Posts Tagged ‘smartphone’

Can Nokia fight back?

September 17, 2010

Nokia has had a presence in London this week, launching a series of new smartphones.  The term ‘fightback’ has been used in some of the coverage in the light of Nokia’s changing fortunes, given that it doesn’t dominate the market for mobile phones to the extent that it once did.

The Reuters piece at http://uk.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE68D1JV20100914 links Nokia’s new products to current changes in Nokia’s senior management.

My reservations about Nokia’s prospects for success in the smartphone market are similar to those that I expressed last year in connection with Palm, that it’s a business so closely associated with one generation of devices that it’s having immense difficulty in adapting to a different generation: however here are a handful of factors that I think Nokia needs to consider if it’s to be successful.  There are clues to the first two of these in the photos that accompany the Reuters article.

  • The pull-out QWERTY keyboard which you can see in the first image is a really important feature.  Not everybody gets on with touch screens or with the tiny keys on a BlackBerry
  • Nokia’s strengths have always been in providing a wide range of phones – all may have used very similar internal electronics but Nokia has been able to convince its customers that a particular product works well as, for example, a business phone or as a sports phone.  This is something that Nokia needs to emphasise in the future, as they are doing now by launching a range of smartphones, with different characteristics, all at the same time.  By comparison Apple in the phone market is essentially a one-product player.  Of course there are variants for sale at any time, and inevitably there’s been considerable innovation over the years, but essentially the iPhone is a single distinctive product.  Apple’s brilliance is in creating something which starts out highly standardised, but can be customised by using products from other suppliers, whether they are apps, or skins to make the iPhone look different.
  • There’s still a market for simple phones that work well for voice calls and text messages and it isn’t just among the oldest and youngest members of the phone-buying public.  I’ve some evidence, albeit purely anecdotal, of smartphone users, including those with iPhones and users of Nokia’s own products, complaining that their devices don’t really work very well in pure phone mode, so some people will want a second device that’re really just for voice calls.  This is very different from the dilemma facing Tom Tom, where the device that’s a central product and that led to their succes is in danger of becoming obsolete rapidly.  So of course Nokia needs to adapt, but there’s also a core market that they shouldn’t neglect.  And there’s also a huge market in developing countries for simple, but web enabled, phones which is part of the reason why Sir Tim Berners-Lee was talking to Nokia at http://conversations.nokia.com/2010/09/15/sir-tim-berners-lee-talks-to-nokia-conversations/
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Palm comes full circle

April 29, 2010

I’ve been following closely the fortunes of Palm, because the business’s problems in many ways encapsulate the difficulties posed by disruptive technologies.  For Palm, the disruptive technology is the smart phone, which has made there traditional business of personal organisers almost obsolete, because it makes little sense now to produce such a product without adding a Sim card, and adding a Sim card puts these products in direct competition with both the iPhone and the Blackberry.  When Palm launched their Pre smartphone last year, I predicted that it would be well-received by technical journalists and other commentators, and that it would sell poorly – both predictions have come true.  Now Palm is to be sold to Hewlett-Packard , a business which has a presence in many different sectors of the IT business but not, so far, in any type of mobile phone.  Interestingly, in the era when stand-alone personal electronic organisers did have a big marked, Palm was one major player with devices using their own operating system, while Hewlett Packard was another player using Windows Mobile devices

An unexpected critic of smart phones

November 6, 2009

This comment from a former Motorola engineer at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/expat/6509126/Inventor-of-mobile-phones-says-they-have-become-too-complicated.html .  Though I’d always understood that Hedy Lamarr was the true inventor of the mobile phone

Palm’s smartphone revisited

September 23, 2009

Last week’s Technology Guardian covered the launch of Palm’s pre smartphone.  For reasons I’ve already mentioned in this blog, I’m not optimistic about the prospects for it.  Incidentally I hope my pessimism is misplaced: it looks to be a good product, and Palm has a track record as an innovative company.

But the problem goes back to disruptive technologies, where a disruptive technology is one that can change the structure of a business sector, and make it very hard for established players.  The disruptive technology here is the addition of a SIM card to a whole range of mobile devices.  Palm was a brand leader in devices that worked like a stand-alone electronic Filofax.  A connected electronic Filofax may be technically a similar product, but it’s perceived very differently by its users, and the brands associated with these devices are Blackberry, HTC, even Apple with the I-phone.  That’s a crowded market that Palm will find hard to enter unless they can offer another new kind of product.

And the market for personal digital assistants is fickle.  In the 1990s one very well respected manufacturer tried to enter the market with little success.  The manufacter?  Apple, with the Newton, and many of the Newton’s features were later adopted by Palm.

Tom-Tom

June 18, 2009

One business which I’ve mentioned in teaching is Tom-Tom, interesting because its products represent a practical use of location-based systems and I think could be the key to harnessing mobile data. However Tom-Tom announced a dramatic loss earlier this year. The article at http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2009/feb/24/tomtom-satnavs-recession suggests that over-paying for the mapping company Tele-Atlas was on bad move, but another is that Tom-Tom is focused on a standard product and is being squeezed by smart phones and by systems built into cars.

My reading of this is that Tom-Tom is in danger of falling into a common trap for technology companies: it’s seen as the best with a particular type of technology, but has difficulty adapting to the next generation. Superficially that’s puzzling because Tom-Tom should be well placed to offer both add-ons for phones and built-in systems for car manufacturers. Or maybe look for a market where people are looking to upgrade their systems in some way.

Personally I’m slightly resistant to sat-navs, at least in cars, as I think they’re just another distraction. And I really don’t like the idea of using a smartphone as a navigation system while driving, if only because my attitude to the use of phones while driving is rather similar to that expressed by the TV critic Sam Wollaston in http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/tvandradioblog/2007/mar/20/lastnightstv10

Palm and smartphones

June 17, 2009

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/8082531.stm will be interesting to watch – I’d disagree with the statement that Palm was ever a giant of the smartphone business; they were big in personal digital assistants but I think lost their touch once it became so simple to incorporate a SIM card that every such device became a smarphone. This of course is a classic example of a business failing to adapt, with the smartphone as a disruptive technology

Update (25 June): The BBC has also reviewed HTC’s offering in the market at   http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/technology/2009/06/can_htcs_hero_be_a_smartphone.html

HTC entered the UK market in particular by making products which were then sold as ‘own brands’ by the phone networks and it’s significant that HTC’s latest option is still sold in approximately the same way.