Thursday, December 17, 2009

Delivering a Green Christmas with FOTA

Jason Lackey

In business we often view green more in the context of money than the environment, regardless of whatever lipservice some might pay to this cause or the other. Fortunately technology sometimes provides an out. One classic example that many have already forgotten would be automobile emissions. Yeah, it is a PITA to get your car smogged, but with far fewer people the air in places like LA and Tokyo was far more toxic and opaque in the 60's than it is today.

Some solutions, like smogging cars, are pretty obvious as they directly address problems. Others are less so because they are less direct.

FOTA is one of them.

FOTA - Firmware Over The Air, a way of updating the operating system of a mobile phone remotely, is a technology which, while well established in Japan (by a little software company called InnoPath), has justed started to be widely used in the US.

This year, so far, 3.5 Million devices have been updated, saving a total of 33 Million Kg of CO2 emissions.

You can check out the InnoPath Press release on it, here.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

FOTA: $140m Saved and Counting!

Jason Lackey

Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. - Isaiah 40:4

Every bug shall be patched, every broken feature made whole; the rough spots smoothed over and the defective UI fixed. - FOTA 4:20

Mobile operators have it rough. On the one hand they have huge networks to support, on the other they have subscribers, each and every one of which thinks they are paying too much. Top it off with the fact that many, if not most, want to have the very latest and greatest phone and they want the latest and greatest to do more and more cool things.

OK, fine. Now this creates more than a little bit of pressure, as the operators, particular those in markets like North America where most devices are subsidized, lean on the device makers and encourage them to rush their best and most beautiful devices onto market and top off these demands with a burning desire to have a specially cooked, custom, operator specific ROM on those phones and you have a situation where you have created the perfect storm for bugs.

Indeed, it is surprising that devices don't crawl like Klendathu (homeworld of The Bugs in Heinlein's Starship Troopers) with bugs.

However, like death, taxes and dropped calls for iPhone users, bugs happen.

What's an operator to do? Well, back in the dark ages, you could do a recall and reflash the phones. Or you could invite your subs to bring their phones in so your techs in the back room of the brick and mortar could jack in with cables and reflash. If you are from Cupertino, you could set down the stone axe and pick up a bronze sword and use iTunes to sideload a full system ROM using (you guessed it) a Mac or PC and a cable. Or, you could set down the antiques and pick up a laser pistol (or at least a nice Smith and Wesson!) and do the updates Over the Air with FOTA - Firmware Over the Air.

Nature abhors a vacuum and thinking people abhor inefficiency. When you look at even major updates, they don't usually involve that much new or changed code. This means that shipping over a whole system image involves a great deal of duplication and inefficiency. FOTA is different, because with FOTA you take the old firmware and the new firmware and create a difference package and push that package to the device. A client on the device, a FOTA client, then reads the diff and uses it to gen up new firmware using the copy already on the device. No waste, no fuss, no fiddly cables or other hassles.

While some of this may not matter to upscale powerusers or may be more of a matter of convenience vs necessity, keep in mind that for an increasingly large number of mobile subscribers in the world that the Third Screen (mobile) is the Only Screen - no Mac, no iTunes, just a phone.

While FOTA has been a standard practice in Japan for years (most device there get at least one update at some point in the product lifecycle), FOTA is just getting started in the US.

Just a couple years ago I recall my delight and joy when I discovered that I could do an OTA update of my Sprint RAZR, an update which fixed a really annoying problem with a corrupted address book.

Now, just some of the devices updated by InnoPath servers in North America in 2009 include:

  • Casio C711
  • LG GR500
  • LG VX11k
  • Motorola V750
  • Motorola VU204
  • Motorola VU30
  • Motorola V860
  • Motorola W755
  • Motorola ZN4
  • Nokia 6555
  • Nokia 6650
  • Nokia E71x
  • PCD CDM 8975
  • Samsung Rugby
  • Samsung SGH-A737
  • Samsung u-350
  • Samsung u-450
  • Samsung u-490
  • Samsung u-650
  • UTS GTX75

  • Anyway, considering how delighted I was when my RAZR stopped autohosing itself, I suspect that the 3.5 million devices that have been updated with InnoPath technology, despite the occasional glitch, have brought a fair amount of relief to a large number of people. Things like this make it a lot easier to come in to work in the morning.

    Our press release on this topic is here:

    Tuesday, December 1, 2009

    30 Million to go Silent in India

    Jason Lackey

    Well, today is the day. Finally, after numerous slipped deadlines and delays, India has finally dropped the ban hammer on GSM phones with bogus IMEIs.
    For background, check out our story here.

    Much of the impetus behind this effort stems from the Mumbai terror attacks where terrorists armed with assault rifles and mobile phones with bogus and thus untraceable IMEIs went on a three day killing spree, spreading terror and mahem across the Indian metropolis.

    Unlike prior efforts, the Department of Telecoms is not backing down, despite the best efforts of the Cellular Operators Association of India (COIA), who would prefer to take no action rather than banning paying customers.

    For subscribers in India with bogus IMEIs, there is a way out. A trip to one of 1600 COIA and COIA run Genuine IMEI Implant (GII) centers, with ID and 199 Rupees and you should be set with a banproof IMEI and a paper receipt to prove it.

    Thursday, November 19, 2009

    They aren't fully alive!

    Jason Lackey

    Technology is a wonderful thing and sometimes produces some moments of real hilarity.

    AT&T’s rebuttal to recent Verizon attacks, which can be seen here, sadly is not one of them. Rather, it is sad, in a kind of #fail way.

    Unlike the Island of Misfit Toys, which manages to hit nostalgic heartstrings and be wickedly evil at the same time, although my neighbor here in cubeville has expressed her unhappiness with the usurpation of her childhood for commercial purposes, one could also argue that the original was more or less a commercial effort anyway.

    We digress.

    Another piece of comedy was AT&T taking their unhappiness with the whole “There’s a map for that” campaign by means of the court. Sure, this is America and we are the most litigious people in the world but sometimes we pass from the questionable to the absurd and this is one. I would recommend more spending on towers and less on lawyers, a sentiment which seems widely echoed in The Valley and on the blogosphere.

    Anyway, this brings me to the quote of the day, which is from the judge who got to hear complaints that AT&T did not like the Misfit Toys spot:

    "Most people who are watching TV are semi-catatonic, they're not fully alive." said U.S. District Judge Timothy Batten while commenting on the case.

    Classic. Wonderfully classic.

    Read more at PC World

    Wednesday, November 18, 2009

    Bat out of Espoo

    Jason Lackey

    Performer Meatloaf has a special place in the hearts of many geeks, as he not only appeared in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the seminal late night B movie, but also hit some chords which cannot help but resonate with degenerate teens, which is to say most of them, which many of us once were. This resonance hit stride with the album Bat out of Hell and some would say the single Paradise by the Dashboard Light was the very climax.

    For those unfamiliar, the tune is about a fellow who pledges his eternal love to a girl he is trying to have his way with parked in a car some dark place. Of course, the fellow later changes his mind and tries to find a way out of his pledge of eternal love and devotion.

