carriers

iOS v. Android, but What about the Others?

The media keep focusing on the "battle" between iPhone and Android. But the mobile platform and handset market is not winner-take-all. There's room for more than two players to succeed in the US and internationally. This is a key point made by Google itself several times now. 

But how many platforms and smartphone operating systems can the market support exactly?

The following charts reflect OS representation on AdMob's global network. (AdMob does not equal the mobile Internet or mobile handsets more broadly, but there's a directional correspondence between mobile Internet trends and what AdMob shows in its metrics reports.)

If you consider the chart immediately above, what you see is that the "mobile Internet" (on AdMob's network) is dominated by iOS, followed by Android in North America and Western Europe. In other regions Nokia is a major player or dominant. Despite its large, installed base RIM is barely present on this chart.

RIM of course sells more smartphones than anyone in North America. However its mobile Internet usage data and overall user experience lag competitors. BlackBerry 6 seeks to change that.  

There aren't going to be five viable global smartphone platforms. There might be four, but it's more likely three. Those will vary, as the chart above suggests, on a geographic basis, with the two "constants" across regions likely to be Android and the iPhone.

Given the scathing criticque that an InfoWorld writer offered of Windows 7 (after a demo), it's quite possible that Microsoft might not be among the winners:

The bottom line is this: Windows Phone 7 is a pale imitation of the 2007-era iPhone. It's as if Microsoft decided in summer 2007 to copy the iPhone and has shut its developers in a bunker ever since, so they don't realize that several years have passed, that the iPhone has advanced, and that competitors such as Google Android and Palm WebOS have also pushed the needle forward. 

We'll have to wait and see how accurate this very harsh review is later this year when the handsets hit the market. But the Kin debacle is not a good sign for Redmond. 

In the US smartphone market, it's currently a three-way race between iPhone, Android and RIM. In Europe it's likely to be iPhone, Android and Nokia. Other platforms may simply not have the scale and (developer) mindshare to compete. Several developer surveys certainly suggest this as well. 

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 Source: Appcelerator (6/10)

Skype Promoting Mobile Usage

I got the following email from Skype this morning trying to encourage me to claim a "Skype to go" number and use Skype on my mobile phone.

The problem is that while there's a financial incentive to use Skype for international calling the quality isn't good enough yet for every day domestic calling over 3G. If that quality improves as 4G networks roll out there could be increasing use of Skype as a primary telco on mobiles.

However Skype can be used quite nicely on the iPad to turn that device into a phone. 

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That sort of potential disruption is a reason that most carriers won't offer unlimited data-only plans. 

Carriers 'Pimp the Homescreen,' Struggle for Relevance on Smartphones

The US carriers should simply acknowledge that they've lost the smartphone user; it's game over. Smartphone owners don't want to deal with carrier decks/portals/pre-installed software and other carrier hi-jinx.

Embrace the "dumb pipe scenario." 

When I launch the browser on my EVO I'm often redirected to the Sprint "powerdeck," a portal that offers news, entertainment and other content. I have no interest in this experience because it's so mediocre. If Sprint had actually built a great UI/UX that I could personalize I might well use it.

The carriers are unable to build state-of-the art user experiences. Nor are their vendors it would seem. But unless they're going to make some substantial investments in user experience . . . just give it up. 

Here's another, similar case-in-point: the LA Times technology blog discusses some of the carrier-pre-installed software now showing up on T-Mobile and Verizon Android smartphones: 

Well, customers who bought Motorola's new Droid X smart phone or Samsung's Vibrant, both of which launched Thursday, may feel a tinge of deja vu.

The Droid X comes loaded with several nonstandard applications for Google's Android, most of which cannot be removed.

Among the phone's so-called junkware is a Blockbuster video app and a demo for an Electronic Arts game called Need for Speed: Shift.

These carrier-installed apps and software are likely the result of "pimping" the homescreen to third parties; in other words, pay for placement. It's probably some VP's idea of an incremental revenue stream. But it's not; it's really just an annoying inconvenience that at best most users will ignore or at worst will make them angry.

Again, unless they're willing to make substantial commitments to the user experience and provide choice and personalization options they should just get out of the way. Even then it's doubtful that carrier portals or decks will see much use on smartphones. Feature phones are a different matter. 

