Wireless Smartphone Strategies

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

June 8, 2011 22:39 bjoy

This year at WWDC, among other things, Apple announced the next generation OS and a cloud based service called the iCloud. The entire session was dedicated to software, so no hints on iPhone 5 from the event.

The long wait for iPhone

It appears that the iPhone 5 is now set toward the end of third quarter, three months behind the usual June release. In many respects, the iOS/iPhone is doing a bit of catch up rather than setting new benchmarks or use cases. Of course, with each upgrade Apple continues to bring its own twists in software and hardware, but not the sweeping changes it had been used to in the past.

For instance, multitasking was introduced only in iOS4 last year. Similarly, the notifications feature will be available only in iOS5 this fall. In fact, both features have been very popular among Android users for quite some time. iOS5 includes 200+ new features, but majority of them are still in the catch-up side.

Technology innovation cycles are getting shorter, and Apple needs to look beyond these once-a-year confabs in bringing frequent software and hardware updates to maintain its pole position in the premium smartphone segment.

iCloud = Cloud Phones ?

“We are going to demote the PC to just be a device” – these are the exact words from Steve jobs as he unveiled the iCloud service. Well, what about the iPhone? Will iCloud be the catalyst for launching entry-tier iPhones? Does the iCloud eventually bring a uniform experience across a broad range of price points? After all, in some parts of the world people value these devices more than their vital organs.

The iCloud is a managed service that runs in the background and supports a broad range of applications and features across their iOS portfolio. Our Wireless Device team has penned a thin-client/cloud-phone concept early last year – clients can access the report here. Cloud phones in its purest form rely on the cloud for demanding jobs with a base hardware profile just enough to run the OS.

Unlike the current crop of entry Android devices, Apple is unlikely to sacrifice the user experience through a lower BOM approach. Although in the current form, the iCloud is unlikely to provide a seamless experience on thin clients, but as the service evolves, it is likely to go well beyond its current offerings in providing enhanced support for lower hardware profiles without risking the user experience.

Yes, an entry iPhone is closer to launch than one might think.

- Bonny Joy


January 19, 2011 19:57 bjoy

2010 has been a great year for smartphones with several high profile device launches. Besides the great line-up of devices, US carriers have been wholeheartedly promoting the devices with attractive rate plans and lenient upgrade policies. AT&T's early upgrade policy coincided with the launch of the iPhone 4 last summer was a smash hit with total sales over 5.8 million in Q3 2010, a 66% jump over the same period last year. Similarly, the $15/ month entry smartphone tariffs (although with cap restrictions) proved to be very popular among first time smartphone customers.

Well, 2011 is turning out to be a slightly different story. While carriers are keen to drive smartphone penetration, they are getting a bit more selective in addressing their target markets. See the recent announcements from VZW and Sprint.

- VZW stopped their "New Every Two" program, which allowed customers $30-100 credit toward the purchase of a new phone at the time of contract renewal. The carrier also made changes in the Early Upgrade policy. Prior to the change, customers had the option to upgrade the device after 13 months into a two year contract. And now the wait got a bit longer to 20 months.

- At Sprint, starting Jan 30, all new smartphone activations will come with a $10/month data surcharge.

The termination of "New Every Two" and "Early Upgrade" will have impact on Verizon's replacement and upgrade sales. So far, both programs had served as effective churn management tactics by offering the latest and greatest devices for the most demanding customers. But with the iPhone already under the VZW portfolio, they are not going to worry too much on the churn metrics - hence the bold move.

The impact of Sprint's $10 surcharge on smartphone lines are going to be at a different place. Sprint premium device customers such as the EVO and EPIC already pay a $10 premium, and now that has been extended across their portfolio - super and regular smartphones alike. No doubt, with the change, their featurephone bundles look a lot more attractive than before and will gain at the expense of smartphones. Rather than milking the smartphone base till the last drop, they should have added more options (lower smartphone tariffs/entry smartphone) and develop a migration path for their featurephone base to smartphones.

