Friday, February 20, 2009

MWC 2009 Summary -New opportunities ahead

By Andrew Till:
At the start of this year´s MWC we speculated on a number of key trends that we expected to observe at the show. So now that MWC is finished for another year lets take a look at the key trends for the year(s) ahead.

One prediction was that the world would become more open. While we may not have seen too many Android handsets being announced it was certainly the key theme of discussion on the show floor. Expect to see a lot of Android products arriving in 4Q09 and early 2010 as handset vendors seek to leverage the platform and without doubt take advantage of the link to Google. A key issue and I would speculate a driver behind the lack of formal announcements is how to bring true differentiation to Android based devices (and yes I say devices on purpose but more on that in a moment). Do you add new applications, but run the risk that someone in the community will suddenly contribute this to the baseline, great new UI flows, focus on E2E services or align with operator needs and address their requirements. These seem to be the key issues that are keeping people awake at night. We can also expect to see Android appearing in devices outside of handsets with a range of consumer electronics devices being planned to utilise the platform.

But that’s the future what about the here and now and how open is it? Well the Symbian foundation started to put momentum behind its marketing machine and also pointed to the announcements of 3 key handsets at the show. The SonyEricsson Idou with a 12MP camera has clearly upped the stakes in the megapixel war. The Samsung Omnia HD delivers stunning audio and video performance using the S60 V5.0 platform and Nokia’s N86 8MP camera phone puts it firmly back in the megapixel fight. With the N86 and Omnia HD due out in 2Q09 the Symbian Foundation looks to be starting the year with a strong line up of flagship handsets.And of course lets not forget Palm who have been the recipients of lavish praise for the Pre and Microsoft’s re-branding of Windows Mobile to “Windows”. LG also appeared to pick up the standard for Windows following the decline of Motorola. LG used MWC to announce that it will launch 50 (yes that is FIFTY) models using the platform by the end of 2012.

But enough about smartphone platforms what else was happening at the show.

It was without question a quieter show. Estimates for attendance put it at anywhere between 30,000 – 35,000 people. And while this was great for one’s ability to quickly dash between halls to get from meeting to meeting it did not seem to impact the quality of the show. If anything this year was about getting back to basics and doing business. The meetings were more focused and serious, the questions were tougher and more direct and above all there was a sense of urgency that people need to move quickly in order to protect their turf or to go on the attack as they see competitors falling.

Well the RTOS appears to be far from dead with many players adding more capabilities and run time environments to their platforms taking advantage of the continued decline in chipset and memory prices.

The battle ground for leadership in the application processor market is heating up and this is driving prices down and speed up to dizzying heights. Expect 1GHz to become widely available with 2-3 on the horizon and YES I am talking about mobile phones not PCs. And if what TI were showing on their booth is a good guide form the industry then expect 3D displays to be something we can expect to see in the next couple of years. But will we need this I hear you ask. Well as memory continues to fall in price and more devices are launched with 8, 16, 32 GB of storage then yes we clearly will need more power to process all the data that consumers will store, download, share and blog from their mobile device.

There is also an interesting conflict looming between the PC driven Netbook and the more mobile industry driven Mobile Internet Device (MID). What’s the difference? About 4-5 inches in display size, keyboard and possibility DVD drives that Netbooks will have that MIDs will not. On the other side MIDs will be inherently more portable. It’s clear that PC vendors are looking to make another push towards the mobile market and view this as a key entry strategy. Who will win in this space is hard to predict and will ultimately be defined by the trade-offs that consumers are willing to make.

Away from the show floor there were a lot of LTE demonstrations with the corridor conversations focusing on mid 2010 as the date we will start to see real market activity for the next evolution of mobile data.

And Teleca was even mentioned in the day three notes of Dr Richard Windsor which is no small achievement.

But perhaps the most surprising news was that Nokia and Qualcomm are finally to work together on S60 to deliver handsets for the North American market.

So in summary, a quieter show but a more focused show. A show full of paradoxes and change but also with clear signs that despite the global economic downturn there is now slow down in innovation or competitive intensity within the mobile world. An event that made a clear statement that while the world may have its troubles and the leading players are changing, in handsets, chipsets, basestations, the show most definitely will go on.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Big Belly on Thin legs

Mobile Phone devices have already won the battle over the PCs/Laptops in terms of the features which they support. The number of features supported by Mobile Platforms is increasing at a faster pace compared to features on PCs. However, PCs have more hardware flexibility compared to Mobile devices, which are more limited in terms of board space, power requirements and cost.

Mobile SW Platforms are evolving with features to support connectivity, sharing and all possible methods of communication. Hardware for Mobile devices is struggling to catch up with mobile software. There are 3 main reasons for this.

1. Mobile Platform Reference Designs always need to be funded by the Mobile chipset vendors. Unless the reference design for a particular Mobile Platform is mature, Mobile device manufacturers are not interested. Creating a reference design takes a lot of effort and time.

