Thursday, October 2, 2008

Transforming mobile industry

I read the following quote from Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, Nokia CEO, in InformationWeek:

"The industry as whole is in the middle of a transformation, and it's a very exciting time," said Kallasvuo. "It's moving from a device industry to an experience industry, and we're making a conscious long-term effort to capitalize on that."

It is so true that it inspired me to write a summary on how things have changed in the "smarter" segment of mobile sector (read: smartphones) lately. Let me recap what was the situation in the near past and then talk about how things are changing recently.

In the classic device manufacturer - network operator - user triangle the roles were as follows (simplified version): user purchases mobile phone from network operator (or elsewhere) and uses those services that are primarily provided by the network operator. The manufacturer never gets any money after purchase and the user  is often unhappy with the content/quality of provided (value-added) services.

This is now about to change. The two most important changes (as I see it) are that 1: the above triangle is "rectangularized" by an old/new member of the value chain, a separate content/service provider and 2: that device manufacturers such as Nokia and Apple OR operating system vendors such as Microsoft and Google want to get money after sales, too: they'd like to enter services business. As to point #1, not as if content providers hadn't been present so far, however, the means to access content and the capabilities of devices have not been ideal so far to say the least. As for point #2, there are two reasons why manufacturers would like to enter services business (take it over from operators?): first, there's a great demand from users to consume content that operators have not been good at providing and second, there's great money in it. Apple and Google are very good at providing services now they'd like to be involved in adding new means (i.e. phones) to accessing their services. Whereas Nokia and Microsoft are both in a strong position in smartphone market and naturally they'd like to get more money out of the whole business.

Another aspect in the new business model is whether or not shall mobile OS vendors require license fee for their software to be included in shipping devices. I'm talking about free and open-source mobile OSes, like mobile Linux. Although mobile Linux stacks have not gained so much popularity in the past years, they still do attract manufacturers wishing to lower their bill-of-materials (BOM). Google Android and the new Symbian (Foundation) OS are another two good examples for "license-fee-free software stacks" and Windows Mobile is for fee-based. iPhone's Mac OS X cannot be mentioned here, since Apple doesn't allow anyone to license their software stack, but make everything on their own.

How do mobile OS vendors pamper their developers?
  • Of course, with a free SDK to develop on. Most of them can be used only on Windows (except iPhone on Mac OS X), true emulation is available on Windows Mobile and iPhone, where development is done on the same platform as the target platform,
  • Free tools for development. Unfortunately not everything can be done with these tools, but you have to pay for their fee-based version should you need to use more advanced features (e.g. on-device debugging in Carbide.C++),
  • Signing your own installation package is mandatory for both iPhone and Nokia S60 phones, but not on Windows Mobile and Android. Latter advocates that the user is always capable of making proper decisions on security-related questions and it does not restrict the availability of 3rd-party applications by requiring signature. As Symbian's David Wood put it: let's see what operators will say on it.
  • As to developer support, old players are in the best position here: there's a great community support for Windows Mobile developers as well as materials to train themselves. The same is true for people who are developing for Nokia phones. Whereas the first non-beta Android SDK has just been introduced (you can imagine the level of support Google provides at such an early stage), not to mention Apple who wanted developers to sign an NDA that essentially prevents free information flow, writing books on development, etc. This has changed recently, since Apple finally scrapped their iPhone NDA and promised a new contract with less restrictions. Note: if Apple hadn't made this step they would have lost the majority of their developers.
  • Developers reward programs (MVP from Microsoft, Forum Nokia Champion program from Nokia), fee-based support for ISVs willing to pay for advanced services, webinars, trainings, books, etc.
  • Stores to capitalize on applications, themes, etc.
As to the stores mentioned above,
  • Apple's (in)famous App Store acts as a central distribution channel for 3rd-party applications. Unfortunately, Apple keeps this place under such a strict control that bitters lots of developers' life who simply don't understand why their programs can't be sold just because they're similar to the built-in applications. On the other hand, Apple keeps only 30% of revenue making App Store more compelling than lots of rival portals, such as Handango.
  • Having introduced T-Mobile G1 a few weeks ago, Google has also thought that it was a wise idea to create their own Android Market, a market place for downloading Android applications. What is surprising, though, is that Google is not planning to capitalize on sold applications, but expects mainly freebies to populate this place. It wouldn't be Handango if they didn't make the best out of this situation: why not use Handango to get some money for your Android app? It's also worth noting that Google, similarly to Apple, will be able to remove any 3rd-party applications (downloaded from Android Market) from Android-powered handsets if those applications turn out to violate developer distribution agreement.
  • Nokia already has their Software Market, however, things might change with the start of Symbian Foundation next year: as Antony Edwards from Symbian put it "[they're]  pushing hard for a ensuring a zero, or a close as possible to zero, cost to the software vendor: so no cut of revenue for the Foundation".
  • Finally, Microsoft hasn't maintained their own single portal that ISVs could use for selling their 3rd-party applications, but people had to (and still have to!) use other providers. This article shows what one can conclude from job postings: with the coming of new devices based on Windows Mobile 7 a new portal, SkyMarket will also come in Q1 2009.

