100 Million Club: Winners and losers in the OS Arena

[2010 was a year of upsets in the mobile industry, as the league of top 5 handset manufacturers saw the inclusion of pure smartphone vendors (Apple and RIM) for the first time. As the rate of smartphone penetration accelerates, Marketing Manager Matos Kapetanakis takes a closer look at the winners and losers of 2010 as part of the latest 100 Million Club].

VisionMobile - 100 Million Club H2 2010 - Winners and Losers in the OS Arena

Welcome to the H2 2010 edition of the 100 Million Club, our semi-annual watchlist tracking mobile software embedded on more than 100 million devices. Click here to download the full watchlist.

Key Highlights
WebKit continues to grow, fueled by the accelerated rate of smartphone penetration. Up to the end of 2010, WebKit-based browsers had been shipped in more than half a billion handsets

– While smartphone penetration has increased to more than 20% in 2010 globally, featurephones continue to dominate the industry. Indicatively, S40 shipments were almost equal to total smartphone shipments.

–  In 2010, Android raced past iPhone’s iOS and BlackBerry, almost reaching Symbian’s shipments despite Nokia’s smartphone woes. While Nokia will undoubtedly push up Microsoft’s mobile market share in the future, we’ll continue seeing Symbian in the smartphone OS top-5 for another year.

– Total handset shipments for the second half of 2010 were 780 million, a 25% increase over the first half. A handful of software products, like vRapid Mobile by Red Bend and CAPS by Scalado, managed to tap a sizable portion of this figure, having more than 500 million shipments in H2 2010 alone.

– Myriad Group is now the only company to have 3 products with more than 100 million shipments, after Nuance merged two products into one, with T9/XT9/T9Trace. With the products combined, cumulative shipments have reached a staggering 10.5B shipments.

VisionMobile - 100 Million Club - H2 2010

Winners and losers: changes in the OEM landscape
Who were the winners and losers in 2010? In terms of handset OEMs, we have two clear losers – Sony Ericsson and Motorola have been seeing declining market share for some time now, but 2010 marks the first time that these two traditionally dominant players were toppled from the top 5 leaderboard by pure-smartphone players RIM and Apple (see our latest infographic for more details). At the same time, LG just managed to stave off competition, but without achieving a growth in shipments. Samsung, on the other hand, has effortlessly held its position as the number two handset OEM, having been the most aggressive incumbent OEM in ramping up smartphone shipments.

ZTE is the one piece of the OEM puzzle that doesn’t fit. Some estimates place the Chinese company near the bottom of the barrel, while others feature ZTE in a prominent position in the top 5 OEM leaderboard.

These upsets in the OEM landscape form the foundation for the OS race in 2011 in both feature phones and smartphones.

Feature phones made up nearly 80% of all mobile shipments during 2010. While it’s true that smartphone penetration has accelerated this past year, the days where every phone will be a smartphone are still far.

The next chart clearly shows that feature phones are still the driving force for the mobile industry in terms of shipments. However, revenues and profits are an altogether different matter (see slides 8-9 in our Mobile Megatrends 2011 report).

If combined, media-favorites iOS and Android barely account for 10% of the total shipments for 2010, which are roughly half the shipments of the lowly S40 OS. Samsung’s strong sales through 2010 have helped the company maintain a sizable piece of both the handset and OS pie.

VisionMobile_OS_Market_Share_H2_2010

The OS Arena – Smartphones
But what about smartphones? Which were the dominant OEMs and OSs in 2010? As always, Nokia has the lion’s share. As a smartphone vendor Nokia claimed more than 34% of shipments for 2010, while RIM and Apple, managed to get around 16% each.

VisionMobile_Smartphone_market_share_by_OEM_2010

The above diagram also shows how Samsung has maintained its lead over immediate competitors, with their smartphone shipments equaling those of Motorola, Sony Ericsson and LG combined. Samsung’s lead in this race of the ‘old OEM generation’ is thanks to reacting very fast to ramping market demand and delivering a highly sought after product; Samsung sold more than 10 million Galaxy S smartphones in 2010 in just 7 months, a figure that exceeds the total smartphone shipments of some of Samsung’s competitors.

So, what does it all mean for our favourite smartphone OSs?

Symbian. Dead, you say? That might be the case in terms of developer interest and Nokia’s R&D expenditure, but the current smartphone leader has yet a lot of shipments left in it. Perhaps not 150M shipments, as stated by Nokia CEO Stephen Elop, but a committed handset roadmap can’t change overnight which means that Nokia will continue shipping Symbian smartphones well into 2012, well after their much-discussed WP7 devices start coming out.

While the Verizon deal has not boosted iPhone sales as much as expected, the operator has the potential to tip the balance of the smartphone scales in the US. The question remains whether the Verizon handsets will cannibalise iPhone sales from AT&T, rather than generating new ones, but that should be little cause for concern. Apple has enjoyed a steady growth in shipments over the past couple of years and that, coupled with an accelerated smartphone penetration rate, should ensure that iPhone sales continue to enjoy a healthy increase. Furthermore, there are indications that the iPhone is starting to replace BlackBerry phones as the ‘executive handset’ and could start growing in that segment as well. This is Apple’s ‘blitzkrieg’ tactics at work, advancing on a market segment not just with a platform, but a thriving ecosystem of app developers and content publishers. The realization of this might be one of the driving factors behind RIM’s sudden adoption of Java and Android apps for its admittedly hurried Playbook release.

The biggest smartphone OS surprise has of course been Android. Growing by 100% QoQ for the first three quarters of 2010, the Google operating system shows no signs of slowing down. The biggest contributors to Android’s success have been HTC and Samsung, with Sony Ericsson, Motorola and, to a lesser extent, completing the top 5 contributors. HTC has enjoyed steady growth in smartphone shipments, mainly concentrating on their Android vs. the Windows line. With 60M smartphone shipments forecasted in 2011, HTC seems poised to drive Android sales once again. Samsung will also continue to grow in terms of smartphone shipments, capitalizing on their Galaxy series success. But what of Sony Ericsson, Motorola and LG? These vendors are losing market share, with the latter two having already lost their prestigious position in the top 5 leaderboard. With more OEMs adopting Android (ZTE announced 3 new Android phones at MWC), the Android map still has a lot of surprises in store.

 

The battle of ecosystems and BOMs
The demand for smartphones continues to rise, driven by mobile operators and handset manufacturers both of which need to remain competitive and differentiate. In 2011 the share of smartphones and the OEM competitive landscape will be determined by 3 fundamental factors: ecosystems, services and price points.

Price points. Firstly, hardware BOM (bill of material, including screen, chipsets and memory) is the key factor limiting how low smartphones can go in terms of price points and therefore how quickly they will be replacing feature phone projects within OEM roadmaps. Qualcomm has confirmed fears of a price war that is going to be taking place amongst chipsets in 2011 which will should allow Samsung or LG to deliver unsubsidized $100 retail price smartphones this year.

Ecosystems. Secondly, as Stephen Elop eloquently said in his burning platform memo, “our competitors aren’t taking our market share with devices; they are taking our market share with an entire ecosystem”. The three horse race of iOS, Android and Windows Phone is a race of developer adoption. Any new horses (including Qt, MeeGo, BREW and SmarterPhone) will have to show sizeable ecosystem support in terms of 10,000s of applications and 10s of millions of downloads in order to join the race as worthy contenders.

Services. Thirdly, smartphone growth is driven by western markets where mobile operators are dominant. With subsidies and marketing boost for smartphones coming from operators, a key determinant of device sales will be how well OEMs can drive operator services revenues; both in terms of supporting ‘hero’ operator services across regions on day 1 of launch and in terms of offering out-of-the-box white label services with a revenue contribution going towards the operator. This third services battlefront is heating up, too, with HTC buying up service companies, Samsung growing its global services deployments (more about OEM services landscape in a next article).

