September, a big tech month…

4 09 2013

Ever since Apple started making big announcements in September a few years back, it’s become increasingly popular to be the month of big tech news. Samsung copied Apple a few years back and started making their announcements just a few days before Apple, and often September is the month we also get some form of announcement from Google and or Microsoft. September 2013 has been no different.

 

Samsung announcements

These have been pretty odd affairs in recent years, and to be honest, I’m not sure they have been that successful. This year we are talking wearable technology and specifically smart watches. Are these the next big thing? Hmmm. I’m not entirely sure, if technology on your wrist was really going to take off, I think my Casio watch with calculator was quite a “killer” back in the late 80s. I heard a great quote today in relation to wearable technology, “people only wear something that looks good”. That means it needs to look equally as good as something like a Rolex, Tag or Omega watch before it really really has appeal. Let’s face it, no matter what the best looking tech company in the world has to offer (which is Apple not Samsung), I’m convinced tech on my wrist won’t get better looking than that produced by brands like Omega.

Obviously there will be a market for wearable technology, I just don’t feel it will be something the masses adopt, especially when we think how much bigger phones are getting (not smaller). Wearable technology like a watch will not replace my smart phone, so why would I have it?

If you are thinking about Google glasses for example, then again, this kind of tech has other pitfalls. For one, if you already wear glasses I’m not sure the tech even works for you. If you, like me, hate having things distract your eye, then again the tech is not going to be for you. Throw on top of that the fact the glasses don’t look great (and there is a massive market in laser eye corrective surgery so we don’t have to wear glasses) I start to think a lot of this is tech for tech sake…

IMHO, wearable tech may have a place, but its not for the masses and no one should be seeing this as the future and the replacement of the phone, not at least a fair few generations (try 15)…

 

Apple’s big do…

Every September the online media get excited, and I read so much about what will Apple deliver, and what we expect from Apple, and oh, this is what we think this invitation means…I am still amazed at how much coverage a simple invitation gets, and that’s before anything has been announced. Only last night I caught some tech news on the TV and the breaking news was the Apple invitation that had been sent out with colour spots on it! I mean, really, is this massive tech news, especially compared to what really was the ground breaking story of the month, Microsoft purchasing Nokia!

That being said, we are expecting some new form factor iPhone 5s. Now I am not sure how much new tech, if any the new iPhone will have, but it no doubt will be received with a lot of excitement, that’s what brand Apple receives no matter what these days. I personally don’t think we will be seeing anything major in this latest version of the iPhone 5, some colour options, maybe a little more configuration, but there wasn’t any real innovation with the iOS 7 refresh, so don’t expect anything on the hardware front if the OS didn’t offer anything new.

 

Microsoft and Nokia

No matter what Apple or anyone does in September 2013, the big news must be that of Microsoft purchasing Nokia’s devices division. This is a massive shift away from Microsoft’s original vision, that Microsoft delivers software only, not hardware. This shift may have been on the cards, and for some time – since the Nokia announcing it would go all in with Windows Phone – I’ve been stating it’s only a matter of time before Microsoft buy Nokia.  I think further clues should have been taken from the Surface tablet release. Surface may not be doing as well as Microsoft would like, but it’s been a bold move by them, and is basically a statement that “Microsoft no longer has confidence in OEMs to deliver the hardware and the design to best show off Windows technology”. In many ways I have to agree with this. It should also have been clear that Microsoft would need a devices arm after Google purchased Motorola. That makes Google, Microsoft and Apple now all in the mobile phone devices game, which must be a concern for makers like HTC and Samsung, since they have the hardware but rely on software from other sources. Perhaps they will be moving into the software game (I hope not, but you never know).

It’s also not a bad time for Microsoft to really get aggressive with mobile. It’s had some good news as of late, Windows 8 has gained some traction and now commands a greater market share than Mac OS X, and Windows Phone has moved into 3rd regarding smart phones.

Though Microsoft are now well and truly in the hardware game, I firmly believe that Microsoft will continue to license its software and that Windows Phone will be available to OEMs such as Samsung, HTC and many more, because after all, software is still Microsoft’s core business. What it means though is Microsoft can now ensure there are devices in the mobile and tablet market places that can compete in terms of design, performance and build quality with those delivered by Apple. By ensuring this level of design, it forces OEMs to deliver the same, or surpass Microsoft’s efforts, or simply become irrelevant.

Many people may claim Microsoft is a dying company, that they haven’t done anything in years, blah blah blah and that Nokia is dead and should have gone with Android. To me, these are statements from people who don’t understand the two companies, don’t understand business and require glasses when it comes to looking into the future. These are probably the same people who said Apple is dead only months before the launch of the iPod.