The VZW approach is farsighted, and the changes are not going to affect their long term strategy in tapping first time smartphone subscribers and at the same time trying to get more mileage out of their existing smartphone base. However, without an entry smartphone plan, Sprint is going to be left out from the next wave of smartphone customers.


December 22, 2010 16:12 bjoy
Nokia has a healthy working relationship with Microsoft, and the partnership has been growing over the past few years. Recent initiatives include:
  • Microsoft Office Mobile Suite for Symbian.
  • Microsoft Sliverlight for Symbian.
  • The Nokia Booklet, a 3G netbook based on Windows 7.
On the organization front, Stephen Elop, a Microsoft veteran, took over the helms at Nokia earlier this year, bringing both companies closer than ever. While Sliverlight, Microsoft Office, and Windows 7 netbook initiatives are all signs of a healthy partnership, embracing the WP7 platform in its totality takes the relationship to the next level. Shifting the building blocks of your device/software/service ecosystem in favor of third parties is no small decision and will have effect on your intangible sub-brand assets such as Ovi. And that exactly is the rumor from this week, that Nokia will launch WP7 devices in 2011. While we have no official version of the story, it would be interesting to assess the impact of such a partnership in the market. On the positive side, Nokia’s industrial design, distribution and supply chain process are among the best in the industry. WP7 will gain a strong partner in Nokia to bring the best-in-class devices among Windows Phone series. But how much of an impact it will have on Nokia’s platform portfolio, positioning and regional priorities? Where WP7 sits in Nokia’s portfolio?                                        Given the base set of high-end hardware requirements for WP7, the Nokia WP7 device will be positioned in the same premium space occupied by the MeeGo platform. Will Nokia abandon the MeeGo platform in favor of WP7? Or are they going to co-exist, with WP7 focusing on the prosumer and business segments along the same lines of the S60 E-Series? Will there be any major shift in regional platform trends? USA: With an estimated 6% marketshare in 2010 (nearly all basic and featurephones), Nokia has been steadily losing marketshare and carrier shelf space in the US. The partnership is unlikely to change the competitive landscape in the US market, where Apple, HTC, Motorola and Samsung lead the operator shelves. WP7 LTE phones in H2 2011 / H1 2012 might be a potential option for Nokia to make inroads in the US. Western Europe: Microsoft will find more acceptance in carrier channels through Nokia in Western Europe. But beyond the “foot in the  door” strategy, the partnership will have to do little with the success of the platform. In emerging markets, where Nokia has the broadest reach in mid-tier smartphones, the WP7 will be not be the obvious choice for the cost sensitive segments. We believe Nokia will continue to rely on the S60 platform in the mid-tier smartphone segment. Overall, while the idea of a Nokia WP7 device looks like a big win for Microsoft, it’s unlikely to change the prospects of Nokia or WP7 in the smartphone department. Nevertheless, Nokia needs to raise its profile in the US, and this would be a step in the right direction, but it will need step-changes in distribution and subsidies. But for the most part, it’s going to be just another partnership for Microsoft and Nokia – you’re only as strong as your weakest link. - Bonny Joy