    Reminds me of Peter Schneider, Head of Marketing for Maemo Devices at Nokia when he said "Symbian and Maemo will continue to co-exist,"

    Well, guess that depends on how you define co-exist. For example, if it means that devices in the pipeline will ship with the OS they were originally planned to ship with, then OK, but it looks like the end of the line for Symbian is on the N-series is coming quickly if the Maemo folks can be believed.

    Of course I expect that they won't break any promises or forget any vows, but it sure sounds like Nokia may be "praying for the end of time" so they can get on with the future of building world class smartphones which, as we have seen, is going to be a real challenge if they stick with Symbian.

    Sadly the company does seem to be sending contradictory and changing messages with regards to its platform strategy. Considering the developer flight from Symbian and the rather steep fall in market share, particularly on the high end, it would seem that Espoo needs to make a choice, clearly communicate that choice and get on with life. Far worse then telling people something they don't want to hear is telling them something that they do want to hear but lying about it.

    Espoo, go ahead and sleep on it.

    Tuesday, November 17, 2009

    A Clockwork Pink: T-Mobile Kickstarts Sidekick Sales Again

    Jason Lackey

    After the recent, well publicized failure of the T-Mo/Sidekick/Danger/Microsoft cloud , T-Mobile suspended sales of the popular Sidekick and Sidekick LX advanced featurephones. Understandable move.

    Operators want (perhaps need) to be able to control their destinies and one of the best ways to do that is to own and manage the infrastructure that their businesses depend on. Some wireless operators, such as Sprint, have been a bit more optimistic with regards to leaving their fate in the hands of others, but generally the guys who are serious about the subscriber experience want to have all the variables under their immediate and direct control. Of course, in some ways this makes the iPhone a bit of a slippery slope offering (ending in the land of dumb pipes) from the snake in the garden of Eden as so much of the end user experience is controlled by Apple, but then again there are some who would say that for the most part the portions of iPhone end user experience that actually work would be those controlled by Apple and not AT&T, but that is another story.

    Which brings us back to T-Mobile. We have seen that Microsoft has been less than a fully trustworthy partner in the mobile space first by the existance of the Pink effort, which effectively betrayed more or less every ally and friend they had amongst the handset makers, timed when faith in WinMo to deliver with 6.5 being a somewhat lame partial reskin and 7.0 delayed until late next year (perhaps far enough in the future to no longer matter, much like the post comet-strike plans of a diplodocus on the Yucatan Peninsula). Then the whole thing was topped off by the final betrayal of their last friend, Sharp, who was going to make the Pink device. An amazing display of self-immolation unlikely to be matched again any time soon.

    So, after all this T-Mobile kickstarts sales of the Sidekick devices again. It is certainly nice to see such loyalty in these times, particularly when so much reputation is at stake. I like T-Mobile, they remind me of Virgin or Southwest, a plucky competitor that "gets it" and tries harder. Their support people are great and actually seem to be alive, engaged and care that your phone works. Just somehow I cannot quite purge the scene from Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange when Alex has booted Dim into the water and feigning the offering of a helping hand to pull the flailing Dim out of the drink, instead slashed his hand with a knife.
    Viddy well, droogies, viddy well.

    Friday, November 13, 2009

    Droid’s Angry Red Eye – An Opportunity Lost?

    Jason Lackey

    This piece originally appeared on TMCnet.

    Well, Sanjay Jha needed to deliver a home run with the Droid, and by all accounts he did. Unlike the past couple years, people are finally talking about Motorola and they are talking about things other than what a fine phone the RAZR was or how the company is bleeding to death in a sea of red ink. Handset news and blog sites have been verging on “all android, all the time”. Verizon has come out with their first memorable ad in recent history (check it out) and finally there are people talking about Moto in something other than funereal tones.

    That said, I can’t help but wonder if they haven’t blown it.


    Yep, I get the feeling that they may have blown the launch and shot too low. Let me explain…

    So, I get the angry red cybernetic eye. I like Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, gadgets, widgets etc. I also get the stealth fighters and the missile bombardment stuff in the ad. I like bombs and explosions and things that go boom. I am a macho gadget fetish geek and I am their target demographic and they nailed it. My heart is filled with lust for the glowing red eye monster.

    The problem is, the person in the next cube over, we’ll call her Sandy, isn’t. As a matter of fact, she is repulsed and turned off by the whole thing. Sandy understands technology and mobile in general better than many of the engineers who build it. She is clueful and “gets it”, but the ads with the “creepy red eye” and all the violence are for her a huge turn off. Personally I would love to see an ad where Kimbo Slice takes on the Get a Mac guy but there are a whole bunch of people who would not.

    Early adopters, hardcore geeks and macho techno supremacists are of course interesting folks and they usually want smartphones. They want badass high spec smartphones and are willing to pay for them as well. But if we are really trying to do an iPhone killer, they are not the target to shoot for. The target that the iPhone has so successfully hit is broader - the intelligent person who perhaps didn’t realize that she really wanted a smartphone, but once she has tried an iPhone found herself hooked because suddenly the power of the Internet and a meaningful Appstore was available in a pocket able form factor and it sure was cool. This is not the person who is going to be chasing after geek superiority looking after more CPU - this is the type of person who wants her technology to help her get things done and on this front they have missed the mark.

    I guess Droids are from Mars and iPhones from Venus.

    Now, how about that cute little green Android, where did he go?

    Monday, November 9, 2009

    Down at the Old Brick and Mortar

    Jason Lackey

    I snuck out of the house for a little bit to spend some time down at some Brick and Mortar stores, which is always a fun thing.

    In a piece published on TMCnet (available here) I wrote about how I thought that Droid was being pitched wrong and that the Angry Red Eye of Droid was not going to help sell the phone to females. Of course, over the weekend when I was at Best Buy hoping to get my sweaty hands on a live demo machine. While the Best Buy phone guy was trying to get the device activated (guess inputting *228 is harder in some cases than others) one of his coworkers, a young female, heard the word "droid" and scurried over with some excitement to check it out. Exception that proves the rule?

    A further exception proving the rule was the quality time I spent with an AT&T Tilt 2, aka the HTC Touch Pro 2.

    I have a special fondness in my heart for the original Tilt, which turns out to be an awesome Windows Mobile Demo phone.

    The Tilt 2 is without a doubt the finest Windows Mobile device I have ever used. If you have for whatever reason decided that you must have Windows Mobile then the Tilt 2 is not going to disappoint. Big screen, responsive UI even in Touchflow 3D mode and the best mobile keyboard I have used, for those who don't mind a big hunk of technology bouncing around in pocket, this is a fine choice for a phone.

    Not perfect, but a solid and well executed example of the breed.

    In a way, it is sad to see Windows Mobile finally hit its stride with some of the new 6.5 devices, as it seems to be a platform which has lost its steam and mindshare, sort of like a really bright velociraptor at the end of the reign of the dinosaurs.

    Then again, all this may be of little relevance. I am increasingly often seeing parents pacify their kids with iPhones and iPod touches. The thing that stands out is that even children find these devices to be intuitive and pleasurable to use. They want them, they like using them and it can be hard to reclaim the device as the child often seems reluctant to give it up.

    Now, try that with a nice S60 device and let me know how hard it is to get it back from a 4 year old.

    Friday, November 6, 2009

    Droid: Sea Change for Verizon?

