Saturday, 31 March 2012

What I've been reading this week

I think that participants in the TMT industry need to read widely in order to understand the present and future dynamics of the market. To that end, this post is a collection of the articles that have caught my eye.

This week: Nintendo, RIM under siege, cyber crimes cost Huawei, Amazon gains ground online and in India and why we should be more like Han Solo.

New business models

A brilliant blog on the continuing travails of Nintendo. Wii took them on a different path to Microsoft and Sony, but have only temporarily halted long term inability to compete in hardware.

And as if things weren’t bad enough, Sony’s next generation PS3, codenamed “Orbis” is rumoured to be coming next year.

Housing prices in tech hotspots are rising fast. We see the same thing in the trendier areas of London, where tech companies are landing , buying office space and importing top quality staff.

I like this idea of combining electronic and physical supply chains. I wish the Post Office would put in 24 collection centres. Would be really useful!

Roku is big in the US... but not in the UK. Can’t really imagine why anyone would want one, although at least it’s cheap, unlike YouView.

So for all the talk of ARM beating on Intel, the latter has actually gained market share by 2.5pp since 2010.

Japan’s smartphone revolution continues. I expect penetration to double this year and Apple to continue to oust the domestic brands.

Cyber warfare

I’m starting a new tab about cyber warfare as it’s becoming a critical tool in business and more importantly in international competition.

Here, the actions of it and it’s government prevent Huawei from bidding in Australia’s NGN project. Sign of things to come.

Actions like hacking RSA. The article is worth a read as it highlights some of the techniques of the professional hacker.

Oh dear. A massive security breach at Visa and Mastercard. This story will run...

Digital media

3-10% of digital ads are served to bots either accidentally or fraudulently. Still think that online display is more accurate and targeted than TV?

Someone internally described this as “essential reading”. It is. If you want the cutting edge of thinking from 2010. Honestly, I can’t believe people are getting on stage and talking about the market in such basic terms. No mention here about the impact of smart computing on the physical world, continued focus on the irrelevant iOS vs. Android competition, rather than Apple iTunes vs Google Play vs Microsoft Live (with a supporting cast of Sony 4-screen, Samsung Connected etc...), which is a superpower slugfest between $1.2 Trillion of market cap and a handy $200 Billion of cash. No, let’s focus on Instagram and Draw Something, rather than addressing the future of integrated social networking. Sheesh.

The US Army is now distributing training materials using iOS. Another step towards Government acceptance of smartphones and another nail in RIM’s coffin.

Even RIM’s own shareholders think they’re finished. Poor dears.

Sworly is a neat idea, but it’s a little bandwidth heavy and doesn’t have an obvious business model. Pinterest can “do a Twitter” and sell professional accounts to a huge range of consumer businesses, whereas Sworly is limited to the record industry... and perhaps some promoted feeds.

New technology

I feel the pain of email overload – I currently get about 3-400 a day – however I’m not sure that activity streams will help. I think what will happen is even more communication and even more overload.

HTTP is almost as old as the web. With performance and security concerns arising, HTTP 2.0 will provide a platform for the next 25 years of development.

We’ve been waiting decades, but now commercially available flexible displays are finally here!

Breakthrough technology

It’s easy to focus on amazing feats of complex engineering, but elegant solutions like this perpetual power system for a robot jellyfish are just as fascinating. Swarm robots based on conceptually simple technology such as this will become a feature of research and monitoring over the next decade.

Another robotics article, that investigates whether robots need to look like us. I think they probably don’t, however there are massive mobility advantages in being bipedal, so I suspect we will continue to strive towards it as a configuration.

Active heat shield technologies like this reduce weight and increase safety, all bringing commercial manned spaceflight that little bit closer.

Superpower politics

A badly written article. Useful though because it shows how Amazon are assembling the assets to launch cloud services in India.

Amazon also has succeeded in creating an Android-based ecosystem that makes money for developers – another sign that its customer centric approach is elevating it to parity with Apple, Microsoft and Google.

Microsoft and Nokia are committing $24Mn to help train developers, principally in Windows, but also a bit of Symbian. Feels a bit desperate...

...and Microsoft are in trouble over “Smoked by Windows Phone”, which appears to be a bit rigged in their favour!

More evidence about how ultra efficient Apple is operationally – their inventory turnover is unbelievably fast versus the competition.

Just for fun

A tickertape tweet printer. Nice idea, I just wish it was a bit less steam punk!

Wow. The ultimate drive in cinema... worth a look.

Raising Apollo 11’s boosters – a symbol perhaps of Bezos belief that he’ll change spaceflight in just as large and a much more sustainable way.

A short, but surprisingly insightful look at what Han Solo can teach us about business.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Media Democracy B-Side - cord cutting

My latest State of the Media Democracy B-Side covers an emotive and controversial issue – that of cord cutting. For those of you not familiar with the term, cord cutting refers to customers cancelling their pay-TV subscriptions and replacing them with free or paid-for on-demand services.