Microsoft is still a massive powerhouse, and don’t think that Windows is a poor operating system. Just spend a few days being totally open minded and use Windows 8, on a PC, tablet or phone. The OS is far from perfect, but it really makes sense. The user experience is very slick, the capabilities of the OS is far more powerful than any of its competitors and Microsoft provides development tools that are simply second to none. Throw into the mix its Windows Azure operating system, its dominance in the business world and you can start to see that Microsoft may know after all how to become popular with the consumer again. If you don’t believe me actually try the OS with a fresh mind. On a mobile phone, the experience is second to none it really is, but I appreciate the look and feel is not for everyone, and nor should it be or ever be. Mobile phones are personal devices, and as such an element of personal taste will always come into play. The big problems for Windows 8, be it on the phone or tablet, is the lack of relevant apps in the market place. Size of the app store means nothing, most apps available on all the platforms are really a waste of time, but what kills Microsoft is currently the lack of “expected” apps. I really believe Microsoft has got to get paying some companies to bring their apps to Windows 8, be it phone or tablet. Only then, once consumers know they are getting at least the same apps on a Windows device will they make the switch…

 

So, Microsoft and Nokia, a single OS with no compromises across all devices, on hardware that is reliable, looks good, performs well and is innovative, that’s visionary, that’s big thinking. Now all Microsoft has to do is win back love from developers (which its more than capable of doing) and it really is back in business with the consumer…Oh, and controlling your own hardware surely will be a big tick in the additional profits column (if all goes well, if not a rather big drain).





New iPhone? Apple Innovation? Be realistic!

15 04 2013

It seems that we have yet again got a new round of Apple rumours regarding another iPhone being released. iPhone 6 in Q2 of this year (2013), Apple innovation? I don’t think so!

People cannot expect innovation with each release of the iPhone

People cannot expect innovation with each release of the iPhone

 

It’s amazing that basically we get the same rumours from tech bloggers every year, and I am starting to think that it’s nothing to do with Apple, rather its bloggers not really looking for tech to talk about, rather relying on their stable diet of Apple blogs – with fab boys and haters all reading them, commenting away, driving traffic back to their website without actually writing anything with real substance or research.

I think though this trend has been born out of the innovation that was the iPhone and the massive influx of readers of tech blogs because of it. That single massive leap forward in mobile experience seems to still be the fuel of most tech bloggers (especially when we talk about mobile). So is it no wonder that they keep going back to the iPhone, even if we have a new one coming out or not?

 

Reality Check

We know that Apple release a major new phone every 2 years tops, which is usually just preceded by an iOS major update. So towards the back end of last year (September) we got iOS 6 followed closely by the iPhone 5. So if you think we are going to get some major updates within 12 months of that then you are being silly. I have no doubt that an iPhone 5S may well be on the cards, but it’s not going to happen Q2 in 2013, at best it will be Q3 probably Q4 to at least align with some of the Apple faithful coming out of contracts from 4S devices.

The rumours regarding innovation of the next iPhone are also typically very farfetched and people’s expectations are also becoming highly un-realistic. A great example of rumours that cannot be true is the good old NFC support claim. It seems since the 4 we have had rumours of NFC capabilities in the device, and yet no one stops to think that would require an iOS update to support the technology too. So why when iOS 6 was released (with no hint of support for NFC) did we get the same rumours again about NFC in our iPhones? I would also like to add, is adding NFC to a mobile phone really that innovative? Nokia had NFC in pre-smart phone devices a long long time ago…

 

Innovation

It seems that bloggers are claiming Apple must get innovating again. This is usually shown up in the comments of a blog post too, lots of commentators claiming Apple is stagnant, that nothing has happened since Steve Jobs passed away etc etc. To all these people, I would love to ask what do you expect?

Innovation isn’t something that happens each year, you can’t keep innovating, innovating and then innovating some more. What happens is there is a break through from R&D (not necessarily even from that company), they then release their product which we all see as a leap forward, a great example of innovation and then, what happens is that innovating is built upon, expanded, developed through iterations, evolved until at some point in the future, something even more innovative comes along and replaces it. The mobile phone world shows this perfectly.

Let’s think about innovation in the mobile world. During the 80s we had the mobile phone, sure it was a real brick, but essentially that was the massive innovation. Nothing happened innovation wise in the mobile world really, until 3G networks and devices. All that had happened to that point was devices got smaller and a few features added to them, I don’t call that innovation, I call that evolution. With 3G, we then got innovative devices, mobiles that were also other devices, like our MP3 players, Digi cameras and provided us with software. Devices like the N95. We may have been spoilt because it wasn’t too long until we got a massive bit of innovation from Apple, the iPhone. That innovation wasn’t so much a “phone”, rather it was the touch screen experience, the OS and the ability to install our apps in a seamless fashion. That was the real innovation.

Since then, we have had a period of evolution again. So don’t expect mass innovation, and anyone saying people are innovating, like Samsung with Android, then to those people, I say you don’t know what innovation is. That’s evolution of someone else’s innovation.

