The Future of Mobility

The announcement of the iPad 2 kindled (not the Amazon one) something inside of me this week.  I have provided a few angles on the new iPad, but wanted to close out the week looking at how I view the future of the mobile market. 

Undoubtably, mobile devices have finally taken off and are becoming more mainstream.  What was once seen as a techy item, is being used by professors, business people, mothers, students, and even Grandma and Grandpa Joe. 

The evolution of the smartphone has taken a turn.  What was once a push for smaller is better has turned to a balance between functionality and size.  With the smartphone becoming more functional, allowing users to surf the web and watch movies etc, consumers started seeing the benefit to larger screens.   What we are seeing now is the advent of larger screen smartphones and tablets to satisfy the increased functionality.  A new strike between functionality and convenience.  

So what does the longer term future look like for smartphones and tablets.  Who will be the front-runner, and what will they need to do to stay on top.  Obviously, Apple is seen as the leader at this time, but can Android or even Blackberry catch up?  Keep in mind, when I present these questions, I am writing with regards to the US market.  The addition of the International markets would change everything and add some more players. 

Right now, I see the major US players in the mobile space as:

  • Apple
  • Google – Android
  • Blackberry
  • Microsoft

What do each of these players have to do, in order to stay competitive?  Well, for starters they need to continue to innovate and improve on their products, while keeping their costs down.  This is a given for all of the players above. 

Let’s look at the specifics for each player:

Apple

  • They need to open up.  They are too stuck on a proprietary mindset and this already got them in trouble in the 80s.  Add a USB port to the iPad, allow an SD port, let me see my files and folders and transfer stuff without using iTunes.
  • More product lines – the one reason the Android devices have better specs is because Apple only provides product upgrades once a year.  You want the next best iPhone, it could take 1-2 years.  With the Android, HTC is coming out with one phone, while Motorola is already working on the next best thing.  This keeps the product line fresh. 
  • Realize Google is for real.  I know no one has been able to touch the iPod, but Google has a good chance to make a run at Apple with phones and tablets.  According to Steve Jobs at the iPad 2 unveiling, iPad is 90% of the market today, but keep approaching it from a standpoint that no one can beat you and someone will…especially when it’s Google in the rearview mirror.

Google

  • Push to become more mainstream and less techy.  Nothing wrong with techy people, I could be considered one of them, but a phone branded as “techy” for some is an automatic classification of “scary” for others.   Start marketing campaigns branding your products towards less tech oriented market segments.
  • Improve your security model.  This might be a difficult one since Google’s model relies on openness.  Education might be the best practice here or having a security program pre-installed might help reduce the risk. 
  • Lower your price points of your higher end products.  The Motorola Xoom was deemed the iPad killer.  I must admit, it looks pretty nice, but the price point is too high.  $600+ and I have to sign a contract with Verizon?  Apparently, a cheaper model in the $500 range will be released at Sam’s Club with only Wi-Fi, but when there are cheaper iPad options, who do you think will get the majority of the market?  Android is in the position where it need to impress and get itself out there, not price itself out of the market.  Think of Vizio TVs – they were high quality and in a lot of cases a better product, but the main way they got out there in the market and proved themselves was on price. 

Blackberry

  • Stick with what you are good at and appease your main market.  Blackberry is still alive because of the security and their seamless Enterprise integration.  Businesses that require tight controls, especially government related, will turn to the Blackberry.  For Apple and Android, they are out to appease the average consumer right now with new and innovative things.  Their models aren’t tied around security and in some cases, like I mentioned with the Android,  harbor less security.  For Blackberry, they are seen as lacking in innovation, but sometimes boring means stability and security. 
  • Don’t lose complete sight of innovation. 

Microsoft

I only mention them because I am sure they will make some kind of run in the mobile space, but they have a lot of catching up to do.  So did Apple in the 90s…

What about tablets?  Are they the future or a fad?  I think they can be the future, but they can fizzle out if not marketed properly.  The main way to keep the tablet heartbeat alive is to get it into the workforce; Seamless integration within the Enterprise.   This is key!

I have had my iPad for two weeks now and I love it.  I am also starting to realize everything I do on it, I can do somewhere else and better.  For example, it acts as an e-reader, but so does my Kindle and the books on my bookshelf.  It plays Netflixs, but so does my 65 inch TV.   It acts as a computer, but my netbook definitely is my device of choice when working or writing.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my iPad, but others might come to realize, they don’t really need it. 

If the tablet can get itself into the Enterprise workforce, it can prove that it is more than just a cool gadget.  I think this is achievable and already in the works in many places.  During the iPad 2 announcement, there were many examples of different professions using the iPad.  And now with the camera, the options are even greater.  Remember when we use to watch sci-fi shows with workers communicating with each other via tablets – can you say Facetime on the iPad!  The industry must continue to come up with more practical uses of tablets; otherwise, people are going to realize their smartphone does enough for them on the go.  If I had to bet on tablets continuing to be a future game changer, I would probably take the bet.

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Blackberry announces its answer to the iPad

RIMM’s (Blackberry) answer to the iPad.  They definitely might have a chance in the corporate market, but I am still giving the edge to Apple.  If nothing else, this forces Apple to become more competitive with their pricing model.  Curious what RIMM’s pricing structure will look like for these devices. 