As the chart below shows, the proportion of respondents subscribing to pay-TV services actually went up in all markets in 2011. This is despite the fact that in 2010 a relatively large number of respondents (about a quarter in France and Japan) said that they were intending to dispense with their subscriptions in favour of free or paid-for streamed alternatives.
So why didn’t they? The answer is two-fold, I think. Firstly the number of people with the equipment to actually cut the cord is fairly limited as a proportion of the total. Most consumers with connected-ready TVs and Blu-ray players haven’t actually connected them because they lack the requisite (and expensive) Wi-fi dongle and the TV is too far from their Internet router. Those with connected consoles are more likely to use them for gaming than TV streaming. The second, and more important, reason is that the online products that exist today just aren’t as good as their broadcast equivalents. IP isn’t an efficient way of delivering high-reliability, high-definition pictures. “Best endeavours” is fine for overall resilience of the pipe, but not for broadcast quality delivery.Furthermore, although streamed movie services are good for... movies... they don’t offer the “on the day of release” high concept programming and entertainment content that audiences love or access to premium sports, exclusive access to which costs far more cash than the online services can afford.

Truth be told, movies are a small part of the home entertainment ecosystem. Streaming is a (potential) substitute for DVD through the post, which was a substitute for physical rental. Not TV.Globally, subscription VOD and DVD by mail both grew – they are content extenders and may replace some DVD purchasing and movie channels. They cost much the same as the latter though, so are easily defended by the Pay TV industry through services like Sky Anytime+ that offer on-demand movies alongside broadcast.Finally, it’s worth noting that the major reason people watch TV is the social experience. TV is the media type that respondents in all markets talked about most regularly at the watercooler, on the living room sofa and over social networks. If you cut the cord and let the audience decide what to watch, then you’d lose all that. So I don’t think they’ll be cutting it all that soon.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

What I've been reading this week

I think that participants in the TMT industry need to read widely in order to understand the present and future dynamics of the market. To that end, this post is a collection of the articles that have caught my eye.

This week: outsource consolidation leads to stifled yawns, China quashes salt rumours, fibre gets faster and why the iPhone won’t get any bigger.

New business models

Another hacking story, this time aimed at the BBC’s ability to feed satellite news into Iran. Although somewhat effective, the attack has been foiled, but given the Iranian regime’s weak electronic warfare capabilities versus the rest of the world, you can but imagine how effective an analogous Chinese or Russian effort would have been.

Perhaps this was therefore a good market in which to sell an encryption company – News Corp just offloaded NDS for $5Bn – I expect that money will find its way into another large content acquisition. For Cisco, this gives them yet another hardware capability to throw into their network switching gear and differentiate themselves from lower cost players.

At some point, NTT Data is going to do a grand reveal and launch a frontal assault on the IT services industry. In Dimension Data (acquired a couple of years back) and Keane, which it sneakily bought at the end of 2010 (and no one noticed until now) it’s got a credible degree of global scale and more importantly a strong foothold in emerging markets. Alternatively, they’ll just hold them like a PE and never integrate. Who can tell?

Perhaps they’ll be competing against some consolidated Indian mega-outsourcers not that Tech Mahindra and Satyam have “merged”. I foresee difficult times ahead for Indian outsourcers as the value of labour arbitrage declines with a strengthening Rupee and the Indian talent war continues to effect delivery quality.

Here we go again. Cheap ($35) tablet launches! Every gets really excited about the iPad killer... for the wrong reasons. The iPad sells to people who have money and want luxury. There is no kudos at $40, no aspiration. Remember that tablets are useful consumption devices, but from a utility standpoint lag behind portable PCs and smartphones. Amazing that the tech can get this cheap, but that’s all.

A fascinating piece on how differences in the way that mobile money works effects the pricing of water in a number of African countries. Interesting that once again Kenya lags the rest of the region in creating a viable digital economy. Silicon Savannah is drying up, in my view, thanks to stifling regulation and legislation.

Selling direct to consumers at a reasonable price is a very smart way for the BBC to achieve catalogue digitisation, which is an expensive undertaking in a spend-conscious environment.

Emerging technology

SpaceX are an immensely exciting company that I expect to revolutionise human access to space. The flight of Falcon 9 to the International Space Station will be a landmark for them and the commercialisation of space travel. With Virgin Galactic also taking tentative steps into the stratosphere, this could be the most groundbreaking year for space travel since Apollo.

Europe is also rushing ahead in space. This article is about their new “space truck” that ferries supplies to the International Space Station, then dispose of the waste.

The iPad is the first tablet to support Bluetooth low energy, a standard that I expect to dominate personal area networking for the next few years.

