Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Android Apps Lack Innovation

I agree with Andrew Seybold’s statement about Android developer challenge applications lacking innovation. It is true that even for mobile standards most of these applications are remakes of past attempts.

I believe, however, that the problem is not a lack of creativity. Many of the participants were not even aware of those past applications that never took off. And given what the developers do know (or don’t) their applications are creative and well designed. More importantly, their timing is more on target than any old-school mobile developers could have ever wished for.

To close this note, I extend my criticism to those “more experienced” in the mobile field, myself included. Given this much awaited opportunity to have direct access to a superior platform, it is really a shame we are much too jaded to participate. And instead, would rather sit back, observe, and criticize.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Oh, Verizon Stealing the Thunder from the G1... or Trying to

So much for the anticipation for the G1, which is due to be released tomorrow by T-Mobile. Today's big news, at least on my radar, is that Verizon is removing the long term contract requirement. Verizon now lets new subscribers sing up with just a month-to-month commitment. Even more surprising is that the operator will now accept any un-locked device.

There are obviously conditions for this to take effect. Customers must pay the actual cost of the device, which can amount to more than twice what customers are used to paying. Customers must also sign up for a Nationwide plan.

As expected, there is much speculation as to why Verizon would make this move. I do not buy the possibility that it was to prepare for 4G and the promise to attract AT&T subscribers then. It may be to deflect potential scrutiny from the FCC. One thing is for sure: given the high cost of devices and the fact that the only other CDMA network in the US is Sprint's month-to-month subscribers will have to think twice, and very hard, about bailing on Verizon.

Perhaps Android phones will be the reason. The iPhone on AT&T's slow and unreliable network is far from being it for me.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

I want "Allstreaming" for my mobile

I just returned from VLAB's "Lifestreaming: The Real-time Web" event at Stanford. As usual, I have tried to conceptualize how such a significant Web 2.0 trend can transpire into mobile.

In mobile, where time and space are hot commodities, the ability to give users access to as much relevant content as possible, and as efficiently as possible poses a significant challenge.

However, the assumption that life-streams as we know them today are the key to this problem is as far stretched as the notion that that is the only way in which users want to consume content even on the Web. According to Bret Taylor the "your friends are your filter" concept is one of the foundations for FriendFeed. And that might work fine for an application whose sole purpose is to aggregate feeds from what one's friends are saying. In fact, this applies to all companies represented at the VLAB event tonight (Pownce and Seesmic were there too). But while one's friends' life activity may be entertaining for bits at a time, the majority of the media we consume still falls outside of this realm.

So what ever happened to the not so old, but almost unheard of today trend: the RSS feed? - (Mobile Bloglines being my personal fave). Could this trends possibly coexist with "lifestreaming", thus bringing users a more complete experience? This could be particularly interesting in mobile for all the reasons I keep mentioning. So I hope someone is looking into it.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Long Tail: A Glimmer of Hope for Premium SMS

In a matter of just a few years premium content over SMS grew from nothing to a multi-billion dollar industry. In the US this growth has been losing momentum in the past year and a half. This would not come as a big surprise if it weren’t for the fact that in the rest of the world PSMS continues to grow.

The problem in the US could perhaps be attributed to the shortsightedness of some content providers who, so intent on making easy money, consistently delivered a poor and, in some cases, even deceptive user experience. Or perhaps the mobile operators are to blame for discouraging investment by content providers as a result of imposing controls that not only are demanding on content providers, but that also stifle user adoption.

From where I see it, however, where there is easy money there is little innovation. Many mobile content providers have settled for delivering the same user experience over and over again. The common recipe is a combination of uninspiring Web sites, cheap late night TV ads, and itty bitty print terms of service. So I’d be willing to bet that consumers also got bored, and smarter.

This is why it is so refreshing to see content providers delivering innovative ways to spread the adoption of mobile premium content. And more importantly, for delegating the discovery to parties better positioned to deliver a relevant and compelling user experience.

ThumbPlay’s Open Marketplace provides all the tools any independent Web publisher would need to distribute ThumbPlay’s vast library of digital content. By doing so distributors can partake in the revenue. Integration of the set of APIs and feeds promises to be not only easy, but also to provide a set of rich tracking and optimization tools.

Open Marketplace also allows independent artists and content creators to submit their content for distribution

Following this trend, FunMobility also announced MoMoney. MoMoney is a widget that allows any Web site or independent publisher to provide a storefront for mobile content by embedding simple code on their Web property.

