Saturday, 29 September 2012

RTS notes #1 - Anne Sweeney, ABC

I was lucky enough to attend this year’s Royal Television Society Conference at the Barbican. Over the next few posts I’ll share my notes on 3 of the sessions from the conference. First, ABC President Anne Sweeney on digital and the future of TV networks.

For a long time there was only one screen and distribution channel, now there are as many as 17 discrete channels to the consumer. The TV industry now has to evolve to enable the consumer to customise their consumption experience to fit into their world.

The change is scary – hence the repetition of Caliban’s missive from The Tempest – but all the noises and flashes of light won’t harm you if you do four things.

First, innovate. Understand what consumer problem you’re attempting to solve and what the audience therefore wants. The transistor was a great invention but it only became an innovation when it begat the radio. Likewise the iPod/ Phone/ Pad are all great inventions but they can’t be truly regarded as innovations until they change our culture. A bold and somewhat controversial view.

Fundamentally network TV has a 20th Century business that is at least a decade removed from relevance. It retains great content but lacks innovative delivery. Add that and you have opportunity. Convergence doesn’t matter if you have no content. So use innovative platforms and technologies like the iPad, like HD and surround sound to tell amazing stories. Story telling is in the innovation that makes sense of those inventions.

Second, get the right distribution channel. Tablets and smartphones are revolutionising consumption, just as the transistor radio revolutionised media in the 1950s. ABC forecast 835m tablet users worldwide by 2016; 1.2b smartphone users. These are disruptive consumption platforms – an iPad user consumers 60% more TV than a PC user. The ABC app on iPad has been downloaded 6.5m times and achieved 135m views. [In my book this is pretty unimpressive, and Anne was realistic enough to note that this is an irrelevance next to iPlayer use in the UK and still less relevant versus broadcast TV] It is, in any case, the 6th most downloaded app ever.

The UK is a nation of ‘appy families. 75% of tablet owners share them with their kids; 50% consider apps to be a positive part of family life. They aren’t as selfish as people [myself included] believe. Disney exploit this by developing application content that is central to family lives – kids’ heroes are their parents and siblings, so include them in the narrative. The research that enables broadcasters to understand that is the third success factor in digital.

Fourthly, be prepared to fail. [This one – as many of you will know – is close to my heart] Failure empowers innovation. Disney’s initial response to Nickelodeon was to launch dozens of pilot shows designed by committee to a formula. They all failed and Disney became a machine for mediocrity when they should have been focused on quality over quantity.

[This is a key message. A single distinctive creative voice that can inspire a business and an audience is more powerful than dozens of committees and stifling voices of group think.]

When they focussed on quality they produced Phineus and Ferb, a truly original show watched by 50% of UK kids and one that generated 100’s of millions of dollars in merchandise.

In apps, their failure to monetise the iPad initially stemmed from a lack of use of the functions of the device. TV on the iPad is just TV. It’s entertaining but you won’t pay serious money for it. In Mickey Mouse’s Road Rally they’ve created a format that is episodic and high concept, yet contains interactive elements. [In my experience lots of kids – and adults – shout at the TV. This makes something happen!]

In this way the TV network can be reconstructed to contain content and distribution innovation engines for all kinds of channels. [I made that last bit up, as Anne’s speech slightly tailed off and her answers to the questions were a little bland].

Friday, 21 September 2012

What I've been reading this week

I’m of the belief 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: BT’s vanity project lures starlet, Fortune 500 oblivious to the Internet, Nigeria’s 1st mogul, Google slaps Alibaba & Acer, iPhone best Apple ever

Digital media

US TV ad spending continues to grow ahead of the market. Dead format, of course. In its death throes. http://www.marketingcharts.com/wp/television/data-dive-us-tv-ad-spend-and-influence-22524/

That said, US pay TV households do seem to be falling a little – down 1.3% in Q1. I’d like to know exactly where this Neilsen data came from though – it’s not perfectly clear and may be self-reported. http://www.marketingcharts.com/wp/television/number-of-us-pay-tv-households-down-1-3-y-o-y-in-q1-23361/

A presentation on social media ROI by Altimeter. Succinct and fun. http://www.slideshare.net/Altimeter/the-social-media-roi-cookbook-webinar

Shoppers referred from Pinterest purchase twice as many goods as those referred from Twitter or Facebook, according to a study... BUT, this contrasts with a survey from 2 months ago that said the opposite. What this shows is the pitfalls of self-reported data, particularly on small sample sizes or new services. http://www.marketingcharts.com/wp/interactive/pinterest-traffic-seen-generating-high-e-commerce-aovs-23325/

This is one of the dumbest moves I’ve ever seen. Small bookseller Gardners launching its own “colour ereader” – or rubbish tablet – to compete with Apple, Google, Amazon, Samsung. I hope they haven’t invested much money in this, because they have no chance of success. Why not just create an app? http://www.thebookseller.com/news/gardners-reveals-its-colour-e-reader.html

This is superb – Michael Dell is now worth more than Mark Zuckerberg. Poor Zuck. Only a multi-billionaire. Sad times. http://www.businessinsider.com/michael-dell-is-now-worth-more-than-mark-zuckerberg-2012-9

