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Thursday, 02 December 2010 00:00

q&a with nick jones of gartner research

This issue of Africa Telecoms is focused on New Technologies. With your area of expertise being Mobile and Wireless, how would you describe the current condition on the Mobile and Wireless market when talking about Innovation?

Innovation is still very rapid and operates at several levels: Device hardware is evolving rapidly, for example we’re just seeing mobile devices with multicore processors exceeding 1 GHz, we’ll likely see several new types of display including 3D displays on a few mobiles in the next year or so, new sensors, new types of wireless such as Bluetooth 4, perhaps WiFi Direct protocols, wireless HDMI connections to screens and so on. We have economic evolution as well as technological evolution. Nokia is selling smartphones at EUR 115 retail (before tax), which means we’ll likely have sub EUR 100 smartphones next year. This makes smartphones accessible to a much wider range of people. Networks are also evolving. Many operators are on some form of HSPA. A few have started very early LTE deployments, and we can already see the next long term step on the roadmap which is LTE-A. We’re also seeing rapid innovation in mobile applications and services. Apple has over 300K apps, Android around 100K. Increasingly apps don’t just stand alone but integrate with innovative cloud services. We’re seeing growth in a wide range of mobile services such as payment, context, music, social networking and mobile advertising. I expect rapid evolution in all of these areas (and more) to continue for at least 5 years.

We would like to know from you what you believe will be the next big New Technology in the Mobile and Wireless space?

I don’t see any single “next big” technology. There are probably 20 technologies which are important including context, platform independent AD tools, Bluetooth 3 and 4, mobile HTML5, near field wireless, M2M, LTE, mobile augmented reality, haptics and new screen technologies. I think that in the mobile space, innovation often happens not from one single technology, but a combination of technologies. For example look at augmented reality (AR) tools such as Layar or Wikitude. These enable all sorts of new applications and visualisations such as location aware competitions, marketing, games, geotagging to name but a few. But AR itself is built on a set of underlying essential technologies such as GPS, e-compass, graphics accelerators and tilt sensors. So, in my opinion many of the innovations come from combining technologies rather than from a single technology. However, if I had to identify one technology which we don’t yet have, but when it arrives will be very influential, it would be indoor positioning. The holy grail in this area would be a technology that can locate your position indoors (where GPS doesn’t work) to within 1 metre or so. This would enable a wide range of applications such as indoor navigation, indoor AR, finding products on shelves in shops as examples. Sadly, we don’t yet have any single technology that looks as if it will become a dominant standard, although companies like Nokia have demonstrated some interesting possibilities.

In a recent Blog Post you spoke of the “Rule of 3” used in economic theory being applied across many industries. Specifically, you mentioned computers, PC’s and Mac’s for normal people and Linux for Geeks. Do you think this will be the case in the Operating System arena for Mobiles? And, if so would you care to take a guess at what they might be by 2020? Why do you think this will be the case?

I think mobile OSs will eventually consolidate to around 3 strong leaders, however it will take a long time; I don’t see it happening before 2015 at the earliest, probably later. At the moment the best candidates for the long term “top 3” are Symbian, Android and Apple iOS. But the game is still on and many things could happen before the market stabilises, so it’s not a very safe bet!

Mobile Operating systems are clearly a topic of interest worldwide with some interesting information coming out of Gartner over the last few weeks, specifically with declining Symbian and RIM market shares to increasing Android market share. What do you think the main drivers is in the world of Operating Systems?

I see this not so much as an operating system battle but an ecosystem battle. An ecosystem is bigger than an operating system, and it encompasses users, developers, applications and devices as well as the OS. What will determine the long term fate of the operating systems is the strength (or otherwise) of their ecosystem. A strong ecosystem means lots of applications which makes the platform more attractive to users, which in turn makes developers rich and attracts more developers. It’s a virtuous cycle. Ultimately, however good the OS if you don’t have applications and services the device can’t succeed.

Considering this, do you feel there is space in the market for new operating systems or is consolidation going to take place?

I think in the long term we’re going to see consolidation as I mentioned above. However, in the short term the market will get very competitive indeed. 2011 will likely be the most competitive year ever for platforms and devices because we will have a new Symbian version, the first release of MeeGo, a revitalised webOS from HP, Microsoft phone 7, new iPhone versions and new Android versions. It would be extremely difficult for a new platform to make much impact in such a crowded and competitive space. However, the competition isn’t just around OSs, because new “platforms” are emerging above the OS. E.g. I expect HTML5 will become a popular mobile app delivery platform, some of the AR tools I mentioned earlier are becoming “platforms” of a sort, which just complicates matters further.

A final question on the Operating System front. Do you think Open Source or Proprietary Systems will win the battle and why?

Both will co-exist because they have different, but viable business models. For mass market platforms with many manufacturers, open is attractive because the cost of OS licenses can be an issue and an open source approach allows manufacturers to differentiate their products. However the closed model such as that used by Apple or RIM also has advantages because it ensures a consistent end-to-end experience that includes the device and the services in the cloud.

There are many new areas of technology in the Mobile and Wireless space. Some of the ones that we think will have an effect in Africa specifically include:

a. Mobile Health

b. Mobile Government

c. Augmented Reality

d. Machine to Machine

Would you care to comment on their viability in Africa and what aspects do you think are interesting in these areas? Then, I would also like to know over and above these what else do you think will take Africa by storm in the next 2-5yrs?

I agree that healthcare is a huge mobile opportunity, and we’ve seen mobile phones used for clever applications such as eye tests, health education and support for remote health workers. Perhaps my only concern is price, most citizens won’t be able to afford a high end smartphone so there are still some challenges with what can be delivered. I mentioned AR above, I think it will become a major platform for delivering applications as it’s very user friendly, however it does demand top-end expensive smartphones and high speed networks which limits the opportunities a bit. M-governmwnt is also an opportunity although some applications like m-voting can be challenging for reasons of security and authentication. M2M is interesting but the opportunities in rural areas where signal coverage is poor are limited and in my opinion, although we have seen some examples in emerging markets such as India for water pump control. Another area which I think has great potential and where I’ve seen some very interesting leading work carried out in South Africa is mobile learning, i.e. using the mobile phone either to deliver lessons or to support the learning experience.

Tablets seem to be a technology that are taking the world by storm at the moment with the launch of the Apple iPad, the Cisco Cius and the up coming launches of a number of other including Research in Motion’s (RIM) Playbook. Do you think that this is a viable alternative for Third World Economies like Africa to personal computing (granted if the cost of the devices where to come down)?

Personally, I don’t think the hardware is the big issue. We have had low cost hardware for a while, e.g. the OLPC project. You can build cheap netbooks for the same cost as a cheap tablet. In my opinion, people are getting sidetracked by the hardware hype and forgetting the big issue which is the ultimate goal. The challenge is to deliver applications and content that benefit society, the hardware really doesn’t matter. Added to which many of the new generation of tablets aren’t designed for use in challenging environments such as villages without power; it takes a lot more energy to charge a tablet than a phone for example, and it’s easier to break a tablet when you drop it.