If anyone is innovating at the moment, then it’s Microsoft. But they aren’t really innovating in terms of a mobile phone, rather their innovation is software lead, delivering a single experience and UI across any device. This innovation from Microsoft is not a massive leap forward like the iPhone experience delivered, rather a step forward that may at some point down the line lead to a bigger innovative jump…

 

Quick Summary

Innovation doesn’t come round year on year, it doesn’t even come round every other year. Innovation comes round when it comes, at the moment we aren’t in a position to expect something brand new and highly innovative. Rather we should expect to keep improving our mobile devices, so when Apple deliver a new iPhone and its better under the hood, that it’s screen is improved, that performance is slicker, there really shouldn’t be people complaining that Apple aren’t innovating. Just because the company brought us the iPhone, doesn’t mean they can innovate whenever they wish. Innovation comes around when it comes around, until then, just watch and be impressed with how our devices continue to evolve, to improve and move forward.





Cross Platform mobile app, Zync Terminal

6 03 2013

I haven’t been blogging much as of late, things have simply been far too busy here at CloudZync. However, today I wanted to briefly talk about our experiences developing our Zync Terminal mobile app for businesses.

Essentially the application provides businesses with the ability to generate and complete a financial transaction. Im not going into much more detail than that really at this stage, but what I want to talk about is our experience in building this app a little.

 

Cross platform

One of the big things for us as a company that delivers mobile applications, is being as efficient as possible when it comes to our code base. No one really wants code fragmented (I can’t help but think of Android here), it’s not good in terms of functions, features, maintenance, development etc etc. So we wanted to be able to deliver this application in a cross platform fashion, which really meant looking at an HTML based app.

This particular app still needs to be delivered as an app down to a specific device, and it still needs to utilise elements of hardware of that device – so a real app is required. We opted to develop this in PhoneGap (read more here http://phonegap.com/about/) . PhoneGap is an open source framework that enables us to deliver mobile apps across multiple platforms, using HTML 5, Javascript and CSS.  Our developers essentially wrote the application using JQuery Mobile, HTML 5, CSS3 (and we used KendoUI to help skin the app) and JavaScript.

The app is then built using PhoneGap and packaged accordingly to your target mobile OS. Though I end up with multiple “packages” one for each particular mobile OS, I do essentially have a single code source for the Zync Terminal app.

 

Native would be better? Right?

Well maybe the experience could be a little better with a native application. That would be true if this particular application was more complex, however it really isn’t. The app itself is quite simple, so many of the benefits of writing a native app simply don’t apply.

All that being said, there are things to watch out for, especially as native apps provide a far richer API and link to the underlying hardware and OS. This has caused us issues in some of the apps workflows, with our development team on more than one occasion having to come up with a little bit of magic here and there to get round the problem.  But it’s been worth it, and the end result is an app that we can now package up and deploy to:

  • Apples iOS
  • Android
  • Windows Phone 7, 7.5 and 8
  • Blackberry
  • webOS
  • bada

 

Parting shot

Cross platform in the mobile space is tough, and it won’t get easier. For our other apps we have been using Monotouch, which provides us with real native app capabilities but written using C#. But for simpler apps with cross platform requirements, look to PhoneGap, it’s a neat framework that gets you on lots of platforms quickly and easily – and can be built by developers with mainly web based skills….Not bad…





iPhone 5: What Apple got right

13 09 2012

September 12th was the big day and Apple finally showed us their new iPhone 5. However there wasn’t anything there that many of us didn’t know about already, such was the extent of leaks leading up to this event.  So far the reaction to the event is one of underwhelming acceptance…It seems that Apple hasn’t been an innovative company for some time now, rather everything they do is playing catch-up with other people’s ideas and innovations while attempting to maximise and squeeze yet more revenue from their current customers. This, Apple does exceptionally well at…

iPhone 5, it got no NFC right at least: Picture from engadget

Catch up on the iPhone 5 launch event here at engadget

So while there are many blogs, articles, reviews out there that show what’s wrong with the iPhone 5, and there is quite a list, I am going to focus on something they did get right, and that flies in the face of all the technology journalists, who on this subject often show they know nothing about technology and or business combined…Apple got it right when they opted NOT to include NFC in their device.

 

No NFC for the iPhone

While many reviewers are saying this is dangerous omission I have to say it’s highly sensible. If you believe what tech journalists are saying, then we should all be making NFC enabled mobile payments pretty much now, and they have based this belief not on fact, rather on marketing gumph from a few companies out there, VISA, Google and a bunch of phone networks. What they all fail to take into account is that customer experience is being put ahead of practicality, security and cost. In the real world, this means most businesses will not be using it.