2. Mobile device manufacturers demand lower BOM costs. So chipset vendors prioritize cost-efficiency over supporting new features

3. There is less flexibility on hardware configurability compared to software configuration

The last 2 reasons are dependent on the 1st reason. By finding a solution to the 1st problem the other two can also be solved. So let’s put more focus on the solving problem 1.

Generally create a HW design and then try to make a fresh reference design above that. It would take lot of time to make a reference design for every HW upgrade. A continuous evolution process would solve the problem. Hardware Chipset vendors should continuously create reference designs for the upgraded Software or Hardware. This process would entail:

1. Creating a base reference design

2. Re-using the reference design to add features in hardware or software. Up to 90% of software could be re-used.

3. Continuously adding features and fixing bugs at regular intervals

In this way, chipset vendors would soon evolve robust hardware reference design that is easily upgradeable, configurable and more cost-effective, solving also problems 2 and 3 above. .

In the era of Open source Mobile platforms, software features will grow at a faster pace than ever. Hardware needs to be evolved at the same speed to maintain the same development speed as SW features. This is only possible through a continuous evolution model.

To make sure you don’t put weight on, you need physical activity. It is the same in Mobile Eco System. When software features grow faster than hardware, it puts lot of stress on Mobile hardware vendors. It’s always good to have muscle in the legs and keep maintain & growing it.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

It's showtime

The long awaited MWC 2009 opened its’ doors today and it will be an exciting and enlightening event again despite all these endless talks about economic downturn and recession. Let’s look at the bright side of life and all the fancy things which the mobile industry will leverage to its customers in 2009 - and there are many exciting things to talk about….

So at last the market has realised that technology is not there for its own sake but to satisfy the needs of customers. Thus usability is one of the most important things to focus on. Unrivalled user experience will therefore again be one of the dominant themes at MWC.

Also expect to see an increased focus on unique user experience across devices like Set top-boxes, Personal Computers, MIDs, and Mobile Phones together with Cloud Services that allow users to have the same content presented in the same way wherever they go and whatever device they use. Something which will definitely make our life’s easier.

Developer’s will be happy too to only implement things once employing solutions facilitated by e.g. Adobe OSP or QT. Of course we need to see if this time round the promise will become real. Looking at the current progress regarding user experience driven design we might be able to skip reading any user manuals in the future – this would be really a great step forward…

The second, perhaps much more dominant theme, will be Android and the great future of open source. Already more than 20 Android based phones are announced for 2009 and at the same time Android enters with almost light speed the MID space and other verticals like automotive and consumer equipment.

Is Android really mature enough right now to be the cross-platform and industry segment solution of choice? Difficult to say but it has indeed a vast potential to mix-up the domain. There is the perception on the market that Android offers unrivalled customization possibilities and together with its nice open source model approach and the Google brand in the back this can indeed be a sustainable success story. However, others call the platform premature and advise to wait for another year before making any judgement on where Android goes. I am personally confident that Android will be a success story long term attaining lots of attention and being deployed in a huge amount of different devices with a strong Open Handset Alliance driving the base technology forward. But it will be only one success story we will see.

Also expect the Symbian Foundation, RIM, iPhone and maybe PalmPre to be players with a high profile and it will be an interesting battle out there between these platforms – not to mention the impact on the classical feature phone segment.

One thing is for sure though: the ongoing fast price erosion, the slow down in the number of shipped handsets per year, the ever increasing number of mobile phones from an increasing number of handset manufacturers will make it difficult for all players in the mobile handset domain to make good business. So we will see some of these players going out of market again mid term.

Considering this huge attention around open source and open source based platforms, Microsoft’s Windows Mobile might keep a low profile this year and I am very curious whether Steve Ballmer will announce a turn of direction regarding their licensing policy… Perhaps there will be a surprise for all. Nonetheless there are some sexy Windows Mobile powered devices announced, just have a look at the TG01 from Toshiba.

Time will tell if we will get the definite answers of where the market goes, for now let’s walk around at MWC to discover these small little things nobody does really pay attention to right now. Sometimes it is the small inventions which change the world…

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Trend for MWC 2009?

In previous years you have always been able to spot a trend for the show. A specific technology everyone talked about, a specific service and so on. But these trends have been a bit different depending on what areas we visitors represent. It has been mobile TV, User Experience, OTA content and music and more. Since 2007 we have all been in shock caused by the revolutionary iPhone.

Can we assume that this year will be the year of iPhone killer wannabes? Multi-touch screen devices will swarm the stands and "ultimate" devices are already in the rumor mill. Stuff such as Android based G2 and Palm Pre.

A challenge will be content to go? How can carriers and service providers ensure open content to open source devices? Or will we face proprietary content formats?

The multi-touch screen phones will enable a new user experience for all users where the functionality of the computer "mouse" will suddenly appear in ones fingers. This is the likely enabler for the user to manage the web and all its types of content with ease.

Will the wireless market start driving internet in the rest of the world as it has in Japan since i-mode was launched? (no, i-mode was not invented by Apple...)