a week in wireless


The five stages of grief

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Nokia just can’t keep itself out of the news can it? And of late it’s been in there for all the wrong reasons. But finally, the Finnish handset giant appears to be coming to terms with its predicament and is even showing signs of ‘getting’ the truth – Symbian is and always has been an extension of Nokia.

It’s the classic five stages of grief; textbook stuff really. First there was denial: “No, Symbian is not a Nokia thing. See, Ericsson and Motorola want to use it too!” Then anger: “What the hell? Hey Psion! Motorola! Get yourselves back here now! Hey, hey… Sony Ericsson…?” Then bargaining: “Ok, ok, so we’ll buy the rest of Symbian then. Fine. But we’re setting up this Symbian Foundation thing, so it’s still kind of separate.” Then depression: “Oh yeah, great. Sure, Symbian may be the market leader but we’re developing it all on our own here. And everybody loves Android more than us. And Lee Williams is just making a mess of the Foundation thing… And nobody thinks the big yellow duck is cool…” And finally, acceptance: “Screw it. No one else wants Symbian anyway, and this high hat ^ thing is just hacking people off. Actually, that big yellow duck is, too. Look, let’s bin the dodgy branding just call it ‘Symbian’ and bring it in house. It’s a Nokia thing.”

Industry psychiatrists can breathe a sigh of relief that Nokia has come through the troubled times, the dark days, and is now getting back onto the straight and narrow. Lee Williams, head of the Symbian Foundation, made a sharp exit this week, to be replaced by CFO Tim Holbrow. The firm is also consolidating all Symbian releases under one ‘Symbian’ umbrella, and doing away with all the ^3 and ^4 stuff. In another smart move, Qt, and by extension HTML5, is being adopted as the standard app development framework across both Symbian and MeeGo, paving the way for a simplified app development process.

All this simplification hasn’t come without cost, however. It’s not just Williams who’s out in the cold, having been made the fall guy for Symbian. Another 1,800 Nokia employees in the smartphones and services businesses have also been given the boot.

The Informer hosted a couple of panel sessions at the OSiM conference this week and got to speak to a few high profile members of the development community just as the Nokia news was breaking. The word on the conference floor was that the Foundation will close its doors inside three months due to cashflow problems, leaving it to be fully integrated into Nokia.

Martin Garner, director of mobile internet at analyst house CCS Insight, who chaired the OSiM conference, said the Symbian Foundation now has “zero relevance,” while the previous approach of having Symbian ^4 as a new and incompatible thing was causing problems with developers and undermining sales messages on the new batch of smartphones. “So the announcement made a lot of sense and was good news,” but he adds: “The Qt announcement was interesting. It removes some flexibility for developers, but will make things cleaner, simpler, and easier to get apps working across the two platforms. As far as we can tell the strengths of Qt are not widely enough known and Nokia needs to continue investing in getting it better understood. Having a software guy at the top should help, of course.”

That Stephen Elop has made his mark quickly and was no doubt bolstered by the delivery of a third quarter profit of €322m, compared to a massive loss of €913m in the same period last year (due to huge writedowns for NSN). Net sales for the period were also up, to €10.2bn compared to €9.8bn a year ago. Device shipments were up two per cent year on year to 110.4 million and down one per cent sequentially. The average selling price of a device is €65, while a smartphone sells at €136.

Yep, it’s numbers time again, but the Informer, numerically challenged as he is, won’t dwell too long. Numbers were up for Apple of course, which sold 14.1 million iPhones in the third quarter, up 91 per cent year-on-year and 67.86 per cent quarter-on-quarter. A total of 4.19 million iPads were shipped during the same period, which was deemed to be a diappointment. It was a similar story for Ericsson, which saw 3Q10 net income jump 360 per cent year-on-year to SEK3.6bn ($550.7m) on revenues of SEK47.5bn, up by two per cent year-on-year.

