Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Apple made AT&T a pipe

There is a war the device manufacturers are waging against the carriers. A scary one for the mobile operators, in particular because they are attacked by Internet Portals as well, at the same time...

It all started with RIM. They took over the relationship with the customer. The carrier disappeared. The only thing that reminds me of AT&T on my BlackBerry is a plastic sticker on the front. Nothing else. While I am roaming around the world, the BlackBerry still works and I do not even remember which carrier I am using. My email is synced with the BlackBerry Internet Service, AT&T is just a pipe.

RIM was not a big problem for carriers. They could manage it. It was a niche in the enterprise, and a very lucrative one (BlackBerry users do not mind paying big bucks). Then RIM started moving into the consumer market... Now they have more BIS users than BES users (70-30 ratio), so more consumers than enterprises. They are eating in the carriers plate.

Still, the carriers can take it. RIM is a small threat. Still a niche.

What is scary is Nokia with Ovi, in particular in Europe and Asia. In some countries, they have 50% and more of market share. They are just coming in and taking over. The operators are fighting back, but some are tempted by the shortcut ("I can make some money fast, let's launch Nokia Messaging and we'll see what happens later") and will commit suicide. The smart ones are resisting and looking at alternatives (I know one...). They still can fight.

Overall, Nokia is a risk, a very big one. But it has not materialized yet. They have not proved they can create data services that people use. As of now, they are just a device manufacturers. They do not know how to deal with services. Exactly as the carriers. They are a scary player to deal with, but not right now right here.

Then there is Apple. Same game as above, but a lot worst. They know services. They own music, the app store, MobileMe and more. They have proven they can do it, with one billion apps downloaded.

On my iPhone, AT&T is not even a sticker. Not even a physical object... It is a bunch of pixels on the top left. So virtual it can disappear in a second.

Want some proof?

Check the leak about Verizon and Apple talking. Who do you think leaked the news? I have my ideas... They did not leak it to a technology magazine, they went all the way, to a consumer outlet like USA Today!

It just puts an enormous pressure on AT&T, who needs to renew the contract with Apple. Best way to get a good deal? Work with the competition and let everyone know it.

The sad story: AT&T needs Apple way more than Apple needs AT&T. The Verizon leak is a living proof. They can walk away when they want. Why?

Because Apple OWNS their customers. They own the AT&T consumers...

Guess what? They have already made AT&T a pipe...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Oracle + Sun and mobile

I have read quite a lot of comments on the acquisition of Sun by Oracle.

Most have focused the analysis on MySQL, since it is actually a cool story: Oracle is taking off the market the #1 long-term competitor, one they wanted to acquire some time ago (for $850M, some say) before Sun got it for $1B. In a way, Oracle now bought the entire pie, getting the icing for free. Sweet.

Some are focusing on Java, simply because Oracle said that is the main reason for the acquisition. The focus goes quickly on Weblogic, the heavy reliance of Oracle on Java and so on. It makes sense.

However, there is a point nobody is discussing: what about the #1 money generator for Sun on the software side? I mean, JavaME, Java on mobile... Sun has made zero dollars (or so) on Java, outside mobile. It is a little secret, but Sun has made a ton of money of JavaME. Ton for my standards, of course. Some might object they could have made more. But they made a lot.

Moreover, Sun is the de-facto standard development platform on feature phones today. JavaME is on every phone. Yes, you might argue it is a mess (every phone is different) and that they are at risk of losing the battle on the smartphone front. But the smartphone world has way too many operating systems to keep going as it is. Developers are going nuts. The mobile market needs ONE platform.

Sun has been working on it for a while. The JavaFX effort is going in the right direction. They have a foothold in the mobile operators and device manufacturers. They are moving towards smartphones, unifying desktop, mobile and TV.

Yes, the future could be a full web development environment, as I wrote in the past. But, as there is room for Flash on desktops (it is not all Ajax), there is room for JavaFX on mobile. With the market penetration of JavaME, Sun is the company best positioned to make it. And let me remind you that mobile is the future of everything ;-)

Bottom line: acquiring Sun means for Oracle controlling a piece of the future of mobile. They have not been that active on it, beside some Service Delivery Platform offering. They now control a gem, on the client side. They have a critical presence around the future of computing.

I am expecting Oracle not to screw this up, actually the opposite. I believe when they say "We bought Sun for Java" they actually mean more "We bought Sun for JavaFX, and mobile in particular". They will invest in it, even more than Sun has done so far.

I would. Wouldn't you?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Momentum momentum momentum

You keep working and working. You keep signing customers. You keep working and working. You get them live. After they go live, their user base starts growing fast. You are happy.

What do you do next?

You tell the world you did it, so you won't celebrate alone :-)

In technical terms, it is called a momentum release. In layman terms, it is a "hey, look at us, we are growing like crazy! Join the fray...".

So, here it is our momentum release of today, focused on the non-carrier world:
Funambol Open Source Cloud Sync and Push Email Powers Innovative Mobile Services for Tens of Millions of Users
Includes smart self-updating address book, free unlimited text messaging, free national directory, virtual digital content organizer and next-gen voice services
Who are these companies? Some are shy and did not give us permission to use their name (and, as always, they are the largest deployments ;-) :
  • a smart self-updating address book with 13 million users
  • free unlimited text messages to any mobile phone; mjoy by Venista, www.mjoy.com
  • free integrated national address book; tacty by telegate:118000, www.tacty.com
  • next-gen telephony for consumers and businesses, JAJAH www.jajah.com
  • virtual digital content organizer, ZangbeZang by Key Criteria, www.zangbezang.com
  • leading digital phone service provider with millions of subscribers
  • best-selling customer management solution with millions of users
  • innovative internet services provider, Solcon by Qaleido, www.qaleido.com
  • email hosting provider for businesses and resellers, www.fusemail.com
Feel free to check them out. They do have an amazing product... And we are happy.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Skype on the iPhone, fences, and pipes

The only interesting news of CTIA was Skype on the iPhone (and soon on the BlackBerry). The floor was full of people playing around with it and saying "oooohhh, it works!".

