Mobile Wars: The Empires Strike Each Other

7 03 2010

The biggest news over the past week has been related to Apple suing HTC for infringing on 20 iPhone patents.

As illustrated by the above New York Times illustration, Apple’s suit contributes to a slew of lawsuits between companies in the mobile ecosystem. Lawsuits over intellectual property aren’t uncommon. More often than actually protecting patents, these lawsuits are intended to slow the process of innovation amongst competitors and drain some financial resources.

Obviously, phones are looking a lot alike these days. I’m reminded of the automobile industry, which has a competitive system where multiple manufacturers build similar vehicles at various classes, such as mid-size cars, station wagons, trucks, etc. Every year one automaker edges out the other with a certain efficiency or technology, and the next year every other automobile manufacturer catches – with one coming up with the next grade feature upgrade.

After these patents settle, I think we’ll likely see the automobile economy settle in. Yes, there will be leaders who own mass market shares and niche players, but consumers will likely have an appetite for multiple vendors so long as parity exists.


In mobile, one size does not fit all

22 02 2010

Last week I sent out an informal survey to my Twitter and Facebook network with questions determining how people feel about their mobile phones. Sixteen people responded, and I assume that all of the respondent’s have above average-knowledege about mobility and technology and live or have some connection to the Pacific Northwest. This is a distinct, unrepresentative population.

That fact that the group is so relatively uniform makes the answers that much more surprising and interesting. In the survey I asked just two questions:

  1. What do you see driving the future of mobile innovation?
  2. When considering the purchase of a new phone, what do you find important?

I asked people to rate a variety of answers to those questions as unlikely, somewhat likely, likely or very likely.

For question one, respondents thought social media, photos/video and location based services were most likely to drive mobile innovation. For social media and location-based services, 62.5 percent of respondents found them both to be “very likely” to drive mobile innovation. Voice services, security and financial transactions drew lower response rates.

For question two, respondents thought that carrier and applications were most important when considering the purchase of a new phone and thought voice quality and price were also important. They found looks and security to be least important when considering a phone purchase.

What does this mean? For this audience of connected, early adopters, marketers should know that carriers, applications and services matter, and looks, security and financial transaction don’t matter as much in the purchasing decision.

Will Google hit ‘Send’ for mobile, social Gmail application?

8 02 2010

The Wall Street Journal reports that Google will tomorrow announce more “social” features to Gmail, such as status updates and sharing content. Considering that Gmail is a primary, free email service, this is a really great innovation for consumers. It also threatens dominant, dedicated social networks like Facebook and Twitter unless they too can be integrated into the Gmail social streams. Hopefully they will be.

What about mobile? Currently, Gmail can be accessed by every major mobile platform through IMAP setting, but I think that a social Gmail would require an entirely new application to utilize more rich functionality. This provides Google an opportunity to differentiate Android with a best-in-class social Gmail experience and extend its presence on other phones like Blackberry and iPhone with must-have social Gmail applications — like it has with Google Maps.

At risk will be those computer and mobile applications like TweetDeck and Tweetie that already aggregate social feeds like a social Gmail would, but don’t provide that core email service to complement. Also at risk are mobile check-in applications like Foursquare, which would have a hard time competing with a social Gmail mobile application that has the same GPS functionality and services (maybe without the gaming/novelty component).

Speaking of services, this is where a social Gmail mobile application could really excel. With its recent acquisition of AdMob, Google is ramping up the mobile advertisement services. By drawing from a pool of data drawn from a connected social network, email and search, the ad services could be incredibly targeted and sink the competition.

Social Gmail may be an evolutionary step for the email platform, but it could be revolutionary for Google’s mobile strategy.

Apple leverages speculation, sensation for iPad launch

27 01 2010

Leading up to Apple’s highly-anticipated announcement of its iPad today, virtually every technology and consumer news outlet had produced preview stories. Now that Steve Jobs has confirmed the news and ushered the media into a reviews frenzy, we can extract a few communications lessons about what Apple did right to garner so much attention for a late-to-market tablet device. (For more of a business perspective, I highly recommend reading Michael Gartenberg’s Engadget post.)

1. iPhone success helped  insert Apple into early, competitive tablet coverage. Times Online’s Dominic Rushe and James Ashton had this to say after CES: “TWO years ago, Apple dominated CES by doing nothing. All the chatter was about the imminent launch of its iPhone after the show. This year Apple did it again… The company has said nothing, confirmed nothing, even iSlate’s name is really speculation, but once more Apple was the talk of Vegas.”

Erica Ogg of CNET reported, “A tablet or slate computer from Apple was basically all anyone wanted to talk about [at CES], and it’s not even a confirmed product yet… Apple’s managed to turn the attention of the entire tech world away from tech’s biggest stage without actually doing or saying anything.”

Although Kindle, Nook and a slew of tablet devices have been in the market (Kindle was announced in May 2009), Apple has been able to dominate competitive coverage for months because of its iPhone legacy. The iPad was positioned as an extension to the success of the iPhone, and that only perpetuated the anticipation.

