Sunday, September 29, 2013

Some thoughts about the recent developments in the handset space

Well the summer has been an eventful one for Handset Manufacturers.  We have had the expected refresh of the benchmark for smartphone from Apple and whilst they have managed to break sales records thanks to clever marketing and management of supply they didn't in my opinion retake leadership of the sector. Samsung continues to drive ahead with the expansion of the Galaxy brand thanks to a refresh of the Note and the introduction of a wristwatch form factor as remote control/2nd Screen. The car crashes have been spectacular with Nokia exiting the market via a fire sale to Microsoft quickly bettered by the offer for BlackBerry by Fairfax. Have not started analysis of the performance of HTC, LG, Sony who seem to have become casualties in the OS wars of recent years not server enough to kill them but bad enough to make them marginal players.

On the Apple front I was pleased to see just like others in the fashion industry they have given up trying to make size zero yet slimmer. I just hope that they and others will take note of the reviews of the two new iPhones side by side that report the 5c feels better in the hand and start adding curves. But please don't go over the top with a Kim Kardashian inspired monster, if that were to happen it would be on a par with the Pink Motorola V3 razr and signal that innovation had died and marketing was going to kill the business. On a negative front the changes seen with iO7 seem to be cosmetic rather than a genuine shift that takes into account that a 4G handset is a very different device to one that spends most of its time on Wifi. Perhaps next year the designers will rock up with a new OS that moves the world forward rather than paint lipstick on a fading star?

Samsung is a company that always surprises me when ever I interface with it. It's old school centralised command and control structure and long term planning seems inflexible yet surprises in getting the market right.  Unlike any of the other Handset Guys it still seems to value it's channel partners and has strong relationships with the mobile networks who after all will sell the majority of its handsets. Yet design by committee does seem to be throwing up some strange selections. The Mobile Phone business has spent twenty years telling people that don't need to wear a device on the wrist to tell the time and yet they come out and launch such a device.  Looking at the functionality I would have hoped that they would have followed Polar and combined fitness applications alongside the ability to be a second screen for a tablet/phone.

What can I say about Nokia without sounding like Tomi Ahonen? I would point out that when Nokia overtook Motorola to become Number 1 in the world it did so working with the Network Operators and up until the arrival of Elop maintained strong links.  The business was not in bad shape until it started listening to those say they need to get like Apple and so they put all their eggs in the Microsoft basket.

Until last week I was sure that Nokia would be the Business School case study in the decline and fall of mobile phone businesses but then we had BlackBerry!  Just WOW when will the lawyers start filing claims against the Board for mismanagement? When will the regulators start asking questions about financial mismanagement? When will the stockholders realise that Fairfax are the undertakers rather than saviours for the business and the body has greater value to others and seek better offers?  I don't think that we have heard the last on BlackBerry and would not be surprised to see Microsoft own the business once the dust has settled.

I think that we need a decent competitor to Google when it comes to Mobile OS and Apple is not it because it is focused just on the high end. I stronger better Microsoft that uses features from BES/BIS and can manufacture low cost devices that are sold via partners is just the kind of business that would scare the Californian Tech set and in doing so might force them to innovate and develop for a world based on 4G connectivity rather than the patch work networks we see today.

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