Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Segmentation is a way of life, so is messaging

There is a post on Mike Mace's blog that I would recommend to everyone in the business. It talks about the shape of the smartphone market. There are many arguments I am not fully subscribing to (although it is hard to argue with someone with market data ;-) but it is a great read.

I met Mike a long time ago at one of the PalmSource conferences in Munich. Great events, because they were coinciding with the Oktoberfest. I remember more the beer than anything else, but I have a picture of Mike on stage with a slide with Funambol on it. I pitched to him the concept of a synchronization portal for mobile developers and he loved it. Too bad we did not really make anything out of it because his company was not interested. Anyway, time has passed, Mike has left PalmSource and they have lost all their developers...

What I like about his post is the concept of segmentation. I have written about it many times. Call it divergence if you want, but the idea of a uber-device for everyone will not fly. Specialized devices will win. Squeezing a PC in a phone is not a good idea to get the mass market. I do not believe Apple really wants to do it with the iPhone: they are more catering to their captive segment (Entertainment, in Mike's diagram), adding a telephony feature.

However, I have to disagree on one major item. Mike puts "communication" in a separate bubble. While I agree on putting the communication freaks in one separate area (and leave them there because they are annoying), there are two elements of communication that are common to every telephony-enabled device and every segment:
  • voice
  • messaging
You see also in his diagram, pictured below.

That "and SMS outside the US" hides the fact that people believe a basic phone feature is messaging. Not heavy stuff like a BlackBerry and a keyboard. Light stuff, like voice and SMS. Or the next SMS.

It is not just Europe and Asia, it is also in the US. Messaging is horizontal and a basic need country-independent. Like voice.

The Zone of Death does not have devices but two simple and basic features: voice and messaging. Those are for everyone. The mass market.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Sun doing quite good, anybody noticed?

It is tough when you get off the spotlight. The dot in the dot.com bubble burst. Everybody saying you are a dead company. A very cool CEO stepping down. A young guy taking the helm (and with a ponytail...). A big shift towards open source, the coolest thing in town, but few talking about your new directions and improvements. Just assuming you are a walking dead.

That has been Sun Microsystems for the last six years. However, they lost market share for five in a row, then they turn it around. Now Sun has gained market share for four quarters in a row. IDC figures show Sun garnering 10.8% of all server sales in 2006 vs. 9.5% the year before (Gartner says pretty much the same). With a 2% market gain, while IBM and HP saw declines. In the firm's fiscal second quarter ending Dec. 31, the company finally got back in the black with earnings of 4 cents per share, its first profit since 2004...

That's a lot of good stuff and shows they are executing the plan. On top of it, there is open source. I am not advocating that their turnaround is all about open source. But there must be something about it...

Sun is the #1 contributor of open source code among companies. They had OpenOffice, then Solaris, then Java. A ton of code. Everything they are doing now smells of open source.
They wandered a bit around OSS licenses, with Jonathan Schwartz saying GPL sucked in a famous OSBC keynote, then going for CDDL, then back to GPL (which, apparently, does not suck anymore ;-) It is never easy to do a U turn for a large company, but it is a sign of being smart. Change and adapt fast, as a startup.

They are thinking as an open source company, albeit big. And with JavaME, they are mobile. Big time, considering how many phones out there support JavaME. In a way, they are the biggest mobile open source company around...

Moreover, they are well positioned to gain from the GPL3 mess, the Red Hat vs. Oracle mess, the next mess (we are good at creating them in open source). OpenSolaris might well be what people will go for. It is OSS, it is stable and good (nobody ever questioned it), it has a company behind it that does not look it is going to disappear soon.

In a nutshell,
open source allows them to sell more boxes... That's all they need to be successful. On top of it, they will start making money with subscriptions, which won't be marginal in their top line anymore. You can "use" open source in multiple ways. They are looking smart about how they are doing it.

Anyway, I have the feeling Sun is doing quite good. They have nice numbers, they are going in the right direction, they are taking advantage of the open source paradigm shift, they are well positioned in mobile (another paradigm shift). Unfortunately for them, the press does not like them anymore. Maybe if they built a cool smartphone...

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Vista: good for Microsoft or Apple?

I had the opportunity to look at Vista yesterday. I know, I am late, but it is not mobile or open source so I thought I could wait...

