Other Mobile Devices

T-Mobile to Put Android on Home Phone and Tablet

According to the NY Times, T-Mobile is planning a push further into the home with an Android-based home phone and a tablet computer based on the open-source OS:

T-Mobile plans to sell a home phone early next year and soon after a tablet computer, both running Android, according to confidential documents obtained from one of the company’s partners. The phone will plug into a docking station and come with another device that handles data synchronization as it recharges the phone’s battery.

A T-Mobile spokesman, Peter Dobrow, declined to discuss the specifics of any future products but confirmed that T-Mobile had plans for several devices based on Android.

This strategy appears to be an expansion of the company's T-Mobile @ home strategy. Incumbent landline carriers AT&T and Verizon have both introduced more advanced home telephones with integrated touch screens and limited Internet access to make their landline services more compelling. 

We can probably expect to see a range of interesting Android mobile computing devices, which are not primarily phones, in the next year.

New iPod Shuffle With VoiceOver

Apple has released a third-generation iPod Shuffle, the smallest of its portable music devices. Among the new features is VoiceOver, a text-to-speech capability that can tell the listener the name of the song or artist, ability to navigate playlists, or hear status information such as battery life. According to Apple, the new iPod Shuffle is multi-lingual and can speak up to 14 languages.

VoiceOver is already found on the Mac OS X operating system as a built-in accessibility feature for the visually impaired. And in November 2008, VoiceOver was included in an update for iTunes. Because it doesn't include a visual screen or multi-touch technology, the Shuffle is a perfect candidate for speech services. But the fact that Apple is taking strides to highlight the speech capability for the iPod Shuffle underscores the value and form function for voice navigation on mobile devices.

How Low Can PC Prices Go?

BusinessWeek somewhat rhetorically asks "How Low Can PC Prices Go?" The answer is zero or $0, provided there's a two-year contract. That offer has already been floated in the US and in Europe on a trial basis.

Wireless carriers in Europe and the U.S. are starting to offer netbooks to their customers for little money up front or even for free with a monthly wireless data contract. Retailer RadioShack already sells an Acer Aspire One netbook with a two-year AT&T contract for $150. That's $50 less than the cheapest Apple iPhone from AT&T. 

It's a very interesting time in the hardware world, with Apple apparently set to release a pseudo netbook (or tablet), Android set to move into non-phone segments and a range of efforts to broaden connectivity (e.g., the US White Spaces initiative). There's also an impending wireless operator price war.

What devices will consumers opt for; will it be smartphones or netbooks with connectivity (or both) and what will cannibalize what? Stay tuned. As I've argued in the past, if the connection problem is solved (along the lines of the netbook + wireless contract or Kindle with built-in access) we'll see an explosion of devices that offer Internet access. 

A few years from now the $1500+ prices that still exist for many laptops may seem absurdly high. Regardless, the back of the PC pricing model is now all but broken for consumers. 

Apple 'Netbook' Rumors Reach Fever Pitch

The rise in popularity of so-called "netbooks" has presented Apple with a dilemma: to build one or not to. Previously Steve Jobs said that Apple did have an offering in the UMPC segment: the iPhone/iPod Touch. Apple has also said it can't build anything of quality for under $500, the sweet spot for netbooks. 

Yet for months there have been rumors that Apple is building something that would sit between the iPhone and a conventional laptop. Now these rumors have reached a kind of fever pitch. From today's Dow Jones newswires:

Apple Inc. is planning to launch a netbook computer with a touch screen monitor as early as the second half of this year, two people close to the situation told Dow Jones Newswires Tuesday.

The mini laptop computers will likely have monitor screens that are between 9.7-inches and 10-inches, one person, who declined to be named, said.

Another person said other specifications and functions are still under evaluation.

Apple is working with Taiwan's Wintek Corp., a contract manufacturer of small and medium displays, and Quanta Computer Inc., the world's largest notebook maker by revenue, to assemble the new netbooks, the second person said.