2. Apple let leaks do the talking for them. “Trusted sources” were frequently referenced as sources for news leaks on blogs and in social media, which kept the buzz alive. Reporters and bloggers were reaching to the depths of patent filing and long-lost interviews searching for clues. Everyone loves a treasure hunt, and Apple let the media chase after its own X on the metaphorical map.

On the evening before the announcement, McGraw-Hill’s CEO confirmed that his company has been working on content distribution for an Apple tablet, saying, “We have worked with Apple for quite a while… The tablet is going to be just really terrific.” The leak created another news cycle ahead of the event and only increased the anticipation and fever for Apple.

3. Apple maintained product secrecy. Notice how no preview story ahead of the event featured an Apple spokesperson. Apple never commented on the tablet rumors. Apple’s partners (with exception of McGraw-Hill) never commented on the device. Considering this was probably the most media-hyped announcement since the iPhone, there was a lot of pressure on a lot of people and companies in the know. However, the Apple ecosystem kept the calm before the storm and never put itself in a scenario that compromised the secrecy of the product announcement.

4. Apple delivered a worthy launch event. All eyes were on Apple last week. “iSlate,” “iTablet,” “#apple” and “Apple Tablet” dominated Twitter trending topics ahead of the event. Every major news outlet with access live-blogged or live-streamed the event.

Considering Apple shared the same news day as President Obama’s State of the Union address, the media attention was that much more impressive. And now we know, finally, that we can stream future State of the Union addresses on an Apple iPad.

Apple starts with ‘App’

23 01 2010

This week we were assigned to read a September 2008 Seeking Alpha article on application marketplaces. Much of what was speculation at that time has become true. Every major mobile operating system now has its own marketplace for consumers to purchase applications on their devices. This is a good thing for consumers, who can purchase applciations to extend the capabilities of their phones, as well as for carriers and phone makers who have new revenue opportunities.

However, now that the field has been leveled and applications are available to all, the quality of applications and application marketplaces have become a key part of the consumer purchasing decision when considering phones and carriers. From this perspective, Apple has set itself apart from the pack. Whereas Blackberry, Windows Mobile and Google have had to offer new application storefronts, Apple has an advantage by servicing consumers via the world’s top digital music store, iTunes.  Their credit cards were already locked in. All Apple had to do was add on the App Store.

How successful has this model been for Apple? Check out this infographic created by GigaOm. Some of the numbers included in the graphic:

  • 130,000+ apps available
  • 4.8 apps downloaded in December per user
  • 280 million app downloads in December

These numbers are staggering.

They should also be intimidating to competitors. Even with Google’s massive marketing campaign for its new phones, including the Nexus One and Droid, it has yet to come up with an applications answer for Apple. Surely, quality apps on any platform will win consumers compared to a quantity of sub-par apps. Apple has both. This application market dominance is appealing to consumers, who have flocked to AT&T and the iPhone in droves.

It’s no longer about the phones anymore, it’s about the experience. The mobile industry should realize that, for now, applications are driving that.

Mobile donations are making a difference in Haiti

14 01 2010

Today I donated $10 to the American Red Cross to support the catastrophe in Haiti by texting “Haiti” to 90999. It was that simple (See actual screenshot at left).

As of a tweet this morning (Jan. 14), the Red Cross has already raised $3 million dollars through this mobile donation method.

Mobile phones have already been a prominent way of reporting the event, but they also provide a powerful, scalable way to collect the necessary financial support to aid relief efforts.

According to a NY Times article, the texted donations are being handled by a company called mGive, which started the campaign in a joint effort with the State Department and the Red Cross on Jan. 12. The $10 donation I made via mGive will be charged by my carrier, AT&T, which will relay the donation in full to the American Red Cross. mGive typically charges a licensing fee for its software platform, $4 to $1,500 a month, but has removed all fees for this fundraiser.

Unfortunately, CEO Tony Aiello says it typically takes up to 90 days for the charity to receive the donation, but the mGive is trying to expedite the process with carriers to get the money to the Red Cross as soon as possible. So while it feels immediate to make the donation, the impact of the donation is felt long after hitting “Send.” Hopefully this process will continue to improve.

In another mobile fundraising campaign, Haitian-born musician Wyclef Jean is urging people to donate $5 to his charity organization by texting “YELE” to 501501.

Mobile donations are getting massive support, too. The AFP reports that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made the rounds of six morning television news shows where she urged Americans to make 10-dollar donations by cellular telephone.

“If you wish to help, you can text Haiti — H-A-I-T-I — to 90999,” she said on NBC’s Today Show.

Additionally, the White House has endorsed the mGive mobile donation as one of three key ways Americans can assist Haitians.

I am impressed by the support mobile donations have received from top US officials, and am even more impressed with how Americans have embraced mobile donations as a primary resource to provide financial aid during a crisis. I encourage you to make a mobile donation and help those in need.