Against the backdrop of a sweeping reorganization at Microsoft, intended to promote greater collaboration and faster time-to-market, hardware tracker IHS reported that PCs "delivered the worst second-quarter performance in 11 years."
The firm said that global PC shipments were down 7% vs. a year ago. IDC reported in Q1 that PC shipments were down 14% year over year. I suspect that when the IDC and Gartner hardware figures are released we'll see greater declines for Q2 than what IHS is reporting.
IHS said that during the first half PC sales, globally, suffered "a harsh 11.2% contraction compared to the same six-month period a year ago."
Tablets and smartphones have clearly eaten into the PC market and put downward price pressure on PCs. PC replacement cycles are getting longer. A more intangible thing has also happened: PCs have ceased to be shiny new objects coveted by consumers.
They've become instead pure utilitarian items without the ability to evoke the device-desire they once had.
Yesterday Kantar Worldpanel ComTech reported that the iPhone has gained on Android in the US market. The firm said the relative market shares of Android, iPhone and Windows Phones are now as follows:
The iPhone is the bestselling individual smartphone in the US, though not across the globe.
Kantar asserts that its survey data are more accurate than other sources because it operates "the largest continuous consumer research mobile phone panel of its kind in the world, conducting more than 240,000 interviews per year in the U.S. alone."
For comparison purposes comScore reports the following (May, 2013) smartphone market share in the US:
Comscore shows Android and the iPhone gaining in the US and all other operating systems losing share vs. last quarter.
While the iPhone may have gained in the US that trend does not appear to be global. Kantar reports that Android's share is now nearly 70% in Europe and even higher in China.
The mobile payments space is a little like the local market: lots of promise, lots of money but very hard to crack. Yesterday a young entrepreneur and his payments startup Clinkle received a $25 million vote of confidence from a group of celebrity investors.
This was reported to be the "largest seed round ever." Whether it is or not $25 million is a lot of money for yet another mobile payments app. While it's true that nobody in mobile payments has "broken through," Clinkle will have a tough slog as it tries to build both merchant adoption and consumer usage.
Once again it's the "cold start" or "chicken and egg" problem.
However, according to the NY Times, there's no merchant hardware requirement for Clinkle and the go to market strategy involves a Facebook-like focus on college campuses and surrounding businesses. That may be a key decision and help the startup gain some quasi-critical mass in selected markets among students.
Beyond the hardware issues surrounding NFC adoption, the central issue with mobile payments has been a lack of perceived need among consumers. Mobile payments are being used in selected contexts and commerce situations (e.g., Starbucks) but the public at large hasn't seen the need to replace plastic payment with app-based payment that relies on stored credit cards or bank accounts.
That brings me to indoor location and marketing. When discussing these topics, and the absence of technology standards, I often use mobile payments as an analogy. Yet there is a critical distinction. The difference between the two segments is that while mobile payments still largely requires a shift in consumer behavior, indoor marketing does not.
Large majorities of consumers are already using their smartphones in stores to look for price information, product reviews and coupons. The idea of brands and retailers communicating with them in stores will be built on this existing behavioral foundation. Accordingly indoor marketing won't require consumers to adopt new technology or approaches to shopping -- unlike mobile payments.
The "heavy lifting" in indoor marketing is on the merchant side, where WiFi or other sensor infrastructure needs to be in place. Fortunately in most major retail environments the rudimentary infrastructure already exists.
But don't take my word for it. We'll be discussing the competing indoor location technologies and hardware requirements for indoor marketing (as well as their accuracy) at Place: The Indoor Marketing Summit this fall in San Francisco. It will be an event anyone in the mobile or location-based marketing space won't want to miss.
BlackBerry posted a "suprise loss" (based on analyst forecasts) in fiscal Q1 of $84 million. The company announced that it had shipped 6.8 million smartphones. However of those only 2.7 million were BlackBerry 10 handsets (Z10 and Q10).
The much-touted Z10 all-touchscreen phone seems to be a complete flop. The more "traditional" Q10, with its hardware keyboard, may wind up being more successful; it has only been on the market a few months.
These phones, it now seems clear, won't save the company. And BlackBerry is becoming increasingly marginalized in the smartphone and tablet world -- even in the enterprise it's traditional stronghold.