Taking a more global look at the Mobile and Wireless Technologies sector what do you think will be the biggest challenge facing the industry in 2011?

I think 2011 will be one of the most competitive years ever - as I mentioned above. For many of the platform vendors this will be a year when they have to run flat out to stop competitors getting ahead. It will also be a challenging year for network operators because the mindshare is owned by platform and device manufacturers such as Apple or Android, or app stores. It’s becoming increasingly hard to convince consumers that the network matters much.

Moving on from that what do you feel is the biggest opportunity that has arisen and can be commercially exploited in 2011?

I don’t see the market having a simple single opportunity. I think it’s a market of many opportunities at many levels. Mobile is still in the discovery phase of the market, in a sense now we’re moving beyond voice and SMS, yet we’re still trying to find out what mobile phones are for. App stores are discovery machines which let thousands of developers experiment with new services and along the way we’ll find out what’s popular by a sort of Darwinian process. Personally, I believe that one principle underlying many of the most successful new mobile services of the next few years will be context. i.e. applications which are hyper-personalised, sensitive to your location, behaviour needs and habits. For example; in a few years I expect my handset will beep one day and say something to me such as: “Did you remember It’s your wife’s birthday? I see from your mobile payment history today that haven’t bought any flowers, but the traffic is bad so by the time you’ve driven home your favourite florist will be closed. However, there are three flower shops within 500 metres of where you’re standing and one of them got great ratings from two of your friends on Facebook.” We can’t quite do all of this in 2011, but we’re certainly seeing the beginning of apps that can combine location, Facebook data and so on. I think context this is a huge opportunity that will continue to evolve for 5 to 10 years, but even now it can be used to deliver suggestions which are personalised and relevant. And that, after all, is what you want from the personal device in your pocket.

Published in December 2010
Thursday, 03 February 2011 00:00

Consumer Technology Rules, Ok? by Brett Haggard

If technology exhibitions were mythical cartoon characters, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held in Las Vegas every January would undoubtedly have to be Godzilla. Bigger than any other technology trade show in the world, more brutal on attendees’ feet than a marathon and more taxing on their minds than a master’s degree in advanced computational mathematics, CES has for some time now been ‘the’ place to unveil new technology. There are so many new things to see and so many different vendors to engage with, most news agencies take entire teams of journalists to the event – and begin reporting on the goings on two days before the show opens its doors to the public. However, this year’s CES wasn’t as impressive as in previous years. That’s partly because the world is still recovering from the economic meltdown and partly because the industry seems to be stuck in that uncomfortable space between new technologies becoming available and the mass adoption of those technologies. Think 3D television, tablet/slate PCs and cloud computing if you need examples. This year the show only played host to 2,500 different exhibitors and managed to command the attention of somewhere close to 120,000 attendees. But even in its small form, the sheer scale of the tradeshow means it’s the perfect event for gauging market sentiment towards specific products and technologies, and a great opportunity to identify the trends that will shape the electronics space in the years to come.

More of the same

While there were some new takes on technology, the majority of the products announced at CES could have been predicted six months ago. For example, tablet or slate PCs continued to be a big focus area and well over five of the industry’s big names made announcements in and around the tablet or slate computing space. Another slightly predictable ‘hot topic’ was the evolution of 3D and the rather shrewd realization by manufacturers that in enabling users to create their own 3D content, they can get their 3D televisions flying off the shelves. As was expected, the show was also filled with a number of new handsets that US networks are still getting away with calling 4G, when in fact they’re equipped with nothing more than HSPA+ or LTE. There were of course some exceptions. One rather unexpected move came from US network operator Cricket, which aims to provide users with an ‘all– you-can-eat’ music service along with an unlimited voice, SMS and data plan. Another – and one that has stronger relevance on African shores – was the announcement of Motorola’s Atrix handset that becomes a desktop computer, media centre or notebook computer as and when the user’s needs dictate. But enough glossing over the details … Let’s get knee-deep in what was announced.

Tablets take centre stage

When Apple announced the iPad a little more than year ago and the market finally got to experience how trouble free this new mode of computing was – browsing the social web and consuming media with ridiculous ease – it was clear that everything was about to change. And even though it’s taken the market some time to catch up, now that RIM is aiming to ring-fence its customer base and Google has released Honeycomb, the tablet version of its Android operating system, things are becoming interesting. While it’s par for the course for us to expect the vast majority of vendors to simply take the ‘me too’ approach, much like Samsung did with its release of the Galaxy Tab, there will be some bold attempts at redefining the market. And there are really only three that stand out from the array of tablet-centric announcements at CES.

Motorola Xooms into view

The first was Motorola’s announcement of its 10-inch, Honeycomb-powered Xoom tablet. As yet, we’re unsure what processor it runs (Motorola has said no more than ‘it’s a dual-core’), exactly how much memory it has on board and what it will cost. What we do know is that it’s the closest thing we’ve seen to an iPad – both in terms of the overall polish of the hardware and the fluidity of the graphical user interface – and in a field of unsuccessful imitators is a good thing. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait some time for Motorola to firm some of those details up.

A decent Windows 7 tablet

Next in line when it comes to interesting tablet announcements, ASUS – the company that pretty much invented the netbook market with the release of the Eee PC all those years ago – let fly with the only remotely compelling Windowsbased tablet we’ve seen to date. Called the Eee Slate EP121, this little puppy has a 12.1-inch capacitive touch screen, runs an Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of memory and a 64GB solid-state drive. Reality check. That’s a more powerful specification than the vast majority of notebooks out there today. When the EP121 was demonstrated on stage, the presenter retouched a 60MB image using the stylus while simultaneously playing back a 1080p video in the background. Finally there’s a tablet capable of running Windows 7 in a compelling way. Again, details that weren’t dished out readily at the event include the unit’s battery life and what the expected price point will be. Despite this, it looks promising.

Best of both worlds

Rounding up the tablet announcements, Lenovo finally showed off its U1 Hybrid: as the name suggests, a mix between a tablet or slate and a full-blown notebook that doesn’t compromise on either device’s core functionality. The idea is simple. Tablets are great for certain things, but sometimes notebooks are just far better for getting the job done. With the U1 Hybrid, users won’t have to make that tough choice. One on side , the U1 consists of a Core2Duo notebook, complete with a keyboard, trackpad, hard disk and other system essentials running Windows 7. But, instead of a normal screen, the U1 has a LePad – Lenovo’s touch screen tablet – which unclips from the notebook chassis and transforms into an Android tablet when the user wants to transform their work mode. To make the whole scenario more awesome, Lenovo has ensured that when the U1 is in ‘notebook mode’ the tablet’s internal memory is mounted like a USB flash drive in the Windows 7 file system and that whatever content was loaded into the tablet’s browser when the machine was docked is automatically synchronised to the Windows 7 browser. As would be expected, the same applies when undocking the tablet from its chassis. While Lenovo has an interesting approach for taking the Hybrid and LePad to market – selling the tablet separately and the U1 as a kit, but not the U1 chassis as an upgrade – what’s also interesting is that this product in its current form won’t make it outside of the Chinese market. That said, however, a couple of tweaks to this design could well see it released elsewhere in the world before the end of the year. Whatever happens, Lenovo has committed to making tablet or slate related announcements that are relevant to the rest of the world before the end of the year.

