Nokia – Apple – Hardware – Software

Over at daringfireball John Gruber has an interesting piece on the challenges Nokia and especially their new CEO is facing. The main conclusion is that Nokia today is a Hardware company that needs to turn into a Software company in order to compete on the level of Apple and RIM rather than HTC.

Competing with Apple? The success of Apple is not so much based on either Hardware or Software, but on creating a perfect combination of both with an unbeatable user experience.

The iPod has a cool hardware and a great form factor, but only with the integration in to iTunes and the simple way to synchronize and buy music, did it become the success it is today. The iPhone and the iPad have incredible hardware, but only in combination with the AppStore and the very consistent user interface did they become so successful.

Moving from cost efficient hardware focus to perfect user experience is a big step to take.

#momoMUC: some thoughts on yesterday’s Mobile Monday Munich

We had a very hot mobile monday yesterday with a perfect line-up of speakers and presentations as it turned out afterwards. Here are my personal thoughts and takes on this.

Thomas Aidan Curran, CTO Software, Deutsche Telekom opened with a view on how exposing operator assets will create new value and opportunities for app developers and Thibault Rouffineau (wipconnector) closed with some excellent remarks on how the same story about convergence got sold/promoted and told in the last 10 years, repeatedly. Whether you wanted to sell IMS, WiFi Infrastructure or Samsung TVs.

The same is actually true for the opening the network operator assets to application developers. Proposals and standards on how to do this have been around for at least 10 years. I also have to confess guilty of promoting and telling this story at one point in my career in telecommunication.

However, all the claims did never, at least up to now, materialize substantially and are now warmed up with the WAC (Wholesale Applications Community), developer garden (a Deutsche Telekom activity), betavine (driven by Vodafone), OneAPI ( by GSMA, the global mobile operator community). And also the API content is the same for the last 10 years: calls = initiating calls from the web, messaging = sending sms and mms from the web, charging = making use of customers operator prepaid or postpaid payments for applications, location information = identifying the location of the mobile. As this has not worked for the last 10 years the question is why should it work now or more precisely what would it actually take to make it work?

And here as a side-remark comes the link to the ICQ presentation of yesterday night. Alex Erlmeier, ICQ showed the ICQ client on different devices: the iPhone, windows based, Blackberry based and also mentioned integration with facebook, twitter and other social networking sites. But at no point did he mention any integration with an operator network or operator APIs. Question is: why?

One additional point Thomas mentioned in his initial presentation was the complexity of devices and how operators might help and support here, but again ICQ – and if you look at other mobile client based application like Foursquare, Gowalla it is as well true for them – obviously didn’t need any support in creating their applications for different devices.

So just defining and publishing an API is probably not enough.

Looking at the current best-in-class examples there are 4 things it takes to create a vibrant and successful application developer community.

  1. It needs to be cool: brand and devices. iPhone and Android smartphones are just much cooler than Java featurephones
  2. It needs to be easy I: development environment. I don’t want to debate the quality of Objective-C, but give the developer a complete environment for writing and testing applications.
  3. It needs to be easy II: community and support. There needs to be a supported community where you can get help for app development.
  4. It needs to be business: app store. You need to give the developer an easy way or at least the option to publish, promote and to make some money with their application.

So Apple and Google obviously score pretty high on all points, whereas you see that Blackberry and Nokia/Ovi have some shortcomings in several points (at least the coolness factor).

But telecommunication operators – at least what is visible in the market besides the high aspirations – have not even started to embrace the full picture.

So what can they do:

  • Focus on their strength:  local / regional brand, don’t try to fight on a global scale
  • Pick a community to start with and select one where your assets are of value
  • Fully embrace them with support and marketing help
  • Provide end to end development environment and tool set
  • Show them how to make money

Yes, all this does not come for free, but as I said, it takes more than publishing an API to play in the application space.

Push Notifications: Amazon, Apple and Android moving forward

Amazon just announced and released the next service on their Web Services / Cloud Service for Notifications (Amazon SNS), giving applications http- or email-notifications for free (up to a limit).

At the recent keynote announcing the new iPhone OS 4 Apple also introduced improved push notification support for the iPhone through a always-on IP connection.

Obviously also for Android such a service is available through Xtify. This even supports geo-location based notifications.

In parallel the GSMA, the global organization of telco operators is working – in the 3rd attempt – on standardization of push notification APIs within their OneAPI activity. This API will allow to directly interact with the network operators infrastructure. The first version works with SMS and MMS, i.e. once operators have implemented the APIs and opened to application developers (access conditions still to be defined).

So the question is whether there is still a need for such operator based APIs in the future?

Well, the key difference is that those APIs would work with any kind of device based on SMS and MMS (obviously with limitations in on-device application integration). Looking at the betavine community, endorsed by Vodafone, as an framework for implementing, supporting and testing the OneAPIs, a focus is on developing countries. There extending application support for simple devices will a major driver for extending their value.

Mobile Payment: Make your iPhone a Credit Card Reader

Mobile Payment has been a topic in the mobile telco industry  for the last 10 years with several attempts on standardized APIs and a few successful implementation in some countries.

Now this area of potential mobile operator unique value-add is also in the process to disappear due to smartphone applications. The last one I came across is Square (https://squareup.com/, see also cool video at youTube), which provides a cool credit card reader for the iPhone (and now the iPad). So this does not only work with virtual money, but with credit cards.

Or take Bump (available for iPhone and Android), which also allows to exchange money between mobile phones.

The space for telco operator based payment solution is shrinking.

[Update] There is more news out now that waving iPhones (or any other mobile phone in the future) will become an official payment method in stores soon.