Europe

ACCESS Says Its NetFront Browser Top in World

From PaidContent: What's the top mobile browser? It's reportedly the ACCESS NetFront browser, which the company says is now on more than 700 million devices globally. According to the company's release out yesterday:

ACCESS CO., LTD., a global provider of advanced software technologies to the mobile and beyond-PC markets, today announced its NetFront™ Browser is the standard browser shipped on more handset models in the U.S. and through multi-country operators in the top five European markets (France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy and Spain) than any other mobile Internet browser. Based on an analysis concluded in February 2009 of devices offered by top-tier operators and device ownership data from comScore's MobiLens research, there are more mobile phones on the market with ACCESS' NetFront Browser than any other mobile Internet browser.

Now let me critique this . . .

There is no brand here; this is the pre-installed "default" browser on many handsets. Thus while people use it by default, they don't seek it out. The market will move away from this experience unless there's a radical change in quality. Today on smartphones and many feature phones users are seeking out familar browsers (with the exception of the BlackBerry) and/or better experiences that what their OEMs are serving up to them. And, in general, the BlackBerry browser experience is quite poor, though it will improve. 

PaidContent says that the media has incorrectly focused on Opera, Safari, Skyfire, IE, etc. But these Fennec and Chrome will be the browsers that the market ultimately embraces as more people seek a better mobile Internet experience. 

So in a way talking about this default browser is a little like talking about ringtones: sure there's a big market but it's yesterday's market and doesn't represent the future. 

Vodafone to Diversify Ad Sales Partners in UK

Vodafone in the UK is apparently going to end its exclusive ad sales relationship with Yahoo! and reach out to other providers/channels/networks. The two companies reportedly will continue to work together but the exclusive dimension of the relationship will end.

Yahoo! has more direct operator relationships on a global basis than its major rivals. For the time being the carriers still see the greatest reach to mobile audiences, although over time that will change as more people shift to smartphones and greater direct mobile Internet adoption accordingly. 

VZ Navigator Reaches Beyond US Borders

VZ Navigator (from Networks in Motion) has been relatively successful as a monthly subscription serivce. But it's under pressure from increasingly competent free apps and tools on smartphones. To remain viable over the long term the service has to remain one or two steps ahead of rivals.

In an effort to do so the service is going global. According to the press release out today VZ Navigator Global:

  • Provides business and leisure travelers the ability to find locations and access turn-by-turn directions in North America and Western Europe, including Canada, Mexico, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom -- additional countries will be added to the service throughout the year;
  • Alleviates stress or confusion caused by reading road signs or directions in an unfamiliar language -- VZ Navigator Global customers can choose either English or Spanish as the default language, and miles or kilometers to mark distances;
  • Will be initially available on the BlackBerry(R) Storm(TM) 9530 smartphone from Research In Motion (RIM) while VZ Navigator Global capabilities will be available later on additional smartphones; and
  • Finds restaurants, gas stations, banks/ATMs and other popular spots in these countries using Local Search.

Domestic VZ Navigator is $9.99 per month. Existing users can upgrade to global for an additional $10 per month. The service costs $19.99 per month and includes the domestic data for new subscribers.

Even more than traditional VZ Navigator, Global probably is a niche product and will have appeal to a very select class of international business travelers.

Samsung Phone Is a 'Google Experience Device' After All

Samsung announced the Android-based I7500 this morning. Here are the specs:

Samsung I7500 comes with latest multimedia features. The large and vivid 3.2“AMOLED display ensures the brilliant representation of multimedia content and enjoyable full touch mobile experience. Along with supporting a 5-megapixel camera and various multimedia codec formats, the I7500also provides a long enough battery life (1500mAh) and generous memory capacity up to 40GB (Internal memory: 8GB, External memory: Up to 32GB) to enjoy all the applications and multimedia content. The phone also boasts its slim and compact design with mere 11.9mm thickness. 

Previously when Samsung said it would be making Android-based phones it said it would downplay the "Google experience" dimension of the phone:

Samsung also wanted to put its own spin on Android. Hong drew a distinction between devices built on the Android platform and "Google Experience" devices, which not only use Android but are also Google-centric, packed with the search giant's own applications. "Our commitment is more to the Android phone than the Google Experience device," [Won-Pyo Hong, executive vice president of global product] said. In other words, Samsung is doing plenty of customization work on top of the Android platform to make operators happy.