3D content creation

Putting tablets on a shelf for the meantime, the second major trend at CES was 3D technology and more specifically the strategy the leaders in the market will be employing to continue driving this new technology segment. As most analysts and some large consumer electronics brands will admit, 3D technology hasn’t been nearly as much of a success as the big noisemakers in the industry would have liked. While it’s still early days for 3D, like anything in the consumer electronics space there’s always time pressure to contend with. And although there is a wealth of display devices available today (and some that don’t require glasses coming during 2011) there’s not nearly enough content to create any real interest for the average person in the street. This, and the fact that we’re living at a time when social media interactions and users’ ability to create/contribute their own content to the mix is of massive importance. It follows logically then that the number of 3D-capable still and video cameras announced at this year’s CES are designed to get users excited about 3D content creation … and in doing so, sell more 3D televisions.

A horse for every course

The majority of the announcements made around 3D capable cameras came from the likes of Panasonic and Sony who together seem to have a solution for every user. Panasonic’s announcements comprised a number of new camcorders with 1MOS sensors (designed primarily for capturing 1920 x 1080 clips), a gaggle of others with a 3MOS sensor (designed for more professional 1080/60p shooting) – both ranges capable of recording 3D video with an additional lens – and a new ‘professional’ 3D camcorder with a US$21,000 recommended price tag. On the upside, it does come with a special lens, dual memory cards and more. Looking next at the company that could well have the largest vested interest in 3D, it’s not surprising that the number of camera-centric announcements from Sony dwarfed the rest of the industry. Starting with 3D video, the company announced a new Handycam that features what Sony calls ‘Double Full HD 3D’. In more simple terms, these Handycams feature an integrated dual lens system, which includes two Sony G Lenses, two ‘Exmor R’ CMOS sensors and two ‘BIONZ’ image processors. The result is the ability for 2D high definition and 3D high definition footage to be recorded seamlessly and simultaneously. Next up, jumping on the 3D stills bandwagon, Sony’s five-unit lineup of Cyber-shot cameras have 16.2 megapixel sensors and quite remarkably, are able to take 3D stills using only one lens and imager. Rounding its announcements out, Sony added a 3D unit to its popular Bloggie range of shoot and share cameras. The new 3D camera, as expected, makes use of two lenses, two image sensors and a stereo microphone to record 3D footage. Whether or not the focus on 3D cameras will save the 3D display space remains to be seen. One hopes that the current focus on user generated content on a worldwide basis will be enough to give this new market segment impetus.

Smarter phones

No technology trade show would be complete without a bunch of smartphone-centric announcements. And CES played host to a number of new handset launches. While for the most part it was more of what we’ve become accustomed to expecting, there were obviously some exceptions. Carrying on the 3D trend, LG showcased an early concept of a 4.3-inch smartphone that’s capable of playing back glasses-free 3D video (using the parallax barrier method). This is a long way off, but it was interesting to see vendors thinking in this direction. However, hot on the heels of its announcement of the Xoom, it was Motorola that again stole the show with the release of two new handsets – the Atrix and the Droid Bionic. While the Droid Bionic is nothing more than a crazy-fast LTE-equipped cellphone, the Atrix is a completely new concept that we believe will take the market by storm.

iPhone killer

Press and analysts alike have been saying for years that carrying around multiple devices with separate instances of our data on is a pretty counterintuitive exercise, not to mention one that’s heavy on the pocket and the back. What we’ve all really needed is a single device that has a large enough screen to provide access to one’s most vital information while on the road, but back at the office be attached to an external display, keyboard and mouse so that real work can commence. It would also be cool if this device was media centric so that it could double as a media hub some of the time, playing back high-definition stills and video on a large screen if needs dictate. And it seems like Motorola is the only company that listened. The Atrix does exactly what the dream outlined above calls for – and more. Not only is it a smartphone when you need it to be, a net-top when you need it to be (using a separately sold dock) and a media hub when you need it to be (using the same separately sold dock), Motorola has gone ahead and developed a notebook-chassis style dock – much the same form factor as a MacBook Air – into which the Atrix can be slotted, giving users a netbook while they’re out on the road. Again, while there’s relatively little tangible info available on the Atrix (it’s due for release in March in the US), we know that it runs Android, uses a dual-core NVidia Tegra chip and that the notebook-style dock has a six-hour battery, which simultaneously charges the smartphone’s internal battery while it’s being used. The Atrix is by a long shot the most interesting announcement to see the light of day at CES and one that could see Motorola taking the kudos for finally unseating the iPhone’s dominance in the market: not because it’s better at doing what the iPhone does so well, but rather because it solves a whole bunch of problems the iPhone doesn’t. The Atrix will undoubtedly be as significant as the release of the first tablet device, the original mainstream release of 3DTV and almost certainly, those first smartphones. And in a year’s time, who knows where this trend will drive things?

Summary

So, there you have the announcements that are likely – from a trends perspective, at least – to shape 2011’s tech landscape. While we wait with bated breath to see Apple’s response to many of the announcements made by its rivals at CES (the fruit company doesn’t unveil or exhibit at CES), it’s clear that the consumer electronics industry is alive, well and where the majority of the innovations are coming from today. Will the focus ever return to the business market? It’s unlikely. Does it matter? Not really. Most new consumer technologies make their way into the business sector sooner or later. It’s managing that transition that remains tricky and more importantly, where the business sector should be focusing its attention.

Published in February 2011

Building the Third Ecosystem

Stephen Elop, the new CEO of Nokia, has his work cut out for him. Reinventing Nokia as a smartphone manufacturer is only part of the challenge – a broader objective is in stopping Google from dominating the market.

On 21 April 2011 Nokia and Microsoft ratified the partnership that they announced in February. The Finnish cellular giant has hit an all-time low in terms of its smartphone market share with its Symbian operating system being displaced by Google’s Android that is now the leader with an estimated 33% global market share. With Microsoft in tow, it’s all eyes on Nokia’s new CEO Stephen Elop and the company’s next move that will be a Windows Phone-based device promised by the end of the year. I met with Elop in Dubai in March to discuss his strategy for re-establishing Nokia in the smartphone market and perhaps diversifying its product range. Emerging markets and new revenue streams were also put on the table – but Elop pointed to a more serious war underway in terms of mobile ecosystem providers. The agreement Elop has struck with Microsoft goes beyond Windows Phone. The two companies will also work on a new advertising platform that will make its way into Xbox LIVE, Windows Live, Bing and other Microsoft product sets. This platform will provide Nokia with a fresh revenue stream and should be music to Nokia shareholders’ ears. Nokia as a smartphone manufacturer is only part of the challenge – a broader objective is in stopping Google from dominating the market.

