This network based API feature could be a game changer .. but I doubt the Telcos can deliver it ..

@peggyanne invited me to a tweetchat today, What are the key issues and trends in the mobile app economy? my first.

It was a great experience with some good, insightful conversation and great people in the discussion

After the chat, I thought of this:

I would love this network based API feature but I doubt the telcos can deliver it ..

The feature is: Use network based APIs to tell me in advance the cost of a service OR tell me immediately afterwards the cost of the service.

- How much did the last web session cost?

- How much will this MMS cost?

- How much will this photo cost to upload?

If that happened, it would be a true game changer

Operators would be truly solving a customer problem and would get the customer on their side.

Services like Facebook would have to work with network APIs to help customers better

Services that hog network bandwidth would be transparent

All would benefit

I am pessimistic though

It would require genuine interconnect between operators and transparency and a desire to act rather than react ..

That’s why I doubt Operators could deliver this ..

But if they could, it would be a game changer ..

Thoughts?

Is 2011 the year of the Mobile Web apps?

By Ajit Jaokar – futuretext and Nick Allott of nquiring minds

With January almost over now and conferences like Mobile World Congress and CTIA upon us, here is a thought.

In the age of Mobile applications, will 2011 will the year of the Mobile Web apps?

In this document, we outline the reasons why and welcome your comments.

Some initial terminology,

  • We refer to apps on specific technologies like iPhone, Android, Blackberry as native apps and we call apps using web technologies as ‘Web apps’ (more on this below)
  • By Mobile Web, we also include widgets – not just browsing.
  • By Web technologies, we mean w3c technologies but more importantly for our discussion, there are a set of emerging web technologies on the horizon such as – CSS2.1, CSS3, SVG Filters, Ogg Vorbis, Ogg Theora, Native JSON, MathML, Animated Portable Network Graphics (APNG), Cross-Site XMLHttpRequest, Microformats, Web Worker Threads (source Mozilla)

Native apps vs Web apps

Native apps have four key advantages:

  • Discovery
  • Revenue model (appstores)
  • Device APIs and
  • User experience

In contrast, for the purposes of our analysis we consider a web based application environment as:

A development environment using well understood, standardised web based technologies for creation of fully fledged applications.

We shall use the following working definition for web based applications:

•          Applications that can run when not connected to the web

•          Applications that can be packaged and distributed, again without assumed connection to the web

•          Application which can make full use of the device capabilities and APIs available on the device

•          Applications that can take full control of the devices UI – and are not rendered with the pre-configured chrome of another application.

•          Applications which can effectively run background processes and present a good user experience to the end user.

•          Applications which insulate the inherent risks of API access with robust security model

Many companies are already developing these models and indeed existing web technologies like HTML4 can also be used to create useful apps

Web technologies have some key advantages for applications:

IPR unencumbered: First and foremost, the specifications on which the web is based are designed to be unencumbered by IPR. This has two immediate positive commercial knock on effects. Firstly, it removes the immediate and absolute requirement to pay licensing fees to proprietary technology owners. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it does not bestow any core strategic advantage onto any single company.

Synergies between Open Source and the Web: A partial consequence of the lack of essential IPR on the core technology is that it is easier to create open source assets for. Or, perhaps, it is easier to state the inverse for the Web: it is very difficult to create an viable open source project for technologies on which there is known IPR that may be asserted (simply because there is then an implied liability). It is no accident then that the web ecosystem have been influenced, if not entirely dominated by open source projects such as Mozilla, Webkit and Apache

The Web as a platform: The existence of this public, usable assets, proves a boon to commerce, in that they may be picked up and used by people interested in using the technology, thereby reducing development costs, reducing maintenance costs, and freeing up technical and commercial resource to focus on more differentiation areas, with respect to their competitors. The Web then becomes a platform fulfilling the vision of Web 2.0

Public roadmap: Unlike a proprietary product, the web technology space, whether it is innovating within the W3C forum itself, or within one of the co-dependent open source projects, is fully transparent. This meant the roadmaps, over a reasonable time frame, are fully product. When dealing with device companies (whether mobile, pc, automotive, or home media), their commercial planning horizons are a considerable way out. A public transparent roadmap is clearly a positive thing from this perspective.

Low technical barriers to entry: It is a fact that web programming is easier to get into than more typical native application programming (that typically requires C, C++ or Java skills). Learning basic declarative HTML tag representation, upon which you can slowly build with easily experimental Javacript programming, gives a much softer entry into the programming world. Further, HTML and Javascript as interpreted languages, mean that for a new developer to get started all they need is a working web browser and a text editor. Contrast this with the complex compiler tool chains required to get native development environments up and running.

Although, you could debate that beyond a particular level of sophistication (when you start using complex Javascript libraries, object-orientated techniques and asynchronous programming)whether these differences still exist,  web based technologies mean that instead of being “thrown in the deep end”, you can paddle around in the shallows and immerse yourself slowly, and at you own pace, to the more esoteric programming depths.

