May 02

In February I attended Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The event was well attended and seemed fairly positive for the industry.

The beginning of the week was taken up with the buzz from the Microsoft and Nokia announcement but the story faded as the week went on. It was interesting to see those suppliers of Nokia with their rabbit in headlights expressions on Monday mellow throughout the week. Maybe that was more due to sleep deprivation and alcohol abuse than any positive news from Nokia.

Whilst attending MWC is a must for me I do not necessarily enjoy the show itself. I remember that when the event was in Cannes and even when it first moved to Barcelona there was a real buzz around product releases. Maybe there still is that buzz but it does not capture me the way it did. I can spend a hour walking round the stands and see what I want to see with a glazed expression for most of the devices. I find nothing is really new anymore in the post iPhone world we live. It is mostly a game of ‘me too’ being played with little innovation especially in form factor.

Rise of the Robots

One standout in the sea of suits and glass was the Google stand. One word ‘WOW’. Google had a stand for the first time at MWC this year and what a stand it was! The green droid symbol was everywhere from pins to 3D models and even a huge droid with a slide around it’s side. The stand was always packed. Was that more to do with the free android platform themed smoothies or the aforementioned pins. There were a lot of demo’s going on around various android devices and the Motorola Xoom tablet which was all over the stand. Kudos to Motorola.

Every Android partner had an Android cutout with it’s hands holding a bunch of those pins. Apparently there were 86 different pins of various sorts that could be collected. Whilst day one was occupied with with Nokia talk day four was consumed with stand staff trading for swaps and others trying in vain to secure all 86 variants. Was this marketing genius from Google? Did they really mean the show to deteriorate into swap shop?

Within the sea of black shiny mobiles and tablets there were two standouts. The Motorola Atrix for innovation and the HTC Flyer for pure shiny factor. The HTC Flyer stood out from the crowd for me! For a start it was not black, it had a silver back much like the iPad and from what I saw of the demo it had a really good screen, very bright and dynamic and seemed to flow in a way the other Android tablets did not.

Attack of the Clones

Now I get it. Android is the best out of the box experience since the iPhone (certainly 2.3 is anyway) but I see a lot of problems in the ecosystem. Whilst experience is pretty good battery life is shocking, making the iPhone look Herculean in comparison with respect it’s longevity of operation. Certainly on the Nexus S I have far more dropped calls than any phone I have owned for years. The Nexus S is a performer but it is at the high end of what is available. I suspect some of these sub £100 Android handsets are lacking in terms of performance and experience. I recently played with a HTC Wildfire, whilst it was unmistakably Android it lacked the polish of a hi-res screen and fast processor of that of it’s  siblings making it feel rather mundane.

 

I dare you to get all the recent LG, Samsung and HTC Android devices , put them in a bag, pick one out and ask an audience to shout out who the manufacturer is! No chance. They are all black, glassy, shiny slabs. Where is the differentiation? It is alright talking dual cores, GPU’s, memory etc to a techie but what about your average Jo on the street? It’s all about free minutes and Facebook. How is anyone going to choose from a sea of black in Carphone Wharehouse when you can’t even tell who the manufacturer is? Where does this commoditisation lead and who is making money from Android other than Google?

Commoditisation seems to be happening even quicker with tablets with high street stores like Next and Robert Dyas offering cheap sub £200 Android tablets. I confess not to have seen one in the flesh but I am sure the experience will be awful.

So where does this leave Android? At least Microsoft have produced a minimum chassis for Windows Phone 7 that means the hardware is capable of running the software as it was meant to be experienced. Are Google really happy to allow anyone that can throw some hardware together to run Android in a sub standard manner on their device? Whilst the hardware is not going to do anything malicious to your data it will be the difference between a device that is useable and one that isn’t. Currently there is no barrier to entry in this Android for everyone world, but should there be? I this something that Google should be working on as well as their UI fragmentation issues?

 

Feb 08

RIM held an event in London for its UK debut of the Playbook. The event was being held in partnership with Adobe who was heavily pushing the Flash capabilities of the device.

Alan Banks from Adobe made a brief introduction and handed over to Stephen Bates UK RIM MD.

Stephen described RIM migration from being wholly business focused to also consider consumers and their use of RIM’s devices. the Playbook would be able view the full internet as it was meant to be i.e. with Flash taking a poke at Apple and it no Flash on devices strategy. Where Blackberry differentiates:

- Full web

- Multitasking

- Class leading media

- Blackberry bridge (with its handsets)

- Tablet OS QNX

Stephen exclaimed he was ‘blown away’ on a number of occasions with regards the above list. Very enthusiastic about their new device!