I expect this is just the beginning of a trend that may result in users becoming more receptive to this type of product. When offered within the context of something else, these products should be less perceived as a hard sale. Another benefit could be that the cost of user acquisition will be reduced as these Web publishers already have a captive audience.

However, in order for this model to work well these content providers must ensure that the end user experience is preserved. Systems and processes for completing the transaction, splitting the revenue, reconciling, and reporting must be well implemented and supported.

If this model works it could mean a turn of tides for the troubled Premium SMS space.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Snippets from CTIA's "A Generation Unplugged" keynote

Harris Interactive presented the “A Generation Unplugged” study results at a keynote session at CTIA yesterday. For the survey Harris Interactive surveyed 2,089 teens ages 13-19 about their motivations, usage and behaviors towards mobile phones.

Harris hinted at making the presentation available for a price, so I thought I would post the following highlights:

  • About half of teens interviewed say they would die without their mobile phone and ability to make calls. Texting was not far behind.
  • The two biggest motivators of mobile usage for teens are: 1) staying in touch, and 2) (surprise) feeling safe
  • Mobile gaming is not so important to teenagers. Self expression is much more important
  • Status is first established by the clothes teens wear, and secondly by the phones they own
  • What the phone does is more important than the way it looks
  • Teens love ring tones, but they like texting and picture messaging, and more than surfing the web
  • Teens like small phones but with a lot of features
  • Teens text more than they talk on the phone
  • Teens like text because they like that it allows them to multitask, that it's fast, easy, and cheap
  • Loyalty for teens is driven by relevance of features, phone diversity, customization - in order of importance.
  • Teens want to own multiple devices
  • Most teens purchase at carrier brick and mortar
  • Teens are most influenced by parents, then their friends, then their boyfriend or girlfriend, and last by celebrity endorsements
  • When it comes to Games, teens want better selection, experience, and controls. However, overall teens care less about gaming than communication when it comes to mobile
  • One in three teens browse the mobile web. Top apps are email and social networking. However, most social networking is taking place on the PC
  • The biggest barrier to adoption of mobile video is cost
  • Teens don't mind ads on mobile device
  • The dream phone: water proof, endless power, scratch proof...
  • Teens want from phones: emergency transmitter, translations, 3D, remote control, TV (in order of preference)
  • "The phone of the future" according to teens: flexible material, just software, paper thin, appended to your eyes, wearable, projector screen
  • Teens want a single device for all or their consumer electronics needs
  • Teens dislike location applications, but they want GPS

Shameless Plug: hi5 mobile

Back in April while reading Danah Boyd’s blog I stumbled upon a research paper about mobile usage by Palestinian teenage girls. Given to these girls by their boyfriends, the mobile phone had become a symbol of relationship status, and no longer just a communication tool.

The authors’ quote “…the nature or the effect of technology is not inherent in the medium and cannot be presupposed.” captures the essence of that phenomenon. And it also sums up the key challenge of designing services for mobile.

Especially with mobile it is difficult to predict how users will welcome the application and interact with it, and what the social implications might be. In mobile the most seemingly cumbersome of activities turn out to be extremely popular, such as entering SMS messages. In contrast, the most obvious of use cases, such as mobile video or LBS, often times fail to capture the audience. In my experience, this challenge is exacerbated when trying to port an existing Web product to the mobile realm.

Little did I know at the time that soon I would face this challenge yet again, but on mass scale. I spent the past two months working on the mobile version of hi5, which is the 3rd largest social network in the world with 56 million active subscribers.


During the process of coming up with hi5 mobile, at hi5 we avoided at all costs the temptation of simply trying to cram hi5 into the mobile device. The process involved really understanding the medium itself and the context in which this medium is used. As a result, hi5 mobile does not emulate the Web experience like other SN mobile services do. hi5 mobile really brings out what matters most when both the medium (screen, keypad) and time are limited.

Not a Utility

The mobile phone is the ultimate and most widely used communication tool in the world. In youth, in particular, mobiles are a tool for establishing and nurturing relationships. Much like hi5 itself, for youth the mobile is all but a utility. As a result hi5 mobile is a fun place for nurturing friendships through messaging, commenting, and updating status. It is very much about contributing and reciprocating. It is not a phonebook.

About status

Traditionally, the mobile phone has been a powerful tool for building status. Possession of a mobile phone signals to the world that one belongs to a social circle, has relationships; it also signals independence. According to Danah Boyd many of the activities that promote peer status in the real world also take place in social networks. With hi5 mobile we want to contribute to users’ ability to build status within hi5. Initially, this could be as simple as showing when someone is utilizing a mobile phone to access hi5. But over time this theme could expand to other users’ interactions within hi5.