Fibre technology just keeps getting smarter. This Ciena product uses signal processing to reduce the number of amplifiers in a cable by reducing noise, boosting speeds and reducing the cost of cable installations.

And in the domestic world, here’s an EU-funded project that’s demonstrating how to create ultra-fast but dense fibre-to-the-home networks. Their trial gave 4,000 users a 300MBit/s connection. Now we just need to figure out what to do with it!

An amusing, but spot on look at why the new iPhone won’t follow the screen enlargement trend and will stay around 3.5”.

3-D printing is going on leaps and bounds. Here an Austrian University demonstrates a technology to rapidly print nanoscale devices.

Emerging markets

Two Chinese censorship stories now, both about propaganda and censorship of social channels. I think the capitalist world is beginning to understand that it’s really not dealing with a regime that will ever “civilise” and become capitalists too. This is a brutal dictatorship. Not a Business School.

Digital media

I never like to use my own behaviour as a benchmark for the mass-market, however this mirrors social/ TV interaction in my household. Twitter is a great medium for quips about what’s on the box and that’s why 85% of US social traffic around TV is on it. Neither is it any surprise that major events drive most of the traffic – Twitter and TV are joined at the hip as one is a conversation medium, the other a conversation starter.

The speed at which digital markets mature and consolidate is quite incredible. Here Zynga (age 4 and a half years) is buying Omgpop (age 5 years) for $180Mn. Quick bucks!

Sadly, the speed at which traditional media businesses mature is not so fast. Ultraviolet – the service that allows consumers to store their content in a “digital locker” in the cloud so they can legitimately use it on any device – will cost at least $2 per DVD. As the blogger points out, you’d have to watch every DVD about 50 times before the studio lost money on this transaction. Considering that the people who would want this are enthusiasts with dozens or hundreds of movies, I don’t see many people stumping up for this. Imagine there’ll be a spun up press release on how many do soon enough.

I’m bullish about streamed music and impressed by the success of the Beats headphone range. Their acquisition of Spotify-wannabe MOG might be interesting for the market. It’ll only take a small proportion of people shelling out $300 for headphones to pay $5 a month for music to start taking some share.

Just for fun

A flying Delorean? Brilliant. And controlled by a Wii Remote, therefore making it a valid tech story.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Media Democracy B-Side - video & social gaming

My latest State of the Media Democracy B-Side covers gaming, which is mentioned in the report in a couple of areas, but definitely deserves a deeper dive.

Having been an avid gamer since the days of the NES, it’s good to see that traditional gaming on consoles remains strong – nearly half of households now have one and 15% have connected it to the Internet. Console ownership has increased by about 20% year-on-year, which is pretty impressive given the less than perfect economic conditions and the considerable cost of the devices and their games.

Purchasing through the console was surprisingly prevalent with 28% of people who had their console Internet connected saying that they purchased something through it at least once a month in 2011. Consoles are the simplest way for many households to connect their TV to the Internet, so people’s willingness to buy through them is a positive sign for the wider on-demand content industry. Only 3% bought or hired a movie in 2011 on the console though, so there’s still some way to go even if people can be persuaded to take the plunge and connect. Perhaps not that easy for some users given that connecting an X-Box to a wireless network costs upwards of £50.

Connected or not, consoles only represented 2.3% of online time within the respondents. Given that 50% penetration number, it’s probably less than 1% of overall time spent online (although that represents about 200 million hours a year, which is pretty meaningful!). Linking that online time to the video game experience still seems tough, however. Only 10% of respondents visited a website as a result of seeing an advert in a game.

Speaking of online, Rovio and Zynga both had good 2011s, leading the way towards mass market connected gaming, principally on mobile devices. This shows in the numbers: 44% of men currently play games on their mobile phone, as do 38% of women. Interestingly, 15% of men said they’d tried phone games, but decided that they didn’t like them, compared to 13% of women. This suggests that casual games companies could take more time marketing their wares to female audiences.12% of respondents said that their devices couldn’t play games at all – since even the cheapest feature phone has “snake” or similar, this is more likely reflective of disinterest than lack of technical capability.

In terms of acquisition, men are very much more likely to download games to their handsets, with 22% currently doing this versus 14% of women. Part of this is due to a higher degree and longer duration of smartphone ownership amongst men. Although 46% of women now own one (versus 50% of men), many of these female user acquired their devices in the last year and may therefore still be adapting to a new experience. With PS Vita now having Wi-fi as standard and optional 3G, Sony will also hope to benefit from wireless downloaders.

There are even signs that videogames are become less nerdy and more mainstream. Nearly 15% of people admitted to discussing them with friends and colleagues at least weekly. 1337

For the record, I’ve got an Xbox 360 and my favourite ever game was Ascendancy.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Media Democracy B-Side - eReaders and eBooks

Deloitte’s 6th annual State of the Media Democracy report was released today. There is so much data in the survey that to discuss it all would take a novel, so over the next couple of days I’ll try to provide some insights and perspectives into subjects that didn’t make the cut. A Media Democracy B-Side, if you will. First up, eReaders, via media favourites and device ownership.