    Jason Lackey

    For some Verizon may have been the epitome of the walled garden. They have maintained strict control over their network and the things that happen on it and this control and management has paid off for consumers who are rewarded with wireless service with reliability much like that which old Ma Bell taught us to expect from telcos. Always there, nailed up and ready to go. This has not been the case with other operators. Recently Tmobile had a widespread outage and AT&T has had ongoing issues as well. Verizon? Well, here at InnoPath we were able to use their wireless data services to supply data for AT&T devices at Oracle Open World when the AT&T data network in San Francisco was overwhelmed with traffic, so I guess you could say that the ends have justified the means.

    The traditional near military precision and attention to detail caused many to poohpooh the Verizon open network initiative, Big Red has shown that they are in fact serious about this stuff. North American operators have often crippled or locked WiFi, GPS on devices, "gimping" the phone and disappointing the consumer while forcing the use of for pay services sold by the operator, things like Navigation packages and such.

    One of the big features of Android's 2.0 release is the enhanced Google Maps application, which includes turn by turn navigation - a huge step forward and a direct competitor to a Verizon offering. While there must have been huge temptation to do otherwise, all the goodness baked into Android 2.0 is present and accounted for in Verizon's Droid. They have given up a little control and a little short term cash, but the subscriber is the one who in the end wins.

    Additionally, Eclair also marks the first Android release with native ActiveSync/Exchange support baked in to the Google Experience handset. This is exactly the type of Enteprise support that has enabled the iPhone's back door entrance into the enterprise and is the opposite of the RIM approach where all data goes through RIM servers.

    These are certainly interesting times with a lot of change and upheaval, but based on past experience I have no doubts that Big Red will continue to deliver on the promise of wireline telco reliability with the benefits of wireless and open networks.

    Wednesday, November 4, 2009

    The Back 40

    David Ginsburg

    The Back 40
    noun - wild or rough terrain adjacent to a developed area.

    This article originally appeared in a similar form on TMCnet here.

    This last week marked an auspicious event for those of us rooted in Silicon Valley. The 40th anniversary of the creation (and yes, I’m not using that world lightly) of the early Internet… a single link between UCLA and SRI ( For four decades we’ve been working to tame that Back 40. And what taming it’s been. Every decade, speeds and applications improve a hundred-fold. On the mobile front, I can’t say mobile we’re completely there yet. I still see weeds. But we’re getting close.

    So what does this mean, after all these years, when we can finally focus on reaping what we’ve sown? When we can finally turn our attention to services and applications, assuming a network infrastructure to support them? And what does it mean for the mobile operators?

    With 3G (mostly) in place, you can now turn your attention to growing the subscriber base. As Morgan Stanley reported, this coming year will be the inflection point on a global level… the year that operators turn their attention to offering the types of data services optimized for mobile broadband, thanks to a billion subscribers with advanced devices. What is almost more telling is iPhone growth, a proxy for the future of advanced applications leveraging the global 3G infrastructure. Compare this growth to the geographically-limited i-mode offering, the world’s first 3G data service, offered by DoCoMo in Japan, and the urgency is clear. What urgency? What does this growth imply for your support organization when you are a Tier 1 operator with 20 million or so subscribers running around with the equivalent of PCs in their pockets?

    As a contrast, in the wireline space, customers rarely call their provider. When was the last time you called AT&T, Comcast, or your local ISP? Why? Your end device… the PC or laptop… isn’t provided by the operator. You are more likely to call Microsoft, Dell, or HP with OS or hardware issues. The opposite is true with mobility. In most cases, there is an implied link between the phone and the operator, subsidy or no subsidy. Support call volumes are much greater; call types are more complex.

    Unfortunately, you are only marginally staffed to even meet today’s requirements. Fast forward a few years with the majority of your subscribers calling with media, browser, and navigation issues, and it can’t be business as usual. You require a new support paradigm. As I’ve written in the past, you’ll need a real-time over-the-air link between your frontline CSR and the phone itself, capable of reading and sending configuration settings as well as diagnosing software and hardware issues. But what about updating the phone? It isn’t a day you go by without reading of some HTC issue, RIM’s plans to load their 5.0 OS onto existing phones via a desktop application, or Apple’s use of iTunes to push upwards of 5 updates a year to the iPhone.

    What you’ll require is a scalable and secure way of pushing large updates OTA to the phone, be it the radio image, the embedded OS, or even applications. Think of Windows or Mac Update, but wireless. You must be able to plan mass updates in advance, targeting groups of subscribers at off-hours. And, the client code running on the phone should select the best network available for the download, including WiFi, while delaying it if necessary due to roaming or lack of 3G connectivity. The client must also be able to intelligently pick up where it left off if a download was interrupted. Needless to say, any update process must clearly explain to the user what will occur and the reason for the update. Admittedly, some of these capabilities exist with the likes of Android or even the Palm Pre today, but they must be scaled many-fold, and incorporated within an operator’s OTA solution for frontline care.

    Smartphone OTA updates…. one implement for taming that Back 40.


    Wednesday, October 21, 2009

    Customers Not Included - Ovi, Comes with Music and Knowing Your Limitations

    Jason Lackey

    The folks over at TelecomTV ran a story about one of Nokia's latest failures, the comes with music debacle. While the Finnish giant had made considerable noise about the service, they found but 691 customers in all of Italy and another 580 in Switzerland. Not very impressive penetration considering that central Europe is Nokia's stomping ground.

    Brings to mind a great movie quote from the classic Clint Eastwood flick, Magnum Force where Clint explains "A man's got to know his limitations."

    Nokia builds some really good phones. They are well built, solid, quality pieces. They feel good in the hand and for the most part can be easily used with one hand.

    Nokia also tries to do services, really really badly. A prime example of this is Ovi, which has been explained to me as an effort schemed up by some sort of finance guy to get the stock price of Nokia up in the stratosphere with software companies instead of down in the hardware ghetto. To be blunt, Ovi sucks. When it was announced with great fanfare and trumpets blazing, I took one of the most popular enterprise smartphones from the Nokia lineup, the E71 (reckon this is probably the pinacle of S60), and visited Ovi. At that time after a bunch of clicking and signing up for various things I eventually got to the point where they told me they didn't have a version for my phone yet.

    While it is noble to excel at what you are doing, not everyone is going to be insanely great at everythign they do. Some people are going to suck at some of the things that they try. The solution to that is pretty simple - don't do those things, just concentrate on the things you do well. Very few powerlifters are effective ballerinas, nothing wrong with that, as long as you don't have to watch some hairy bear type prancing around in a tutu. When the brute bear puts on the pink tutu and the dance shoes and tries to pirouette is where dignity goes out the door.

    A man's got to know his limitations. Nokia, please get back to basics. Ditch the services, farkles and other nonsense and get back to basics, get back to building great phones.

    Tuesday, October 20, 2009

    Good News in Tough Times - Deloitte's Technology Fast 500

    Jason Lackey

    Tough times are the forge of, if not god, then at least the Invisible Hand of Adam Smith. These are tough times indeed, and like fire climax pines, the scorched earth of the valley in a downturn provides fertile soil for startups, which provided the fertilizer of cheap rent and auctionhouse desks and chairs can get a toehold on otherwise rocky soil.

