Wireless Device Strategies

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February 17, 2011 19:42 nmawston

Day 5 (Thursday) of Mobile World Congress 2011 in Barcelona has arrived. It is the trade show's final day. Exhibitors are packing away their stands.

To wrap up, these have been among the major developments this week:

1. The Nokia-Microsoft deal was huge. Both firms are placing big bets;

2. Android was everywhere. LiMo 4 failed to get heard above the noise;

3. Tablets are facing me-too syndrome;

4. NFC is emerging in Western Europe. There are several challenges;

5. NVidia is looking stronger in superphones and tablets. 

Until next time, adios.

February 17, 2011 19:11 nmawston

Day 4 (Wednesday) of Mobile World Congress.

Orange has been talking up NFC and positioning its brand as a key player in the emerging European NFC ecosystem. The operator's roadmap for the second half of 2011 will contain a growing number of NFC phones, NFC SIM cards and NFC promotions. Like Japan, public transport payments will be among the low-hanging fruit for services. Partners include Samsung, Nokia and Barclaycard. However, we note that major challenges for NFC remain around cost, security, roaming and reader availability.

Qualcomm outlined how multi-radio handsets will help to shape the landscape of convergence over the next decade. They would say that, of course, but they are broadly right. There has long been a clear trend for more wireless radios in high-tier phones, with cellular connectivity increasingly found alongside Bluetooth, WiFi, GPS, NFC, DLNA, and so on. But additional radios can mean more strain on battery life, and it indicates the "power gap" for phones will probably get larger in the years ahead.

Meanwhile, NVidia has been illustrating its SoC roadmap beyond Tegra 2. In my view, they look strong. A quad-core solution with a faster GPU for smartphones and tablets, codenamed Kal-El, will be commercially launched in H2 2011. Qualcomm, Intel and others will surely sit up and take notice.

February 17, 2011 01:30 Neil Shah


In a time when touchphones are becoming indistinguishable to the untrained eye, smartphone vendors have to get creative broaden their product portfolios. A small wave of down-sized smartphones has hit the market in the past year. Devices like HTC's HD mini and Sony Ericsson's duo of Xperia X10 Mini and Xperia X10 Mini Pro are now being followed by Samsung Galaxy Series Mini and a rumored iPhone Mini.


iPhone Mini (or Nano?) is speculated to be a cloud-centric mid-tier (wholesale ASP in the range of US$100-190) iOS-based smartphone, with a smaller screen size compared to the iPhone 4. Apple's potential product line extension toward the iPhone Nano makes sense as the third-ranked smartphone vendor globally (in terms of volumes for the full year 2010) looks to leverage its strong brand value to increase volumes, thus further expanding its growing iOS user base. And Apple?s products (iPods, iMacs, and MacBooks) all come in a range of sizes and prices.

The iPhone Nano is rumored to be a smartphone that will significantly leverage Apple?s cloud-based 'Mobile Me' online storage services platform. The capabilities of iPhone Nano in a ?thin-client?-like design could extend beyond personal content (mail, music and multimedia) storage to optimized web browsing, enhanced real-time chatting and access to web-based applications, taking Apple?s application and services ecosystem to the next level. At the same time, with an iPhone Nano, Apple could compromise on some of the hardware specs and salvage the gross margins from dipping too much while keeping pricing competitive.

The inclusion of iPhone Mini in Apple?s smartphone portfolio could have following implications:

  • iPhone Nano could help Apple gain significant shelf share with operators using a differentiated offering relative to the sea of mid-tier Android smartphones.
  • For operators, this also means selling a popular branded smartphone with lower subsidies (without a big hole in the pocket).
  • The development could not only be an attractive proposition for Apple for generating revenue from a cloud-oriented model but also for the carriers in achieving higher ARPU.
  • A more affordable iPhone could boost overall handset volumes for Apple as it will be able to target the huge base of feature phone users who are eager to upgrade to smartphone with a much easier opportunity to get their hands on a desired Apple product.
  • This also presents a good opportunity for Apple to generate volumes in the high-volume but price-conscious emerging markets.

However, moving downstream into the hundreds of millions of units markets could create number of challenges in manufacturing, logistics, sales and marketing expenditure and customer support. The question is, does Apple have the scalable infrastructure; retail and service reach (like that of Nokia or Samsung) to enter and serve this potentially huge addressable market? Additionally, Apple would also like to tread carefully, as we have already seen promising cloud-centric handsets in form of Microsoft Kin One and Two doomed by poor marketing messages and pricing plans.

In summary, the new rumored Apple offering broadly intersects the lucrative mid-tier smartphone and potential cloud phone categories, which present ample opportunities for growth but also brings along new set of challenges that no handset vendor can ignore.



February 15, 2011 23:12 nmawston

Day 3 (Tuesday) at Mobile World Congress.