In terms of tablets BlackBerry said that it shipped 100,000 Playbooks in the quarter. BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins has dismissed tablets as mere fashion. He doesn't think the devices will exist in five years. While the iPad may not reign forever tablets will continue to exist certainly. Heins is mistaken.
The Playbook won't be getting an OS update and is effectively dead in the water. In North America it delivers less than 1% of overall tablet traffic, according to ad network Chitika. The chart above reflects the "tier 2" tablets that lag the iPad, Kindle and Galaxy in terms of web traffic. (The iPad delivers 82% of North American tablet traffic.)
Gartner's global OS projection for 2014 shows BlackBerry having an almost non-existent market share.
Source: Gartner (6/13)
The hard question to answer now is "what next?" The transition-turnaround story clearly won't play to investors anymore. The stock is off 27% following the earnings releas.
Selling the company or taking it private are two options. But who would buy it? (Certainly BlackBerry would be acquired at the "right price.") Microsoft has flirted with the idea but it probably wouldn't serve Redmond because BlackBerry hardware isn't prized in the market and would be unlikely to advance Windows Phones.
Another "nuclear" option would be to start putting out BlackBerry Android-powered phones. However that would turn the company into a commodity provider of Android handsets without any meaningful differentiation. That was what Nokia was concerned about (although Nokia would have had more success with Android.) And it would be almost impossible to compete with Samsung globally.
The company is almost out of options.
Nokia paid for product placement in the wildly popular Dark Knight films and released a special Batman-themed Lumia 900 when The Dark Knight Rises was released. The short answer: no, it didn't really "work."
Nokia Windows Phones (Lumia 925) also appear several times in the also extremely popular Man of Steel. Apparently in the alternate reality of Metropolis Nokia-made Windows Phones are the only smartphones in existence. However even the Man of Steel with all his remarkable alien abilities and strength probably won't do much for Lumia handset sales.
The Superman film is opening in China this week and Nokia is offering a Chinese "Superman Limited Edition" Lumia 925 with the "hope" (S) insignia on the back. Depending on how excited the Chinese are by Man of Steel there may be some sales lift. However the Chinese market is dominated by Android devices.
Meanwhile over in the Marvel universe (Superman is a DC Comics character), Iron Man's Robert Downey Jr. is reportedly being paid $12 million in a two-year deal to promote HTC smartphones. It doesn't look like the Iron Man character is part of the deal or will appear in the ads.
Downey is a recognizable and popular celebrity but he probably isn't powerful enough -- at least without the Iron Man suit -- to compete with Samsung's Galaxy juggernaut (The Avengers might collectively have a shot at defeating it). The Korean company spent over $400 million in 2012 to achieve and maintain its Android smartphone lead. That compares with HTC's $46 million and Nokia's almost non-existent $13 million.
Microsoft has been in a kind of "double-bind." It has been trying to use Office integration with Windows Phone and Surface tablets to differentiate those products vs iOS and Android. However they haven't been selling particularly well (save in a few isolated countries). Yet the longer Microsoft held Office back from iOS (and Android) the more it faced the prospect of people getting used to alternative software or (Google) docs in the cloud.
Rumored for a very long time, today Office officially comes to the iPhone in app form (though not the iPad). In order to use the app iPhone owners must be subscribers to Office 365. It also requires iOS 6.1 as well and works on the iPhone 4 and above.
The product appears to require a SkyDrive account in addition but that may be a built-in feature of Office 365. (I'm not a subscriber.)
The new iPhone app allows users to view and edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents. However you can only create Word and Excel documents on the app. Users will also be able to edit docs "offline" and they will sync when the connection is resumed (think airplane flight). Microsoft promises that "formatting and content remain intact" on the iPhone and back to the 365 documents in the cloud.
As mentioned, there's no Office for iPad app but that will ultimately come in all probability. For the time being iPad users can access Office 365 through the browser. So effectively Office is available for the iPad.
There are now hundreds of millions of iOS devices in the market globally. This year more tablets are expected to ship than laptops and by 2015 more tablets than PCs in general. In the aggregate there will be more "mobile device" users than PC users in the very near future. Thus Microsoft was all but compelled to bring Office to iOS (Android users can access via the browser).