First impressions: WOW. Nice looking interface (looks like a Mac), it has search (like the Mac, a year or more ago) and gadgets (those are called widgets in the Mac world), they improved security, file sharing and the movie editor (you know the drill... already there in a Mac).

Sooooo, the big news is: Vista is a step closer to a Mac.

Now, I am not a Mac user. I never had a Mac. I had to buy a Mac for my wife because it matched her iPod. I now have to buy Macs for all salespeople in Funambol (a tip for CRM vendors: build Mac integration fast and you will win). And even for techies, like Stefano, Kincy, Harrie and others. I am chased by Macs...
Macs crash like Windows. The hardware is not superior because I have seen many return their laptop, including Dave and Matt.

However, my brain works in strange ways. The moment IE7 came out and finally had the features of Firefox, I switched from IE6 to Firefox, just because Microsoft was pushing me hard to upgrade. Why would I get a browser that had the same features that Firefox had months before? Firefox had to be more stable and I assumed "they must be working on the next features, while Microsoft is chasing them"...

Therefore, I have the feeling that the moment they will force me to upgrade to Vista, I might jump to the light side of the force (anything that is not Microsoft is light, I guess).

Am I alone? Probably so...
Or maybe not. Why would you upgrade to an OS that is like the one that has been out there for more than a year and can run your Windows as well (the opposite not being true)?

Since I am talking about switching, let me ask Steve Jobs for two necessary features:
1. Please give me a VGA output. My life is giving presentations (sad, I know) and I will lose the dongle in a month... You switched to Intel, you can switch to VGA too...
2. Please give me a touchpad mouse with the right button. Yes, I understand I can achieve it with an external mouse or a click on the keyboard. But it is not the same. If it is just for advanced users, put it in the high end laptops only. Please...

That said, I believe I might be close to switch. Definitely closer than I ever thought. If I am not the only lunatic out there, Vista might be good for Microsoft - as they said - but it might be even better for Apple...

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

3GSM - day 3 (and last for me :-)

Day 3 is a strange day at 3GSM. The first half is fast and furious, then - after the storm - the calm builds in. At noon, the taxi line outside the show is already long. By 2 pm, they are all gone. Therefore, your Wednesday morning agenda becomes absolutely crazy, with ten meetings per hour, since everybody is trying to squeeze in one last meeting. Past lunch time, the wind is gone.

Left alone, in the afternoon I spent some time visiting Hall 8. The hall where the money is. Where the exhibitors are the device manufacturers, who plunk unbelievable amounts of money to look bigger and more successful than the others.

Nokia announced a good amount of devices. Huge booth, an enormous amount of phones, each with a Finnish person ready to help you, if you had any question. A strong angle on music, which is not surprising looking at the competition. Some device updates, but mainly lots of boring phones that give you the impression they are not going in the right direction... Still, I found one that I liked. The E65. The first Nokia E series device in slider format. Nice format, appealing to the Italian eye, also powered with email and "business" features like conference calling and mute/unmute (a business feature? since when?). It supports 3G and wi-fi, but it also sports a 2 megapixel camera, and 50MB built-in memory expandable with microSD cards. A mix of features that should appeal the prosumers, that want advanced features (such as VOIP on wifi in the office) but also a compact format and a good look. I bet it is going to be a winning device for Nokia. At least, it shows something innovative and thought for a precise segment, which is growing fast.

Motorola had a smaller booth and really claustrophobic. Again, a million phones with the feeling they also lost their touch (it is hard to compete in this market...). The MOTORIZR Z8 was supposed to be the star of the show. But with that yellow line, I did not even bother opening it. It is just ugly. Some updates on the Q were pretty cool, but I can't say I felt innovation was there.

The Sony Ericsson booth was full of cool music phones. Still, it wasn't crowded. Although as a company they might not be considered trendy, they are in a fun hip trend and I feel they are creating devices that people want to buy. There is a clear segment for a music - phone convergence and they are hitting it big. Kudos to them, I believe they will keep doing great.