Today was tablet day. RIM has been outlining its roadmap for the PlayBook. A WiFi-only model will arrive in the US in Q1 2011, with a mobile WiMAX version for the US in mid-2011, followed by HSPA+ and LTE versions in H2 2011. It is dual-core, multi-tasking and aimed at prosumers or corporates. We have noticed a surprisingly large number of visitors at MWC this week carrying Apple iPads and knowingly leaving their Apple or Microsoft laptops back at the hotel. This is the kind of laptop-replacement market the PlayBook will be targeting.

LG showed its good-looking Optimus Pad model. It has a 9-inch touchscreen, Android 3.0 and NVidia Tegra 2. It is the world?s first tablet with a 3D camera, giving it a technology differentiator, albeit fairly niche.

The sleek, thin, Motorola Xoom is getting a positive reception among many attendees. The 3G version will be available in Western Europe from Q2 2011. The Xoom will be partly in competition with the Flyer, HTC?s first 7-inch tablet (that looks suspiciously like a stretched smartphone). We note the Flyer has a hybrid input-mechanism, where the touchscreen can be operated by either a finger or a stylus. 

Almost all tablets we?ve seen so far look and feel broadly similar. Rounded-square shape, shiny casing etc. Tablet makers are going to have to innovate with new formfactor designs in 2012 to prevent or delay commoditization.

February 14, 2011 18:52 nmawston

Day 2 (Monday) of Mobile World Congress.

LG made a splash this morning. Its Optimus 3D superphone was unveiled. It runs Android on a 4-inch screen and is powered by a dual-core chipset with dual-memory for fast graphics and rapid tasking. LG is finally piling into the smartphone market and this kind of high-profile tech-leadership will help to gain mindshare among developers and premium consumers. Competition in the premium market is getting very crowded, however. 

LiMo 4, the latest version of the LiMo platform was launched. Major operators NTT DoCoMo, Vodafone and SK Telecom were involved. Europe and Asia are its main targets. LiMo 4 goes beyond middleware and adds a UI layer, extra widgets and a few other things. It is a major upgrade for LiMo, but interest in it has been very limited as most of the loudest noise has been focusing on Microsoft, Android, Apple and Blackberry.

Sagem has been rebranded as MobiWire. The French handset vendor has arrived at MWC with a new brand name, a new corporate structure, and a new user-interface for Android smartphones. Its Surface UI helps consumers to ?surface? their content and apps so they are easier to access and use. We look forward to the possibility of testing Surface over the next few weeks.

February 13, 2011 22:39 nmawston

Day 1 (Sunday) of Mobile World Congress 2011 has arrived. The weather in Barcelona is sunny but a little cold.

The main topic of conversation among attendees so far has been the Nokia-Microsoft partnership. Some journalists have been asking me if Nokia and Microsoft will ever enter into a full merger. Some exhibitors are wondering what Nokia and Ovi might do to crack the critical US market.

One company that is already taking decisive steps to crack the US market is Sony Ericsson. We just had a play this evening with its new Xperia Play smartphone, which will be launched worldwide and in the US as an exclusive at Verizon Wireless in March 2011. Getting the Android 2.3 handset in the door at Verizon is a big win for Sony Ericsson. Our brief trial of the Play initially indicates smooth, console-class gameplay on a bright screen and a slim formfactor.

But Android is no longer just about consumers playing games. Some vendors are also taking an early shot at the enterprise market. Samsung unveiled today its Galaxy 10.1 tablet with a 10.1-inch touchscreen, HSPA+, Android 3.0 and dual-core NVidia Tegra 2. Some corporate-friendly features have been added to the device, such as Citrix Receiver for virtual desktops and SAP StreamWork collaborative app. RIM will now need to examine not just the Microsoft-Nokia deal for smartphones, but also the Android-Samsung strategy for tablets.

February 9, 2011 03:11 nmawston

Kyocera and Sprint have unveiled one of the first dual-screen smartphones in the United States. The premium-tier Echo runs Android 2.2 and a 1GHz processor over CDMA EVDO Rev A. It will launch commercially in Q2 2011. The folder formfactor carries two 3.5-inch WVGA touchscreens, making it possible to multitask by, say, emailing on one display and Web-browsing on the other.

Photo: KYOCERA Expands Solar Module Production Capacity with 2 new Assembly Plants in Czech Republic & China

This is an innovative strategy from Kyocera. After years in the wilderness, the Echo?s standout design will get Kyocera some much-needed mindshare among operators, tech-bloggers and consumers. Although a broadly similar dual-screen flip design has been available in the Nintendo DS portable gaming device since 2004, there are currently few dual-screen models in the mobile world and the Echo is sure to be a talking-point at Mobile World Congress. Display makers will relish selling two screens in one phone, battery manufacturers may be able to sell two batteries rather than just one, and software developers can optimize high-value apps such as two-screen gaming or social networking.

However, the Echo could well have several design challenges. Squeezing two large screens into one handset is no easy task. We believe cost, size, thickness, weight and power consumption will be among some of the initial criticisms from American consumers over the coming weeks. At this stage, the Echo is not looking like an iPhone-killer, but it does introduce an interesting concept and it makes one wonder what Nintendo might do when it eventually enters the mobile market?