After Windows, Office is Microsoft's most important and lucrative product -- generating rougly $25 billion in revenue last year. The rise of mobile devices puts enormous pressure on both product lines. However the arrival of Office for iOS means there's less reason to buy a Surface tablet.
It's fascinating to watch Google evolve from a "search engine" into something much more interesting and complex. The rise of mobile, the launch of Google Now, the improvements in voice search and the more recent, conceptual introduction of what Google is calling "conversational search" all point to where search at Google is headed.
The search metaphor is giving way to the personal assistant metaphor. The entry of Siri in the market roughly two years ago was the trigger of the transition.
Google search boss Amit Singhal was deeply enamored of Star Trek as a boy and, like others at Google, has openly fantasized about building the "Star Trek computer." In other words, a computer one could simply speak to naturally and get correct and complete information.
Google Now, also sometimes called "predictive search," tries to go beyond that purely "conversational" scenario by anticipating user needs and interests based on big data and personal search history (and movements). Google Now is highly imperfect but when it works it's impressive.
While Google has only recently sought to move in the direction of "personal assistant," Siri has always been an "assistant" but only recently aspired to be a search utility. Siri was explicitly conceived as a tool that would enable the accomplishment of specific tasks and not simply the retrieval and display of information.
As Apple has added more structured data feeds to what Siri can access it has improved -- much of Siri's value for users still comes from controlling the device and initiating calls, texts and emails rather than "searching" -- however the great "Achilles heel" for Siri has been its limited dataset and lack of flexibility.
Although it wasn't true when Siri was first introduced, Google has now exceeded Siri by bringing its web-search capabilities and into the virtual assistant equation. Google has a much deeper (albeit mostly unstructured) knowledge base to call upon vs. Apple. Thus for numerous questions where Siri didn't have a structured response it would have to default to web search (i.e., Google): "I didn't understand XYZ [query], shall I search the web for XYZ."
Google would then ride to the rescue. In the Google universe it can bring increasingly structured answers to the same user queries but also its full index as a backup.
With the coming integration of Twitter, Wikipedia and especially Bing into Siri's roster of data sources with iOS7, Apple adds a full web index and much more breadth to what Siri can do without having to hand off to a third party search engine (i.e., Google). And unlike current scenarios where users typically have to explicitly ask Siri to "search the web" to obtain XYZ information, soon they'll just ask for "XYZ" -- and Bing will supply the necessary or desired information.
The deal has potential to dramatically broaden Siri's utility and usage frequency. Equally it could, if successful, significantly increase search query volume coming to Bing from iPhone users. The integration will need to be very "elegant" to win over users, who are accustomed to either using apps or Google in the Safari toolbar to "search the web" on the iPhone. Users will need to be educated about Siri's new capabilities.
The integration of Bing's search capabilities is a "crossing the Rubicon" of sorts for Apple as it declares that comprehensive data and search capabilities are necessary to fully deliver on the promise of the personal-virtual assistant.
More than three out of five (61%) mobile subscribers in the U.S. owned a smartphone during the most recent three-month period (March-May 2013), up more than 10 percent since smartphones became the mobile majority in early 2012.
Comscore, for its part, says that the percentage of mobile users with smartphones is slightly less: 58%. Overall we're talking about 140 - 150 million people in the US now with smartphones.
In terms of OS market share, Nielsen reports that Android has 53% of the US smartphone market, while Apple controls 40%.
No one should ever bet against Microsoft. But amid a flurry of new Android based "convertables" and tablets (some of which were announced today), Windows is facing a tougher fight than ever. Only the enterprise and Office stand between the company and a dire-looking market.
PC sales are off and it doesn't appear they'll turn around soon. Yet, Microsoft is hoping that its 8.1 Windows update fixes many of the problems and complaints with Windows 8, which have contributed to disappointing sales. Microsoft, with its many billions in quarterly revenues, is clearly the ironic underdog in the new world of mobile computing.
Redmond got a bit of good news from WPP research subsidiary Kantar Worldpanel ComTech earlier today. The firm found that Windows Phones had gained nearly 2 points since a year ago (however comScore data show much smaller gains). It's not clear, however, whether the needle is really moving for Microsoft given that Windows Phones generate less than 2% of all mobile OS based web traffic in the US.
