Friday, March 28, 2008

Either Allow User Needs To Drive Product Development, or...

...create one of these.

Presumably MIU got so fed up with the millions of customer requests for an ugly brick which can boot into XP, CE or Linux that they went ahead and built one.

Or, just possibly, they let the engineers in the R&D department loose and said "build us something with the spec sheet of your dreams" without considering how few people dream like geeky hardware engineers...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Wait... Are They talking About The Same Thing?

Sprint are very proud od their open new open web open transcoder open initiative, which would appear to be thoroughly open and possibly more open even than their open competitors.

This open system from OpenWave will open the web for everyone with a Sprint phone, and is undoubtedly a good thing according to the press release.

I was a couple of sentences in before I realised this was the same transcoder that was thoroughly mangling every page it saw, from the tightest hand coded valid mobile XHTML-MP through to standard web pages, reducing them to a nasty common denominator of black and white ugliness, with markup errors added in for free. A thoroughly open initiative all round, coincidentally utterly killing anyone apart from Sprint's ability to host ringtones, wallpapers, Java games or anything else that requires device recognition - because of course now that all mobile web pages will look like uniform sludge why would you bother to pass through a meaningful UA header?

Not even Vodafone, in all their idiotic "we know best" incompetency, went this far - at least they shunted the UA onto a secondary proprietary header, so once you knew to look for it non-web content was ok.

Did customers ask for this? Did they get a choice whether to have it? Does this really make their lives easier? Bollocks it does. This shows exactly how open the new open intiatives from the US operators are - opening the door just enough to kick everyone but themselves and their paying content providers out into the cold.

And no, offering to create a whitelisting system some time in the future after imposing this screw up on all their customers is not going to make up for the incompetence. The only consolation is that their subscriber numbers seem to be in freefall - long may that continue.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Levi's Win Award For Ugliest Fashion Phone Yet

Really, would you pay money for this thing?

On the other hand I might pay money to buy a replacement phone, if this is the only handset my mobile operator provided me with.

Yours for a bargain $520.

Then again, it will probably have one important attribute for the fashion concious - scarcity value...

Friday, March 07, 2008

What's The ROI on Hype?

Michael Mace is very excited about the prospects of Apple's iPhone SDK, which apparently is not stillborn despite the blogging zeitgeist declaring all mobile apps dead last week - a whole separate area I shall get round to posting on sometime soon, hopefully, though right now I'm far too busy animating mobile zombies for paying customers, or whatever the technical term is for creating mobile apps now that they are dead.

As far as we can tell right now the Apple SDK is exactly what was expected of it, which is an SDK for the phone that lets you do most things, is completely controlled by Apple and has some intelligent thoughts about app discovery revolving around iTunes - competent, slightly cloying in its restrictiveness, basically nice but dull. Michael isn't necessarily wrong to be excited - it's better than nothing - but I find it hard to get that worked up.

More interesting I thought was the news that Kleiner Perkins are raising a $100m fund for iPhone development. This is surely monumentous news for every Kleiner Perkins fund manager involved in the fund, who will now get to have their photos taken with Steve Jobs, probably get to touch his hand, and maybe even get a free iPhone for their troubles. Kleiner Perkins will pick up an inordinate amount of press for their association too.

But what about the ROI for the investors in this fund? This is a more vexing subject. Apple want to have iPhones in 10m real people's hands within a year of launch - lets be kind and assume they can do that. Lets further assume they ship even more units next year to entirely new users, giving a 25m user installed base. The fund's beneficiary developers then need to extract $4 from every one of those users just to cover costs, more to provide ROI and value for the people actually doing the work.

Many of the recent predictions of mobile apps being dead were aimed at the sort of mobile app development the Apple SDK seems to be aimed at - old school developers creating niche software
that people actually pay for. This is exactly the kind of app I can agree is dead - niche apps can thrive if they are basically free and monetized in some non-invasive way, but I just don't think people go out and purchase applications for their phones in the same way you might buy Photoshop or MS Office on a PC (hell, I don't think many individuals even buy Office these days, they either get it bundled or 'borrow' a copy). Even mobile games are becoming free and ad funded. A bedroom developer could probably still make tidy sums on the right app, but not one who has to show substantial ROI on a 7-8 figure investment.

To make this sort of money on a phone/browsing device, with it's Web 2.0 expectations of everything being free, the investors might alternatively plan to invest in companies creating transactional apps which take a cut of money going through the handset (something Apple may or may not want 30% from). At this point they will really need to widen the scope of the fund to all mobile apps, because iPhone-only services will again only be a niche (spread across multiple countries/currencies/etc), though eventually a largish one and comprised of a fair number of people with more money than sense.

So - a case of a company attaching itself to the Apple hype machine, only to quietly broaden its options when things start to reach reality?