In with the old

The focus, however, remains on Nokia’s core business as a device manufacturer. Success in this space will depend on the company attracting developers to its platforms, and this includes existing systems. Developers I have spoken to are not convinced. They see Symbian as a dead-end street. If anything, they are looking to Windows Phone as a potential platform – but many will switch to developing for Android or iOS instead. Winning them over – or back – has to be a preoccupation for Nokia and is something Elop is fully aware of. “I think the best message for a developer to embrace, if you like, is to look closely at the strength that Nokia has, and what we bring to the market as it relates to Symbian today, and in the months and years ahead – because Symbian still has a large role to play even as we transition and focus on other things in the future,” he says. “For example, in my recent travels, which have included the Middle East and Africa, where we are today, last week in Russia and so forth, there is a wide range of markets where Nokia the brand and Symbian the platform are remarkably strong,” continues Elop. “And as we’ve described, we expect tens of millions of devices still to ship in the months and years ahead. There’s a tremendous opportunity there for developers, because when you look at the absolute scale of the operation, you say ‘wow, there’s something really there’, and so we’re definitely encouraging developers to continue with that, while also recognising that we hope to create a new opportunity around Windows Phone in the future,” he adds. Another challenge facing Nokia is how it will differentiate itself from other Windows Phone manufacturers. Services would be an obvious way to achieve this and Nokia has a powerful set of services grouped under its Ovi brand. However, the Microsoft agreement will see Nokia handing its services over for integration into Windows Phone and to the benefit of all manufacturers shipping the operating system. It seems a curious move at first, until Elop outlines his objectives. “First of all, the highest order point of differentiation that we need to focus on is Windows Phone versus Android versus Apple,” he explains. “Our number one competitor isn’t a Samsung or an HTC or whatever – it is Android. And so as we proceed in the months ahead, our expectation is that we have to take steps to ensure that the Windows Phone ecosystem is very strong and very powerful. Whether it’s us or even our competitors within Windows Phone who have access to some of the best technologies, we want to make sure that the platform holistically is very strong,” says Elop. “Now that being said, we have a number of different areas, be it in services, in hardware or in software, that can and will contribute to our efforts to ensure that we can differentiate,” he continues. “While mapping and navigation and location-based services are something that are crucial in the ecosystem, we will also make sure that we do unique and differentiated things on our devices, within that ecosystem, so that we work to stand apart from everybody else. But again, I emphasise, our principle competition is Android.”

Turning it around

Windows Phone had a less than ideal launch phase and uptake has been slow, to say the least. Last year Microsoft’s global market share in terms of smartphones was estimated at 5%. This year it has actually lost ground and dropped to 3%, according to Canalys. Elop and his colleagues at Nokia obviously think that this can be turned around. “I think there’s an opportunity to first of all differentiate on the range and quality of services that are provided within that ecosystem. For example, Microsoft brings certain properties – take the Xbox gaming environment, which in certain environments is a very powerful capability,” he says. “I think that we also bring a quality of mapping and location-based services that is better than and is differentiated from everything else, so there are elements of that. But when you look at it from a developer perspective, there’s actually a range of things you consider: does it have breadth, are there lots of people using Windows Phone devices? Well, not today – but clearly with the relationship between Nokia and Microsoft, we believe that there will quickly be tens of millions of people who are using these devices,” states Elop. “There needs to be great monetisation for the developers,” he adds. “Nokia brings operator billing with more operators in more countries and regions around the world than anyone else by far, and that we will bring to the ecosystem for general use,” he promises. “Developers need great tools; they need a solid development platform. Clearly that’s part of it already in terms of what Microsoft brings to the table. And then of course developers need the support from the vendors, such as Nokia. For example, here in Dubai today we’re asking what we can do with developers to help them build local applications and local capability,” he says. “At Ramadan, for example, there were applications supported and encouraged by Nokia, delivered by our development community, that were unique for this region at that time of the calendar. And it’s those types of things that we will do to ensure that this is a great platform for developers to target as they go forward.”

Building out

There has also been speculation that Nokia is working on a tablet device. In the past we have seen diversified products from the company, such as its Booklet 3G laptop computer. Elop sees potential for other devices in the future, but isn’t sold on tablets unless Nokia can do something wholly different with the form-factor. “We are building and contributing to this ecosystem with the belief that the opportunity is much larger than mobile phones, smartphones – however you would characterise them,” he explains. “The challenge I have for our team is to make sure that as we enter adjacent markets, that we have a unique and differentiated position. Today you can go and buy one of 150 or 180 – I’ve lost count – different tablets out there that frankly you can’t tell apart, and most of them aren’t particularly useful for much,” says Elop. “There are a couple that are very successful and we know who some of those are, at least one of them, and that’s fine. But Nokia has to look at itself – its market opportunity, the strength of its ecosystem, the geographies where it has strength – and consider what we can do that sets us apart and goes after a unique opportunity.” He continues: “We have some specific ideas, but are not announcing things there today. It’s not just about tablets – there are other devices, platforms, things that can be done, that take advantage of the ecosystem, and contribute to the ecosystem, and these are places where you may see us play in the future.” Nokia is also looking to emerging markets as a key strategy for the future. In these markets it has tried to play a more meaningful role than some of its competitors who are very good at talking the talk instead of delivering real value. I ask Elop whether Nokia has placed an emphasis on hyper-localised content that is not only designed for particular regions, but is actually developed by local developers. “You’ve just described a key element of our strategy, and that is the local aspect,” agrees Elop. “Local content, local applications and local services are hugely important to our efforts to differentiate. And indeed the strength of the Nokia brand in emerging markets and Africa and other places is largely because we have delivered more than anyone else on the promise of a great experience that makes sense within your local environment,” he adds.  “While other ecosystems and players churn out devices at a furious rate, we’re far more focused on making sure that you have a great experience that connects you. You know our overall statement about the company – ‘connecting people’ – well, that’s about connecting people with their community, with the environment in which they operate, with opportunity. That’s what Nokia is focused on. “And so, when you think about it, yes we’ll have great devices, we’ll have wonderful software and services that go with that, but to the extent that we deliver an experience that is unique and differentiated in the environment in which people are working … you’ve seen it already,” he says. “And we can go so much further with that. That’s part of the excitement that travelling around to these different regions is: you feel that, you meet people whose lives have been changed by the experience. And that’s not just about placing a phone call, or doing an SMS, it’s the whole experience.”