Source: Kantar Worldpanel
The company's Surface tablets have also been a disappointment thus far. RT starts at $499 and Pro starts at $899. Both are going to need to come down by at least $200 before most consumers will consider them.
ASUS today said it was releasing a 7-inch tablet for $149 (outside the US there will be a 8GB version for the equivalent of $129). ASUS is the maker of the popular Nexus 7. Over time a large percentage of tablet sales will be concentrated in the 7-inch to 8-inch range and those tablets will almost without exception -- the exception being the iPad -- be priced below $200.
Regardless of how full featured Surface tablets are price is a major driver of purchase behavior.
Accordingly, in response to declining tablet prices and sluggish sales, Microsoft is going to lower its software licensing fees to enable hardware OEMs to bring down prices of their Windows devices. But it may not be enough to boost sales. In addition the absence of a native version Office on the iPad or Android hasn't boosted Surface either.
One interesting question to ask is whether Microsoft's past success has mostly relied on its ubiquity and near-monopoly status as an operating system (together with Office). If there's even a shred of truth in that question it's a serious problem because once people are no longer "compelled" to buy Windows machines a substantial number of them won't.
The following slide, presented as part of venture capitalist Mary Meeker's semi-annual internet trends report, is very surprising and revealing:
At the Google developer conference in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago, Google demonstrated "conversational search" on the PC. It was one of the clear highlights of the nearly three-hour keynote. What the demo showed was Google's voice search (and audio read back) capability together with "context awareness" of previous query results.
For years Google has very self consciously been trying to replicate the "Star Trek computer." Now Google is making some meaningful strides toward that objective.
In the demonstration at the Google event, we saw the capacity to search for a person, place or thing and then do follow-up searches using pronouns or otherwise building on the previous query. The Google representative spoke to the computer and planned a trip to the Northern California beach community of Santa Cruz. She spoke queries to her PC and got voice-response answers from the Google "assistant."
This kind of "context awareness" or "conversational" capability is present to varying degrees in Siri today (and other "assistants") as well as other "AI" driven call center and customer service solutions.
Following the lead of Siri and then going beyond it, Google is transforming conventional search into a personal assistant experience. This is the clear future direction of the market. Google's voice search and Google Now information or answer "cards" illustrate this trajectory. As of late yesterday some of those same capabilities have been brought over to the Chrome browser on the PC.
If users update their Chrome browsers to the latest version they'll find a prominent new voice-search experience on Google.com (it isn't yet available from the URL bar search). Many of the answers or results are "read back" to you (where there's an answer card or Knowledge Graph entry). However this doesn't happen all the time. And in my quick testing, the ability to follow up with secondary searches using pronouns and queries referencing previous results was very limited.
Still, the spoken read-back (as in mobile search) is fun and as Google develops this contextual and conversational capability further you may be inclined to start having more verbal interactions with your computer.
The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) has released new data on mobile phone satisfaction. Apple (iPhone) comes out on top, as it does in the JD Power surveys. However the iPhone has lost two satisfaction points, while Samung jumped seven points, since last year.
The iPhone may be losing ground because Android devices are being released more frequently with a range of feature improvements and form factors. For example, the iPhone 5's screen, which was enlarged vs. the 4S, looks puny by comparison to some of the Samsung devices.
Most other competitors on the ACSI list gained vs. last year except LG, HTC and BlackBerry. Immediately below are the ACSI rankings.
For comparison purposes, here are the JD Power rankings. After Apple, Nokia came in second beating Samsung. Motorola, second in ACSI's list above, was fourth overall in the JD Power rankings.
The ACSI people will tell you that satisfaction ratings matter because they're broadly predictive of future sales performance. I accept that as sound. However the data from year one have not always correctly predicted market share or sales performance in year two. One case in point is online search, where ratings declines for Google have not translated into market share loses and vice versa for other competitors.
It's also worth noting that the satisfaction rankings differences between JD Power and ACSI are probably the result of a focus on different criteria and different questions to consumers. Thus both lists may not be entirely complete measures of consumer satisfaction. However the iPhone did top both lists, which is significant.
