Posts Tagged ‘apple’

Apple and the Gentlemen from the Networks (or, why it pays to turn up Really, Really Late)

Friday, March 20th, 2009

the iPhoneThis week Apple threw the kitchen sink at its iPhone/Touch software stack, removing most of the most irritating nuisances at a stroke. It’s a stunning achievement.

So Apple now finds itself where everyone else in the mobile handset business wanted to be 15 years ago. Large companies full of clever people devoted years of planning and expenditure to fail to get here. If the iPhone continues to flourish (see below for the many obstacles en route) – then both rival manufacturers and the networks have to tear up some long established strategies.

For the established handset competition, if Apple takes the lucrative high end, that leaves them scrambling around for gimmicks in a cutthroat market that’s increasingly low margin. For the networks, they’ll need to find devices that people actually want – or pray that Apple drops its carrier exclusivity policy and partners with any network that wants to sell its gear.

So how did someone with no track record in a notoriously difficult business find itself walking away with the laurels? What can explain this paradox?

For Apple, coming late to the phone business has actually been a huge advantage. The success of the iPhone is down not just to great engineering, but profiting from several years of desperate and outright stupid behaviour by the mobile phone networks, who set the terms for the manufacturers. The received wisdom of the industry – that you had to know the wiles of the mobile networks to succeed – turned out to be completely mistaken. And to explain this we find another paradox, which looks like this.

The mobile phone business is actually the most “customer friendly” or “customer responsive” in the world. This might seem a strange thing to say. Have a read of Brendon McLean’s splendid rant from two years ago – Why we hate the modern mobile phone, for a summary of customer unfriendly business. But it’s true.

That’s because the customer isn’t you or me, or the billion and a half other phone users in the world. Phone manufacturers have only 800 customers, of which only around 200 really matter: these are the gentlemen from the networks.

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Apple (finally) tries to patent BluePod

Friday, August 8th, 2008

The file-sharing iPod

Apple will fill in some long-awaited missing features from its iPod and iPhone mobile players, a patent application published this week suggests. There’s just one problem: Much of Apple’s “invention” was dreamed up by Reg readers several years ago – and one embodiment is already on the market.
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How the iPhone puts a bomb under mobile networks

Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

If you think everything that could have been written about the iPhone already has been written, prepare to be surprised. One vital aspect of Apple’s strategy has been overlooked – with multi-billion consequences for complacent network operators.

Over at Telco 2.0, the blog of analysts STL Partners, we learn that networks who partner with Apple must install Apple gear at the data centre to support its services – specifically, the Push Notification service that wakes up the Jesus Phone. Forget the revenues from sales of extra server gear – the key point is that Apple now sits in the middle of the data stream, capturing the customer’s data. The analyst outfit describes the iPhone as a potential “poison” for the networks.

STL wrote this week:

“Apple can data mine the application message stream — and it’s been a telco’s dream for years to mediate such flows.”

Nokia sell two out of every five mobile phones in the world, and they’ve ruled the roost for a decade now. But they’ve failed to convert that market clout into mobile data revenue – for themselves, or the operators. When you discount application-specific services such as RIM’s Blackberry Connect and new music services such as Omnifone’s MusicStation, mobile data use is negligible.

Because the iPhone makes mobile browsing more of a pleasure than a pain, for the first time, this is changing. And because de facto standards are defined where the people are, this means Apple, not one of the traditional incumbents, could call the shots. Or as the STL boys put it:

“… it doesn’t take massive market share (stimulated by the new low price point) for the iPhone to de facto become the mobile web.”

So, sorry, Nokia and Microsoft – you may have turned out to be the Osborne and the Altair of the 21st Century.

And bang go the commercial prospects of turning the bitstream into money:

“You don’t have to be too bright to realise that one of the most likely things to be pushed to a phone in future is an advert, mediated again by Apple,” they add.

STL tempers this possibility with the very sensible point that the iPhone has may have limited it appeal. Apple has yet to prove it can break out of the niche in which it reigns supreme. Indeed the biggest threat to mass market adoption of the iPhone may yet be Apple itself, by refusing to add a numeric keyboard or hard-QWERTY keyboard. But if there’s growth at the high-end, it will reaped by Apple, with its superior, easier to use technology which is now sensibly priced.