Carriers can gain additional revenues, indirectly, from advertising. They can provide network location to publishers and advertisers, with safeguards and caution. They can accordingly facilitate the delivery of ads and offers and take a slice of the money accordingly.

They could also be the consumer's mobile wallet but they'd need to lower fees to third parties and raise the ceiling on amounts that could be charged by users. They're unlikely to fully embrace mobile payments, however, because they don't want to get into the credit card business with its corresponding bad debt. 

Carriers have tried unsuccessfully to sell advertising in the past. To do it well would probably require acquisitions of mobile ad networks or agencies. Overall, however, it's probably better for them to constrain themselves to behind-the-scenes roles providing the infrastructure and facilitating the ecosystem of developers, publishers and advertisers that now deliver the value to smartphone users. 

FCC: 20% of US Landlines Now VoIP

The US telephone market is more diverse and complex today than at any time before. To that point the US FCC recently reported a fairly dramatic piece of data: almost 20% of US residential landlines are now VoIP-based. 

According to the press release associated with the release of the FCC "Local Telephone Competition" report:

  • At year-end 2008, there were 141 million traditional switched access lines in service and 21 million interconnected VoIP subscriptions in the United States, or about 162 million wireline retail local telephone service connections in total. Of these, 97 million were residential connections and 65 million were business connections.
  • Of the 162 million total connections, 48% were residential switched access lines, 39% were business switched access lines, 12% were residential VoIP subscriptions, and 1% were business VoIP subscriptions.
  • Of the 97 million wireline residential connections, 74.5% were ILEC switched access lines, 19.5% were non-ILEC interconnected VoIP subscriptions, 5.8% were non-ILEC switched access lines, and 0.3% were ILEC interconnected VoIP subscriptions.

These data are from 2008 so they're bound to be different now. The VoIP penetration might be as much as 5 points higher today. 

The vast majority of US residential VoIP subscribers (81%) receive VoIP as part of a "broadband bundle." This is primarily cable companies offering discounted packages of Internet, TV and telephone together. This is part of a larger cable strategy to retain subscribers and steal voice revenues from rival telcos. 

Over time more residential calling will move to lower-cost VoIP or wireless plans. However, the move toward tiered pricing could affect consumer behavior accordingly. Today, according to the US CDC, 25% of US households have no landline at all.

Apple's Fidelity to AT&T Now Self-Destructive

According to a Piper Jaffray survey (reported in Fortune), three-fourths of iPhone 4 first day buyers were existing iPhone owners who were upgrading: 

  • 77% of the iPhone 4 buyers were upgrading from a previous version vs 56% in 2009
  • 16% of buyers were switchers to AT&T from another carrier, down from the previous year
  • 28% of iPhone 4 buyers were also iPad owners

Various estimates have put first day sales at between 1 million and 1.5 million iPhone 4 units. This is good news (of a sort) for Apple but not as good for carrier AT&T, which is subsiding all the phones.

Obviously the phone is hugely popular but it isn't winning as many coverts as past iPhones. Most of the would-be switchers have already moved over. And increasingly competitive Android devices make people less likely to switch. 

Yet there's still demand among non-AT&T customers for the iPhone that Apple is failing to capture. Previous surveys have indicated substantial demand for the iPhone, for example, among Verizon customers:

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If the data in these charts is representative of the broader US market, they represent millions of iPhone units that Apple is not selling -- and that are going to Android or other handsets -- because of AT&T exclusivity. 

CTIA Spanks San Franciso for Labeling Rule

In a move that can only be described as a bitter reaction to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors' recent decision to require mobile phone retailers to post warnings about radiation levels, CTIA says it will no longer hold conferences in the City by the Bay. 

The wireless trade association issued the following statement:

"(The) Board of Supervisors' action has led us to decide to relocate our show," said CTIA Vice President of Public Affairs John Walls in a statement. "We are disappointed to announce that the 2010 CTIA Enterprise and Applications show in October will be the last one we have in San Francisco for the foreseeable future."

CTIA says the show is responsible for pumping many millions into the SF Bay Area economy. There will be a final show in October in San Fransisco, and then perhaps the show will relocate to Los Angeles or other points unknown.

Regardless of the SF labeling rule, which CTIA fears will scare consumers, there isn't likely to be a decline in mobile phone usage given how entrenched they are in the culture and how people are increasingly dependent on them. Perhaps more likely, CTIA is trying to send a message to other cities not to follow suit. 

