Wireless Smartphone Strategies

The industry’s most comprehensive set of critical market statistics and qualitative analysis, tracking and reporting on smartphones.

March 30, 2010 00:03 David Kerr

sa photo dk Returning from CTIA in Las Vegas last week and with only 2 days before going off on vacation to Florida, I found myself reflecting that two of the most interesting meetings I had at the show were with mobile operators.

During CTIA I spent some time with AT&T emerging devices and T-Mobile M2M teams and was impressed with how both these units had managed to cut (or at least untie) the cord to the mother ship and avoid having innovation stifled by the Borg up at Corporate.

    • AT&T’s efforts to encourage a broad range of new applications and devices has definitely paid dividends with Mr. Lurie and his team adding an impressive 1M users in Q409 as a result of new device categories (mostly PND and EBR).
    • T-Mobile revealed a somewhat unheralded pedigree in M2M.

Partnership is the order of the day.

AT&T highlighted partner applications ranging from location enabled pet collars (Apisphere) to glow cap bottles to aid compliance with medication schedules (Vitality) to a very cool new tablet from Openpeak which is very different to the announced but apparently supply side challenged iPad.  Verizon Wireless and Sprint are of course also praying at the alter of open development but perhaps with less public presence.

When I think of enterprise mobility, AT&T and Verizon Wireless are top of mind but T-Mobile has in fact quietly been developing strong competency in the M2M space over the last 7-8 years.

T-Mobile offers four different SIM form factors to suit specific applications and have enjoyed triple digit growth for the last four years. T-Mobile US has quietly activated “hundreds” of different device types on its network with only a handful of devices being rejected or pulled due to network unfriendly characteristics. These devices span Telematics, Connected Energy, Telemedicine and several other applications.

So what is the common DNA of two very different operators that has allowed them to innovate and focus on new opportunities? Separation and operational autonomy to facilitate and open funnel approach to partners and speed of execution not normally associated with US carriers.

In the case of AT&T, the Emerging Devices group was chartered with developing a new space and freed from the legacy of voice & data consumer tariffs and prepaid/postpaid categories which just don’t cut it in the new connected reality where users will have multiple devices connected but used in very different ways. Mr. Lurie and his team have been able to streamline device certification and experiment across the spectrum of business models for new connected applications.

For T-Mobile, speed of certification (days not months) and the independence of being a self-contained unit (own engineers, own sales although linked to broader enterprise group) reporting to Finance & Strategy have allowed them to pursue their “easiest to do business with” approach to the M2M markets.

So, the takeaway? Innovation is alive and well at US operators but separation from the collective corporate mind is essential.

David Kerr


March 22, 2010 21:03 Neil Shah
With Q3 FY 2010 financial report released this week and the outlook is still gloomy for Palm, it is being titled as a candidate for a “potential” buyout. But the future is in its own hands, and for the company like Palm it still has enough potential to weather out of this state and see some sunlight. There are some key areas where Palm has to rework its strategy. Palm has a good product line with likes of Palm Pre Plus & Palm Pixi Plus, and powered by a striking Linux core webOS platform enabling an intuitive UI covering all the basic traits to suit the targeted North American market. But still it’s unable to leverage on this appealing product line. The major issue for this lacklustre performance is due to its competition against the smartphone giants- Apple with a richer user experience and sea of applications, Samsung & LG growth with their manufacturing strategy customizing to satisfy mobile operator’s market segments, Blackberry with strong enterprise growth as well as remarkable entry into consumer segment, and the growing entrant Google with its open Android Platform. It is clear that Android, Mac OS X, Blackberry will dominate the North American market and Palm will be a secondary priority for the operators in spite of an innovative webOS platform. Based on the latest results, roughly half of the Palm’s shipments are in carrier channels struggling to sell through and the pressure is likely to increase further as Apple iPhone and Android begins the next innings with major software and hardware revisions in the following quarters. Perhaps Palm need to embrace growing platforms like Android, where operator and consumer interest is on the rise. By developing cross platform interfaces and services such as the Synergy, Palm can still provide a unique user experience on top of Android without betting the farm on webOS. Also, with positive outlook on HTML’s growth and adoption in mobile phones, from the applications development point of view Palm is at an advantage in leveraging its HTML/CSS written webOS in an opportunity to create new revenue vistas through mobile web browser based applications easily which may attract the operators participating in the recently announced “Wholesale Applications Community” at GSMA World Congress in Barcelona. Palm should also keep an eye on in incorporating the evolving wireless technologies (ex: TD-SCDMA, HSPA+, LTE) to expand and diversify its future offerings. So, Palm should for now go with the flow instead going against it and incorporate newer platforms like Android in its portfolio by 2011 instead of pushing the sole struggling webOS devices and thus come up with unique selling propositions satisfying the consumers & operator’s needs. Palm should also focus on striking strong long-term operator relationships especially GSM operators with a well thought and executed go-to-market strategy,and clawback out of this deteriorating situation. Thus, there will not be any need for “Palm” reading, as it will control its own future. - Neil Shah