The payments industry is pretty much in a mess, there is nothing wrong with the customer experience of using cash or cards, yet there is a common belief amongst businesses and customers that they should be able to make payments with their mobile device. This has lead to endless different approaches to mobile payments, almost all of which centre around NFC capabilities. However, let’s just think for a moment. Cards are not secure things; we know this by how easy it is to make fraudulent transactions, especially in a digital age. NFC is not a secure form of communication, VISA even state this in their own Patent applications. So put the two together and you get…A great demonstration of how we can use mobiles to make contactless payments, but ultimately a nightmare for merchants with endless costs and charge backs, essentially fraudsters saying “don’t mind if I do”. No wonder most merchants say “no thank you”….

Other phone manufacturers may have embraced NFC in their devices, but even then, each manufacturer and device OS uses it in different ways. Just because your device supports NFC doesn’t mean it supports contactless payments. We see this mess with Googles own Wallet only being able to support the one bank card, its own pre-paid card having to be pulled and you not being able to use your Google Wallet at a typical contactless payment point. Throw in the fact that the phone carriers want a bit of the NFC action and you can quickly see how messy this environment is. Sure it’s competitive, but it’s competitive because no one is doing the same thing and everyone is arguing over who owns what part of an NFC based transaction. Even Microsoft’s Windows 8 phones support NFC based transactions, but you need to get yourself a secured NFC SIM with your card details on it. Not exactly lending itself to you simply adding all your payment cards to the device. But this is because the phone carriers want some of the payment transaction action, and it’s a way to stay friends (at the detriment of practicality, customer experience and security).

I haven’t even spoke about costs of supporting NFC for the merchant, which essentially means new hardware, firmware, support and maintenance for that hardware and perhaps updates to their POS if they want to distinguish between a chip and pin card transaction, signature, card not present, or contactless payment, even mobile contactless payment.

So while so many seem to be singing the praises of NFC and perhaps mentioning concerns that the iPhone 5 doesn’t have NFC, I would say no NFC for Apple is a wise move. Apple usually only embrace a technology once it really has proved itself, so not to deter from the customer experience of using their devices. NFC is no different….As a reviewer of the iPhone 5 there are many areas of concern, lack of NFC is for sure not one of them…





Grasping the tech giants business models

20 07 2012

It’s rare that I bother to post about business models, economics or company balance sheets, and that’s simply because I don’t find them half as interesting as what’s going on with technology or methodologies. However, for the past 12 years these sorts of things have taken up almost 50% of my working time, and can be interesting from time to time, especially when you look at the tech giants, Apple, Microsoft and Google…

In an earlier post I blogged about the worrying trend for “free” services from the web, and how that business models that were built purely on advertising can be fraught with danger, and essentially only work well for the very few (for Google it works massively well).  However, today I want to look at Apple, Microsoft and Google in terms of their business models, how they differ, where they are similar and their financials to understand the companies better and to understand where we could be heading…

 

Business model

Each one of the big three has their own unique business models when you look at them in broader terms. Apples business is about delivering premium luxury devices mainly, running them with its own software and being tied into its own ecosystem (pretty much exclusively). Apple doesn’t really provide any software services, or software that we buy and run on any old device, rather everything is focused on its own platforms and own devices. One of the big benefits here is if your brand is strong (and Apples is very strong at the moment) then you can command premium rates and rake in larger profits because you control everything, the software, the hardware, the ecosystem even to an extent the distribution channels. This model is a massive earner potentially, but relies purely on your brand being un-equalled in the eyes of the consumer.

Microsoft on the other hand is purely software and software services (well almost purely). Microsoft delivers is software to consumers and businesses alike, it charges licenses for these and subscription fees for its services. Anyone can purchase Microsoft software and services, and most of them will run on any platform, including Apples MAC and iOS. This business model relies on your software and services delivering to the customer’s requirements, but does open up the enterprise as well as the consumer. It also allows Microsoft to enter so many different software market areas, and there pretty much isn’t an area where Microsoft isn’t present. Though each individual sale is nowhere near as profitable as an Apple sale (as Apple sells the hardware too) it is none the less highly profitable and due to its diversitiy, allows Microsoft to support other areas of its business with ones that are doing well. These types of services, aren’t quite brand dependent, rather are feature and function dependent.

Then we come to Google, Google is all about marketing, selling you a marketing services via its search. Everything else Google does is related to gaining more information to increase the value of those marketing services that it sells to SMEs and large corporations. This is again a very profitable business model, but depends 100% on people using your search services, in order to show value for your marketing services. If Google’s search is seen to be not as good as a competitor, or looses market share, then the value of its marketing business also drops away – which puts pressures on every other aspect of the business.

So do we see any cross over? Well the companies do share common grounds, and that is in the entertainment and content consumption area. At the moment, Apple is a little more mature here than the others, but essentially both Microsoft and Google are playing catch up in delivering content through their ecosystems down to their customers. Microsoft has marketplace (which is still branded Zune in some areas), Google has Play and we all know Apple as iTunes.