    Of course, even in the big fires of the Redwood Forests in California, you don't tend to get scorched earth. While many of the smaller and weaker plants end up returning to the carbon cycle, the bigger and more vigorous redwoods often end up strong as they were before but with less competition for nourishment and light.

    At InnoPath, we have been very fortunate through the downturn so far. Sure, things have been rough for many, but in tough times you find the big players are looking for ways to get more from less and that is where our products, Over The Air customer care software, come into the picture. Like snowshoes in a nuclear winter.

    Deloitte, a leading audit, consulting, financial advisory and risk management firm is in the job of finding snowshoes, parkas, snow mobiles and other objects useful in nuclear winters. With their expertise across a wide variety of markets and businesses, they are in a unique position to sort the wheat from the chaff, something they do well with their Technology Fast 500 program.

    Quoting from the Deloitte website:

    Each year companies rally behind innovation, break down obstacles and systematically defy the odds. We salute their efforts with the Technology Fast 500™ program, a ranking of the 500 fastest-growing technology companies in the United States and Canada.

    Established in 1997 in California's "Silicon Valley," the program is based on percentage fiscal year revenue growth over a five year period, recognizes all areas of technology — from Internet to life sciences, from computers to semiconductors — and includes both public and private companies.

    Anyway, my favorite little software company from Sunnyvale made the list at #238.

    Here is the Press Release.

    Thursday, October 8, 2009

    iPhone in Japan: Storming the Galapagos

    Jason Lackey

    I recently had the pleasure of spending some time in Japan, a wonderful wonderful place, particularly when you speak the language. Even if you don't speak Japanese, the country is very English friendly, most can speak at least a little bit and very welcoming. That said, reality is often far weirder and more unexpected than whatever you might imagine so being able to parse the protocol does add to the experience.

    The picture above probably doesn't remind you much of an Apple store, does it? Then again, perhaps it shouldn't. It wouldn't really be Japan without attractive young women wearing Space: 1999 costumes pushing electronic gear in an overamped, overcrowded frenzy. I don't recall if this was Yodobashi Camera or some similar place, but it was in Akihabara, an odd and peculiar place at the very core of Geek Chic, a place where costume play, manga, anime, maid cafes and all the latest and greatest gadgets, widgets and toys all come together in a frantic mass of churning, burning consumption.

    Apple's iPhone, when initially launched in Japan July 10, 2008, was regarded as a lukewarm success at best. It lacked features, it wasn't a portrait formfactor clamshell, no keyboard, no special animated messaging characters. A foreign oddity, a misborn, malformed freak unsuited to survival in the rarified air of the Japanese hyperphones, a gimpy cripple doomed to playground bullying and a life best characterized as traumatic, brutal and short.

    Yep, even Wired got on that bandwagon.

    However, as seen here: things are less grim for the feisty little scrapper from Cupertino than you might think.

    Rankings courtesy of Wireless Watch Japan (thanks for a great site, Lars!)

    Yes, of the Top 10 Handsets in Japan, 3 are iPhone variants, including the #1 slot. This is in spite of being on the SoftBank network, a newcomer in a deeply conservative land where many still view Toyota as being a car for an adult but a new, wet behind the ears company like Honda? Bit too new, best for ricer kids, car from an unproven company lacking in history and depth like that.

    Wonder what would happen if it was available on DoCoMo and KDDI as well? In France, it seems the answer is about 40% market share.

    It is not clear that this would happen in Japan, but it is clear what has happened with SoftBank since the launch of the iPhone.

    7/2008: 19.1m total market 103.6m (18.44% share)
    1/2009: 20.0m total market 105.8m (18.89% share)
    9/2009: 21.1m total market 108.9m (19.37% share)

    The Operators Strike Back: The Next Generation of App Stores (Part 3)

    Dave Ginsburg

    Last week I looked at appstores and smartphone OSs from the standpoint of the developer community, and what it implied for operator support. Today, I take the handset vendor’s perspective. At InnoPath, we call these the OEMs. More-so than an operator, who may need to support multiple platforms to reach all market segments, the handset vendor must take a more focused approach. This is especially true for the 2nd tier smartphone vendors who don’t have the economies of scale. Note the use of the word ‘smartphone.’ It is important, since some of these OEMs may have very large featurephone footprints, but may be marginal players at present in the Open OS space.

    Given that RIM, Apple, and for the moment, Palm are vertically integrated, what is the best OS bet for an HTC, Nokia, Samsung, LG, Sony-Ericsson, or one of the up-and-coming Chinese vendors such as ZTE and Huawei? The first imperative is to move off legacy, proprietary platforms. Although these support web browsing, email, and are many times referred to as integrated devices, the application developer community just isn’t there. This could be said for Nucleus, BREW, and OEM proprietary OSs. Samsung, LG, and Sony-Ericsson are all known for devices in this category, though all three have announced their intent to migrate their product lines over the next few years.

    The next question is then which of the Open OSs to support. We’ve got Windows Mobile, Symbian, Android, and flavors of Linux such as LiMo and Maemo. Reviewing current OS penetration on the chart below, Symbian, WM, and Android are all major players. In fact, at least one analyst, isuppli (, takes a contrarian view to the prevailing wisdom and suggests that WM will take the #2 spot going forward on the strength of WM7 and vendor support. I’d personally also like to see webOS be made available to other vendors, as an option to Android. I don’t think Palm can build critical mass on their own in the time they have.

    Windows Mobile is a bit of an enigma in the marketplace, not only due to confusion regarding 6.5 and 7.0 strategy, but around whether or not Microsoft will deliver an integrated platform. A recent article in Fierce Wireless by Mike Dano ( added fuel to the fire in regard to what is to become of Windows Mobile in the face of handset vendor defection. The flip side of the WM story are the rumored Pink devices ( which could very well be the way that Microsoft regains vertically integrated control of the OS and hardware, successfully demonstrated by Apple and more recently, Palm.

    But beyond absolute market share, what is important is application availability, a good proxy for what handsets a consumer will actually go out and buy. This sets the stage for future success, since everyone can build a phone with GPS and a big touchscreen. We’re already seeing the shift in OS dominance, from the legacy to the new, and based on applications and internet use. Just this week AdMob issued its latest update (, showing just how the tide has turned. The iPhone had taken the #1 share (40%) from Symbian (34%), and both Android and webOS had strong showings at 7% and 4% respectively. RIM was at 8% and WM at 4%.

    So, application availability should translate into a given OEM’s decision to support a platform (or not). Per the chart below, most vendors are fragmented in their Open OS support, even if they have only a few % of the global smartphone market. Nokia, the largest, is probably the best positioned of the ‘independents’ due to its Symbian experience and up-and-coming Maemo support. The real issue with Nokia has been its inability to counter Apple, even in its home territory of Western Europe. Motorola has taken a more focused course, placing most of its technical and marketing weight behind Android while continuing to support WM due to its strong enterprise footprint. This seems a reasonable approach and from all accounts, the CLIQ is a fine device. They’ve spent their time on matching the hardware to the OS. Unfortunately, this was not the case with HTC’s first generation Android G1, and issue addressed with the Hero.

    HTC, best known for Windows Mobile devices, is now doubling down with Android. They can’t walk away from their WM legacy, but if the Hero is any indicator, their Android devices will be successful. That leaves LG, Samsung, and Sony-Ericsson, all three at the bottom of the table below, and all three fragmented in their Open OS strategy at the same time they are transitioning from legacy OSs.

