Thursday, 27 October 2011

Blackberry Playbook 2.0 O/S delay commentary

Some thoughts on the Playbook 2.0 delay, since it's topical. I think the 2.0 upgrade issue is embarrassing for RIM and will be bad for their relations with the developer community, but it’s a small part of a wider dynamic in the tablet industry. If you look at the distribution of tablet sales so far, it almost exactly follows the distribution of wealth in the population, which suggests that early adopters are buying as a luxury and therefore buying on appearance, brand and reputation as much as they’re buying on the technical features of the platform. Software is definitely a major part of the tablet experience, but actually the Playbook (or Android equivalents) are not significantly more or less user friendly than the iPad in this respect. Where all of the competitors are currently falling down is that they’re taking the iPad on head-to-head with high concept products at the same price point, but without the great marketing and retail experience that Apple offer.

So everyone is playing catch up in the tablet market and they need to shift their efforts a bit. The 7” form factor is a bit cheaper to make, mostly because the screen is such a major component of device cost, so you can offer a high quality device at a £200-£300 price point, rather than a £400-£700 price point. A data point for the price point thought is the mad rush to buy HP Touchpads when the fire sale began. That suggests to me that in some ways, RIM and Samsung had the right product (accepting that the latter was much too expensive), but were too early to market and got the marketing wrong – there wasn’t sufficient hype in the mass market to get take up. This is why I think Amazon will do very well with Fire now that 50Mn units a year are shifting and consumers are aware of the benefits of tablets.

RIM did, of course utterly shoot themselves in the foot by not offering native exchange integration on the Playbook at a time when many enterprises were moving away from Blackberry exclusivity into a hybrid environment and by not offering a 3G version to the type of user that needed it most. A side issue though.

Worth noting that I am a Playbook user as well as an iPad one. I was interviewed on this topic for Which was nice...

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Nokia finally gets itself in the shop window

Besides a slight naming problem, there were few surprises in the launch of the Lumia 800 at Nokia World today. I was a bit unimpressed by the stage show, which felt very forced, but the hardware looks good and, according to early benchmarks it offers very respectible performance. A few thoughts from me:

I think Nokia should have been more aggressive in its pricing. I'm firmly of the belief that the mass market smartphone customer makes a simple choice. If they can afford an iPhone, then they buy one - its a trusted choice in a rather confusing world, not to mention its status symbol er... status. Those who can't afford iPhone then choose a monthly payment they can afford and go from there. By pricing the 800 at the same point as iPhone, I think NOK are in for an uphill battle. Rebuilding their brand requires shifting a lot of units and becoming the "next best option" after iPhone; not going head to head with Apple just yet. If it was me, I'd have accepted much lower margins in order to make that position easy, at least until the brand can carry the fight again.

The US story is more of the same - hurry up and wait. I noticed that Mr Elop said they'd be launching a portfolio of devices early next year. Presumeably Lumia is part of that and presumeably the lack of CDMA or LTE support at launch means the operator partner will be AT&T and/ or T-Mobile.

Going on the NOK website shows that the UK launch partners will be Vodafone and 3. I've found it hard to locate a place where I can preorder SIM-free, but will persevere so I can get hold of one ASAP.

Navigation features yet again, representative of the restructure of NOK to put Navteq closer to the core of the business. Nokia adocates will doubtless point out that equivalent navigation facilities cost $100 on the iPhone. I personally doubt that this will be a major selling point in developed markets, given that data allowances are relatively generous for mainstream consumers.

For me, the critical launch today was of the Asha range of semi-smart devices, priced sub-$100. I'm very bullish about the sub-$100 smartphone market in general as it offers a logical upgrade path for the 70Mn consumers joining the middle class every year for the next decade. It's therefore a critical thing for Nokia to get right. I worry that Asha is not smart enough to offer a genuine competitor to Huawei's IDEOS range and equivalents from ZTE. But time will tell.

I'll get my hands on the device and hopefully post again... hopefully using it!

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

September Africa telecoms investment map

A slow month for announcements in September, perhaps a result of Ramadan and vacation season in much of the Western world. Only deal of significant note was Airtel's $30Mn purchase of a 3G licence in Rwanda and announcement of $70Mn of additional investment to build the network.

Of the 39 stories on African telecoms, 29 related to mobile access networks, 6 backhaul and 3 to fixed line networks. Outside of basic access, number portability is generating a lot of buzz, with Ghana in particular having notable success in enabling customers to port.

China blocks Google (again)

I found this story remarkable. The Chinese authorities seem to be taking a more and more hardline approach to international businesses and markets, which flies in the face of the "common knowledge" that exposure to free market capitalism will inevitably soften the regime's economic and political control on the economy.

Many of my clients are seeing toughening up of import restrictions, increasing requirements for technology transfer and great efforts being made to replicate or substitute technologies in the ICT space. TD-SCDMA is a great example of the latter, which has been pursued despite its obvious flaws, principally because its use avoids patent payments to foreign enterprises.

I'm increasingly of the believe that technology companies should regard China as less of a market opportunity and more of a threat. I can't believe I've just written that, but I hear too many stories such as the above regarding market shaping and asymettric competition to ignore them. Interesting times.