In addition, both Google and Microsoft appear to be now dabbling in the hardware arena a lot more too. You could argue Microsoft has always dabbled, especially when the company produced the modern mouse as we know it, keyboards etc in the early days. They also deliver the XBOX and now, perhaps, Surface tablets too. So is Microsoft trying to increase its revenues by controlling hardware too? Probably not, though XBOX is now a profitable business for them, this exercise is about showing Microsoft products can be related to high end devices. Google though has got into this more seriously, delivering their own tablets and purchasing Motorola. I personally think this is more about ensuring its OS is running on devices that tie back to its search than about actually competing in the hardware arena or with Microsoft directly for OEMs love…

 

Experiences and current position

The Apple business model relies on belief that their brand delivers a better experience. This is the situation currently for the masses; hence they are the biggest player here in many ways in mobile and tablet. However, this wasn’t always the case. The Apple experience was poor back in the 90’s, I’m sorry it really was, not matter what anyone says. I remember using them at Uni and I will be honest, the UNIX machines delivered an experience I, and pretty much everyone else, agreed with was better than the Apple. Don’t be fooled that people flocked to MS just because, we all used Windows 3.11, 95, 98 etc because it was a far superior end user and business user experience (even with the blue screen of death).  You could also do so much more with the Windows based PCs, networking, support more peripheral devices etc etc.

Apple didn’t die though; instead it reinvented itself with a great experience on a tiny device, the iPod. That experience was and still is, far better than its competition, and it was that experience that led to us consumers looking at just what else Apple delivered. Apple really seized the day here, and improved everything they do 100%. Their devices always looked funky, but now they looked really top of the range, sleek, fast and designer. Throw in their improved operating systems (and a change at the core) and things started to look up. The iPhone moved this on from the iPod, and in many ways Apple defined what we see as a smart phone today (though they weren’t the first, even Nokia had prototype devices that looked like and behaved like the iPhone, they just were stuck on Symbian and never got them to market – shows poor forethought that). The iPhone experience was second to none (even though it lacked in features at first), and that experience is what drove customers to Apple. At the same time, people were getting fed up with the blue screen of death, and the viruses that now plagued Windows machines (and you can’t blame them). In many ways the Apple experience was now superior to that of Microsoft’s. With that experience and belief in place, the Apple business model really did and does flourish…

But are things starting to change again? Well maybe not just yet, but there is a real perception that they could, with many pundits and market watchers believing that Windows 8 across all devices could start to show a better experience to that of Apples on all those devices. Who knows, if that does happen then the pendulum will no doubt swing back to Microsoft away from Apple. The difference between the two companies though is their ability to thrive through poor consumer sales or customer perception…

Microsoft’s brand with Vista hit a real low. Yet the company still managed to rake in big profits, and that’s because of the numerous other businesses Microsoft runs. Microsoft has a highly successful business and server division, and that income keeps them strong even at a time of Vista. Essentially Microsoft can weather storms better than anyone, due to their business model and the diversity of their software and services. If indeed the masses of consumers start opting for devices running Windows 8 over Apples own devices, then Apple will be hit far harder than anything Apple has done to Microsoft in the past 10 years. It’s interesting that both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs see/saw Apple as a premium product and the masses opting for Windows devices, if this again becomes the case in mobile and tablet, then the quarterly incomes that we see posting from Apple will be slashed, none the less they will still operate at a very handy profit on every device they sell (something Google must learn at some point you would think).

 

Financials

By far and away Apple rules here. Though Q2 figures aren’t out for 2012, Q1 figures for Apple have the company posting record revenues of $46b, these up from $26b in the same quarter a year ago. That shows that Apple is moving from strength to strength and quickly. 58% of those revenues come directly from device sales, keep that in mind, such as iPhones, iPods, iPads and Macs. Almost all devices Apple produce have defined the market and command massive market share, with the exception of the Mac, which in desktop market share is a tiny player.  What’s interesting is that Apple doesn’t have any areas where the company loses money, and that’s why it’s such a strong company.

In second place we have Microsoft with its own record $18b for Q2 2012. Though the company had to write off a $6b investment in an advertising company (which meant Microsoft’s first ever loss), the company looks to make around the $6b each quarter, almost none of which comes from device sales. Microsoft is sitting on assets of excess of $121b up from $108b just 12 months ago so it’s a rich company that is growing in every area – though some are running at a loss. Microsoft makes money from a number of software and services divisions, but these also end up supporting many other software and service divisions that run at a loss. Bing for example has never managed to get close to profit, yet Microsoft plug away at it, and even Bing is heading in the right direction. Microsoft does play a very long game with these divisions, and it has the cash reserves and the income to be able to do that…

Finally we have Google, who also posted record quarter revenue, this time of around $12b. Interestingly enough Google makes no money from so many ventures, but its core business model allows them to still operate at a nice profit and command such sales. Almost everything Google makes comes from marketing…

 