It is quite possible that even in spite of the highly contextual design of hi5 mobile the net impact it could have on hi5’s users may surprise us. But in the mean time, all usage and feedback points to a good reception by our users.

To try out hi5 mobile, visit us at


Thursday, June 05, 2008

The Web on the palm of your hands… really

I asked Nitin Bhandari, CEO of Skyfire, how he had come up with “the idea”. His candid response was first that he and his co-founder had no previous experience in mobile. The he added that they had simply refused to conform to the way the traditional players in mobile have dictated how the end user experience should be for browsing the Web on a phone.

This is the kind of attitude that is often times most lacking in the mobile industry, unfortunately; the kind of attitude that results in approaching problems from a completely different angle.

The result is an amazing Internet browsing experience from your mobile. The kind of experience you could only expect on your PC until now.

Why? Most traditional mobile browsers are limited to HTML or xHTML. Skyfire, on the other hand, supports HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Flash, Ajax, and Java.

How? Skyfire is more than just a browser. Unlike traditional browsers, Skyfire is a client/server solution. This allows for optimization of the content before it reaches the device.

I was lucky enough to get a live demo (I am also on the Beta 2 waiting list apparently). If some of you folks haven’t yet had the experience, check this demo out:

It is no surprise to me then that Sky Fire announced closing their series B round of funding last week.

Oh, and did I mention this A team is looking for A team players? If interested please visit their website or shoot me a note.

Monday, June 02, 2008

What people do with cellphones these days

I have been quite busy making some fun discoveries I cannot wait to share. I have not had much time, however. So for the time being I leave you with this list of "Uses for Cell Phones" I created on RateItAll:

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

First day @ I/O comes to an end

Here's to the Google folks for throwing a top notch event!!

The 1st day of Google I/O comes to a happy end with no other than... "Flight of the Conchords".

Thank's Google I/O team!

The Android Value Prop – live from Google I/O

This is a short excerpt of the value proposition of Android, as presented by Jason Chen at the "Introduction to Android" break-out session at Google I/O.

For the User:

The user “controls” the experience. Users will chose what applications to use, versus what is shoved down their throats by OEM’s and operators

For Developers:

1) Developers will be able to ship applications at will

2) All API’s are exposed

3) Integration/extension and even replacement into and of existing components:
- Integration across various applications
- Extending = customization of default applications
- Replacement = end-users could wind up replacing default applications for new cool apps developed by the community

My personal dilemmas with Android:

1) According to the presenter, discovery and distribution is left up to the community. This is nothing new to the mobile space. The problem is that operators not only want to, but NEED to control the distribution of applications. After all, it is they who issue the phone bill at the end of the month; it is they who have to answer customer calls and issue refunds to disgruntled end-users.

2) There doesn't seem to be much of a strategy around discovery of applications that are downloaded to device. After downloading an application it will reside in a subfolder that is accessible through the home UI. This is not different from today's semi-open platforms. Perhaps the Android marketing team has something in the works.

3) Hardware won’t be available to developers until 1st devices are shipped (1st handsets will ship during the 2nd half of 2008) – It seems that unless an application wins the Developer Challenge, there's little likelihood it would ship at the same time the device does. After all, applications should really be tested and re-tested on the physical device before being shipped.

4) Security questions were not thoroughly addressed during the session. I have confidence that Android is really paying attention to this, however.

Another question that did not come up but that keeps bugging me:

5) Who will address customer care once the applications ship? Operators? If so, does Google really expect operators to allow exposure of all APIs and for applications to simply ship without going through thorough certification operator-controlled processes?


Android will be a very sexy platform with great toolkits for developers. Graphics will be superior, guaranteeing applications to be equally sexy. Enticing API’s will be exposed (keep in mind that other mobile platforms already expose many of these API's). However, Android needs a solution to what I see as the key problem with existing platforms: discovery before and after download of applications. Also, at least in the short term, Android does aggravate the problem of fragmentation that developers face in mobile today.

I am hopeful that as these discussions with the community continue to take place Android will uncover more execution issues and work to resolve them.

Monday, May 26, 2008

More Movement towards Openness: Facebook & Open Social

Two days until Google’s I/O. While my primary reason for attending is to geek out on Android up close and personal, I may decide to spend some time attending OpenSocial discussions.