Deloitte's UK consumer survey shows that professional media, be it on TV, in print or on the radio, is as popular as ever. 50% of respondents said that TV was their favourite type of media and despite falling circulations, 40% rated newspapers in their top 3 (although only 6% placed it #1). TV and print adverts were also rated as massively more impactful than online and social equivalents and after search are the principal way in which consumers discover websites.

A desire to access content from traditional channels on non-traditional formats may be driving uptake of consumer technology. We estimate that the average UK consumer has 9.7 devices and that the gap between male and female ownership is narrowing. Male respondents had 10 devices on average, females had 9.4. New categories like eReaders and tablets had great years. If our survey respondents are indicative of the UK population, then we estimate that there are 3 million tablets and 5 million eReaders in circulation.

The latter may seem a surprisingly large number as the eReader is a particularly specialised device and time spent reading almost certainly lags newspaper, TV and radio consumption. My view is that the cost of eReaders make them easy purchases either as gifts (gifting has also driven DAB radio uptake, despite the devices being relatively infrequently used) or as lifestyle options – the “if I buy this I’ll read more” psychology. Running contrary to that theory is the fact that women, although they own less technology than men, are more likely to own an eReader. 17% more women than men said that they own one.

Cynicism over consumer motivations aside, eReaders do seem to be driving to acquire and consumer more books. 50% people who owned an eReader said that they bought more books in digital format than they had done in print and 50% said that they read more because of eReaders. Even so, 41% also admitted that they bought more eBooks than they could read, suggesting that overflowing bookshelves and over-ambitious readers are as common in the digital world as in the physical.

Data published yesterday by
Harris Interactive shows similar behaviour in the US. 29% of people using an eReader say they typically read more than 20 books in an average year, while 21% say they read between 11 and 20 books 24% read between 6 and 10 books. So, almost 75% of eReader users are reading 6 or more books in an average year. Conversely, 60% of non eReader users are reading 5 or fewer books on average in a year. Their results for younger audiences aren’t conclusive, but I imagine education publishers will be very interested to see whether an eReader device could be used to drive increased (or at least continued) consumption of paid-for text books and study guides.

In terms of purchase, the Harris study mirrors Deloitte’s with 41% of their 2056 respondents purchasing more than 11 books a year. One thing that we will ask next year for clarification is whether readers are actually paying for those books. Many fantastic out of copyright classics are available on eReader platforms for free that it could be that consumption is up, but revenues will ultimately go down.

To date, eBook business models have been relatively conventional. Purchase and now public libraries in some UK districts are the most prevalent options for content acquisition. I believe that there is also a great opportunity for the publishing industry to create a differentiated “Spotify for books” service that offers the curation of a bookshop with the ease of use of eBooks and simplicity of a subscription payment. A few of these services exist today, for example
24symbols, which launched last year. There have also been rumours that Spotify itself intends to diversify beyond music and into other forms of media. With TV and film streaming already clogged with competitors, perhaps books would be a logical next step.

Finally on eBooks, smartphones and tablets do seem to be having some effect on the use of eReaders. 13% of respondents who owned both a smart device and an eReader said that they had stopped using the latter because of the former. Fortunately for the eReader manufacturers, most of them offer a tablet and/ or smartphone experience as well and content that is portable between the two devices, meaning that stickiness to the eBook ecosystem should transcend the physical device.

So, a good year for eReaders and eBooks and perhaps also good signs for the publishing industry. For the record, I don’t own an eReader and I do have a groaning bookshelf...

Monday, 12 March 2012

The three year view of African telecoms infrastructure investment

A new piece of analysis I’ve just completed on total telecoms investments in Africa from 2009 to 2011. What it shows is the extreme concentration of investment in the top 3 markets – 55% of the investment that went into Africa in 2009 to 2011 went into Nigeria, South Africa or Egypt.
On a per person basis, it’s no surprise that residents of richer economies do better than average. That said, I remain bearish about Kenya’s long term prospects as a digital leader in Africa. Interference from government and regulator, coupled with slowing national investment in public sector IT has led to the country becoming a less attractive destination for FDI. Since it lacks its own telecoms powerhouse (Safaricom being largely foreign owned), Kenya risks falling behind regional competitors.

Zimbabwe may well be one of those competitors. Chinese investment in a number of local players has boosted infrastructure capabilities and provides a basis for long term growth of the sector. Provided governmental interference and corruption can be managed, the relatively well educated Zimbabweans could reap rich rewards in the longer term, possibly even as a destination for services sold into richer neighbours.

Chinese investment in the continent is a well known trend in recent years and I’ll dedicate a post to it in the near future.

