The review of the BlackBerry Torch by Gizmodo is really tough. OK the resolution of the screen, a low-res 480×360 display, is not really what you could expect of a flagship device in 2010. The same for the 624MHz processor which was a best of class but in 2008.
What I like in the Torch is its form factor: the QWERTY-slider is for me a killer one. It combines the full QWERTY, the slider, and Touch screen advantages.
Furthermore BlackBerry 6 OS adds a lot on the browsing side: its browser got a 100/100 on Acid3 tests and is HTML5 compliant. Imagine a browsing experience as on the lastest PC browsers but with a reduced bandwidth usage.
It seems that RIM is working on allowing websites to call its APIs like Screen Rotation, location, etc. If so, RIM will take the lead as application developers will no longer need to develop using a SDK: HTML5 and calling the right APIs will do the trick. I believe this will be the next ‘big (r)evolution’ in mobile application.
WAC for Wholesale Application Community, the last minute initiative from the GSMA at MWC, is trying to keep the operators in the application race, i.e. the service race as more and more service are delivered through application (see previous posts). It is a matter of survival for operators if they want a piece of the service pie in the future.
At MWC sessions, Operators were complaining about the device OS fragmentation, forgetting that they are at the ones who manage this fragmentation inside their device portfolio to avoid to be dependent from a manufacturer. But with the tremendous success of Apple and RIM, the strong service ambitions of Nokia they all feel threatened of being transformed into dumb pipe business in the mid term and … they are right. Vodafone’s CEO cleared stated it’s worries with Google advertisement monopoly. The fear is a great self motivator for change for operator behemoth.
The Wholesale Application Community initiative shows the right way: developers will never develop an application for a specific network operator using its proprietary APIs. Operators’ APIs need to be standardized and open like the SMS premium gateways operator have managed to launch few years ago. The Canadian OneAPI is clearly the programme to watch even if it’s late as the GSMA guys have been not very reactive.
Nevertheless one technology may blow away the dark clouds over the operators, it’s HTML5. HTML5 enables flash like website without … flash. Developers will be able to produce website with animation, drag-and-drop and media playback, etc. without the help of any plug-in in the browser. HTML5 will make applications platform independent and contribute to the de-fragmentation of the application market.
That’s for the promises, but each technology has a flip side or at least some limitations, and HTML5 ones are still to be discovered.
Don’t misunderstand me: I don’t think neither the introduction of LiMo 2 devices is a revolution nor the social networks features it introduces (mainly centralize all your web contacts in one place). OK, these are nice features but nothing ground breaking. You can find Social Networks oriented devices like those of INQ and Linux powered devices.
The real revolution Vodafone seems to introduce is a real Telco 2.0 framework: with Vodafone 360, third parties will be able to use Vodafone internal API.
Developers will be able to charge for service directly from Vodafone billing system. It could a one-off charge or a service subscription. Vodafone customers will pay the service or application on their phone bill. It is breaking the “100 man-days development wall”, as usually you cannot introduce a new service in an operator billing system below these 100 man-days.
The next steps for Vodafone 360 will be to offer core network API like location, presence, and the centralized Vodafone address book. In doing so, Vodafone will embed developers within its ecosystem in such a seamless way that:
- Developers will create new outstanding network centric services only on Vodafone
- Vodafone will take the lead against OS vendor / manufacturers application stores that cannot offer network centric services
- Consumers will see Vodafone as an innovative brand
By opening the APIs Vodafone will create value and differentiation. By controling them, Vodafone will control its ecosystem and keep a good share of the generated value.
When you look at the latest innovations in the mobile space they are hardly coming from operators. Apple has set a new level of user experience and introduced the concept of the on-device application store; Google created the Mobile Linux that operators never succeeded to deliver through their various initiatives; RIM invented the mobile email; etc.
Now operators are dreaming to come back at the cutting edge of innovation and it is for them a question of survival.
They want to be able to achieve what any internet start-up is able to do: deliver a new service from inception to delivery within 6 months. Whereas Operators service life-cycle is much longer than that today. It is roughly around 18 months which is 3 times longer than the Internet life cycle.
The real issue for operators is that they are now competing with Internet companies which have a dramatic competitive advantage of being able to launch a service 3 times faster than they can.
Operators are process oriented as they have built their business skeleton around the billing process: from Call Data Records to invoices. During the years of their exponential growth they have strengthen this process to cope with the flow of new customers but now there are like dinosaurs: very strong but not able to adapt to their surroundings any more. They are rich but their growth rate is flat and they start to see a fall in their margin. The data communications may allow them to offset the voice decline for a while but if the operators aren’t providing the service they will become just pipe providers and the main value will be going to Google like in the fixed broadband business.
What operators are (or should be) trying to do is to organize their business around enabler bricks. Once the enablers are in place, the internal teams should be able to assemble the bricks to create the services as Internet companies create mash-ups with the APIs of the services. The key challenge here is to be able to connect those bricks with the ‘billing’ brick in order to get a revenue stream from it.
And what could be even a stronger value proposition would be to open these APIs to partners to develop new services around: location, authentication, payments, etc. In doing so Operators would leverage the creativity of the whole ecosystem and would be still at the centre of the game.