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When the chips are down

26/10/08

One of the ‘killer’ applications for the new Android phone is shopping. Shopping. Now that’s something I like. The idea is that you photograph the bar code and it goes on-line to find out where you should be to buy it more cheaply. Along with most of the Android competition winners this focuses on the technology and not on actually solving the problem. One idea is a recipe builder using location based services for the shopping, as a desperate attempt to make a naff idea mobile.

The problem with the price comparison idea is that reading the bar code is the easy bit. At least assuming the lens on the phone will do close-ups. Doing the comparative bit is the hard part. There was, a very long time ago a TV advert for a PC with a microphone. It showed a besuited man saying into it “Show me last month’s sales figures”. A friend commented that you probably couldn’t type “show me last month’s sales figures” and have the computer understand.

Expansys HTC Touch Diamond advert

There are however a number system which can do automatic price comparisons. Google has its shopping, there is Kelkoo but I’ve been playing with a new one called sccope.com . What makes this special, and relevant for something on mobile is that it is also an SMS service. It does the work the Android application skirts over. You send the details of the thing you are looking to buy to 6255 and they send back the best prices. Unfortunately they don’t seem to do mobile phones just yet.

But the thing you really need price comparison on if you work in the phone industry is processors. Time was when handset companies didn’t have much choice over who to buy from. Siemens, Ericsson, Motorola, Phillips and Samsung all had their own processor divisions. Now the only one with that relationship is Samsung. Siemens doesn’t make phones anymore but had spun off its chip company as Infineon. Ericsson sired Sony Ericsson which does use Ericsson chips but also uses Texas Instruments and in the new X1 Qualcomm, Motorola spun off what was called SPS as Freescale and is now distancing itself. Philips can never decide if it is in the handset business and spat out NXP which has merged with ST Micro and the product of that has just joined with Ericsson Mobile Platforms.

The Freescale and Texas Instruments commodity chips division are now up for sale and it is not clear how profitable the other companies are. The result is going to be that there will be very few chip suppliers for the majority of handset manufacturers to choose from. TI is going to become even more heavily reliant on Nokia, which is a precarious place to be as Nokia controls the majority of their business.

There are however a few new vendors. Intel is re-entering the mobile area with Atom and a deal with Ericsson and is saying nasty things about the iPhone because it has ARM processors in it. This sparked off rumours I reported on a while ago that Apple would more to Atom in the future, but Apple bought PA Semiconductor which has taken an ARM development licence. So it looks like Apple is going down the route of making its own ARM-based chips. What would really hurt Intel’s pride is if some of those found their way into Apple computer products.

These battles miss a vital ingredient – the software that glues the handset to the chips and with the rivalry of Symbian Foundation, Windows and Android that’s the ground teh chip companies should be fighting for. Making sure as many operating systems run on their chips as possible. Not just the major ones but the ones you’ve never heard of.

Cat Keynes publishes her thoughts on the mobile phone industry every Sunday at www.catkeynes.com you can read the column  the previous Friday by subscribing here.


Links

There’s a couple of great stories on Rupert Goodwins blog. I’m not talking about X-ray sellotape but of predictive press mobile phones and Blackberry applications.

Last week I talked about Motorola’s new fashion brand which they announced on Tuesday. It’s a 2G phone with limited memory and a rubbish camera but I want one more than any other phone that has been produced. The beautiful Aura. If you click on the “Buy” bit there is a disclaimer which must have been written ten years ago.

Yahoo is doing some interesting things with one of the areas which has huge potential – education.

We’ve always know that iPhones are wonderful but expensive, however we thought that was just for us. It turns out that the same is true for networks as AT&T reveals what it has cost them.

It seems that Android is the geek phone to have. Hmm, I’m not sure that I want one.

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