How do you see the future of smartphones in 2011?

-Matos

Is Microsoft buying Nokia? An analysis of the acquisition endgame

In a surprising move, Nokia and Microsoft decided to enter a strategic relationship for the OEM’s smartphone business. While the marriage appears promising at the outset, Research Director Andreas Constantinou argues that the only way for that marriage to succeed is for Microsoft to acquire Nokia’s smartphone business.

VisionMobile - Nokia & Microsoft deal_pic

The Elop and Ballmer duo on stage on February 11th was the main topic of discussion at this year’s Mobile World Congress. The reverberations of the Microsoft-Nokia announcement were felt even by the huge green robot tucked away at Google’s stand in Hall 8.

Following the news of the Nokia and Microsoft tie-up, Stephen Elop’s appointment to the helm of Nokia seems like an arranged marriage – and one whose best men were the carriers who wanted to avoid an all-out Android coup. It was also a marriage of desperation, which Elop memorably described in his memo as ‘jumping into the unknown’ from the ‘burning platform’ that is Symbian.

A marriage of desperation
Microsoft has been desperate to see its mobile business succeed. After a decade of lacklustre efforts at mobile device sales and severe product delays, Microsoft was getting desperate; it needed to stop the churn of Microsoft users to the Apple ecosystem and plug its $1 billion-a-year operational costs for its mobile phone business. Even having spent most of its $500M marketing budget for WP7 it had only got breadcrumbs in terms of sales, with Microsoft reporting 2 million shipments but no comment on sell-throughs (which leads us to suspect this was not more than 1 million of actual end-user sales).

VisionMobile_Smartphone_Sales_2010_pic

Nokia has been desperate seeing its platform play fail spectacularly in comparison to its newfound competitors; Apple who had amassed a developer ecosystem and operator demand which was second to none, and Android who in 2 short years matched Nokia’s smartphone sales in Q4 2010. MeeGo was trumpeted as the big guns in Nokia’s arsenal in February 2010, but once again Nokia’s software R&D failed to deliver on the promise. More importantly, despite the 10+ acquisitions during 2007-2010, Nokia failed to amass a strong-enough developer and services ecosystem on Symbian, Java or Qt that could compete with Apple or Google. Like Elop said in his now-famous burning platform memo, “our competitors aren’t taking our market share with devices; they are taking our market share with an entire ecosystem”.

It was in an act of desperation that led Nokia to befriend the lesser of two evils in the shape of Microsoft. It is ironic how in mobile the least enemy is a friend, much like how carriers backed Android in 2008-9 to fend off Apple, and backed Microsoft in 2003-5 to fend off Nokia.

The courtship
Despite the surface-level coverage of the Microsoft and Nokia news, not much has been said about the two giants’ courtship and even less on the prenuptial agreement. According to our sources, Nokia asked both Microsoft and Google to bid for its smartphone business, with the help of a small army of McKinsey suits. Following a long negotiation cycle with both parties, Nokia came to a straightforward conclusion; it would back Microsoft who’s total bid equalled more than $1 billion (including patents, licensing fees, marketing support and revenue shares) and not Google who’s bid was about half that. Funny how cash-rich platform vendors are buying their way into the market these days.

Nokia announced its decision to Microsoft and Google on February 9th , only 2 short days before the Ballmer/Elop press conference – which prompted Vic Gundotra to pen the tongue-in-cheek tweet “#feb11 “Two turkeys do not make an Eagle”, scornful of both Nokia and Microsoft.

The last-minute decision meant that Intel heard the news at the very last minute, and in turn had to ask its MeeGo partners on Friday night (Feb 11th) to remove the mention of Nokia from the MeeGo PR quotes going out on the following week at MWC. This is the stuff industry disruptions are made of.

 

A chemistry mismatch
What Nokia announced was not just a marriage; it was a radical change in its business model, from a vertical powerhouse to an assembler – which is what prompted us to question the motivations and the end goal for Elop.

We already knew that Symbian had been demoted to an internal-only OS (see earlier analysis – Symbian is dead, long live Symbian). However we were expecting to see Nokia take a more measured stance; for example using Windows Phone 7 in certain markets (especially in North America where carrier handset subsidies are OS-led) or taking a classic dual-supplier strategy by inking deals with both Microsoft and Google.

Instead Elop presented a terminal picture for Symbian which would be destined to ship on only another 150 million devices until being completely replaced by WP7.  Elop knew that an all-out replacement of Symbian with WP7 would mean haemorrhaging valuable brainpower as the 7,000+ Symbian staff had spent 15 years on the anti-Microsoft camp. These are the decisions made by boards with long-term strategy agendas, who see organisations made up of ‘assets’ and not ‘people’.

Besides the death blow to Symbian, Elop relegated MeeGo to an R&D project with just a single device launch in the horizon, if any at all (which carrier is going to subsidise a platform that’s dead on arrival?). Moreover Qt’s future seems uncertain as it has no place on Windows Phone (Microsoft wouldn’t allow copyleft software to be used with Windows Phone), plus it is too heavy for S40 class devices and MeeGo is too small an addressable market to justify the Qt ongoing investment. Qt (and its 400 thousand developers) need a new home.

Nokia Mobile Devices Net Sales Mix

What appears somewhat suspicious is that Nokia went not for a tactical, but a deep partnership with Microsoft, solidified by the multiple revenue streams exchanged between the two companies, a kind of revenue ‘keiretsu’ that ties the two giants in a longer commitment.

More importantly, the marriage to Nokia’s smartphone business seems like it’s lacking in chemistry. For the last decade, Nokia has operated as a vertical silo, owning and integrating all value elements, from software, UI, industrial design, services, app store and developer ecosystem. That silo has now huge holes punched through so that it can accommodate Microsoft’s horizontal software-licensing business model. This situation is somewhat like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.

There are fundamental conflicts here, as both Microsoft and Nokia want to own the developer experience (think APIs, support, tools, developer marketplace, conferences, marketing), and the application discovery and delivery process (think Windows Marketplace vs Ovi Store). This is a chemically unstable mix that won’t survive the test of time. It would be like having Nokia owning Office while Microsoft still runs the Windows business. Yet at the same time Nokia has little value to offer other than design, development, manufacturing and sales of handsets in the picture Elop and Ballmer painted. Something’s not right.

Moreover, Microsoft faces a fundamental customer imbalance on its mobile platform. With such a strong endorsement of Nokia, Microsoft has placed too much favour and device sales expectations on a single vendor.

Microsoft did not only hurt the feelings of HTC, Samsung and LG (previously committed to launching 50! Windows Mobile handsets) with such an imbalanced endorsement. More importantly, with Nokia volumes likely to ramp up fast, Microsoft will have to deal with a single-customer monopoly and end up financing Samsung, LG or HTC towards ramping up Windows Phone production to balance it up. Windows Phone may quickly end up looking like a platform of unbalanced OEM interests – much like Symbian Ltd or Symbian Foundation were – and we know how these panned out.

There are two more troubling clues in the way this ceremony was setup. Despite fundamental changes to the handset business, Elop made no reorganization in the NSN business which is performing at marginal profit (operating margin at only 3.7% vs 11.3% for handsets). As Tomi Ahonen points out, Elop seems to be ready to get rid of NSN. Plus there was no announcement of Ovi plans or clear strategic guidance with regards to the Nokia services business.