Trying to Steal Apple's Thunder Verizon Announces Droid 'X'

The morning after glowing iPhone 4 reviews, Verizon and Google tried to steal back some attention for Android with the announcement of "Droid X." There was a splashy press event in New York. I was not there. Here are the major specs on the new Motorola device:

  • 4.3 inch screen
  • 1GHz processor
  • 3G Mobile HotSpot capabilities
  • Adobe Flash Player 10.1

This is essentially Motorola's answer to HTC's Android EVO.

Android boss Andy Rubin said in press materials that “There are 160,000 new Android-powered devices activated daily and Android Market has grown to over 65,000 applications." The new phone runs "Froyo," Android 2.2, which has some impressive capabilities.

According to an associated Google blog post, "there are 60 compatible Android devices, delivered via a global partnership network of 21 OEMs and 59 carriers in 49 countries."

Multiplatform app software platform vendor Appcelerator conducted a survey of 2,733 developers from June 15-17, 2010. It found that developers favor Apple in the near term but are betting on Android in the longer term:

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The potential reason behind developers' more favorable view of Android longer term goes to the platform's "flexibility" and "adaptability" to other devices (TV, in car, etc.) and the distaste for Apple's control. The overwhelming majority of respondents (86%) said that Apple had become "too controlling." 

But what's also striking about these findings (top graphic) is the diminished interest in virtually all other smartphone platforms. Just as Nokia prepares to abandon Symbian for MeeGo, the Appcelerator survey shows very little interest among US-based developers. Even BlackBerry, which has greater market share than the iPhone and Android, is seeing declinging interest among developers: 75% of developers thought that it would eventually be eclipsed by Android and the iPhone. 

Where Launches Opt-In Deal Alerts

Where, which has built its own local ad network for mobile devices, is now lauching "Where Deal Alerts." These are SMS-based coupons, offers and deals, that factor in user preferences (by shopping category) and location:

By opting into the service, customers can set up a user profile that will allow them to receive WHERE’s Deal Alerts via text message. Consumers simply select proximity, day of week, time of day, and content categories such as restaurants and shopping, and WHERE will automatically send coupons via SMS based on preferences.

Where Deal Alerts launch first on AT&T (though not yet on the iPhone) but will expand to other carriers over time. The one limitation of the system is that users have to specify a single time of day for delivery of the alerts. 

Deal alerts are set up from within the Where application but, as mentioned, come in the form of SMS notifications tied to location. Thus proximity to a QSR chain or particular merchant (at a particular time of day) would trigger delivery. Because Where has access to location from the carrier, users don't need to be in the Where app itself, "check in" or even be "online" to receive the offers.

From the Where application users configure deal alerts from within the coupon widget. Here's how the site describes the sign-up process:

  • Within the Coupons widget, I went to the preferences page to manage my alerts. First, I selected “Restaurants”, then “Mondays”, and finally “6:00am”. This set me up to receive offers in my area that were related to early morning food, and Bagel Station happened to have a deal.
  • That’s it. WHERE will automatically update you with a text message every week at the specified time if there’s a deal available in the area. The combination of category and location-relevancy with day and time makes Deal Alerts incredibly useful. For once, you’ll actually want the coupons you receive.

Where has aggregated lots of coupon inventory from multiple partners (e.g., Valassis, ValPak) to provide sufficient coverage to make the program interesting. 

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Placecast offers a conceptually similar program for the retail category with ShopAlerts, and individual marketers and stores are doing their own ad-hoc opt-in SMS-based loyalty marketing.

The Where program, however, is novel in several respects. And because it's category-based (after opt-in) it can function as a new customer acquisition program and not exclusively as a mobile loyalty vehicle. 

Tiered Data Pricing Not What Consumers Want

AT&T in the US has moved off unlimited data-plan pricing, in anticipation of iPhone 4 (which has proven enormously popular already). Now Verizon says that it will probably do the same. According to Bloomberg:

Verizon Wireless, the largest U.S. mobile-phone carrier, may follow AT&T Inc. in introducing tiered pricing and eliminating unlimited data plans this year as it moves to its faster fourth-generation network technology.

“We will probably need to change the design of our pricing where it will not be totally unlimited, flat rate,” John Killian, chief financial officer of Verizon Communications Inc., the wireless unit’s parent, said in an interview at Bloomberg’s headquarters in New York today.