Large skills base: The corollary of the above point is that there is a larger skills base for web programmers than native developers. It is hard to find definitive figures to back this statement up, but it would be conservative to estimate that HTML/javascript programmers outnumber Objective C programmers by at least a factor of 10

Large asset base: The near ubiquity of the web, the fact that almost every corporation and organisation has a website, and increasingly now, even individuals means there is massive amounts of content “out there”. To support this content, and strong ecosystem of tools and development applications has emerged (both proprietary tools and open source). The net effect of this, is that any developer looking to create web application content is well supported

Quick to develop for – and faster time to market: Another implication of the simpler technology, and tools base, is that typically web based content can be developed quicker than native content. This has important, valuable time to market implications for application developers and device manufacturers

Easy to deploy: Finally, to complement the development issue, web content typically needs only hosting on a website and is generally instantly downloadable and executable. Although, this process does not obviate the need to do testing on the web application content, it does typically mean that both initial deployment cycle, and subsequent maintenance updates can be issued more efficiently and fluidly than their native application counterparts.

Against these advantages, we have some drawbacks for web application development frameworks

Slow progress on roadmap and new features: One of the inevitable disadvantages of taking technical innovation and feature development out of the hands of a few people in a single company, is that decision making slows down. Consensus is a powerful force, in terms of garnering full industry support around a direction, but can be painfully slow to arrive at.

Remnants of fragmentation: Web technology is infinitely less fragmented than the disparate native development technologies, however, this does not mean that things are perfect. From and application developers perspective, the idiosyncrasies of the browser or runtime base they are using can unleash a myriad of minute problems that need addressing on a case by case basis. The four principle rendering technologies, (Webikit, Mozilla, Opera and Microsoft), whilst all ostensably supporting HTML, have minor difference in the detail of the implementation. These discrepancies fall into two main types

Bugs/lack of consistency in the support of older, legacy technologies such as HTML4

Differences in timing of implementation of the newer and more innovative features

Slow performance: Finally, it is important to understand that Web technology, to date is an interpreted technology. That means the code is expressed in human readable text and that the browser engine, must process this real-time whilst it is executing. (Contrast this with compiled technologies which pre-process the code from the human readable form into a machine efficient representation, optimised for performance.) This means that, web technologies are almost always slower than native development technologies.

Moore’s law, has meant that for a majority of applications, the difference in performance is irrelevant. There are subclass of application, however, those typically requiring high performance and good graphics, such as games, that are currently outside of the web application performance threshold.

But things are changing. The increased use of Just in time JavaScript compilation technologies and the new webgl technologies will make even this distinction narrow in the medium term.

Two resources for tracking these implementation inconsistencies are: quirksmode and Acid3 tests

Evolution of the Web and it’s implications for mobile devices

What does this mean going forward?

When I (Ajit) first spoke about the principles of Mobile Web 2.0, I used to jokingly say that it should be ‘Web Mobile 2.0’ i.e. the web dominates since it often evolves faster than mobile and has a wider reach than mobile

So, if we take a holistic view, then we can see that the evolution of the Web will also impact Mobile and that’s why the idea of web apps is relevant

Here is how these ideas could evolve:

1)  HTML5 is gaining critical mass. There are still some gaps – and development is ahead of the standard but there is industry alignment around HTML5. HTML5 provides both the user experience and the APIs

2)  Chrome labsMozilla labsEricsson labs and Webinos are now driving the evolution of the Web

3)  Since froyo onwards, it has been possible to create a bridge between Chrome and Android to transfer content. Mozilla has similar initiatives through firefox sync. Thus, content could span the Web and Mobile

4) A set of technologies(source Mozilla) are on the horizon – CSS2.1, CSS3, SVG Filters, Ogg Vorbis, Ogg Theora, Native JSON, MathML, Animated Portable Network Graphics (APNG), Cross-Site XMLHttpRequest, Microformats, Web Worker Threads

5)  Serverside Javasript engines like node.jsJaxer and jquery also help spread javascript to the server. This helps the Web since Javascript is a core component of the Web

6)  The apache foundation is also bridging the gaps with initiatives like apache extras

8 )  Initiatives like webinos will fulfil key gaps in Web technologies

9) We are seeing many players some unlikely ones like Skype make a push for the Web next year Skype make a push for the Web next year

Hybrid solutions

Currently, we are seeing the deployment of Hybrid solutions i.e. solutions that use Web technologies for development and can deploy to more than one native platforms for instance Phonegap, worklight and Rhomobile are examples of this trend. Also, we are seeing  encapsulated widgets i.e. apps that are wrapped around web technologies and also companies like Alibro which enable deployment using web technologies even to legacy devices. Thus, the boundaries gaps continue to blur between Web apps and Native apps

Emerging domains

There are many areas in which the Web is evolving: Here are some

1)      hardware acceleration for javascript optimization

2)      Identity and session management are missing on the web. Webinos and other initiatives could provide this

3)      The continued evolution of HTML5 even when it is imperfect Microsoft Offers Unfinished HTML5 Features in Internet Explorer 9 for Developers Only

4)      Social gaming especially facebook games which are based on web technologies

5)      Video and the limitations of video content – for instance YouTube still uses Flash as opposed to HTML5

6)      Connected TV is an important domain ex at CES Opera announced initiatives for connected TVs Opera for connected TVs and so did Access CES – ACCESS Connected TV solutions

7)      Features like two factor authentication Google two factor authentication for the web(and for mobile web)

8 )      Finger friendly web sites(touch based input) and Augmented reality for the web

9)       Mobile javascript libraries like  jQuery, The Dojo Toolkit although many are not yet optimised to mobile and many more The top 10 JavaScript libraries that compete against jQuery

The silent revolution – Vision of web apps

The vision of Web apps will be a silent revolution.Web apps will coexist with native apps.