 

The acquisition scenario
There have been earlier rumours of acquisition discussions between the two companies. We now believe that the only scenario for the Nokia and Microsoft partnership to succeed is an acquisition scenario; Microsoft buys Nokia’s smartphone business, while Nokia gets more resource to play with what it does best – that is creating mass-market phones at unbeatable levels of supply chain efficiency, unmatched supplier bargaining power and customisation to 100s of variants per handset model for distribution to diverse global regions, channels, carriers and retailers.

From a financial standpoint, Microsoft capitalisation stands at $220B, more than six times Nokia’s market cap of $33B at the time of writing. Microsoft would also acquire a high-profit margin business that would go a long way in helping the Redmond giant push its Entertainment and Devices division at high profitability levels for the first time. Despite Microsoft being a software business, it has experience in running hardware products, with the Xbox business doing well recently on strong Kinect sales.

For Nokia, a joint venture would make more sense than a pure sale of its smartphone business, given that the hardware giant is an important component of the Finnish economy. It would allow Nokia to focus on what it does best and substantially increase its S40 R&D budget (as Elop already announced it would) to rework its aging feature-phone OS. A joint venture would also allow Nokia to make a comeback when they are ready to take on the high-end phone market again.

Besides, with shares recently hitting a 13-year low and Nokia being owned by American institutional investors, the Nokia board has little they can do in the face of potential suitors. This makes Nokia a very interesting acquisition target, not just for Microsoft but for anyone with cash at hand and mobile ambitions, including Chinese, Korean and Japanese suitors.

The acquisition scenario would allow Microsoft to leverage on Nokia’s accounts with carriers across the world to woo them into moving subsidy budgets from Android into WP7. This is all too important, as the Microsoft brand enjoys little consumer awareness compared to Apple and Android, meaning that Microsoft is more dependent on carrier subsidy and marketing budgets than its nearest competitors.

Fundamentally, we believe there is no place for Nokia, an all-in-one integrated handset OEM and services company, in the new telecoms value chain. The old guard of top-5 OEMs are squeezed between leaders (Apple, RIM) who lead in terms of performance & profits, and assemblers (Huawei, ZTE, Dell, Acer) who lead in terms of me-too designs & razor-thin margins (see our earlier analysis on the evolution of the handset value pyramid). Nokia’s business needs to break-up into independent, self-sustained entities, particularly the smartphone business (within Microsoft’s new home) and the mobile phone business as an independent entity that can focus on competing with PC-borne assemblers.

The Microsoft-Nokia acquisition might not have been planned from the outset, but it is a scenario whose viability has been ensured from the outset. There are no conspiracy theories here, except that Elop (as the 7th biggest shareholder of Microsoft) would benefit greatly from trading Microsoft shares with Nokia ones, only to see them boost in value after being repatriated.

Let the debate begin!

– Andreas
you should follow me on Twitter: @andreascon

Andreas Constantinou is Research Director at VisionMobile and has been working in the mobile software industry since 2001, when he fondly recalls being a member of the team behind the very first Orange-Microsoft handsets which set the world of telecoms software in motion.

[Survey] Developer Economics 2011: The evolution of app development

[Developer Economics 2011 is here! As we launch our new survey on all things developer-related, Marketing Manager Matos Kapetanakis looks back at the 2010 report and examines the major events that have shaped mobile development in the past 6 months]

VisionMobile - Developer Economics 2011

The evolution of Developer Economics
Last July we published the definitive mobile developer research report: Developer Economics 2010, dubbed by TechCruch as “one of the most profound…to date”. Our report delved into all aspects of mobile application development, across a sample of 400+ developers segmented into eight major platforms.

We’ve just launched the follow-up to this research report: Developer Economics 2011, once again made possible thanks to BlueVia, the global developer platform from Telefonica that helps developers take apps, web services and ideas to market. Our goal is to see how the dynamics of the developer world have changed since early 2010 and to provide more insights into app marketing, monetization and many other factors.

Join the survey or help spread the word! This year we ‘ve also secured a prize for each of the first 400 developers; 10 hours free testing time on DeviceAnywhere’s 2000+ handsets. UPDATE: Thanks to overwhelming support, all 400 free testing time prizes have been awarded by DeviceAnywhere. Of course, the $1,500 Amazon voucher is still up for grabs!

Major shakeups of the mobile industry for H2 2010
So, what’s changed since our 2010 research? The mobile industry is an ever-evolving landcape. In the past 6 months we have seen the Symbian Foundation close shop, with Nokia hoping that the as-yet untested MeeGo project will carry their smartphone banner. We have also seen the stellar rise of Android, zooming past Apple’s iOS and BlackBerry and becoming the no2 smartphone platform behind Symbian.

In the handset OEM arena, we have seen more shakeups in 2010 alone than in the 10 years preceding it. Apple and RIM have overtaken some of the traditional handset OEM powers (Sony Ericsson, Motorola, LG) and claimed a spot in the top 5. According to some estimates, ZTE could join them soon.

Moving forward, Developer Economics 2011 is looking at how the key metrics of mobile development have changed in the last year.

The migration of developer mindshare
One of the major findings of our 2010 report was the migration of developer mindshare away from the ‘old guard’, i.e. Symbian, BlackBerry and Java, towards the new powers of the realm – iOS and Android. According to our research, nearly 60% of the 400+ respondents had developed apps on Android. Apple’s iOS took second place, with more than 50% of respondents having a go at it, with Java ME following third.

In our Developer Economics 2011 research, we’ll be asking participants which platforms they’re currently targeting, which ones they plan on targeting and which ones they’re abandoning.

So, what’s changed since then? Well, if anything, the gap between Android and iOS and the rest of the platforms has grown even larger. The Apple App Store carries more than 300 thousand apps, while recent estimates place the number of apps in Android Market at around 130 thousand.

While Nokia has been spending considerable effort on the Ovi Store and increased its popularity with consumers and developers alike, they still have a long way to go to catch up with the two app-dispensing behemoths.

Why do developers head towards iOS and Android? Our Developer Economics 2010 analysis showed that Apple offers a platform that is relatively easy to master and using which a developer can design great UIs. They also have the largest app store and although the certification problem is an issue for some,  porting and fragmentation are not a challenge;. Android, on the other hand, has been gaining momentum across all fields, storming its competitors’ key market – the US. Of course, Android’s many fragmentation issues are often overlooked in the face of many handset OEMs’ dependency on the platform.

The disparity between handset sales and available apps

Our Developer Economics 2010 research uncovered a disparity between the number of devices sold for each platform and the number of available apps. One would expect the platforms with the highest market penetration to dominate in terms of apps, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Taking 3Q10 as a reference, it’s easy to see that the two platforms with the lowest penetration, iOS and Android, have the highest number of available apps.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, while Java ME and Flash Lite have the greatest market penetration by far, they can scarcely measure up to the newer platforms when it comes to app volumes.

In Q4, the contrast is even sharper. Both Android and iOS stores have grown by almost 100 thousand apps apiece. Windows Phone has shown an admirable growth, reaching 4 thousand apps in just two months, although it still has a long way to go before becoming truly a threat to incumbents.

Monetization and revenue expectations

In Developer Economics 2010, we asked developers how they felt about the revenues they’re receiving from selling their apps. Almost one in four respondents reported poor revenues, while only 5% reported revenues exceeding their expectations.

VisionMobile - Developer Economics 2010 - revenue expectations

While there has been a boom of app stores, that’s not necessarily a blessing for developers. Most developers face a discoverability issues, having their apps buried under thousands of other apps. Like one developer said in our previous research “It’s like going to a record store with 200,000 CDs. You ‘ll only look at the top-10″.

What options are there for developers? One option is to adopt a multiple storefront strategy, as well as to tailor your monetization model to specific app stores. As the CEO of Rovio, creator of the prodigious Angry Birds app, noted: “Free is the way to go with Android. Nobody has been successful selling content on Android”.