As it turns out Facebook just announced that it is making the Facebook platform open source. I have been reading up on OpenSocial only to come to the conclusion that it doesn’t have a mobile API. Now I’m wondering if Google may perhaps unveil some fancy mobile API’s for mobile.

Maximizing User Adoption during Phone Validation Process

Sometimes the most effective end-user experience can be counterintuitive.

Here is one example of how this can be true for even the simplest of processes. With the Internet crossing over into mobile more and more sites will require to authenticate the mobile number to ensure it truly belongs to the end-user providing it.

The right way:

A number of mobile content sites that have been in the space for years have perfected device authentication:

When adding the mobile device through the Web, the most effective way to validate the handset is to send the PIN to the phone and have the end users enter it on the PC.

Also, keep the PIN simple. This example "SHKCQWENLS" won’t do. Four digits is the ideal way to go, as long as security measures for generating the PIN are kept in mind. Avoid letters and numbers that resemble eachother, such as '1' and 'l', and '0' and 'o'.

The wrong way:

Getting this process wrong could mean up to a higher than 50% opportunity cost in terms of end-user adoption. Examples of this are:

1) Some sites send a text to the mobile phone and then require the end user to reply with a key word. While this seems might seem quite intuitive, studies have revealed that this will deter adoption by up to 80%

2) Others display a PIN on the PC and require end user to send the pin from their phone to a short code.

The worst way:

Some sites do not validate the device in the first place. This is not kosher at so many levels. A user could easily enter the wrong number accidentaly. This could result in spamming other end-users with text messages they will be charged for. Even worse, this could result in sensitive information being sent to the wrong person!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Can Drive for Twitter

I was thinking about organizing a Twitter boycott boycott. But at the advice of a certain blog whose name will go unmentioned, I decided we all need to get together and help Twitter out.

I give all you Twitter true loyals who think twit-out is simply not going to cut it the opportunity to do your part. So get in there!

On a serious note to all folks out there crazy enough to suggest Twitter needs our money (or our tough love) remember who they're backed by and who its founders are.

As for me, tomorrow I will be twittering like it is going out of style.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Free Long Distance Calls from your Phone

While I’ve got you folks on the voice bandwagon I just have to rave about yet another up-and-comer in the VoIP space: iSkoot.

I had a most pleasant conversation with Mark Jacobstein, CEO of iSkoot, a little while ago (you may recall Mark in relationship to Digital Chocolate. Yes?).

iSkoot’s value prop for the moment is Skype for the mobile phone. Through a downloadable client you can access all of your Skype contacts on your phone, and call or IM with other Skype users whether they’re on a PC or another mobile Skype phone. This is particularly enticing when it comes to making long distance calls.

iSkoot is not really worried about operator hostility out of concern for cannibalization of their Long Distance business. According to Mark the value prop for the operators is that, unlike some of its popular competitors such as JAJAH, iSkoot uses the circuit-switched data network. From the operator’s perspective it also eliminates long distance termination fees due to other operators. At the same time it is a very good way to drive data minutes of use; the argument being that people would rather wait to get home and make a free call on their PC using Skype than pay for a call right when they want to make one.

But the real problem is not with how sensible the arguments are, but with how rational the operators will be about this. For example, I’m currently lobbying operators to open their WAP environment to off-portal content and services. The reality, and operators know this well, is that the same off-portal content and services are already available through SMS. Yet they still refuse to open WAP out of fear of cannibalization. Hmm...

Execution: Despite of any potential roadblocks, iSkoot is already doing extremely well. It has successfully launched its client on a number of devices. Most include Blackberries and other smartphones; some feature phones, such as the extremely popular RAZR, are also supported.

Also iSkoot is has already received tons of good press and awards. Plus one thing I am certain of is that iSkoot has many other things cooking. An open platform to allow anyone to integrate iSkoot into various use of mobile VoIP would definitely get our attention :-).

Friday, May 16, 2008

Short follow up on Ribbit

I just thought I would do a quick post on what "Randy" from Ribbit shared in his comment to my post: to get more info on Ribbit, check out their blog or their RSS feed.

Good nite!

Android ditched for LiMo by Verizon… for Now

The Google versus evil carrier saga continues. Verizon Wireless announced today that it has joined the LiMo Foundation.

LiMo is an alliance that aims to create an open handset operating system based on Linux for Mobile. To date they not only have attracted 40 big industry names, but they have also launched a number of handsets:

• MOTO U9, MOTO Z6w, MOTOROKR Z6, RAZR2 V8, RAZR2 V8 Luxury Edition and MOTOROKR E8 from Motorola;

• NTT DoCoMo FOMA N905i, FOMA N905iμ, FOMA N705i and FOMA N705iμ from NEC;

• NTT DoCoMo FOMA P905i, FOMA P905iTV, FOMA P705i and FOMA P705iμ from Panasonic Mobile Communications, and

• SGH-i800 from Samsung.