March 17, 2010 23:03 bjoy
High-end mobile handsets have more in common with the consumer electronics industry than they used to. Music, camera and GPS segments are some of the early examples that have lost increasing ground to the mobile industry. As the industry converges further, more use-cases and functions will be bundled on high-end handsets and crimp the growth of other consumer-electronic segments such as portable gaming. Retailers are closely watching the evolution of cellular devices and treading the waters carefully. Connectivity will of course be common across multiple device categories, whether it is your 65-inch Plasma TV or internet-enabled table clock – and for the most part, this is a new learning experience for major main-street retailers. Connectivity adds another dimension and requires additional training for their customer representatives – initial set up, configuration, billing, activation, rebates and contract obligations are areas where retailers need to climb up the experience ladder. Some interesting trends from the buoyant US market: Best Buy is betting its future growth on high-end smartphones and emerging connected devices such as 3G laptops. Smartphones are just the launch pad for Best Buy’s broader strategy in taking an early position in the evolving connected terminals space. Wal-Mart is embracing a different route that is aligned with their low-cost mass-market philosophy. The no-frills service plan StraightTalk, developed in conjunction with TracFone, was a big success during the last holiday season. The business is changing in the online channels as well; Amazon launched is beta program last year and connected devices are often sold at significant discounts than through carrier-direct channels. On one hand, third-party specialist retail channels will expand operators' addressable markets to new segments. Operators do not have all the necessary assets to tap the long tail of emerging 3G device segments or new service plans that are aligned more with the consumer electronics industry. In this scenario, retailers are the operators' friend. On the other hand, dilution of operators' direct channels will be a threat for operators' control, and without proper checks in place, the thousands of existing operator stores in the US will soon become much less important. In this scenario, retailers will gain more distribution power and become the operators' foe. - Bonny Joy

March 10, 2010 05:03 Alex Spektor
No, I did not misplace my BlackBerry. This blog post is not about the “Find My iPhone” feature or any other innovations in device recovery. Rather, I would like to lament my disappointment with the general lack of true intelligence in so-called smartphones. Named so for their advanced (PC-like, Wikipedia suggests) capabilities, smartphones trump ordinary phones with their ability to tie in new services, run applications, and browse the real Web. But should being PC-like be the ultimate aspiration for handsets? After all, phones have a key advantage that not even the lightest of netbooks can have – phones are always with their users and, as such, they know a lot about them.
  • Using GPS and accelerometers, the phone can know where you are and whether you are moving.
  • With knowledge of your calendar, the phone can know if you are busy and whether it should interrupt you.
  • By monitoring your behavior, the phone can guess how you will behave next time a similar situation arises.
Privacy advocates and conspiracy theorists will have a field day with this one, of course. But their fears can be assuaged with feature opt-in and with clear, published documentation of what data are stored and shared. Mobile context awareness is nothing new. Academics have been talking about it for over a decade. But, outside of downloadable (i.e., not truly integrated) apps and some barebones functionality (such as the “Automatic” ringtone profile on some WinMo phones, which goes to vibrate during scheduled meetings), there still is not a whole lot of context awareness in smartphones. Platforms like Android allow you arrange your widgets across multiple home screens. Powerful? Yes. You then have to flip through the home screens until you find the one with the right widgets. Smart? Not really. Why can’t your phone – knowing whether you are at work, on a train, or at home – give you the right home screen on its own? And switch wallpapers. And change the vibrate settings.

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This example only scratches the surface of the possibilities out there. Vendors looking to differentiate on open platforms such as Android or Symbian have a terrific opportunity in building a robust context-aware user experience. Tomorrow, this stuff will be table stakes. But today, we are still waiting for somebody to lead the way. Handsets are loaded with power: processors, sensors, round-the-clock connection to services. But where is the intelligence to tie all of this power together? Maybe we should call them powerphones until they start doing something smart. -Alex Spektor