Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Why I believe the iPhone Verizon story

In a Morgan Keegan report I read today, they claim they have counted 312 stories about the iPhone coming to Verizon along the years. It is true, every other week someone is saying the iPhone is coming to Verizon. And it never has.

This time, though, I think it is really going to happen. And in Q1 2011, as reported recently.

There are many reasons for it.

First, Apple is seeing the fruits of supporting multiple carriers in the same country. They started doing it in Italy, for the first time (see, the BelPaese is still #1 in mobile, apparently ;-) where both Vodafone and Telecom Italia offered the iPhone. Then it moved to other countries. In all cases, having multiple carriers increased Apple sales. It makes sense for Apple to pursue the same strategy in the US as well.

Second, the AT&T network sucks. As much as they are trying to make it better, it still sucks. In particular, if you live in the Bay Area, LA, NY. Just where everyone that has an iPhone wants to live :-) Verizon has a much better network and they will sell a lot more iPhones just for it. Even current iPhone AT&T users will switch, believe me: the consumer allegiance is with Apple, not with the carrier. Apple made AT&T a pipe (warning to the rest of the pack, make sure you avoid pipefication… there are tools out there that allow you to fight).

Third, Apple really wants to bring the fight to Android. If there is a mistake they made, it was not launching the iPhone at Verizon, therefore forcing Verizon to find a hero phone they could launch against the iPhone. They picked the Droid (it could have been Palm…) and now Android is big and challenging iOS big time. I think a piece of it was due to CDMA vs. GSM, and the need to manufacture a single different phone just for the US. Apple just thought it was not worth the effort (and needed a big push from AT&T at launch). They probably miscalculated it a bit. But once the iPhone is at Verizon, Apple expects to crush the Droid (although I am not that sure it will really happen). Definitely, it is going to be the battle to watch.

Lastly, AT&T is preparing a big hero phone launch for the BlackBerry 9600 this fall. They already have a hero phone… They would not need to push the new BlackBerry, unless they knew the were losing their hero phone in a quarter.

That said, expect the iPhone at Verizon in Q1 2011.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The future of RIM

These are tough days for RIM. The maker of BlackBerry reported slightly disappointing numbers and the next day the stock went down 10%. As if they were about to disappear, mirroring what happened to Palm. When they are actually doing quite well…

The market is worried about iPhone and Android. If you ask people with an iPhone or Android which phone will they buy next, they will tell you "the same device". We are talking 90% of people. The ones in line to buy an iPhone 4 were almost all old iPhone users, loyal to their device. It is not the same for a BlackBerry: if you ask their owners, they majority will tell you they are ready to switch to an iPhone or an Android.

There are good reasons to be worried. But I am still optimistic.

Sure, BlackBerry is losing ground in the US. But it is gaining it very fast in the rest of the world. Earlier, all pundits were hammering RIM for being too reliant on Verizon. Now that they are growing elsewhere, they are hammering RIM because they are losing ground at Verizon (to the Droids, I believe). Doh...

BlackBerries are perceived as the best messaging devices. Period.

However, there is way more than messaging in the Mobile Internet. There are apps, maps, search, and more. Most of all, the devices are becoming an extension of your entire life, one that starts at home and moves with you to work.

Here, RIM is behind. Way behind.

Messaging is still big, do not get me wrong. Email in the enterprise, and social networks for consumers. BlackBerry Messaging is a huge success, one that RIM should push a lot more.

However, the rest is where RIM needs to catch up. Consumers want to have a social address book, take pictures and see them on their computer later (and push them to Facebook or Flickr or Picasa), import Google calendar and share it with friends, and so on. Messaging is a piece of the puzzle, PIM is the second, rich media the third. If you rule on #1 and you are nobody in #2 and #3, you are toast in this market. Believe me, this is a market I know very well.

Most people focus on the lack of a BlackBerry with a decent touchscreen being the main issue. I disagree. It is an issue. A big one (if you check my first reaction on the BB Storm, you know how badly I thought of it). But the apps, the PIM + rich media services integrated with the cloud are where they are losing mind share. Not only with consumers, also with developers (and they are key now, remember?).

Will BB OS 6 solve all this? I hope so. It has to come with a decent device, nothing special (do not tell me the iPhone 4 looks special, the look of the device is now secondary), with some pizazz and - most of all - an integrated consumer experience on PIM and rich media. That means cutting the cord with the PC (BlackBerry Desktop should be taught in usability classes as the example of what to avoid at all cost...), creating a cloud service that seamlessly syncs all your data among your devices, plus a web view of your data. Something like MobileMe, MOTOBLUR, Nokia Ovi, Google everything. Possibly better.