While Verizon may not necessarily limit its support to LiMo, today’s move represents a blow for Android. It will be much more difficult to secure a significant footprint on mobile devices.

One thing that Google still has going for itself is the traction it has gained among developers (almost 1,800 Android Developer Challenge submissions). The only problem with this is that in the short term developers will gravitate to the fad of the moment. In the long term, however, it is those platforms that make the most economic sense that will result the winners.

All in all the jury is still out. The truth is there is plenty of room for all players. But as an important reminder… with fragmentation (and this seems to be getting worse instead of better), it is the developers who suffer in the process… and the ultimately loser is the consumer…

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Voice is still the killer app – only this time it has gone beyond the phone

I bailed on SF New Tech last night, and this was very much to my own dismay. I really wanted to check out the demo by hot-shot start-up Ribbit . Why? They are pretty cool… Why?

Everyone wants to go with the new cool technologies. Especially in mobile…

But sometimes it takes extraordinary vision to make the seemingly oldest of technologies into something extremely innovative and compelling.

Ribbit offers an open platform that allows anyone to integrate voice into any service or applications. Any use case that requires making or receiving calls through Web or other applications such as desktop widgets (or mobile applications). I found many an example of applications of Ribbit on Ribbit’s “Idea Wall”. Here are some of my favorites:

Voice powered singing audition for music website

Online Dating Web site. What else can you (or your suitors) display besides your interests and a photo-shopped picture of yourself? Your voice, of course!

More impressive magic occurs when Ribbit is combined with really sophisticated technologies such as voice-to-text. This is what has done by integrating Ribbit into an application that transcribes test to email, SMS, or simply displays it on the SAAS Web site.

So I conclude with a big thumbs up for Ribbit!

Monday, May 12, 2008

The iPhone in Context

To us Silicon Valley geeks who worship Apple (along with other few Silicon Valley icons) it might seem as if the iPhone has taken over the world. After all, in the Bay Area this superlative gadget of all time has indeed taken over.

So as a reminder to myself that sometimes I need to take off my Silicon Valley goggles, I looked up some interesting facts:

Number of phones shipped in Q1 2008

Apple iPhone: 1.7 Million

Motorola: 27.4 Million (a 40% marketshare loss)

Nokia: 22 Million

Sony/Ericsson: 22.3 million

So for a developer, does it still make sense to target the iPhone?

One mobile enthusiast I know well and respect insists that it’s not the current footprint of the iPhone that matters as much. It is a good investment because the footprint will increase eventually (some experts speculate the iPhone will reach 100M shipped units by the end of 2008 – I’m not sure if they live in the Silicon Valley or not, but my guess would be yes ;-)).

And its footprint has certainly already passed the footprint of any other device+OS+application platform combination out there. Not sure, however, how the late news of the iPhone being out of stock will affect this in the few months to come. Nevertheless, this is if anything an indicator that the demand for it is evergrowing.

So from a developer’s perspective the porting issues are null as long Apple continues to be consistent in its implementation of future versions.

In the end, howver, only time will tell if the iPhone will catch up with the incumbents in terms of market share in this hyper saturated space; or if the incumbents will catch up with the iPhone it terms of understanding of good user interface and real consumer needs.

Post Blogger’s Block

I’m recovering from serious blogger’s block. After being stuck in the rut for about one month the ideas are suddenly flowing.

I blame it on a vacation I recently took to visit my family in Mexico City, after which I was incredibly homesick for a while. I’ll post some pictures so that you can see for yourselves how this is fully justified.

Anyway, back in the groove…

Thursday, March 20, 2008

It is not just about the outcome of the 700 MHz auction

The incumbents triumphed. The FCC collected $19.59, almost twice what they had projected. And nothing has really changed. Well, almost nothing...

Some deem Google's congratulatory message to the auction's winners as somewhat of a concession speech. I, however, am inclined to believe that the under performance of Google during the 700 MHz spectrum auction could not be accidental.

For one thing all of the upfront posturing and lobbying did help put conditions for an "open network" on the much coveted C block.

The Google threat probably also caused the large incumbents to dish out more cash than they would have had to otherwise. Google did bid $4.6 Billion early during the auction. At the end Verizon wound up dishing out a whopping $9.63 Billion, while AT&T dished out $6.64 Billion.