The next billion

Nevertheless, manufacturers still have a long way to go in terms of scaling prices for the broader market in developing economies. Nokia has managed to get its non-feature phones down to ridiculously low prices, but smartphones are still just out of reach of the average emerging market user. This is changing rapidly, however. Elop believes that affordable devices in terms of these markets is around the corner. “I think it’s much sooner than people realise. The rate at which price points can be addressed, starting at the high end and moving well down, with smartphone experiences or ‘smartphone like’ experiences even plunging below the prices [$100 mentioned in discussion], I think there’s a lot of opportunity there,” he says. “There’s work that we’ve already done to bring some elements of a ‘smartphone like’ experience to very inexpensive handsets. The thing that I keep in mind, and this is particularly true in a region like Africa, is that today 80% of the world’s population is within cell phone signal range,” continues Elop. “They’re close enough to a tower, and yet only 20% of them have had an Internet experience. And that’s why we’ve called this strategy ‘the next billion’. How do we bring the next billion to their first Internet experience, to give them their first banking experience, using their device? Some of that is smartphone capability, some of it is lower in the price point than that, but I think you’re going to see things come down much faster than anyone would have previously predicted,” he says. “And in our relationship with Microsoft that was a key part of the conversation with them: to make sure we jointly agreed to that, understood how it would be done, and could begin the engineering work to make it happen.” Elop reinforced his previous statements that the first Windows Phone-based Nokia product will be on sale before the end of 2011. One can only imagine the kind of frenetic work underway behind the scenes at Nokia to pull that one off. The smartphone market is inherently frenetic. Apple set the pace when it committed to annual iPhone updates. The market scrambles to keep up and revisions come hard and fast. Android seems an unstoppable force at the moment, but Elop apparently sees it as inevitable that Google is kept away from a dominant market share. Microsoft and Nokia need each other and may just be the perfect combination to bring the fight to Apple and Google. By this time next year we should know for sure.

Published in April 2011

The markets were abuzz with rumour and speculation. Skype had been on the market for a bit and many were rumoured as suitors. Google was mentioned, as well as Facebook; both were well credentialed as purchasers of smart companies in the past. It was however another large tech company that did the deed in the end – one many considered the most unlikely. Microsoft finally bought Skype for a whopping US$8.5 billion and put paid to all the rumourmongering. Skype had revenue of $860 million and operating profits of only $264 million, which after expenses resulted in a small loss of US$7 million for the year 2010. What was of more concern to many was its long-term debt of US$686 million. The question that had to be asked was why Microsoft would buy a loss-making company with huge debt. And of even more importance was why Microsoft would pay an amount that made Skype its largest single acquisition ever. Skype has an interesting and, for some, rather chequered history. The creators of the Skype software were the founders of Kazaa, which was a peer-to-peer file-sharing application that was used to share MP3 music files, much to the horror of music companies worldwide. The founders of Skype, Niklas Zennström from Sweden and Janus Friis from Denmark, sold the company to eBay for around US$3 billion and shortly thereafter Skype reached 100 million users in early 2006. Skype became the technology of choice for anyone with loved ones overseas or who welcomed a simple and inexpensive way to communicate with anyone else who had a computer and a reasonable internet connection. The cracks began to show in 2008 with the Skype founders and eBay not seeing eye to eye on many issues, not least that the number of subscribers had plateaued, and financial metrics had not been met. In late 2007 eBay had taken a so-called "impairment", essentially a write-off, of its investment in Skype of US$1.4 billion. The marketing and the Skype product were revamped with greater focus on premium services aimed at business and consumers. These efforts resulted in solid growth throughout 2009. At this point eBay announced it would spin off Skype through an initial public offering or IPO. To cut a long story short, much legal wrangling ensued and the IPO looked somewhat uncertain. The key issue at that point was that Skype was valued at around US$2.4 billion and then they hit the big time. Microsoft bought Skype for three times its value 18 months ago. Microsoft has been in the news a lot lately and it is perhaps in this context that the purchase of Skype may make some sense. In my opinion it was an extremely strategic and well thought-out purchase. Microsoft is on a bit of a roll and has not been seen to put a foot wrong since its launch of Windows 7. After the huge failure of Windows Vista and the publicity nightmare that caused for Microsoft, the Windows 7 series – both the desktop and the new Mobile OS – have been a breath of fresh air. More fundamentally, along with the new software came a new outlook from Microsoft. Gone were the days of closed techie-based software, and in came an era of openness and apparent concern for what customers wanted from Microsoft, and what they wanted from its software. It is also clear that Microsoft realised that the future of communication was increasingly mobile and would become more and more integrated and converged. Microsoft already had a huge Skype-type service called Windows Live messenger, which offers free voice and video chat services to around 330 million active users on a monthly basis. Skype actually has around 120 million active users at any point in time, with a lower number of concurrent users than Windows Live messenger. The key differentiation here is that Skype has around 8.5 million paying users of the service whilst Windows has none. Skype also has outbound and inbound points of presence globally, allowing users to break out into traditional telecommunication networks on a global basis. In fact Skype currently is a major player in international call minutes across all networks, both mobile and fixed. These attributes alone would make Skype an attractive addition to the services that Microsoft currently offers, such as Lync, Live Messenger and various Exchange services. The other key issue is that the Skype service was predominantly a video service and with 180 million people actively using Skype to make video calls from all manner of computers and devices it was a compelling and attractive proposition, especially as more and more users are migrating to faster flexed landline and mobile platforms such as fibre to the home, and 4G LTE for mobile. Internet-based video calling is becoming one of the fastest growing sectors in communication. Microsoft is currently a bit of a slumbering giant: the bottom line is if Microsoft switched off all its current licences for all the servers and desktops out there worldwide, the world as we know it would stop. The same can't be said for Google or Apple. Microsoft has a huge portfolio of products and patents that run the entire gamut of technology, and almost all companies involved in tech today owe it some of their success – and may in fact be paying Microsoft for some technology in use in their offerings. What Microsoft currently lacks is a coherent – and may I say 'cool' – consumer strategy. The elements are there: Windows 7 on the desktop, Xbox in the lounge, Windows phone 7 emerging from your pockets, Bing pretty much everywhere, and much of the behind the scenes server technology that runs all the above. Skype represents another building block in Microsoft's determination to become globally cool and dominant once again. Mobility and converged communication is a given going forward, and despite the price Microsoft paid for Skype, and taking into account that much of Skype's technology is already owned by or could easily be replicated by Microsoft, the purchase of Skype was a canny one for Microsoft. Skype is a well-known and respected service. In the words of a noted magazine publisher: "It is personally, I think, the single most useful work tool I use in my daily life ... (It) just makes comms so easy." In a nutshell, that is why Microsoft paid what it did. Once we see Skype on our Xbox, TV, mobile phone, office phone, public phone, in fact everywhere, we will finally understand why Microsoft needed to buy Skype.

Published in May 2011
Sunday, 04 September 2011 00:00

Top of the Apps by Bradley Shaw

The Oxford Dictionary describes an app as “a selfcontained program or piece of software designed to fulfil a particular purpose; an application, especially as downloaded by a user to a mobile device: apparently there are these new apps that will actually read your e-mails to you”. As we know, voice to e-mail apps certainly are available. Africa Telecoms went out to find the best apps available for BlackBerry and Android. We wanted to include Apple, Nokia and Windows Phone 7 apps but unfortunately we did not receive devices in time for this article. Five apps have been chosen for each device. They are not ranked in any particular order but simply as the Top Five Apps for each device that we have found.

Blackberry - The Device - Torch 9800 using Blackberry OS6

Facebook

The new-look Facebook social media app on BlackBerry is certainly a huge improvement on the first version with far superior looks and functionality and more Facebook-like navigation. Gone is the horizontal menu across the top – now there are two navigation grids. One gives an overall view of all areas of your Facebook profile from newsfeeds, places, photos and the rest. The other gives you a full notifications overview covering notifications (all including incoming chat messages), messages and friend requests. Overall the look and feel has been hugely improved, although it is still true to Facebook, which is great. On the downside as far as I can see the photo loader is still slower than on other devices with similar specs. However, this looks as if it could be an app optimisation issue rather than a BlackBerry hardware spec issue.