Nokia is very keen on transforming from being a device manufacturer to an "internet company". Their Ovi and Mosh are two examples of already launched services, which they just want to further improve with Instant Messaging (by buying OZ Communications) and Comes with Music. On the other hand, whilst strengthening their services portfolio they restructure their businesses so that they focus less on own product development (selling Nokia IntelliSync). Sometimes lowering the prices raises the revenue - wonder how the recent price cut will work out. It's especially important that since  more and more people own Nokia devices, it increases after-sales revenue, too.

I've been already thinking on what Microsoft's reaction will be to open source and then found the answer: Steve Ballmer doesn't understand what's good in open source for Symbian and Google and anyway they won't get into handset business as long as they can make a lot of money from software only.
What they've started to work on lately, which you might have already heard of in the news, is 'Windows Cloud' OS. This idea is not new at all, however, it might affect the way how people use their mobile phones today: all you need is a portable device with a tiny display, some computing power and a good browser (you can call it 'smartphone') plus a good connection to the "cloud". Data, business logic, resource intensive heavy computation - all done on remote server(s) and you get only the result to your handset. I wrote 'this idea' was not new, however, what is new is Microsoft's patent on sharing device resources. Now this one is really new, but I don't know how much I can expect from it in real life - what it shows you, though, that it would be too early to write Microsoft off. Side-note: let me recommend you Ajit Jaokar's thought-provoking blog on how network operators could make use of cloud computing.
One more point to add to why M$ is not to enter the handset business today: HTC, designer & manufacturer of feature-rich phones, says that although they can see the potential in Android devices they do belive that Android and Windows Mobile complements each other.

As to Android, it's amazing to read about the ambitious plan to reach 4% US market share by the end of 2008. If that's so easy with a single device, a not perfect software and hardware AND suppose that they will achieve it - may I ask how on Earth Nokia could not do the same?
Anyway, I found a great analysis over at Telco 2.0 on the strategic impact of Google's first handset on the mobile industry. I especially liked the statements, such as "increasingly intense competition with new entrants who are willing to change the rules" and "the world in which handset manufacturers crammed the latest technology into devices simply for the sake of having the best specification sheet and operators flogged them to consumers on the basis of megapixels and memory is changing" and finally "it has been fascinating to watch ‘old school’ industry commentators pick apart the technicalities of the G1 spec sheet and Android platform, all the while forgeting to look at this announcement through the customer’s eyes".

Finally, some words about other members of the mobile industry whom we don't hear much about (well, at least I haven't lately).
  • Sony Ericsson has rationalised their R&D investment recently. This move, however, didn't prevent them from announcing a new run-time environment, called Capuchin, mixing Java ME and Adobe Flash Lite technologies. SE is eyed-up on Android, too, not only Windows Mobile (Xperia X1) and Symbian so this along with Capuchin will make their way to follow Nokia's approach by offering lots of alternatives for mobile software development.
  • Motorola is also interested in Android, so much that they are building-up a team of 350 people to develop on Android.
  • Samsung is not interested in anything else but manufacturing. This will not make their position stronger in today's competing market.
That's all for now about mobile industry news, thanks for reading so far!

All comments are welcome,


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