Media wise we can expect HD video recording from the front and back camera’s ( I assume 720p), HDMI out and an ebook reader. There was more but nothing that caught my attention.

Blackberry Bridge will support secure pairing with Blackberry devices. The Playbook will be able to provide a window into the data on the phone. This data will not be stored locally and so the data will be secure on the handset.

The device will support HTML5 and Flash 10.1 out of the box. WebWorks will also be available for developers for web/cloud app development using HTML/CSS/Javascript as other manufacturers are offering with webkit browsers on board.

Some stats 2010:

Blackberry was the number 1 Smartphone brand in the UK

UK is the second largest market outside the US comprising 12% of total revenue.

Blackberry held 36% of the UK Smartphone market as of December 2010

Overall this was 14% of the UK market

Super apps concept was launched and has been very successful with LinkedIn, Sky and Ebay all having deeply integrated apps on devices utilising calendar, phonebook and email functionality as part of their apps.

Overall there are 55 million data subscribers, 30 million of which have active download accounts.

Appworld sees 3 million apps downloaded per day.

There are 33 million Blackberry Messenger subscribers.

Given that the UK market is so important and to encourage UK developers onto the platform RIM have decided to give a Playbook (for free) to anyone that can have an app approved on Appworld before the Playbook launch in March. See link here for terms and conditions.

The Demo

Multiscreen, multitasking. You can see whats running on a carousel and choose the app that you want to use or go back to. Interestingly when a video was running it was still playing whilst in the background on the carousel, nice touch and shows some of the power of the device. It can play 1080p video and I assume that you can then also watch said video on TV via HDMI. App world would be preloaded.

The Adobe guys went through the Flash components an what could be achieved. the Photo gallery is built using Flash and the Playbook was built around the ‘power of Flash’. There is native extension support for ‘C’ code for when you want that extra grunt for you apps.

The RIM guys then went through almost every app on the device. If you have an iPad then there were no surprises in terms of apps pre loaded.

Interestingly they did not show off the bridge functionality, are they having problems with it? You would have thought that this would be a key USP for them and would be showing it working to as many people as they can.

There were six devices available to play with, unfortunately there were lots of people there and i did not get a chance for a hands on.

Is it an iPad Killer?

I have an iPad, and love it. I do wonder on the train sometimes whether a 7 inch version would be more convenient but that that is the only time the size bothers me. Having used an iPhone and iPad for the last two years I have learnt to live without Flash so that is not a big plus for me. I have recently been playing with a Nexus S which runs Flash. First website I came across that needed Flash it dutifully ran off to Adobe and identified what download I needed and installed it. It needed the Flash for the ads that were blinking at me on the page, using my battery and my data allowance. Not funny.

I had great hopes for this device and did view it as a potential iPad killer. HDMI, 1080p video, Blackberry Bridge. But I worry that it is too late. I think the Blackberry Bridge idea is brilliant but only for Blackberry owners, which I accept, and if it works well enough I may even be tempted. But on the day it was not shown. This made me curious as to why, as it is such a key feature.

With the dual core LG, Honeycomb running, Android tablet, with 3D, just weeks away I worry that they may just have missed the boat. With the Playbook being more  capable than an iPad (it is dual core after all) it is a shame it did not reach us sooner. Other than the iPad the only competition currently is the Galaxy Tab. Playbook wins that one in my opinion. Only time will tell.

Tagged with:
Dec 13

Developer Day

Tyler Lessard, RIM

Products and services = experiences, this is what RIM wants to promote in its products, as an example 30M people regularly use Blackberry Messenger (BBM) on a regular basis.

Currently experiencing 1.5M downloads from Blackberry App World. Whilst downloads are less than ‘others’, the apps that are downloaded are stickier i.e. likely to be used more and for longer.

The ‘super apps’ concept has been successful. Super apps being those that have a high level of integration to the handset. A super app is defined by:

- Always on

- Proactive, notification driven

- Seamless integration with native apps

- Contextual, personalised

- Social and connected

Example: LinkedIn

LinkedIn is integrated into the email application so you can instantly see the profiles of the people that are sending you mail. You can also send LinkedIn mails from the Blackberry mail client. The phonebook is also integrated with LinkedIn contact details.