There could also exist the realization on the part of Google that the best way forward for Android is not through a mobile network of its own (i.e., limited devices), but rather through collaboration with the incumbents. This would potentially, and depending on how smart it continues to play the game, give it a much wider footprint.

So rather than being disappointed I'd much rather focus on the promising changes this whole melodrama has brought about:

1. Various operators, including Verizon, have expressed the acceptance of Android
2. AT&T and Verizon announced a move towards open access
3. This week Verizon hosted its first and historical open development conference
3. Verizon released its first open access device specifications today

Let's keep in mind that just one year ago these events were simply unimaginable.

Verizon does deliver after all

Verizon's Open Development Conference did get off to a start after all... (Web site and all)

By now, the 2nd day of the conference, the much anticipated device specs must have been unveiled. At the same time Verizon has promised that the requirements "will not be burdensome".

More to come later...

Monday, March 17, 2008

Incumbent Beware

One might expect that especially given the recent announcement of Google's I/O Web Forward open source conference during which Android will likely take the front stage, Verizon Wireless would be building some serious buzz around its own Open Development conference.

Rule number one: make sure that the main link on your press release works!! Yup, you know that link that points to all of the details about the thing you are announcing? Make sure the page is up especially if the conference is only but two days away (and the hot shot new entrant is stealing your thunder)!!!

So much for the anticipation... Hmm... although perhaps someone got an early start on that maintenance window...

On the other hand, here are the deets on Google I/O:

When: May 28-29 2008
Where: San Francisco @ West Moscone
Early Bird registration is $300
Attendee Registration is $400
And they even have the very generous gesture to offer student passes for just $50 each.

Why? (as if a reason was needed) An opportunity to see all of the best of Google's developers talk about all of Google's development platforms. Need I say more?

Regarding Verizon's open development conference, which is supposed to start this week on the 19th, I've been combing the Web for details today without much success. As soon as I find more information I'll be sure to post it.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Spectrum Auction: The Cash Cow is Slowing Down

17 days and 81 rounds into the 700 Mhz spectrum auction and the total bid amount is up to a whopping $19.5 Billion!

The question keeps popping up: who are the top contenders? The auction is silent so we really will not know until the auction ends. There are 214 approved bidders. Most industry experts speculate that Verizon and AT&T have been the most aggressive of the bidders. Some have even speculated that Google dropped out. Although, frankly, these allegations seems a little unfounded.

Block C is the most sought after chunk of spectrum because it is national. While some speculate Verizon has been aggressively pursuing this block, others expect a more tricky move to bid on the cheaper regional blocks.

The winner of the other national block, Block D, would have to build out a network that would have to be shared with the government to offer public safety services. Not surprisingly, the bidding for Block D has not gone as wished for by the FCC – still about $800 Million from the $1.3 Billion reserve price – and the Block will likely be put for bid at a later date.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

More Strides towards Openness: Funambol

Funambol offers open source email, contacts and calendars. It provides connectors between Microsoft Exchange and IBM Domino email servers, and a range of mobile devices. It also provides an open community for other open source and standard solutions that service providers and mobile device manufacturers can benefit from.

So one might ask what the value prop of Funambol is when Android promises to be the answer to mobile open source. The answer is that Android is a software stack, while Funambol is a platform. Therefore, they are very complementary to eachother.

Take the following example:

As a potential consumer of Funambol I have already found a problem using its consumer service. As usual, the problem is porting. My phone, being one of the most popular phones, the LG chocolate, is not supported by Funambol. Also, in my case, Funambol assumes Verizon’s phones are open. When I tried to set up my account Funambol gave me clear instructions on how to tweak my phone settings to synchronize with Funambol’s server. The problem is Verizon does not allow for that because they either want me to pay for the sync application on a smartphone, or to download and pay for a Brew email client on my feature device.

The bottom line is that this problem makes for a stronger case for Android and the power it has to forge relationships with operators and OEM’s, and lowering the porting barriers.

If unlike me, you do have access to an open device and furthermore, to an outlook server here are some quick easy resources to help you through the steps: setting up Outlook and Blackberry.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Auction: Today Ends at $11.6 B

Auction Day 4 Summary

This is what the little cash cow looked like at the end of yesterday's rounds.

This morning, after round 14 the tally was up to $10.2 Billion (ch-ching!).
The other news is that at last one bid has been made for block D. The bid came in just under $0.5 Billion. This block is the one the FCC has mandated it must be shared with a national public safety communications network.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Auction - Day 3 Results

Less than $4 Billion away from the government's initial goal.

