Thursday, June 10, 2004

Nokia vs. Sony?

While the talk was about how Nokia's new clamshell phones might be too little, too late -- no one seems to have picked up the other interesting tidbit in this Reuters article, that Nokia is coming out with their own MP3 player...
"...plans events at its headquarters in Helsinki and in Asia, where it is expected to launch one or two fold-away phones, a music player without a phone keypad, a lightweight communicator model..."
Just tucked in to the middle of a paragraph, between the "buzz lacking" fold-away phones and the expected replacement for the brick. Will this "music player without a phone keypad" even be a phone? or will it be an add-on device that connects via bluetooth to your phone?

Nokia seems to have increasingly fixed its eye on Sony, competing to define the digital lifestyle. Lets hope that both companies realize that these devices eventually all need to be open and programmable...

What's the punchline?

Someone failed to tell Guy Kewney over at eWeek about Vocera before he wrote his article, Voice over WLAN Still a Joke That's Not Funny. And I suppose he also failed to do any background research into the matter and missed the recent tests by Vonage of Voip over Verizon's EV-DO network. Not to mention the trials that IDT Corporation currently has underway of VoiP over Wi-Fi in the Ironbound neighborhood of Newark, New Jersey. So why does a reporter blast a technology based on a trade show floor demonstration? Is there something going on here, other than sloppy journalism?

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Delays in ITALK2U

I spoke with John Jarvis, CEO of LitFiber, by phone this morning regarding the delay in release of the "Final" edition of ITALK2U. John told me that they are hard at work adding the capability of bridging to a POTS network -- their revenue model for the product. He expects that a new release will be available on their web site by the end of the week.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

VoWLAN is back...

As regular readers of this blog know, I have been concerned about the evolution of the acronym for VoIP over wireless networks. My primary concern has been a marketing one -- we are still in the process of explaining to consumers what the heck Wi-Fi is, now we need to explain to them voice applications over these wireless networks... so we start confusing them with VoWLAN.

But I recently saw an article in the respected CMP publication, Mobile Pipeline that used the term VoWLAN (the article is here) so I wrote to editor David Haskin and asked why he used the term VoWLAN. His reasoning is persuasive. Repeated with permission, his email reads:
It's an entirely subjective decision. My thinking was that WiFi (Wi-Fi, actually) is a brand created by the Wi-Fi Alliance that refers to a specific type of wireless technology. WLAN is a more neutral term. It likely won't happen, but if an entirely new wireless LAN technology emerges, I'd rather not be guilty of promoting one technology over another, even if it's subtle.
I certainly have to agree with David. With WiMAX growing in importance and Wi-Bro on the horizon and ever more wireless options emerging, VoIP over wireless will not be limited to Wi-Fi. VoWLAN now makes much more sense to me. Oh well, think of it as a full-employment program for marketing departments...

Why HP and PalmOne will be the last 2 PDA makers

Steven Bush, founder of Brighthand, has this interesting article on the evolution of the PDA market -- Then there were two. The article begins 20 years ago, with the innovative Newton being dreamed up in a lab at Apple and lightly sketches a few historical points on the market's evolution. More interesting is his analysis of the market today, and where we will be in the near term. He observes:
The "Big Three" Pocket PC manufacturers of just a few years ago -- HP, Compaq and Casio -- has dwindled down to one, HP. And the "Big Three" on the Palm OS side -- Palm, Handspring and Sony -- is now down to palmOne.
While acknowledging that other manufacturers such as Dell and Garmin still exist, he believes they will be niche players. What's missing from the article is an analysis on how and why we ended up where we are.

On the Palm front, my view is that Palm made good decisions about partnering -- licensing their OS when Apple had made the wrong decision on this point so many years before. However, they made two mistakes. The first was execution. While the licensed the OS, it remained too tightly connected to their hardware business. By the time they made it a truly independent business, the market was already in decline. And far too much time and energy was spent in this process. Not to mention the process of spinning off from 3Com or being acquired by 3Com. Corporate restructuring may be necessary but it can be very disruptive.

