Hardware

Can Apple Save Palm, And Will Motorola Break Up?

Jon Rubinstein, Apple's former head of hardware engineering, often dubbed the "Podfather" because of his early shepherding of the iPod, is now in charge of Palm. The question is can he revive the sinking fortunes of the company?

As this WSJ article points out, the company is banking on the low-end Palm Centro to become popular and gain market share among younger users. However, despite widespread marketing and an aggressive price point, the Centro is not likely to be the hit Palm had hoped. And product development cycles are such that it may be a couple of years before any Rubinstein-inspired handsets make it to market.

Over at Motorola, the WSJ speculates, the company may be preparing for a sale of its troubled handset division, which hasn't had a hit since the wildly popular Razr. But the market is fickle and the Razr was "yesterday's handset." Motorola's CEO Ed Zander was bounced in an effort to inject new blood and energy into the company. He is being succeeded by company president Greg Brown.

Worldwide market share of smartphones, based on Q2 shipments of approximately 30 million units:

  1. Nokia -- 46%
  2. "Others" -- 29%
  3. RIM -- 9%
  4. Sharp -- 8%
  5. Fujitsu -- 5%
  6. Palm -- 4%

Source: Garnter (numbers are rounded and so exceed 100%)

___

Related: CNET reports on forthcoming layoffs at Palm. Silicon Alley Insider suggests that Palm could create a great user experience and revive by adopting Flash as a developer platform.

Camera Phones and GeoVector's Mobile Patent

San Francisco-based GeoVector is a company doing lots of interesting things in mobile -- most of them in Asia -- with "point and search" technology that leverages ubiquitous camera phones. The company just announced a new patent:

US Patent 7301536 better enables mobile phones or other devices to display stored digital images which are linked to real-world objects or places.

"Imagine pointing a mobile device down a city street and seeing a digital image of how that street looked a century ago, or might look a century from now. Imagine pointing at a new car billboard and seeing the car in any color you want, then downloading a video clip," explained John Ellenby, GeoVector's CEO. "GeoVector's technology enables countless possibilities for entertainment, advertising or e-commerce applications."

GeoVector currently enables mobile devices to access data on points of interest using a unique combination of GPS and a built-in compass. The new patent builds upon that capability, allowing users to interact with stored images based on their surroundings.

The company currently provides products and services which significantly simplify local searches, allowing users to point their mobile device toward objects of interest to access information about them. Users can "point and click" with their mobile phone the way a computer user navigates using a mouse.

Other companies in this segment include NeoMedia, Mobot, SnapTell and, soon, others. This next year will be one where this technology starts to make its appearance in North America. We'll see how consumers respond, but there are lots of interesting applications.

In addition, mobile phones are emerging as a way to bridge the digital and real worlds for consumers and as a tracking mechanism for advertisers.

Will Dell Develop an Android Phone?

This CNET article argues that PC maker Dell needs to offer a new "handheld device" to regain momentum and transcend its status as slumping PC maker and become a more well-rounded consumer products company. To that end, a smartphone is one of the suggested devices Dell should/could put out.

It would be interesting if Dell, a Google partner, jumped on the Android bandwagon and created a handset.

Google's New iPhone App/Interface

Last night Google upgraded and changed its iPhone application/interface. TechCrunch and Search Engine Land have some images. The range of Google services, including GOOG411, are accessible from a horizontal menu at the top of the screen.

There's additional discussion at Techmeme and CNET.

iPhone Growth: Queries and Browser Share

Google User Experience VP Marissa Mayer revealed the "fastest growing" search queries from 2007 on the NBC Today show yesterday. Here's the list: 1. iPhone, 2. Webkinz, 3. TMZ, 4. Transformers, 5. YouTube, 6. Club Penguin, 7. Myspace, 8. Heroes, 9. Facebook, 10. Anna Nicole Smith.

By contrast, the iPhone was #6 on Yahoo!'s list of top tech queries in 2007. And it doesn't appear on Ask's lists anywhere.

Another popularity metric: According to Net Applications, "total web browsing on the iPhone has topped the web browsing on all Windows Mobile devices combined." This is an amazing thing considering that the iPhone has only been in the market since June of this year and versions of Windows Mobile have been in the market for roughly a decade.

iPhone Bests BlackBerry and Treo in Online Marketing Test

AdAge reports (first segment on the video) on LandRover and 20th Century Fox mobile ad campaigns that went live simultaneously on the three devices. According to AdAge the iPhone showed the highest click-through rates on the same campaign. Presumably this goes to better graphical resolution and a better overall user experience.

No other details are provided other than that the companies involved were happy with the iPhone results and that Fox plans to expand its iPhone advertising in the future.

___

Here's some additional detail on the performance of the LandRover campaign from TechCrunch.

My Five Minutes with the iPhone

After taking my seven year old daughter to Ratatouille this weekend (excellent) I had to stop by the Apple store and get my hands on an iPhone. I waited with the throng to actually hold and manipulate one. I eventually got to hold and use one for about five minutes. Although that is hardly enough time to evaluate the device, I did have some preliminary reactions:

  • It's a beautiful piece of hardware and much more elegant and captivating than any other cellphone on the market
  • The screen resolution is amazing
  • Internet browsing is not entirely intuitive (how do you bring up the keyboard to enter a URL?). But once I got it it was a much better experience than any other phone I've used to date. It was on a wifi network and so much faster than on AT&T's EDGE network
  • The phone is packed with features and is generally more fun and intuitive to use, accordingly, than conventional mobile phones
  • I didn't test out the iPod aspect of the phone
  • The keyboard does take some practice. Mossberg characterized it as a "non issue." However, I would say that it does have a learning curve
  • The interest level among people in the store was very high

This is a game changing device, if only because other handset makers are reacting and already reworking their designs create greater usability. The way to solve the iPhone's keyboard challenge is to embed voice in the next generation device. It currently doesn't offer speech processing or voice commands.

One irony here is that if every mobile device allowed for true Internet browsing, like the iPhone, many of the complications of mobile advertising would go away because it would simply be an extension of online advertising. Ads on the Internet would render in mobile. That wouldn't stop the development of a mobile advertising industry or infrastructure of course. But it would solve many of the challenges of mobile marketing today.

At the Apple store I visited (on Sunday) they told me they had sold out of the iPhone. Piper Jaffray estimated (perhaps through some napkin math) that the company had sold 500,000 units (or more). I asked the Apple store staff how many they had in stock originally and nobody could tell me. They could only nod at the concept that they had sold "thousands" at that particular store.

Clearly the phone is already a hit. Sure there are complaints and glitches. But with the exception of the Crackberry, the Razr and, for some, the Treo, all other cellphones now look like gray, utilitarian contraptions without much style or even utility.