Because of the backend nature of Blackberry services this lends itself to being able to provide a seamless commerce experience whether that be payments or advertising. Ads are contextual with location where appropriate and therefore more personal. RIM provides an API that includes click to call, click to phonebook, click to calendar.

An example of a socially engaged app is Sky Sports. The app adds the fixtures of your favourite team into your address book.

In sync with the HTML5 debate and what other manufactures are doing, RIM will provide HTML(5), CSS and Javascript packages for apps on the device called Blackberry Webworks. This will also be available on the Playbook.

Raimo Van Der Klein, CEO, Layar

Augmented reality = content, not tech.

Android = Software

Handset = Hardware

Sensors = Interpretation

Android makes up 85% of users with iPhone making up the other 15%.

Porting between platforms takes approximately 4 months.

Layar is not an app, they define themselves as an augmented reality browser. It is up to other people to provide the content/application.

Layar advises that content, distribution and marketing should be done by someone else. But analytics should be done in house. They have not found a third party that will can meet their needs.

Jan-Joost Kraal, VP Product Development, Ebuddy

Ebuddy is an Instant Messaging solution that has had over 100M downloads. Biggest numbers are in Egypt and Indonesia with India ramping fast. Mass market is Java phones which account for more than 50% of downloads. Android and iPhone clients are available. Current order of usage in terms of client:

  1. Java
  2. Browser
  3. iPhone
  4. Android

GetJar is a good source of downloads and OVI is getting there. Advertised on GetJar to get some traction.

Monetisation:

  • Advertising is working and creating revenue
  • Ads – using bannering, nothing too exciting
  • AdMob working really well. Other SDK’s causing problems
  • iAds will be next ads platform to be supported

User payment

  • Pro and free versions
  • Upselling from free to paid version using own advertising

Insights (product development)

  • Obsess over detail
  • Keep improving base before considering new features
  • Iterate
  • KISS

Use Distimo and Flurry for for measurement and steer. From Flurry data they found that if the screen shots on the app stores were changed to those features flagged as being most used then downloads increased.

Updates, usage grows 30% for the week after an update is made.

Check, check and double check. If an error gets into the acceptance process then it takes about 10 days to rectify.

Pricing, try different pricing. $4.99 is usual price, reduced the price to $0.99 and saw a massive spike in revenue but it only lasted a few days. Don’t be afraid to increase the price.

Future path is android, uptake is huge in the US but not so much elsewhere. Have issues with handset versions and manufacturer skews.

Dave Addy, Founder, Agant

Apps that work?

Do we need an app?

  • Can it fill dead time?
  • We know where you live – but don’t use location because you can but because it is appropriate

Will it achieve what we want?

  • I want to make money
  • I want to build a brand or community
  • I want to promote something

Do it well – develop once, write anywhere tools create bad apps for every device.

Developing for iOS as it is the most consistent platform and people are willing to pay for apps.

Keep it focused. Listen to feedback whatever and whenever it is. Rovio marketing guy responds to every tweet directed at them.

Mark Curtis, CEO, Flirtomatic

iPhone web app worked but did not see a good conversion rate. Web views had to be used and this compromised the experience. Had the same issues with Android. Whilst a web is valid route to market it is a compromise, app needs to be done natively to get the best experience.

Wrappers i.e. native wrapper around a web app (to get to handset services), also a good route to market and can offer fast platform portability. Nokia WRT and QT, Blackberry Webworks etc.

Android and iPhone makeup 16% of overall usage and 27% of new users. 13.5% GetJar/Blackberry.

Other observations include; photo upload higher with apps but billing is lower.

Apps win over browser due to expectations of touch. Touch web does not yet give the experience that native touch apps do.

Apple approval process is bad when it does not works. Flirtomatic 8 weeks in approval. 2.5 review stars in iTunes (perceived as bad) but many household names in apps in the same position. Heard of competitors of other apps purposely giving bad reviews to reduce stars but no evidence that this is the case. Review process is unknown, have not got the scale or location to build type of relationship with Apple that they would like.

Marketing – Advertising works but this is hard to sustain as a startup. Apps drive advertising (in-app).

Day 2

Russel Buckley’s Panel

Fjord, web runtime way of the future.

Brands etc want to know how apps/Internet/point of sale all fit together. App or mobi? Brands wanted apps, but now looking at mobile web before considering apps.

Insight driven brand experiences for people on the move, apps can do this but the cloud is becoming interesting. However cloud services are not available because of infrastructure /cost around the world. Approximately 2Bn people do not have access to the internet in the same way that we do if at all.

