There are two types of boyfriend. Those you go out with for fun, and those you date with a view to marriage. The first kind you don’t have to think about very hard, the second, usually not as good-looking needs a lot more contemplation.
The mobile phone industry doesn’t understand the first kind. While the hype prides itself on rapid technological innovation and risk taking the truth is that an idea has to kiss a lot of frogs and sit on the shelf for a very long time before it finds a manufacturing partner.
Nokia has recently announced the N79 with “Changeable Xpress-on™ smart covers”. These are clip-on covers with a chip in them that sets the wallpaper to match the physical case. You might think of this as a fantastic new innovation. That is unless you were at mobile trade shows six years ago and saw the Wildseed Smartskins. These were pretty much the same idea except more so. The skins had extra buttons so the phone could do different things with different covers, but the idea was basically the same. Kyocera experimented with a strange banana-shaped phone that was CDMA using the smart skins and then Wildseed was acquired by AOL, which, much as it did (or didn’t) with Tegic did nothing for a long time.
The simpler Nokia Smart Covers took more than half a decade to get from idea to a mass market phone. This is very hard for small developers to comprehend. There are thousands of great mobile ideas floating around and most of them die in the time it takes for them to find their way into a phone.
You only get a handle on why it is so hard for simple innovative ideas to make it into phones when you can get your head around the sheer production volumes of mobile phones. A moderately successful model from a top five manufacturer will sell about three million units. At about $100 to $200 a phone each one is bigger than most businesses. The projects are run by project managers who are responsible for the success of these individual businesses. Would you risk something that big on an idea from a man in a garage?
The individual companies have bigger problems. Nokia is so ruled by its supply chain it is very hard for them to do anything different and innovative. They might show concepts like bracelet phones but their cost model relies on all phones using one of a small number of batteries. If one phone goes off and does something different it affects the pricing of all the others.
Motorola has bigger problems in that its P2K platform is broken and outdated. Many of the people who knew how it works are no longer with the company. Making a change is such a big decision it takes months to decide if its worthwhile.
The product specifier for either Motorola or Nokia only has a limited number of brownie points. He or she will be reluctant to use them all up on one feature.
Samsung is very different. It will happily play with new technologies in one of the three hundred or so phones it makes each year. But only about a dozen of them make it to the world market. The odds of your cool technology being one of the ones that succeeds are on a par with betting on a single roulette number.
So no-one wants to move first. A new technology is much better off establishing itself with another product before venturing into phones. If that technology can be proved in a production environment it then stands a much better chance.
It’s a bit like marrying someone, so that you can find out what you want you want from a husband, but none of the mobile suitors are prepared to marry anyone who has not be married before.
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.
The big news from Google is that they have added traffic information to their mapping. It’s not clear if the directions option takes the traffic speed into account. If you thought the big news was the launch of the G1 Android phone you are mistaken. It won’t be a reliable platform for years. It takes that long for software to mature. Come back in 2012.
Vodafone is a properly caring organisation. Maybe the best in the world, which works to use core mobile technologies to make life better for the poorest of people. This includes using mobiles to track an arrest polio in Kenya, bringing banking to rural areas which has an unimaginable socio-economic effect and most recently, being humble enough to realise that they don’t have a monopoly on good ideas, funding six people to do good work of their own. If you have a Vodafone phone you should be very proud.
Not quite on the same scale is Byte Night where people from within the IT industry sleep out for a night to raise money for homeless children. In ten years, the event has raised about £1.6 million and this year they hope to help the charity go through the £2m barrier. Kevin Taylor from the PR company which specialises in the mobile industry CCGroup has set up a Justgiving page. Please do your bit and help them.
The surprise hit of last year was the Asus 701. While we all laughed at the Palm Folio we went out and bought Eees. Thanks to Internet ordering you were not tasked with having to pronounce the name. In typical market fashion they are now a lot cheaper.
Desperate Housewives is back on the box (in the US at least) today (if you are reading this on Sunday). But if you want a longer running soap opera there is the tale of takeovers and matchmaking that is Telkom South Africa. Which has been about to jump into bed with so many partners it makes Edie look celibate.
Iden is a four slot TDMA technology, the only manufacturer of handsets is Motorola. It’s great at Push To Talk but otherwise pretty much obsolete. Which makes it all the more surprising that a new network has launched in Chile.
The iPhone apps store has made some networks adopt a more sensible approach to revenue share. A great example of this is a new scheme from T-Mobile.
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