Long term projects

Microsoft has always led the way in R&D investment, and it seems to be ramping this up. Many could argue the company has been stagnant for many years, which could be true. However, Apples re-emergence has meant Microsoft needs to up its game if it wishes to remain a big player in the home, and that’s exactly what they appear to be doing. Microsoft plays a very long game, and is prepared to give its businesses a very long time to move into profit, think XBOX and the entertainment divisions which now operate at very healthy profits, that wasn’t always the case. Bing may be losing Microsoft money each quarter, but it is losing less money than it was each quarter. The whole thing here is that Microsoft is involved in so many different areas which many of which aren’t profitable…Yet…

Apple on the other hand has been very fortunate. Not only were they fortunate to survive (with some cash from Microsoft there too) they stumbled along for many years offering not much innovation and poor experiences. However, that all has changed dramatically. Since the iPod and the additional revenues that brought in, Apple has invested and innovated, carving out not 1 but 3 market places for itself to dominate.

Google has always been the golden company of search, however mobile is a real challenge for them, delivering their marketing services down to devices. Here Google search isn’t as strong as it is on the desktop or as effective at delivering adds, so Google has to have a strong mobile presence with Motorola and Android to safeguard its core business.

 

Conclusion

All the tech companies are growing, and that’s due to us consumers demanding more from the internet and from our devices and software. The mobile and tablet marketplace is quite new, and it’s where the tech companies need to do battle, and will do for the coming years.

Mobile for Apple is the linchpin of their business, the iPhone and the iPad command massive market share and is charged at a premium. Any dent into the perception of the user experience or brand itself will hurt the company massively since it depends so much on device sales.  Likewise new competitors in this market place who gain market share from Apple will have a big impact on Apples financials (though Apple is simple so strong at the moment it’s hard to see).

For Microsoft, it must grab more market share in mobile and tablets to ensure it remains relevant in the consumer marketplace. Though Microsoft is strong in so many business areas, such as business and server, it is aware that for the consumer marketplace, it needs to get a good hold in mobile and tablet, hence the big push with Windows 8.

Finally, Google needs to retain a large market share in mobile to ensure it grabs enough user data and can deliver its own core marketing services to users. If it cannot do that well for mobile, then Googles business model becomes very fragile indeed.

I personally think that the next few years will be interesting. I’m excited by Windows 8 and the one OS for all devices – to me it makes sense and as a consumer that one experience across everything, that seamless usage between all those devices while not compromising on the things I want to do with them makes a compelling case and delivery of a better experience. If Microsoft gets it right, and its marketplace store continues to grow and deliver the content we as consumers want, then Microsoft will no doubt be delivering a superior experience and will start to grab market share in mobile and tablet. This will lead to more record quarters from MS I’m sure, and that will in turn lead to far more R&D and new divisions it starts that run at a loss for a long period of time too, until they too make a profit.

Apple has, and will always have, a strong loyal brand following, so though I don’t see Apple holding onto its massive market share in mobile and tablet, its future remains very bright. Apple will command a premium and will have customers flocking for its products. The company makes very good profits on all its devices and most of its businesses, so the company seems set for many years to come.

My concern is for Google if I am honest. Though the company is growing, the mobile war is far more important to them than anyone else. If Android loses market share, then the number of people relying on Google services for search will drop (especially as more of us use our mobiles).  This means their core business revenues will take a knock. The Motorola deal for Google is so important, if Google can make money from actual devices, while gaining greater data and ensuring its browser and search services are delivered to devices, it can retain its core revenue. The problem is, their business model relies on Android success, and if companies like Samsung start selling more Windows Phone devices, then Google almost becomes dependent on Motorola’s success. If that is the case, has Google got time enough to try and build that brand to compete with the likes of Samsung, and more importantly Apple?





Apple saying NO to NFC is correct…

12 07 2012

It seems that the past 2 versions of the iPhone have had media speculating and claiming the iPhone will support NFC, primarily for some NFC based Wallet experience. Speculation surrounding the iPhone 5 is no different, especially as Apple have recently applied for a number of NFC based patents for mobile devices.

However, to date, Apple (and the people on Wall Street) has been pretty sceptical about the whole NFC wallet experience, and so far Apple has said NO to NFC in its devices. I personally think this is a wise move by Apple, and shows that they aren’t just jumping on a technology bandwagon, rather assessing the pros and cons of the technology for certain uses (commerce it seems not one of them). Unfortunately others see this as a ground to get ahead of the competition, and are investing heavily in the technology, without I feel adderssing the issues with NFC commerce. The upcoming Microsoft Wallet uses NFC in a secured SIM fashion, making it quite restrictive, while the Google Wallet (which is an NFC based solution and has been available for sometime) struggles to gain any form of real traction with consumers and may well be dissapearing from Sprint if rumours are true.