By contrast Sprint and T-Mobile, the number three and four US carriers respectively, have not so far indicated they will follow suit. According to the WSJ:

Sprint does not, nor plan to limit speeds, nor change a customer's ability to use any particular application or Internet site . . .

Although Sprint is touting its 4G network as the first in the US, my experience with it on the EVO in Seattle was lackluster-to-disappointing. And, as all the reviews have indicated, it sucks the life out of the battery very quickly. Sprint is unlikely to be able to transition from "value carrier" to high speed network leader. Although later to market with LTE, Verizon will quickly claim that mantle from Sprint. 

Probably through the end of this year AT&T will retain exclusive rights to the iPhone in the US, which is infuriating to me on a personal level. However, after it becomes more broadly available, it will be interesting to see how data-plan pricing is affected. In other words, an iPhone available from multiple networks could well generate competition over pricing -- it hasn't so far in Europe -- or promises of unlimited usage on a Sprint or T-Mobile?

As an aside, T-Mobile is doing an extremely aggressive "free phones" promotion this weekend in the US. We'll see whether the company is able to lure subscribers from other carriers. Probably not. Ultimately T-Mobile is going to need to do something radical to grow in the US (merger, acquisition, etc.).

Consumers want lower costs, which AT&T is promising to most data users with its new pricing. But fundamentally consumers also don't want complexity or uncertainty in their data plans. They want "all you can eat" plans and reasonable rates. But the market, at least at the two major US carriers, seems to be headed in the opposite direction.

Sprint Touts EVO Weekend Opening

Hollywood culture has permeated nearly everything in America. One area whether that's very evident is the handset "opening weekend." Preceded by considerable hype, the EVO reportedly broke sales (box office) records for US carrier Sprint.

According to a press release out this morning:

Friday, June 4, was an early morning for thousands of customers who lined up several hours before Sprint stores opened their doors in anticipation of the first day of sales for America's first 3G/4G phone, HTC EVOTM 4G. Customers were anxious to get their hands on HTC EVO 4G providing record sales figures for Sprint stores around the country.

Friday sales of HTC EVO 4G marked the largest quantity of a single phone sold in one day ever for Sprint - the record was previously held by both Samsung Instinct and Palm Pre. In addition, the total number of HTC EVO 4G devices sold on launch day was three times the number of Samsung Instinct and Palm Pre devices sold over their first three days on the market combined.

The EVO is a very strong handset -- though still no iPhone. The Pre and original Instinct were/are sub-par phones that both were over-hyped vs. what they actually delivered. There's much less of a gap between the hype surrounding EVO and the actual user experience. 

As a consequence the handset is getting good "word of mouth" and will probably have "legs." 

ComScore Releases More Mobile Data

Interestingly comScore has been releasing more mobile data recently. Today they put out some new US hardware OEM numbers, together with high-level mobile user activity data. Most of the data are flat vs. numbers they put out just a month ago.

Top US handset OEMs (total market, not smartphones): 

  • Samsung -- 22.1%
  • LG -- 21.8%
  • Motorola -- 21.6%
  • RIM -- 8.4%
  • Nokia -- 8.1%

Activity, comparing April with March release:

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Here's a recap of recently released comScore data on mobile app and browser usage by content category:

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Finally here's recently released Nielsen data showing the hierarchy of apps utilized on US smartphones and feature phones:

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Are Today's Carriers and Handset OEMs Tomorrow's Tobacco Companies?

I was having a conversation with a friend at lunch about the potential connection between mobile phone use and cancer. He said that an attorney "insider" had indicated to him that there was reason to believe there was a link between mobile phone radiation exposure and cancer. Some medical studies have sounded this alarm. Other studies have argued that there is no definitive evidence of a link between mobile phone radiation and brain tumors:

Interphone, an international collaboration, and the largest study of its kind to date, reported that overall, cell phone users have no increased risk of two of the most common forms of brain cancer -- glioma and meningioma. Furthermore, there was no evidence of risk with progressively increasing number of calls, longer call time, or time since the start of the use of cell phones.  However, for the small proportion of study participants who used cell phones the most – measured as cumulative call time over their lifetime – there was a suggestion of increased risk of glioma, though the authors call this finding inconclusive  . . .

