Friday, 28 February 2014

Mobile World Congress – Two Good, Two Bad

I’m still trying to sort my thoughts about the Mobile World Congress. To start with, here’s my Match of the Day style summary of the two best things I saw at MWC and the two worst things I saw at MWC…

I liked: Ubuntu Tablet

Ubuntu is best known as a server O/S, but they also offer a smartphone and now a tablet version of the open source O/S. The tablet version is extremely slick and easy to navigate: apparently they have some partners ready to launch hardware for it this year (although it installs seamlessly on a Google Nexus tablet). I know it won’t catch on, but it was still really nice to see some innovation in interface design.

I didn’t like: the way the industry is missing the point

Mobile is the hot topic in many industries, particularly when it comes to providing very localized sales, marketing and other services. The cellular industry is in a prime place to enable this sort of new commerce market. So why was it nowhere to be seen at MWC? Because it seems that the success of pure web businesses as brokers and market places has got the mobile carriers thinking the same way.

So this year it was all connected cars and healthcare. Interesting, but way on the horizon for the mass market. Local commerce is now. I was expecting more. Now I’ll have to make it up for myself. Annoying.

I liked: the $50 smart phone

A lot was made of the Mozilla smartphone at $25, but I thought it was a bit crap. At $50, Nokia’s new full screen Asha is an incredible device for the price and carries a brand that is well respected in the emerging markets where people are trading up to smart devices. I hope it sells well for them.

I didn’t like: Huawei’s ‘friendly image’

Huawei do seem to delight in behaving like the bad guys. Not content with acting as the signals intelligence department of the Chinese government (this is a joke, before y’all get started!), this MWC they went on a charm offensive, sponsoring the lanyards and taking over a quarter of Hall 2 with a massive corporate entertainment area… into which they only allowed important dignitaries and turned everyone else away with the largest, most aggressive bouncers I’ve ever seen. Excellent for the brand image.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Mobile World Congress Day 1, first impressions

I know the drill by now. Drink as much coffee as I can. Avoid any cooked foodstuffs.  The Nokia stand has the best freebies.

These sage pieces of advice hold true at MWC 2014 and, while my brain is still on a caffeine high, I thought I’d jot down my impressions of day 1 at the FIRA.

One – there are a lot of cars

From ZTE to Telefonica to Qualcomm, everyone in the value chain has cars on their stand. TF win the cool stakes by having a Tesla Model S, which is an awesome piece of technology… but although automotive telematics is clearly a market that they all want to play in, no one is doing very much of substance.

Telefonica provide a SIM card for the Model S. Qualcomm were showing off a stereo system and sat nav processor; ZTE an extremely weak connected car app. What I take from this is that cars are carrying much more computing and connectivity than ever before (no shit) and no one in the telecoms value chain has figured out how to make money out of them.

Two – there are even more health apps

I’ll try and write a more in depth article about this area, but to summarise, everyone who was showing connected car was doing healthcare as well. There were gameified wi-fi toothbrushes, gameified post-surgery apps, gameified… you get the idea. Again, the takeaway is that there’s big money in health and welfare and the exact value capture mechanism is unknown…

Three – phone and tablet innovation nowhere to be seen

Sad to report that literally no piece of hardware here has excited me. Phones and tablets remain black (occasionally colourful) boxes. They’re a bit faster, a bit curvier and a bit cheaper – the price point of a decent full screen smart phone is down to $50. But that’s it. The category is exhausted from an excitement point of view and although it remains profitable, we need something else to kick the industry on to another level.

I haven’t found Blackberry yet. Or seen one. I’ll let you know when I do!

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

IT departments are Microsoft's biggest problem

I read with interest Satya Nadella's first email to Microsoft staff as CEO. It's inspiring stuff and says a lot about his understanding of the future digital world that we'll  inhabit. He's much better equipped than Steve Ballmer to win in that world. He likes hoodies, for a start.

But Satya's got a problem, and that problem is one of Microsoft's strongholds: the corporate IT department.

I love all the words that he uses in his email - fun, excitement, clarity, the accomplishment of great things. Trouble is that the way most people experience Microsoft these days is at work. And that desktop and application experience is controlled by the IT department. And for the most part, that IT department will have created a "build" of services that stops the average Jo Bloggs doing very much that's exciting or fun.

Accomplishing great things is pretty tough on a glacially slow Windows XP, Vista or 7 machine loaded with bloated apps and locked down against anything remotely cloudy. Tough too when "bring your own device" schemes are letting people use a really exciting Apple or Android smartphone, or even a tablet as a work tool and a play thing.

This is a software powered world. Unfortunately for all the great ideas that Microsoft manifests through it, for the most part their vigour is extinguished by IT managers. The world never really sees the true Microsoft and until it parts the fog of enterprise IT I can't see it winning against Apple and Google in traditional IT. Even the Xbox seems to have fallen victim to design by committee. I, and many of my gamer friends have deserted the platform at this iteration due to the machine becoming a bloated "entertainment hub" at the expense of raw gaming power.

It's still the Xbox that Satya needs to look to, though. Microsoft needs another category and it needs it fast. Preferably one that's cool enough to be BYOD rather than enterprise IT.