Yet in the announcement this morning the following copy prominently appears:

The Samsung I7500 offers users access to the full suite of Google services, including Google Search™, Google Maps™, Gmail™, YouTube™, Google Calendar™, and Google Talk™. The integrated GPS receiver enables the comprehensive use of Google Maps features, such as My Location, Google Latitude, Street View, local search and detailed route description. Hundreds of other applications are available in Android Market. For example, the application Wikitude, a mobile travel guide, allows consumers to access details of unknown sights via location-based Wikipedia articles.

That's a lot of Google for a purportedly non-Google experience device. It will launch in Europe in June. No word on if/when it will come to the US. However a Samsung Android phone will reportedly make its way into Sprint's line-up this year in the US. 

Opera Mobile Web Report for March

Opera released its latest "State of the Mobile Web" (reflecting usage on the Opera Mobile and Mini browsers) for March. It covers a broad range of countries in North America, Europe, Asia and now Latin America. I'm reproducing the US and UK charts, which show top sites and handsets on Opera's network. 

United States

 Picture 8

United Kingdom

 Picture 9

More data on other parts of the world are available in the full report. Google is the dominant site in most of the countries examined. That may well be navigational as much as it is "search." 

Opera also looked at when people were browsing the mobile Web (24 hour clock):

Picture 10

The greatest use appears to be in the block between 4pm and midnight, in particular 8pm and midnight.

3 Skype: Is This the Future of Mobile Voice?

The price of voice and data continues to decline, driven in large part by competition and consumer price sensitivity. Even though most Americans still don't have a data plan, that will change in a relatively short period of time. The price and penetration of mobile data plans is the single "X variable" in the entire mobile Internet adoption mix. Handset type is important but not as important as eliminating cost uncertainty for users. 

As we've argued in the past, an unlimited data connection will one day be more important than voice to mobile users. But US carriers have so far declined to allow users to buy data-only plans, because they want to preserve voice profits and move subscribers "up" to data as well. Accordingly, the carriers have largely resisted VoIP services such as Skype because they fear that it may lure people away from voice plans to minimal voice and data or data only (assuming that were available). That's an "empirical question" but on another level they're resisting the inevitable. 

skype phones

This past week UK operator 3 (a unit of Hong Kong based Hutchison Whampoa) announced free Skype-to-Skype voice and IM:

In a world first, 3 UK has opened up its network to allow anyone with a 3 SIM and a compatible 3 handset to enjoy unlimited Skype-to-Skype calls and messages without ever having to pay.

From 1 May, there will be no data charges or top-up fees for either contract or pay-as-you-go customers who use Skype on 3’s network.  Anyone with a 3 handset will be able to buy a 3 SIM with Skype enabled and talk as much as they want to other Skype users without ever having to pay another penny.

During the summer, 3 will expand its offer to make it possible for anyone with a compatible 3G phone to take advantage of free Skype calls, whether or not their phone is from 3.  Anyone that wants to talk on a mobile for free will be able to use a Skype-enabled 3 SIM to make and receive totally free Skype-to-Skype calls and to use Skype’s instant message (IM) service.  

By removing access and pricing barriers to Skype-to-Skype calls 3 UK is creating a compelling reason for new customers to join 3 and to enjoy all the services available on the UK’s biggest mobile broadband network.

In the 3-Skype program, it's about Skype to Skype, not Skype-Out or In. You can make Skype-Out calls to other countries, but in the UK to make calls to non-Skype handsets or landlines you have to use a 3 voice plan. That's how the operator has struck a balance here and prevented its voice minutes from being entirely substituted by Skype's services.

Reportedly 3 UK has found Skype users churn less than non-Skype users and in fact use more traditional voice minutes than non-Skype users. They also use more data as well. So it may be the case that the feared scenarios described above don't come to pass when VoIP is more directly embraced. 