Developing apps in 2011
Care to see how the apps world has changed in the last year? Stay tuned for Developer Economics 2011, where we delve into app development, monetization, distribution, retailing, porting and fragmentation issues among many others.

Mobile developer? Join the survey and have your say.


Windows Phone 7: Tipping the Scales of the Smartphone Market

[Windows Phone 7 has the potential to redraw the smartphone competitive landscape and accelerate the evolution of the mobile value-chain. With the arrival of WP7 just around the corner, VisionMobile Research Partner Michael Vakulenko explains what success of the platform can potentially mean for the industry and why Microsoft’s mobile comeback should be closely watched.]
This article is also available in Chinese

Windows Phone 7: Tipping the scales of the smartphone market

Just over a year ago I had written how Apple’s iPhone and Google Android will capture leadership positions in the smartphone race, leaving behind all the legacy smartphone operating systems. Indeed, one year later iPhone and Android are confidently cruising ahead on the tailwinds of consumer, operator and developer ecosystem support.

Symbian continues to submerge into irrelevance distracted by its venture into open-source waters. The only two handset makers who are members of Symbian Foundation board recently jumped the ship. Both Samsung and Sony Ericsson lately said that they do not plan any new Symbian handsets. Worst yet, major chipset makers are scaling down their efforts to support Symbian. The direction is clear: Symbian is soon to become Nokia-only internal OS hidden behind Qt application framework.

RIM is steadily drifting towards mid-, low-end of the smartphone market. Contrary to common perception, enterprise users are no longer the platform’s most important audience. Over half of the subscriber base and 80% of Blackberry growth comes from the consumer space. The reason is the viral effect of Blackberry Messenger application popular with teenage kids and college students.

Contrary to Nokia and RIM, Microsoft took proactive approach. Instead of patching the leaking boat of Windows Mobile, the Redmond giant build ground-up a new smartphone platform carefully designed to address challenges presented by iOS and Android.

Make no mistake, Microsoft’s primary motivation for Windows Phone aren’t its software licensing fees. The real motivation is the need to protect Microsoft core businesses of Windows and Office product lines. Mobile and smartphones became pervasive. Microsoft must have a convincing mobile story to prevent increasing numbers of users churning to Apple and Google product ecosystems.

There are reports claiming that Apple sells just as many computers as Dell to college students. Naturally, a decision to buy a Mac is much more easier for a person already owning an iPhone. A person regularly using GMail or Google Apps on a PC and Android phone is much more prone to dropping Outloook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint in favor of cloud-based alternatives from Google.

With absolute majority of Microsoft operating profits coming from licensing of Windows OS and Office applications, the software giant cannot afford losing users to Apple or Google. Both Windows and Office must be augmented by the ‘mobile screen’ to remain competitive.

A comeback in the making?
Based on pre-release information, Windows Phone 7 has all the necessary ingredients to become a powerful contender in the smartphone race.
First, there is clear differentiation thanks to fresh user interface and deep integration with Microsoft on-line services and products.

The UI and the interaction model are based on well-received Zune HD Player (funnily enough there is Zune Home app on Android Market, which replicates Zune HD look & feel on Android). Finally we see refreshing departure from icon-based navigation that became de-facto standard following iPhone introduction.

The user experience is closely integrated with Windows Live, Xbox Live, Bing Maps cloud services, Zune content platform, together with pervasive Office and Exchange. Microsoft has impressive number of users registered for its on-line services – 360M Hotmail accounts, 299M Messenger accounts, 23M Xbox Live subscriptions. This will certainly help driving Windows Phone adoption.

Second, when it comes to developers Microsoft is playing on its home ground leveraging established developer ecosystem and excellent development tools. Windows Phone 7 application development is based on Silverlight UI framework and XNA game runtime. Both are well-known to large number of PC and Xbox developers eager to apply their skills in mobile environment. Consider that Windows Phone 7 Beta SDK was downloaded 200,000 time in just 2 days since its general availability. Instead of wresting developers from iOS and Android platforms,  Microsoft can tap into large pool of loyal .NET and XNA programmers, converting them into an army of mobile developers.

Developer monetization is high on Microsoft’s agenda. Windows Phone Marketplace avoids the pitfalls of the competing platforms promising predictable and transparent approval process, lack of handset fragmentation, localization, try-before-buy model, app beta testing program, and tools for active promotion of the content in the Windows Marketplace.

Third, operator billing supported by Windows Phone Marketplace will be instrumental in winning operator subsidy and marketing budgets from iPhone and Android. These budgets are critically important for the platform success. Windows Marketplace already supports operator billing for older Windows Mobile platform. This experience will help Microsoft quickly introduce operator billing for growing number of operators. Sure enough, Microsoft can be flexible on splitting 30% of app sales revenue share with operators. Not surprisingly, all five major UK operators will be selling Windows Phone 7 handsets at launch.

All these combined with familiar consumer brand and a huge $500M marketing budget (more than 5 times bigger than any previous Windows Mobile launch) makes Windows Phone 7 a convincing entry to the smartphone game. This entry is already supported by a lineup of handset makers from experienced mobile players like Samsung, HTC and LG, to PC specialists like Dell and Asus.

So what’s the catch? Windows Phone success will ultimately depend on Microsoft’s ability to execute on the promise. Microsoft will need to deliver solid product experience, prove monetization potential for operators and developers, and keep the momentum by following up with subsequent platform versions. Without these, Windows Phone 7 will only remain a great promise.

What will Windows Phone’s success mean for the mobile industry?
The mobile industry has radically changed in the recent years. In an industry where the only constant is change, what impact will the success of Windows Phone have on the mobile industry?

The hardware specs of leaked Windows Phone handsets from HTC, Samsung, LG, Dell, Asus and Toshiba reveal striking similarity between the models. All are based on QUALCOMM’s Snapdragon chipset. The variations are limited to industrial design, amount of memory, optional physical keyboard and FM radio. Are we entering PC-like era in smartphones, where industry will converge on a small number of hardware configurations? Will we see emergence of ‘Wincomm’ alliance in mobile similar to ‘Wintel’ in PC? Value-chain evolution theory says this is not question of ‘if’, but the question of ‘when’. Windows Phone 7 looks like a natural catalyst for this to happen much sooner than some companies would hope for.

This will be great news for low-cost ‘assemblers’ like Dell, Acer and Asus, who lack significant software capabilities and experience. With Windows Phone software and QUALCOMM’s support these companies can readily replicate their PC business models, brands and experience, while thriving on single digit operating margins. To do so, they only need to focus on building hardware platforms for Microsoft software, while leveraging pre-integration with QUALCOMM chips for fast time to market. Microsoft definitely learned from mistakes made with Windows Mobile. This time the approach is closer to the PC model: ODMs are given exact specification of how the hardware platform should look like. From the screen size, to amount of memory, to number of navigation buttons on the device.

For low-cost ‘assemblers’ Android proved to be too difficult to productize. Dell Aero is one example, which is four Android versions behind now. Using Windows Phone software will significantly lower barrier to entry on the software side. Paying software licensing fees to Microsoft may prove a better way forward than a crappy product that doesn’t sell.

On the other side, these will be very bad news for high-margin branded OEMs like Motorola and Sony Ericsson. Such OEMs will have little chance to protect their business from increasing competition from low-margin assemblers. Adopting Windows Phone won’t help: Microsoft is determined to maintain tight control over the platform and limit OEM differentiation opportunities.

Increasing smartphone commoditization accelerated by the entry of low-cost ‘assemblers’ will certainly put strain on today’s leaders, Apple and Google. Apple seems to be well-positioned to keep its positions in the mid-term. But will we see its vertical integration becoming a liability in the next phases of value-chain evolution? The phases where flexibility and customization of commodity products will favour modular solutions.

