Monday, February 11, 2008

Pocket battleships v pipes in the air: mobile players vie for $600bn prize

After a decade of promises, the mobile internet has arrived. So too have the giants of online business, which see the coming of reliable internet on the move as a lucrative mass consumer market that cannot be left to the mobile phone operators. The mobile industry is worth £300bn a year and with more than half the world's population now owning a mobile phone, that figure will only grow.

How to tap into that cashflow will be on the minds of executives from across the world when they gather for the industry's largest annual trade show today in Barcelona, which promises to be dominated by the plans of the likes of Google and Microsoft to enter the mobile market.

The industry's dominant handset supplier, Nokia, also seems to have turned against the mobile phone networks, launching its own online and music services direct to customers.

For the mobile phone networks, the stakes are high: can they stop the online firms, the software companies and the consumer device manufacturers turning them into nothing more than "big dumb pipes in the air" (a phrase used often by industry insiders)? In the era of the mobile internet, what is the networks' purpose other than to provide connectivity at a flat rate?

If you buy something from Amazon on your broadband-enabled PC, the retailer does not have to give your internet service provider a cut of the sale. So why should Vodafone or Orange or T-Mobile get a cut of anything done over the mobile internet?

"It is going to be one of the most interesting congresses for me for a long time," according to Mike Reid, director of the investment group 3i, who has watched the mobile industry for years. "If you look at the experience that we have on the mobile today, it is dominated by what the mobile operator wants you to do and see. What we have talked about until today is the mobile internet, where we are going to go is the internet on your mobile - the same internet," he says.

The launch last year of Apple's iPhone proved that people will use the internet on a mobile phone. But Apple will only ever make up a small proportion of a market that is running at more than 1bn mobile handsets a year.

Far more important is the arrival of Google in mobile. Last year the online technology firm unveiled Android, an entire mobile phone software system which is open to all comers. It will reveal an updated version of its software developers kit this week and handsets from the likes of HTC, LG and Samsung using the new technology will start appearing towards the end of the year.

The reason a range of so-called Gphones coming on to the market is important is because Google's aim is to open up the market - to make it as easy to develop an online application for a mobile phone as it is to develop them for a computer linked to the internet.

For many mobile networks, Android is the thin edge of a wedge that will force them to release their grip on what consumers can do with their mobile phones. And when consumers can do what they want on their phones, they will want to do it whenever they feel like it with unlimited access.

As a result, the operator will end up receiving nothing more than a monthly flat fee for calls, texts and internet access.

Google denies it is out to "get" the mobile phone companies. Several - including T-Mobile, China Mobile, O2's owner, Telefónica, and the US-based Sprint - are members of its alliance. "Just because it's open and anyone can put applications out on the handset does not mean that there are not opportunities for the carriers to share in the revenue streams created by those applications if they do the billing or provide infrastructure to get those applications going," said Rich Miner, Google's manager for mobile platforms.

The arrival of the iPhone also proved that software is becoming the defining factor in mobile telephony. For years, handset manufacturers such as Nokia argued endlessly about how many buttons to put on a phone and what they should do, but with a touch-screen phone it does not matter.

A company can produce a million copies of the same device and with the right software and a host of willing developers its touch screen can offer consumers a myriad of variations of applications.

Samsung - part of Google's alliance - and LG will be announcing a range of new phones at the show. Among the 11 from Samsung are several iPhone-like touch-screen devices using its Croix user interface, which is more stylish than the iPhone.

The importance of mobile software is something which Microsoft has been shouting about for some time. "Apple has validated the belief we had five years ago that software really matters," according to Scott Horn, general manager of Microsoft's mobile communications business group. "Apple entering a market has been a good thing for the industry because it really has highlighted that software lets you do more with your phone."

Microsoft has focused on the business and "high-end" smartphone market, with forecasts for 20 million shipments this year.

The arrival of the iPhone and mass market internet-enabled devices from the likes of Nokia have spurred its move into the mainstream of consumers. At this week's show Microsoft will announce that it wants a much larger slice of the market.


"Our goal is to put a smartphone in every person's pocket," Horn said.

Last night Microsoft announced that it had signed up Sony Ericsson to make phones using its Windows Mobile operating system with the first phone expected to ship by the end of the year. Sony Ericsson is the fourth of the five leading handset manufacturers to sign up with Microsoft.

It leaves Nokia - which licenses some technology from it but does not use Windows Mobile - as the only refusenik. The Finnish manufacturer, which makes 4 out of 10 mobile phones sold around the world, shocked the mobile phone operators last year by unveiling its own suite of mobile services under the Ovi banner.