Orange-WikiMedia Deal: Good for PC, Not As Good for Mobile

It's a potentially good deal for Wikipedia and may lead to some revenues for the cash-starved organization but do users really want Wikipedia on their mobile phones? France Telecom, whose mobile brand is Orange, has done a deal with the non-profit Wikimedia foundation (which owns Wikipedia). That deal will provide Wikipedia content to Orange's PC portals (makes sense here) and mobile phones (not so much sense in my view).

Orange subscribers will gain access to co-branded Orange-Wikipedia content. There will also be specific content "channels" and mobile widgets. Any ads associated with the pages will provide Wikipedia with some unspecified portion of the revenue. 

The deal apparently will roll out in the near term in the UK, Spain and France and in other countries over time. 

Wikipedia does have a mobile site:

Mobile Wikipedia

I suppose as a source of factual information or trivia on the go it would be useful, but the generally lengthy and often heavily footnoted articles are particularly ill-suited to the mobile use case. 

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Update: Here's the press release and the following site contains a video that offers some additional background on the deal. To the extent that Orange and WikiMedia collaborate to develop experiences that specifically contemplate the limitations of mobile handsets they might be able to overcome my critique above. But it remains the case that what users can and are willing to do online is quite different in many cases than on mobile handsets. On mobile, I'm looking for quick facts and information as a basic matter. Longer-form content I will generally leave to the larger screen on the PC.

As netbooks and forthcoming IP-connected tablets gain adoption, however, some of these mobile-specific concerns and issues disappear. 

EU Imposes Consumer-Friendly Pricing on Carriers

Price remains one the barriers to mobile Internet adoption. Still only a minority of users have data plans that permit unlimited mobile Internet access. In the US carrier competition is the thing that might/will drive the cost of data plans down. But in Europe, the European Parliament is imposing more consumer-friendly pricing on the carriers:

The European Parliament Wednesday voted to adopt a new law cutting European roaming prices for text messages and Internet use by more than 60%.

The price cuts will come into effect by July 1.

From the beginning of the summer the price of sending text messages will have to fall to 11 eurocents from 28 eurocents. Meanwhile, the new rules dictate that the cost of surfing the Internet or downloading movies with a mobile device while abroad will be capped on the wholesale level at EUR1 for each megabyte downloaded, compared with an average wholesale price of EUR1.68 a megabyte currently. The data caps will continue until the price reaches 50 cents by July 2011.

Parliament also voted to extend price cuts on making roaming voice calls, limiting them to 35 eurocents a minute by July 2011 from 46 eurocents. Receiving voice calls when abroad will be cut to 11 eurocents by 2011 from 22 eurocents.

These moves should promote greater mobile Internet usage in the affected EU countries.  

Nokia Profits Way, Way Down

Nokia announced its Q1 numbers, which look pretty bad, but are better than lowered analyst expectations. Sales fell 27% and net profits were down a staggering 90%. Nokia still has a 37% global handset market share, which is unchanged from Q4 and down two points from a year ago. 

The economy and intensifying competition are the culprits. 

Nokia device sales by region

Source: Nokia

In the press release, Nokia CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo said: 

I am especially pleased with the performance of our first mass market touch product, the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic. Together with Comes With Music, it is a great example of Nokia providing solutions that consumers value.

Dubbed the "poor-man's iPhone," the 5800 is cheaper than its rival. As we argued yesterday that strategy is likely the key to any hope of market share gains in the US. 

Nokia Finds Its 'iPhone Strategy': Price

Nokia has struggled to get back in the game in the US market, despite being the largest handset OEM in the world. It's almost certain that Nokia cannot beat the iPhone in terms of usability or mobile Internet experience. It's also unlikely that apps developers will come to its aid either.

So how can it compete? In a word: price. I've been thinking that the camera was a way for Nokia to compete but at the opposite end, building cheaper "good enough" smartphones may enable Nokia to gain a foothold in the US market again. 

Reuters published an article that discusses the apparent success of the 5800 Xpress Music phone in Europe, based on its "poor-man's iPhone" pricing:

Nokia introduced the 5800, its first touch screen phone, only late last year, but analysts said the lower price helps it beat iPhone sales in the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Asia, and there has been strong demand also in developed markets . . .

"Outside the US market, it is emerging as 'the poor man's iPhone' - a device with clunky and old-fashioned software, but much cheaper price, better camera quality, lower weight and far superior stand-by time," he said.