For Google things can quickly get challenging. Android is yet to grow into a recognizable consumer brand being concealed by operator and handset maker brands (e.g. Droid and Sense). What if Android will get squeezed between style-conscious consumers opting for iPhone and masses of mainstream users opting for the comfort of familiar Windows brand? Will we see Android slowing down and struggle outside the group of tech-savvy users?

What about mobile operators? Windows Phone success will increase the dominance of non-mobile players in the mobile ecosystem and their control over user experience. The distance between user and operator will inevitably increase, and we will see more and more mobile operators settling on the role of a ‘pipe’ satisfied by getting a share of app and content sale revenues.

Tipping the scales of the smarpthone market
If successful, Windows Phone 7 will catalyze further shifts in the mobile industry bringing PC-style commoditization and increasing distance between operators and their subscribers.

Microsoft and low-cost, PC style ‘assemblers’ will be the main winners driving smartphone price declines. High-margin branded OEMs will have no choice but to look for new ways to create value to operators. This is to snatch critically important subsidy and marketing budgets from Apple and RIM.

Apple and Google won’t wait long to make Microsoft’s life harder. Google can be exposed on multiple fronts and finally will have to pay closer attention to operator and developer interests.

Things will continue to be interesting in mobile in the foreseeable future.

How do you think things will shape up with Windows Phone? Who will be a winner and who will be a loser?

– Michael

[Michael Vakulenko is a Research Partner at VisionMobile. He has been working in the mobile industry for over 16 years starting his career in wireless in Qualcomm. Michael has experience across many aspects of mobile technologies including handset software, mobile services, network infrastructure and wireless system engineering. He can be reached at michael [/at/] visionmobile.com]

Waking the Dragon: The Rise of Android in China

[Android is leading the smartphone revolution in Western Markets. But what about China, the country with the biggest mobile user base? Guest author Hong Wu analyses the state of Android in China – from chipset vendors to software developers – and how the dragon is waking up.]
The article is also available in Chinese.

The Rise of Android in China

HuaQiang Road, ShenZhen, GuangDong, China, an ordinary weekend.

At 10 o’clock in the morning, there are few pedestrians around. Sanitation workers are cleaning up hundreds of deserted mobile phone packages and plastic bags near mobile phone supermarkets, along with bundles upon bundles of mobile phone manuals, and even a few dozens of broken CDs, with labels showing clearly the words “HTC” or “SonyEricsson”.

Clerks in more than a dozen bank branches on HuaQiang Road and ZhenHua Road are busy refilling cash into their ATMs. In the next 5 hours or so, those bank clerks and ATMs will be responsible for hundreds of millions of Yuan in cash transactions. Yes, cash and stock products are the rules of transaction here. This commercial business district, often called as “HuaQiangBei” (or north of HuaQiang), is the strike-it-rich spot for many poor grassroots classes in ShenZhen. This neighbourhood has become the global hub for consumer electronics.

Android has recently become the hot topic within HuaQiangBei district. Sales figures of Android phones have been climbing on a daily basis at YuanWang Digital City. Most of these Android phones use Qualcomm’s chipset, while only a few of them run a chipset that’s made in China.

Nearby, at MingTong Digital City, one can find heaps of ShanZhai (山寨) mobile phones on sale (ShanZhai refers to Chinese imitation and pirated brands and goods, particularly electronics). There only a few Android phone models on display, but customers keep coming back asking for more. In the meantime, the software engine that powers ShanZhai smartphones has shifted from Windows Mobile to Android, and most of they are using chipsets that are made in China.

A 15-minute drive from HuaQiangBei business district, at CheGongMiao business district, are the headquarters of dozens of mobile phone design companies, who are in the midst of the mobile food chain. On a daily basis, engineers here crank out some very exotic prototype phones using MediaTek’s chipset solutions. Since 2009 when Android caught fire, sales guys from MediaTek, HiSilicon, Rockchip, Actions-Semi, and other chipset vendors are arriving day after day, hoping to sell their solutions and get a piece of the pie from the Android revolution.

Once an Android-based white label design is out, the phones will be manufactured in factories at Bao’An ShenZhen and LongGang districts. The plastics are then stamped with the right retail brand stickers, and put on the shelf at the consumer electronics crossroads that is HuaQiangBei.

The MediaTek powerhouse

MediaTek (MTK) sells between 300 to 400 million chipsets a year for 2G handsets, and is the predominant force behind low cost phones in China. MTK’s foray into the smartphone market began in February 2009 when they released the MT6516 design, at that time based on Windows Mobile 6.5 OS. MT6516 is a dual core solution; the application processor is an ARM 9 running at 416MHz, while the baseband processor is an ARM 7, running at 280MHz, supporting 2G (GSM/EDGE). This solution suffers somewhat in terms of performance when compared to the Qualcomm’s MSM7200, but its BOM is lower.

One step up, the MT6516 deluxe version includes a 2.8” QVGA resistive touch screen, 2MP camera, GPS, WiFi, and Bluetooth silicon, with a quoted wholesale price of $90. The basic MT6516 version with no touch screen or camera is quoted at $60. Note that approximately $10 of that quote goes towards the Windows Mobile license fee. In other words, expect prices to go down considerable with an Android design.

Despite its market mussle, MediaTek didn’t anticipate that the Android revolution would arrive so soon. For example, MediaTek didn’t join OHA until 2010 while the first MTK Android handsets are just making their first steps into the Chinese market (there is a rumour that a leading Android OEM had earlier veto’ed MTK’s entry into the OHA to avoid price competition).

TongXinDa in ShenZhen has been the first ODM to release an Android phone based on MTK’s MT6516 solution, the “TongXinDa TOPS-A1”. The phone boasts unique features such as dual SIM cards (both GSM and CDMA, and both at active states), a dual boot system (Windows Mobile 6.5 and Android 1.6 both stored in ROM) with 256MB RAM and ROM, and a 400×240 screen resolution. The phone ad is shown below (note that the HTC logo is a fake).

But these are just the first steps of Android as it awakes the Chinese dragon. The full MTK Android 2.1 solution won’t be out in mass production until the end of 2010.

More competition at low-cost Android phones

Rockchip, a design vendor based in FuZhou, China, showed its RK28 solution at HongKong Electronics Show in 2010, focusing on Android tablets and smartphones.

Rockchip is a homegrown chipset design company which conquered the market of MP3 portable media players with its RK26 and RK27 series. In 2009 Rockchip announced its foray into smartphone business with the RK2808 Android solution, but was not widely adopted due to chip heating problems and performance issues.

In a second effort at the smartphone market, Rockchip released its RK2816 solution in 2010, running on an ARM 9 application process at 600Mhz and an NXP baseband chip. The RK28 series is not as tightly integrated as MTK’s MT6516. MTK put both applications and baseband into one single chip, while RK28 used Infineon for their baseband. RK28 series’ advantage lies at its inheritance of multimedia technologies from Rockchip, with hardware decoding of 720p H.264 video.

Rockchip’s RK28 design has been taken up by Ramos (Blue Devil) to power an smartphone device under the model name W7. The device runs Android 1.5, sports a 4.8” 800×480 resistive touch screen, and is intended as competitor to iPod Touch, with a focus on video media playback features. BuBuGao is another OEM planning to deliver cheap smartphones using the RK28 solution.

In the tablet space, Actions-Semi has been designing a new chipset based on the mISP 74K kernel, running Android 2.1. Marketed under the EBOX moniker, the company aims to head-to-head competition with the iPad with support for H.264, MPEG-4, DivX and Xvid hardware decoding at up to 1080p resolution. Such specs are unheard of among current Android solutions.