Europe/US creative lead, Korea/Japan technology lead.

Andrew Tills Panel

Key challenges: Which platform when, monetising info (assets).

Companies started dealing with mobile as a side issue. Now mobile is a key piece of marketing and considered in bigger picture. However who will maintain platforms/codebase across all the various options (nightmare!).

Virgin (airlines) – Not making money from apps, more to do with a custom feed and services. App not used to sell tickets but to upsell, upgrades etc. iPhone was chosen as first platform due to its strength, next platform will be chosen through customer feedback.

Autotrader – 50% of traffic is iPhone, next .mobi then Nokia, RIM, Android.

Lastminute can only support 3 platforms. RIM gets left behind.

Nov 15

Samsung held a developer event for the launch of their Internet TV application store in London.

Samsung have currently shipped 20M  LCD televisions in Europe. Internet TV is more about services than surfing e.g. iPlayer is available direct to the TV. Internet TV was made available by the company in 2009, 2010 will see the launch of an application store for the television platform. Applications at launch include Lovefilm (with HD download), Skype, Google maps (<- how useful can this be on a TV) and Facebook. The application store will be available on both Internet enabled TV’s and Blu-ray players. All apps on the store are currently free to install.

As part of the app store launch the Samsung Smart TV Challenge was announced. This consists of a €500,000 fund for applications in Europe. The top prize in the UK is £60,000. All are will be developed using Flash, Javascript and xml. A SDK is available for download.

Samsung SDK

Flash applications are based on Flash Lite 3.1.  SDK includes a visual editor to create widget based UI. It is not necessary to programme in actionscript i.e. Flash, as the visual editor builds this into the application. However the more visually appealing apps have used actionscript. Applications are all launched full screen. This is a disadvantage for applications like Skype and the viewer. If you are in an IM session this could run windowed whilst you are still watching content which would make sense.

There is a mobile API that will enable pop-ups to appear on mobile devices. There was a demo of a TV being controlled via a Samsung Galaxy and an iPad (I was quite impressed that an iPad was used at a Samsung event).

Usage and analytics information will be provided by Samsung to developers.

Notifications will be included in SDK 2.0 as will HTML 5. It is not clear when SDK 2 will be available, but sometime during 2011.

Charles Tigges, BBC, iPlayer, Future Media and Technology

Navigating on a television is not the same as on a PC. A mouse is not the best method of selection (think TV and how it is used). Four direction keys and a back button suffice for current applications.

iPlayer statistics – 6M mobile users, 83M web, 30M TV. A big screen iPlayer is a new development i.e. not being consumed on web or mobile with the advent of internet connected TV’s. A new design is being considered that will address this that will be personal and social based on recommendation etc. in your social circle. Future opportunities may include companion applications to the iPlayer (like Sky TV app) that you can choose programmes on web to watch but the experience will be via the TV.

Further developments will include an iPlayer icon (like red button) that will appear during programming that will link to programme related content or recommendations.

Comment

This is a good start and obviously a glimpse of the future of the living room experience. The usual suspects are all there at the beginning e.g. Skype, iPlayer, LoveFILM but it will be interesting to see who else the platform will attract especially as any app developed needs to be free. Not sure how well this fits with the consumer until windowed apps i.e. those that can be run whilst viewing your programming at the same time are possible.

Nov 09

Over the Air 2010

Event Comments Off

I had attended last year and had a great time (OTA ’09). Some of the sessions I had attended in ’09 were being run again so I took a slant towards web based technologies.

Bruce Lawson – Web Dev 2.0 (Web Evangelist at Opera)

@brucel

CSS3 is not available on browsers and not all devices. Need to consider for mobile how the operations work i.e. transitions can drain power in a mobile device.

HTML5 is a direct competitor to Flash and Silverlight. Will include (eventually) geo location, storage and browser connected intelligence. From a device perspective there will be an application cache for offline use.

Best Practices (mobile)

CSS3 will allow media queries to determine device capabilities, use it but don’t rely on it, not all devices will report correctly.

Javascript, use it at the end as browser pauses to download it.

Images, need to be careful due to size etc

HTTP, minimise requests, use canvas or SVG for building UI elements.

Widget = App, there is no real difference.

W3C is creating a standard for widgets.

W3C Device and Protocols (DAP) working on defining javascript API’s for contacts, calendar, media capture and messaging.