September 10, 2010 20:09 bjoy
Android sales have already surpassed the iPhone and with each passing day, its building further momentum with new announcements and launches. The launch of the Huawei Ideos, a mid-tier (<200 USD) device with Android 2.2 is yet another milestone in the Android evolution as the platform now extends its reach to new segments traditionally occupied by the feature phones. Most, if not all, major operators have at least one Android model in the portfolio. The platform also has broad support from the vendor community, with major names under its banner. One question at the top of OEM and Operators is how my Android is different from your Android. Look at the Android portfolio in the US market. Aside from the glossy hardware specs and discounting the differences between the base version releases - Android 1.X/2.X – it’s hard to spot any differences beneath the skin. OEMs ability to differentiate is largely limited to the user interface layers. The HTC Sense UI, Samsung TouchWiz and Sony Ericsson Timescape are some of the leading Android skins available in the market. Under the hood, they all share the common goal of servicing the Google’s apps and service portfolio – Search,GMail, Maps and  Gtalk to name a few.   “True” Internet? An opportunity for differentiation here is to bring the “true” internet experience to consumers by seamlessly integrating services and features beyond Google products. This is a tall task for most OEMs as it’s not always easy to develop exclusive partnerships in the content or service space – and some of the most popular non-Google services like Facebook are already integrated to the core Android base anyways. But for operators, the stage is slightly different. Check out some of the most recent announcements from Verizon Wireless: •    The Verizon Samsung Fascinate, part of Samsung’s premium Galaxy S portfolio, uses Microsoft  Bing as the standard option for Maps. •    Bing will also serve as the default search engine for the device. The Galaxy S series is available under all major US operators, but except for the Verizon version, all bear the same look and feel. I’m not going to the merits of which search or maps service yield the best results, but the fact that operators are looking beyond Google’s umbrella services will provide more choice for the consumers – however small that segment be. Skype integration is another differentiator for Verizon Android devices.  Although the Android core base doesn’t have a Google branded VoIP service yet, sooner or later the Google branded VoIP service will be part of the core Android base – especially given the recent launch of integrated VoIP service with Gmail. Replacing core Google services with alternative services will not prove to be a winning formula in all instances, but it could bring the mobile Internet experience beyond Google’s umbrella brands and provide enough service attributes to differentiate from the Google’s core base. The service element is a critical element in the product planning process and product planners should pay keen attention before deciding what should or shouldn’t be replaced from the core platform.  At Strategy Analytics, we’ve tools to support our clients in positioning products with the right combination of hardware/platform/service elements. Drop us a note if you would like to know more on how we can assist your planning teams. - Bonny Joy

April 22, 2010 22:04 bjoy
The Q1 2010 results season are upon us, and Apple reported yet another stellar performance, shipping 8.8 million iPhones globally. This is the best iPhone performance the company ever had outside the fourth quarter.  Typically the iPhone sales are the strongest in during the back half of the year. The third quarter stands to benefit from product refreshes and the fourth quarter from holiday sales. The record first quarter sales is really promising, the upcoming OS 4.0 along with a likely hardware refresh this summer will boost the second half sales even further. The AT&T results the following day shed some additional light on Apple’s performance. The Apple iPhone is still the breadwinner for AT&T, even after nearly three years of launch. Check this fact: AT&T activated 2.7 million iPhones during the quarter, and one third of the activations came from new subscribers, which is higher than the total post paid net-adds reported by the carrier. The impact of the iPhone becomes more obvious if we consider the fact that this is despite the competition from a growing smartphone line-up under the AT&T portfolio, including Android, RIM , and Symbian devices. So who is buying the iPhone these days? After all, the device has been in the market for several quarters now. The early adopters and early majority are already iPhone subscribers (read youth, prosumers etc). The tail end of the demographics, which are the late majority and the laggards (typically the 55+ age group) are the next wave of opportunity for Apple and AT&T. innovation-curve.jpg Innovation Adoption Curve; Chart Source: Google The tail-end of the market is always a difficult proposition for companies as they are often hesitant to embrace new solutions, even if the product or service on offer enhances the quality of life. The word of mouth through family and friends is a major driver for smartphone adoption among seniors, and for this to occur, the product should have a large installed base and be in the market for a very long period. The iPhone in the US is at a distinct advantage in this respect as it enters its fourth year this summer - and perhaps that is already showing in the most recent AT&T results. - Bonny Joy