Assuming some version of this is true Apple has a tricky path to navigate. Its laptop sales and pricing have held up well compared to the rest of the industry. The iPod Touch is selling well. If it introduces a less than full functioning computer, say a big iPod Touch, will that affect sales of laptops, Touches, both? Still Apple probably can't ignore the segment.

One of the emerging trends with netbooks is to treat them like mobile phones: heavily subsidize the hardware and sell connectivity in the form of a two year contract. This is happening both in the US and the UK with Acer and AT&T and O2/Telefonica. (For its part the Amazon Kindle is missing a huge opportunity as a media player and Internet access device.)

If Apple were to release a small tablet computer would connectivity be part of the package, or be easily available? Would it work with iPhone apps? Would it be positioned as a mobile Internet access device or a more portable laptop replacement or both? Pricing is also critical. The high price point of the thin MacBook Air dramatically limited its audience of potential buyers.

These are not  easy questions to answer but the right device, priced correctly, with some sort of path to Internet access on the go could be another giant hit for Apple. 

We'll see how much of any of this is real.

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Related: Reuters seems to confirm that some new tablet-like product is coming from Apple. 

Amazon Turns the iPhone into a Kindle

Arguably the biggest tech news today involves the fact that Amazon has released a free iPhone app that effectively turns the device into a Kindle (without the hardware purchase). It's optimally designed to be used with an existing Kindle device (the iPhone app syncs with an actual Kindle if you have one) but doesn't have to be. Depending on your point of view this will either erode future Kindle sales or represents a kind of genius landgrab at the right time in the burgeoning eBook market.

The Kindle 2.0 costs about $350. It's a big improvement (in almost every respect) over the first version of the device and probably will be quite popular. Yet it's also a frivolous purchase for most at a time of recession. By creating a free iPhone app, Kindle has increased its potential market by millions of users. 

I would argue that the move is a smart one for Amazon to broaden its market and head off competition from alternative eBook readers on the iPhone. It may also be able to sell hardware Kindles if people are exposed to the experience and then decide the want the "real thing." 

It's a kind of classic "will we cannibalize sales" dilemma. According to comments in the WSJ this morning, Amazon apparently doesn't think it will hurt device sales (I agree):

[Amazon VP Ian] Freed said he is "not at all concerned" that making e-books available on other devices will cannibalize sales of the $359 Kindle. Instead, it will increase sales of digital books and the Kindle, he says. Amazon says it plans to release applications to read Kindle books on other devices, but declined to specify which ones.

Mr. Freed says he expects that users of the iPhone application would read their books for 20 to 30 minutes at most, after which eye strain or battery life might become a problem. 

kindle for iphone

Here's Amazon's release.

Netbooks, MIDs to Further Erode PC Sales

There are two emerging threats to Microsoft's traditional PC businesses: the growth of netbooks and potential replacement of Windows OS's on those devices by Linux or Android. Traditional PC sales are faltering in the recession (off 8% according to Microsoft's last earnings call) but netbooks have been on a tear because of their inexpensive price tag. (Apple has said it "can't" build a <$500 computer.)

Microsoft is trying to put Windows on most netbooks and has succeed in doing so across the leading OEMs. However, Android is going to begin a netbook push and chipmaker Nvidia wants to make $99 mobile Internet devices (MIDs):

NVIDIA Corporation, the inventor of the graphics processor, today introduced a new platform, based on the NVIDIA® Tegra™ 600 Series computer-on-a-chip that enables a $99, always-on, always-connected HD mobile internet device (MID) that can go days between battery charges.

This platform will enable OEMs to quickly build and bring to market devices that carriers can offer for as low as $99 —bringing broadband connectivity and all of the Web’s HD content to the masses.

The Acer Aspire has already hit that $99 "price point" but with a two-year contact with AT&T for the IP connectivity. Netbooks have become enormously popular because of how comparatively inexpensive they are. 

These low prices, <$500 (and probably <$300), are likely to continue and further erode the traditional PC market. (If not it will be because of very aggressive pricing by PC OEMs). Indeed, PC sales will likely be squeezed by a growing array MIDs/netbooks and maybe increasingly powerful smartphones.

