work.
The second option is available in some countries like India, where you can sign up for a toll-free number with telephony providers. The hitch in this plan is that you can call the toll-free number from a phone on the same network. You will have to provide alternate numbers for other networks which is not what you want. The numbers available might also not be in the universal 1-800 format. Since your customers are universal, it will be a better option to provide 800 toll free numbers which have greater acceptance. There is a trend to adopt the services provided by specialized PBX operators, as companies endeavour to provide a unified cost-effective interface to their customers. : Submit your ideas to change the face of broadband

Have an idea for how to expand high-speed Internet access across the United States? Here's your chance to have your voice heard.

Under the terms of the recent
economic stimulus package, the Federal Communications Commission must deliver to Congress a National Broadband Plan by February 2010. Several weeks ago, we laid out Google's vision for how to make broadband Internet available and affordable for every American — and hundreds of others have already submitted comments of their own.

The FCC has
called for "maximum civic engagement" in developing a broadband strategy, and we're hoping to help them to achieve just that.

We've teamed up with the
New America Foundation to launch a Google Moderator page where you can submit and vote on ideas for what you think the Commission should include in its National Broadband Plan. Two weeks from now we'll take the most popular and most innovative ideas and submit them to the official record at the FCC on your behalf.

Google and the New America Foundation agree that public participation in this process is critical. Expanding access to broadband has the potential to transform communities across the country, spark economic growth, and
restore American competitiveness. Now that the Commission has officially opened this proceeding, and with a new Chairman at the helm, we think it's time to give people the opportunity to learn about the issue and to weigh in with their thoughts. And as the process continues to unfold at the FCC, we'll keep you informed of additional ways to share your views and voice your ideas to the agency.

So do you have any good ideas? Submit them today on
Google Moderator — and you just might help change the face of broadband in the United States.

Official Google Blog: Submit your ideas to change the face of broadband

Saturday, July 18, 2009 : Is Nokia losing way or holding sway?

They say that all good things have an ending sometime. Its in the collective corporate deja vu of seeing the big behemoths slowly give way to different powerful pretenders who change the market dynamics in their favor and changing once iconic brands with absolute recall to just one other struggling brand. Any number of instances can be given from Kodak to Sony, Yahoo, Motorola and now may be Nokia.
From the indication of things, Nokia is slowly losing the status as the top phone maker to strong contenders like Apple and Samsung. Nokia's business model of simple phones and high-end consumer phones which was successful for a long time got challenged with smart phones from Blackberry first and then the iconic iPhone from Apple. Nokia was for long not doing well in the North American market and that they could not break into eventually let Apple to sweep the market with iPhone. With iPhone's success, other non-traditional powerful players like Google got into the picture now making it even more tougher for Nokia to make a mark. 
Nokia is being increasingly driven to consolidate its China and India markets, which will be very crucial for the Finnish giant in the coming quarters. The major threat for Nokia in these markets is that 3G will soon be available and high ARPU customers would be going in for new handsets with more innovative features like social apps and games. Nokia has to mainstream a lot of good things that it is known for like its beta lab apps in its phones and build a nice revenue model which shares attractively with content providers. Apple has done it more than once before and the results were only good. In the emerging markets it is still Nokia's sway and it will take a lot of effort to build distribution channels for the Apples and Blackberrys. Once they start trying ( Blackberry has started earnestly for the consumer pocket ), it will be even tougher for Nokia to maintain its hold. Nokia has to rediscover its nimbleness of old, and not get weighed down by its bigness.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009 : Surge from Nokia a social tool

Nokia has announced its new phone for the U.S. market with the launch of Surge. Surge is built for users who stay online longer and do a lot of texting in social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. The phone has got flash support built in as most modern phones do enabling watching of embedded YouTube videos.

You can take pictures using its 2.0 MP camera with 4x digital zoom and share it easily in Facebook, Twitter and a lot of social networking sites with the JuiceCaster application coming along with the Surge.

The form factor which is boxy with smooth rounded corners is in line with those of the IPhone and G1.

The Surge will be available through the AT&T network and has the first ever video share facility using which users can share a live video while inside a call. Nokia expects to cash in on the summer season for its Surge. 

Traditionally weak in the U.S. market, this is Nokia's strong statement to address the gap.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Browse the world with Layar : Augmented reality through your phone

Layar has introduced an application in Europe which provides a unique service called augmented reality. When you see through the camera, you can see the image of whatever objects like houses, restaurants and shops are there and on top of these images useful information like the distance, availability and price information is overlaid

Layar lets you browse through different layers of information and filters can be set to drill down to your specific requirements.

Layar is a free download for users and the businesses have to pay Layar to get their information on the application. Currently Layar is available on the phones running Android.

Thursday, July 9, 2009 : Pretty useful everywhere

It could be the first experience of internet in Uganda. SMS search is a very useful tool in everyday situations, everywhere. In India, I have been using Google's SMS search which was launched sometime back, for such things as train availability, ticket (PNR) status and the like and found it to be so handy.
I have tested it even with finding a physician and it was spot on.

Having a simple app and great content makes a great solution. Where I am using it, the Google SMS service needs us to send a text message with the query to a non-premium phone number ( without the shortcodes used to commercial services which charge more per SMS sent ) . Long search results are split into multiple messages that can be requested one after the other by sending a simple message as reply ("Next") .

Very handy as it is in the limited medium of SMS, the speed and ubiquity are what makes the Google SMS service a Swiss Army knife in most situations. Taking it to Uganda is a challenge in terms of getting quality content and this story (link below) is worth a read for it.

Official Google Blog: Designing useful mobile services for Africa