Friday, 9 March 2012

What I've been reading this week

I think that participants in the TMT industry need to read widely in order to understand the present and future dynamics of the market. To that end, this post is a collection of the articles that have caught my eye.

This week: dastardly Germans cloning web businesses, invisible hydrogen coming to your high street, twisted spectrum puts the mobile industry in a spin and the terrifying scale of EVERYTHING amazes

New business models

I quite like Ideo’s work; if nothing else, they offer a fresh perspective on tricky issues. In this short blog, they talk about new concepts for retail. I like the ideas, but in a land (the UK) of ridiculous high-street rents, it’s difficult to see many of them being practical.

This is a fascinating article about a German company that routinely copies and exploits the models of US online businesses. All totally above board, but a great reminder of why in the Internet economy you need to go global the moment you go local

An infographic on the rise of mobile... but they really mean the rise of smart devices, since the statistics don’t really delineate between Wi-Fi and cellular; tablets or smart phones. Interesting data, nonetheless

Digital media

A nicely written paper on the travails of (particularly local) newspapers in the face of declining print circulation and difficult digital business models. I feel terribly sorry for them – it must be very hard to go from monopoly to also ran in a decade. Without new and asymmetric talent, most newspapers will succumb before the end of this decade.

Perhaps newspapers will become a plaything of Facebook... lots of other industries make it onto this entertaining infographic about the future of the alpha social network.

Facebook is also the largest Internet IPO of all time; as mentioned on this little infographic of the 10 biggest. What stands out is how small most Internet IPOs actually are. And that there are a number of less-known companies like Yandex (the largest search engine in Russia) and Giant Interactive Group (a nearly defunct online games company). I also think that the list is incomplete. When Cisco Systems IPOed in 1990 it had a market capitalisation of $224Mn – about $390Mn in 2012. But that’s eclipsed by Akamai Technologies. It IPOed in 1999 at $216Mn, for a valuation of about $2Bn. By the end of the first day it was valued at $13Bn. A record 1st day increase. It’s now valued at $6.5Bn. Facebook better hope it does better than that...

...or this – a blatant rip-off of Pinterest. This is Facebook’s problem – they aren’t cool or innovative anymore. Resorting to copying their rivals features is not going to result in market leadership and this sort of news should make grim reading for their investors, who now own a social media version of Yahoo.

Mind you, none of this matters BECAUSE THE MEDIA INDUSTRY IS DOOMED. This infographic has got some decent facts, but is very dumb in what it concludes. People still love media, they’ll just consume it in different ways and the companies that supply it will (eventually) adapt or be substituted.

I’m not a fan of industry analysts, so I include this news for light entertainment. Basically there’ll be lots more tablets in the next few years. How many, who knows. Forrester think they know to 3 significant places though. Bless.

New technology

I like these comparisons between supercomputers and normal devices. Amazing to think that so much power can be in your hand... but also that there are computers in the world that have more power than a personal device 20 years hence.

Breakthrough technology

I’m bullish about hydrogen... but then I have been for years. Even so, it’s great to see Toyota jumping from concept to production. Unfortunately the infrastructure challenges in converting to a hydrogen economy won’t be easy to overcome...

...perhaps with Mercedes’ help they’ll manage to get so. Although I’m a bit confused as to why the Germans have decided to cover their F-Cell vehicle in an “invisible” weave of LEDs. Weird!

Quite a technical paper, but really quite exciting! Essentially what it says is that it’s possible to use the same frequency band to carry much more traffic by “twisting” the electromagnetic waves. Hypothetically, this means you could cram an infinitely larger amount of traffic into the same bands. In practice that would require an infinite number of antennas and every phone would need infinite aerials and infinite power amps. If we could double capacity using this method, however, the impact would be immense.

The US military machine has made unbelievable advances in autonomous robotics in the last decade. Here’s a humanoid shipboard fire-fighting robot, due to start testing next year. Power, I suspect, will remain a problem.

And just to ram home the point, here’s a robot cheetah – an adaptation of the famous Pack Bot currently undergoing trials.

Orion is NASA’s latest heavy lift platform and would form the basis of renewed manned exploration of the Moon and possibly even Mars.

Meanwhile, the US Airforce’s mystery space plane just celebrated a year in orbit. If only we knew what it was doing up there...

Superpower politics

In an earlier post I identified Amazon as the 4th of the tech superpowers. Here’s why – they have excellent product focus, a clear value proposition and brand and global reach. Watch them carefully!

Microsoft are still scrabbling for a mobile foothold. I actually think Windows 7.5 is the best O/S on the market, but it lacks application support. RIM are finished.

Just for fun

Scale (or should that be “perspective”) matters! This is a great little website on the subject, although the speed at which Earth disappears is pretty terrifying!

