Wireless Device Strategies

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February 2, 2010 19:02 cambrosio
In a recent meeting I attended, Henry Ford’s quote was used to remind us that consumers are rarely the source of innovation. I would suggest that this maxim also applies to the philosophy of mobile technology professionals developing new, emerging devices. The wireless industry is still driven by the engineering-driven belief that giving users “faster horses” (read mobile broadband) will be the fundamental driver of future non-traditional devices.   To be fair, we should note that early efforts are progressing - the Amazon Kindle ignited e-book developments; rabid press coverage of the Apple iPad continues; recently, even AT&T reported that it had added 1 million new “emerging” devices in Q4 2009.  Hold your horses, though – the future appears bright for e-books, but the iPad is largely unproven and pricey. At AT&T, the majority of these are sensors adding little incremental revenue, a sign that AT&T and Jasper are making progress and less a sign of consumer device innovation. During 2010 we will continue to hear many companies heralding their new emerging devices as “innovative” offerings that will drive consumer wireless penetration into the stratosphere.So how can device OEMs define emerging device innovation? The worrisome truth is that they will have to go far beyond their staple expertise in industrial design. While this will continue to be important, I would offer a framework including five important elements of innovative emerging devices (which we'll dissect in more detail in coming weeks): 1)      Branding – Innovative device brands will partner with compelling service, content, or application brands to dominate headlines and also realized profits; 2)      Use Case - Emerging devices designed or optimized for one or a select few applications as the “primary” use will be easily understood by consumers, and more easily valued for service delivery by operators; 3)      The user experience – The UX will continue to be the most important factor driving innovative emerging devices. This will be the most formidable hurdle for traditional OEMs; 4)      The wireless business model - A transparent business model where the wireless costs are embedded in the device price will ultimately be the most consumer friendly option; 5)     Distribution - Big brands will innovate by leverage existing resources and strong consumer awareness, directly and via partnerships with content and service players, to drive sell-through in traditional and online consumer channels. Chris Ambrosio

January 13, 2010 16:01 Alex Spektor

As usual, this year was a fairly quiet one for mobile phones at CES. Hot consumer electronics products, like ultra-thin 3D TVs, e-books, tablets, and netbooks, all overshadowed phone announcements from the likes of Palm, LG, and Motorola.

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But one bit of important news came from an event that was held in parallel with CES. At the AT&T Developer Summit last week, the big news centered on the impending rollout of Qualcomm’s Brew Mobile Platform across the carrier’s messaging phone portfolio – complete with an app store (AT&T App Center) and “standard” 70-30 revenue sharing. AT&T’s target is 90% Brew MP penetration on mid-range featurephones by end-of-2011.

So, who benefits from the AT&T announcement?

Clear winners

  • US Carriers: Presumably, the most compelling apps would be data-enabled, so the development would drive data plan take-up. Verizon Wireless is already requiring a data plan on a number of its messaging phone models, and is rumored to expand the policy to more non-smart devices.
  • Developers: Improved revenue sharing, a unified platform, and a well-supported SDK make developing apps for multiple devices easier and potentially more profitable.
  • Qualcomm: Prior to this announcement, we were predicting the slow demise of Brew. Although it avoided the fragmentation issues of Sun’s Java ME, the relatively closed nature of Brew caused it to have narrow penetration. Breaking in at AT&T is an important win, though convincing Western European operators will remain a challenge.

Mixed impact

  • Consumers: Apps on phones mean a more powerful device, but if a consumer is ready to buy apps and pay for data, why not get a smartphone, which (after subsidy) is unlikely to cost much more? And what about consumers who might not want a (potentially required) dataplan?
  • Device vendors: A new platform can help vendors with smartphone-weak portfolios compete better, but also means more R&D work, further compliance testing, and potentially longer development cycles.

Strategy Analytics forecasts that 45% of the world’s mobile phones will have application store capability by 2014. While smartphones will account for a large chunk of app store-enabled devices, the fast-growing categories of touchscreen and QWERTY handsets are becoming the leading featurephone categories to embrace the app store business model.

Brew MP on AT&T’s messaging devices and other similar developments all point to the blurring of lines between smartphones and their less-capable featurephone cousins. While benefits of this activity extend to all involved parties, they do so to varying degrees. It remains to be seen how AT&T’s relationship with vendors, consumers, and developers evolves as a result.

-Alex Spektor