I’m amazed by this, but apparently only a quarter of Fortune 500 companies have public facing blogs. It’s as if the Internet never happened. http://www.umassd.edu/cmr/socialmedia/2012fortune500/

Business models

Entrepreneur Nalden speaks about Wetransfer – a really smart and profitable business and business model. Worth a read. http://www.weheart.co.uk/2012/09/14/in-conversation-with-nalden/

Jake Humphreys, an upcoming “star” BBC presenter has joined BT Vision to front their sports coverage... I just can’t get comfortable with the amount of money BT are pouring into what increasingly looks like a vanity project. A billion pounds builds a lot of global infrastructure that would enable them to compete properly with Verizon, Docomo and other wholesale players. A billion pounds to compete with Sky is like flushing it away in my view. If I were a shareholder, I’d be out. http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2012/sep/18/jake-humphrey-bbc-bt-vision?newsfeed=true

Technology

LG’s smartphone fight back is the entertaining title to this FT article. Just to be clear, they have no chance at all at the $900 price point against HTC and Samsung, let alone Apple. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/6cdcda8c-0160-11e2-81ba-00144feabdc0.html#axzz26ttwcjAF

Speaking of HTC, they’ve just announced the launch of 2 new Windows 8 phones as they try and regain lost ground against Samsung. It’ll be hard graft though – they’ve lost 10 percentage points of market share in the last 18 months and I’m unconvinced that they’ve solved the customer service and branding issues they’ve had since becoming a branded (rather than an OEM) player. http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2012/sep/20/htc-nokia-windows-phone-8

Here’s a review of one of said Windows 8 devices. The focus on media capabilities is an indicator of how Microsoft want to differentiate their O/S. The One X features Beats audio and 2 amplifiers to improve delivery and fidelity. http://www.slashgear.com/windows-phone-8x-by-htc-hands-on-19248381/

Poor Nokia are being slammed for their failure to get out a compelling Windows device. They aren’t even the launch partner for the software – HTC stole a march on them there. Sad times in Espoo. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/5c30ad5e-0335-11e2-bad2-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2768iUvgx

This is a great vision of the future of air travel from Airbus – I particularly like the idea of aircraft flocking together like birds to conserve fuel. http://www.airbus.com/innovation/future-by-airbus/

Google have posted a video shot at New York Fashion week with Glass. Pretty awesome – the quality is impressive and the first person view surreal. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=30Pjl31cyDY&feature=player_embedded

Also in New York, some radical urban planners are trying to create an underground park in an abandoned trolley station. A brilliant and creative use of scarce urban space and showcasing some cutting edge light farming techniques. http://www.fastcoexist.com/1680555/the-lowline-new-yorks-revolutionary-underground-park-says-let-there-be-light

Emerging markets

A well written piece on an aspiring Nollywood mogul... by my brother, no less. What’s really fascinating in the Iroko model is that it exists in a TV broadcast vacuum – online is the only distribution channel for this content, so it dominates. Whether it will do so as the market matures will be really interesting to watch. http://peterguest.co.uk/journalism/?p=147

Latin America is also a hotbed of technology and media entrepreneurism. A link to an article on the subject: http://techcrunch.com/2012/09/16/the-rise-of-the-tecnolatinas-a-full-fledged-startup-movement-emerges-in-south-america/

Liberia was one of the worst countries in my recent analysis of affordability of broadband in Africa. This FT article points at a brighter future now that the ACE cable has been landed and true broadband is on the verge of becoming available. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/0d7bf846-f758-11e1-8c9d-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2768iUvgx

Nine business opportunities in Africa... which reveals the paucity of infrastructure on the continent and how those with capital can become billionaires. I’m all in on the poultry transport. http://www.howwemadeitinafrica.com/nine-business-opportunities-for-september/20226/

South East Asia’s mobile market continues to grow, with smartphones up 78% on the year. Mobile phones are also growing, highlighting the importance of cross over devices with some smart and some mobile phone characteristics. “Function” from the former; “price” from the latter. Smartphones are 25% of the market at the moment. http://www.gfkrt.com/asia/news_events/news/news_single/010345/index.en.html

Cyberwarfare

Microsoft is taking on the Nitol botnet with a nest of lawsuits against criminals providing counterfeit Microsoft software for use on “box fresh” PCs to distribute their infection. The message here is to buy a legitimate PC or build your own. Or use a Mac. http://www.slashgear.com/microsoft-makes-major-progress-in-fight-against-nitol-botnet-13247527/

US consumers are more likely to be willing to share their religious affiliation than their browsing history. Shows the difference between what they want you to believe about them and how they actually behave, I suspect. http://loyalty.com/about/news/privacy-paradox

Superpower politics

Google had Acer’s launch of an Alibaba smartphone canned at the last minute because they didn’t want competition with Android. Now that’s influence. http://daringfireball.net/linked/2012/09/14/acer-google

Google are back on the acquisition trail too, having snapped up German photo editing tool Snapseed. Snapseed is pretty cool, by the way – a better edit system than instagram. And sooo much cheaper. http://www.pocket-lint.com/news/47558/google-buys-instagram-rival-snapseed

The iPhone 4 had “antennagate”, the iPhone 5 has “mapgate”. Apple’s new maps application isn’t as good as Google’s. What a shock. But it’ll be fixed and rivals expecting it to impede sales will be sorely disappointed. http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/blog/2012/sep/20/apple-google-maps-headache