Thursday, 8 March 2012

The tech Cold War hots up - what we learnt from the iPad launch

So now we know. The iPad 2 is dead – long live the iPad! Amidst the disappointment that we didn’t get super-Siri, haptics, a button-free fascia or even just a “3”, the iPad launch actually taught us a lot about Apple’s future strategy and marks a new phase in the growing war between the West Coast tech superpowers.

For the first time, Apple have not just produced a beautiful-looking “wow” device, they have also created a new baseline for technical specifications. The combination of A5X, quad core graphics, LTE and Retina display is a leap ahead of the competition and demonstrates how Apple’s spending power on talent and IP are giving them the ability to out-design the competition in silicon as well as in user experience. Google, Microsoft and now Amazon will have to respond, and fast.

This all reminds me of the multidimensional competition between the USA and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. This too is a global conflict, fought indirectly through proxies, rather than face to face. Apple doesn’t overtly take on Microsoft in the enterprise, but it enables application companies to do so, backed by the strength of its platform investment. Neither Google nor Microsoft take on Apple directly in mobile devices or in PCs, choosing to do so indirectly through proxies like Motorola and Nokia, backed too by platform investment.

And underpinning this conflict is an ideological battle of ecosystems; between closed and open, local and cloud. Each participant has its ethos and is ruthless in stamping that ethos onto everything it does.

So what does this mean for the next years of this Cold War. History suggests one scenario. During the 1980s, the USA embarked on a strategy of unbalancing the Soviet Union by ruthlessly competing with it from so many axes that eventually its rigid leadership collapsed from the strain of responding. This strategy – related in David Hoffman’s outstanding book, The Dead Hand – is also one that is being pursued by each of the 4 tech superpowers. Through acquisition of talent and technology they are entering each others’ spaces. Their power bases and cash cows remain the same as they’ve always been – Microsoft in software, Apple in hardware, Google in search and Amazon in retail – but each is prodding the others, launching competitive products that may not succeed, but focus management attention away from their own strategy and thereby protect their core; their ethos. They disrupt, but not in the pervading management theory sense, but in a psychological one.

For the superpowers, I expect a wave of acquisition over the next 2 years as they use cash as their weapon to out-invest and out-innovate their rivals.

There are consequences too for the rest of the market, which, let’s not forget, contains some monolithic corporations – Sony, Samsung, Verizon, NTT, AT&T & Vodafone, to name but a few. For me, their future is safety in consolidation. By creating their own superpowers in mobile or in hardware, they too can have a place at the top table, rather than being pawns and proxies by which strategy plays out. Today they are local players in a global game. That is not a sustainable position and I really do expect a major global telecoms group to emerge through acquisition in the next 2-3 years.

For hardware, the world is a harder place as cultural identity would make a massive merger hard to bring off. Their roles as puppets is looking more and more likely every day. Being outgunned by Apple in their core competency will require a vigorous response from Samsung, HTC, LG, Nokia et al, but it may be that they will once again rely on their superpower supporters to prop them up.

If one of them is unable to respond fast enough and falls by the wayside, the scramble for their assets amongst the superpowers may lead to a hotter war – imagine the value of Nokia’s patent portfolio in the only theatre that they overtly engage each other.

Anyway, I hope this is at least an interesting perspective – I found the parallels entertaining!

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

My hopes & expectations for the iPad launch event

Ahead of Apple’s announcement of the next generation iPad, I thought I’d jot down what I expect (and don’t expect) from the new tablet. I’ll be keeping score :).

Retina display
What it means:
a much sharper picture than the current iPad, great for HD movies and games and even sharper magazine and web browsing experiences.
Likelihood: 100% - a safe bet as without this feature it isn’t worth refreshing the iPad 2, which is already the industry leader in the category by a colossal margin

A 5+ MegaPixel camera on the back
What it means:
sharper pictures to go with your new Retina display
Likelihood: 100% - it costs Apple nothing and enables a slightly better user experience

What it means:
voice search comes to the iPad
Likelihood: 100% - I expect this to be a major “buzz” feature at the launch

A 5+ MegaPixel camera on the front
What it means:
a really sharp camera to enable high definition video conferencing using either Facetime or 3rd party apps. With iPad increasingly penetrating the enterprise, this could be a really exciting feature and terrifying for the Ciscos of the world
Likelihood: 50% - I’m not feeling lucky, so I’ll go 50:50 – this would be a great feature, provided the technology could be made reliable enough for an Apple product

Quad-core “A6” processor
What it means:
each core is effectively a single processor and the engine that powers all of the tablet’s features. A quad core processor has four of them, working together. With a higher resolution screen comes more need for processing power to run all those HD games and decode HD movies, which is what the new processor would provide... but a high speed dual core setup might just be enough grunt and probably offers better battery life.
Likelihood: 50% - I think dual core is equally likely – iOS is perfectly matched to the hardware it runs on, so perhaps Apple will err on the side of battery life increase and heat reduction

A 128GB memory version
What it means:
more storage for that memory hogging HD video
Likelihood: 20% - Apple will emphasise even better iCloud integration in lieu of an expensive move to 128GB solid state storage

Enhanced Siri
What it means:
I think Apple may seek to integrate more visual search capability into Siri, perhaps via Google Goggles alike functionality. Watching words to images to search would be very neat and give people the choice of verbal, image or semantic. Other enhancements may be possible (and improve my chances of being right J)
Likelihood: 20% - enhanced Siri is likely to be the standout feature of iPhone 5 – iPad HD already has Retina so why go crazy?