The LG booth was very sophisticated, with the Chocolate everywhere. Classy, almost upscale, it gave you a feeling of wanting in. As in a party where you do not know if you will have to stay outside for an hour to wait or if you will be chosen to join the lucky ones. The superstar was the one LG Prada phone (a.k.a. the iPhone killer or KE850), in the hands of a nice lady who was cleaning it after each use. Sleek, cool, it was screaming "buy me because I will make you look rich and famous". Rich for sure, since it is going to cost north of 600 euros... But I have to say it had a very nice interface, easy to use and attractive. Not having a keyboard or buttons does not prevent a call, but still makes selecting a contact a bit of a challenge. Typing a message is hard, and they offer only a simulated phone keyboard with just numbers (imagine how hard it will be with a full simulated keyboard as in the iPhone). The fact that the lady was cleaning the screen every 5 minutes makes my point on this kind of input interface... If they invent a way for humans not to sweat (Prada could), then it will be perfect. Once again, a niche device like the iPhone but quite innovative. Too bad they were copied by Apple who jumped the gun and make it all look exactly the opposite. Man, I love Steve Jobs!

That's it. I did not visit Samsung and others because I was tired. And I had to catch a flight to leave Barcelona. Tomorrow, the show is only for the exhibitors, who will visit each other since there are no visitors anymore. Enjoy the rest of the show, I am out of here :-)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

3GSM - day 2

Day two of 3GSM is usually busier than day one. It does not happen in any other conference I know, but it is common here... Today, it was no different. Our booth was inundated by people, mostly mobile operators and partners. What a difference a year makes: a year ago, people were stopping at our booth, looking at us with a strange face and saying "what do you mean with mobile open source?". This year, they come and already know about us. Strange feeling.

I also found out you can use our cell phone holder also to juggle (works well to attract visitors and you can build on the funambol story), as a soccer ball and even to play catch. Multipurpose cell phone holder...

I had a moment to walk around, talking to Trolltech and Access (both doing mobile open source stuff). They had two nice parties inside the conference. Lots of people and not just for the good wine. Mobile open source is going mainstream. No surprise.

Lastly, I was intrigued by a new device by Neonode, a Swedish company. Extremely small and light, iPhone-sque on the input side (no keyboard, you use your fingers) but based on Windows Mobile. Fully featured, with even too many apps on it. But also open (or so they claim) to accept applications for third parties (Neonode Friends). If it takes off, it could be a cool device
for our community to build applications on. Porting our Windows Mobile client on it would be a breeze. Once again, it is just another sign of divergence and segmentation. There will be more, I am sure.

The interesting part, though, was the marketing tactic they used to launch the device. The campaign was built around the actual birth of the device ("a new breed is born"). That included a lot of girls dressed up as nurses... In a male-only environment (3GSM is the only place on the planet where the restroom line is longer on the male side) it is old but working tactics. The traffic on their booth was unbelievable. Lots of cameras and dark suits... It is a sad lesson for marketeers, which repeats itself year after year.

Tomorrow is my last day at 3GSM. I can handle three days but then my body starts complaining. It has been fun so far, let's see what Wednesday has to offer. I haven't seen a shocking announcement since the beginning, but the mood is definitely upbeat. Maybe tomorrow is the day of the iPhone killer...

Monday, February 12, 2007

3GSM - day 1

Busy day in Barcelona, as expected. Lines not as long as in previous events, though. A smoothly organized event, considering the size... The weather is gorgeous, which helps going through the 9 am - 7 pm crazy marathon.

For the first time, mobile entertainment has a big presence. We are used to have it at CTIA, but here it is new. At CTIA, you have Hollywood. At 3GSM, you have Bollywood, with a mobile film premiere. I am sure the Festival people in Cannes are asking themselves why their counterparts in Barcelona had to go all the way to India instead of Europe, but that is another story...

After a good amount of years (when GSM became 3GSM...), today everyone is talking - again - about mobile bandwidth. HSDPA is everywhere. The carriers have to defend themselves from the message Intel is proposing (this year for real, I guess): "WiMAX is here"... In reality, we all know that nobody really needs that much bandwidth. A phone does not really need video... Messaging is going to be light in size because people cannot even type a long message without a keyboard. Who cares about bandwidth? 3G is more than enough...