It does. It works very well. Over wi-fi, the quality of calls resembles the one of your PC (that is, not perfect but ok, and the price is right).

The limitation? Voice does not work on 3G on AT&T (but chat does, which is nice) and the app cannot be used at all in Germany with Deutsche Telekom (they even said they will cancel your contract if they find you cheating around with Skype, which is doable for the tech savvy).

The debate is on. Can carriers really limit the use of applications by their own users? Does it even make sense? Will it be supportable long-term?

The answer is no (sorry). If you are a carrier, you can limit the usage of your network (e.g. charge for data over a certain threshold, and voice is quite data intensive) but you can't limit single applications. It is not practical. It is not going to work in the long term.

The world is too open now, there is no way back. There are no walled gardens anymore. Maybe you can still put on a fence, but people will go around it. It is just a matter of time.

So, what if you are a carrier? Well, you are still making a ton of money, not a bad situation to be in. If VOIP takes off, your voice revenues are at risk, but they will be compensated by data revenues. Maybe just partially. But it is not like your revenues will disappear.

The world is going towards data. Voice is a data type. Period. Everything will go through the same pipe. You control the pipe, you make money. The risk? Become the pipe and nothing else.

How do you get out of becoming just a pipe? Not with fences. Build a playground, make people happy to stay with you, give them services, make sure they are so happy with you they won't go anywhere else (or, at least, lock their most important data like an evil Google).

Mobile cloud services. There is no other answer. That's the long term game. The rest is just happening, it is a snowball transforming in an avalanche. You can't stop it.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

GPL is the new BSD

I know, I know, I promised I would not write about open source licenses anymore. The debate is over: AGPL is the license to use, let's move on. However, I still feel there is so much more education needed... So many people pick GPL without knowing what AGPL is, thus screwing the future of their projects in the cloud computing world ahead of us... It is sad to watch and sometimes I want to yell ;-)

Today I read a very nice (long) post by Jeremy Allison (of Samba fame).

The message is exactly my usual one: "GPL is the new BSD". GPL in a cloud computing world loses copyleft, and everything great that came with that (arguably, the entire free software and open source movements).

Jeremy wrotes:

For network services running in a cloud, [AGPL] brings back the fairness provision that the original GPL intended, and returns the freedom that Free Software promises to all users and developers.

Currently the AGPL is a minority license as compared to the GPL. Not much Free Software is currently written directly to serve cloud computing network services.

But cloud computing is going to change the industry in as profound a way as client server did in the late 1980s and 1990s. The ability to easily provision and scale up software services based on the Free Software LAMP stack (Linux / Apache / MySQL /PHP or Perl or Python) or more modern fare such as the open source Java software framework Hadoop is going to massively change the way software is developed. Of course at my day job, it already has for many of the engineers.

Even old fogies like me are going to have to learn some new tricks in this world. Free Software is going to have to adopt as well. I still have lots of Samba code to write first (no, Samba isn’t a finished product yet), but if I ever work on cloud computing code, I’d like to see it under the AGPL, in order to preserve the freedoms I’ve been able to enjoy in conventional software development these many years. Without the AGPL, our freedoms will depend on the kindness of strangers donating their modifications to our code back to us, as they did in the days before the GPL license and the FSF was born
Well said. GPL is going to be the new BSD. Google (his employer) will exploit it as long as possible. People should wake up and "give it an A". C'mon, AGPL is the way to go, just get over it and adopt it, so I can win my bet with Mark...

Friday, April 03, 2009

Impressions of CTIA 2009

I just came back from CTIA in Vegas, biggest US show for wireless. I was sick, but I dragged my body around for two days. I believe it was worth the effort.

  1. The show was smaller, but not too small. That made look the floor quite crowded at times. However, looking at the lines at Starbucks, there were way less people than the last years (unless the downturn makes people less interested in coffee). There was a show beside CTIA, about car washing. Another market that might not suffer too much in this economy ;-)
  2. The atmosphere was not upbeat but neither downbeat. Right in the middle, with a tilt towards upbeat (many people thinking the worst is behind us, see the numbers of RIM today if you need a proof)
  3. There was absolutely no news to report. No new devices worth mentioning. No nada.
  4. Networking was great as usual. The quality of the people that attended was very high (and with quality we mean rank in a large scale organization with cash to spend, of course)
  5. Best thing in the show was a real Formula 1 car, with a simulator that actually moved the car left and right, back and forth (for acceleration and braking). Awesome. I scored a pretty good time, but I wished I could have played a lot longer. Nothing to do with wireless, but hard to beat
My conclusions:
  1. I decided last year that it was going to be our last time exhibiting at CTIA. I have zero regrets. The show has no meaning left. It is after CES and MWC in Barcelona. Everything happens before it. Move it to September and we'll talk about coming back to exhibit
  2. It is worth going, even sick, because everyone is there. The networking is great. With the prices in Vegas this time (I got a room at the five stars Wynn for $119, and a free upgrade to a Tower Suite. Circus Circus was going for $17 a night...) and the cheap flight from the Valley, it makes it even better. You meet 10 people from the East Coast and your cost analysis shows a 50 times ROI. $200 for two days of back-to-back meetings are hard to beat. I will definitely be back next year.