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The operators new clothes

2/11/08

If phones were clothes shops the Nokia 1650 would be Primark, the Sony Ericsson W910 TK Max and the Android G1 Versace.

Let me explain that thinking: The Nokia 1650 is good basic and practical. A phone as a commodity. The W910 is yesterday’s hero, what was a great and expensive phone is now a good cheap one just because the technology has moved on. If you don’t have to have the latest and greatest it’s a bargain. And the HTC T-Mobile Google Android G1 is the newest, most hyped yet not really practical one.

So if you were a mobile phone network looking to make phone a commodity would you do it with the cheap stuff or the couture? Networks are keen on the operating system shake-out because they want fewer platforms. In part this is to reduce the support cost but a lot of it is about controlling the experience: owning the consumer. As consumers we don’t want to be owned, but it’s a crazy policy anyway. The march of technology with phones isn’t as simple as it is with computers. The Microsoft/Intel technology progression is very well defined. Memory prices see-saw but come down dramatically over time, hard disks get bigger and bigger and processors do their Moores law thing. And that’s about it, anything like web cams are peripheral. That’s what they are called “peripherals”, and don’t change the fundamental experience.

Expansys HTC Touch Diamond advert

Phones are different. WiFi, GPS, projectors and the ever marching progression of radio technologies from EDGE to WCDMA to HSDPA to HSUPA means that the designer label brands of the phone market stay ahead of the cheap and cheerful. Radio and software are difficult. It just isn’t possible to commoditise phones because they progress so fast.

Linux is the worst of both worlds. It’s an operating system that knows nothing about phones. There is no standard way of talking to the radio side, of defining call control or phone books. Both above and below the OS layer things need to be customised.

Yet it doesn’t have the integrated merits of using a custom OS. The result is that there is no standardisation, no consistent user experience with its reduced support costs. It’s a bit like a department store staying all clothing must be 100% cotton. No silk, wool or nylon, and then expecting everything from jeans to ball gowns, winter coats to swimwear, to fit their standardisation model.

What’s given us the fantastic innovation that is iPhone, Blackberry, Cybershot, Nseries and Walkman is the free rein. If the networks want innovation they should butt out of dictating platforms. If they want standardisation they should do what NTT DoCoMo does and have extremely tight definitions.

Today’s half-way house is no good for anyone. The question is which way is it going to go. I’d bet on both ways. Tight definition for some – like Orange signature but more so – and free-for-all for others.

Me? I’m off to Kensington High Street. Home of H&M and Sony Ericsson which is kind of appropriate as the T303 is the kind of cheap stylish  phone H&M would sell if they did make phones. It doesn’t have an operating system and I don’t care.
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

Motorola has given up on Linux, and adopted, er, Linux. This happens about every eighteen months. First there was JUIX (Java UI eXperience), then EzX (easy ex) and most recently MotoMAGX (aka LJ). The flavour for the current eighteen months is different: it doesn’t have an X in the name. It’s Android. Look for another one in 2011.

Motorola has given up on Symbian. This happens every two years. First there was the Florida team which built the world’s first 3G Symbian phone (with GPS and touch five years before the iPhone), then the Birmingham which built the Z8 and now Denmark. Look for another one in 2013. All this was reported in a Wall Street Journal but The Register doesn’t charge you to read it. The results are here. It’s effectively a pull-out from Europe.

Browsing the job ads is always a good way to see who is doing what, and there are lots of big jobs in mobile advertising. It’s a field which will take a long time to find its feet and what’s being spent far outweighs what can be expected in the immediate term still Vodafone’s trial bodes well for the future

Analysts have never been very good at predicting the future, I’ve always thought they should be paid on how accurate they are. Think of all those who’ve said the games market in a couple of years will be worth ten times today. And have said that for the last ten years. IDC has pulled off a neat trick for getting it wrong and blamed the economic downturn.

Intel wants the Atom processor to dominate the mobile internet space that ARM expects to belong to the Cortex A8 and A9. An upset Intel chose the wrong thing to criticise when it picked on the iPhone for having an ARM 11. So now they have apologised.

Kenya is the home of MPESA, the biggest success in Mobile Banking. It has changed the life of people and helped secure Safaricoms market dominance. So it is no surprise that Telkom Kenya is launching a mobile payments service of its own.

Vodafone is restructuring its newly acquired Ghana telecom business with 4,000 job cuts.

 

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