Lots of announcements about push email as well, both on the enterprise side (e.g. a ton of new Nokia phones, the Microsoft Windows Mobile 6 that I played around with, and so on) and - finally - also on the consumer side. I have the feeling our "mobile data for the masses" story is hitting the wires big time and people are noticing it. Competitors are embracing the idea (that's flattering, but I would rather be alone, thanks :-) Mobile 2.0 is happening now. Messaging is a key part of it. Let's get people what they want: a cheap way to send their pictures from their phone to their families at home. Forget bandwidth and movies on phones (please...).

So long from Barcelona, I won't talk about the parties because I am here to work (yeah, right ;-)

Thursday, February 08, 2007

A good reason to visit 3GSM

Just in case you are still doubtful if you want to take a flight on Sunday to get to Barcelona, here you have a good reason to visit 3GSM. We are giving away cell phone holders...

They are soft, you can squeeze them to lower your tension, you can throw them to your dog, you can put them on your nose to look like a clown and make your kids laugh, they can even hold a cell phone on your desk.

The ball represents the world, since our downloads are coming from any corner of the planet (212 and counting, the Vatican still missing though...) and the community makes our server tested on every device with every firmware version on every carrier in the world.

Brace yourself, 3GSM is next week

It is that time of the year. The time for 3GSM, the largest conference in mobile. The craziest event in wireless...

As usual, PR people started bombarding us with announcement the week before, to avoid being buried among a million press releases. So you already have Microsoft announcing Windows Mobile 6, Nokia rolling out a free mobile map service and Samsung launching a would-be iPhone beater.

On our side, we announced a preview of our Funambol v6 release, including a very cool Open Source Java Push Email Client for Mass Market Devices (all capital, do not ask me why but that's how marketing works) and
a Mobile Email Portal for Consumers. If you want to see them, we are at booth 1J46 in Hall 1 (same as last year, close to the coffee break table ;-)

Barcelona will be flooded by mobile people. Last year, Barcelona did not know what 3GSM was (since it was in Cannes before... BTW, I loved that show). This year, they know. Prices for rooms skyrocketed... A room that normally costs 200 euros (I was in Barcelona around Christmas...) is now well over 1,000 euros... Taxi drivers will try to rip you off, if you do not speak Spanish. Restaurants might follow suit (hey, you want to eat paella, right?).

In any case, it will be fun, as usual. Day and night. Mobile is hotter than ever. If you are going there, stop at our booth and let's chat about it. See you in Barcelona.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Hello, Dave!

One of the interesting announcement of DEMO 07 has been DAVE (Digital Audio Video Experience) by Seagate. It is a very small storage drive (credit card size) with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi support. It boasts up to 14 days of standby power and 10 hours of continuous use, it can be accessed from anywhere up to 30 feet (9.1 meters), it will ship in May/June and it will cost around $150.

What does it mean?

It means you can store 20 Giga of your stuff in it, put it in your bag and access it from your cell phone. Wirelessly.

In theory, it makes a lot of sense. You have a growing need for storage. You want your data always with you. Therefore, you go out with Dave at night. It speaks to your cell phone, PDA, mp3 player, iPhone (yeah, right, like you will be able to write an app on it), your PC at home and so on. DAVE kills the need for synchronization. It is a one-stop-shop for your data storage.

In practice, I do not think the concept will fly. IXI tried something like this with the PMG (Portable Mobile Gateway). Devices that only solve an infrastructure problem, but require no physical interaction with the mobile user, have no appeal. The thing does nothing. No beep, no lights, no tactile feedback, nothing. It is in your bag. Still. It appeals to geeks but not consumers. I can see people showing it off in a coffee place in San Jose, not in a bar of Milan. It is not fashionable, it is geeky (and black).

As you probably know, I am not a fan of mobile convergence. I believe in divergence. DAVE pushes divergence, taking care of a basic task (storage) and adding yet another device. I should like it. However, I just can't see it as a viable mass solution. I believe phone will just add more storage (see the iPod Nano, does it have enough storage in a limited space?). Storage won't be a good reason for divergence. User interfaces will. Usage segmentation will. Multiple devices with local storage, same data, to be synchronized.

One thing I really like about the way Seagate approached the software component of DAVE: open source. The API to access the device will be all open source. That's mobile open source, by the way. That will generate a ton of innovation. Someone very smart will build something we are not even thinking about today. Maybe one day you'll put your DAVE in your car and leave it there. Or it will be strapped to your purse. We'll see. Let open source people take care of it. They know better.