NFC: Not the right technology for commerce

 

NFC in a mobile device

NFC has been available in certain mobile devices for a number of years. Early Nokia devices supported NFC but, well let’s be honest, what could us users do with NFC? There are a number of issues with mobiles supporting NFC, mainly due to the antenna required for NFC and where to securely house it in the mobile device itself. Many manufacturers have experienced lots of problems with this, and it is still a problem when integrating NFC into a mobile device. Reliability is usually the biggest concern, and it doesn’t take too much for NFC communications to simply stop working. This presents a challenge to mobile manufacturers, one which isn’t as easy to overcome as the media and users think.

 

The role of NFC

NFC is great for sharing quick bits of information that we don’t mind sharing.  It works great when sharing things such as website addresses, third party pictures, even certain personal information – such as a business card. But once we start to want to share more private and personal information, information we wish to keep secure, then issues arise.  After all NFC broadcasts data using radio waves.

 

NFC and commerce

Apple is sceptical about this, and its right to be. The NFC contactless model with credit / debit cards isn’t great, and hasn’t really taken off. You also don’t have to spend too long on YouTube to watch a number of videos highlighting security issues. Data that is broadcasted essentially can be read, with this in mind and the fact that payments currently rely on credit / debit card details (un-encrypted) being read, you can see where security issues can be exploited. VISA is aware of this, and it’s even mentioned in their patent application form.

This issue of security and relying on an infrastructure not designed for mobile / digital commerce is at the heart of why I believe Apple has not embraced NFC, and is why we have seen other mobile commerce suggestions put forward by Apple

 

A different model

At my own company, CloudZync, we also believe that NFC is a great technology, with a role to play in the future of mobile communications; however we don’t believe its appropriate for commerce in its current format.

Sharing information with NFC is great, but again, we must be aware of security and of the potential costs and practical uses of this. I have seen many demonstrations showing users scanning NFC tags in a magazine to read the information on their mobile device. However, how much extra does an NFC tag enabled advert cost as opposed to an advert running a 2D QR code? And if we have multiple adverts near each other, aren’t they going to cause issues when trying to read the data? We must ask ourselves, “does an NFC tag in this way add anything to the user experience compared to a QR code”. The answer I would say is a big NO. This is a bigger NO when you remember how cheap QR codes are to use and the fact that they can be read by any Smartphone right now.

The issue of cost for merchants is also overlooked with NFC, and that is another reason why we haven’t seen contactless cards as yet take off, let alone mobile payments.

Unfortunately to me it seems to much emphasis has been put on NFC being combined with the current card schemes to deliver contactless and mobile payments. The model doesn’t make too much sense and feels like a bit of a “hotch potch” approach to a solution. Though I am not an Apple fan, I must say they don’t often do “hotch potch” solutions, and so it shouldn’t be of great surprise if we see Apple continuing to say no to NFC for commerce. I’m sure Apple may use NFC in their future devices, but for commerce, I’m not sure they will at all…

My own company, CloudZync will be launching its own take on mobile commerce very shortly, and there isn’t any NFC required…





Life after RIM in the enterprise?

30 03 2012

There has been a lot of talk about RIM today, caused mainly because the company has stated it is giving up on the consumer market and heading back to its roots, the enterprise. Couple this with the $120m loss the company has made and the hints at “sale”, and you do see why lots of people have been talking about RIM. (If you don’t know RIM – Research in Motion make the BlackBerry devices).

One of the big conversations I have been involved in today (on Twitter with @BPMredux @puleen @souvikbonnerjee and @AlbertoManuel) is just what do we think will happen in the enterprise regarding the use of mobile devices, and vendor offerings for mobile based solutions. @BPMredux asked in his blog two simple questions

“How many BPM vendors have a mobile BPM solution based on Apple, Android or Windows Mobile”

and

“Now how many of you are still stuck with RIM and Blackberry in your own corporate environment?”

You can join in his debate at http://bpmredux.wordpress.com/2012/03/16/mobility-inside-the-bpm-scene/

So in this blog post I have want to have explore at some of the main points and give some thoughts based on conversations and relationships I have with a number of IT professionals that work within the enterprise supporting their systems…

BlackBerry

Are we seeing the BlackBerry swansong?

RIM is still a big player

For sure RIM is still a big player in the enterprise. Most people I know and speak too (within large corporations) have BlackBerry devices handed out to them as their corporate phones. There are lots of reasons why the enterprise opts for BlackBerry – security being one, durability another. Many people I speak to who have to support mobile devices within their business prefer BlackBerry, and that’s because they have better control over them, they are easier to administer, the battery life is second to none and the devices are durable (they do seem to get dropped a lot). These things mean less time is spent with the end user trying to address issues, and after all, time is money…

Apple is making in-roads in the enterprise

This all being said, the iPhone is making in-roads in the enterprise, especially within the “exec” levels of business. While the phone is undeniably a great phone, it does cause headaches for business, especially if you are already standardized on RIM. Throw into the mix that not much else in the enterprise is Apple based and the fact that you do pay over the odds for their devices, and you can see why, even with a great offering like the iPhone, Apple still isn’t king of mobile for business.