From the development and design side, developers will write apps that run on many platforms including web apps. From a user perspective, users will see native apps and web apps together. Nokia has done this for a long time including in current versions of Ovi by mixing web run time widgets with regular apps on the home screen of the ovi store and we could view it as below

Conclusions

So, to conclude:

1) The Web is not governed by any entity and that makes it both ubiquitous but slower than proprietary technologies but Web apps are catching up very fast as we discuss above and there will be interim steps with companies like Phonegap and others that use web technologies but deploy on multiple app platforms

2) Both web and apps will coexist

3) Web and open source will provide mutual synergies(chrome, apache, webinos etc)

4) Note that outside of the Web, IPR will still be important in the Telecoms industry – ex in Devices and networks. Standardization is also a complex, multi-faceted process, so our discussion on Standards and Open source is relevant to Web standards

Any comments welcome

Acknowledgements

We would like to acknowledge contributions from forumoxford members especially Robin Jewsbury, C Enrique Ortiz,  Zigurd MednieksMartin WilsonAlex KerrWilliam VolkHenry Sinn

Ajit is speaking at the following conferences

CTIA Mobile web and mobile apps – Orlando

CTIA – future of tablets event – Orlando

M-days – at Messe Frankfurt

ICE amsterdam – Amsterdam

Mobile World Congress – BarcelonaWAC apps at Mobile World Congress 2011


What prevents a Telecom Operator from being a full fledged Identity Provider?

Hello all

I am seeking feedback/ looking to interview someone for an ongoing blog/ paper article
This is a new class of blogs where I will start to work with key industry issues and seek feedback / interviews from experts as they evolve. Here is the first of these blogs ..

If you want to give me your views anonymously, please email me on ajit.jaokar at futuretext.com
Any comments welcome and also any more QUESTIONS welcome! I think the framework itself needs to be defined

Why cannot the Telecom Operator be an Identity Provider? i.e. What prevents a Telecom Operator from being a full fledged Identity Provider

Here are some more top level questions and thoughts

1) What is an Identity provider? and for that matter what is Identity?

2) How do you decide who becomes an identity provider? (using basics of trust levels http://www.pgpi.org/doc/pgpintro/)

In principle, Anyone can become an OpenID provider. That is why OIX exists. A service provider can use the OIX framework to determine the level of trust you can put in an IdP. So, why would an Operator not become an Identity provider?

3) What is lacking for Telcos to be full Identity providers(what are the limitations?)

4) Who governs regulations in Europe, UK and USA?

5) What is the role of the client for end to end Identity provision?

6) When it comes to Telco, what elements are relevant to be a true Identity provider? (end to end)

7) Relationship between Identity and authentication Is Identity the thing as authentication?

Authentication is the provision of a set of credentials issue an identity token. if so are there general requirements regardin the strength and of the authenication presumed when an identiity token is issued are there requirements about how it can be used.

What is an identity token – is it a virtual representation of yourself – which can then be provided to other services – and those services can use that token as a proxy of yourself – (meaning you do not need to be re-authenticated)

Are there standard implied “things” that can be inferred/implied by a token

Is a token unique over time. – and if not unique, for it to have any use between independent peer entities – then there must he a common convention understanding of what the qualities of the token are – or each token just sees a random number…..

8 ) Can telcos provide tools for others to be Identity providers? (to be a platform)

9 ) Standing on the shoulders of giants .. How can a stack be built from existing technology?
What is already existing and how can that be leveraged?

In the OpenID sense, identity is just a URL, which someone makes a claim about.

The role of an identity provider (IdP) is quite well defined. Looking at OpenID, anyone can be an IdP, but in order for resource providers to know the level of trust they can put in an IdP, the Open Identity Exchange (OIX) was created, which can certify IdPs claim to different trust levels. Thus OIX provide the trust framework, not only for OpenID IdPs, but for any identity provider.

10 ) PDS – Personal data stores – What roles do they have to play? I have covered Private planet and Mydex on this blog before

11) What are the gaps? – in the stack, the telco and the legal framework

12) Understand the evolution of internet privacy and federated social networks.

13) Software signing and authentication of web servers are well known and deployed technologies. If by certification mean an audit process of apps, similar to what Apple and Brew does, this is object level authentication and could tie to a person level authentication

14) Identity of an individual vs Identity of an object

15) OIX From the OIX FAQ:

What Open Identity Trust Frameworks are OIX now servicing?

The US General Services Administration (GSA) and the Identity, Credential, and Access Management Committee (ICAM) has approved OIX as the first trust framework provider to the US government. This permits OIX to issue certifications for the US ICAM LOA 1 trust framework to identity providers who are assessed to meet its identity, security, and privacy requirements. The National Institute of Health (NIH) is the first US federal agency to move into production status to accept OpenID and Information Card credential issued by OIX-certified identity providers.