    Sony-Ericsson has stated that they must support all three – Symbian, Android, and Windows Mobile – to hit different geographies and market segments. But are they large enough to support the engineering and support base? Samsung and LG, though larger, are still less of a factor in the Open OS space. Samsung and LG, BTW, are also members of LiMo, as evidenced by Vodafone’s 360 announcement highlighting Samsung LiMO devices. The recommendation would be for all three vendors to take a strategic view of their market approach including tiers, geographies, and operator customers and then each prune at least one platform from their roadmap. All three have their own UI approaches. They could apply their engineering resources to perfecting this on one or two platforms, building a user experience that would begin to approach Apple.

    As to the Chinese, I don’t see any reason for them to adopt anything other than Android, or in some cases, some other Linux variant. The logic when looking at application support, cost of development, and installed base just isn’t there. It permits them to better focus their development efforts and customer support, and by relying on an easily adaptable OS foundation they will be better able to apply their efforts towards differentiation (i.e., at the UI level as HTC has done with Sense on Android or TouchFlo3D on Windows Mobile) vs OS maintenance and other forms of reinventing the wheel.

    Thursday, October 1, 2009

    The Operators Strike Back: The Next Generation of App Stores (Part 2)

    Dave Ginsburg

    (This article originally appeared here on 28 September 2009)

    Last week I looked at the App Store phenomenon with a focus on how operators are introducing their next-generation portals.

    This week, I’ll couple it with a perspective from the developer community, and what it means for the future success or lack thereof of the various Open OS platforms.

    Next week I’ll fold in the handset vendor perspective, discussing whether they should spread their development across multiple platforms, or stick to one or two. Their future success could hang in the balance.

    It goes without saying that Apple, in a relatively short time, has garnered the greatest mindshare amongst developers, independent of any perception as to the transparency with the application approval process. Apple has built sufficient momentum with regard to the types of applications available and cost points, including a wide variety of low-cost applications, try-and-buy, and ease of application discovery.

    The Android Market in contrast is still on the upswing, and according to Admob, it has a ways to go to compete with Apple. The survey found that 55 percent of Android users have not yet downloaded an application from the store, in contrast to only 23 percent of iPhone users. Admob goes on to state that although the checkout process may be holding back subscribers, the real culprit is the lack of quality applications and mainstream software.

    Applications are the outgrowth of a critical mass of developers, and as of August, 2009, the iPhone footprint was 40 times that of Android. More recently, Motorola and others have stated that application organization within the Market requires improvement. The new 1.6 release is expected to address some of these concerns.

    The veteran, Symbian, claims the largest development community, but to its disadvantage, applications have traditionally been scattered, mostly handled by legacy operator platforms or 3rd parties. Nokia with its Ovi service and Sony Ericsson with its Play Now Arena are attempting to counter this, but their devices each only hold a portion of an operator’s network, and this varies by geography. In addition, users may not naturally gravitate to their handset vendor for applications as their primary financial relationship is with their operator.

    On the operator front, efforts such as Vodafone’s 360 could help facilitate application awareness, but operator offerings do not build platform identity or directly address the developer issue.

    At the same time, Symbian itself is in a transition to an open source model, and after the ^4 release, applications will no longer be backward compatible. This too will influence application development. Further confusing the Symbian issue is Nokia’s move to its Linux-based Maemo for some platforms and Sony-Ericsson dividing its loyalty across Symbian, Windows Mobile and Android. Neither vendor may therefore be considered as a proponent for the ultimate Symbian appstore.

    Perhaps the Symbian Foundation will rise to the occasion, but at present the foundation’s Horizon initiative is more to act as a publisher to make sure that Symbian applications are available on 3rd party app stores such as Ovi, and the continued comfort of developers working within the framework of the foundation is unknown. This could create further fragmentation vs the centralized models of Apple and Android, as developers may need to maintain financial relationships with multiple operators and handset vendors. Additionally, one would expect that Nokia will begin to develop an application ecosystem around Malmo, influencing the prominence it places on Symbian.

    Microsoft is only now launching its Marketplace with Windows Mobile 6.5, while the Blackberry App World launched at CTIA in Spring, 2009 enjoys moderate success. Both Samsung and LG also intend to launch stores in the near future, with both positioned as multi-OS in the same way as Ovi and Sony-Ericsson. Finally, the dark-horse platform with a great deal of promise is Palm’s WebOS, though the developer community is still quite small due to a minimal installed base. Nevertheless, in a short period of time and with minimal device penetration, it has garnered mindshare.

    The graphic below helps clarify the various relationships. iPhone and Android developers need only maintain a financial relationship with their respective App Stores, and in the case of Android, will develop to a single, controlled ‘flavor’ despite support from different handset vendors (i.e., HTC, Samsung, Motorola, Sony-Ericsson). Developers for RIM take two paths.

    The first is via the branded App Store, and the second is to the operator directly. Here, unless RIM’s App World acts as a strong broker, the developer may need to maintain a relationship with each operator. This of course won’t scale. However, development itself is still contained based on strong RIM device guidelines.

    Development for Windows Mobile is more complicated. Although Microsoft has announced the Marketplace, it will take time to develop. The developer therefore must maintain a relationship with one or more operators, and at the same time the handset vendors who are launching their own storefronts. Design guidelines may also be more flexible than RIM or Apple, so a developer may need to be cognizant of handset vendor specific implementations. If successful, the Marketplace option could be the best path for the developer.

    Symbian is more complex and fragmented, with no strong storefront or broker with the exception of the foundation’s Horizon. The developer at present must maintain a financial relationship with multiple handset vendors as well as with multiple operators. In addition, the various flavors of S60 result in software fragmentation, and the emergence of the foundation only adds to the confusion. Clearly, a better solution along the lines of the Windows Marketplace is required.

    Here's a graphic display that I call "The Developer’s Conundrum: Application Development Ecosystems":

    Separate from developer support, how do the various OSs stack up with regard to their UI, browser, and vendor support? Credit Suisse recently released a report (Smart Phones...Smarter Investments, Aug 31, 2009) looking at the smartphone market, as well as vendor and OS strengths and weaknesses. As expected, when taking the OS view, Apple is Number 1. Palm’s new webOS is 2nd, though limited in deployment, has some of the same advantages as to the UI and browser, as does Android, which is at 3. In fact, both platforms are close in the ranking and if market adoption was included, Android would be ahead. RIM, Symbian, and Windows Mobile all trail, within a few points of each other. The chart reaffirms the position that Android is the strongest ‘open’ OS (i.e., applications not controlled by a single entity as is the case with Apple). As I mentioned, next week I’ll look at how this compares to the vendor view. So what are the impacts on the developer community?

    Ideally, an operator would embrace those platforms that combine large developer communities with ease of implementation. In addition to hardware design and usability, customers no longer wish to be limited to the traditional operator-controlled walled-garden and will seek out those devices with the widest application variety. Other than the iPhone, Android seems to be best positioned here for the mass market and in fact is a more open ecosystem. The success of Blackberry’s App World, Microsoft’s Marketplace, or the Symbian Horizon approach is too early to determine, though they could be more viable within an operator-controlled store. This is the approach Blackberry is taking with Verizon’s V CAST Apps Store as described last week.