BYOD (Bring Your Own Device)

This is something I hear a lot about and read about. However, in reality, this really hasn’t shown any traction with the enterprise, and I very much doubt it ever will. Predominantly BYOD is a media thing based on what some SMEs maybe doing – it simply isn’t a great option for the enterprise, and here is why…

The enterprise needs to support its workforce and their devices, mobile, desktop, tablet, laptop whatever. This means they have resource dedicated to help ensure IT runs smoothly. That IT needs to administer these devices, ensure business applications run as expected, ensure everything is secure as possible and support end users. (They do other things also, but no need to list out everything). If the IT department has control over its devices, it knows what they are, it can secure them better, ensure the software works as expected, manage roll outs, upgrades etc etc and help users with their devices (without having to train IT staff / mobile support staff on every handset available to a consumer). In addition, standardization allows the enterprise to strike good deals with their suppliers and all big business has preferred suppliers – that’s just life. So imagine you take all that control away from IT. What are you left with? Yeap, a mess. You simply can’t have users connecting random devices to your network. You can’t expect vendors to support all mobile platforms under the sun for bespoke software for that business. You can’t expect in house IT to help users with their particular phones OS or hardware issues, and you can’t expect everything you need to work on the device to work on every single device (have I said that one already?). All in all, BYOD is a great concept, lovely for startups and SMEs, but for the enterprise, this isn’t an option…

Software vendors and their mobile offerings

The BYOD issue does illustrate that software vendors do not support all mobile devices. Sure there are comments that solutions should be mobile web enabled, that they should run using HTML 5, but that user experience is going to be pretty poor. The reason we love our native apps is that we can do more with an app, and the experience is a lot better than anything we see on our mobile web browser. This means vendors have to support native apps, and do they really need to support so many different platforms? Ideally they want to support one, but realistically know they may need to support a few. The problem for a vendor at the moment is which to support? RIM is a must, or is it…It used to be. Apple devices, well they are a must aren’t they…well yes and no…Android? No. Symbian…erm No….Windows Phone…Well potentially……

So what do you do as a vendor? I personally would wait until the end of the year to make a decision…

Windows 8 in the enterprise

Let’s be clear, Windows 8 may not be rolled out across the enterprise as soon as it’s released, but business will be reviewing it, and scheduling in a Windows upgrade path. Some upgrade paths will be quicker than others, and some may do their normal, and wait for the version after – so upgrade when Windows 9 is available as they haven’t long been on Windows 7. The point is Windows 8/9 will be the standard OS on the enterprise desktop and on majority of their servers. With this comes the normal office based software and legacy applications that every enterprise has running on a Windows environment. However, Windows 8 is a little more than just a desktop OS. All of a sudden the enterprise can have the same OS across all devices, including mobile and tablets. Think what a nice thought that is for IT within the enterprise and vendors alike. A single OS to administer across all devices,  a single user experience to support and the ability to seamlessly tie in lots of services they already use back into the devices of choice. Office, Outlook, Lync, Office 365, Sharepoint, cloud backups, device synchronization etc. That makes life a lot easier for IT doesn’t it…

As a vendor then, supporting Windows 8 is a must. But hold on, if you support Windows 8 metro what do you support all of a sudden? Yes, tablets (including ARM based tablets), desktops, laptops, netbooks and with a few tweeks, mobiles. All of a sudden supporting Windows Phone seems an obvious choice –  a necessity. So perhaps it’s back to the usual suspects, support Windows first, then perhaps Apple…Or vice versa depending on where you are with your mobile policies and vendor software.

Let’s think about suppliers to the enterprise. Most enterprises have a strict supply chain policy, and with Windows 8, this means the enterprise can choose who supplies their hardware, including desktop and phones. Remember Fujitsu, Acer, Dell, Nokia, Samsung, HTC and others deliver Windows 8 mobile devices. These same companies will deliver Windows 8 tablets, and most of them will deliver desktops, servers, laptops and netbooks. The enterprise therefore has the flexibility it desires regarding suppliers, but the security, administrative advantages of being tied into a single ecosystem, which runs all their legacy software. Essentially, for the enterprise, Windows 8/9 is a no brainer across all devices….

Where does this all leave RIM?

Well, to be blunt, I believe in a very deep, dark hole.

Essentially if it becomes a no brainer to support Windows Phone in the enterprise and Windows 8 tablet devices, then Apple will continue to struggle in the Enterprise, but that’s not a great loss to them. RIM on the other hand, if they struggle in the enterprise then I believe we will be saying goodbye to RIM and thanks for the BlackBerry memories. Without a consumer market, Windows 8 could well be the last nail in the BlackBerry coffin. I for one am already starting to think that by mid 2013, I could be writing a blog along the lines of “bye bye RIM, thanks for the BlackBerry memories…”








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