Yet the mere prospect of Apple sitting in the middle of their network, capturing customer data must make a mobile operator’s blood run cold. They’re unlike to accept a cuckoo in the nest – but who can help them?

Alas, the operators’ strongest potential ally has decided to have a mid-life crisis. That’s Nokia, of course, which is in a stronger position than ever after acquiring most of Siemens’ COM division in 2006. Nokia can help with both back-end and devices, but it’s decided that it, too, wants to shaft the operators. It’s splurging on services such as music and maps that cut revenue opportunities for the networks.

As STL wrote last year in an excellent summary:

“The way Ovi has been positioned at its announcement could prove to be a mistake. It will confound Nokia’s efforts to address and bring to market answers the most important unmet user needs. Ovi annoys Nokia’s most important go-to-market partners for any new and better personal communications services.”

Just when you need a friend…

Apple, Tesco 'most to blame' for music biz crisis

Friday, October 19th, 2007

A new report suggests that Apple and Tesco, not P2P file sharers, should take the most blame for the woes of the British music industry.

The report, prepared privately by consultants Capgemini for the Value Recognition Strategy working group, set out to examine the “value gap”, the amount sound recordings revenue has fallen in the UK since 2004. The report remains confidential, but details are starting to emerge.

The consultants suggest that “format changes” and price pressure from discounted CDs on sale in supermarkets, are most to blame for this “value gap”.
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Why 'Microsoft vs Mankind' still matters

Friday, September 21st, 2007

For all but three of the past 17 years, Microsoft has been involved in antitrust litigation with government agencies. That’s enough to wear anyone down. But as Europe’s highest appeals court delivered its judgement on Monday, I did notice some ennui – not from dogged old hacks, but from a new generation of pundits.

Take this example from former teenage dot.commer Benjamin Cohen – who was six when FTC first trained its lawyers on Redmond. After taking a pop at the at “anti-Microsoft lobby”, he declared on the Channel 4 News website:

The judgement is based on an old case and in many ways an old world – where Microsoft really was the dominant player in information technology

Stop kicking the kindly old man in the Windows outfit, he said.

It’s hard for it to have too much relevance today.

You’d think from this brilliant piece of insight, that there is hardly anyone left who uses Microsoft Windows or Office. Maybe, like the Acorn Archimedes, it’s a hobbyist system lovingly kept alive by a few, devoted enthusiasts! Benji even sounded slightly resentful at being torn away from Facebook (or Sadville) for a few minutes, to write about this piece of computer history.

But the question of “how we deal with Microsoft” is more relevant than ever for two very important and reasons: the second follows from the first.
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How the 'Jesus Phone' was really John The Baptist

Thursday, September 20th, 2007

So was nine months of relentless iPhone hype and froth just a distraction? Not quite, but you could be forgiven for thinking so. I believe Apple’s most important product of 2007 was actually announced this week, and its significance has been slow to sink in. It might be one of the cleverest moves Apple’s ever made.

The ‘Jesus Phone’ today looks like it was really ‘John the Baptist’.

I hope Apple has ordered enough parts, because the iPod Touch is going to be a sensation – at least for one Christmas shopping season, if not more. Not only does the Touch bring Apple’s big gimmick breakthrough, its capacitive multi-touch interface, to its key music products, it does so at a very low entry point: $299 (or £199). That, rather than $499, is the market sweetspot.

But the whizzy interface is simply a means to an end. Because the Touch has Wi-Fi, so you get the most attractive web browsing device at a very low cost, too.

And as a bonus, the importance of which few pundits or bloggers have realised yet, Apple stealthily enters a new market altogether: the connected PDA. This ‘Second Box’ business is one that almost everyone has neglected, because they’ve followed the conventional wisdom that Everything Must Be Converged. But what if that isn’t true?

Unlike the iPhone, which is locked down at the carrier’s request, third-party applications will not be restricted on the Touch. All it’s lacking is Bluetooth – which was apparently in early specifications, but didn’t make it into version 1.0 – and removable storage.

In short, the Touch brings much of the value proposition of the iPhone to people who are perfectly happy with the phone they’ve got – or who are locked into a long contract with a network operator. All along, I’ve pegged the iPhone as a defensive move disguised as an offensive strategy. If Apple hadn’t introduced a phone, it would be marked down for imminent death at the hands of the mobile phone companies – Sony Ericsson does music very nicely indeed.

