Archive | November 1, 2011

Why 2012 will be the most exciting year in mobile yet

The rapid change in technology over the last five years has been nothing short of astounding, we have seen established brands such as Blackberry and Nokia go from market dominance to struggling underdogs. We’ve seen the dominance of Apple, the beauty of the multitouch capacitive screen and the lightning in a bottle that is the well developed ecosystem. As exciting as they have been, I don’t think its going to hold a candle to 2012.

I say this for a number of reasons:

  1. It has taken time for smartphones to be ready for consumers
  2. It has taken time for consumers to be ready for smartphones
  3. Platform App stores are now the defacto content delivery mechnisim
  4. Developers are now empowered with tools and easy (ish) languages and more importantly are finally getting the respect and recognition they deserve.

We now have an educated consumer base, who want to purchase apps and services, demand more from their phone and expect it to be delivered faster. We have a mature ecosystems where you can buy movies, tv shows, games, utilities and more all under one well designed roof.  But more importantly all companies understand that they need to have a mobile strategy and continue to invest in it.

Now it would be foolish to not to mention the most dominant force in mobile today, Apple. Apples’ success has been nothing short of phoenix like, from being 90 days from bankrupcy in 1996, to being one of the worlds richest companies in 2011. Its products are beautifuly engineered and executed, popular and aspirational. The App Store is the number one player in the game and to some the only player. Its users buy more and spend longer using their apps. Apple will not be dislodged from its position in 2012 or 2013 for that matter.

However to modify a phrase used by Steve Jobs: For other companies to win, Apple doesn’t have to lose.

Android
My thoughts on current versions of android arent all that positive, versions up to 2.3 (gingerbread) feel rough around the edges, a powerful but somewhat blunt tool when it comes to the user experience. However, Google understands that it can’t succeed if it delivers a sub par user experience and with its next release Ice Cream Sandwich it is improving all aspects of the User interface. Android is already well on its way to becoming the most popular (by units sold) platform, but with ICS it will finally have a response to the long standing criticisms. Combine this with the number of hardware partners and a well established eco system it becomes more than just a cheap alternative to iOS.

Blackberry
Rim has had a tough couple of years, all of which are its own fault for ignoring the market. It has rushed to catch up but faltered at each step, its tablet dreams fell short of market expectations and users have been leaving in droves. All is not lost as they have begun a platform transition away from current operating systems and are focussed on trying to improve all aspects of pretty much everything they do. People also forget the huge presence in emerging markets like Latin America, how RIM seeks to bolster its marketshare will be crucial. They have started delivering handsets that people want and like, have set out a clearer roadmap and begun new developer initiatives to keep their Eco system alive. 2012 is make or break for Blackberry, hopefully that will lead to some interesting developments

Windows Phone
Now this is the dark horse, released last year to a smattering of applause was Microsofts scorched earth policy to its previous mobile platforms. It has started from scratch and developed an interesting take on the user interface, forced consistency from its hardware partners and strived to court developers to create apps and services. Most importantly it has convinced Nokia to sideline its Symbian and Meego operating systems and concentrate on developing Windows Phone handsets. In short Nokia is fundamental to the success of Windows phone, it brings brand value, high quality production capabilities and manufacturing and delivery infrastructure like no other.

Nokia is committing a huge spend to marketing of its new Windows devices (three times larger than any other Nokia marketing budget), which is getting the platform visible in new ways. Microsoft has a small but growing App store, and with Nokia seeding 25, 000 developer devices to developers worldwide in 2012 it is only going to increase in size. A major side effect of Nokia working with Microsoft is that it is forcing the hand of other Windows phone licensees to up their game to compete. From marketing to device design there is now a premium level Windows phone handset which opens up new options for manufacturers.

In summary we have multiple ecosystems that have matured, devices that put customers first, platforms that are despearte to win and customers who understand the product.

2012 has the makings of the perfect storm and I cannot wait to see what happens.

Android.

I’ve had the Sony Ericsson Xperia play for a week now, so I thought I would jot down some initial thoughts on Android and my overall experience. Now, it’ only right to confess that I come to Android full of preconceptions and that I have not set them aside. Some of you may argue that this is unfair and that any new platform should be taken on its own merit viewed as an island among many, a mobile archipelago if you will.

I think those people are morons.

We are now (arguably) in the third decade of mobile with at least three established mobile platforms and many more close behind. It is very hard (read near impossible) not to take a level of expectation or preconception with you when looking at a new device or platform.People are beginning to have certain expectations on what their device does, if a new platform doesn’t meet that expectation there’s a problem.

Which brings me to Android.

I’m not a fan, there are things I like but a lot more that I don’t

The Xperia play runs Gingerbread (Android 2.3), apparently one of the best versions of the software yet, but it still seems to put the user through so many hoops, steps and jumps.

A very simple example:

Last week I was going to the Nokia Minibar event in London and needed directions from TechHub to the event. I grabbed the Meetup app from the marketplace and eventually logged in (this is due to the keyboard and I not really meshing well). I then clicked on the Meetup and tried to get directions.

It then pops up  a message asking me if I want it to show the location on a map or get directions and needing directions I clicked the latter. I then get another pop up asking if I want to complete the action using the browser or maps, I click maps.

It then starts loading up driving directions.

It’s great that it has driving directions available by why it presupposes im going to use them instead of walking in London is a strange one. In fact the only time I wanted it to ask me a question, it doesn’t offer me the choice.

Android: So close, yet so far.

Going back to my preconceptions, I always felt that Android was like iOS but just a little bit worse. Which made justifying purchasing a handset very difficult as if I’m looking for a iOS style product why would I go for one thats slightly worse? It’s why when I left appledom I went to webOS because it didn’t seek to ape or emulate other platforms, it went its own way. It’s also why I am attracted to Windows Phone, because the interface is completely different to the rest of the market. The most important thing in mobile is to match with user expectation and competitors but also seek to create your own path at the same time.

This is very difficult and not always guaranteed to succeed (see webOS), to butcher a certain Apple marketing message:

Be better, think differentiation.