For years the Tobacco industry argued that there was no definitive link between smoking and cancer and diluted the evidence with industry funded research that argued the smoking-cancer connection was unproven and/or inconclusive. 

I'm not trying to suggest by implication that there's any similar conspiracy here among wireless industry stakeholders. However mobile phone carriers and OEMs have an interest in a "no cancer" outcome. But I just wonder if 15 years from now we'll have a range of class action lawsuits against those same companies that resemble the tobacco or asbestos litigation of the 1980s? 

Android Moto i1 on Boost with $50 Unlimited Plan

US carrier Sprint's pre-paid division Boost Mobile announced that its first Android phone, the Motorola i1, is now available. Though it runs on the slower iDEN network, the idea that an Android touch-screen phone comes with unlimited voice and data for $50 is pretty appealing. It could be very successful for Sprint/Boost.

There are two interesting, competing trends going on in the US wireless industry: a movement toward pre-paid plans by many consumers frustrated with high carrier fees and two-year commitments, and a movement toward smartphones. Smartphones generally aren't available to pre-paid customers for relatively obvious reasons (carriers use them to lure or retain high end contract accounts).

Yet these two seemingly opposing trends come together with this new Boost handset and plan. To my knowledge this is the only smartphone of its kind on a US pre-paid plan. If Sprint/Boost market this correctly it could be a huge opportunity for the company to capture new subscribers.

The offering also stands in sharp contrast to AT&T's move yesterday to kill unlimited data pricing.

Why Are People So Excited about Skype 3G?

The availability of Skype for the iPhone on AT&T's 3G network has excited lots of people. But why exactly? Skype has been available as an app over WiFi for quite some time.

My theory is that this is suggestive of potential carrier independence at some future point -- and that's what got people all excited. As a practical matter why would you choose Skype over 3G vs. AT&T's native calling in the US? If the 3G network isn't working then presumably Skype wouldn't either.

The only reason right now to use Skype mobile is for international calling, or potentially for free conference calling. 

In a scenario where one had an unlimited data-only plan (which AT&T just killed) I could imagine using Skype as the voice part of the equation and skipping the carrier's voice plan altogether (or buying the minimum voice plan) to save money. Right now however Skype's quality, though greatly improved, is still not quite competitive with carrier voice. There are some, I know, who disagree with this assertion. 

Regardless, Skype is improving and is increasingly positioned a potential alternative to traditional landline and maybe wireless carrier subscriptions. The barrier to the latter scenario is carrier plans and pricing, as suggested. Right now other than AT&T for the iPad, T-Mobile is the only US carrier that doesn't have a mandatory voice plan along with data plans. 

Eventually, however, we may see more people dump traditional carriers and simply use Skype across landlines and mobile devices for more and more of their voice communication. 

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Update: Skype said that five million iPhone users downloaded the app since Sunday. 

AT&T Kills Unlimited Data

In anticipation of the launch of the new iPhone AT&T has killed unlimited data plans. Under the guise of making data more affordable to more people, the company is introducing new plans and pricing:

With the new wireless data plans, pricing for a smartphone voice and data bundle now starts at just $54.99 per month for an individual plan, or $24.99 per month for an additional line on a FamilyTalk plan, $15 per month less than the price of the previous entry level bundle.

There are two plans, plus a tethering plan:

  • DataPlus. Provides 200 megabytes (MB) of data -- for just $15 per month . . . If customers exceed 200 MB in a monthly billing cycle, they will receive an additional 200 MB of data usage for $15 for use in the cycle.  Currently, 65 percent of AT&T smartphone customers use less than 200 MB of data per month on average.
  • DataPro. Provides 2 gigabytes (GB) of data – for $25 per month . . . Should a customer exceed 2 GB during a billing cycle, they will receive an additional 1 GB of data for $10 for use in the cycle.  Currently, 98 percent of AT&T smartphone customers use less than 2 GB of data a month on average.
  • Tethering. Smartphone customers – including iPhone customers – who choose the DataPro plan have the option to add tethering for an additional $20 per month . . .

The unlimited iPad data plan is going away as well. However existing customers are grandfathered in and may keep that plan if they so choose. 

AT&T's network and reputation have taken a massive hit with heavy data use among iPhone owners. Some of those iPhone owners are among the 2% that exceed 2 GB per month. That group of heavy data users will probably wind up paying more than they currently do under the new scheme. 