    Focusing on a small number of platforms will also help the operator or handset to focus its engineering, marketing, and support resources, and will also help to build loyalty by creating a critical mass of supporters . This is the path taken by the more successful operators, and given recent confusion over whether Verizon Wireless will or will not carry the Palm Pre, it is obviously top-of-mind.

    Take a look at these Credit Suisse smartphone OS rankings:

    Edited by Michael Dinan

    Wednesday, September 23, 2009

    The Operators Strike Back: The Next Generation of App Stores

    A lot has been written recently regarding appstores and the role, or lack thereof, of the mobile operator. Regarding roles, it is not that operators have been unaware, or that they’ve not tried in this space. Every mobile operator has their ‘legacy’ store, and the term walled garden would be an understatement. Ever been to one? What Apple has done with their App Store, and to a lesser extent, Android with its Market, is that they have reset the bar on usability and convenience for the subscriber, as well as ease of development (and thus building a critical mass within the development community).

    The cat is out of the bag, so to speak, with Apple, but operators still have the chance to play what they consider to be their rightful role. The key to success will be to balance the points mentioned above with their business model, a model different from the OS platform provider. It embraces the notion of an open and dynamic market for applications across platforms, and the role that the operator may play in brokering applications across the various open OSs supported within their network.

    Verizon Wireless, based on their announcements, is taking this approach. As reported in Verizon to its smartphones: thou shalt have no other app store before mine (Jul 13, 2009), the operator will handle all billing and will have control over what 3rd party appstores and applications are made available on the handset out-of-the-box when its V CAST Apps Store launches before the end of 2009. They will revenue share with the application developers, and a subscriber will only need his or her single Verizon account for payments. A customer will still be able to access a 3rd party appstore directly but only after taking the initiative to download the specific portal software for the store.

    In Verizon’s favor, the operator promises a more streamlined application approval process than that for Apple, and is pushing for a set of common standards that would permit application developers to more easily adapt their applications for multiple OSs. Verizon has traditionally maintained more control over the user experience, and this approach seems to align with this.

    Verizon states that developers will retain 70% of the proceeds, which is equal to that of Apple but a change from what mobile operators took in the past. This is acknowledgement that Verizon understands this new world, a world very different from the very limited operator-driven software portals of the past. They understand that they either create a business model and user experience equal to Apple or Google, or get cut out of the equation. In addition, there are larger issues at play. As Shaw Wu in The Wall Street Journal pointed out, an effective appstore is also key to facilitating hardware sales. Users are no longer interested in just a static hardware platform. Just like the PC, they expect applications and capabilities to evolve.

    Telefonica with its planned ‘mstore’ offering ('mstore',...) is also taking the same approach, leveraging Telefonica’s strong Movistar branding. What is interesting is that they plan to eventually launch across their operating companies, a user base of 200M. This will provide developers with a critical mass for development. They have described the organization structure, application pricing, but have not detailed platforms supported or how mstore will interact with the likes of Microsoft’s Marketplace or Android’s Market. Much like Verizon, Movistar-branded handsets will have the store application pre-installed.

    These are just two current examples of operators getting into the game. Others will follow. But what OS platforms will succeed? Where should operators place their efforts? Next time around I’ll look at the operator appstore from the perspective of the OS platform, taking guesses on which will succeed based on the strength of their developer communities as opposed to only looking at OS features and hardware.

    Standards: Conformity at Any Cost?

    By Jason Lackey, Marketing Manager, Innopath Software

    The world of technology is a fascinating one, filled with multiple competing dynamics.
    On the one hand, innovation is the engine of capitalism and it is from innovation that competitive advantage is gained. On the other hand, in order to ensure that your widget plays nicely with other widgets (as few make enough of a solution to play alone in a vacuum) standards are necessary.

    With standards, it is possible to do things like build a better browser that will show your favorite Web pages as they are intended to look, but faster and better. With standards one can do things like manage phones OTA (Over The Air) and make support less of a nightmare for your subscribers. With standards a lot of things are possible, but these possibilities come with a cost.

    Standards come from standards bodies. Standards bodies tend to be populated by people from companies with a vested interest in some technology but the standards efforts tend not to be a central focus of those people who often have their "real" jobs to do when they are not in standards meetings. The various vendors represented will tend to have different perspectives, goals and desires and this can make progress very slow at times.
    In the world of mobile device management, standards are relatively new, just like the technology. Of course, the technology came first and in the absence of standards vendors, by necessity, created proprietary protocols. The first wave of real standardization was from the Open Mobile Alliance in the form of OMA-CP, Client Provisioning protocol. While far from perfect, mostly due to being a one way write-only protocol, CP got the ball rolling and helped illustrate the value to device management.
    Recognizing the shortcomings of fire and forget, OMA followed up on CP with OMA-DM, a bidirectional protocol that let you read as well as write, allowing the operator to get feedback after device management actions have been taken. I guess some folks decided that it would be useful to know that something had been fixed by means other than the person holding the device telling you that it had been fixed. I further suppose that folks figured it would be useful to be able to do things like a basic diagnostic ping on the phone.
    All this is good, but as I mentioned before standards can move slowly and in many cases the standards don't keep up with the technology, which is where things like a "Standards+" approach come in. A vendor which owns both ends of a client/server solution can do things like support standards such as OMA-DM as a base, but also offer extensions and enhancements above and beyond the standards.
    This gives the advantage of interoperability out of the box while also providing additional functionality. Back when the Model T was introduced, it could be said that existing standards for road construction called for dirt or gravel and the car worked fine on those roads. When a road was enhanced beyond being a rutted goat trail, beyond the standards of the day, the car didn't stop running, it ran better and provided a better end user experience.

    Thursday, September 10, 2009

    AT&T Device Redux

    Dave Ginsburg

    On the heels of a pulled BB Bold update (, rumors have it that they’ve now issued a recall on the recently launched Nokia Mural ( due to erroneous 2G vs 3G settings set at the factory. What is interesting is that the internal announcement hints of an available software update. Given that FOTA has proven to be both reliable and scalable at at least one other NA operator, the question is why AT&T doesn’t push an update to the impacted Murals. Is only a cabled update available and has Nokia not provided an OTA package due to the severity of the problem? Or, could FOTA have addressed the issue but the Mural is not FOTA capable? In this day and age, that seems hard to believe, but I’ve not seen evidence that FOTA is active on the handset. Any deeper insights into what could have been an easily prevented embarrassment?

    Tuesday, September 8, 2009

    Sweet Home rue de la Victoire

    Telecoms is a wonderful industry although not without irony. For example, while we help our customers deliver better support to their subscribers remotely, over the air, it is also true when working on complex systems with many integration points and a lot of people involved, that it is often most effective to have a presence where your customers are. Evidently when buying multi-million euro solutions which are in the critical path of a core business function customers want to be able to get the vendor in the room and have a chat about things.