Here’s a collection of reviews. Basically, iPhone 5 is the best thing Apple have ever made. Let’s see how well it sells. http://www.t3.com/news/iphone-5-reviews-round-up

A big advocacy piece on why to buy Microsoft. I agree with the balance sheet reasons for owning the stock, however I really think that Windows 8 is make or break in operating systems. I’m not convinced that a heavyweight O/S like Windows is as relevant now as in the past, particularly as PCs are increasingly creation-only devices, their entertainment functionality being pushed across onto slate-type devices, be they TVs, smartphones or tablets. http://seekingalpha.com/article/868651-microsoft-short-the-hate-buy-the-stock

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Affordability inequality in African broadband

I've just finished an analysis of the cost of broadband versus individual wealth in 29 African countries. It makes disturbing reading. Simply put, the poorer you are, the more expensive it is to get a data connection.

The implication of this is pretty stark. We may be about to see a rapidly growing digital divide in Africa between those countries that have good cheap connectivity and those without.

If we believe (and I do) that digital technology will be an accelerator that will lift education and services in the continent much closer to developed market norms much faster than would have historically been possible then the total lack of affordable connectivity in countries like Sierra Leone, Malawi, Burkina Faso and Togo will doom their residents to falling further and further away from their neighbours and from desperately needed improvements in quality of life.

The World Bank has helped many of these countries get international connectivity. Now it's time to sort out the onshore problem. If someone doesn't, then hand outs are here to stay.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Technology and TV: The continuation of a beautiful friendship

As I promised 2 weeks ago, here's a link to the second of our reports on the state of the TV sector. This one - Technology and TV: The continuation of a beautiful friendship covers the effects of digital on TV and was written for the annual IBC in Amsterdam.

As we point out, TV is actually the most digital of media and has been an early adopter of technology in the distribution and production parts of the industry. In many markets it's not even possible to receive an analogue signal anymore and yet commentators still predict that technology advancement will be responsible for the demise, rather than the growth of the TV industry.

Personally, my favourite chapter is that on digital production. The specifics of this part of the value chain is invisible to viewers, but its impact on the quality of output have been huge. Take the BBC's enduringly popular Doctor Who as an example: a show that used to have to make a feature of its terrible effects, now deploys almost Hollywood standards of FX in every episode.

That's just the visible changes. Moore's Law has also vastly reduced the cost of non-differentiating facilities like edit suites, studio consoles and the like, enabling more money to be spent on differentiating capabilities... like talent, for instance.

And there's the crux of the dilemma. It doesn't matter how much you spend on fancy digital tech; if you haven't got the creative talent to script, direct, shoot and produce it, you'll still have a bad product. The UK has plenty of the latter, which is why the future of our content industry is assured for the long term.

Friday, 14 September 2012

What I've been reading this week

I’m of the belief 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: Amazon goes Dickensian, films in the living room, social effects of the NHS robot leg and Star Wars takes on Star Trek

Digital media

I’m yet to be convinced that audiences are presently ready for Zeebox’s brand of second screen, but in case they are, Zeebox have partnered with Chyron to offer polls, sampling and other measurement tools on their application. http://thenextweb.com/media/2012/09/10/zeebox-integrate-new-tools-allowing-broadcasters-interact-directly-users-via-second-screen-app/

Tablet use does, however, increase linear TV viewing, 39% of users say they watch more versus 15% who watch less. http://www.rapidtvnews.com/index.php/2012091224033/ipad-kindle-fire-and-other-tablets-drive-greater-tv-viewing.html

Kindle Serials is a really interesting idea – a return to the Dickensian norm of serialising books, so that chapters appear as they’re written. I think it’ll be a slow burner myself, but represents another interesting way in which published content can get to users. New types of content are vital to reinforce the competitiveness of literature in the face of ever greater consumer choice in entertainment. Useless for me though. I’m too unstructured and appear to be writing my book backwards. http://www.fastcompany.com/3001099/amazon-changed-reading-now-it-could-change-writing

Aussie cinema chain Hoyts are going to stream new releases to customers in their living room, doubtless at quite high cost. It’ll have to be, since cinema chains are sitting on fixed assets that are best monetised through sales of ancillary merchandise like popcorn, fizzy drinks, t-shirts etc. Now, if they offer it as part of a Sky Go – esque old + new media subscription bundle, it’ll be interesting. Real’ interesting. http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/09/10/hoyts_launches_movie_on_demand/

A really funny review of 4 books on pinterest. Wherever there’s a fad, there’s a raft of “experts” ready to cash in with their “insightful” opinions... oh wait, that’s me?! http://www.fastcompany.com/3000055/pinfluence-pinterest-business-and-two-other-how-books-about-pinterest-reviewed

Pinterest is fun though. Check out this infographic! http://www.fastcodesign.com/1670750/infographic-the-astounding-power-of-pinterest#1

Newspaper readership is up... if you count online readers, who don’t pay anything and aren’t worth much in ad revenues. Print is down. http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=1&storycode=50013&c=1

I don’t think that the downward pressure of open access on Reed Elsevier’s profits will be the 60% suggested in this article, but it’ll doubtless be significant. http://paidcontent.org/2012/09/10/open-access-research-catastrophic-for-reed-elsevier/