BlackBerry Protect

This is a protection/security app for BlackBerries. Once you have done your backup and configuration of BlackBerry Protect, you can remotely block your device if necessary; and if you forget where you have left your phone, Protect will tell you on Google Maps where it is. Unfortunately Google Maps is not yet detailed enough to tell you that your device is under the cushion on your couch but the info is still fairly useful. Should your phone get stolen, with Protect you now have options. You can either institute or change a password until the device is found. Lock the device. Or remote wipe the device. One handy feature here before you wipe the data is that you can do a remote backup, as it is unlikely you will lose or have the device stolen straight after you have backed it up. And that way when you do a restore on a new device all will be as it was the last time you had the device in your hand. The only downside I can see is that if BES has ever been installed on the device Protect cannot be loaded as the backup rights will still sit with your IT Admin. Overall this is a great app with some nifty features.

FNB Banking App

This is unfortunately a South African only application and is also available on Android and Apple OSs. This world first has set FNB apart from all banks worldwide as a true innovator. Using the app is amazingly simple and the design is great. Luckily, as an FNB account holder myself, on the day of launch I downloaded the app and now it is really quite indispensible. It has full transactional capabilities, transferring funds between your own accounts and making third party payments – all now possible with this app. It has a Branch Locator connected to Google Maps should you need to get to a branch while travelling around South Africa. They have also bundled FNB Connect with the app, which is useful as over WiFi you now have free access to FNB call centres. While travelling abroad this could prove to be invaluable – rather than paying roaming fees and suffering with potentially bad call quality, you will have a direct VOIP connection to your bank. There is also a live Forex tracker, which in the current times of financial instability and volatility could be handy while travelling. For version 1.0 this is a very slick app.

Bloomberg Mobile

This is a great app for those who have a vested interest in the financial markets through owning their own portfolio of stocks or are simply just interested. It contains information from most markets including South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, Zambia and Tanzania, to name a few. Looking up stock quotes, exchange rates and financial news has never been easier. The app gives you the number of times the last quote was downloaded and so you are always able to track how old the individual quotes are. Another useful feature is that each quote on opening gives you a 52-week graph showing historic levels at a glance, giving you an easy indication as to how the stock is trending over time. Another useful feature of this app is the podcast section that allows you to listen to a variety of Bloomberg podcasts. This could be useful while travelling if you feel like a short market update. For the non-financial professional it may prove a nice to have; on the other hand if finance is your business this is definitely a hot pick for your BlackBerry.

WeatherBug Mobile Weather

This is the most comprehensive weather app found in the app store and seemingly accurate too. But to be honest we have all at some time said how useless our local weather forecaster is. Time will tell when using this app whether or not this will be the same. One certainty is that as this is developed by an American app developer the information is still coming from the same source that your local weather person is getting it from. As far as information goes, it will give you everything you need to know from a weather forecast summary to sunrise and sunset figures. This would clearly include all the regulars: wind direction and strength, temperatures, humidity and even pressures. However, on the day this article was written in Cape Town, it was a wet winter’s day with loads of rain, but WeatherBug had 0 mm as the rain figure for the day. An epic fail as it had been raining all day. Oh well, back to saying how useless weather predictions can be.

Blackberry - The Device - Playbook using QNX OS version 1.07

BlackBerry Bridge

BlackBerry Bridge is a certain necessity for any BlackBerry Playbook owner. This is the application that tethers/syncs your Playbook device with your BlackBerry device. This is done by loading BlackBerry Bridge onto your BlackBerry mobile device and then allowing a Bluetooth connection between the device and the Playbook. The reason for the ever so important application is that the Playbook does not have its own native e-mail client, although this has been mooted as a serious downside to the Playbook. In this case Africa Telecoms would disagree with this assertion, due to the fact that no syncing is necessary between Playbook and your BlackBerry mobile device as the mail is replicated on the Playbook from the Mobile. The other benefit of this is that your BBM service is also replicated. BBM has become the most ubiquitous app for BlackBerries worldwide and with younger generations a key driver of BlackBerry Sales. Then finally, as the Playbook has no SIM slot for an additional SIM card, BlackBerry Bridge allows the user to access the internet via this Bluetooth connection using the data available on the BlackBerry device. The other benefit of this is that the BlackBerry data bundle on your device is used. Overall this app is vital to gain maximum usage out of your Playbook.

Kobo Reader

Kobo Reader is a great e-reader with an amazing store available to purchase books. It has a very similar format and style to Kindle and the Google Books app on Android. Reading is easy, navigation is simple and intuitive. With a fairly large number of free e-books available on the platform, it is a great starting point for people wanting to use an e-reader for the first time. Paid books range from as low as US$0.99 to the average bestseller going for US$9.99. Although there is not much to differentiate Kobo from other e-book stores, it is nonetheless a serious competitor in a sector that Kindle has dominated from the start.

Need for Speed: Undercover

It would be remiss to review apps for Playbook and not include the Playbook’s signature game with great graphics that are just as good as PC renditions of the game. The gameplay is incredible and steering with the Playbook makes for loads of fun. After receiving the Playbook it took me about a week to complete all levels of this game. There are various “levels” to play through and a host of Cars Available to drive, from a Nissan 240SX to a Ford Mustang 67 (great for the drifting levels) to the Pagani Zonda F. When you have unlocked enough of the game and have the necessary cash in the “career” mode of the game, the Pagani Zonda F makes previous stages that seemed really complicated and difficult to win an absolute breeze as it is so fast. This game has been a hit with a wide variety of users from my daughter Tori through to clients who have tried it; this is certainly far and away the top game app available for Playbook on App World currently. And best of all, it is a standard feature on all devices.

Press Reader

It might seem strange to have Kobo and Press Reader as top apps. There is a reason for this. Press Reader is a great app for keeping up to date with news. This app offers newspapers from around the world for US$0.99 per edition. And it has worldwide coverage: to name a few of the countries, there are Albania with nine newspapers, Australia with 184 issues, Haiti with one, Oman with seven. The number of African newspapers available is also impressive, including Angola, Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa. What is astounding is the variety of papers and the number on offer for specific markets, with 326 US newspapers being available. Readability is great with pinch to zoom functionality being available. Press Reader also gives you seven free credits when you download the app, which is sufficient for you to choose seven newspapers before you need to pay for additional editions.

Box

This is a very useful cloud-based application for the Playbook. As the name suggests, it is very similar to – if not a complete knock off of – Drop Box. The functionality is great, as you can login from a PC to upload or download files into your Box; and likewise with the Playbook, login, upload or download. Files can be organised in various folders. Free individual users have access to 5gb and a single file upload size of 25mb. This is upgradeable for an individual to 25gb of storage with a single file upload size of 1gb for US$9.99/month; or a business with 500gb of storage and a single file upload size of 2gb for US$15USD/month. Business users can also brand their Box with a company logo. I’m not sure the logo would sell the service but as a free cloud-based application Box it will certainly be useful. However there are some problems with the Playbook app. Files cannot be deleted from the Playbook. Although connectivity is required to download files from the cloud onto the Playbook, once downloaded the files are saved to the device. These downloads are also dated to ensure that you are viewing the most up to date version if multiple persons are working on a file at any given time.