A lower-priced iPhone is widely expected and some of the "phone" and battery problems with the iPhone may be corrected with an expected new handset in June. But at least in theory this is the strategy for Nokia as it tries to get back into the US market. 

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Here's a video demo of the 5800 in action. 

UK Users: We'll Watch Ads for Free Content

Global accounting and consulting firm KPMG surveyed mobile consumers in 19 countries and collected a range of data regarding attitudes toward mobile advertising, content and services. Some of the findings are contrary to the "consumers are hostile to mobile advertising" narrative and related figures that have come out in the recent past. In particular Nielsen found the following (as paraphrased in a Citibank research note): 

In the U.S. 68% of mobile data users are opposed to mobile Internet ads, even if those ads subsidize a portion of their mobile bills. Only 8% feel mobile ads are trustworthy, and 87% are not open to mobile ads even if those ads are relevant to their interests. However, in Europe, users are more open to mobile ads – In France, Italy and Spain, 41%, 52% and 54% would be receptive to mobile ads if they lowered their bills.

The KPMG "global Consumers and Convergence survey" produced the following highlights:

  • Approximately 60% of UK consumers would rather watch ads in return for free online content, than pay for it. Only 16% of UK consumers prefer to pay for online content and avoid ads, although more (21%) would pay to avoid ads on their mobiles.
  • Almost 40% of UK respondents indicated they are willing to watch ads on their mobiles in return for free music, followed by 28% who will view ads to access instant messaging. These figures are even higher globally - 49% for free music and 44% for instant messaging. 
  • The UK leads Europe in purchasing music via mobile (34 percent of respondents having undertaken this in the last 12 months) and is the fourth highest among the 19 countries surveyed.
  • Globally, most people (53%) are willing to use their mobile phone for financial transactions but very few (19%) currently do so. In the UK 67% of respondents uncomfortable with using a mobile phone for any financial transactions.

The Nielsen data quoted above argue that EU residents are more open to mobile ads. But results can also be dramatically impacted by the way questions about mobile advertising are framed. If consumers see an obvious benefit or a way to avoid costs, many of them will embrance advertising. If the questions are framed in a way that emphases the ad rather than the benefit, they're less inclined to accept it -- or even overtly hostile toward it.

See also:

UK Study: 40% of Consumers 'Heavily' Use Mobile Internet

A study commissioned by IT and business services company Logica offers some interesting findings about mobile Internet usage in the UK. The results were released last month and were based on a survey of 1,000 mobile users. Here are, verbatim, some of the top-level findings:

  • 40% of consumers admit “heavy” usage of mobile internet
  • 42% say mobile advertising is “relevant to no-one”
  • 41% stated that they would be happy to receive targeted advertising content
  • 77% will switch operator if needs are not met

There were also these findings:

  • More than 45% of consumers stated that they wanted to see a service from their operators that brought together all of the content that they would otherwise need to go looking for via their mobile; friends, news, content and social networking access.
  • When asked whether the recession would reduce the time spent using the internet via mobile, over 50% of consumers stated that their mobile usage patterns would not change, clearly pointing to a business opportunity that is relevant in today’s climate

Grain of salt time:

Beyond what's stated here I know nothing about the methodolgy used or the sample. I'm struck by the finding: "40% of consumers admit 'heavy' usage of mobile internet." What does "heavy" mean exactly? Regardless, this finding cannot be generalized to the whole UK user population -- 40% are not currently "heavy" mobile Internet users. 

That makes the rest of these findings suspect on some level. However, all survey data should be seen as directional and not an exact reflection of the larger market. 

The finding that states 41% of respondents would be interested in targeted mobile ads is, in that sense, directionally suggestive of greater acceptance of mobile advertising -- especially among more experienced or heavier mobile users. LMS data show this correlation. 

The response that the recession would not change mobile usage patterns is generally supported by other third party data. There are indications that in the US some segments of the market are more price sensitive and some people have switched from post-paid to pre-paid offerings -- especially given some of the "deals" that are in the US market (e.g., Boost nd MetroPCS unlimited plans). 