The problem with RIM is also perception: most of the people believe they only sell to the enterprise. Wrong. 70% of their devices are now bought by consumers, using BIS (BlackBerry Internet Service) instead of BES (BlackBerry Enterprise Server). BIS gives you nothing, only messaging. Sometimes, even that is bad, like the Gmail integration: I am seeing in my Gmail Inbox on my BB all my Buzz messages (the one I send out)… Beside that, no PIM sync, no rich media. Nada.

Changing the perception of the world means having a cool looking device (consumerish, not enterprisish), attached to a cool cloud service. Something people can see, something RIM can market on TV, something that says WOW that's cool. That goes through PIM and rich media support, all in the cloud.

Cool. That is what RIM is missing. They need it badly, or the stock will keep diving (perception is everything in this world, sadly).

Monday, June 07, 2010

Apple FaceTime and Big Brother

I watched the Apple keynote today, including the hilarious moment where the demo collapsed, working on the old iPhone but not on the new one (see, it happened to Google and then to Apple, they are in a fight!).

The main announcement was pretty obvious: a video chat application called FaceTime (BTW, I got 100% of my sure and likely predictions, zero surprises). I believe I was still in Italy when 3 launched their videophone, and I have moved to Silicon Valley eleven years ago... Can't say it is magical or innovative, in particular because it works only on wi-fi (the 3 videophone worked on the cellular network...), although the two cameras support looks cool. And their video is a gem of marketing (despite having a hard time believing the room where I saw my daughter on the ultrasound machine had wi-fi :-)).

What is new about FaceTime?

Simple: there is no friends list. None.

You look at your address book and boom, all your friends who own an iPhone 4 have the videochat feature automatically enabled. No need to log in, no need to see a list of your friends. Easy (see bye bye to Skype).

How do they do it? Well, you can only guess. Let me try (hoping to be wrong and that there is a lot more opt-in to do). NOTE: I added the mapping on the email address, because I now think it is actually what they are going to do, since they already have that information in their servers via iTunes (it is your login).

They have you connected to their servers all the time, because of push (at least). They suck out your cellphone number (or email) and put it in their server, mapping it to your current IP (did I give Apple permission to suck out my cellphone/email number??). They look into your address book and find everyone you have in there which has a cellphone/email they have in their list (mmmhhh, did I give Apple permission to map my phone number/email into your address book??). When you click for a FaceTime, they open a peer-to-peer connection from your phone to their phone over IP (wi-fi only for now).

If this is the case, it is borderline. Actually, a bit bigbrotherish. Apple collecting all cellphone numbers/email of all iPhone users (which they already do for email, since it is your login name on iTunes). Mapping them at will on your address book... I guess if this works for Apple, it is going to work for Google as well (they can do exactly the same thing on Android).
Big Brother at work. Are you willing to trade some privacy over features? Probably yes: just a small percentage of the population is scared about it.

Still, open source and open cloud look a lot safer to me.

Friday, June 04, 2010

My predictions for Apple WWDC 2010

It is that time of the year, when I feel compelled to predict what Steve Jobs will announce on stage (Monday at 10 am). I have a pretty decent batting average, so far.

One thing for sure: the new iPhone. I believe it is going to look pretty much like the device found in a beer garden near to our office, with a camera in the front (although it would be time for Apple to start introducing new colors, as they did for the iPod). I am not expecting many surprises on the HW or basic SW front (it will all about services and the cloud). Actually, I believe the reason why the iPad does not have a camera is just to have something interesting and new on the iPhone 4 hardware. Without it, I do not think you would be able to pick one single reason to buy the new iPhone... Anyway, with the front camera comes a new video chat application, and - I believe - some other video related apps (about time ;-)

Likely: some new and cool ads, linked to the iAds story. And tools for developers to build applications generating ads dollars (it is a developer conference, after all). Apple going after the only revenue generator for Google (which is big news, in my opinion. Great battle ahead). Also, the search bar adding Bing (but not removing Google).

Possible: a complete new mobile cloud sync story. Something that starts with MobileMe being freemium, to a music service tight to your device, to a direct cloud integration into Apple TV (with streaming). In a way, I have a feeling Apple might finally decide that iTunes on your PC won't be the center of your life anymore. I do not think Jobs believes in the PC being the hub, as he did in the past (while Microsoft still believes in it...). He is moving into the world of connected devices. Devices that are synced to the cloud directly. That means moving iTunes in the cloud, and finally cut the damn cord that attaches all your devices to your PC. It is time. It all started with HotSync on Palm and it is all moving to the cloud. Cut the cord, Steve!! (yep, I am writing it with a smile on my face).

Unlikely (but still possible): the iPad for Verizon. Also, some new Apple apps on the iPhone. In particular, I am expecting them to be working on removing their ties to Google, such as Maps and YouTube. But I am not sure if they are ready yet.

Very unlikely: the iPhone for Verizon.

That's it, let's see if there is a surprise somewhere ;-)