Android Mobile - The Device - Motorola MB525 using Android 2.1 (Froyo) with Motoblur

Hot Apps

In the search for new and interesting apps on Android Market, Hot Apps is certainly a must use. This little app search app gives you a great view of apps that are currently trending on Marketplace. You can browse by “Hot Today”, “All Time” or “Best of 2010” tabs. It is an incredibly easy to use and intuitive app. The most interesting way to find apps is the “shake to discover apps”. This is simply a random selection of apps that comes onto the device’s screen. It might not be terribly useful but it is a fun way to discover apps that you might not necessarily have ever downloaded. The only downside is that the search criterion for apps is currently not customizable, which would be a useful addition. The only other fail that became evident while using this app is its inability to ignore apps that you are currently using.

Google+

Many people have their doubts about the new social media entrant Google+. But … has Google ever done anything that has not been hugely successful? Well, some might look at the Nexus and question the success of the device. However, with 20 million users having registered for the service in the first three weeks of operation, it makes a compelling case. Then with Google’s search page receiving around one billion users daily, there could be a huge conversion of users when Google+ launches in earnest. The Google+ app on Android is easy to use and requires a small amount of understanding as the terminology is different from the likes of Facebook and Twitter. By far the most impressive feature of Google+ is the handling of photos, shared by you or your circles. The default folders are for “photos from your Circles”, “photos of you” (tagged), “your albums”, and “from your phone”. The “from your phone” folder even allows photos to be automatically uploaded from your device. These photos do however remain private until such time as you “publish” them to your Google+ profile. Photo sharing has never been easier and required less effort.

Thinking Space

This is a great mind mapping tool for giving some organisation to your thoughts. If you tend to sit in meetings and or conferences and doodle this might be a useful tool for you. The Oxford Dictionary defines a mind map as “a diagrammatic method of representing ideas, with related concepts arranged around a core concept”. This is exactly what you can do with Thinking Space: instead of doodling, make pictures of the content in the meeting or the conference session you are in. it is very similar to doodling but far more useful that the reams of little doodle notes many people find in their possession. For tertiary education this app would prove invaluable for taking notes in lectures; although using it on a mobile phone could take some getting used to, compared with using it on a larger form tablet where it is perfect. The app itself is incredibly easy to use and even if you have never done mind maps, the user interface is very simple and in no time you will be mind mapping your way through your daily routine.

Talk to Me

This is an ingenious combination of Voice Recognition, Google Translate, and Text-to- Speech technologies. Best of all, this is a free to download app on Android. This is a definite must have for international travellers. It allows you speak a phrase into your Android device and it will recognise what you are saying and type it in your home language on the screen (this is to enable any correction of the voice recognition) and then repeat the phrase in a language of your choice. With what seems like a never-ending list of languages that it can translate, the only catch is that not all come with speak-back translations. These additional languages are available to purchase. But from an African perspective, for it to include Afrikaans and Swahili I was well impressed. I tested the speak-back translations from English to German and Spanish (this will be useful at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next year) and even with my limited knowledge of these languages, they certainly sounded like German and Spanish!

Smart Measure

This is another app that will probably turn out to be more fun than functional. But once you download it you may easily find yourself measuring the distances around your home or office. Or checking the height of arbitrary objects. Don’t worry, you are not alone. This is really just about some fairly basic trigonometry being implemented on a mobile device. These days the processing power of most mobile devices is more than sufficient to run extremely complex programs – so it is not surprising that we are seeing apps like this service that can calculate heights and distances using trig. Although not very useful, it is one of those apps you are likely to use as you say to a friend: “How tall do you think … is?” and you answer: “Well, let me check how close you are.” And I certainly can’t see builders and architects checking site measurements using an application like this with fairly enormous variances.

(Although it would be interesting to see how the buildings turned out if they did ...)

Android Tablet - The Device - Motorola XOOM Tablet using Android 3.1 (Honeycomb)

Angry Birds

Angry Birds has been the most successful app to date, with over 250 million downloads up to June 2011, an average of 3.33 million hours a day spent playing Angry Birds across all platforms and over 40 million monthly users of the app. The Apple IOS version of Angry Birds is a paid-for application whereas the Android version used for this review is the free version. Rovio, the developers of Angry Birds, found another way to monetise this app by providing in-app advertising and this is still generating Rovio in excess of US$1 million a month in revenues. Playing Angry Birds on a large format tablet like the Xoom is a far cry from playing the game on the smaller form mobile phone devices. With the graphics Angry Birds is really coming into its own and making game play far more engaging. And Rovio is not done with Angry Birds either: in a recent interview with Venture Beat, the chief marketing officer of Rovio, Peter Vesterbacka, stated: “We are betting everything on Angry Birds. We want to be the first entertainment brand with a billion fans. That will take us two or three years to do. Next year, we want to be the leading entertainment brand in China.”

Chrome to Phone

This is a great app if you are a Chrome browser user on your desktop or laptop. It quite literally takes links from your PC chrome browser and pushes the link onto your tablet. It is very easy to install: simply add the Chrome to Phone extension onto your PC browser and an icon becomes available. Once Chrome to Phone is installed on your tablet, it is simple to push any content from your browser to your tab. Great if you are busy reading an article and need to leave for a meeting or your daily commute; just push it onto your mobile device for your reading/researching pleasure on the move. The only improvement I can suggest would be a reverse functionality of pushing links from your tablet to your PC. This would certainly make the app more useful overall as there are times when you want to carry on reading or working using a link on your device.

Photoshop Express

This is another nice to have app, although its usefulness on a device the size of the Motorola Xoom might come into question. Holding the Xoom up to take pictures inconspicuously is not likely to happen. However, if you have taken photos and need to crop them, make minor adjustments to contrasts, etc, this is certainly the app for you. Or generally if you like tinkering and playing with photos before sharing in a myriad different ways. Adobe has done a great job of fitting some fairly highend photo editing technologies into this app and it is still a free download app on Marketplace. It allows for changes in brightness, contrast, changing the colour scale of the image, and creating borders for images. Overall this is a great app for the happy snappers who are never quite happy with their snap work.

Kindle for Android

Amazon has positioned Kindle as the leader in the e-book space with a variety of offerings including the Kindle Wireless Reader. Amazon launched the Android app for Kindle in June 2010. The Kindle store currently has over 900,000 books available, with prices ranging from free to US$9.99 for latest releases. This seems to be the average across all the various platforms where e-books can be purchased. The version of Kindle designed specifically with tablets in mind for the Android’s upgraded Honeycomb OS has seen improvements in layout and optimisation for the standard size of tablets between 7 and 10 inch devices. A great functionality of the Android app is that Whispersync automatically syncs your last page read, bookmarks, notes and highlights across all your Kindle devices. This includes the PC application, the Kindle device and any apps you have running. Granted this is based on the fact that you log into each application using the same login details. Reading using this application is great, with crystal clear text display and amazingly clear graphics when viewing magazines. Overall a very well put together app that runs smoothly and very efficiently.