When the auction will be over is hard to tell. And there are two certain parties that will go head-to-head until the very end. The government's original goal of $10 Billion might turn out to be a very conservative target after all.

I am just hoping the European 3G licenses saga isn't about to happen again.

Monday, January 28, 2008


A new hot company has just arrived in the Valley and promises to be all the craze: Mig33.

Mig33 is a do-it-all-in-one downloadable "light" client packaged as a mobile social networking service. So what deems Mig33 hot? Its reach already covers 9 million subs accross 200 countries, and enjoys at least five fan sites.

The features Mig33 offers are VOIP, IM, and chat. But the most interesting aspect of Mig33, at least to me, is its Merchants program, which consists of peer to peer re-selling of credits. Mig33 users get a 25% discount when they buy $100 or more worth of credits and they can turn around and re-sell these to other users at a discount for a profit.

On the other hand, I am a little less optimistic about the traction mig33 is likely to get in the US with its downloadable client. The larger carriers block downloading to many of their devices. So unless mig33 gets on a couple of carrier decks (and pays for the right to do so), US penetration will be challenging. The one consolation is its WAP site, which although bare, it provides subscribers with an easy way to access mig33 on the go.

700 MHz Spectrum Auction Bid Tracker

It's day three of the auction. I've started tracking the amoung of $ the federal government will raise in the auction. Selling air sure is a nice business to be in!

Bidders will not be disclosed until the end of the auction, but Google, Verizon Wireless, and AT&T are reportedly in the race, having qualified for it prior to the start of the auction.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

What Mobile Openness Might Look Like

Just some speculation about what all the industry changes i.e. the 700 mhz spectrum, Verizon's seemingly move towards an “open" platform… Android recently announced deal with NTT DoCoMo, might bring forth...

For the carriers having an open platform and environment may imply not getting a slice of the pie each time content is delivered over their networks. For Brands with direct relationships with end consumers will not have to rely on the carriers to collect $ from those customers. Having bought many CD's from Amazon from my phone (that was back in the day before itunes), I can tell you the carrier didn't see a dime of those transations. That is the direction of things. Also, take iTunes as another example. If I could download an iTunes song to my phone, I would buy it directly from iTunes. And if the device platform and access to the device is open enough where a) I can navigate to iTunes directly, b) iTunes knows my identity or can easily verify it, c) and the song can get directly to the phone, my carrier bill becomes obsolete.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

700 MHz Auction Countdown is On

We're just but a few hours away...

One Small Step for Verizon, One Big Step for Mankind

Mark your calendars! March 19-20 is Verizon’s Open Development conference.

But what does this mean exactly? If you are an application developer, don’t book your flight to NYC just yet. For starters, the conference is not for all developers.

The first step towards enabling an open platform environment is getting device manufacturers on board and in sync with each other. This explains why the first conference targets device developers. During the conference Verizon will review its technical device standards. The question is are these “standards” standard with respect to the rest of the devices in the world?

On a side note: another, perhaps even bigger announcement is the “company’s desire to encourage innovation, give customers wireless choices, and quickly address opportunities to expand the wireless market”. I just love the sound of that!

Related posts: GigaOm, mobilebuzz

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Simple Wins, Especially in Mobile

In past posts I have ranted about the challenges of developing applications in the mobile space: the closeness of various platorms, the fragmentation of devices (ranging from hardware to operating systems to development platforms, and even to applications, such as browsers).

Today, even as I anticipate the blossoming of open platforms, I still strongly recommend SMS as the simplest and fastest way to reach mobile users. This is why I was ever so delighted to see that TechCrunch's first "Best Mobile Start Up" Crunchies award went to Twitter. I am a huge proponent of Web meets Mobile services; in a not so far future all applications will fall under this category.

It is true that Twitter is more than a mobile application; it integrates many communication mediums. But when it comes to taking the best it has to offer, its simplicity, and taking it to the next level by integrating mobility, Twitter is still one of the best examples I can think of.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Guitar Hero Any Time, Any Where!

Since this has become my latest addiction I thought I would post a quick review:

It is a really good app based on an outstanding video game. Hands On Mobile has done a superb job transposing the guitar-based UI to a handset.