Verizon is also eager to move to usage-based pricing but will probably wait for LTE to phase that in. That would've been smart for AT&T but the company is trying to ease pressure on its network right now (and in anticipation of more iPhone buyers) and is seeking to use pricing as a disincentive to its heaviest users.  

While many customers may appreciate the reduced prices on the lower end of data usage, this is a significant step backward for iPhone customers. It's likely to alienate more iPhone customers already frustrated with the carrier's network and, in the end, cause defections.

What consumers generally want is predictable pricing. It will be interesting to see how AT&T's competitors (e.g., Sprint) respond and whether they play up the new complexity of AT&T's pricing and the absence of "all you can eat" data. 

And if the iPhone does move to other carriers, they may try and lure switchers via unlimited data pricing. 

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Update: Apparently if you have an unlimited iPhone plan today you may also hold onto that

HTC EVO, 4G & Motorola's 'Droid Blues

I've had the EVO for about 10 days. I was testing the Incredible, on loan from Verizon, before that. Once I got the EVO at the Google Developer event on May 20 I immediately stopped using the Incredible. The wider screen and better (because it's larger) keyboard on the EVO made it the superior device. I suppose the iPad's large screen has spoiled me in some sense. 

HTC is the maker of both devices. The one complaint I have about the EVO vs. the Incredible is that the screen on the larger device seems to be somewhat "duller" and less crisp in terms of its resolution and color. 

As improved as they are, the Incredible, EVO and all the other Android devices I've used and held in my hands remain "second best" to the iPhone 3G in terms of overall user experience. Individual features here and there are superior but overall the devices and software still lag, notwithstanding the partisan claims of Android developers and enthusiasts. 

However the EVO is a very reasonable (or as I like to say "good enough") substitute for the iPhone. Accordingly I plan to use it as my personal device -- at least for the time being. Its best feature, beyond the large screen, is arguably the fact that the EVO can operate as an eight-way hotspot, for an additional $30 per month.

The EVO's 4G speed, which has been getting very mixed reviews (drains battery, not as fast as advertised) is not yet available in the SF Bay Area so I haven't been able to test it. Video is the area in which 4G should make an obvious difference. The EVO also promises video chat/calling but that capability will cost an addition $5 per month on top of a mandatory EVO surcharge of $10 per month. Sprint is really "nickle and diming" people with this device and it may limit the EVO's penetration and success accordingly. 

The primary virtue of 4G as it rolls out may not be its speed per se but the additional bandwidth that it provides networks. For example, all the "iPhone congestion" that has killed the reputation of AT&T's network could be alleviated by 4G. 

HTC and Motorola are the leading Android "shops." And Motorola seems poised to ride Android's coattails. An article several weeks ago in the NY Times contrasted Palm's fate (acquired by HP) vs. Motorola:

On Wednesday, Hewlett-Packard, the PC giant, announced it would buy the loss-ridden Palm and use its technology across a range of H.P. devices. On Thursday, the similarly loss-ridden Motorola, however, announced it made an unexpected profit during its first quarter, beating Wall Street expectations.

The reason for the different outcomes, in a word, may be Android, Google’s operating system for mobile devices. 

The article pronounces Motorola's Android strategy a qualified success. Not so fast. 

In the Android world there's a new handset practically every month. Many of the handsets look the same and are difficult for consumers to tell apart. This benefits Google directly and indirectly in several ways, but it represents a problem for individual hardware makers.

According to an article in the WSJ, Motorola is trying to get its main US partner Verizon to do lots of marketing on its behalf, as it did for the original "Droid" device. But the Droid brand encompasses other OEM Android devices and the original Motorola Droid is already old news: 

[Motorola co-Chief Executive Sanjay] Jha has bet heavily on phones powered by Google Inc.'s Android software and sold by Verizon Wireless, such as last fall's Motorola Droid.

Verizon Wireless, which plans to add two Motorola smartphones in July, spent $100 million marketing the original Droid, helping to boost Motorola's sales in the first quarter.

Mr. Jha's strategy leaves Motorola dependent on larger partners who are also working with Motorola's rivals. The Droid brand is owned by Verizon, not Motorola, and the carrier picked Taiwan's HTC Corp. to make its current high-end champion, Droid Incredible. Google, for its part, launched its own phone right after the Droid appeared.