The challenge and issue for Microsoft is whether it will be able command the same market share on those MIDs as it historically has enjoyed in the conventional PC market. The "cloud computing" model implied by the sale of netbooks makes local software less necessary -- and the machines don't have the memory to support it to the same degree. Beyond this there's the question of how much can be charged for Office and the Windows OS -- at <$300 pricing or, worse, $99 margins will be squeezed badly. 

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Related: Android’s progress elevates Google’s mobile aspirations . . . and Orange to sell LG watchphone this year in EU markets. 

LG watchphone

Netbook maker Acer's new smartphones are out but nothing special to write home about.

Will eBooks on iPhone & Android Stall Kindle?

If the "Classics" app is any indication, an eBook reading experience on the iPhone can be pretty good. Now Google and Amazon have both announced that they're going to be putting thousands of books on the iPhone and Android platforms. The NY Times rounds up the announcements. You can read the Google announcement from last week here.

Overall eBook reading is gathering steam, aided by the popularity of Kindle and the emergence of the iPod as a viable eBook reader. Google and Amazon's announcements will further boost the trend. 

This morning Amazon announced Kindle 2.0 -- a much improved but incomplete device. But will the broad emergence of smartphones as eBook readers -- especially the iPhone/iPod Touch -- stall Kindle sales? Kindle isn't a phone and it isn't an Internet access device. It's a specialized newspaper, blog and book reader.

If I already have an iPhone am I likely to buy a Kindle? It's not clear that the new device will be a major success. But with the ability to access the Internet (or emphasis of that feature) and/or the ability to play video I believe it would become a true bestseller. 

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Related: Plastic Logic plans to introduce its own, larger eBook/newspaper reader. The NY Times has the story

Kindle 2.0 Launches: Improved but Still Not Internet Ready

So Kindle 2.0 was announced this morning. It looks like a giant white iPod Touch with a physical keyboard. Here are the "new and improved" bullets from the release:

  • New Slim and Sleek Design
  • New Crisper, Faster Display
  • New 2 GB Memory Holds Over 1,500 Books
  • 25% Longer Battery Life
  • New Instant Dictionary Lookup
  • New Experimental Read-To-Me Feature (Text to Speech -- awkward but interesting)
  • Still Wireless, Still No PC, Still No Hunting for Wi-Fi Hot Spots
  • Automatically Syncs With Original Kindle, Kindle 2, and future devices
  • Earth’s Biggest E-book Store Keeps Expanding, Plus New Stephen King Exclusive

This is much better that its predecessor it appears. But it's still missing the opportunity to become a "MID" (mobile Internet device). You can see a informal video here or the official video here.

Kindle 2.0: When Will It Become an Internet Device?

I'll admit I'm something of a Kindle detractor. The first device, though popular, was awkward and lacked features in my view -- but it was very exciting and promising in other respects. The new Kindle device (apparently pictured on the right, though it may be a fake image) is set to arrive this month.

It looks to me like a giant iPod Touch with a keyboard. There are some additional screenshots here.

Kindle has built-in access to Sprint's 3G network in the background to enable over the air downloads.

E-books are great for planes and business travel, but the real action and future for this device -- or others like it if it fails to seize the opportunity -- is as a mobile Internet access tool (and multi-media viewing device). I wonder if Internet access will be mentioned when it debuts in the next couple weeks?

Of course, if it were to become a mobile Internet device, there would need to be an explicit mobile data plan commitment by consumers. There would also need to be a touchscreen added to Kindle (Sony's new eBook Reader has one) to fully realize the mobile Internet opportunity inherent in this tablet.

US FCC 'White Spaces' Decision May Have Sweeping Impact over Long Term

The US Federal Communications Commission approved a plan to allow unlicensed broadcast TV spectrum to be used by companies to create wireless broadband services that amount to “WiFi on steroids.” This was a hotly contested issue, with tech and electronics companies like Google, HP, Microsoft, Intel, Dell and Motorola, among a number of others, lining up in favor and a coalition of sports teams, theater producers, musicians and broadcasters, among others, opposing the plan.