Plume

Plume for Twitter is a powerful Twitter application for Android. The latest version being used for this review has been optimised for Honeycomb. Tweetdeck had set the standard for desktop Twitter applications. However the Android app version has not been optimised for Tablets – or Honeycomb for that matter. Plume sets itself apart from other apps in that it is fully customizable and can handle more than one Twitter account with ease. Multiple account management has never been easier, with each account given different colours, which makes tracking of these accounts within one client easier than ever. The free version of this app comes with one advertisement and with the premium paid app the ad is removed for just under US$3. However, the ad is not terribly obtrusive and so you may not want to fork out the additional cash for the premium version. The one area where Plume falls down against its largest competitors TweetDeck and HootSuite is that it currently does not support other social media offerings like Facebook or LinkedIn.

Published in September 2011

Q&A with Samsung's Paulo Ferreira (PF), Head of Product & Business Solutions and Brett Loubser (BL), Business Development Manager, Mobile Applications

This issue of Africa Telecoms is focused on VAS, apps and operating systems (OS) for mobile. In your personal opinion which OS currently has the best software and apps? And why do you say that?

PF: Quality of apps is subjective. However, what we're seeing in the market is the popularity of both the Apple iOS app store and the Android market. The growth of the Android market in particular has been phenomenal and the result of Google's attraction to developers, locally included. The recent announcement of a paid-for Android market in Africa is further evidence of Google's commitment to fostering a vibrant and healthy developer ecosystem.

BL: It is a difficult question to answer simply, because the 'best' application is the application one would use the most and of course we all have such wonderfully diverse lives these days. This is a highly competitive environment at present, and perhaps a better way to look at this in the African context is to evaluate which OS is most relevant for Africa. My money is on Android without question. We are delivering Android devices at highly competitive price points, building a platform for relevance in Africa that is unmatched.

Samsung seems to be offering three smartphone OSs at the moment, Android, bada and Windows Phone 7. Are Samsung planning on launching devices with all three operating systems in South Africa?

PF: We currently have devices with all operating systems locally (for example, WP7 = Omnia 7; Wave = Wave II; Android = Galaxy SII).Our smartphone platform support is admittedly biased toward Android, as this is where the consumer interest and demand is at present.The above choice of platform is part of Samsung's strategy to offer consumers and business customers a choice of operating system. The bada OS is proprietary software developed internally.

Do you think that it is a serious competitor in a market dominated by Android? And how does Samsung plan on growing the app ecosystem for bada?

PF: One needs to understand the positioning of bada. Samsung introduced the platform to ensure that we have smartphone offerings in the lower price points. bada has achieved that successfully for us globally and it's very much part of our strategy moving forward. We're also engaging with the developer communities to ensure that localized content is available on these devices and that they use the platform as a revenue opportunity moving forward.

At the recent VAS Africa event held in Johannesburg, the contention was made by various delegates that applications are simply next generation VAS offerings not using USSD technologies. This would seem to indicate that apps would take over from VAS. Do you agree and how do you see this development in the future?

PF: The question I would propose is: Who owns the valueadded services? Corporate vertical apps fall within their own space and need to be differentiated here too. The paid app versus the free app market seems to be changing substantially, with more and more people being prepared to pay for apps. Is this trend happening in Africa?

PF: The positive reaction to the Android paid market in the continent would suggest this. Paid app stores offer more choice to the consumer (premium apps, for example) and a mechanism for developers to monetize the apps. Important too is the mechanism for payment of these applications and here the OEMs, operators and app stores need to ensure that the billing mechanism makes it attractive for the consumer to download paid content.

Samsung has recently launched SamsungDive. Could you give a brief overview of the app and why you think it is such an important development?

PF: If you've ever lost your phone, you'll know it can be very frustrating.As smart phones become ever more sophisticated, we can store more personal information on them, and the loss of your phone can be far more than an inconvenience. The SamsungDive service will help your peace of mind by being able to see where you used it, and if you have lost it you can wipe your personal information. Samsung recently teamed up with the various universities around South Africa in an attempt to build the app developer community in South Africa.

Would you consider the first couple of months of the programme a success? What has been your best experience in being involved in this programme since its inception?

BL: We are incredibly excited about the opportunity with the educational institutions in SA. As it goes with the application creation environment, a few months is not necessarily going to show huge results. However we have been given visibility of some of the projects underway: watch this space for some exciting developments!

The term "local is lekker" is very South African, however it introduces an interesting question. How much do you think local content in Africa will drive app usage in the future? And what is Samsung doing to develop local content across Africa?

BL: We believe at Samsung that this is imperative to the longterm success of our application environment. Much of our focus is on building locally relevant applications and building lasting partnerships with the local developer community. Samsung have invested hugely in Africa this year, and we are delivering on our "Built in Africa" plan. Apple and Android are certainly dominating the app ecosystem at the moment.

Do you feel that the Microsoft offering of Windows Phone 7 and Samsung bada have what it takes moving forward to compete on the app developer front and as an ecosystem?

BL: Samsung also currently support WP7, and we believe that the platform certainly shows promise for the future. Ultimately bada will remain significant within the Samsung environment. We have already started delivering unique value in our bada store: for example, premium SMS billing is now supported, which is significant in our market.

We believe that the bada environment will show clear and specific value in the African context. And why do you feel that Apple and Android are in such a dominating position?

BL: In my opinion, this comes down to user experience and application diversity. Delivering simple usability first, and creating an environment that draws developer engagement is a winning recipe. Android's amazing growth – superseding the Apple environment in terms of device deployments – also shows the importance of device diversity and affordability.

The Samsung Forum this year was held in Nairobi, Kenya. It was themed: "Develop technology to building Africa for Africans by Africans". What does this mean to you?

PF: Samsung believes in the mantra of being a first-class corporate citizen in the African continent. Not only do we sell our innovative products to the African consumer and business customer, but we are also committed to making those products relevant for the local market. With this in mind, Samsung has embarked on ensuring that we take feedback from our customers and incorporate this feedback into our products – by adapting them for the African market. The same applies to software, apps and content, where we're working with local developer communities and content providers to ensure that it's locally relevant.

BL: It is such an exciting time for Samsung in Africa. No other organization has the research and development power across this wide a portfolio of product, and the focus in Africa shows this. This year Samsung will be delivering product throughout the range that takes into account the special needs in Africa. Mobile phones with a month of battery standby and fridges with built-in backup batteries are just two examples of the innovation being delivered. Of course this theme will be followed through on the application side too. We have already seen amazing innovation coming from this continent from a mobile development perspective. We aim to nurture this talent and give it the exposure it deserves. Africa is an environment with huge potential. We believe that our initiatives will help Africans access a richer, more interactive mobile experience.

Published in September 2011
Copyright 3I Publishing. All rights reserved.

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