Technology

A billion iOS and Android devices in service by the end of the year. That’s a lot of screens, and there’ll be more to come. The second billion could be less than 3 years hence. http://www.ben-evans.com/post/31264118733/ios-and-android-pushing-towards-1bn-devices

Google Glass is definitely edging closer to production. Diane von Furstenberg included the heads up display specs in her show at New York Fashion week. Very cool. http://allthingsd.com/20120909/google-glass-makes-surprise-appearance-at-new-york-fashion-week/

As bionics advance faster and faster this author believes that schisms will emerge in society between augmented “super humans” and everyone else. Should national health systems provide augmentations for those unable to afford them? An NHS leg, perhaps? I’ll go private... http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2012-09/10/societal-risk-of-super-race

Akamai were once the darling of the Web... and they’re still around. Their tech wizard answers 7 questions: http://allthingsd.com/20120910/seven-questions-for-tom-leighton-chief-scientist-of-akamai/

The FBI has launched a nationwide face recognition system – scary, but it’s got to be great for law enforcement. http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/135665-fbi-launches-1-billion-nationwide-facial-recognition-system

Although I still think that the greatest improvement in greenhouse emissions can be had at the power plant end, it certainly makes a lot of sense to improve home efficiency. This house in Maryland has zero net emissions. Given the US’ share of emissions, it could be massive. http://www.gizmag.com/net-zero-energy-residential-test-facility-nzertf/24138/

Emerging markets

Tao Bao – China’s eBay, if you like – are taking steps to crack down on sales of pirated content. Interesting in that China has typically turned a blind eye to content piracy. I’m suspicious since China’s domestic industry is of pretty low quality and the MPA has no actual means to enforce copyright inside the great firewall there’s no real need to provide this protection unless there’s an ulterior motive. http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/09/10/baidu_alibaba_taobao_piracy_deal_mpa/

Kenya has struck gas... Elections in March... Expect instability on Silicon Savannah. http://af.reuters.com/article/investingNews/idAFJOE88901720120910

In more positive news, here’s an article on the road signs on Kenya’s Thika Road: a vital infrastructure project for the country as it moves slowly towards being a developed market. The signs aren’t great. http://www.arkafrica.com/projects/thika-road-signage-re-design

Superpower politics

It looks like we’ll soon be seeing a refresh to the iMac range. I reckon an October announcement alongside a 7” iPad Mini. http://www.macrumors.com/2012/09/07/updates-to-apples-imac-line-reportedly-imminent/

Ah, it’s forecast time for iPhone 5. A starter for ten... million units this quarter. http://www.asymco.com/2012/09/13/how-many-iphone-5s-will-sell-in-the-opening-weekend/

They’ve already sold out in the US – pre-order period now 2 weeks. http://www.slashgear.com/us-iphone-5-shipping-slips-to-2-weeks-after-just-an-hours-presales-14247554/

No wireless charging this time for the iPhone because it’s not actually any more convenient than http://www.businessinsider.com/ng-2012-9

Just for fun

Star Wars tech versus Star Trek tech... who wins? http://anewdomain.net/2012/09/03/star-wars-vs-star-trek-infographic/

Awesome concept art from Borderlands 2. http://penny-arcade.com/report/editorial-article/borderlands-2-concept-art

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Why all the long faces? iPhone 5 was never going to change the world

I could - if I were a positive person - be feeling quite smug about getting 10 from 12 predictions about the iPhone 5 launch right (see below). As it happens though, I'm rather annoyed with myself in that the two things that I really thought would happen and mark a true "iPhone 5" - a new name and a new case design - didn't happen.

And I'm not alone. Online commentators of all shapes and sizes are up in arms about the "safe" iPhone launch. This is a small problem for Apple (poor lambs) in that everything they say is expected to be revolutionary. iPhone 5 will be a massive success, but it will never have the impact of the original iPhone or of the iPhone 4 when it appeared.

Why? Because the iPhone is now a cash cow. A BMW 3 Series. It's the best in class (and the new specifications suggest that it will comfortably remain so), so radical innovation in it is now far too risky for Apple to contemplate. Slow evolution, premium pricing, clear and powerful marketing will guarantee its success.

In A6, they have the best processing engine in the category. They have the only cool brand in the sector, arguably the best screen, the most practical phone size, the best ecosystem by a significant distance. Oh, and they've now got LTE and what looks like a high end base band to support it.

Apple won the smartphone battle years ago when it made everyone else follow their lead. Now they're consolidating, and there's no one out there who's innovative enough to stop them.* So we were never going to see big changes this time. A 4" screen was enough.

What we might now see is an iPhone 6 (rather than a 5S) with a new case design this time next year. The ergonomics of the iPhone 4 design are fantastic, but the look is beginning to age.

The competition need to find new categories to win. As a clue, it ain't tablets and it ain't laptops. Apple are winning there too. I go on about it a lot, but for me the next big thing is heads up display. Perhaps Google will own the next cool category.

Or perhaps Jobs left Apple with a couple of other good ideas that are yet to emerge.

*: Besides Google in terms of radical category innovation and Nokia in hardware.

**: An aside, I note that the market liked the iPhone 5 and rewarded Apple with a nearly 2% uptick. Brokers love a cash cow... and have learnt not to bet against Apple.