    Thus, our latest office, in Paris:

    InnoPath Software
    52, rue de la Victoire, TMF Pôle
    75009 Paris, France.
    + 33 1 56 53 63 60

    Thursday, August 27, 2009

    Globalization, Internationalization, Localization and The Total Experience

    Jason Lackey

    Native speakers of English and those using relatively plain versions of the Roman Alphabet have it easy with regards to high tech in general and computers and computer-like devices. The reason I say this is that since many of these things were either invented or refined in English speaking countries support of English and the Roman Alphabet is usually pretty good. In fact, these might be the only language and character set choices available. Great for Americans, not so wonderful for others.

    Although InnoPath is based in the US, we try to be a very international company. Part of this is we have to. Our market is global, our customers are all over the world. Part of this is a conscious decision and part of this is the organic result of having a very diverse staff at our Silicon Valley headquarters along with offices in Beijing, Seoul, Tokyo, Mumbai, London and Atlanta.

    This international perspective is reflected not only in our attitudes and workforce, it is also reflected in our products. The ability to deliver the UI in the user's native language makes a real difference. The US is spoiled, here we demand everything in English and people don't even like to see movies with subtitles. Other countries should be able to enjoy products and services in the native language of the user but far too often such is not the case. With the InnoPath Care Portal the portal reads the browser's language settings and presents the UI in the user's language of choice. Certainly many people over the world can read and function in English, but it provides the user with a better and more welcoming experience when they can work in their native language.

    Internationalization (i18n) also known as Globalization - is the process of designing and building your product in such a way that it can easily be adapted to a number of different languages and locales. Some of the factors include being able to effectively deal with foreign characters - Roman alphabet with diacritical marks, non-Roman characters such as Chinese, Japanese and Korean, Hindi etc. Unicode, a character set containing all the world's scripts (or at least many of the world's scripts) is often used. Challenges include coping with left to right as well as right to left and/or up to down reading direction, handing text input and coping with a variety of input method editors.

    Localization (L10n) is the process of taking a product and translating it for a particular locale or language. If a product has been properly internationalized from the start then this is an easier process. For example, the InnoPath Care Portal contains text for the UI in a resource file. This makes it easy to edit the text of the UI without touching the code. A non-globalized approach might have text for the UI hardwired into the code, meaning that any changes will involve hunting through and changing the code, a time consuming and potentially risky process. Places sharing the same or similar languages may treat things like address, dates and times differently, so these concerns would have to be addressed as well.

    Friday, August 21, 2009

    Swimming Iguanas, Funny Birds and Japanese Smartphones - Galapagos Syndrome?

    Risa Tanzawa

    Editors Note: Risa Tanzawa is InnoPath's Tokyo based Marcom.

    Blue footed boobies, swimming iguanas and other weird things make the Galapagos Islands, a small chain of islands on the equator in the Pacific, their home. Due to the relative isolation of these islands, evolution has taken some strange turns, resulting in scary looking lizards that eat algae under water, birds with a fetish for blue feet and other weirdness. Some say that the mobile handset market in Japan is similar to the Galapagos Islands, stunning and unexpected diversity that has evolved in isolation from the rest of the world resulting in if not shock and awe for the visitor, then at least surprise.

    While weird and wonderful in their home market, Japanese device makers have had trouble selling their phones abroad, largely due to this divergent evolution of the market where features considered a necessity in Japan are not seen elsewhere. This problem is called the Galapagos Syndrome.

    That said, let’s take a look at some of the unique features of Japanese mobile phones.

    QR Code (two-dimensional bar code)
    While many phones technically can read QR Codes, the two-dimensional bar codes seen in many Japanese ads, this is a technology not widely used or understood in the US. You can almost think of it as mobile Cue Cat except that, at least in Japan, QR has caught on and is widely used. This helps overcome the not so fun task of multitap/T9 input of long URLs.

    IrDA (Sekigaisen-Tsushin)
    You see a young couple saying goodbye on the street. Then you notice they are pointing their phones at each other like they were taking tricorder readings. The tricorder must have some good news, because both smile and bow and go their separate ways. What you just saw was the exchange of contact info over IR. Infrared, being short range and line of sight, is good for the semisecure exchange of info like contacts. Because it is short range and line of sight, it can be secure without having all sorts of passwords get in the way and it is a lot easier to do than to manually input a long, complex email address by hand.

    Osaifu-Keitai is trademark of NTT DoCoMo, meaning Wallet-Mobile Phone. This technology uses Sony's Mobile FeliCa ICs. "Osaifu-Keitai" uses NFC radio and provides electronic money, credit card, electronic ticket, membership card, airline ticket, and other functionality. At convenience stores, you only need to hold a phone over a machine at the casher to purchase anything if you have enough money on your phone, which saves time and is very convenient. More from docomo.

    One-Seg (TV)
    One-Seg is a mobile terrestrial digital audio/ video and data broadcasting service. One-Seg is free and in many cases is used to watch TV on the handset. 86% of handsets shipping in Japan ship with One-Seg.

    Japanese featurephones have been application friendly for a while, a feature which in combination with the powerful hardware helps blur the lines between a Japanese featurephone and a traditional smartphone. Games, including 3D shooters and the like requiring hardware acceleration, are available, but beware, downloads and use can chew up a lot of data which is expensive unless you have an unlimited plan.

    Animated Emoticons and Email Decoration (cHTML email)
    Japan is big on the cult of kawaii, people old and young all love “cute” and cHTML email puts the cute into mobile mail with animated emoticons, graphics, backgrounds and the like. This is particularly popular with women and children. There are more and more cute pictures, so actually I enjoying receiving new ones from my friends. You can reuse emoticons and pictures you have received, making this a fun, social feature. This feature was said to be one of the barrier to entry into the Japan market for the iPhone, which did not support this feature. Here is KDDI's page on this feature in Japanese.

    So, just like the Galapagos Islands, Japan is a small island country and mobile phones, like the blue footed boobie, have taken on unique forms and colors to better meet local requirements. Sadly this supreme adaptation to local conditions, while useful in the native environment, makes life harder once off the island.

    Thursday, August 20, 2009

    BTW, InnoPath is Hiring!

    Jason Lackey

    Recession? What recession? We are busy, as in we have more work that we have people. As in we need help! The wireless business has, far more than many other industries, weathered the recession fairly well. Customer care and mobile device management, as slices of the larger wireless industry, done very well themselves.

    Part of the reason for this is the Rise of the Superphone. Sure, we all knew that the day of the Smartphone was coming, but it was not clear how fast and how hard it was going to hit. Just today we learn that Smartphones have taken 28% of the US market. The additional functionality of smartphones is great, especially for powerusers. However, with power comes complexity and with complexity comes difficult support. Difficult as in long phone calls to do things like fix email etc.

    Another part of the equation is that while support is always a place where operators are going to want to find ways of being more efficients, during rough economic times it goes without saying that mobile operators are going to want to save money on support, which is one of their largest expenses.

    Other things contributing to things being busy around here include megatrends like The Rise of the Rest. For too long a disproportionate amount of the world's wealth and power have been concentrated in too few hands, leading to vast, global imbalances. With the rise of the BRIC and other nations, taking their rightful places at the table, global demand for wireless is rising and countries like India are no longer just buying cheap dumbphones, devices like the N97 are selling briskly there. Wonderful stuff!

