Friday, July 17, 2009


Some interesting news on Spinvox, a company who's MWC stand design I have always rated as top notch - after $100m funding, with 250 employees, they appear to be struggling to pay salaries. Instead, they seem to be offering employees share options instead of salaries - I am in all in favour of offering share options on top of wages, but instead? Can you eat options somehow?

More worrying is the suggestion that the more big deals they get (having already got some huge ones with Telefonica), the more funding they need - which makes their voice recognition technlogy sound a little unscalable... read the comments and find out why: almost all of the recognition is done by humans, hence the need for such a headcount and lack of scalability / chance of profitability.

Big confidence trick on the VCs? That seems a little harsh, but you have to question why they rate themselves so highly :)


Tuesday, January 06, 2009

More On Skyfire

I wrote previously about what I thought about smartphone-only browser Skyfire's chances to make any money for its investors, but at that point I hadn't properly used it. I just did, on a Nokia E61 (3G S60 smartphone with QWERTY keyboard, not very nice to use itself but modern and relatively high spec), and I can't say I was overly impressed.
In theory it has the best AJAX support of any browser - in practice it proved why AJAX is not fit for mobile UIs yet. I ran a quick test on Flickr, the kind of site that ought to be in the standard test suite for web 2.0 browsers I'd have thought, and tried to tag a photo (which uses some funky AJAX, for those that don't have Flickr accounts).
It took me about 2 minutes to navigate through to a photo - various clicks did not do what I expected (ie. what they do on a desktop) - during which time I decided that the zooming system is quite clever, but ultimately quite annoying and not as good as a nicely reformatted page which takes account of the screen size (like Webkit / Opera) or indeed anywhere near as nice as a pinch and zoom iPhone affair.
Despite the browser emulating a mouse pointer (I always dislike this as a UI system with handsets that don't have proper pointing hardware), CSS rollovers weren't shown at all which is a shame as the new Flickr home page makes very good use of them when showing you recent events.
On reaching the photo I wanted to tag, I clicked on the 'Add a tag' link and waited. And waited. (A simultaneous test on my laptop on another photo suggested it was not Flickr slowing things down). After 4-5 seconds a textbox appeared, I entered the tag, clicked 'Add' and waited several more seconds. Then the tag appeared.
So on the one hand, Skyfire handled the AJAX as well as it could within the constraints of the handset. But on the other, whilst faster than reloading whole pages, the AJAX experience wasn't exactly super quick and responsive - something I find essential for me to bother using AJAXy features on a real PC.
The AJAX speed isn't Skyfire's fault of course, it just shows the limitations of the medium - many years after 3G was launched it still isn't widespread and still isn't fast. Maybe HSDPA will work better, but the whole experience didn't convince me that I want to do anything serious in a mobile browser any year soon...

Monday, December 08, 2008

Trutap - Riot-E for the IM Generation

I was just commenting on Tom Hume of Future Platform's riposte to everyone's favourite pundit, Ajit, over the rapid and expensive demise of Trutap, when it struck me - Trutap has to be this bubble's version of Riot-E.

For those who don't know, Riot-E were the original mobile badboys/money wasters - these guys were so visionary, they signed up the rights to the Bridget Jones mobile game for a six figure sum back when mobile games were SMS-based (and tiny). They had giant dollops of Nokia cash and they spunked it left, right and centre with little to show for it at the end except some great stories - such as the time the CEO started naked wrestling in covered in olive oil in one of Helsinki's top restaurants, realised he couldn't buy his way out of it, and so led the whole company on a naked charge through the centre of town back to the office. But hey, they do that sort of thing in Scandinavia. The documentary is excellent and well worth a watch for anyone interested in either tips on how to invest VC cash for maximum fun, or an insight into the Finnish psyche (things get messy at the end).

The point being - you have to hope there are some amazing stories of champagne jacuzzis in private jets to explain how that $14.5m got spent, because there is no rational way a boring conventional company should spend that much to create what in the end is a <$1m fancy JavaME IM and social network aggregation client. Sadly I haven't heard any stories of this nature - so Trutap people, if they exist please share!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Stop Press: Not Everything At 3 Is Illogical

Frank Meehan, CEO of 3 UK's custom handset manufacturer INQ, is sounding dangerously like he (and hopefully, by extension, 3) have some sort of clue. This would be dangerous new territory for an operator, hitherto not known for getting much except the value of fat voice revenues.

I clicked on the link explaining the new 3 Facebook phone with some trepidation, expecting it to be the standard load of 2.0 rubbish, but was met with the following quote:

"Communications is what the mobile industry should be about. The industry has forgotten its core roots; to make communication easy. Operators are trying to take over music, take over the camera business. They've totally missed out on what has been the key driver – the Internet. Most packages are voice and text. Yet on the PC, you have email, social networking, VoIP."

I'm not especially inclined to think nice things about people who harp on about social networking and anything with a version number, but this does signal that INQ are exploring an interesting direction which ought to be a natural extension of a personal communications device for the mainstream. If they really can get 3 to buy in with "affordable, transparent pricing" then they may be onto something.