Are there any identity providers certified for US ICAM? what is the telco role in this space?

16) Are other governments adopting the trust framework model?

17) What about Minimum disclosure as an Identity Solution

So, any comments welcome and also any more QUESTIONS welcome!

Happy to reference you if you want
kind rgds
Ajit

Image source: http://online-identity-theft.net/

(Variant of ) APML for mobile devices ..

A very late night blog on a sat evening .. but still I think this significant ..

I have been following APML for some time ..

More than APML itself, what is intriguing is a variant of APML at a BBC site which is inspired by an article from Matt Biddulph

As the above article says:

APML allows you to share your own attention data. That’s data about what you have given your attention to; whether by browsing websites, reading RSS feeds or listening to music. You could then take your attention data profile and pass it to another website which would then be able to automatically customise itself to your preferences or interests. That seems to be its conventional use-case.

But a variant is

What if you could generate APML for a music radio show? That would be based on the music that the show or DJ has played and, by extension, has been paying attention to.

I find the variant more interesting than the actual use case of APML

Extending this idea .. what if the variant is a mobile device instead of a radio show?

Then it gets very interesting indeed i.e. the attention stream of data generated from a mobile device

Thoughts welcome

So more links below

http://blog.new-bamboo.co.uk/2008/8/29/apml

http://mashable.com/2007/10/22/apml/

http://benmetcalfe.com/blog/2007/10/thoughts-on-tom-morris-on-apml/

Cloud or Fog? The battle for supremacy in the cloud is not a dogfight but will be fought in the trenches.

CLOUD OR FOG?

I have long been a fan of John Carpenter’s horror movies – and the Fog is a memorable one. You can see a preview above. If you have not seen it, the Fog is about a mist which slowly envelops a seaside village bringing with it ghosts of long dead sailors. The ghosts have a trademark metallic knock on the door (when you hear the knock, you know that they have come to get you!)

Cloud computing is slowly beginning to sound like the Fog.

That metallic knock on the door may be the Cloud vendors coming to get your business.

We saw this with Amazon with Amazon encroaching on the print on demand vendors like Lightning source

And last week, it was the Open source Mozilla browser folk who woke up to a metallic knock on their door in the middle of the night when we all heard the surprise announcement that Google wanted to be in the browser business with launch of the Chrome browser

Google had long supported the Mozilla browser. So, what happens to Mozilla now that Chrome is out? And more importantly, why did Google get into the browser business in the first place?

I believe that this is more than the aesthetics of the browser. Nor is it about the relative speed, standards conformance etc about browsers. The Chrome announcement relates more to Cloud computing – a topic I have been thinking of for a while now (and a looong blog coming soon).

WHOSE CLOUD DO YOU ORBITt?

If you compare Chrome to another browser, you are missing the point. In fact Chrome is less of a browser and borrows elements from the operating system in terms of its architecture.

Sam Johnston says this very eloquently in Google Chrome: Cloud Operating Environment .

>>>

Chrome introduces a revolutionary new software architecture, based on components from other open source software, including WebKit and Mozilla, and is aimed at improving stability, speed and security, with a simple and efficient user interface.

The first intelligent thing Chrome does is split each task into a separate process (‘sandbox’), thus delegating to the operating system which has been very good at process isolation since we introduced things like pre-emptive multitasking and memory protection. This exacts a fixed per-process resource cost but avoids memory fragmentation issues that plague long-running browsers. Every web site gets its own tab complete with its own process and WebKit rendering engine, which (following the principle of least privilege) runs with very low privileges. If anything goes wrong the process is quietly killed and you get a sad mac style sad tab icon rather than an error reporting dialog for the entire browser.

Chrome enforces a simple computer security model whereby there are two levels of multilevel security (user and sandbox) and the sandbox can only respond to communication requests initiated by the user. Plugins like Flash which often need to run at or above the security level of the browser itself are also sandboxed in their own relatively privileged processes. This simple, elegant combination of compartments and multilevel security is a huge improvement over the status quo, and it promises to further improve as plugins are replaced by standards (eg HTML 5 which promises to displace some plugins by introducing browser-native video) and/or modified to work with restricted permissions. There are also (publicly accessible) blacklists for warning users about phishing and malware and an “Incognito” private browsing mode.

<<<

But as Opera CEO Jon von Tetzchner points out .. “the focus is on keeping different processes for different windows – that’s a very heavy duty thing to do. It’s an OS approach rather than a browser approach.” And something not considered worth following.

Jon is correct of course …

Let us not forget that Google already had Gears as an offline component. There was increasing support from the industry and from browser vendors like Opera for Gears. So why seek to totally dominate the (universal) client i.e. the browser as we know it?

The reason is simple ..

It’s because the cloud is fragmenting whether we like it or not.

Amazon S3, EC2; Google AppEngine, Facebook and Salesforce.com are not interoperable and are not likely to be as well. Differentiation will be based on service (cloud i.e. serverside) but ALSO on the client.

Google simply could NOT afford to leave a critical part of the user experience i.e. the client out of it’s control.