There are some signs of progress for Windows Phones and Nokia's Lumia line of handsets that exclusively use the operating system. Especially in Italy and the UK Nokia seems to be making some headway. There were also some data showing an uptick in Windows Phones' market share in the US.
The following are two sets of survey-based market share data from comScore and Kantar. Kantar shows much greater growth in Windows Phone adoption in the US than comScore. Regardless, over the past 18 months Windows Phones have largely failed to make a dent in the smartphone dominance of Android and Apple devices.
It's almost 100% certain that Nokia, with its well-reviewed Lumia hardware, would be selling more phones if there were an Android option. However Nokia CEO Stephen Elop has essentially refused to consider that option and is sticking to the company's Windows-only strategy. This comes amid intensifying investor pressure to adopt Android.
According to a recent WSJ article:
Shareholders approved the dividend-suspension proposal, but appear to be losing patience as questions about Samsung and Apple loomed over Tuesday's session. One shareholder asked Mr. Elop why Samsung is achieving what the investor characterized as 10 times better results than Nokia, and another concluded a round of tough questions by saying that right now Nokia isn't displaying "the spirit and charisma" that Apple has.
Over the next 2 - 3 quarters, Nokia may see slightly better results but they won't show the kinds of growth desired by institutional investors. Unless or until Nokia adopts Android sales won't accelerate to any significant degree, to the increasing frustration of investors.
One way or another Nokia will likely be developing Android devices by this time next year -- absent a Windows sales miracle. Either Elop will give in to investor calls for Android or, if he does not, he will be ousted by their calls for his head. And the first act of any successor CEO will be to fast-track Android handset development.
I'm a big opponent of using "shipments" as an indicator of market share. It may be a directional indicator of market share in some cases. But there are times when "shipments" is simply the wrong metric. IDC's latest tablet numbers offer a case-in-point.
The firm reported the following tablet shipment figures globally for Q1:
Basically the positions of Android and iOS tablets have reversed since last year. Shipments are put forward as a proxy for market share by IDC. However that's a dubious proposition at best. Shipments do not equal sales, let alone usage.
The following chart reflects North American tablet traffic share as of March, according to Chitika. After the iPad's 82%, Kindle Fire has a 7% share of traffic. Samsung Galaxy tablets come in at 4.3%. Needless to say these actual traffic data show a massive discrepancy vs. IDC's shipments estimates.
Below is StatCounter data from 2012 (via Royal Pingdom) -- I was unable to find more recent global traffic data. These data reflect something very consistent with the Chitika data above.
In these various geographic markets the iPad is generating around 80% or more of tablet traffic. Even if we assume iPad share has fallen by 10 points since last year, these data are still a radical departure from the IDC figures.
Undoubtedly lower-priced tablets and the sheer proliferation of devices will necessarily diminish the iPad's "shipments share" over time. But it remains to be seen how actual usage is impacted. For the moment market share (as measured by consumer usage and traffic data) looks nothing at all like IDC's projections.
Whether we call Google Now "predictive search," "anticipatory search" or a "virtual assistant," the capability is highly useful and improving regularly. Previously exclusive to Android devices with OS 4.1 or higher ("Jelly Bean") Google Now is now available for the iPhone and iPad.
You'll need to download the latest version of the Google Search app to get it.
Google Now is partly Google's answer to Siri (and Passbook) and partly a wholly independent development that takes your search history, your Gmail entries, your calendar, your location and other "context" to deliver a range of personalized information without having to actively search for it.
Google Now for iOS operates in essentially the same way as it does on Android devices: users swipe up from the bottom of the screen to receive customized information cards. The cards feature weather, traffic, stock quotes, recent sports scores, local places of interest, movie showtimes and so on. Below is a complete list of the content/data available through Google Now.
The cards on the chart above "missing" from iOS are newer cards that will soon come to iOS. Google confirmed this.
Those who download and use the service will likely find themselves using it regularly (as I do). While it can sometimes be flawed or inaccurate -- if you travel a lot it will often give you information about the city you just left rather than where you are -- it offers a growing corpus of useful information. As mentioned, it continues to expand and improve.