Whilst I'd love to leave this post as a purely positive one, there is the minor problem of what will happen when people actually start using mobile data - something that has been concerning Dean Bubbley recently, quite rightly.

I think the real fun will start when operators find it impossible not to offer affordable flat rate data, and people actually use it - they will be stuck between commercial pressure to cut data tarifs and buckling infrastructure requiring major upgrades (to the backbone as well as a general expensive move to 4G). Throw in increased pressure on the bread and butter voice, SMS and roaming prices just in time for a long deep recession, and you have a rather potent problem brewing. Maybe the time to get out of operator shares...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

3 Ways To Buy a SkypePhone S2 On 3

A friend just tried to upgrade his SkypePhone to the new Skypephone S2 on the 3UK network - he is 14 months in to an 18 month contract. The prices he could pay:
  1. £105 to upgrade 4 months early (with all the lock-ins of a new contract);
  2. £76 to purchase a reconditioned used handset;
  3. £60 to buy a brand new Pay As You Go handset (which he could use with his contract SIM).
Would anyone at 3 like to explain how that possibly makes sense?

I guess at least if you buy the reconditioned one it ought to work, wheras maybe the new PAYG one will have to take a trip to the repair shop before it's usable?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Ubiquitous Thoughts decided to include our last post on this week's Carnival of the Mobilists despite the cynicism, nice :)
This week's Carnival also has some other good posts, and something from Ajit.

Friday, November 07, 2008

iSkoot Pull Fast One on VCs

Congratulations today must go to iSkoot, "the company that brought Skype to mobile phones" (well technically, only one of the companies to do that as Skype themselves have done it too, as have a whole raft of other companies with even shallower business models than Skype itself).

They have now raised a $19m third round of funding from some people in suits, bringing their total fleecing investment up to $33m.

The purpose for this cash injection was to build an applications platform for AT&T. Presumably AT&T want this platform so much, they won't pay for it - but presumably the suits think it is worth at least $19m, and probably a lot more. AT&T have 71.4m customers right now, and operators usually give say a 30-40% revenue share to the people who do the work, so $19m would need $47.5m in sales, which is 66 cents per customer. If you wanted to also beat the interest rate a bank would give you on the same cash, you'd probably need to up that sale price; if you wanted a profit (shock, horror, etc) you'd want to clear over a dollar from every single AT&T customer.

Decide for yourself how ambitious that sales target is, given the usual proportion of customers who download premium applications for their phones on any given network (excluding the early iPhone App Store goldrush, that is, which AT&T can't access).

So - what is this app platform that will generate so much revenue? It's a service to bring "social networking, email, RSS feeds and eventually services like Twitter" onto low-end phones. Right. Forgive me but isn't Twitter (aside from being pointless and loss making) already available, through the wonder of SMS (that extremely high margin data service that operators love above all others)? Are AT&T crying out for services that cannibalise those SMS revenues by generating greater use of GPRS/3G bandwidth (given away for near-free these days, but costing the operator a lot to maintain and scale infastructure)?

OK, but what about the other (more useful) services? RSS and email have been available on all feature phones for a while, and things like the GMail Java app can be used even on the pretty low-end devices.

But wait! There's a USP! iSkoot have a very special magic at their disposal which allows them to integrate deeply into every phone - "Skype, for example, is so deeply embedded in the software stack that Skype contacts are integrated directly into the phone's address book". Would you pay $1 to have your Facebook contacts added to your phone? Personally no (all the ones I know well enough to talk to on the phone are already in there), but maybe some people would. But how is this deep deep deep integration achieved?

Well, the conventional way on the GSM range of handsets supplied by AT&T would be to use the JSR75 PIM API from inside JavaME, available (to any developer) on most of the mid- to high- end devices (and probably a few of the low-end ones too). Not really a $19m USP then...

Could it be something more? Well, iSkoot do appear to have done some of the customisation of the Skype-branded Amoi launched on 3 in some territories a while back. V1 was pretty flaky but a good effort if you have a high tolerance for bugs in your phone's UI - I haven't tried V2 yet... this does indeed feature a lot of customisation, achieved through a lot of customisation effort. This much customisation could be ordered by an operator with AT&T's clout, though doing it to their range are off-the-shelf Nokias, SEs, Motos, Samsungs etc would slow down handset launches, increase the risk of bugs and recalls (this has happened to Orange a few times with their simple front page rewrites) and cost a hell of a lot. iSkoot may well be able to do the work, but would AT&T want them to? It would appear AT&T at the very least don't want to pay for it...

Of course, I'm sure I'm not seeing the big picture here, every operator in the world will need this so there's got to be a hockey stick graph in the PPT somewhere - but, as most of the companies like Facebook are bringing themselves to mobile quite happily, Twitter is custom designed for SMS, etc etc, I remain uncertain why the whole world will need this $19m platform.

Please, someone, show me the light! Or if that is impractical, send me $19m to the usual address and I'll see if I can come up with something similarly world beating...