Second screen - means, motivation and monetisation

This year I was invited to speak on the topic of second screen at the International Broadcaster Conference in Amsterdam. Since it’s an interesting topic, I thought I’d share the summary points I prepared for that session.

The term “second screen” implies different things to different people. At one extreme it represents the wholesale replacement of the TV screen with a personal, portable, connected device. At the other it is the use of a computing device as a glorified TV guide. In between is a full spectrum of richness and interaction that tantalises with new creative possibilities and new business models.

I like to classify that spectrum in three ways: the means by which consumers will enjoy second screen experiences; their motivations in doing so; and finally the ways in which those experiences can be monetised.

Of these three, the means are easiest to talk about authoritatively. Although the category is only three years young, 12% of UK households already have access to a tablet computer. Over 15% will have one by the end of the year. Older as a category but increasingly difficult to distinguish from their larger brethren, smartphones are even better penetrated into European markets. Smartphone penetration is 40% in the UK, 27% in France and 26% in Germany.

So at least a quarter of the audience in Western Europe have the means to indulge in second screen behaviours. But what are their motivations?

The most common motivation is to discuss what they’re watching with a wider audience. Roughly half of under-34s regularly use the Internet to communicate with others about the programme they’re currently watching.


What they’re not so interested in is interacting with the programmes directly. 70% of the audience Deloitte surveyed for the IBC said that they couldn’t be bothered to do so. Second screening is more about talking about the content than interacting with programmes.


But that still leaves 30% of the audience who say that they are willing to interact. Which is actually quite a good result – after all the technology for doing that interaction is immature and often a little unreliable.

The key to monetisation is therefore to identify who those interacters are and the type of content that they watch. Design the second screen in a targeted way, not a mass market carpet bombing campaign. Take the example of Hugh’s Fish Fight or Million Pound Drop rather than Zeebox. Also – in my opinion – forget the idea of the second screen replacing simple mass market devices like the remote control or the second small TV set for the time being.

One thing the desperately needs to get right beyond segmentation and targeting is the rights structure that surrounds second screen content. At the moment the majority of second screen applications, interactive or not, are designed by a separate agency to the producer of the programme. So when it comes to syndication and export it is very hard to create a package of main screen content and interactive supporting act. Often the latter gets remade for every market, reducing returns and preventing value creating syndication deals for the creator of the digital content. The longer those creators live hand-to-mouth, the longer we will have to wait for the brilliant – and monetisable – digital concepts that will drive adoption.

Because although the motivation and the monetisation are still works in progress, the means just keep on coming. This year we’ve seen the (re)emergence of several second screen categories. Google’s Glass continues to gain momentum ahead of a scheduled 2014 launch. Nintendo’s new console has a second screen inside it’s controller. Even virtual reality (remember that) is undergoing a resurgence through kickstarter funded startup Oculus Rift.

The possibilities are endless. As an industry, we need to find the monetisation and provide the motivation.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

August 2012 Africa telecoms investment

August was a relatively slow month in African telecoms investment, with $428Mn of new money committed to upgrades. 3 of the big 4 markets took new investments, with only South Africa announcement-free. Non-M&A investments for the year now stand at a touch under $8.5Bn, on track for my forecast for the year of $13.5Mn.

For reference, investments announced in August 2011 totalled nearly $1.9Bn, driven by massive commitments in Nigeria and South Africa. 2010 netted a more subdued $80Mn and August 2009 yielded $300Mn.

In truth, there's little of major import to report as this month's two most interesting announcements have yet to mature into concrete commitments. In Morocco, the goverment unveiled its 10 year plan to modernise the country's obselete broadband market. This exciting plan includes a national fibre backbone in combination with DSL and LTE last miles to bring developed market connectivity to 32 million people.

In South Africa, MTN is looking at selling off 3,000 of its 6,000 cellular towers. By my calculations, this sale and lease back deal would realise around $400Mn for MTN - a substantial sum that will doubtless go a long way to furthering its ambitions to expand into other African markets.

In regulation, Kenya continues to frustrate with President Kibaki blocking regulator CCK's reduction of mobile termination rates for the second time. This policy - seemingly designed to support struggling incumbent Telkom Kenya - is profoundly bad for the telecoms market, which needs lower call prices to support consumer spending on data products and higher call volumes. It also lowers investor confidence, which seems to be an actual aim of the current government in Nairobi.

Better news in Ghana where operators have agreed to share ducts with each other, enabling faster, cheaper roll out of fibre backhaul systems in urban areas. Yet another example of how Kenya is falling behind its regional competitors. A change of government in March seems to be their only hope of regaining lost ground.

Super 12 - Tim Cook's big day arrives

So the big day has arrived. Early evening UK time Tim Cook will take the stage and - doubtless after significant preamble - will reveal the 6th iteration of the iPhone. Here's my predictions for what we'll see in the iPhone 5... or maybe not...