Even as Android's "shelf space" continues to grow, the shelf life of any of these individual Android devices is relatively short, a year or less. Within a few months that cool Android handset you bought has been superseded by the next one. The ambitions of Android the platform and its individual OEMs are thus somewhat at odds.

To succeed, Motorola will have to market very aggressively in a variety of global markets. The company will also need to put out more devices than its Android rivals, HTC and Samsung, to capture mindshare. HTC is probably actually winning the Android race, however.

Motorola will also have to try and create or incorporate some exclusive user-experience dimension in its Android devices vs. competitors. HTC has its "Sense" interface which adds limited value in my opinion. Semi-analogously Motorola offers "Motoblur," its social software. But that so far has failed to provide meaningful differentiation for the "Cliq."

Motorola will probably embrace Windows (Mobile) 7 when it comes out -- if it's any good -- as a kind of "hedge" against total dependence on Android. (HTC will do the same.) But the quality and viability of the new Microsoft OS very much remain to be determined. And right now Microsoft's smartphone share is dropping faster than the mercury in a thermometer on a cold day. 

Android OEMs will increasingly have to compete with one another on non-Android hardware and software features: camera, battery life and so on. The fact that EVO operates as a hotspot is unique but Android broadly is going to support tethering in Android 2.2 (Froyo). I really like the idea of the KIN Studio online backup feature of the Microsoft KIN handsets. I would guess we'll see one or more of the Android OEMs copy that capability. 

In the end, Android handset competition will probably result in innovative and interesting non-Android hardware and software features for consumers and Android overall will continue to gain in the market. However it will be very difficult for any individual OEM (i.e., Motorola) to build a sustainable, winning strategy on the platform.

Just Dial: Another Attempt at Free DA

The free directory assistance business seems very compelling -- on paper. Almost 80% of the mobile market in the US doesn't have a smartphone. Directory assistance (411) costs $1.75 or more per call. Yet the market has failed to materialize despite repeated efforts by various companies, including Google and Microsoft.

Now a VC-backed, Indian company is trying it again with the US launch of 1-880-JustDial:

1-800-Justdial announced today the launch of its free, personalized directory assistance and category search services in the United States. Consumers can now dial 1-800-Justdial (1-800-587-8342) from anywhere in the country to obtain business listings and conduct category searches.

Justdial operators are available 24 hours a day and always provide one ring pickup service, enabling users to speak to a live person and obtain fast local search results or recommendations for nearby restaurants, movies, events, florists, plumbers, dentists, car rentals, or almost any other product or service under the sun.

Justdial offers more than simple local business search, making it quick and easy for people at home, at work, or on-the-go to receive information like listings and local recommendations, or even nearby hotels in a certain price range. Callers simply dial 1-800-Justdial (1-800-587-8342), reach a live operator that picks up within one ring and state what listing or category of product or service they are looking for by neighborhood, zip code or even intersection. Justdial sends callers relevant listings via e-mail or text message and also connects callers to the listing of their choice, all free of charge. Users can register their phone number and address for maximum speed and personalization when using Justdial, enabling the operator to recognize the user and provide recommendations and listings near their home, work, or any other registered address or location.

The service promises real people (probably Indian agents using the Internet) and flexible search parameters. We haven't tested the service yet so can't confirm or contradict any of the company's claims. Other services that offer "human-powered search" on mobile devices include kgb and ChaCha (although more and more queries are machine answered) -- and then there are myriad Q&A services such as Aardvark (Google) or Quora.

Just Dial said that it has proved the model in India, answering more than 70 million calls in 2009. 

A service like this behind a traditional 411 number would have a shot and customer loyalty and repeat usage. However I'm very skeptical that the service will break out and become a mainstream success. Jingle Networks' 1-800-Free-411 has been around for years and not been able to grow beyond a certain point.

There are two trends that conspire against these services:

  • The rise of smartphones (now about 23% or 24% of handsets in the US)
  • The inertia around traditional 411

Does AT&T ETF Hike Confirm Verizon iPhone?

Steve Jobs is slated to address the forthcoming Apple developer conference on June 7. AT&T just boosted the penalty it charges customers for early termination of contracts. Coincidence? Or does it indicate that the long-rumored Verizon iPhone is almost here.