The opponents and detractors unsuccessfully argued that new uses of the white spaces “radio spectrum,” existing “between” frequencies used by broadcasters and others, might disrupt broadcasts or live performances. Initial testing of devices on this spectrum did indicate there was some cause for concern. But upon retesting and some lobbying publicly and privately, the FCC directors voted to approve the plan to allow access to this spectrum.

Here’s what Google envisions:

Google and other companies (including Dell, EarthLink, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Microsoft, and Philips) have formed the “White Spaces Coalition,” to persuade the FCC to establish appropriate interference standards that would allow entrepreneurs to develop fixed and mobile devices that utilize these airwaves. Earlier this year, the coalition submitted two prototype devices (from Microsoft and Philips) to the FCC’s engineers to demonstrate the feasibility of this approach.

The idea is to create wireless broadband using this spectrum that will effectively ensure continuous and near-universal coverage for internet-connected devices (fixed and mobile). Unlike conventional radio/wireless spectrum, the “unlicensed” part of this means that no one has to pay anything to the FCC to use it. That stands in contrast to the nearly $20 billion paid as part of the recent 700MHz spectrum auction earlier this year (dominated by AT&T and Verizon).

What happens now? Google co-founder Larry Page makes a prediction:

We will soon have “Wi-Fi on steroids,” since these spectrum signals have much longer range than today’s Wi-Fi technology and broadband access can be spread using fewer base stations resulting in better coverage at lower cost.

The rest of this post is at Search Engine Land.

Sprint: WiMax Will Be Available to 80 Million in US by Next Year

Ben Wolff, CEO of Clearwire, majority owned by Sprint, told USAToday that by the end of 2009 WiMax will be available to 60 million to 80 million US consumers. By 2010 that could potentially increase to 140 million (the Internet has about 190 million users in the US today). Sprint's Xohm mobile broadband service recently launched in Baltimore and will roll out in several other US cities next year: Chicago, Portland, Ore., Philadelphia, Washington and Dallas/Fort Worth. Xohm will likely become a part of Clearwire. 

WiMax is in a race with LTE, the 4G standard/system supported by Verizon and AT&T. However LTE is at least three years behind WiMax in terms of implementation in the US. In addition, according to the USAToday article, Verizon and AT&T don't own anywhere near as much 4G spectrum as Sprint/Clearwire. That could further delay rollout of LTE, which isn't expected to have any sort of presence until 2012 or later.

Consumers don't care about which standard is used -- they're not even aware of 4G more generally -- but they do care about fast, affordable Internet access. Whether WiMax or LTE, the notion of a nationwide wireless system that could support home or on-the-go access to the Internet is very appealing to many people -- assuming it's priced right. 

Eventually mobile broadband will start to replace conventional wireline ISPs. And once it hits national reach, all sorts of interesting things can happen with Internet-connected devices that aren't necessarily laptops or mobile phones per se. 

It also won't be until substantial 4G penetration that "mobile TV" really becomes mainstream either. Though the subscription (as opposed to advertising) business model for mobile TV is unlikely to succeed regardless -- unless it's part of a bundle or upsell with a home cable TV subscription. 

Clearwire is a joint venture between Sprint, TimeWarner Cable, Comcast, Intel and Google. 

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Related: Sprint's debt and the credit crisis may challenge its WiMax ambitions to some degree. 

Reports and Predictions: Handset Growth Steady, Mobile Ads Uncertain

There's an interesting paradox in mobile. On the one hand we have firms such as Portio Research forecasting continued "robust" handset growth amid the global economic downturn. According to Cellular-News:

A new report from Portio Research reveals that over half the world now uses a mobile phone and predicts that 80% of the world’s population will be doing so by the end of 2013 - a staggering 5.8 billion people.

But then there's this bit about declining ARPU:

Meanwhile despite rising worldwide mobile voice and data revenues Mobile ARPU continues to decline and is predicted to fall from USD 23.2 in 2005 to USD 15.8 by the end of 2013, largely because additional subscriber growth is likely to come from low per capita income markets.