Around five years ago, phones based on MTK chipset shook up Chinese cellphone market that was dominated by Nokia, Motorola, Samsung and other local brands like Bird, TCL and XiaXin. MTK enabled phones to be sold at very low prices while still boasting advanced features, including exotic ones like eight stereo speakers or 365 days of standby battery life.

Today, most local brands are gone, and the remaining few have reverted to using MTK chipsets for their phones. International OEM brands have to slash prices on their mid-end to low-end phones in order to compete in this fierce cellphone market. MTK’s entry into high end smartphones using Android may certainly repeat the history we witnessed five years ago. Android phones running FroYo selling for under $100? Maybe just a few months away.

Android Developers in high demand

With such a rapid growth of Android-related activities, Android developers are in hot demand today in China. A 2-year Android pro can command up to 20,000 Yuan (close to $3,000) per month; whereas a 10-year J2EE veteran makes probably the same salary if not less. Companies, big and small, are busy scouting for Android talent, but challenged due to the small pool of qualified engineers.

At ifanr.com we recently conducted a survey, with the help of the China Android Dev group (over 1,400 members, 18,000 messages, the largest and most active discussion group for Chinese Android developers) to capture the demographics of Android developers in China. Our survey received over 500 valid responses with some revealing insights into the state of Android developers in China:

In terms of demographics, over 80% of respondents are between 20 to 30 years old, while another 10% is between 31 to 35 years. These are pretty young and dynamic groups of developers.

When asked about how many years of mobile development experience they have, close to 40% are just getting started. And another close to 50% of respondents are within 0-2 years of experience, which is to be expected, given that Android is a two-year-old platform.

In terms of their role in Android development, 37% of survey respondents are part time developers, while over 40% are professional developers. Only 10% are students while about 15% are still holding out to see how Android progresses.

It’s also worth pointing out that over 60% of respondents are individual developers, a.k.a. one-man teams, while over 90% work in teams made up of less than 50 developers. There are companies with more than 100 developers, mostly likely big telecoms like China Mobile, as well as handset manufacturers and design houses.

Given that we targeted Android developers, almost 80% of respondents have developed on Android. We also see healthy shares of iOS, J2ME, Windows Mobile, and Symbian. Based on current trends, we can foresee Android and iOS commanding larger market share going forward, while J2ME, Windows Mobile and Symbian share will shrink further.

Over 45% of respondents have not yet published apps on Google’s Android Market. This is mostly because Android Market and Google Checkout do not yet support Chinese regions. This is a well known issue; there is a large number of developers in China wanting to publish apps onto the Market who can’t; for example many of them have to set up an overseas bank account in order to register and pay for the Market registration fee. It’s a major hassle for individual developers, and where hopefully Google has a mitigation to offer in the near future (PayPal integration perhaps?).

In terms of revenue models, about two thirds of paid apps are using ad banners, while the other one third are using pay-per-download according to the results of our survey. As for the types of ad networks used, Google AdSense comes out on top with nearly 50% of votes. AdMob comes in second with nearly 30% votes. Wooboo, Youmi, and Casee, ad networks from China, are also making strides here.

The level of satisfaction from app revenues is evenly distributed, with 20% of respondents saying they are not doing well and losing money, and 18% saying they are extremely satisfied and doing well or optimistic about the future (the rest 60% is for people who do not make money from apps).

In terms of go-to-market channels, Google’s Android Market tops with more than half of the share. China Mobile’s Mobile Market (MM) is also popular among developers. MOTO SHOP4APPS is surprisingly getting 5% (or 10% among the ones submitted).

Overall, Android has seen explosive growth in China. More and more developers are joining the ranks daily. However, due to the limitations of Android Market and Google Checkout in China, many developers are turning to alternative markets and payment gateways.

In the operator camp, China Mobile is making a big splash trying to woo developers onto its Android-variant, the OMS/OPhone platform. HTC and Motorola are also pushing their own app store agenda.

The Android ecosystem in China is still a sleeping dragon, but is waking up day by day. There will be more ad networks, more app stores, and more payment gateways coming out in the foreseeable future before consolidation moves in. Android in China is probably at its most exciting stage right now.

– Hong

[Hong Wu is a seasoned mobile app developer based in Silicon Valley, US. He’s currently building an awesome product that hopes will make TVs enjoyable again. He’s also a core member of ifanr.com, the leading new media blog site in China that focuses on mobile Internet industry, smartphones, gadgets, and exciting startups in China. You can contact Hong at lordhong /at/ gmail.com or follow @lordhong on Twitter.]

Developer Economics 2010: The Role of Networks in a Developer World

[In the final part of our series on our latest research – Mobile Developer Economics 2010 and Beyond – Telefonica’s James Parton discusses the challenges facing mobile network operators in their quest to stay relevant to mobile application developers. Full research report available for free download or see part 1, part 2 and part 3 of the blog series on mobile developer economics]
The article is also available in Chinese.

"The Role of Network Operators in a Developer World"

Historically, operators have been one of the few options available to developers when bringing new applications and services to market. Typically this has been in the form of placing applications in the operator mobile web portal or via a handset preload agreement within the operator variant software build.

However operator go-to-market channels have suffered from a lack of transparency, lengthy bureaucratic processes and the inevitable arrogance of a dominant gatekeeper.  The rapid rise of app stores has completely rewritten the rule book, and now provides independent developers with a more open and democratic way to get their product in front of potential consumers.

The Developer Economics 2010 report graphically highlights this trend, with less than 5% of the 400 developer respondents persevering with the operator channel. Clearly app stores have delivered real economic benefits to developers, with time to shelf being reduced by two thirds, and time to payment being reduced by 22 days (see part 2 of our blog series) when compared to the Operator channel.

There are some notable exceptions to the trend. Andrew Fisher, CEO of Shazam, frequently highlights the Operator channel as one of the reasons for Shazam’s wide spread success, and recommends companies to invest in developing operator partnerships. Christopher Kassulke, CEO at HandyGames confirms that major games developers also prefer to invest in selling games via operators, due to the higher per-download price points and the sustainable, predictable revenues that the operator channel offers.

Opportunity lost?
A key question for operators is “Has the app distribution opportunity been irreversibly lost?” An interesting insight from the Developer Economics report is that the app store phenomenon is perhaps not as widespread as portrayed. Beyond the iPhone and Android ecosystems dominated by native app stores, there is a significant gap in the market for operators to assist in the distribution of apps and services. This is especially significant in the growing mobile web app sector.

Of course it goes without saying; unless operators fix the legacy issues with their lengthy bureaucratic processes and ‘ivory tower’ attitude then the distribution opportunity will remain untapped. One of the interesting friction points will be the open market model vs. selective editorial cherry picking of apps favoured by many Operators.

Open market vs Cherry picking
In an open market model, there is no editorial body deciding the catalogue of applications presented to consumers. A complaint often heard from developers is “Who do they think they are, deciding if my app is good enough?” The customer is presented with unfiltered choice made available by any and all developers. The downside of this approach is the “lost in the noise” issue increasingly voiced by developers, the reduction in quality or increase in copyright-infringing apps and the over reliance on your app appearing in the “recommended” or top 10 listing of the relevant content categories to drive downloads.

Operators favouring the editorial selection model (‘cherry picking’) will argue less is more. Based on an understanding of their user base, operator content managers will work with developers to select the most appealing and appropriate apps. This directly addresses the “lost in the noise” issue as the catalogue will be much smaller vs. an open model app store. This approach should also deliver higher conversion rates if the apps are effectively matched to the needs of the audience. Cynics will argue that the operator content managers are not qualified to make the right selections, and this method heavily favours established brands like Facebook which are “safe” vs. lesser known independent developer offerings, thus stifling innovation.