  • It works just like Guitar Hero, except there are only three keys (instead of five)
  • The graphics are also pretty good and true to the game
  • The AV synchronization is almost perfect (every once in a while a note will be slightly off, but this is barely noticeable to someone who has worked on mobile video applications before)
  • The sound on the Verizon Chocolate is pretty good, especially with stereo head phones

What I didn't find optimal:

  • No free-demo available?! That’s kind of sketchy! So in order to try the game I had to pay for the 1st month’s subscription. Talk about a deterrent for some folks out there
  • Interesting pricing strategy going on here: only four songs available with the 1st month’s subscription. One can work his way up to fifteen songs total (three at a time). But given how addictive the game is, unless more songs are available soon, there will be little incentive for folks to renew their subscription beyond five months. This makes it better to simply pay the indefinite package upfront
  • The biggest drawback is that one can only have two songs residing in the phone at the same time. To switch from resident songs to the other two songs, the full songs must be downloaded. Translation: almost a minute to download each song (too bad one can’t take a Guitar Hero break during)
  • And the ever present problem with mobile anything: when I play to “Suck my Kiss” (by the Red Hot Chili Peppers) it feels more like “Suck My Battery” just after a few plays

The game is currently sold exclusively on Verizon phones. One can download it through Fun & Games on GetItNow (or the Brew deck for mobile geeks out there familiar with the term). One can pay $4.49 for a month to month subscription, or $11.99 to have indefinitely.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The WAP Fenced Garden

In the U.S. the concept of off-portal premium content and applications provided over WAP is almost nonexistent as most carriers maintain a fairly closed WAP walled garden.

But do off-portal content and application providers sit idle while waiting for the walled garden to come down? No.

When there is a will, and a loophole, there is a way.

Most carriers do allow end users to navigate to sites outside of the carrier-branded portal. The problem is that as end users navigate outside of the walled garden, off- portal sites will not benefit from automatically knowing their identities (i.e. the phone number). In a way this is similar to a Web experience – the only difference is the limited UI of the device. Many content providers thus take advantage of this by continuing to sell their content in a variety of different and creative ways.

One way is through the use of a third party payment method, such as Paypal or credit cards. On Verizon Wireless I can easily navigate to a content provider’s WAP page (the name of the content provider will go unmentioned), select a ring-tone, enter my credit card number, confirm my purchase. The two problems with this are 1) the cumbersome user-experience, and 2) most phones do not allow content downloading over HTTP (in my case, I got charged for the purchase but never received my content).

There are also other ways to marginally improve the end user experience:

Enter Off-Portal SMS. Through Premium Short Messaging Services (PSMS), off-portal content providers have been able to circumvent the WAP walled gardens. PSMS provides a way for content providers to bill consumers via the operator’s phone bill, either directly or through an operator-trusted aggregator.

The user experience might look something like this:

  • User navigates to the content provider’s WAP site and selects the service

  • User needs to provide the content provider with his/her phone number (manual input)

  • To ensure the end user is truly the owner of the phone number an SMS containing an SMS message is sent to the phone number. Since the end user may have to exit the WAP session to receive the text message, the content provider sends a URL in the device (WAP Push). By selecting the URL the end user is taken back to the WAP page where he/she can continue with the transaction (and which serves as a means to authenticate the user)

  • The content provider may deliver the content through a WAP download or through SMS, depending on the operator/device limitations

A less desirable user experience is one which is the last alternative for operators/devices that do not support WAP Push:

  • User navigates to the content provider’s WAP site and selects the service

  • User needs to provide the content provider with his/her phone number

  • To ensure the end user is truly the owner of the phone number an SMS containing a PIN is sent to the device

  • After the end user receives the PIN he/she may return to the WAP page, assuming the device’s browser is able to cache the page

  • The end user enters the PIN

  • The purchase is completed

  • The content provider may deliver the content through a WAP download or through SMS, depending on the operator/device limitations

The big disadvantage is that the end user experience still leaves much to be desired.

The other disadvantage of PSMS is that the operators takes a cut of each purchase. The cut can range anywhere between 25% to 40%. The irony is that by trying to protect their walled gardens carriers are also keeping dollars outside of their precious garden, and out of content providers’ wallets.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

In the Spirit of the New Year: Mobile Awareness

My first post of 2008 goes out to RareEarthTones. Unlike the vast majority of mobile content providers, RareEarthTones is leveraging the most ubiquitous access technology to promote awareness about endangered species. It does so by offering FREE ringtones featuring the sounds of animals at the brink of extintion.

I tried it on my Verizon phone and it worked like a charm.

This is truly liberating. The economics of SMS are very unlike the Internet. There is a considerable cost that the Center for Biological Diversity (or some very generous donor) must be incurring. I cannot think of a better purpose!