Finally, the "77% will switch operator . . ." finding shows the danger that if carriers don't figure out "value-added" offerings they're well on their way to the "dumb pipe" scenario. 

A Million Skype Downloads in 48 Hours

Skype said that in the two days following release, last week, of its first iPhone app there were roughly a million downloads. This indicates both the strength of the Skype brand and the fact that it has a huge installed base of users. But it also reflects the desire for cheaper calling options, especially internationally.

Several carriers appear to be digging in their heels and trying to block usage of Skype on their networks: AT&T in the US (it works on Wi-Fi but not 3G), Rogers in Canada and T-Mobile in Germany.  However an advocacy group has asked the US FCC to determine whether the exclusion of Skype from the AT&T network is legal.

An AT&T spokesman was quoted in a Wall Street Journal article resonding to the complaint:

"Customers are free to download and use the apps they want, but we have no obligation—nor should we have—to facilitate or subsidize our competitors' businesses."

This captures the carriers' fears about Skype and how VoIP may erode revenues in certain sectors over time. 

Palm Pre and Microsoft: a Mobile Marriage in Their Future?

We can debate the merits of this statement but it's arguably the case that Palm's WebOS and Pre handset are the first truly worthy rival to the iPhone. Google and Microsoft would undoubtedly object to that. Unfortunately I wasn't able to see Windows 6.5 in action at CTIA so I can't say firsthand whether it represents a significant advance over 6.1. While generally regarded as an improvement over 6.1 in the reviews I've seen, it's also largely seen as a stop-gap measure until 7 can come out next year (probably late next year).

Back to the Pre. There are way too many expectations for the new handset. It will be a success but probably not at the level to meet the over-hyped expectations and those expectations create problems for Palm and its market valuation. If initial Pre handset sales don't put the company on an express train toward higher revenues, investors will probably say goodbye. 

But that creates a buying opportunity for someone like Microsoft. Windows Mobile has been around for a very long time and there are millions of devices that run it, with Samsung, LG and HTC, among others, committed to release millions more Windows Mobile devices in the near future. (One Windows Mobile device that looked cool but offered a disappointing experience in my short time with it at CTIA was the Samsung Mondi.)

But Microsoft is in unfamiliar territory with Windows Mobile now. Its desktop monopoly isn't helping it in mobile and the rise of RIM (the enterprise leader), the iPhone (the consumer leader) and now the open-source Android (the worthy insurgent) threaten to squeeze the OS and potentially marginalize it over time. Rather than the iPhone or RIM, Android may be the real threat to Windows Mobile longer term.

Redmond would need to swallow its pride in seeking to acquire Palm and that may prevent a serious look at the struggling company. It would be an admission that Windows Mobile isn't sufficiently competitive. Microsoft engineers absolutely believe not only that their product is competitive but also that it can win in the mobile space.

However I believe that if Microsoft wants to be truly competitive it needs to take a close look at potentially buying Palm. Microsoft might not want to be perceived to be competitive with its OEM partners via such a move. But it could incorporate WebOS or just swap out most of Windows Mobile for WebOS and not make hardware devices. 

Will Microsoft acquire Palm? I doubt it. But if not, the company needs to take some dramatic steps in the near term to ensure that it doesn't become a kind of also-ran in mobile. 

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Related: RIM posts dramatic results, says now there are 25 million BlackBerry subscribers. 

HTC Magic/G2 Coming to T-Mobile in the US

The HTC Magic (G2), previewed in Barcelona as a Vodafone handset, has apparetly received FCC approval and is going to be released this year by T-Mobile in the US. In all respects it appears to be superior to the G1:

HTC Magic

comScore: UK iPhone Users 4X More Likely to Surf the Mobile Web

As it has done with US iPhone users, comScore has released data on iPhone users and their behavior in the UK. Here is the chart:

comScore UK iPhone usage

As with their US cohort, iPhone users outpace other smartphone users in all areas and by huge margins traditional mobile phone users. For example, almost 80% of iPhone owners access the mobile Internet vs. 19.8% of conventional mobile phone users. 

Demographics (per comScore): 75% are males, mostly between the ages of 18-44. Smartphone ownership also typically skews male in the UK, with males comprising 65 per cent of the audience.