Now developers need to figure out how to make their apps stand out from the crowd. Giving your app away for free just won’t cut it in the long run, as there is no emotional or financial bond between your app and the user. Pinch Media research shows that the average shelf life of a free iPhone app is less than 30 days, with only 20% of users returning to the app after the first day of installation. You don’t want to be the app equivalent of the shortlived May Fly ?

Key to ensuring your app will appeal to consumers is working directly with your intended audience at an early stage. Why waste time and effort if you don’t have an understanding of the following critical questions:

  • Which features will make a difference to people?
  • What is your addressable market?
  • How much are people prepared to pay you for your trouble, if anything?

This marketing insight gap was highlighted in “Developer Economics 2010”, showing that perhaps the app sector is not as mature as previously presumed. Worryingly the vast majority of developers do not invest in any formal market research or even user testing, outside of friends and colleagues.

Recognising that many development companies may not have specialised marketing people or the resources to conduct formal research, the operator can help fill this gap by opening up access to their customer base to encourage co-creation and testing with real end users, free of charge.

This model of match making developers with end users was championed in the UK in early 2009 when we launched O2 Litmus. This fresh approach quickly gained recognition for its innovative model. To date over 7,600 O2 UK customers have volunteered to participate in the development and testing of applications with developers. Typically engagement levels run at around 10% of the tester base actively working with developers at any one time. Approaching 100 individual apps have benefitted from customer co-creation in O2 Litmus, generating over 2,500 test installations to date.

Programming the network
I have previously written about the potential for Operator delivered network enablers (API’s). Developer Economics 2010 highlights the challenge that faces the operator community in effectively evangelising this message. Only 5% of respondents felt that it was the role of the Operator to expose network API’s.

The pace of technological innovation is not being matched by business model innovation. Increasingly developers feel constrained by the business models on offer. Pay per download dominates (two thirds of respondents), with subscription and advertising following.

This signals another significant opportunity for Operators, and an important angle to the exposure of operator network enablers. It is easy to limit the conversation around enablers to the technical feature set of each enabler. The untapped opportunity for both developers and operators alike is wrapping the exposure of enablers with new innovative business models, such as revenue share on the transactional traffic generated

If developers can plug in additional revenue streams from the usage of operator enablers, this will address both the lack of commercial monetisation options available to developers, whilst introducing richer functionality to their app experience.  If executed correctly I believe this can effectively address the developer perception issues highlighted in the report.

I will close the post with a developer quote from Developer Economics 2010 that perfectly sums up both the opportunity and challenge facing mobile Operators today:

“The first mobile company to TRULY reach out to web developers will have an edge over the competition, but right now I don’t see any candidates, except for Google. If Google became an operator our problems would be solved”

– James
Head of Telefonica Developer Communities
You should follow James on twitter at @jamesparton

[James is a Chartered Marketer specialised in Mobile. With an award winning track record of product delivery including twenty five major launches, featuring twenty first to market achievements, including MMS, mobile video, mobile music downloads, the UK DVB-H Broadcast TV trial in 2005, and the ticketing and interactive services supporting The O2 Arena in London. Recognised by Revolution Magazine as one of the “Future 50”, James is a regular industry speaker, panellist, judge, blogger, and has lectured in Marketing and New Product Development at The University of Oxford Faculty of Continuing Education and Reading University.]

Full report is available for free download, thanks to the kind sponsorship of Telefonica Developer Communities. You can follow Telefonica Developer Communities through their blog.

Are you a mobile app developer? Want to be part of VisionMobile’s next developer research and voice your own opinions? Take a moment to fill out the registration form.

Mobile Developer Economics: The Building Blocks of Mobile Applications

[In part 3 of the 4-part series on our latest research РMobile Developer Economics 2010 and Beyond Рguest author Tor Bj̦rn Minde takes a critical look at the developer sentiments on code development, debugging and support. Full research report available for free download or see part 1 and part 2 of the blog series on mobile developer economics].
The article is also available in Chinese.

Do iOS and Android enjoy a large market penetration? VisionMobile’s research suggests that developers think so even if it is not case for iOS and Android per se; iOS and Android are available in a fraction of devices compared to Symbian and Java ME. Most probably, developers view addressable market in terms of ability to reach a large audience of ‘application consumers’ rather than just a large installed base of handsets.

Developers also consider “quick to code and prototype” as a favourite platform aspect, second only in importance to making money on the platform. This reveals that the ‘fun’ aspect of mobile development co-exists with the realism of money-making in developers’ minds.

The new report Mobile Developer Economics 2010 and Beyond, contains many new insights into mobile development. In this article, I ‘ll  comment on and highlight key take-aways from chapter 3 of the report titled “the building blocks of mobile applications”.

Perceived market penetration should be interpreted as real app usage penetration
There seems to be a contradiction in terms regarding the platform aspect considered ‘best’ by developers. Developers flock onto iOS and Android due to a “perceived” large market share but still there’s a discrepancy between the installed base of the platforms and the number of available apps for each platform. The platforms that have greatest installed base (j2ME, Symbian) have the fewest applications and vice versa.

So, is there (only) a perceived market penetration by the different platforms or are there facts that support the choice?

Looking at some related data points from an Ovum report,  iPhone has 69% of all downloads while Symbian has 9% of all downloads. The report further says that 57% of all downloads in 2009 originated from North America, indicating a high usage pattern among  iOS/Android device users. Users of iPhones and Android devices are more likely to download applications.

Piecing together some more data points on  iOS and Android, specifically app stores’ ease of use, application discovery and the multi-touch experience, reveals an important point; for application developers the addressable market that matters is not just the installed base. While iOS and Android have limited deployments compared to the incumbent platforms, they are indeed ahead of the curve in terms of download share, usage share and ease of use – which explains the developer perception of large market share for iOS and Android. Hence, perceived market penetration should be interpreted as app usage and download share penetration.

It is still fun to code, but money-making rules
Looking at technical reasons that mobile developers consider important when selecting a platform, what sticks out as the favourite reason is “quick to code and prototype”. Moreover, Android, Mobile Web and Flash Lite seem to have the shortest learning curve while Android enjoys the shortest development time.

Developers still consider fun and coding speed as important even if developer mindshare is turning towards the appeal of monetization and reaching a large audience. The technical reasons for selecting a platform seem to be gradually becoming a less important selection criterion. However, developer responses are blurred by ‘soft values’ which affect the answers to the question “What is important”.

A study we did at Ericsson Labs argues that developers, these pioneers of mobile application development, can roughly be grouped into four categories. The answers to the question “What is most important” will be very different between these groups. One developer group has very strong opinions about open-source, another group are mainly focused on a good return on investment, a third group are attracted by the lowest possible barriers to entry and the last group try to keep one hand in every cookie jar.

Future building blocks of mobile applications
In general, mobile web development within an HTML5 browser or web runtime is promising when it comes to market penetration, ease-of-use and cross platform support. At the same time, the VisionMobile study shows several pain-points with mobile web technologies compared to native applications, namely issues with development environments, device API support and UI creation.

We will probably see both environments (native and web) used by developers in the future, both served by app stores and other discovery mechanisms. One could assume that the web runtime will fare better than previous cross-platform initiatives (J2ME, Flash Lite) since there is a large community developing to the web runtime (as opposed to single companies).

Untapped opportunities in developer support
VisionMobile’s study hints at the market gaps in developer support offerings. Developers are most willing to pay for access to hidden APIs – clearly a monetisation opportunity for platform vendors. Premium access to APIs can be delivered by device vendors as a point of differentiation, but it will run counter to cross-device application support of the platform. To achieve both depth of API reach and breadth of cross-device support, we need standards – which interestingly enough are not so important for developers, as VisionMobile’s study reveals.