Separately, others are predicting that nascent mobile advertising growth is likely to suffer in an uncertain economic climate. Despite billions of users and growth in mobile data/text and Internet access, some are predicting that the growth in mobile ads will slow because of the "unproven" nature of mobile advertising. Adify's Russ Fradin is quoted in a BusinessWeek article along those lines:

When budgets are tight, advertisers tend to look for proven methods, such as ads placed alongside a Google or Yahoo search, and place less emphasis on experimental venues, such as social networks, experts say. "Mobile and social networks will be hit," Fradin says.

Mobile advertising's development is inevitable. The question is how quickly and in what precise segments of the market will revenues develop? Fradin's comment is correct; in a time of uncertainty there's retrenchment and conservatism among media buyers and planners. No one wants to take risks and lose his job over novel strategies, which may or may not perform as anticipated. 

But the numbers in mobile can't be ignored. It's just for the infrastructure to develop more fully and for agencies and marketers to become educated and comfortable with the medium. That's probably about a 2-3 year cycle. 

Sprint's XOHM Readies for Baltimore Launch

Sprint has formally announced its XOHM (pronounced zoam) WiMAX mobile broadband service. It will launch in Baltimore, MD in September. WiMax faces a challenge from LTE, which AT&T and Verizon have adopted as their 4G network standard. But WiMax is out of the gate sooner. Consumers, of course, don't care about any of this. They just want access on the go. 

XOHM will eventually be incorporated into Clearwire, the mobile broadband provider majority owned by Sprint but also invested in by Intel, Google, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks.

XOHM

XOHM is an ISP replacement offering that allows people -- rather than using a network card -- to tap into Internet access wherever they are in the coverage area(s), which should eventually be national and even international. It renders hotspots obsolete for subscribers.

There are lots of interesting mobile implications for non-phone mobile Internet access products such as Apple's iPod Touch and Nokia's Internet Tablet(s) and so on. Such products can also potentially become cell-phone substitutes with mobile VoIP products (Skype, Fring, Jaxtr, iCall, etc). Once national coverage is established we should see development of a range of interesting mobile Internet access devices that are not cellphones.

XOHM has also done something interesting for its homescreen or start page. It's formed relationships with a host of local content and infrastructure providers:

  • uLocate Communications (which operates the mobile Where portal)
  • Yelp 
  • Eventful 
  • Topix 
  • NAVTEQ 
  • AccuWeather
  • Openwave Systems 
  • Autodesk Inc.

These companies will provide content to XOHM users that will automatically change based on location (in coverage areas). It will thus eliminate the need to input location in most cases, unless you're looking for a business, event or restaurant somewhere else. There are also significant implications for greater location precision with ad targeting on the Internet for subscribers.

All of these scenarios of course depend on consumer adoption and continued rollouts by Sprint/Clearwire of the service. But the benefits to consumers, assuming affordability, are significant: perpetual access across devices (laptop, mobile) for a single price. 

Google and Verizon Wireless: Mobile Search for the Rest of Us?

This post is further comment on Greg Sterling's previous note:

Last week, Wall Street Journal reporter Amol Sharma reported that search giant Google was in serious talks with Verizon Wireless to establish a relationship "which would make Google the default search provider on Verizon devices and give it a share of ad revenue". According to Sharma, based on talks with an executive close to the deal, the arrangement "is aimed at dramatically simplifying what is now a confusing set of search options for cellphone users." In other words, establishing a deeper relationship with Google is part of Verizon Wireless' competitive response to AT&T Mobility's iPhone-based offerings in association with Apple. According to the story, this represents Verizon's rejection of a role for Microsoft and its advertising platform as the default search on Verizon's devices. It should also be a boon for Medio Systems, which will continue to operate an "all-in-one" aggregater presenter of mobile content from a multiplicity of Web service providers.