Google requires users to sign in to get access to Google Now, so the company will gain mobile usage data it wouldn't otherwise have in the process. It's a very effective way for Google to get iOS users re-engaged with search on their iPhones and iPads.
A survey we conducted in June of last year (n=503 US iPhone 4S owners 18 and older) found that most people who searched Google on their iPhones didn't use the Google Search app:
Which of the following do you use MOST OFTEN to search the web on your phone?
If this survey were done today we might see slighly different percentages but directionally the results would be similar. It will be interesting to see whether and how the numbers change several months from now -- and whether the introduction of Google Now for iOS has had a meaningful impact on user behavior.
Apple has just released earnings. The company reported quarterly revenues of $43.6 billion. Second quarter revenues in 2012 were $39.2 billion. Total 1H 2013 revenues were $98 billion.
There were better-than-expected iPhone and iPad sales in the quarter. Gross margins came in at 37.5%. This compared to 47.4% last year.
Now the device numbers:
On cheaper devices: There were lots of questions during the earnings call about Apple's competitive position and ability to compete in markets around the world. CEO Tim Cook repeated several times that an aggressively priced iPhone 4 is the crux of Apple's strategy to attract first time smartphone buyers in developing markets.
This is a product, however, that's two generations old. While Apple says it won't make "cheap products" it's very likely that Apple will develop a less expensive iPhone to compete in those markets where "first time buyers" can't afford the state-of-the-art iPhone.
On mobile payments: Tim Cook was asked about getting into mobile payments. Cook responded that the market was in its infancy, implying that Apple would be waiting to enter it in earnest (if at all).
On the prospect of a larger iPhone screen: One of the financial analysts asked about a larger iPhone display. Cook respondend, " The iPhone 5 has the absolute best display in the industry." However he acknowledges that "some customers" value screen size. He explained that larger displays require trade-offs in quality. He then said that the company won't ship a larger iPhone display "while these trade-offs exist." That in turn implies that a larger display may be on the iPhone 6 or a later model.
It turns out that despite lots of media coverage and celebrity personality Alicia Keys as "creative director" most North Americans don't know about the launch of BB10. That's according to a survey commissioned by MKM Partners. The poll of 1,500 adult consumers (conducted during the past three weeks) asked about device adoption and future purchase intentions. It found, consistent with other data, much higher recognition and interest in Apple and Samsung. Others generally fared poorly.
The survey found that 51% of respondents owned smartphones, with 39% saying they bought their in the last six months.
Ownership breakdown by handset OEM:
Current mobile OS:
Future purchase intentions:
Asked about BlackBerry 10, 83% of respondents indicated they weren't aware of the launch. Asked about Windows Phones, 61% lacked awareness of the OS. When asked about interest in BB10/BlackBerry or Windows Phones the majority of respondents indicated indifference.
Separately investment firm Piper Jaffray conducted another wave of its research among US teens about device ownership and future intentions.
Notable findings include the following:
In both cases iOS was dominant. However Android has made slight gains in both smartphone and tablet categories since the previous survey was conducted last fall. And aggressive pricing, especially in the tablet category, may drive Android penetration up vs. iOS among younger users.
Microsoft is in a tough spot: Windows Phones aren't selling well outside of a couple of EU markets and data indicate that neither is Windows 8. Windows RT and Surface tablets have so far been a major disappointment as well. While it's way to early to "count Microsoft out," clearly the company is in trouble as mobile internet access and mobile computing accelerate at the expense of the PC.
There have been persistent rumors that Microsoft was bringing a version of Office to iOS and specifically the iPad. You can use Microsoft's Office 365 cloud-based product on the iPhone or iPad. (I have not.) But the experience will not be as rich as with a native app.
There are two theories about why Office has not come to iOS as a native app: Microsoft won't pay the 30% "tax" to be in the iTunes App Store and, perhaps more significantly, if Office came to the iPad (or Android tablets) it would undermine the sales outlook for Microsoft's own Surface tablets -- currently the only tablet that offers Office.
Microsoft's compromise may be to offer Office 365 through the browser to iPad users. However by not offering a native app it risks ceding the centrality of Office to a range of apps. Offering a native-app Office would potentially cloud the future of its own tablet devices, which may not be so bright anyway.