Core features:
  1. A bigger screen (100% certain). But how big, that is the question? My guess is a 16:9 aspect ratio 4" display with Retina. Covered in Gorilla Glass, obviously.
  2. Faster processor (100%). I expect an "A" series quad core, 1,200MHz CPU with a seperate high performance multicore graphics processor. This will almost certainly be the debut of the A6 CPU, probably paired with 1GB of RAM (up from 512MB in the '4S). Expect the new iPhone to mirror the new iPad and exceed the processing capabilities of its competition.
  3. No change in internal memory (99%). I expect 16, 32 and 64Gb to remain the capacity options for the new device. With iCloud now firmly established it would seem strange to increase capacity, particularly since Apple have fallen out with Samsung and are trying to move their memory supply elsewhere.
  4. LTE (100%). The big question on LTE is whether the new device will support non-US frequency bands. My view is that Apple will offer a US and a "world" version of the device. I don't believe that it's possible to support all possible varients of the next generation mobile standard in one slim device.
  5. Upgraded Siri (100%). Whether its truly upgraded or not is a moot point. Cook will spend some time talking up his voice assistant technology, which - in fairness - continues to improve
  6. A better camera (25%). The iPhone 4S has an 8mp camera that can shoot HD video. In reality this is more than enough for the kind of use most people put the iPhone to. We might see a clever new lens technology, but I doubt it. Being cynical, an improved camera is an easy win for the inevitable iPhone 5S.
New things:
  1. A new name (50%). We all assume that this will be the iPhone 5. I wonder whether it might be the iPhone HD or just the iPhone. If I were a betting man I'd go for the former. iPhone 5 is clunky and Apple aren't clunky.
  2. A unibody case (75%). My gut feeling is that the new iPhone will have a new industrial design, featuring a single piece case as opposed to the existing one, which has glass front and rear with an aluminium centre section. I expect the new one to ape the Nokia Lumia and go all metal.
  3. NFC (50%). Although its usefulness is very debatable, near field communications technology is mature enough and micro enough to be a no-brainer add on to the iPhone's hardware suite.
  4. A new power connector (75%). Exciting stuff now - Apple are apparently keen on changing to a smaller connector port for the new iPhone, a change that will enable the head phone jack to move to the base of the device. Revolutionary :).
  5. Wireless charging (10%). I'd be pretty surprised if wireless charging was part of the feature set this time around. I'm not sure its mainstream enough for Apple to go for during such a big upgrade to the feature set.
  6. "Nano" Sim (75%). Another tidying up of the iPhone's internals will probably take place with the replacement of the current microSIM with an even smaller nanoSIM. Cue more fiddling about with tiny SIM removal tools. Sigh.
There's also the possibility of other products being launched at this juncture. Personally I don't expect to see a 7" iPad Mini at this time, although I could see the benefit of a pre-Christmas launch. Perhaps an October event alongside a refresh of the iMac range?

Other things like a new Apple TV seem unlikely as that device has recently been refreshed. So I think we'll just have to be satisfied with a new iPhone. Poor us.

Unless Cook pulls a Jobsian "just one more thing" and changes the market again. You never know.

Friday, 7 September 2012

What I've been reading this week

I’m of the belief 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: robots, holograms, hacking save/ destroy world, Valve to make hardware, Samsung vs Apple rumbles on and authors take on sock puppets in by the numbers death match

Digital media

The first of many Amazon stories this week: their growing publishing arm is to sell its ebooks on other competing content ecosystems. Another step towards Amazon being fully vertically integrated in the book market. http://paidcontent.org/2012/08/29/exclusive-amazon-ny-to-sell-its-ebooks-through-bn-kobo-other-retailers/

Google have quietly given up their efforts to provider a bid style model for TV ad slots. Turns out TV is hard to disrupt... http://google-tvads.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/an-update-on-google-tv-ads.html

Arguably the recent Amazon and B&N announcements about upgrades to their ereaders are the first major evolution in the format since it emerged around 2007. In short, the changes are brighter, higher resolution screens that are easier to read and can be viewed in the dark. I expect adoption to continue at pace as readers see the portability and convenience benefits of ebooks. Good for publishers (it’s just a book, after all). Bad for high street chains (other than B&N). http://gigaom.com/2012/09/06/why-e-readers-evolved-a-lot-today-kindle-paperwhite-and-kobo-glo/

The BBC is now offering license fee payers DRM-free downloads of its content to enable them to watch offline. About time, too! http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/12/09/03/bbc_iplayer_ios_app_to_offer_content_downloads_to_subscribers.html

Android dominates the Southeast Asian smartphone market, as reported by Ericsson. Little surprise given the large number of $100 or less Android handsets on the market. iPhone remains resolutely premium. http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/asian-technology/android-leads-mobile-os-usage-in-singapore-and-the-asia-pacific-region/351

RIM’s market share in the US has declined to 1.5%, half that of the other smartphone challenger, Windows Mobile. Bad times for the Canadians. How much longer can they survive? http://wmpoweruser.com/kantar-windows-phone-has-overtaken-rim-market-share-in-usa-key-8-countries/

Recommendation is one of the currencies of digital business so the practice of “sock puppet” reviewing is rather damaging, particularly now that many authors want to go direct to consumer. Lots of the aforementioned authors have written a petition against the practice. I’m sure that’ll make all the difference. Perhaps Lee Child would be better off karate chopping them, or something. That would make an excellent by the numbers novel. http://www.thebookseller.com/news/condemnation-grows-sock-puppet-reviews.html