Back to OSiM and software now though, where there was much tittering among the open source developer crowd about the announced availability of the Wholesale Applications Community’s WAC 1.0 specification (based upon JIL 1.2.2). The WAC alliance is chasing the write once run anywhere dream of building an open platform for delivering applications to all mobile phone users and has expanded its member base with the addition of 32 new organisations from across the industry.

Plucky little vendor Palm also moved to prove that rumours of its demise were greatly exaggerated. New owner HP announced the most significant update to the webOS platform since its launch in 2009 – webOS 2.0. The latest version of the creatively named operating system will debut on the just as creatively named Palm Pre 2 smartphone, which launches this week.

In terms of new features, webOS 2.0 will support: true multitasking; Just Type – which allows a user to start typing direct from the home screen – an email, SMS or whatever – while the OS decides which is the best app to use; device syncing with Facebook, Google, Microsoft Exchange, LinkedIn and Yahoo; Adobe Flash Player 10.1 Beta; favourite contacts; Skype Mobile (on Verizon Wireless only); Quickoffice Connect Mobile Suite; increased support for HTML5; VPN; a redesigned App Catalog; and a redesigned app launcher. A webOS 2.0 update will be delivered to existing Palm customers “in the coming months”.

Everyone’s favourite smartphone app, Angry Birds, made a new nest this week after mobile games publisher Chillingo was acquired by Electronic Arts to boost the gaming giant’s presence in the mobile space. Angry Birds alone has been downloaded more than 20 million times, but EA’s marketing chief won’t be around to push the new additions to the fold, as she’s moving to GetJar.

The company, which bills itself as “the world’s second biggest app store behind Apple” has appointed Berenice Kalan as director of UK marketing, to develop GetJar’s voice amongst advocates, develop new and existing relationships with UK app developers and publishers, and drive GetJar’s growth in the UK. Kalan spent the last five years working as head of product and marketing for key players in the mobile games industry such as I-Play, Glu and most recently, EA Mobile.

There’s a lot to be said for close relationships if the figures released by Informa Telecoms & Media this week are anything to go by. Mobile operators could add millions of Euros to their bottom line by partnering with a content provider such as a music streaming service rather than going it alone, the analyst said, as rapid smartphone uptake has for the first time enabled music to make a substantial impact on operator’s market share, ARPU and churn.

Informa’s research is based on real data from Swedish carrier Telia and music service Spotify and estimates that an operator in Western Europe with 20 million customers could generate revenues of €77.7m in 2011 alone by partnering with a streaming service. If the leading player in each Western European market did so, they would collectively generate €1.1bn in 2011.

“Our research shows a large Western European operator could generate millions of Euros of revenue a year by partnering with a third-party music service – significantly more than they would gain from offering their own service. Add in other benefits, such as network efficiency, brand awareness and increased lifetime customer value, and the potential for such a partnership becomes very clear,” said Giles Cottle, senior analyst at Informa.

The Informer interviewed Faisal Galaria, global head of business development at Spotify about the importance of partnerships this week, so keep your eyes peeled for that to appear on telecoms.com next week.

It seems that not everyone shares this warm, fuzzy passion for partnerships, however. Australian carrier Telstra on Thursday announced that it is to end the 3G network sharing arrangement it has with Vodafone Hutchison Australia in 2012. The news came days after Telstra CTO Hugh Bradlow told the Informer that he views network sharing as uncompetitive and “a race to the bottom”. He criticised network sharing arrangements, arguing that they discourage operators to invest in improving networks as a competitive differentiator and cited experiences roaming in the UK, home to some of the most advanced network sharing programmes in the world, as proof that the strategy leads to poor performance. Bradlow claimed to have experienced more capacity based drop outs while roaming in the UK for two days than he had experienced on the Telstra network in two years.

Not good news for leading German mobile operators, Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone Germany and O2 Germany, which have started talks focused on the rolling out of a joint LTE network in the country.

All for one and one for, er, one…

The Informer


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