Last week there was a Reuters report asserting the next Google-ASUS Nexus 7 will have an improved screen and may cost as little as $149. The current entry level Nexus 7 is $199. Reuters also said that if it's not the new Nexus 7 than the existing tablet's price may be reduced. The current entry level Kindle Fire from Amazon (with ads) costs $159.
As this all indicates there's a kind of "race to the bottom" going on that may radically depress margins on Android tablets. Furthermore we're likely to see a decent $99 7-inch Android tablet in the next year.
The growth of smartphones and the emergence of these reasonable-quality low-cost tablets such as the Nexus 7 are accelerating a trend toward mobile device adoption at the expense of PCs and further extending PC replacement cycles. In developing countries PCs will likely never reach penetration levels seen in North America or Europe.
In its latest device forecast Gartner joins the party, affirming what we already know about PC erosion in favor of smartphones and tablets on a global basis. In its projection Gartner sees Android as the big winner, effectively replacing Microsoft as the dominant OS on tablets and smartphones.
The particulars and timing of this forecast will undoubtedly turn out to be wrong. However the direction of the forecast is probably accurate. With its resistance to matching price competition (probably wisely) Apple iPads will not reach tablet penetration levels of low-cost Android based tablets (though the company is considering a lower-cost iPhone).
So far, Microsoft's "2.0" efforts in mobile, Windows Phone and Surface tablets, have only made modest gains in selected markets. However Microsoft still makes money from Android OEMs via patent licensing fees. If it has to rely on licensing the company's future will be pretty grim.
If these figures are anywhere near accurate tablets are poised to become the primary computing (and advertising) platform. Yet we're likely to see quasi-converged devices (i.e., tablets with keyboards like the Surface Pro) become laptop replacements in the near term.
BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins recently got a lot of coverage, in anticipation of the BlackBerry Z10 launch, for the remark that the iPhone was now outdated.
The much-hyped Z10 is now available in the US from AT&T (soon from Verizon) and a range of carriers in international markets. I went into an AT&T store this weekend to take a look at and get a "hands on" sense of the device. Unimpressive.
It was immediately clear that this handset may keep some number of BlackBerry customers from "defecting" to the iPhone or Android. However it's not sufficiently exciting to lure existing iPhone and Android users to the BlackBerry platform. The UI and software are not entirely intuitive for iPhone and Android users. In addition, the collection of apps is limited.
The phone resembles an HTC device and is generally unremarkable otherwise. Indeed it has a "generic smartphone" quality.
Much has been made that AT&T employees haven't been trained to promote the phone. That seemed evident in my visit. In the store I entered there was not only a lack of promotional signage but the phone was placed in a far corner almost as an afterthought. It was simply there among a row of competing smartphones -- not highlighted in any way. I had to ask store salespeople multiple times where it was to locate the phone.
It's almost 100% certain this device will not be the engine of new growth for BlackBerry and that the device maker will continue to fall out of favor in the US market.
As Apple reportedly prepares to release a less expensive, plastic version of the iPhone to boost sales in the developing world, it's trying to strike a balance between cost and quality. It will simultaneously have to make the phone appealing (perhaps with a slightly different design and color) while not cannibalizing its flagship.
The perception of higher quality is one of the few remaining advantages that the device has over Android rivals, who over the past three years have dramatically closed the quality and features gap. Despite these gains, the iPhone has consistently beaten its smartphone competitors in customer service ratings from JD Power. The latest survey is no exception.
JD Power surveyed nearly 10,000 US smartphone owners. The satisfaction criteria, in order of importance, were the following:
This is the ninth consecutive time that the iPhone has ranked #1. JD Power said the Apple device did particularly well in the areas of design and ease of operation.
In a bit of a surprise, Nokia edged Samsung in the survey. However Nokia has many fewer users (by an order of magnitude) than Samsung, whose Galaxy smartphone line is the best-selling Android handset in many markets around the world.
It's interesting that LG performed so poorly given the success of the LG-made Nexus 4, which repeatedly sold out and to date remains overall best Android handset on the market. In contrast, among feature phone OEMs, LG performed best, which is somewhat curious.