It is as simple as that.

So, what is missing? Again, as Sam Johnston says in the same article .. – just add Linux

Just add Linux and cloud storage and you’ve got a full blown Cloud Operating System (“CloudOS”)

What is perhaps most interesting though (at least from a cloud computing point of view) is the full-frontal assault on traditional operating system functions like process management (with a task manager that allows users to “see what sites are using the most memory, downloading the most bytes and abusing (their) CPU”). Chrome is effectively a Cloud Operating Environment for any (supported) operating system in the same way that early releases of Windows were GUIs for DOS. All we need to do now is load it on to a (free) operating system like Linux and wire it up to cloud storage (ala Mozilla Weave) for preferences (eg bookmarks, history) and user files (eg uploads, downloads) and we have a full blown Cloud Operating System!

Ironically, it validates Ray Ozzie’s strategy for Windows live services where he essentially redefines the SAAS paradigm to Software plus service – in effect incorporating the role of a client for the cloud.

The Google Chrome announcement is a tacit admission of the need for a client for the cloud

INTERESTING MOVE – BUT STILL SOME QUESTION MARKS ABOUT THE U TURN

With a mobile hat on .. For a company that does no evil and has been historically developer friendly; I must admit I was a bit disappointed in this U turn. I have been pro-Google overall however .. essentially .. Google was telling us that we should develop for webkit but at the same time was working on a product that was changing the architecture in a big way.

What does this mean for Android and indeed for timeframes of Android?

If Webkit relevant anymore – or not?

Google still has many challenges to address before it wins in the mobile space(the radio layer integration for one). We don’t need more ambiguity with Android and certainly don’t need major U turns.

IMPLICATIONS FOR MOBILE

And what does this mean for mobile?

We need a simple, universal thin client that integrates with Internet based services and with a small footprint. I had always believed that browsers with offline browsing mechanisms like Gears could be as close to a universal client as we can get. Now it seems; apparently not.

If we are now going to talk of a weird hybrid of a browser and an operating system (an ‘Owser’?) – then all hell breaks loose and old paradigms do not apply as I said at beginning of this blog – you cannot compare a browser to Chrome

Sergey Brin has already said that Chrome may well be the Brower for Android . This fits in well since the Linux component already exists(and consequently the components to make the Owser exist)

But the real question is: Who ELSE can provide a universal cloud client for the mobile device?

We can now agree that a client is needed (with architectures from both Google and Microsoft heading in that direction). We discussed this question at Mobile Web Megatrends and there were some interesting possibilities. These include Nokia (who could also now merge the browser (webkit) and the Operating system(Symbian) through open source(which is conceptually the same strategy as Chrome . But from an Operator standpoint – the talk by Gemalto offered a very interesting solution as well with the SIM / SCWS being the universal client for the cloud managed by the Operator.

CONCLUSIONS

To conclude, the cloud is already fragmented. And the battle for supremacy of the cloud may well not be a grand dogfight in the clouds like the Red Baron aka Baron Manfred von Richthofen fought in the skies but also a protracted ground battle (client side battle) fought in the trenches .

The boundaries between online and offline applications were already getting blurred with features like Gears and now to make matters interesting(or worse depending on your standpoint) – boundaries between browsers and operating systems themselves are blurring.

And this, to me, is highly disruptive .

Expect many more industries to be disrupted and many more such knocks on the door.

As usual, comments and feedback welcome.

Note re references to World War One history: I am not that old :) but I do like history and given more time would read a lot more of it!

Justforkix – Mig33 a new and innovative business model ..

justforkix.JPG

As many of you know, I am a fan of Asterix and Obelix . There is a character called Justforkix in Asterix and the Normans .. And I think that’s an apt title for this blog. It concerns mg33, one of the largest mobile social networks and it involves a very unusual revenue model called ‘kicks’. It is an example of unanticipated consequences i.e. no amount of market research could have predicted this behaviour and Mig33 co-founder Mei Lin Ng had to explain it twice to me before I got it myselves .. I will let Mei Lin explain it in her own words below .. Because it is a classic! Note that On a daily basis, there are more than 100,000 kicks.

[Read more...]

The ASUS effect : Mobile innovation triggered by open source, long tail devices and a shift in the device value chain

Introduction

Note: The ASUS eepc is a sub-notebook costing about $360 running Linux. The intention of this blog is to discuss the impact of Open source software and the PC value chain on mobile devices.

Having worked and met many developers globally over the last few years, the most common question I hear is: How do we get our application on devices?

It is not an easy task – and I always wanted to do a blog about why that is so. But also on a more optimistic level, why it will also get easier to have new applications on devices.

The traditional chain of thought is: The Operators are too risk averse, network integration takes a long time, the application platforms are fragmented etc etc

These are indeed important factors – and they are being alleviated by the deployment of the Mobile Web (which unifies the Web and the Mobile Web), IMS(which separates the network layer from the service layer), the iPhone (which provides a better revenue model for developers), Cell ID databases(which provide location by bypassing the Operator) and others.

However, there is a more fundamental problem aside from those listed above – and we discuss it here.