In a slew of other coverage, discussion surrounded the thaw in a chilly relationship between Google, playing its role as chief proponent of open networks for wireless application and service providers and Verizon as adherent to the transformative model for licensees of wireless spectrum. Frankly, this appears to be more ado about a marketing agreement than is warranted. If Verizon is looking for Google "exclusive" as a source of product differentiation, that's not happening. Steve Jobs and Apple were smart enough to roll out the iPhone with access to the most popular web applications "on the glass". That included YouTube, Maps (based on Google Maps), iTunes, Weather, and its own AppsStore. Google was also embedded as the default search engine in the iPhone's rendition of the Safari Web browser. I'm not privy to what the considerations are in terms of division of advertising revenues (among Apple, AT&T Mobility and Google) for such preferential treatment of Google in the iPhone click-stream, but it's already working for all parties involved.

As for the implications for Local Mobile Search, we've already catalogued a few dozen iPhone apps  that take advantage of geo-location, social networking, reviews and the like. For the most useful, it is the creative marriage of geopositioning, the gravitometer and (thankfully) access to the faster Wi-Fi links by the approved third-party application vendors that make for the best user experience. A Verzon Wireless/Google joint offering doesn't get you there, yet.

An 'iPhone Nano' on the Way?

As all rumors are these days, it's probably partly true and largely inaccurate. Yet, the UK's Daily Mail reports:

Apple is about to launch a 'nano' version of the hugely successful iPhone. It is expected to be in the shops in time for Christmas.

The product will be launched in the UK at up to £150 for pay-as-you-go customers by O2, the mobile phone group owned by Spain's Telefonica. 'This will be a big one,' said an industry source.

There's no detail generally beyond this and no identification of sources. It's intriguing to consider what an iPhone Nano might look like or how close it would be to the iPhone itself in terms of features, etc. Right now, however, it's just fun speculation.

Is There an 'Internet Tablet' in Your Future?

The Kindle, the Nokia Internet Tablet, Dash Express and of course the iPod Touch are precursors to a forthcoming generation of IP-connected devices that are not phones, although they will certainly offer VoIP, but give users Internet connectivity on the go as their raison d'être.

The new class of so-called "netbooks" is also relevant and interesting to this discussion. Here's a prototype from Toshiba:

Toshiba UMPC

Image credit: Engadget

Once the connection problem is solved (e.g., WiMax), all manner of devices will emerge that offer larger screens and "full Internet browsing." On these devices there will be no difference between the "real Internet" and mobile -- including the ads. And it may be on this class of devices that Android's OS really shines.

Apple itself is rumored to be bringing out a Tablet PC.

Audacious TechCrunch Tablet Project

TechCrunch -- that's right the blog -- has decided to build a WiFi-enabled, touch-screen, open-source Internet tablet, aiming for a price of $200.

TechCrunch tablet

Image credit: TechCrunch

If they can build a product at that price it may actually come into being as a mass-market device (PC makers fear such devices). I've written again and again about a scenario in which we carry a "phone phone" that does voice very well and a larger screen device for mobile Internet browsing. This TechCrunch initiative further convinces me that that scenario will come to pass -- it's only a matter of time.

The real question is not the hardware but the connectivity issue: will there be enough coverage to drive such a product to mass-market status? If, for example, Clearwire/Xohm takes off and/or LTE takes flight and is available to the public at reasonable rates, these sorts of devices will proliferate. Kindle is the early model.

As TechCrunch points out, the form factor is somewhere between the current iPhone and a laptop. The next-generation OLPC is another such device. I'd love to see TechCrunch succeed in this intiative, especially at the desired price-point.

WiMax (or LTE) Done Right Could Replace Conventional ISPs

While the standards/platform debate continues in the U.S. (WiMax vs. LTE), The Netherlands is deploying a WiMax system in Amsterdam with a plan to roll it out over the entire country. (Sprint/Clearwire is slated to roll out WiMax to selected markets in the Northeast U.S. this fall.)

The cost of developing/deploying the technology can be borne by consumers who will pay a monthly fee to receive access. It doesn't need to be ad-supported; or it could be ad-supported as a partial subsidy (think Google as ISP). Mobile WiMax or LTE (at some future point) is superior to existing ISPs because it can work at home or on the go for a single subscription fee, assuming providers don't make it cost prohibitive.

