Posts Tagged ‘smartphones’

Windows Metro Maoist cadres reach the desktop, and pound it flat

Friday, June 15th, 2012

metro_hubris_450w

The revolutionary dogma of Metro is sweeping through the old Windows desktop, too, a new leak of Window 8 confirms. The leaked build, newer than the public release of a fortnight ago, abandons the 3D design elements introduced into Windows in 1990 for a resolutely two-dimensional world. The ‘legacy’ desktop in Windows 8 is denuded of anything that takes advantage of human depth perception, such as window shadows, gradients or sculpted controls.

It’s a flat, flat world.

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Don’t shoot the Blackberry Messenger

Thursday, February 9th, 2012
BBM does things no web social network can do… it mirrors the flexibility of real life

RIM’s fortunes have taken a catastrophic, Nokia-style nosedive in the past year – but it has a chance of pulling up. Admittedly, the odds are long, but this week the Canadian company began its fightback.

It’s certainly right up against it.

Fewer enterprise customers are dependent on RIM’s email servers. The trend to ‘bring your own’ device to work, one that works well enough with Exchange or IMAP, is accelerating.

There is now a range of consumer deals that offer large bundles of texts, so the BlackBerry no longer has the singular attraction for teenagers, and other chatty prepay customers, of incurring no incremental charges for messaging. That was an overlooked factor in the BlackBerry’s success. And qwerty keyboard devices just aren’t very fashionable any more – glitzy touch tablets appear to offer so much more. And because soft keyboards are considered to be “good enough”, that removes BlackBerry’s unique selling point, that it made the best physical keyboards you could find on a phone Some of this may change later this year – assuming RIM can finally ship some attractive devices with its QNX-based BlackBerry 10 OS.

But the reason I think it’ll return for one last bout is that RIM runs the only social network in the world that comes in hardware. And this social network has a flexibility than no web rival can match.

Don’t shoot the BlackBerry Messenger When I wrote, two years ago, that analysts, pundits and gadget fans overlooked this little thing called BBM at their peril, it was our most voted story ever. I thought then that BBM it was the best user interface ever put on a mobile communicator, something that made voice and messaging flow in a very natural way. Few agreed, but then very few had seen it in action – it was like trying to describe yodeling.

It’s probably fair to say BBM only really became noticed last August, and then for the wrong reasons, during the riots. This doesn’t say much for how well we mix, socially, or even geographically. But go to any major northern city and find me somebody under 21 who doesn’t use a BlackBerry. And almost all of these avid users are so devoted because of one application: BBM.

At some point, after the value of BBM became appreciated, the conventional wisdom developed that the value of RIM was almost entirely in BBM. RIM added a lot of developer options to the platform this week, including Qt, but none are as important as how well BBM can be ported over to the new platform.

Back to the future

BBM does things no web social network can do, but that online conferencing users were doing twenty years ago with systems such as the Cosy software on which Bix and Cix were based. On these systems you can create private ad hoc groups. Now trying doing that with Twitter or Facebook.

Twenty five years on from the zenith of BBS systems, we don’t have anything with the same flexibility. The imperative of the Web 2.0 companies is to make everything on their social networks public. It’s the only way they really know how to make money. The thought of users spending their time in private, closed groups horrifies them. But this isn’t a problem for RIM.

These informal, easily created and easily dissolved groups actually mirror real life much more closely than Twitter or Facebook can. RIM has also been extremely clever in how it has integrated music into its social network – again, geared towards promiscuous users whose tastes shift. You can grab anything from millions of songs, but freely cross-play 50 songs in your group. And BBM is proving far stickier than most web social networks. Once you’re in, you want to stay in. No rival can quite offer anything like it. There’s no doubt RIM knows what an asset it has. But is it wise to be the sole provider of the BBM social network to the market – or to license it judiciously to, say, Sony – or even Apple itself, in cutdown form? ®

Five ways to rescue Windows Phone

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

 

Windows Phone might be the most impressive bit of software Microsoft has produced – but it isn’t setting the world on fire. The iPhone and Android go from strength to strength – the latter proliferating so widely even Google doesn’t know how many Android systems are out there. (It can’t count the Chinese forks which don’t use any Google services and don’t phone home.)

This discrepancy puzzles people. Reviewers like WinPho a lot – it’s clean, fast, functional and forward-looking. The social media integration is very clever. Operators have a soft spot for Nokia and WP7 too, because – if for no other reason – they dislike and distrust Google and Apple even more. So what’s the problem?

Three weeks ago I raised the prospect that there may never be a third smartphone ecosystem – something upon which Nokia has bet the company. Many markets only have room for two leading players – and in the technology platform world, many have only one. On the margins the niche players are little islands. No matter how impressive WP is, if the needle doesn’t move, then it too becomes a marginal player. Ecosystems can perish more rapidly than they arise. If Windows Phone is to avoid the same fate as WebOS then the dynamic has to change.

But what might this be?

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Perhaps there’s no ‘Third Ecosystem’?

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012
There’s a whiff of something – it isn’t desperation, more like earnest exasperation – around Microsoft’s phone business these days

Humiliatingly, Nokia was forced to deny rumours last week that it was planning to break up and sell its crown jewels to Microsoft. Normally a company can remain impervious to Twitter-born gossip, particularly from a known antagonist.