The second mistake was around innovation. Palm became stuck in their approach to the PDA market and change was a monolithic process. New operating system releases were painful for the company and for licensees. The company was not able to take some of the base ideas and technology and use it for adjacent device categories like mp3 players or smart phones, both of which started growing much faster than the core PDA market. This inflexibility and inability to innovate limited licensee growth. Palm's competitor, Microsoft, hasn't succeeded here either, but MS has the drag through revenue and relationship with the desktop and laptop platform that Palm had to compete against. Palm needed more of a constellation of devices supporting the same set of APIs, if not running the same OS.

On the Pocket PC front, rather than saying HP, really we should say Compaq was the winner here. This is a story of early commitment to a market, innovative engineering, hard work, and smart marketing. Despite Dell's proven approach in the PC and Laptop market of gutting cost throughout the engineering to delivery cycle, Compaq/HP has been able to hold their ground in this segment of the market. I attribute this to the innovation necessary so far in the PDA segment and for this reason I would not count out Dell in the future. Once Microsoft publishes a universal reference platform that can be made cheaply in China and is appealing to consumers, Dell will be back in the game. As long as consumers are looking for innovation in the device, Compaq/HP will continue to lead.

But as I have written elsewhere the PDA market is in a period of terminal decline. Perhaps it is more appropriate to say a period of transition -- the things we do with a PDA are not going away. Just the idea that Palm was born on, a personal digital assistant. Perhaps the old adage is true, that it is always that characteristic which gives you your strength which is also your weak point. Palm succeeded because it eschewed the general programmability model of the Newton and focused on providing core functionality and doing a great job in that limited area. Now the market is moving in three directions, away from the core value proposition that Palm was built on --

(1) even more special purpose consumer electronics (mp3 player) though I expect this market to drive toward high volume and low cost rather quickly.

(2) general programmable device with a very small form factor -- smart phone. In this market I expect to see the greatest challenge coming from integration with the rest of the computing stack. Here Symbian is the only player with any significant volume.

(3) integrated platform, running the same OS, from smallest device to largest server -- Microsoft and Linux are the two options today.

So what should Palm do? Ditch PalmOS. Start making devices based on Linux. How about the Palm user interface on top of Linux? Start making devices in other categories outside the PDA -- Linux MP3 player, Linux Video recorder, Linux Smart Phone...

Monday, June 07, 2004

Assault on Smart Phones

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction... my physics professor tried to teach me something like that. Now I see what he meant. It hadn't occured to me that professional technology industry consultants would advise against the adoption of new technology. Luddites or Amish maybe. But thanks to Cory Doctorow, I now see how short term economic thinking warps some consultants brains... Cory points out an article from the Register entitled Symbian loophole 'threatens operator revenue' which details a report from consultancy Mako Analysis. Of the Symbian OS, Mako is reported as having said
"The increasing sophistication of high-end mobile devices opens up a range of additional problems and will continue to undermine the data revenue streams of mobile operators at a time when they desperately need them to be increasing."
At Mako's web site a full article is available on the topic. Mako explains that with the Symbian OS "...a savvy user can... completely bypass a range of services that are normally charged for by their mobile operator." Mako outlines four categories of services that mobile operators hope to charge for that could be impacted -- messaging, mobile music, gaming and phone personalization.

I don't suppose that Mako is aware that you don't even need Symbian -- with Java midlets, people have been avoiding operator's high prices on SMS for a few years with programs like this one.

At the same time another Register article warns of a University of Surrey study that shows that "Mobile phones drive us mental." The study warned that "...the incessant demand for instant communication heightens stress in the workplace, makes people angry and can prove to be an annoying distraction."

So perhaps instead of simply warning against smart phones, Mako should be arguing that we should do away with mobile phones altogether! Of course that would result in a somewhat larger impact on revenues for their clients...

A more useful role for a consultancy would be to advise mobile operators on how to transform their business models to take advantage of the relentless and unstoppable pace of technological innovation, as opposed to suggesting that it can in some way be halted.