That would make devices like the iPod Touch a viable mobile device for people who don't want to use AT&T. It would also enable a new generation of Kindle-like devices that could take advantage of the connectivity. Traditional ISPs like cable companies might suffer in such a situation; however Comcast and TimeWarner cable are Clearwire investors. So, presumably, they would try and piggyback in some fashion on WiMax to prevent subscriber churn.

iPhone Now on Cusp of iPod-Like 'Brand' Status

One of the success factors for the iPod was the fact that it emerged is the only "brand" in the MP3 player market. Despite the fact that there were many MP3 players that predated the iPod, Apple created the most user-friendly device at the time and then, when an eco-system grew up around it, the only brand in the segment.

Putting aside the third-party accessories, feature for feature there weren't so many things that were unique about the iPod vs. rivals like Creative's Zen player. But in the eyes of consumers there was really only one device: the iPod. Competing MP3 players became imitators or "wannabes" in the mind of the consumer. The iPod has about 70% of the market share for MP3 players in the US.

The iPhone appears to be heading in the same direction. A significant caveat in the U.S. is the AT&T exclusivity that could limit sales somewhat.

A BusinessWeek article this morning broadly and speculatively explores the impact of the iPhone on competing handset makers and carriers. We've already seen the market respond with various "iPhone killers," both in the market and yet to be released. On the growing list are the LG Voyager, HTC Touch (and Touch Diamond), Samung Instinct, Blackberry Thunder, Nokia Tube and so on. So far none have lived up to the promise of the label.

Sprint is running a Cinema/TV campaign in which the Instinct is favorably compared with the iPhone in quotes that appear on screen at the end: "An iPhone killer;" "Zippier download speeds than the iPhone." But that was the previous version of the iPhone they're talking about.

Recently, Walter Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal posted a mixed review of the Instinct that basically condemns it to "also-ran" status.

The more "iPhone clones" there are in the market the more the brand of the iPhone is reinforced as authentic compared with rival offerings, which become perceived as inauthentic or imitators in the same way that happened to MP3 players competing with the iPod.

There are devices in the market that feature touch screens and better cameras, browsers with flash support or other features not found on the iPhone. But nobody has yet developed the ecosystem around their phones that the iPhone has. This further differentiates the device and helps it stand out. Blackberry and Android, in particular, are very focused on creating an apps ecosystem. However, they've yet to bring them to market. The iPhone will likely have a lead of at least 6-8 months on rivals in that regard.

The only way for rival handset makers to shake off this growing "imitator" or "wannabe" perception is to actually build devices that outperform the iPhone across several key categories or present a next-level of innovation comparable to what the iPhone offered when it came into the market a year ago.

Both will prove very difficult indeed.

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Related: T-Mobile to offer the iPhone for 1 Euro in Germany.

Samsung is making phones from plastics derived from corn; this could add a "green" cool factor that might appeal to certain market segments.

iPhone as Radio, eBook Reader and More

One of the things that will differentiate the various "platform" competitors in mobile are the third party applications built for the respective devices. That's why Blackberry has started its own version of the iFund and is seeking to cultivate a developer network.

The Android universe is totally open and should produce many interesting apps as well as some garbage. On the other end, Apple has to approve all the apps that show up in the Apps Store for the iPhone. Out of a reported 25,000 interested, only 4,000 were accepted by Apple.

But what's interesting is about the iPhone (and presumably this will occur with some of the other devices) is that third-party applications are extending or potentially will extend it well beyond its original, contemplated uses. Two cases in point:

  • AOL Radio (now "powered" by CBS's online radio division) has an iPhone application that's going to effectively turn the iPhone into a 21st Century transistor radio without the transistor. Other Internet/streaming radio providers will follow undoubtedly.
  • The second is the potential emergence of the iPhone as an ebook reader.

While the iPhone was always conceived of as an iPod, these cases and others start to push the device even further beyond its status as a phone. Along those lines, I'm hopeful that we'll start to see many other mobile consumer devices on the market that take this evolution farther and initiative and era of true mobile computing.