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September Mobile madness

September.

One of the most cherished months of the year, as it presents clear skies and the last of the warm weather for the year.

It also seems to be the month where every mobile provider reveals their new hardware, on the cards so far:

5/9: Motorola

The current rumour going is that they are to announce an ‘edge to edge’ screen (think no bezel on the side) that will no doubt be attached to superlatives such as ‘engrossing’. My hope is that Motoblur (Motorola’s Android UI layer) is further improved, perhaps further in line with Google’s Android HIG.

5/9 Nokia

The phone maker from Espoo has really taken a pounding over the last year, dumping Symbian, Meego, Maemo has cost them market share and revenue. It needs to show some fantastic devices that grab both the industry, consumer and carrier mindsets like no other.

6/9 Amazon

The Kindle fire was a small success, estimated at 5 million sold in the USA, it was a fairly decent first attempt at a tablet and the high quality Android tablet to compete on price. It was hamstrung by a lack of international presence and a poor OS as a starting point (Android 2.2 Froyo). I am hoping that the devices (I am aiming for two) revealed offer competitive specifications, a fair price and is available in more than just the USA. The main thorn in Amazon’s side? The Google Nexus 7, which at £159 is a quality device from a known brand at a great price. All statements that we used when the Fire launched last year. One thing is clear – Amazon will need to show something more than just price to maintain interest in its tablet line.

12/9

Apple

Want to know why everyone is suddenly announcing hardware in the first week of September? Look no further than the undisputed king of the revenue ring, Apple. Next week they will be unveiling their latest iPhone and perhaps a new iPad Mini (though the iPad might be revealed at another event this month), with a rumoured 4 inch screen, micro dock connector and slimmer profile, the next iPhone is all about refining the concept of what Apple think is the best phone.

19/9 HTC

2011 was a Tumultuous year for HTC, from massive profits to disastrous losses, 2012 offered a new vision focussing on core handsets tried to stem the tide but failed to ignite consumer demand. Choosing to anounce in the same week as Apple is a risky move, anything unveiled could get drowned in the coverage of the next iDevice. Personally I hope that they continue the unique design philosophy set out by the One series of phones combined with a new streamlined Sense UI. As the only way they can succeed in this crowded market is by  showing users a distinct reason to invest.

Regardless of what platform you support, the next few weeks will offer something for everyone.

I love September.

Facebook phone

So the rumour mill has cranked into gear once again and spat out its latest juicy morsel, that Facebook is partnering with HTC to release a phone.

The question isn’t why they are doing it, but why has it taken this long?

I suspect they were playing the long game, watching to see how Amazon would fair with its Kindle Fire. Although they are two completely different segments (in this case tablet vs phone), they have one thing in common – the operating system.

As apparently like Amazon Facebook are planning to use a customised version of Android to power their device, the question is which version will be used at the foundation. Amazon used Android 2.2 aka Froyo which was an improvement on past versions but hardly set the world on fire, one hopes that both Facebook and Amazon make the leap to using Ice cream sandwich.

Regardless this puts a pin in a lot of peoples dreams that Facebook would use a HTML5 base for their mobile platform, of course the reasons for these hopes were never actually confirmed and the basis of them (project Spartan) seems to have disappeared.

With WebOS in purgatory, I guess all hope is on FirefoxOS to realise the web platform dream.

Of course this could be exactly what it was at the start, a rumour.

Time will tell.

 

What kind of fish do you want to be?

I’ve been wanting to get back into development for a while now and I’m been mulling over what platform to target and I’ve decided on Window Phone. Now some of you maybe wondering why would I target a platform with few customers and limited market share,  there are two driving factors behind my decision.

The first is the learning hurdle, two years ago I used to be a .net developer, creating superawesomesauce applications for teaching and learning and although this was in VB.net (dont throw things). This means that although C# is a different (and vastly superior) language, it isn’t too much of a leap.

The second reason is more pragmatic, namely App discovery.

I meet a lot of developers in my day job as a developer evangelist and they are all beginning to face the same problem, standing out for from the crowd.  At time of writing the most popular App store have over five hundred thousand Apps available for download, how does a developer get noticed? More importantly how does a customer notice a developers work?

Sure if you’re lucky you might get featured on the front page of an App store, but the odds are slim. If you’ve got a lot of VC funding (or a big company behind you), you can afford to pay for advertising and marketing, but this is difficult path with no guarantees of success. If you’re really lucky you might get social media working for you, that quintessential business driver, word of mouth. I trust my friends more than I do advertising (even though they themselves may be recommending based on awareness created by an advert), as there is little chance of their recommendation being anything but genuine.

Indeed Matt Mills co founder of usTwo, creators of Whale Trail spoke to the Guardian on the importance of word of mouth for their revenue model now that Apple’s ‘New Game Of The Week’ promotion has finished:

“We’re hoping that if somebody’s downloading it, they’ll be talking about it, and there are 2-3 big updates planned over the next 6-8 weeks,” says Mills. “We need to get to the people in the pub. Game Of The Week is fantastic: it tells us we’ve made something special. But my wife, mum, dad or sisters don’t really look at the App Store in that way. They find out about new apps when somebody tells them.”

But getting people to talk about your App is very, very hard (but not impossible) so most developers have no choice but to upload and cross their fingers.

So my question to you is this If you are working on your own, is being another item in an overstocked store the best way to get noticed?

I don’t think it is, certainly if you are just getting started in the App industry.