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

February 17, 2010 03:02 bjoy
With the launch of Google Nexus, the term superphone started to make its rounds through the blogosphere. There is no single definition for the superphone, but in its simplest terms it stands for devices that are built to render Web 2.0 services to its full potential along with an array of sensors and hardware bells and whistles. So what’s next? Well, if you ask me, I would drop the “phone” from smartphones and superphones and coin a new category called the “Super-Smart”. In an increasingly connected world, platforms are not going to be confined within the realm of phones, regardless of whether or not they are smart or super. And this goes well beyond the Web 2.0 services or Application Store fronts, where Android and Apple have taken the lead. The next evolution in device platforms will leverage content, hardware and services from a full range of connected terminals and services, whether it is hardware, software or web based frameworks.  Two of the main announcements from MWC 2010 have embraced this approach: Windows Phone 7 Series wp-7-v1.bmp The new platform is a huge leap from the previous Windows Mobile versions. Microsoft has reengineered the platform with an intuitive user experience, but what really stands out is the fact that Microsoft has put serious efforts into tying all their consumer brands and services through the mobile platform – some of which have been long ignored in the mobile context, such as the Xbox and Zune services. At least in theory, the Windows Phone 7 series have great assets in touching many aspects of the consumer life: Xbox (entertainment), Zune (media), Windows 7 (computing), Bing (Internet) and Sync (Auto). On the flip side, the biggest challenge for Microsoft in the near to medium term is passing the form factor/emotional appeal of the device, a huge task for its OEM partners to overcome. Intel and Nokia team up to form MeeGo meego-v1.bmp Intel and Nokia have merged their Linux based Moblin and Maemo platforms to form “MeeGo”. In theory, the partnership between the mobile and computing giants is aimed at facilitating a development ecosystem that spans across media, connected homes, and in-vehicle use cases through the MeeGo framework. To begin with, Maemo had some success in showcasing its potential with the Nokia N900, while Intel’s Moblin has been a non-starter without any commercial launches. The new MeeGo platform is a step in the right direction by pooling the resources to build a compelling platform ecosystem, but it is late to the party. But it is clear that Nokia is making a commitment to this “super smart” device class, which is in itself affirmation of this emerging product class. As it has been in the past, the winners in this expanding ecosystem will not be counted by the assets or potential it offers, but how effectively they can turn the endless possibilities to a few realities – and for now Apple and Android ecosystem is well ahead of Windows Phone 7 and the MeeGo platforms. But one thing is sure – the future of platforms is beyond super or smart phones, and the suppliers that fail to embrace this approach will soon be irrelevant. - Bonny Joy

January 20, 2010 16:01 bjoy
 Here in the US it is an all too increasingly common occurrence to hear everyday someone new telling us something that we “have” to do. Verizon Wireless and AT&T introduced new data rate plans recently. Hidden in the hullabaloo about lower unlimited price plans was the new announcement from both that users now “have” to buy a minimum data plan with any new feature phone:
  • Verizon Wireless created a new category called 3G multimedia feature phones that  encompasses a range of cool and not-so-cool devices.  An additional $9.99 monthly data plan, providing 25Mbytes of data use per month, is a requirement on any new 3G multimedia feature phone purchased. Unlimited data plans for these phones cost $29.99.
  • AT&T announced an unlimited texting/browsing plan that will be a requirement for any new Quick Messaging Device (also a new device category) purchased. The rate plans for these phones start at $20/month for individual lines and $30/month for family plans, for either browsing or messaging with no data cap.
We can understand the approach – both operators want to drive use of their portal based offerings. AT&T at least went one step further and eliminated the data cap, but consider that that 20$ doesn’t include both messaging and browsing.  Its an either or proposition. We still “have” to choose one. These plans not only miss the mark in terms of their potential to drive meaningful growth in usage of feature phones, they penalize users for wanting to get a cool, mid range phone that lets them do a little more than talk. This is a significant issue for both operators when you consider that they both have a large share of their users on family plans. Will these prices stimulate usage on all the phones sitting idly in family plans? What’s the thinking here? Are buyers on these plans going to be willing to commit to an extra $20 to $40 per month for two to four additional lines? …”Well, since we “have” to buy it, we might as well use it…” I think not. This approach risks slowing take up of new family plans and may result in a slowing of handset replacements in the featurephone category. At the end of the day, this is one thing these users will quickly decide that they don’t “have” to do.