Details about its "comes with music" service are expected at the show today and so far only Universal Music has signed up, but towards the end of this year Nokia will start delivering a phone that gives a customer unlimited access to all the music they want for a year. Once the year is over, they get to keep it. The mobile operators and their music offerings will be bypassed.

To see off the threat from Nokia, one of Vodafone's music partners, Omnifone, is rumoured to be announcing a new version of its MusicStation unlimited music service in Barcelona. Its new product is expected to hit the shops in the first half of this year.

But the operators face a tough fight for the mobile internet and the next generation of services. At last year's meeting, Vodafone's chief executive, Arun Sarin, warned the mobile phone industry that if it did not get a move on and develop fast internet services, the online corporations, such as Microsoft and Google, would "eat the mobile industry's lunch".

Well, this year, they're very much at the table. And they're ravenous.

Source :

Samsung hopes to have Google phone early 2009

Korea's Samsung Electronics hopes to have a phone based on Google's Android mobile phone software platform by early next year, it said at the Mobile World Congress on Monday.

Samsung added that it expected to have four or five WiMax phones out this year. WiMax is a wireless technology similar to WiFi but with longer range and stronger signals.

Sony Ericsson Releases First Windows Mobile Phone

Sony Ericsson Sunday night announced its first Windows Mobile phone, the Xperia X1 – and it's coming to the U.S. soon.

"It's a truly converged device for entertainment and productivity. We're trying to avoid the use of the term 'smart phone,'" said Suzanne Cross, head product marketing manager for Sony Ericsson North America.

The Xperia line signals a new focus on innovations in 'user experience' for Sony Ericsson, said Rikko Sakaguchi, the company's head of portfolio and propositions.

"What is tomorrow, what's the vision?" he asked. "A very simplified view is mobile communication with a rich, enriched environment with the Web ... it's not about a great-looking phone or nice design, it's more about appealing to the senses."

Whatever it is, the X1 is smart. The 0.68-inch thick, 5.2-ounce device slides open to reveal a full QWERTY keyboard and a 3-inch, incredibly high-res 800 X 480 touch screen. Yes, that's a higher pixel density than the iPhone.

The X1's specs include, basically, everything. Quad-band EDGE plus quad-band HSDPA 7.2 with HSUPA? Check. Wi-Fi and GPS? Check. A 3.2-megapixel camera with DVD quality video playback and capture? Check. FM radio, Bluetooth stereo, and GPS? You bet. It's all powered by a 520-MHz ARM11 processor running Windows Mobile 6. In short, this thing screams.

To navigate around the X1, you can use the touch screen, cursor keys, or an optical trackpad that works a little like a laptop trackpad.

Sony Ericsson has been making their own effort at fixing the Windows Mobile interface, too, with a new desktop design they call "Experia panels." Panels are essentially large, finger-friendly blocks that sit on your home screen and let you quickly access various applications. Because of the Xperia's ridiculously high-res screen, they look like zoomed-out entire screens of information. Like other maverick Windows Mobile devices such as the HTC Touch and T-Mobile Shadow, though, once you get below the home screen you're back to the old Windows Mobile interface.

The X1 may appear on either AT&T or T-Mobile. Interestingly, Sony Ericsson is producing different variants with AT&T's 850/1900 MHz high-speed frequencies and with T-Mobile's new 1700-MHz high-speed frequency, which they haven't even launched yet.

The X1 will be available during the second half of the year, and don't expect it to be cheap, Cross said.

"It's going to be high-end," she said.

This won't be the only Sony Ericsson Windows Mobile phone, said Pieter Knook, Microsoft's senior vice president of mobile communications."While this is the first, initial product, clearly the anticipation is that there will be a family of products over time," he said.

Sony Ericsson's choice benefits Microsoft, helping Windows Mobile in the consumer space, Knook said.

"Core to our strategy is to expand out from just being business or personal productivity focused," he said.

But the X1 announcement wasn't the only news in a very busy Sony Ericsson press conference. Sony Ericsson also released two new camera phones, a music phone, two ExpressCards and two Symbian UIQ-based smart phones.

The Cybershot C702 and C902 camera phones are both coming to the U.S. in mid 2008, and they each have something not seen in this market before. In the C702, it's a combination of a 3.2-megapixel camera with basic ruggedization, what Sony Ericsson calls splash and dust resistance. In other words, you can drop it in a mud puddle without fear, but not dunk it in a swimming pool. It's also covered with a grippy, rubbery surface.