Essentially, the existing mobile device value chain is brittle and does not lend itself to change. However, triggered by Open source – that scenario is changing. I am calling it ‘Long Tail’ devices i.e. a possibility that devices may be manufactured and deployed in smaller quantities – thereby encouraging a diversity of new ideas and innovation.

As open source (and specifically Android) takes off, there will be many more new device manufacturer entrants. It will be easier for many new companies to become device manufacturers (with help from companies like ODMs like e28 who are already developing for the Android stack).

This approach is more similar to the PC industry. It is helpful for innovation because many new ideas and technologies cannot be deployed on devices today since the value chain is optimized towards economies of scale – making it risk averse.

Operators and other network providers can now start to take a much more granular approach to devices and then start to experiment with new technologies in devices like SCWS , holographic mobile handsets and so many others

In other words, currently new technologies depend on the Big 5 handset vendors to take off. In future, as ODMs(Original design manufacturers) become very accomplished then it will be possible to produce specialized devices in smaller quantities – with the differentiation being provided by the higher (services) layer of the stack.

Supply chain excellence

In the current ecosystem where the end-user uses mainly voice and SMS, the Operating system and higher levels of the stack do not make a difference. Hence, factors influencing the customer’s purchasing decision include form-factor/design, brand, and price. In this ecosystem, the scale achieved by top 5 handset manufacturers is a huge barrier to entry for newcomers and also new ideas.

Note that this scale is necessary at the phase of evolution of the handset value chain but may not necessarily apply to the future value chain for mobile handsets when fixed costs decrease.

The current situation /leadership is based on supply chain excellence with the market leader Nokia having one of the best supply chains in the world across industries ie. not just mobile phones.

Mastery of the supply chain achieves economies of scale. Economies of scale apply to ecosystems with higher fixed costs. However, as the fixed costs decrease, then we start to get a more divergent market. We will discuss how fixed costs for handset development are likely to decrease.

Profitability – Average selling price and the BOM costs

The market for handsets can be broadly classified into two categories: The mass market devices in emerging economies and the more expensive devices in mature economies.

Emerging markets provide the higher subscriber numbers – but margins are low. Mature markets are based on handset replacement cycles. In all markets, the average selling price continues to drop by about 8% year on year across the top five vendors . In addition, the average bill of materials (BOM) of a mobile handset is expected to decline from US$102 in 2006 to US$86 in 2012. Other factors like single-chip designs have significantly helped in pushing down cost

To make further reductions in the BOM cost, we now need to address software stack costs, IPR costs and development costs (integration/testing etc) which constitute some of the most important elements of the BOM.

That’s the status quo as of 2008.

Now, from here on – as open source (and especially Android and also Symbian) reduces the software stack costs and IPR costs; differentiation shifts to modularization, integration and services (i.e. higher in the stack). Consequently, we have the possibility of new devices which are no longer bound by high fixed costs.

Note that the handset value chain is already modularized. Many of the handsets are being developed by ODMs from Taiwan and China. (The distinction between ODMs and OEMs continues to blur – but for the purposes of our discussion – we can say that ODMs do not have their own brand. They develop their devices based on reference designs from Chipset manufacturers).

Chipset vendors like Freescale, Marvell, NEC Electronics, Qualcomm, and Texas Instruments have all announced reference designs at Barcelona.

There is of course a fixed cost involved at the chipset/reference design level and chipset vendors need at least $2.5bn of sales to cover min. R&D requirements.

However, in the case of Android – that cost may be spread out over a large number of potentially new and existing players who may enter the handset device market – and these players will differentiate not on the device but based on services and application level software.

So we can expect that ODMs will use these designs to create actual devices.

ODM, white labels and innovation

The value created through a lower BOM cost from open source is the trigger to a wider range of devices.

As fixed costs decrease, the mobile phone supply chain will mirror the PC supply chain. The PC supply chain is less brittle and more flexible and does not have as many layers as the mobile value chain. Hence, it is far more adaptable

If the market for mobile phones follows the PC market, then there could be as much as 40% white label devices . In contrast, the big five control as much as 84% of the market today

(For Q2 08, the sales percentages for the top 5 handset makers is as follows: Nokia 41.1%, Samsung 15.4%, Motorola 9.5%, LG 9.3%, and Sony Ericsson 8.2% Rest 16.4% – source Chetan sharma consulting)

In addition to a wider range of devices, there is of course likely to be a range of applications that can benefit from a wider number of devices.

Let a thousand devices bloom

Who benefits from this?

In the end the customers and developers will be the winners as is always the case with open systems and open source. Customers, because they will have more choice and developers because they will have more avenues to deploy their ideas.

The whole ecosystem will also benefit as a result. If the impact similar to that of the ASUS is to be mirrored on to the mobile ecosystem, then we are likely to see a wider range of cheaper mobile devices with the differentiation being provided by software

No SIP/IMS stack for Android?

I spent a great two days at the Fraunhofer FOKUS IMS 2007 IMS workshop. My company (futuretext) is a partner of Fraunhofer FOKUS – so I am a part of the FOKUS family as Dr Thomas Magedanz (Director of Fraunhofer FOKUS) calls it.