Bryan Rieger, Rethinking the Mobile Web

@bryanrieger

Start with desktop site and add media queries to make it mobile. This does not work in the majority of cases (this is what @brucel was saying).

www.slidesshare.net/bryanrieger

Another good show. Be interesting to see how/if the event is spiced up next year. Lots of repeat sessions from ’09. It was also very well attended by developers, being a developer event this was obviously good, certainly less business people around.

Tagged with:
Nov 09

Nokia World

Event Comments Off

I REALLY wanted to attend this as it was in London and manageable for me to get to (just a shame it was at Excel arrrgh). Given the 700€ price tag (WHAT!) I had used all my Nokia might and contacts prowess to get a developer ticket, it only took me two months and I only had confirmation at 3p.m. the Friday before the event. That is not a reflection on Nokia just how well attended the event would be.

I had been told to ‘look like a developer’ so I dutifully wore jeans.  When I arrived the place was rammed with suits. Not many of them had coded recently I suspected.

The day before had been the announcement that Ansi Vanjoki was leaving Nokia shortly after the news that Stephen Elop  from Microsoft was joining the company as CEO. To his credited Ansi performed a very passionate speech with regards Nokia its new products including the N8 and the newly announced C7, E7 and ????. ‘Clear black display’ screen technology being new to the latter 3 products. Ansi played the Tron Legacy trailer via a N8 connected via its HDMI connector. Nice demo but is this really going to sell the phone? Airplay (iOS) does similar without wires. Nokia still find the consumer message difficult and are still pitching to techies. They did have a few digs at Apple as well with the compulsory you can use Nokia phones no matter how you hold the phone. They also made a big point of the millions of downloads they get per day from OVI and the 175 million Symbian devices shipped, 45 million of which are touch enabled.

Of the 3 new announcements the C7 was my favorite especially from a form factor perspective. Good weight without feeling plastic.

Another interesting announcement was Java ‘touch and type’ devices. These are S40 phones with a traditional 0-9, ABC keyboard and a touch screen. Obviously aimed at the masses and emerging markets. With my developers hat on this certainly made me sit up and think. Very interesting indeed.

Over the next two days I attended various developer sessions and toured the  demo hall.

I was pleasantly surprised with the event, all in all a positive experience. Obviously Mr Elop was yet to make his full weight felt within the organisation

Tagged with:
Oct 25

I had seen the launch at Mobile World Congress but to be honest had not taken much notice. The concept looked a lot like Vodafone 360 and there were no handsets to play with (not counting the six foot mockup of course).

Look and Feel

I was impressed by the marketing.

What do Android, iPhone (iOS), Nokia (Symbian, touchscreen), Samsung (Bada) all have in common? They are all based on an icon grid structure, all to some extent following iPhones lead. Taking the iPhone as an example the icons in general are not dynamic or information led, except for the calendar icon which has today’s date on it. According to the weather icon it is always 23° and sunny, which is obviously not always the case.

So Microsoft wanted to break the mould. Wanted to do something iconic. So what better place to start than the iconography around us that we see everyday and are familiar with, motorway and airport signs. Most people will instantly know if they are in airport what the sign in front of them is trying to convey not matter where they are or what the language.

The devices will be based on three hardware specs that Windows phone 7 will support, each have a specific pixel count and orientation (think iPhone, Blackberry and Milestone like devices) and minimum hardware requirement (at least a 1Ghz Snapdragon from Qualcomm). Other requirements include 256MB of RAM, 8GB of Flash and 2GB of file storage. Only Operators and OEM’s will be able to write natively for the devices. Anyone else wanting to write apps for the devices will have to utilise Silverlight or XNA (XBox integration) for games.

Facebook will be heavily integrated at launch for contacts etc. There will be no HTML5 or flash support. Obviously Silverlight will be supported from day one. Sub pixel rendering will be utilised during browser zoom to stop the fuzzy edges around the text.

Music and video services wil be provided the Zune integration that has been done.

Microsoft obviously supports the Microsoft Marketplace in terms of its app store. There will be a ‘Try’ feature on the store that allows you to try the app before you purchase. The rationale behind this is to get rid of the necessity of free apps so there will be less apps on the store. There will be a 7 day SLA for acceptance into the Marketplace. Ad supported apps will be available. All apps will be downloaded to the handset as there will be no sideloading.

Location services (maps) will be provided by the Bing.

All in all I was very impressed by what I saw and what I heard, with a well thought out attempt at relaunching their mobile OS. The proof will be in the usability and we will not really get a feel for that until the devices launch.

Tagged with:
preload preload preload