"This phone is really designed to allow you to take more pictures in more places," said Sven Totte, head of imaging marketing for Sony Ericsson.

The C702 also comes with built-in GPS and Google Maps for Mobile software, and tags your photos with the locations they were taken. A full Web browser, email client, FM radio and Bluetooth round out the feature set.

The C902 is a slim 5-megapixel camera phone with a true Xenon flash, but similar other features to the C702. It's more metallic and skinnier, though, at only 10.5 mm thick. You activate the camera by snapping the top part of the phone up, and then manipulate it with eight dedicated camera settings touch keys studded around the screen.

Both Cybershots are quad-band EDGE phones, which means they could turn up on either T-Mobile or AT&T. Sony Ericsson says they will arrive in mid 2008.

Sony Ericsson hasn't played much in the ExpressCard space here in the U.S. in years – though they do have one ancient card selling on T-Mobile – but the EC400 and EC400g might change that. Both cards are HSDPA 7.2 with HSUPA on the 850/1900/2100 bands and quad-band EDGE – in English, that's AT&T's latest and fastest technology. Both have drivers on board for Windows XP, Vista and Mac OS X so you don't need to download separate drivers. The EC400g adds a GPS unit to your PC, as well. Expect both mid-year.

Sony Ericsson's three other releases will not make it to North America any time soon, company reps said. They include two candy-bar-style Symbian UIQ smart phones, the G700 and G900, which have a neat feature that lets you essentially write sticky notes and tack them to the phone's touch screen to remember things. The Z770i is a midrange clamshell phone with a Web browser and European high-speed networks. Finally, the W980 Walkman music phone is a clamshell phone with 8 GB of built-in storage and an FM transmitter; Sony Ericsson trumpeted this phone as the first of its kind, but the LG Fusic did it in mid-2006.

Sony Ericsson's new phones impressed a packed crowd at their press conference.

"Motorola needs every single one of these products," said Avi Greengart, principal analyst for mobile devices at Current Analysis.

Source :

Monday, February 4, 2008

Red BlackBerry 8830 World Edition Comes to Verizon

Verizon Wireless today launched the BlackBerry 8830 World Edition Smartphone in red, offering customers a global wireless experience in a stylish red finish.
Ideal for fashionable world-traveling professionals, the red BlackBerry 8830 World Edition and Verizon Wireless' Global BlackBerry service allow users to access email and place and receive domestic and international calls in Asia, Australia, Europe, the Middle East, North America, and parts of Africa.

The BlackBerry 8830 World Edition features a large high-resolution color display and intuitive trackball navigation to help Verizon Wireless customers easily view emails, attachments, videos, and Web sites, and a back-lit QWERTY keyboard that makes it easy to send email responses or instant messages with Mobile IM. The thin, stylish smartphone also offers the following capabilities and features:

- EV-DO/GPRS network connection for high-speed data transfer in more than 90 countries
- GSM/GPRS (900/1800 MHz) for continued voice and email while traveling internationally
- Auto-selection of CDMA/GSM Mode
- Built-in navigation to support VZ NavigatorSM for audible turn-by-turn directions in the U.S.
- Bluetooth wireless technology support for certain profiles, including stereo (A2DP)
- Speaker Independent Voice Recognition (SIVR) for Voice Activated Dialing (VAD)
- Media player
- Speakerphone
- Expandable memory storage option with microSD/SDHC card slot (card sold separately)

Global BlackBerry service from Verizon Wireless lets customers to use their BlackBerry 8830 smartphones to make and receive calls from more than 185 countries and to send and receive emails in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and more than 100 countries worldwide. With Global BlackBerry service, Verizon Wireless customers get the Global Support Pack, which includes a SIM card, a user reference guide, and details on accessing the Global Help Desk for 24-hour customer support, seven days a week. Customers also receive a calling card to make free support calls from any landline phone while traveling outside of the U.S. to technical support if the BlackBerry 8830 is lost, broken or stolen.

Source :

Motorola Considers Separating its Mobile Devices Unit

In a press release posted yesterday, beleaguered Motorola said that it is considering restructuring its business units in an effort to recapture its former profitable position in the markets. The company said that it was even considering separating its Mobile Devices unit from the rest of the company in order to allow it to react more quickly to changes in the industry, though the company has no firm plans at this time.

Motorola has said that it does not intend to discuss further the potential restructuring options until its board of directors has approved a plan or deemed that no changes are actually going to be made.

Last week Motorola posted losses of US$49 million for 2007. The company also announced at that time that it was going to start using chipsets made by Qualcomm in an effort to improve business efficiencies.

Source :