A button-less visage
What it means:
the nerds are going crazy at the possibility of an iPad without a physical button on the front. Gestures or an active (touch sensitive) bezel would instead be used in lieu of that clicky circle of joy
Likelihood: 20% - I think the button helps the mass market consumer feel comfortable with the iPad – it’s a safe haven in storm of touch and gestures that are often not that intuitive to older (richer) users

What it means:
LTE is an improvement on the 3G mobile network that offers (theoretically) much faster download speeds – great if you’re streaming in high definition
Likelihood: 5% - Apple has never led the way in radio before, preferring to offer great Wi-Fi performance with cellular infill. LTE chipsets are currently battery hogs – draining a phone battery in 8 hours just on standby – and download limits mean that the benefits of LTE over 3G are minimal. I think Apple will stick with 3G for the main models for now.

Something completely unexpected
What it means:
NFC, Wi-Fi direct, wireless display, Apple TV, who knows what surprise Tim Cook will choose to spring on us
Likelihood: 100% - this is Apple we’re talking about! The best PR and product team in the industry. I’m sure there’ll be something new to show us. I’m hooked!

Monday, 5 March 2012

What I've been reading this week

I think that participants in the TMT industry need to read widely in order to understand the present and future dynamics of the market. To that end, this post is a collection of the articles that have caught my eye.

This (last!) week – Daily, RIM blow their own trumpets, DSL trumps cable in the UK, why startup investing isn’t like Moneyball and how Africa is becoming a creative force in media

Digital Media

The headline here is that The Daily (of Murdoch ownership/ fame) is the highest grossing iPad app... currently and only in the US. Apple doesn’t release global or granular statistics, so who knows what this really means.

App download volumes keep rising – to be expected given the vast number of devices sold every quarter – however per person this isn’t a big number. In reality, most people don’t download many applications and when we do, they’re the most popular ones. We’re herd animals, after all.

BT has made great strides in enhancing the speed and quality of DSL in the last few years. Combined with the superior choice offered by multiple DSL vendors and BT Retail’s own improved marketing, it’s no surprise that Virgin is getting beaten up. Shows that speed alone is not a reason to select an ISP.

Traditional Media

I think Silver River is a good acquisition for Sony. TV is still a great market to be in as the value premium of live or near-live broadcast is more-or-less intact. The UK remains a major innovator in the sector and is exactly where Sony need to be.,0,493043.story

New business models

A somewhat rudimentary article, but the point is a good one – by wrapping Playstation Network into its online offerings to create Sony Entertainment Network, by taking full control at Sony Ericsson and by integrating Vita OS more widely, Sony finally looks to have an effective strategy to combat Samsung. If it can also use its content portfolio effectively, then it might well be onto a winner.

Sony will also need to engage operators to sell their dream as their retail presence is poor. Here, they’ve announced that they’ll be selling a tablet product with AT&T subsidy.

Apparently 76% of retailers are targeting tablets for in-store digital experiences. WTF? Who carries a tablet around with them in the mall? Anyway, a few interesting connected retail data points in all of this. Which is nice.

The headline is “how to make start up investment like Moneyball”... except, this isn’t really like Moneyball, because the Billy Beane concept was to mine a wealth of information to make judgements based on fact. Also, Beane never won the World Series, which is precisely what a startup investor needs to do. Doubtless, many people will use this site, but for me, good judgement, rather than good data are the keys to making good early stage investments. This feels like snake oil!

A sensible article about how to determine the return on investment of social media. It’s the same as any other return on investment. She had me from “I can tell you the value of a Facebook fan: zero freaking dollars”

Linkedin users more often than not come from big, US-headquartered companies. Not a surprise (although I like the data). Interesting that 18.7% of users are in education though. I didn’t expect that.

Breakthrough technology

Microsoft are very innovative when it comes to interface design. Here they show off 3D display technology, married to Kinect-based motion and eye-tracking technology. Very smart!

I’m very excited about Virgin Galactic. Their test flight schedule is now public and the long wait for commercial passenger (near) space travel is (nearly) over.