Business models

Vodafone is the first global mobile phone network. This deal with Zain to support subscribers roaming in the Middle East region and bring the Vodafone brand to native consumers is another step on that road. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/7a20b628-f5c1-11e1-a6bb-00144feabdc0.html#axzz25Ufd8aXf

Good Technology just completed their acquisition of Copiun, whose technology enables secure mobile collaboration. Given Good’s increasing status as a major player in the enablement of “bring your own device” strategies, adding collaboration (also a trendy capability) should make their offer even more attractive and further reduce the need for complex integrated LANs and WANs. http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/good-technology-signs-agreement-to-acquire-copiun-inc-168576616.html

Valve are one of the coolest technology companies in the world. And now they want to reinvent computer hardware. An exciting thought! My view – more integration between hardware and OS. Less upgradability of the former, more hackability of the latter. Not revolutionary. Hope their idea is better! http://www.slashgear.com/valve-looking-to-enter-pc-hardware-business-03245798/

Samsung have 20 times as many designers as Apple, but are infinitely less creative. In my view, innovation is an activity best done by dictators. The crowd leads to compromise and compromise (in design, at least) is weakness. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-09-03/verdict-shows-samsung-needs-to-copy-apple-design-culture-tech.html

Fastcompany asks “when will your phone replace your wallet?” No time soon. At the moment there’s still too much of a gap between the act of tapping a phone and something useful happening. Until you scan an NFC and a simple menu comes up showing all the actions you could do with that tag – pay, loyalty, contact, acquire, etc... – then we’ll still need a wallet. And some cash, of course. http://www.fastcompany.com/3000837/when-will-smartphone-really-replace-your-wallet

Technology

Robotics is fast becoming the revolution of the 20-teens. Roomba, makers of the eponymous robot vacuum cleaner, have launched a robot doctor, that offers a physical, mobile presence for tele-medicine. Amazing stuff, particularly at the price. http://www.technologyreview.com/tomarket/428897/doctor-on-wheels/

Although the comparison to Star Wars is inevitable, this hover bike technology is certainly innovative and real-world ready. Whether there’ll be any takers, I’m not so sure. http://www.innovationnewsdaily.com/1527-hover-vehicle-star-wars.html

Kickstarter-funded VR technology company Oculus Rift are now demonstrating their hardware. Looks fantastic. Lawnmower Man, here we come! http://penny-arcade.com/report/editorial-article/the-evolution-of-the-future-hands-on-with-the-latest-version-of-the-oculus

Wow, this guy really doesn’t like holograms! Me, I think they’ll be a cool video conference option for 2030, but otherwise they’re a fun communications gimmick. http://www.siliconbeat.com/2012/08/30/we-must-stop-holograms-before-they-destroy-the-future/

Cyberwarfare

Most file sharers are being monitored by 3rd party organisations working on behalf of the media industry... or perhaps that should read “most casual file sharers” – the pros are too smart to be caught by these sort of organisations. Yet another example of the media industry missing the point and spending money to stamp out the edges of the forest fire. Big clue – fix your value proposition and the problem goes away... http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-19474829

The organisation of hackers is really interesting to me. The group that attacked Google 2 years ago appear to be more like a business than the hyper-distributed model of Anonymous. A good – short – read on the subject. http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/09/google-hacker-gang-returns/

Emerging markets

The WACS cable has brought a huge upgrade in bandwidth to west and central Africa, now the countries that co-funded it need to back up that initial investment with a much larger one that will connect offshore bandwidth into their countries and start to reap the benefits of a connected industrial base. http://www.itnewsafrica.com/2012/08/signed-wacs-and-delivered-now-what-the-opportunity-for-west-and-central-africa/

A timely reminder that however fast development is happening in emerging markets, there are still risks in operating there. MTN and Airtel cellular masts in Nigeria have been attacked and damaged by gunmen. As countries depend more and more on their telephony infrastructure, so it becomes a viable target for insurgents seeking to cause disruption. Western capitalist trappings are not robust and are easy pickings. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/a958e366-f837-11e1-b0e1-00144feabdc0.html#axzz25lVVY9q8

Superpower politics

Three quick fire Amazon stories. Fire is 22% of tablet sales in the US and half of Android tablet sales. To take advantage they’re launching a 9” version of the Fire and also launching the 7” versions in the UK. The UK had been a great market for Amazon and the tech giant has reciprocated by creating huge numbers of jobs. Another 2,000 positions will be created in the next 2 years.
http://paidcontent.org/2012/08/30/amazon-says-kindle-fire-makes-up-22-of-u-s-tablet-sales/
http://crave.cnet.co.uk/laptops/amazon-kindle-fire-hd-is-8-9-inch-ipad-rival-50009116/
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/mediatechnologyandtelecoms/9527155/Amazon-plans-to-create-2000-British-jobs-after-new-Kindle-launch.html

And because I’m feeling the love for them, here’s another report on the ‘Zon: their movie deal with EPIX knocked a ton of value off Netflix, who’s star is most definitely waning.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/mediatechnologyandtelecoms/digital-media/9520465/Netflix-sees-300m-wiped-off-shares-as-rival-Amazon-signs-film-deal.html

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Shokia as Espoo's latest smartphone fails to excite