It’s rare to see so many people, very high level of participation and also great Operator participation at events nowadays – and this event had all three ..

Hence, Fraunhofer FOKUS IMS 2007 IMS workshop was one of the best events I attended this year. Very much recommended! .

I was a part of the workshop on Mobile Web 2.0 and IMS(along with Dr Thomas Magedanz and Niklas Blum – Deputy Director of Fraunhofer FOKUS)

Here is an example why I loved this event .. It’s the quality of the discussion ..

One of the questions I asked was: Android has no SIP stack. It also has no IMS stack/interface to speak of either. What are the implications of that?

This is interesting .. It may be a gap for a start-up. Or .. It may be irrelevant – here is why ..

Basically IMS is a secure mobile connection and / or a guaranteed (QOS) mobile connection. By working at the service layer, Google overcomes some of the issues that hamper IMS type applications. In doing so, it foregoes certain applications(potentially things requiring some form of higher QOS.).

However, if the bearer is WiFi(as it is starting to be increasingly) then this does not matter because many network /telephony applications can be run over WiFi. Downside is low QOS.

In any case, the lack of IMS/SIP support is interesting and one to watch

I will have many more blogs on this event since there was a lot to learn and I am still getting to grips with it all ..

Among the people who contributed to the above discussion were Malcolm Wardlaw – Director converged services – BT group, Roberta Minerva – Long term research TIM, Thomas, Niklas and many more

And the evening social event was great .. Pasta Opera is a unique event! Even for one who has no understanding of classical music

A crystal ball – Seeing the future from the habits of today ..

crystalball.JPG

Instead of relying on expensive reports and specialists, can many of our existing habits and observations be used to predict the future?

Sometimes, personal insights are the best indicator of how technology(especially mobile devices) are changing our lives in a big way ..

For example, like many people, I gave up wearing a watch a long time ago(the phone is my watch) .

I think if more people(especially the young) take this up then very soon, watches will become a niche / luxury item .

Here are three more observations from my life which could point to a potential uptake of new technologies/services .

Welcome any examples you may have

a) YouTube is paving the way for Mobile TV and video

Watching TV/video clips on mobile devices is a favourite target of the doomsday brigade.

Who will watch TV on a small screen? And for how long? Etc etc ..

However, let’s take my own example.

Having lost track of the number of times I have watched my four favourite videos on YouTube .. links below if you are interested (U2 – One – the Buffalo/Bison version; Pink Floyd – Learning to fly ; Pink Floyd – Run like hell and Guns and Roses – Sweet child of mine ) – here is a thought ..

YouTube is paving the way for Mobile TV and video ..

The argument is simple ..

We always think of the screens of life. For example in our book Mobile Web 2.0 we cover the six screens of life as follows

The ‘BIG’ screens of life

Cinema (shared with other members of the public)

TV (shared privately within our homes)

PC (personal or shared use)

The ‘small’ screens of life

Fixed/Portable Players (fixed devices in things that move such as cars, planes, etc)

Information screens e.g. iPod, radio

The mobile device, an individual and personalised handheld device

But .. What ‘screen’ is YouTube?(it’s a ‘screen within a screen)

Further, we have people (like me) watching clips in a small screen – many times over and over again.

Is it a big step to then think that people will be getting used to watching clips on a phone if they are getting used to watching clips on a smaller YouTube screen? (The only other time we do this is when we are flying – but that’s for a smaller duration – often not out of choice)

Hence, is YouTube, paving the way for Mobile TV/video?

b) The mobile address book is going to be the key battle ground

Being a frequent traveller, I use a specific taxi company – and the drivers are mostly familiar.

One day, I met a driver who I used to know a long time ago – but from another taxi company. Apparently, he had switched jobs to the company I now used. When he saw me, his first question was ‘Why did I stop using the other(i.e. his old) taxi company?’

My response was .. No I had not stopped using the company.

Apparently, what happened is: I changed the number of the taxi company under my phone address book entry .. ‘Taxi’ and from then on .. I was using the new company without ever realising it!

All the branding/promotion etc etc is useless if a service is mapped into an address book phone number.

This has implications for local/yellow pages type services.

Whoever can get on that address book will get the business!

The management of an address book could be more complex i.e. I would like a service which will call a secondary provider if the first one is busy etc etc ..

Device manufacturers would have a key edge here!

c) Inspite of much fanfare, the Google Phone will be VERY familiar .. And that’s a good thing ..

Much has been said about the Google phone – and a lot of it speculative. However, if Google chooses to leverage it’s existing strengths on the Web, then .. It has a powerful proposition – one which I think many people would be interested in buying into.

And it will sound very familiar – because we are already using the same content now!

Take this example

A few years ago, when you searched for a hotel name, you got a whole bunch of useless links (mainly put there by the travel industry’s SEO folk). The hotel’s website itself came way down a few pages.

This is not very useful.

Today, it’s a thing of the past as more and more landmarks are on Google maps.

For example, if you search for ‘hotel four seasons San Francisco’ – you get the result as shown below. This is very useful and can only get better as more landmarks go on Google maps.

hotel.JPG

The next logical step is – access via a phone, geotagging, location based find my nearest etc.