My, how that script is going to need a rewrite, after this week…

Perhaps the clues were there all along. iSuppli pegged the bill of materials for the iPhone at just over $200, giving Apple a profit margin of over 50 per cent. That suggested Apple could put much of the technology in a much lower-priced device, which it’s gone and done.

As we can now see, Apple has fulfilled its primary responsibility to its shareholders: to strengthen and extend the appeal of its most successful product line, the iPod.

Where does this place Apple in the great ‘convergence’ debate?

Sitting very nicely, actually. With the iPod Touch, Steve Jobs is saying: ‘Look, you can have your One-Box converged device if you really, really want it. But people won’t mind two – if the second is attractive enough.”

Opting for ‘best of breed’ actually gives you much more choice, of course. In Europe and Asia – although not, alas, the US market – small and stylish phones are available for next to nothing. These do 3G, are so small you can wear them as jewelry, and they’ll also run Mobile24 or Google Maps, or Opera Mobile, very nicely. Because of a strange bug for which Nokia and Zimbra can both be blamed, my ‘dumbphone’ actually does IMAP email fetches more reliably than an E61i. The consequence is that the ‘smartphone’ category has really become a distinction without a difference.

What the introduction of the iPod Touch implies is that you can keep your beautiful, small, low-end or mid-range phone. The Touch will take care of music, and once it has Bluetooth, the rest. Long live the PDA!

The losers in this are manufacturers of do-it-all converged devices, particularly high-end smartphones. Nokia has most to think about here because, as the champion of One Box converged products, it’s been undertaking some very ill-advised marketing recently.

Firstly, it’s selling its easy-to-use consumer devices – phones – as “multimedia computers” – reminding us that computers are hard-to-use, and using a word, “multimedia”, that no civilian has ever, ever used. And it’s been making fun of the public who choose several best-of-breed devices, with its Great Pockets ad campaign:

Now my first thought on seeing this was not, ‘how stupid, carrying several devices’, but ‘Hey! What a fantastically useful pair of trousers!’

But don’t listen to me – I’m funny like that.

I’m the contented user of a Nokia N800 tablet – it has a great radio and a decent browser. But even with its generous removable storage slots, and its 800-pixel screen, I can’t imagine many people opting to pay a premium – it’s around $385 retail in the US – to buy the tablet over an iPod Touch.

At a stroke then, Apple makes one market category look ridiculous, while stealthily entering another.

Why I want the iPhone to succeed

Wednesday, January 10th, 2007

The new thing

I’m glad the iPhone’s is here – and I have very selfish reasons for wanting it to succeed. That’s because even without the cellular telephony, it looks like something I’ve been wanting to buy. But it’s also because after years of writing about smartphones, I’ve seen the established players become lazy and complacent, go down blind alleys, or standardize on horrible designs and feature sets. So the iPhone should focus minds wonderfully – it should raise the bar for everyone.

I’m also hoping a crushing wave of shame will overcome anyone who has a Blackberry, or one of its hideous clones from HP, Motorola, Nokia or Palm. Owning one of these is like volunteering for a lobotomy – then boasting about it afterwards.

I’m also hoping a crushing wave of shame will overcome anyone who has a Blackberry, or one of its hideous clones from HP, Motorola, Nokia or Palm. Owning one of these is like volunteering for a lobotomy – then boasting about it afterwards.

But common sense suggests it’s going to be a bumpy road for Apple, and it knows it. This isn’t a new experience: both the original Macintosh computer and the iPod received rave reviews on their debut but both were, a year of later, perceived to be failures. Both eventually recovered. Will Apple’s new PDA?
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Creativity now dependent on machinery, says New Age Judge

Monday, May 22nd, 2006

Julia Ward Howe - Mac or PC?

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What sealed Palm's software fate?

Saturday, September 10th, 2005

So, PalmOS ends up in the hands of an Japanese mobile browser company that almost no one has ever heard of. It’s a sad sign that expectations for PalmOS software have been so low, for so long, that PalmSource stock leapt 70 per cent on the news.

The origins of this decline have been well documented here at El Reg, we’ll only recap the key mistakes before raising a spectre that haunts this tale of Silicon Valley history: a spectre called Apple. 

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