To put no finer point on it, Nokia messed up the launch of their Windows 8 smartphone. Despite the hardware looking pretty good and incorporating some neat new technology like a blur-free camera and wireless charging, once again marketing bloopers will almost certainly doom the handset to failure. Here's my view on the big 3 reasons they got things so wrong.
  1. The name. Lumia is drab and meaningless.* "iPhone", "Galaxy" and even "One" and "Ascend" are memorable and quotable. If you say you've got a Lumia and especially a "Lumia 920", you'll sound like a dweeb. And no one wants that. Sort it out Nokia. You're not engineers anymore, you're creators of an experience. I don't want a 920 experience, I want a Galaxy of them.
  2. The release date. There isn't one. I've said it before and I'll say it again - Apple would have ended their presentation with "oh, and wait, you can buy this amazing technology tomorrow/ next week/ next month. Pre-orders open now". Any positive feeling around this handset will drain away in the interim and be blown out of the water by the iPhone 5 launch next week.
  3. Carrier support. Nokia and the US carriers put huge money into pushing the Lumia 800. But to no avail - I've seen estimates that the marketing spend per Lumia handset was $1,000 - comfortably more than the purchase price. The lack of clear carrier partners for the 920 is notable. They won't be burnt again and although Apple are certainly a bit of a devil to those vital carriers, they are a profitable devil. iPhone customers spend the most and give the best returns on marketing investments.
I suspect that two further reasons will emerge in the next couple of weeks. Firstly, the Nokia ad campaign that will accompany Lumia 920 will doubtless be rubbish. They desperately need a new creative agency. Secondly, Samsung have already announced their own Windows phone based on the Galaxy range. So Nokia's lock-in on the best operating system in the market will be short-lived. I imagine carriers will be firmly behind Samsung in a way that they won't be behind Nokia.

And, of course, there's the small matter of Apple's forthcoming iPhone 5. We only have to wait until next week.

I'm sad to say it, but I really think that Nokia has messed this up royally and has once again failed to capitalise on excellent hardware and software by failing to learn lessons of previous failures. I had high hopes for the Nokia + Windows 8 combination. That's probably why I'm so annoyed! Let's see what happens.

*Actually, as was pointed out at its original launch, Lumia does mean something. "Prostitute" in Spanish.

Monday, 3 September 2012

What to expect from the tech' giants

In the UK we've long celebrated the dearth of news in the summer months as silly season, a period in which the (somewhat removed) heir to the throne behaving like a normal 28 year old man makes headline news. Just as traditionally, the technology industry likes to celebrate the end of the summer hiatus with a raft of new product announcements. With a new iPhone and new version of Windows on the cards, I thought it was worth running down my expectations for the next couple of weeks.

Apple are still keeping us in the dark about the date for their much anticipated press conference, which is expected to be on the 12th of September. I anticipate that invites for this event will emerge just before 3pm GMT on the 5th, to coincide with the Nokia/ Microsoft presentation.

iPhone 5 (likelihood: 100%) will be launched at this event, featuring a larger 4" touchscreen (90%), LTE for the US (90%) but not other markets (50%), NFC (75%) and the usual increase in processor and bus speed. I don't expect revolution for this device, although it is faintly possible that Apple will yet again increase resolution or even introduce glasses-free 3D (highly unlikely). Siri will doubtless be enhanced.

A 7" iPad (likelihood: 50%) is also on the cards, with capacity probably capped at 32Gb (50%). I'd expect US LTE to be an option (75%), unless Apple go for a true "iPad Mini" with universal connectivity reserved for the full fat, full price device. I expect a price point around $250 for the most basic, 8Gb Wifi version. I also expect it to be launched some time in October in order to preserve the iPhone 5's thunder.

Microsoft and Nokia will kick off the season on the 5th, shortly after Apple have stolen their thunder with a teasing invite to their September 12th event. It will come as no surprise that the new Windows 8 smartphones (100%) will be announced by a combination of Stephen Elop and his future boss at Microsoft. Hardware will play second fiddle to software in this release as the Lumia is already the leader in this area - expect robust, all metal casings and a bright, high resolution display. I expect the Lumia name to be superceded (75%) by something new and catchy... if you're Finnish. "Lumia", it's fair to say, hasn't really captured consumers' imaginations and is lacking flair in comparison to "Galaxy" or "One". Frankly, it feels very old fashioned and may be part of the reason for the device's limited success.

I don't expect a Nokia tablet (25%). Microsoft will instead show off Surface again (50%).

Amazon are on next, on the 6th, with at least two new products rumoured. Fire 2 (90%) is the most likely. I expect it to retain the same casing as the existing 7" device (90%), gaining faster processing and a new UI (75%) at the same ultra-competitive price point.

A 10" Fire 2 is also a strong possibility (75%). This device - if launched - will almost certainly have the same hardware as the 7" device and again, be very competitively priced.

Recent news also suggests a minor update to the Kindle Touch ereader (90%) to enhance the display quality and touchscreen performance with a new "paperwhite" display that looks even more like paper. Shame airlines don't believe that...

Finally, there is the outside possibility of a Kindle smartphone (10%). If this was to emerge I'd expect it to be more Galaxy note than iPhone 4S, featuring a larger, more media friendly display. I doubt we will see this much rumoured device in September, however, as Amazon lacks the cash flow to push too many things simultaneously.

It promises to be an interesting 2 weeks!