Maybe not a breakthrough in technology terms, but certainly a breakthrough price point. And the market agrees – the Raspberry Pi $35 computer sold out on its first day. As reported here previously, this initiative is very exciting as it aims to reinvigorate enthusiast computing and with it start off a wave of new innovations from teenage bedrooms everywhere. I wish them luck!

Emerging Markets

A good read about how the future Africa is portrayed through indigenous science fiction.

Nigeria’s film production hub, “Nollywood” is a little known but hugely productive part of Africa’s entertainment economy, releasing 1,000 films a year and grossing $500Mn. As populations edge above the poverty line, cinema and TV will become the next mobile telephony in Africa, although the film makers themselves will continue to retain a distinctly African flavour.

Some nice Twitter data points here, but most interesting to me is that Brazilians are the third largest Twitter population. Another data point that shows how the Latin American Internet is being driven by social media, rather than traditional browsing...

...but the same isn’t true in Africa. It’s still early days for the Internet and for social media in Africa and although it’s interesting that some things are happening, with web penetration so low, I’m guessing social media won’t be changing the result of Senegal’s presidential election...

...nor can it be regulated simply in India. The fact that politicians there are focused on the “issue” of regulating social when the rest of the communications market is in such a mess is indicative of the lack of focus that will constrain the Indian economy if not addressed.

RIM are strong in Asia, it’s true, however, like Nokia, their lack of a credible full screen smartphone in the crucial $100 - $200 price range means that they’re also in serious trouble in this market. Sales points of presence will help, but ultimately retailers in these markets are fickle. They’ll go where the money is. And that probably isn’t where RIM are... it’s strange that this Blackberry evangelist site tells us that the analysts are wrong and that RIM is a great company. That maybe true, but for me it isn’t a great investment.

Finally on emerging markets, here’s news that China’s largest mobile payment company has gone past 30Mn downloads. 53% on Android and as many as 3% on Blackberry (assuming ”other” doesn’t just mean Bada or a local OS). Going well for RIM in China, then...

Friday, 2 March 2012

African Telecoms Investment - February 2012

Lots of conversation but little action would be how I'd characterise the African telecoms investment landscape in February.

$200Mn of fresh investments were announced, but although some big deals were mooted - particularly a sell off of tower assets by Etisalat - none materialised, leaving only Vodacom's mobile upgrades in Tanzania and Movicel's selection of Huawei and ZTE to build a small LTE network in Angola to prop up the numbers.

Perhaps this shouldn't come as a surprise. Only $215Mn of investments were announced in the same month of 2011; suggesting that the $516Mn announced in February 2010 was a bit of an aberration.

Mobile World Congress: small cells, big business

One of the big themes at this year’s Mobile World Congress was the integration of multiple radio access standards into a single, seamless wireless connectivity system. Variously called “off-loading” and “small cell”, the idea is to provide mobile device users with seamless access to many different technologies simultaneously, providing a massive boost to quality of service. I visited many of the major vendors at MWC – what follows is a few words on the small cell market.

Wi-Fi has been a growing part of the industry for a number of years, particularly in densely populated countries like the UK and cities like New York, however it has hitherto been a somewhat unsophisticated system, requiring separate authentication and lacking decent quality of service. All that has changed in the last year or so as technologies from the cellular industry, such as beam-forming and handover techniques have found their way into mainstream solutions.

The objective is to create a system that aggregates macro, micro and pico 2G, 3G, LTE cells with WiMax and Wi-Fi networks and switches seamlessly between them based on what the user is doing and the quality of the various connections at the user’s location. For the user, this means they are much more likely to have a high-speed connection available to them when they need. And, as all of this is enabled through authentication based on the user’s SIM, it’s good for mobile operators too

Predictably, Cisco are heavily involved and used MWC to announce what they describe as the first carrier gateway to offer the Next Generation Hotspot (NGH) standards, which enable the integration of small cells into macro networks. AT&T, BT, PCCW (Hong Kong), Shaw Communications (Canada), Portugal Telecom, Smart (Philippines), and TrueMove (Thailand) are trialling this product. Cisco aren’t the only company to get into this game – Aptilo are just one of a number of providers who have been demonstrating SIM-authenticated Wi-Fi solutions for major carriers. In their case, with TeliaSonera.

And small cells are big business. A report published for MWC forecasts that small cells will make up 88% of all base stations by 2015. No surprise that all of the major base station manufacturers are in on the act, and they are now being joined by players coming from the other direction, like WiMax specialist Alvarion, who acquired Wi-Fi specialist Wavion to create a small cell super power.

A word of warning on this technology. It’s success depends very strongly on operators being able to integrate products from many different providers, something that is notoriously difficult thanks to the proprietary nature of some of the technology that the big network manufacturers have built into their hardware. Mobile operators will have to work hard to enable a market where the innovation of smaller companies like Aptila and Alvarion can compete with the scale and installed base of the old guard.