See link below:

http://crackberry.com/blackberry-playbook-announced

Blackberry in the news

Good article below about Blackberry and why it is so popular despite not being the most favored smartphone anymore. Reiterates my take on them from a previous post this past week.

http://www.cnn.com/2010/TECH/mobile/08/04/blackberry.fans/index.html?iref=NS1

The New Blackberry Torch goes to AT&T – Conspiracy in the Making?

Well, the long awaited announcement has come and the Blackberry 6 operating system is right around the corner, which will debut on the new Blackberry Torch. The Torch 9800, will be a touchscreen phone with a sliding keyboard, something not available on any other Blackberry to date. The phone will be available on AT&T’s network.

What I had found interesting, which is now confirmed with today’s news, is the new phone will be on AT&T’s network and not Verizon (at least not at launch). While I am sure some people are shaking their heads, I think I have a theory.

There are 3 major players in the smartphone market today. Blackberry, Android, and Apple’s iPhone. Sorry Palm and Microsoft, but in my opinion, at this time you are not major players.

Blackberry is your best corporate solution at the time of this write up. I say at the time of this write up because technology in the mobile space is changing so quickly that by the time I hit ‘Post’ on this blog, it could all change! Blackberry provides the most secure and best messaging system. It allows corporations to setup Blackberry Enterprise Servers (BES) to connect all the devices, securely to the internal network, and control the level of security. Blackberry is proven, but in many cases, less “sexy” than the other players.

Apple’s iPhone has been around the block a few times now and it is definitely more innovative and better from an application perspective than the Blackberry. Apple has many cool features and definitely appeals to all different end users. Apple has two major issues right now holding it back. Verizon does not have the iPhone. It’s unfortunate because Apple approached Verizon first and was turned down. AT&T capitalized with securing an exclusive deal, but now the AT&T market is saturated and it is time to move on. The iPhone also does not do as well as the Blackberry (yet?) on corporate networks. This takes serious business users out of the picture.

The Android is Google’s mobile operating system, aimed at competing with the other major players in the mobile market. According to multiple reports (one specifically on Bgr.com), while the smartphone market has grown 62% in Q2 of 2010, Android has posted 886% growth. This can likely be contributed to Verizon’s influx of Android based handsets. We have seen the introduction of three very impressive devices – Droid, The Incredible and Droid X, with Droid 2 right around the corner. Since Android is open source and very developer friendly, the Android Marketplace has been very successful in the early stages. Google is also well known for its innovative ideas and as a result, the Android operating system has delivered some really cool features. Like the iPhone though, the Android system does not bode as well on corporate networks. This is not to say Android is not taking strides towards being more corporate network friendly, it’s just Blackberry is still the better choice in the corporate space (in my opinion).

So with AT&T taking on the new and improved Blackberry phone, what can we read into this move? Well, for those who know me well, I like conspiracy theories; it passes the time. What I see here, is a shift in AT&Ts strategy to proactively protect itself in the marketplace. Ask yourself, what is the bread and butter of AT&T today? What really allows AT&T to compete with Verizon? It’s not their customer service or network. It’s not the fact that they are GSM over CDMA – most people who own a smartphone probably couldn’t even tell you the difference. The one thing AT&T has over Verizon is the iPhone and once Verizon also has the iPhone, AT&T could be looking at some troubles ahead.

AT&T’s exclusive contract with Apple has been up since the beginning of this year. My gut tells me that Verizon would have already made a move to get the iPhone; except, that would have cannibalized the up and coming Android phones. Instead, Verizon is taking on as many Android users as they can (probably worked this out with Android vendors to keep them happy), locking them into the Android system (Verizon is offering a deal where you can get an early upgrade to one of the new smartphones, if your contract is set to expire anytime this year). As soon as the year is up and Verizon locks as many users as they can into the Android that is when the announcement will come; iPhone to Verizon. Now the hold-outs will be able to get onto the iPhone and anyone who was on AT&T, just for the iPhone can defect. In addition, anyone locked into the Android, who really wanted an iPhone, will end up paying full price for the iPhone – and people will do this! Some consumers will likely be angry with Verizon, but in the end, Verizon wouldn’t have done anything wrong. In fact, it would have all been a pretty good business move, to keep most parties happy.

So what is my point? What does this have to do with the new Blackberry being on AT&T? Well, while the Android and iPhone are both competing for the innovated user who likes the “toy” factor on their smartphones (toy in a good way), the Blackberry is the one phone meant mainly for the corporate user. If your AT&T, you have had your time with the iPhone and can only now sit and watch to see how your user base reacts to Verizon finally putting it on their network. If you are Blackberry (RIM), you might not be too happy Verizon has a new love called Android. So the new Blackberry going to AT&T seems like a match made in heaven. AT&T starts concentrating on the corporate end user space, allowing Verizon to cannibalize itself between the Android and iPhone systems. In addition, with AT&T being on the GSM network (which can be used virtually anywhere in the world), corporate end users that travel globally make a lot of sense.

Looking towards the future, I see a shift of end users between Verizon and AT&T. Verizon is finally staying on top of new and innovative phones, and gone are the days of waiting 2 years for yesterday’s best smartphone. AT&T on the other hand will continue to compete in the Android and iPhone market, but will shift it’s interest to Blackberry and the corporate end users. While these are all conspiracy theories wrapped around some factual evidence, I throw in the caveat that it might be far from the truth. The only hope is that considering the theories at least passes some time away. : )