Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Droid brand by Verizon is genius

When Verizon launched the Droid, I was a bit puzzled. They came up with a brand name for a phone, which was built by Motorola. And picked a brand from the past, for which they have to pay royalties to George Lucas...

Today, I see the genius in that campaign. They are now launching more Droids, built by different device manufacturers (from HTC, for example). Reading this article, it even seems that - in the US - consumers know what Droid is, but have no idea what Android is... Part of the success of the brand is actually that it existed in the past, and it is linked to a geek phenomenon (one I will never understand, I might be the only geek in world who does not like sci-fi). I am not sure they would have been so successful, had they invented a new brand.

Why is it genius? Because the carriers are progressively being made irrelevant by device manufacturers. You buy an iPhone, not a phone from AT&T (actually, you even wish you could have it on a different carrier...). You buy a BlackBerry. You buy a Windows Mobile (really, are you sure?). You do not buy anything which is carrier specific.

Instead, now you want a Droid. A device from Verizon. Actually, not one device, a set of devices. By different manufacturers, which disappear in the marketing campaign. Yes, there is Motorola somewhere on the billboard, and also Google. But it is The Verizon Phone. The Droid.

There are a lot of Android phones, and some are way better than the original Droid. But the number of Droids sold is unbelievable. If Android is where it is, it is because of Verizon and the Droid (and the need for an answer to the iPhone, and the AT&T network sucking). The marketing campaign was an outstanding success. A carrier making the device manufacturer irrelevant.

Bottom line: the carriers have tried in the past to remove the manufacturers from the equation and have failed. The brands that count today are the device ones. With the Droid, Verizon has been able to turn the table around.

Apple would call this move "magical". Or "genius". I agree.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

MeeGo? It could actually make it

In my last post, where I was commenting about Microsoft and their sequence of failures on mobile, I wrote:
if you want other companies to manufacture devices with your OS (the Windows mobile vs. the Apple model) today you need:

  1. to charge zero dollars for your OS
  2. to make your OS open source and allow your ODMs some freedom to differentiate
  3. to have a cool OS
Someone in the comments asked me: "what about MeeGo?"

Well, if you look at the list above, MeeGo passes #1 and #2 right away.

I have installed MeeGo on a laptop and the OS is really cool (including the pre-installed option to sync with Funambol just above Google ;-) Therefore, they pass #3 as well.

Does it mean they are going to make it?

There is more to an OS to be successful. You need device manufacturers, developers and users. You need all of them to be there. Users bring developers, developers bring users, device manufacturers come if there is traction: if they know there are developers and there will be users.

Who brings the device manufacturers? Intel. They are pushing MeeGo like crazy.

Who brings the users? Nokia. They have a brand in mobile that is not going to disappear that fast (despite what people say). If Nokia has a sexy phone with MeeGo, users will buy it.

Who brings the developers? The Linux Foundation. They are a trusted party in open source. The fact MeeGo is the equivalent of the root of Linux is a big factor.

If you consider all this, you can see a positive spiral developing. With device manufacturers launching MeeGo products because of Intel. With users jumping in because of Nokia. And developers joining in, seeing the traction plus the Linux Foundation stamp.

Yep, I think MeeGo can actually make it.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Microsoft: a mobile story

When I started Funambol, Microsoft was the dominant force in IT. I was early, as usual, and everyone told me: "Wait until Microsoft gets in. They will wipe out this market as they have done with every other market". I had my doubts, the big one linked to open source in mobile. I was convinced it was the only way to go, and - if that was going to happen - Microsoft in mobile would be screwed.

Fast forward to today. Microsoft launched the Kin devices and killed them after 48 days. A world record. An astonishing acceptance of failure. Nonetheless, a huge failure.

Yeah, yeah, I hear you saying that the reason is Verizon charging too much for the data plan. I agree. I put it in writing the day they launched the Kin: "it is not going to make it, the data plan is too expensive. If you are targeting rich kids, they will get an iPhone instead". I was right. You were right. However, there is more.

It has to do with Microsoft and their story in mobile. Let's compare them with Google.

Google bought a potentially great company called Android in 2005 (for little money, I believe). The founder, Andy Rubin, was previously a founder and CEO of Danger. Google turned Android to open source and they are the fastest growing OS in mobile, a force to be reckon with. And not only on mobile devices, we are talking connected devices here, the future of information technology (tablets, pads, cars, TVs, alarm clocks, picture frames, microwaves...). They have a chance to dominate this space, one Apple will never be able to conquer (although they will still make a ton of money with their vertical solutions).

Microsoft bought a great company called Danger in 2008 for $500M (ehm, yes, the same company). A company that had a very good product in the Sidekick and demonstrated its success. They were early in the market but had a very loyal fan base. A little jewel of a company, full of smart people. It led to the Kin... No changes, no open source, same old Microsoft story. The Kin is now dead, making the entire investment worth zero (they are folding the former Danger into Windows Mobile -> good luck with that ;-)

See the difference? Yep, me too.

It is not all open source, obviously. There is more to that. But I am convinced of a couple of things: if you want other companies to manufacture devices with your OS (the Windows mobile vs. the Apple model) today you need:
  1. to charge zero dollars for your OS
  2. to make your OS open source and allow your ODMs some freedom to differentiate
  3. to have a cool OS
Microsoft is not doing #1 (although they could and should, in my opinion) and are ages away from #2 (although everyone else, including Nokia and Intel with Meego, are doing it). They are focusing on #3 and I believe they could make it there (actually, they did it: the Kin had a cool OS :-)

Bottom line: if you keep hitting your head against the wall, maybe you will understand it just hurts, eventually. I do not think the Kin failure is hurting them enough. I do not think the Windows Mobile 1-6 hurt them enough. I guess we will need the Windows Mobile 7 failure to convince them. But the risk is that it will be too late.