Here's what AT&T said about its decision to boost early termination fees:

We are now making changes that will lower the ETF for many customers who agree to new term commitments, and will increase it for others. Current AT&T wireless customers who are within their two-year consumer service agreement or have an existing enterprise service agreement will see no change to their current terms.

Beginning June 1, 2010, we will reduce the ETF in new and upgrade two-year service agreements for all customers who are buying basic and quick messaging phones. Whether you are new to us or upgrading handsets, the ETF will decrease to $150 from $175, and be reduced by $4 for each month that you remain with us as a customer during the balance of your two-year service agreement. After the term commitment is completed, the ETF will no longer apply.

For customers who enter into new two-year service agreements in connection with the purchase of our more advanced, higher end devices, including netbooks and smartphones, the ETF will increase to $325, and be reduced by $10 for each month that you remain with us as a customer during the balance of your two-year service agreement. After that, the ETF will no longer apply.

If you have a smartphone and break your contract it could cost you $325 -- get it? Although many have said that a Verizon iPhone is at least a year away (maybe two) this move says to me that AT&T knows that it will face iPhone competition in the near term. 

Meanwhile a Morgan Stanley survey shows pent-up demand for the iPhone among Verizon customers:

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New Facebook Mobile Site Will Cement Dominance

Facebook already has 100 million active daily mobile users. With the introduction of a new, faster and free mobile site it will likely double that number in six months. Here are the details on the new 0.Facebook.com:

Collaborating with operators from around the world, we developed this new mobile site with two main attributes:

  • It's fast: 0.facebook.com includes all the key features of our standard mobile site m.facebook.com. Users can update their status, view their News Feed, like or comment on posts, send and reply to messages, or write on their friends' Wall just as they do on Facebook.com. Rather than making photos viewable on 0.facebook.com, we put the photos one click away so they don't slow down the experience. You can still view any photos on Facebook if you want but your regular data fees will apply.

  • It's free: Thanks to the help of mobile operators we collaborated with, people can access 0.facebook.com without any data charges. Using 0.facebook.com is completely free. People will only pay for data charges when they view photos or when they leave 0.facebook.com to browse other mobile sites. When they click to view a photo or browse another mobile site a notification page will appear to confirm that they will be charged if they want to leave 0.facebook.com

I've argued that it's only a matter of time before Facebook becomes a mobile ad network. When the company introduces location, together with all the data being collected via the distribution of Like buttons there will be many possibilities associated with mobile marketing and advertising. There's also a fairly massive coupons/deals opportunity for Facebook in mobile (as well as on the PC).

One way to think of Foursquare right now is as a mobile loyalty platform. The Like buttons and fan pages also make that a possibility for Facebook as well. 

Sprint, the EVO and the Uncertainty of WiMax

After my massive disappointment with the Palm Pre I'm contemplating my next phone. At CTIA I saw, under glass, the HTC Evo -- Sprint's first "4G" WiMax phone. So I'm thinking maybe I'll wait for that this summer; Radio Shack is taking pre-orders later this month.

What most people don't realize is that 4G networks will require them to buy new devices. But then GigaOm reports that Sprint/Clearwire may abandon ("dump") WiMax for LTE:

Clearwire said today it’s changed the terms of an agreement it had with Intel, one of its largest investors, that could lead the way for Clearwire to dump WiMAX and switch to LTE. On its first-quarter financial results call today, an executive with Clearwire said the new terms allow either party to exit the agreement — which had until now forced Clearwire to use WiMAX through Nov. 28, 2011 — with just 30 days notice.

Clearwire did not announce a technology switch, but in response to questions from analysts, CFO Erik E. Prusch said that the overall ecosystem for 4G wireless was converging and as such, the market won’t have the technology wars in the future that it has seen in the past. Clearwire will “keep evolving as we move forward,” he added.

Roughly nine months ago I spoke to someone at Clear who told me that the company could quite easily switch to LTE with its existing infrastructure if that's the way the industry and its partners decided to go. But would such a decision render the Evo a useless device then? Clearly the Evo would still be able to work on the 3G network but I'm guessing it wouldn't be compatible with LTE, requiring yet another hardware purchase.

Most people who might be interested in buying the Evo -- the "first 4G phone" -- don't have this information, which is still speculative. But it gives me pause. 

The phone I really want is the forthcoming iPhone on Verizon (or Sprint).