Acknowledging the rumour simply gives it a chauffeured ride around the internet. But not this time: the ‘Microsoft buys Nokia’ story fulfils so many conspiracy theories, thousands of people wanted it to be true.

And the notion of Microsoft buying a hardware company and ripping up its licensing business has become much less outlandish after Google’s acquisition of Motorola’s phone business. Ah, but that was desperation, I hear you say; the Chocolate Factory had miscalculated its IP strategy catastrophically, and it had to grab what patents it could at almost any price.

But there’s a whiff of something – it isn’t desperation, more like earnest exasperation – around Microsoft’s phone business these days. Redmond has got an excellent product, for the first time, and people who have a Windows Phone love using it. But there just aren’t many of those folk around. The phones aren’t shifting. Christmas has come and gone, and while we wait for some reliable channel figures, Nokia’s flagship seems to have made almost no impact on the UK market. It’s the phone that leaves no footprints.

 

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Panic in The Chocolate Factory

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

Is Google’s acquisition of Motorola Mobility is good for Android, or an expensive mistake for Google, made in a moment of irrational panic. Columnist Matt Asay thinks it “spells iPhone doom“, and he’s not alone. John C Dvorak thinks it’s “pure genius“. This supposes that Google performed a cost-benefit analysis and calculated that the cost of not buying Motorola’s phone and set-top box division was greater than $12.5bn.

I beg to differ. Not all business decisions, made in the pressure cooker, are as rational as they should be.

On Monday, I explained that Google hadn’t bought what it thinks it has bought. Since then some very interesting new detail has come to light. This suggests that the Chocolate Factory really doesn’t understand the value of its proposed acquisition, and snapped up Motorola not merely in a hurry, but a blind panic. Pulling out of the deal may now be sensible – but also costly for Google. The deal carries a $2.5bn break-up penalty, which is smaller than AT&T’s penalty for failing to complete its acquisition of T-Mobile US, but is still a hefty sum of money. Should this happen, Google will have paid almost as much to buy nothing as it did to buy Doubleclick, its largest ever acquisition.

Let’s look at some evidence.
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Don’t blame Elop or Microsoft for Nokia’s catastrophic fall from grace

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011

Pundits this week are describing Nokia’s fall from grace as one of the greatest corporate car-crashes of all time. But here’s an unfashionable view. Nokia’s problem is not Stephen Elop, or his strategy. Its problem is it didn’t have Stephen Elop, or his strategy, in place two years ago.
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The next mobile UI (why nobody has a clue)

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

How things have changed. Fifteen years ago attendees at a select mobile conference might have been found sparring over spectrum allocation and control channels. Back then, 3G loomed large, and huge geo-political battles were being fought. Today the talk is – how do you make it all work nicely?
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Nokia ends cruel and unusual ‘Symbian programming’ practices

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

Nokia has bowed to international pressure and agreed to end the cruel and unusual practice of programming natively for the Symbian OS. It still wants developers to target Symbian, but using the more humane Qt APIs instead.

Nokia has also torn up the OS roadmap, and will speed up the delivery of new functionality to users in chunks, as and when it’s ready, instead of in milestone releases. In less prominent statements, Nokia has clarified what had become a very confusing development picture.
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When Dilbert came to Nokia

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

You may have had your fill of Nokia analysis and features, but I’d like to draw your attention to one more – one that’s very special. The Finnish daily Helsingin Sanomat has published a report based on 15 interviews with senior staff. It reads like the transcript to an Oscar-winning documentary where the narrative thread is held together entirely by the talking heads.

The report is very long on detail and short on opinionising – and for those of you fascinated by technology and bureaucracy, something quite interesting emerges. What we learn is that the company’s current predicament was fated in 2003, when a re-organisation split Nokia’s all-conquering mobile phones division into three units. The architect was Jorma Ollila, Nokia’s most successful ever CEO, and a popular figure – who steered the company from crisis in 1992 to market leadership in mobile phones – and who as chairman oversaw the ousting of Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo this year.

In Ollila’s reshuffle, Nokia made a transition from an agile, highly reactive product-focused company to one that managed a matrix, or portfolio. The phone division was split into three: Multimedia, Enterprise and Phones, and the divisions were encouraged to compete for staff and resources. The first Nokia made very few products to a very high standard. But after the reshuffle, which took effect on 1 January 2004, the in-fighting became entrenched, and the company being increasingly bureaucratic. The results were pure Dilbert material.
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Why Android won’t worry RIM and Apple

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

My US colleagues are regulars on John C Dvorak’s excellent Cranky Geeks and a highlight of the show. I was recently intrigued to hear the opinion from Vulture West Coast (in Episode 232) that RIM was toast, and Android would triumph. Now, bearing in mind that I’ve been wrong about mobile more than I’ve been wrong about anything else – quite epically and unheroically wrong – I beg to differ.

Apple will continue to rule the roost, dictating terms and charging eye-watering prices to punters. The punters will continue to be delighted with Apple, and will clamour for more; while BlackBerry has an ace up its sleeve – probably the biggest mobile sensation of the year.

When the crystal ball lies

But first things first. It’s sometimes useful to revisit why you’ve been wrong, because it can tell you a lot about the future.

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