Which is why I am looking at Windows Phone, yes it may only have 5% market share at time of writing and an under developed App store but I see that as an opportunity. The recent Mango update, the Windows Platform has had numerous improvements and it has been well received by industry pundits and consumers alike. The most notable addition has been Nokia’s conversion from Symbian, which has now begun to energise both Windows Phone developers and, perhaps more importantly other hardware partners. Indeed, on watching the unveiling of the Lumia 800 and 710, and the subsequent revelation that these phones would have Nokia’s largest marketing budget ever HTC and Samsung confirmed that they would increase their marketing budgets to compete. Which means that we’ll be seeing a lot more Windows Phone devices around, especially if they can get the price point so that they can offer most Windows Phones free on contract.

But thats the future, in the short term there is still an App store that needs developers, customers that wants to buy Apps and most importantly a provider that is actively promoting developers.

In the end it comes down to this, do you want to be a small fish in a big pond, or a big fish in a small pond?

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.

CreativeDevelopers

Southend gets a lot of stick, some of it deserved, some out of spite and it annoys me.

In the last ten years or so, Southend has gone though a lot of changes and had a lot of money invested in regeneration (see pier entrance, new highstreet), the College has grown in size and we have a new University campus.

And yet the snide comments continue to rear their heads, and I think its a shame.

I know that Southend has a vibrant student/creative and technology community but that its rarely seen, so I’ve decided to setup a Meetup group to see what we actually have. My aim is first and foremost to get people together, you dont have to be interested in Arts, Music, Literature or Technology.

Just be interested and we’ll go from there.

So this can go one of two ways, either It will be a spectacular success or not, either way I would love for you to get involved http://www.meetup.com/creativedevelopers/

iMessage: A Clarion call for Operators

So WWDC (Apples developer conference) has come and gone and it did not disappoint.

We get iOS that fixes a whole bunch of issues like finally getting rid of Apples hugely annoying modal notification system but that’s not what i’m talking about tonight.

No, whilst that feature is long overdue, the one that really grabbed my attention was iMessage.

iMessage, shit just got real

Now the concept of iMessage is simple, it enables all devices capable of running iOS5 can send SMS style messages.

So a iPod Touch 3G, 4G, iPad WiFi, iPad 3G, 3GS and iPhone 4 can now communicate to each other with an SMS message, except that they aren’t SMS messages as they run over data.

And that after I processed that announcement, I had two thoughts:

  1. As a consumer, its a great idea
  2. Operators are going to lose a lot of SMS revenue
A lot of people have dismissed this as just Blackberry Messenger for iOS and nothing much will change.

I see differently and this is the reason why:

Its not a separate action to send an iMessage, its handled in the main message application, when you write a message it check if the recipient is on iOS5, if they are.

It defaults to sending an iMessage,with no action required from the user.

There are well over 2 million iPhones on o2 uk alone, there is most likely a new iPhone being launched at the end of the year. Which means that a number of people that held off on the iPhone 4 for whatever reason will be purchasing a new handset. So we have a huge number of devices that will no longer be using SMS.

 Sure if the recipient doesn’t have iOS5 the message will still be sent via SMS, but most people with an iPhone know someone else with an iPhone.

This is one conference by just one company and its just severely restricted one of the cornerstones of the operator revenue model.

Operators need to take a long hard look at themselves, because their lack of innovation has left them dangerously exposed. It may sound trite, but the old ways simply cannot work anymore, one of two things happen to companies that don’t innovate.

They either fail or get taken over.

BlueVia is about creating new innovative ways to deliver content and services to users, is it perfect? No, but its a step in the right direction.

And  after Monday, I am convinced that BlueVia is more important to Telefonica than ever before.

One small step for a man…..

It would appear that I left this earthly realm after posting my Pre 2 review, while rumours of my death are greatly exaggerated…. I have been monumentally busy.

I left the education sector last month to join BlueVia, Telefonica’s new developer platform and I thought I would take five minutes to discuss the reasons why. To say I was spinning my wheels in my previous job would be an understatement, the company under delivered for both clients and myself personally and I am very glad to no longer be associated with them. I had signed up to drive the use of technology within education (and I still believe that it can be the difference maker to students lives), what I got was a well paying helpdesk job for an under utilised product.

My personal idea of hell.

So I poured my energy into Twitter, read a lot of websites, followed interesting people and Tweeted like a madman. 2010 turns into 2011 and I had decided that my musing about changing jobs had to become reality as that job was killing me. However I knew that if I wanted to get into mobile as a profession I would always be at a disadvantage, my then CV experience for mobile was slim at best. I also knew that if I could get talking face to face with anyone that my lack of on paper experience wouldn’t mean anything. Because I love to talk about technology and I know its a marketable skill.

The trouble was getting to that interview……

So There I was, ready to pull the cord and leave education but with nothing a fist full of nothing and a pocket full of dreams.

I noticed that BlueVia was looking for new people, I had followed James for a while but I knew the traditional approach would not work. So I took a chance and DM’d him on twitter and asked straight up who was good to talk to about what I thought I would be good at, namely product evangilsation.

Thankfully he didn’t tell me to piss off, but invited me down for a chat about life, the universe and mobile technology.

The rest they say was history, save a second interview with Jose Valles where, when asked to sell BlueVia to an imaginary company, came up with the most random whatthehellwasithinking idea of,

“People surf the internet a lot at work which you can monitor on workstations, but what about when they use their company phone away from their desk? Using our user context API you can find out if they are a high use user and separate whos working and who is having fun on the internet on company time”

I know, there isn’t a big enough facepalm.

However I must have done something right as he gave me the nod and a couple of months later I was joining the team as Marketing Manager.

I can safely say that I’ve learnt, seen and done more in the last month than in the last year.

I believe that BlueVia is the only way that operators can stay relevant in the next 5 years; Orange, Vodafone, 3UK need to follow our example of opening up API’s and providing the incentives for developers to use it, without interfering.

I’ve never been in mobile or in marketing, so I will make mistakes, but you can be damn sure that I’ll be enjoying myself all the same.