Yes, ANY phone could do this but if the Google phone is oriented to this feature(and working closely with Google maps), it will be immediately useful – and predictable; and predictable is a good thing!

To conclude ..

So, what current usage patterns do you see in your own life which point to the usage of a new technology in the near future?

And here are my four favourite videos ..

One (U2)

Run like hell (Pink floyd)

Sweet child of mine (Guns and Roses)

Learning to fly (Pink floyd)

The Chicken and the Egg: The device and the network – which came first

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Here is a question based on the proverbial ‘chicken and egg’ question ..

The next time you upgrade, will you choose the device first or will you choose the network?

With me, and all people I have asked this so far(no exceptions!) it is always the device ..

In other words, the upgrade cycles are always dictated by a specific device we want .. In my case, I may even pass the one year contract period(statutory period based on my last upgrade) .. and yet defer the upgrade unless .. I see a device I want ..

If I want a device and my network does not have it .. I may switch ..

At the moment, Operators subsidise handsets in many markets

With the launch of the iPhone and subsequent moves from other device manufacturers .. the interplay between handsets and operators may start to become more complex.

Specifically, as I have been saying for some time, the locus of power may shift away from the operators and towards the handset manufacturers ..

Indeed if the chicken and egg test is true, and I have not found any person so far who says that they will choose the network first , then the customers are going to decide the trends in the market(as they always do!)

(The exception is: Operators who offer fixed rate price plans – like Three in the UK – but that distinction is changing fast as almost all Operators are offering some form of fixed rate pricing)

Take subsidised handsets .. Why do we need subsidised handsets? The cost differential is not too much when spread over a year

Indeed .. subsidised handsets may well go hand in hand with non-transparent price plans..

The problem with pricelans at the moment is: No one can understand them!

Which means .. we are not sure what we are really paying for this subsidy .. and I bet it may well be more than the price of the handset itself

Take another idea: what about ad funded handsets?

Or

What about financing for handsets?

I believe that within one year after the launch of the iPhone, this interface between the handset and the operator will be changed dramatically in one or more of the following aspects

a) Devices supporting multiple network types(wifi, wimax)

b) The impact of iPhone itself on the Operators – the changes they have to make to work with the iPhone

c) Handsets subsidised by advertising

d) The Google phone

e) Third party financing for handsets(maybe starting with the iPhone) and then becoming commonplace

The guardian today has an interesting article called Now its Operators vs. the handset makers

It’s a fascinating article from a respected mainstream publication .. which starts with the paragraphs ..

The battle for control of your mobile phone is about to enter an interesting stage. You may think that you are in charge. After all, you press all the buttons. But in reality the operators have been calling the shots for years. They have been trying to keep you within their walled gardens of paid-for services and charging by the amount of data consumed, leaving you with open-ended bills. They have even been fiddling with handsets to discourage use of the wireless connection appearing in an increasing number of handsets that can make near-free phone calls if you are in a Wi-Fi area.

This is understandable in terms of a desire to recoup the billions shelled out on 3G licences, but unacceptable when they pretend this is what consumers want. What consumers want is cheap phone calls and affordable music downloads from the web. They don’t want to find out that the 99p track they downloaded ends up costing them £10 because operators have charged them for all the data passing through their networks.

It then goes on to talk about an upcoming Nokia phone: N81 which appears to be pitched at the music download/iPhone market

And says

Operators argue that they have to subsidise the handsets and don’t want phone manufacturers muscling in on their turf. To which Nokia replies that operators don’t have to subsidise handsets (it doesn’t happen in some countries) and no one is stopping operators doing what others are now doing in providing affordable music downloads and the ability to abandon your Sim card to make calls from your phone through the internet. Nokia rightly argues that if the operators don’t provide these services then other companies will provide them instead.

And finally ending with another key trend .. VOIP and WiFi

During my summer holiday in France I tested yet another VoIP service (from WiFiMobile) offering voice calls over the internet using my Nokia N80. Phoning Britain (without a Sim card) worked well for nearly all calls. It cost 2p a minute to phone a fixed line anywhere in the world or 14p a minute to UK mobiles (after paying a monthly fee of £7.99). The catch is you have to phone from a Wi-Fi hotspot. However, Wi-Fi is slowly being rolled out across Britain, though implementation of the more powerful WiMAX, with a longer reach, is hampered by lack of suitable spectrum. Meanwhile, operators had better prepare to offer more cheap Wi-Fi phone deals as well as music packages because, if they don’t, others will. Led by giants such as Nokia.

As a final caveat, I think Operators will evolve and will offer differentiation .. but this will be restricted to a few, more progressive operators who will address services like Identity, payments etc through their APIs.

The point is, currently – there is not enough differentiation between the Operators – and any distinction is artificial because

a) It is enabled by handsets

b) It is enabled by means such as price plans – which are complex, non transparent and – in the minds of the customer – not trusted

So, the conclusion is:

a) The chicken and the egg question is won by the handset manufacturers ..

b) But – both will evolve dramatically in the next year or so and especially the Operators will be forced to change existing policies and create differentiation

Image : http://scienceblogs.com/aetiology/upload/2007/01/chicken%20or%20egg%20sm.jpg