Opera: Mobile Web Stats for February

Between the monthly AdMob and Opera reports we get great behavioral data on mobile Internet users across the globe. Today Opera put out its latest "State of the Mobile Web" report.

Here are the "top 10" site lists for the US and UK:

2-Opera-US

Yahoo!'s decline should be of concern to the company and should encourage Yahoo! to get its new Yahoo! Mobile app/site into the market as soon as possible. 

2-Opera-UK

As with the AdMob data, this represents the Opera mobile/mini universe and is not necessarily identical to the "mobile Internet. However, directionally it's going to be accurate. 

Will Data Revenues Overtake Voice?

In the US there's more texting going on than talking. A couple of years ago people would not necessarily have predicted SMS would overtake voice at any time, let alone in just two years. But it happened.

The same question must now be asked of mobile data vs. voice. According to a Fierce Wireless summary of several different articles and reports, T-Mobile UK now sees 25% of its new customers signing up for mobile broadband services. Data revenues for carriers are growing much more quickly than voice revenues. 

Pricing is a lever than can further accelarate growth in data adoption, especially if there's a price war

It's going to take more than a couple years, but eventually we're likely to see penetration levels for data well above 50% in the US and in the West, as people see the mobile Internet no longer as a luxury but as a necessity. 

This was the path for the PC Internet as well: a novelty that only a few had in the beginning and then a necessity as more and more people went online. And once you start using the mobile Internet, especially on the iPhone, it's impossible to imagine being without it. 

Opera Mobile Web Report for January 2009

Between Opera and AdMob we continue to get great, regular reports about mobile usage on the ground and from around the globe. Last night Opera released its latest "State of the Mobile Web" report for January, 2009.

Here are some of the interesting bits about top countries in terms of growth and usage frequency, as well as top sites visited in several countries. 

 to countries

US 1-09

UK 1-09

germany 1-09

china 1-09

These site rankings are based on Opera data and not necessarily representative of all mobile Web usage (in particular they don't represent iPhone usage). However Opera's browsers cut across handset platforms are are widely used around the world. These data are thus drawn from many thousands of users in each country. 

Yahoo! has incorporated the Opera Mini browser into its Yahoo! Mobile client download. 

Nokia News from Barcelona: Maps, Ovi Apps and Skype

There were a slew of announcements from Nokia at Barcelona this week. Here's a rundown:

The Finland-based OEM announced, as expected, its version of the iTunes apps store: the Ovi Store. It offers some interesting and intelligent twists: personalization and recommendations from friends, as well as location sensitivity. The rev share between Nokia and developers is the same 70-30 split as the iTunes store.

Ovi

The company also announced new GPS enabled phones integrated with Nokia Maps (NAVTEQ). 

Skype announced a deal with Nokia to preload the VoIP software on Nokia/Symbian smartphones:

Under the terms of the cooperation, Skype will be integrated into Nokia devices, starting with the Nokia Nseries. The Nokia N97 flagship device will be the first to incorporate the Skype experience in the 3rd quarter of 2009.

The Skype experience will be part of the address book of the Nokia N97, enabling presence - seeing when Skype contacts are online - as well as instant messaging. Nokia N97 owners around the world will also be able to use 3G and WLAN to easily make and receive free Skype-to-Skype voice calls, in addition to low-cost Skype calls to landlines and mobile devices.

Quality issues notwithstanding, Skype stands to gain hugely from adoption by mobile users as a way to circumvent the cost of voice plans, especially in Europe. Skype is also working with other handset OEMs. 

In general, however, improved VoIP on mobile phones is a development that may eventually put price pressure on carrier voice plans. Because of quality, however, that day is not yet at hand. 

Nokia and Qualcomm announced a deal to work on "advanced mobile devices" with Qualcomm chipsets targeting North America, one of Nokia's weakest markets. 

But the apps store/Ovi store was the focus of the week for Nokia. Everyone now has an apps store: Apple, Android, Windows Mobile, RIM, Palm and Nokia/Symbian. It has become "table stakes" in the smartphone market. Accordingly the Nokia/Ovi apps store is unlikely to lure people away from BlackBerry or the iPhone. But it remains to be seen how all the hardware and software variables (operator pricing is another) play out competitively over time.