I'm keen to put down a few thoughts - and summarise those of other commentators I respect - on where we are headed with Smartphones that are always connected to the web. Most of this will be well known to the Geekzone audience but hopefully I can cast some of the key trends in a new light and add in a local context where relevant.
By way of background I was the Head of Smartphones in Vodafone Marketing up until the end of last year with 2006/2007 focused on BlackBerry and a little Windows Mobile, 2008/2009 expanding to iPhone and Android. An exciting time for sure but only an introduction I suspect to what is coming in the next few years. I look forward to your feedback and lively debate.
The Smartphone landscape and main players for 2010
With 2010 barely underway there has already been a flurry of mobile related announcements and rumours as the global tech giants continue to position themselves for the rapidly growing mobile internet. This growth is being driven by three complimentary trends;
1. powerful mobile devices (and very soon we might have a location aware Tablet),
2. high-speed and widely available wireless internet access - at increasingly affordable prices IMHO
3. increasingly sophisticated web or cloud based services.
The potential of the mobile internet is to use your current (mobile) location and your friends/contacts list to enable the following; one-to-one and one-to-many communications, local information and services search, status updating across your social networks, seeing which friends are nearby, sharing comments or reviews on places you visit/use, access to media & content, Augmented Reality (AR) etc. And across many of these activities runs advertising that is context aware including both your location and your preferences.
The first set of mobile communications services on Smartphones simply used mobile access instead of PC access - email, IM and phase one social networks like Facebook. Even SMS never had a concept of location. But recently a new group of web services has emerged built from the ground up around location and mobility. These include Foursquare, Yelp and Gowalla. These and an increasing number of other web-sites are 'inter-connecting' to share messages/updates with the more established FB and Twitter. This web based 'interconnection' is very interesting when compared to telecommunications interconnection is much more formally defined and thus quite limited.
There are some mobile operators also entering this social networking space, e.g. the Vodafone 360 service launched in Europe late last year and announced to be coming to NZ sometime this year. This is an ambitious combination of a new Linux mobile OS on the handset built around your contacts list and tied to an on-line back-up service that also connects to your other web networks. Perhaps it has the potential to link more closely to network based services but I do think it will be a challenge for a Telco to nimbly develop a handset and web ecosystem while also running a mature network business.
It is early days for these location driven social networking and communications services which are being used mainly by tech savvy early adopters although as seen with FB and Twitter a service can very quickly enter the mainstream. While these start-ups are dukeing it out to be the #1 location based web and mobile app the tech giants are increasing the capabilities of their underlying mobile platforms, ecosystems and cloud services. This now includes; devices & OS, email, contacts, calendar, on-line document storage and editing, multi-media file storage, maps and navigation, 3rd party application SDK's and stores. These really are very wide and vertically integrated eco-systems from Apple and Google primarily, with Nokia and Microsoft playing catch-up, and BlackBerry and Palm in a more challenging position. In the space of only two years mobile innovation has become firmly centred on the web and this innovation has shifted from Europe to the U.S. with devices coming from innovative Asian OEM's like HTC.
Apple came from the PC revolution of the 70's but has shown it can adapt to major technology advancements to drive new product categories. Its strengths are:
- Controlling every aspect of the end users' device and overall service experience to make it seamless and intuitive,
- Digital content aggregation and distribution,
- The ability to enter a nascent market at just the right time and add the innovation needed to drive huge growth - also called 'good timing',
- Consumer 'cool' brand awareness driven off the iPod and iPhone - and the Steve Jobs 'X' factor if you believe it.
Google came from the internet explosion of the late 90's and its strengths are:
- Context relevant search becoming increasingly granular and personalised
- Massively scalable on-line services
- Rapid service development and trial e.g. Google Goggles image searching from mobile
- Google Maps and related overlay data in line with AR
- They can afford to give away the Android software so we can expect powerful devices at much cheaper prices over the next 12 - 18 months.
But working against Google is their brand cut-through on a Consumer electronics device for the mainstream. Google have a big job either themselves or with OEM/carrier partners to rectify this. The Verizon/Motorola Droid campaign was a step in the right direction but at a cost of US$100m. Perhaps they are relying on the ever dropping price of Smartphones but I believe that as mobile devices are personal we will always want some emotional connection with them.
Nokia and Microsoft both have impressive service sets on paper but are struggling to execute. They are both working quickly to plug the gaps but might find that by the time they get there the game has already moved on. Nokia are of course still selling huge volumes of mid to low tier handsets globally and increasingly in the developing world but won't want to cede the high margin Smartphone segment. Microsoft seems to always be looking to the next WinMo release even as the current one is unveiled. We also haven’t seen any results of the Microsoft purchase of Danger a couple of years ago.
BlackBerry is still important as they are selling good volumes especially in the U.S. and still have global business user loyalty. But it is mainly in the U.S. that they have managed to achieve some success with consumer customers by targeting them since 2005 and due to the slow uptake of SMS in the U.S. Although they have ambitions to move beyond the business segment in the rest of the world they have a much shallower set of on-line services and will always be trying to link into the services provided by others much as they have been doing with email. Their strategy is further hampered by their close relationship with carriers. They are also yet to deliver a top quality touch screen device, have a tired looking OS and a difficult to use app dev environment. Even amongst their traditional business users they are feeling the squeeze from the iPhone - 2010 will be a make or break year for them.
Palm has emerged with a new OS called 'webOS' which is getting good reviews in the U.S. but low uptake due to only being available on the Sprint network for now. They also don't have the breadth of on-line services. Rumours are that they might be acquired by one of the other players.
All these main players will be looking closely at which of the new location based social web services might be worth acquiring. As a pre-cursor last year Apple missed out to Google in purchasing the largest mobile advertising aggregator - Ad-mob - but moved much more quickly earlier this month to purchase the #2 player, Quattro Wireless. Presumably Google and Apple will embed their respective ad mechanisms into their application SDK's and content distribution thus taking a larger cut of the total revenue generated off their platforms. Also at stake is the Coupon market which has great potential in a real-time location aware mobile environment - imagine a bar offering a special promo to anyone within a 5km radius or who comes in the next 30mins.
All of this is important because sales of premium Smartphones (also dubbed ‘Superphones’ by Google recently) as a proportion of all phones sold is increasing very rapidly. Gartner estimated that for 2009 globally Smartphones will account for over 13% of all handsets being sold and that this ratio is increasing rapidly in the next few years. Given this is skewed by sales of lower end handsets in the developing world then the proportion of Smartphone sales in the developed world is far higher already. It has been seen that users of these types of devices are much more engaged with them and use many times more on-line services via mobile.
All the main platforms want to be ready to capture the lion's share of this growth with Apple and Google looking like the ones to beat and many great advances already here or coming soon. How brilliant for all of us!
Other related posts:
Brands producing apps only for iPhone
Steve Jobs: Rock Star!
The features Kiwis miss out on with Android 1.6
Comment by Linuxluver, on 19-Jan-2010 10:02
This is one of those periods where there is rapid change for the foreseeable future and there will be a lot of choice. Many good products may lose out to lesser products as bewildered buyers go with what they know amid the turmoil. This period will offer phone buyers the chance of excellent value and the risk of paying too much, too late for too little if they aren't paying attention.
I'm paying attention. :-)
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