    We are also seeing trends like the Third Screen (ie the mobile screen) being the Only Screen for many millions of subscribers around the world. It used to be taken for granted that someone wealthy enough to own a smartphone would be wealthy enough to own a PC to run Nokia PC Suite or iTunes on. As it turns out, this is not necessarily the case anymore. Many can buy and desperately want a nice smartphone but may not be able to afford or really want a desktop PC. Guess for those people their updates are coming over-the-air, at a brick and mortar, or not at all. Hmmmm...wonder which way is cheapest and most convenient?

    Anyway, we are hiring. Check out our Jobs Page but don't be overly fussy about the exact job description. We are hiring in many groups across the organization and if you have significant experience and/or expertise in Java, Oracle, Weblogic, Solaris, IP/SS7 networking, technical writing and even product marketing our recruiter would probably like to talk to you.

    Just like the Jesus Jones song says, "Right here, right now, there's no other place I want to be."

    Monday, August 17, 2009

    SMS 20/20

    Dave Ginsburg

    We usually write about care-related topics, but sometimes something crosses our desk that just hits a nerve. The Brits, in their unique approach to ‘reality’, have produced a video on the dangers of texting while driving:

    I’m remembering back to my Driver’s Ed and the videos they ran. In the same way that alcohol was compared to a drug, it is even easier to make the comparison to texting. It’s not like you drank 200 beers in a day, but that many SMSs is common amongst hard-core users. And though we jokingly draw comparisons to our Blackberries, calling them ‘crackberries’ in reference to another well-known drug, the urge to email when first waking up won’t do fatal damage to those around you (the impact on your relationship could be another matter, though).

    California is one of the states that has banned texting while driving, and just last week announced a crackdown, countering those that claim the law is ineffective. Southern California was also the site of a texting incident last year on a commuter train in which a number of people died.

    So, it’s not like texting is a bad thing. Just take it in moderation, and at the right time and place.

    Text responsibly.

    Thursday, August 13, 2009

    Customers as Hostages

    Jason Lackey

    Some industries seem to feel that they have the right to abuse their customers. In the US, airlines are one. While most have grown used to surly trolls bitterly tossing tiny bags of peanuts, once in a while even US domestic airlines rise above the threshold and venture into new and uncharted territory. In a previous post, we talked about United and their collective hatred of guitars:, but Continental recently outdid them with a mini hostage crisis where pax (passengers) were kept on the plane overnight until 6:30 in the morning despite no food, little drink, crying babies and an increasingly rank smell. Bloomberg has more on this:

    You can keep pax or subs hostage for a short time, but later they tend to remember that they did not enjoy it very much. Hopefully this lesson will not be lost.

    Monday, August 3, 2009

    Did you ever have one of those days?

    Jason Lackey

    Ads and marketing can do powerful things in terms of building and shaping a brand and can either contribute to building something of value or get in the way. To be certain, Infiniti has earned respect by building good cars for a number of years. Then again, they had to as the launch of the Q45 (think Cedric for you JDM types) in the US was held back by the ads, which were viewed by some as being zen and forward looking while many had trouble understanding why a car company was showing them pictures of rocks and trees.

    Apple has a way of getting things right, both with product and with the branding around the product. Then again, they have passionate people who are fanatic about the customer experience from ad, through the unboxing until product end of life and these people pay attention to the whole thing from end to end. Speaking of Apple, remember the Ellen Feiss Switch Ad? Classic! Well, her long lost twin was recently found in Santa Cruz at a City Council meeting!

    Palm, recently risen from it's deathbed with a technically stellar OS (WebOS) on merely adequate hardware (Palm Pre) is in a bit of a bind. While many have fond memories of Palm and wish them great success, they really need to be firing on all cylinders and they don't have the burn time to buy a lot of do-overs. In this context you might expect them to do a nice series of ads highlighting the technical argument in favor of the Pre, perhaps hammering on multitasking or the cool apps you can run etc. Oh, wait, Sprint already did that. They even did one based on the price of the service plan for the phone, one of biggests chinks in the iPhone armor.
    Palm, in contrast, did some really weird art pieces with Tamara Hope, who in these ads looks like the long lost sister of the Borg Queen. Nothing wrong with weird - if it connects. Nothing wrong with art, if it works. Seems that in this case the pieces, for most, do neither, and it is a shame, because Palm as a great new OS of which we have only seen the tip of the iceberg. However, they are running the risk of alienating exactly the consumers they should be appealing to and damaging a brand which deserves some polish.

    Friday, July 31, 2009

    Not Quite a Killdozer Rampage

    Jason Lackey

    David Pogue of the New York Times is on the warpath. While perhaps not as passionate or heartfelt as Marvin Heemeyer's killdozer rampage, his "Take Back the Beep" Campaign has certainly ruffled some feathers and caused some difficult questions to be asked.

    The basic premise is this: the voicemail instructions you hear when calling many mobile devices are too long and are there for the purpose of racking up billable minutes. By Mr. Pogue's math, this works out to about $620 million per year for a large North American Tier 1.


    Of course, there is a flip side. I used to run a corporate helpdesk and anyone in the business of providing technical support will back me up - you can never be too clear, too explicit or repeat yourself too often when you are trying to provide the general public with instructions for using some widget or service, no matter how simple. Sure, the instructions burn cycles and take time, but it could be argued that being less clear would leave at least some customers clueless and that would result in an even greater burden in terms of total time spent on support calls for people trying to figure out how to use voicemail.

    I hope the Komatsu D355A stays in the garage!

    Thursday, July 30, 2009

    When Worlds Collide

    Jason Lackey

    The recent AT&T/Apple/Google fiasco with the banning of the Google Voice App from the Apple App Store highlights the type of issues and conflicting perspectives that the industry will increasingly face, with the dawn of 4G helping to bring things to a head.

    Let me explain. The operators, being large and profitable, like the way they have been doing business and would like mobile to continue to look like wireline services just without the wires. They want to deliver a service with the reliability and predictability of a utility.

    Subscribers, increasingly raised on IP and the internet, have different expectations. They see services, the network and devices from the perspective of an internet user - they can (for some, perhaps should) come from different places. The operator carries the bits, someone makes the phone and services exist in the cloud. Oh, yeah, almost forgot, the services should also be free.

    Of course there are regional market differences. For example, Gmail and Yahoo don't get much mobile love in Japan, where most people tend to use operator provided mobile mail accounts. Europeans seem to have a better understanding of handsets not needing to come from the operator, probably due to the dominance of GSM, while in the US near universal subsidies and sim locks on GSM devices help curb the view of the mobile terminal as being something not tied to the network. However, the tide is turning.

    Which brings us to the slippery slope. Folks like Apple insist on control as that is the only way they can guarantee a good user experience and that sometimes things that would be impactful in a bad way will be verboten. Fine. What about things that don't break or harm the phone or network but that the operator doesn't like for business reasons? VoIP, for example. The operator may want to block such things, but is this in the best interest of the subscriber? Microsoft, for example, believes that Internet Explorer provides the best possible user experience for PC users, but the EU seems to differ.

    Long term, I suspect that the world of wireless will come to more closely resemble the internet, but it will take some time and there will be some bumps in the road. Just like some ISPs try to block p2p traffic, you will also see some operators try to block apps they see as threats, but I suspect that long term the operators will come to see stuff that runs over their data networks as being good because it drives demand for data. Until then, expect an occasionally bumpy ride.