Finally, VisionMobile suggests that developers use non-vendor sites and developer communities most often for tech support – examples being  Slashdot, Stackoverflow, Daniweb, anddev.org and the Chinese dev site csdn.net. At the same time, our study at Ericsson Labs also found that the main tool developers use for tech support is still regular search engines across tech support or developer communities.

Concluding remarks
All in all, the new VisionMobile report analyses most areas of interest for those who need to understand the developer experience. The knowledge of the developer experience using these ‘first wave’ platforms (what the report refers to as “the Renaissance period”) for mobile application development and marketing is crucial in order to guide the development of future platforms.

–  Tor Björn
follow me at @ericssonlabs.

Full report is available for free download, thanks to the kind sponsorship of Telefonica Developer Communities. You can follow Telefonica Developer Communities through their blog.

Are you a mobile app developer? Want to participate in the next mobile developer research and voice your own opinions on mobile development? Fill out the registration form & we’ll be in touch.

[Tor Björn is head of Ericsson Labs with 25 years experience in mobile multimedia & applications]

Mobile Developer Economics: Taking Applications to Market

[In part 2 of the 4-part series on our latest research – Mobile Developer Economics 2010 and Beyond – Andreas Constantinou looks at how effectively have app stores have reduced the time-to-market for applications and the five key challenges for mobile developers today in taking apps to market. Full research report available for free download or see part 1 of the blog series on the migration of developer mindshare].
The article is also available in Chinese.


If there’s a single reason for the mass-entrance of developers into the mobile market, it is app stores. We view app stores as direct developer-to-consumer channels, i.e. commercial conduits that streamline the submission, pricing, distribution and retailing of applications to consumers. For a breakdown of key ingredients in the app store recipe, see our Mobile Megatrends 2010 report. App stores have streamlined the route to market for mobile applications, a route that was previously laden with obstacles, such as lack of information, complex submission and certification processes, low revenue shares and regional fragmentation.

Despite the hype, there is sporadic use of app stores outside the Apple and Android platforms. Our survey of 400+ mobile developers found that only four percent of Java respondents used App Stores as their primary channel to market. Windows Phone and mobile web developers find app stores little more relevant, with fewer than 10 percent of such respondents using one as a primary channel for taking applications to market.

This contrasts completely with platforms that have ‘native’ app stores. Over 95 percent of iPhone respondents use the Apple App Store as their primary channel, while the percentage of Android respondents using Android Market is just below 90.

In terms of the incumbent mobile platforms, around 75 percent of Symbian respondents that use app stores, use the Nokia Ovi Store. The significant number (20-25 percent) of Symbian developers who also use iPhone and Android app stores reveals the brain-drain that is taking place towards these newer platforms. This is a particularly critical migration of developer mindshare, considering that the Symbian platform is the hardest to master. Thus, the size of developer investments on Symbian being written off is substantial.

Besides the growth of apps, app stores are the cornerstone of another major transformation that has taken place in the mobile industry: the mass-market use of mobile as the next marketing channel beyond the Internet. We would argue that it was app stores that triggered the influx of apps – not the open source nature of Android, or the consumer sex appeal of the iPhone.

App stores triggered the sheer growth in app numbers and diversity that led to the cliché, “there’s an app for that”. Another cliché, “the screen is the app,” tells the other half of the story. Combined, the app store and touchscreen were the two essential ingredients behind mobile apps as the next mass-market channel beyond the Internet. These two ingredients inspired just about every media and service company to commission companion or revenue-driven apps as extensions to their traditional online channels. In effect, this phenomenon fueled the app economy, even beyond what app store numbers alone suggest.

Speeding up time to market
App stores have revolutionised time to market for applications. To research exactly how radically the time to market for applications has changed since the introduction of app stores, we analysed two parameters:
– the time to shelf, i.e. how long it takes from submitting an application to that application being available for purchase
– the time to payment, i.e. the length of time between an application being sold and the proceeds reaching the developer’s bank account

Our findings show that app stores have reduced the average time-to-shelf by two thirds: from 68 days across traditional channels, to 22 days via an app store. These traditional channels have been suffering from long, proprietary and fragmented processes of application certification, approval, targeting and pricing, all of which need to be established via one-to-one commercial agreements. Moreover, app stores have reduced the time-to-payment by more than half; from 82 days on average in the case of traditional channels, to 36 days on average with app stores.

The bigger picture that emerges is that the developer’s choice of platform impacts the time-to-market for applications, i.e. the length of time from completing an application to getting the first revenues in. The iOS platform is fastest to go to market with, particularly thanks to Apple’s streamlined App Store process, while Java ME and Symbian are the slowest, due to the sluggishness of the traditional routes to market used by these developers (in particular via commissioned apps and own- website downloads).

Challenges with taking applications to market
Application distribution may be going through a renaissance period that began in 2008, with the direct-to-consumer model pioneered by Apple’s App Store. However, taking applications to market is still plagued with numerous teething problems, as is typical with nascent technology. There are four recurring issues reported by developers: app exposure, app submission (and certification), low revenue share and the challenges with app localisation. A fifth challenge (and untapped opportunity) is the efficient, crowd-sourced testing of mobile apps by real users.

Challenge 1. Application exposure
Our survey found the number one issue for mobile developers to be the lack of effective marketing channels to increase application exposure, discovery and therefore customer acquisition. This was an issue mostly for Flash and iPhone developers, followed by Symbian, Android and Java ME developers. Developers reported persistent challenges with getting traffic, customer visibility or in short “being seen”. One developer put it succinctly: “It’s like going to a record store with 200,000 CDs. You’ll only look at the top-10.”

The exposure bottleneck is new in mobile, but an age-old problem in fast moving consumer goods (FMCG). With such large volumes of applications in stock, app stores are taking on the role of huge supermarkets or record stores. As in any FMCG market, app developers have to invest in promoting their products above the noise, because supermarkets won’t.

Our research shows that in 2010, developers are relatively unsophisticated in marketing their applications. More than half of developers surveyed use free demos and a variety of social media, i.e. the ‘de facto’ techniques for application promotion. Other techniques cited were magazines and influencing analysts or journalists, while promotion through tradeshows was also deemed popular among a fifth of respondents. Less than 30 percent of respondents invest in traditional marketing media such as online advertising or professional PR services.

When asked about what type of marketing support they would be willing to pay for, our survey found half of respondents willing to pay for premium app store placement. This willingness varies greatly by platform, however; developers whose platform features a ‘native’ app store (iPhone, Android and to a lesser extent Symbian) are almost twice as likely to pay for premium app store placement, compared with developers whose platforms do not (Java and mobile web) as well as Windows Phone. This finding indicates that direct-to- consumer distribution channels are necessarily crowded and therefore developers will be willing to pay a premium to be able to stand out from the crowd – much like how FMCG brands pay for premium shelf space in supermarkets.

Yet with free applications being the norm, developers have to become more creative with promotion and advertising; free applications make up more than half of the Android Market catalogue and 25 percent of the Apple App Store catalogue, according to different reports by Distimo and AndroLib.

There are two types of solutions emerging to cover the market gap of application promotional services. Firstly, there are app discovery and recommendation startups (e.g. Apppopular, Appolicious, Appsfire, Apprupt, Chorus, Mplayit and Yappler), which help users discover applications based on their past preferences or on explicit recommendations from the user’s social circle. Secondly, there are white label app store providers like Ericsson that are moving to app mall (shop-in-shop) infrastructure. App malls will allow the creation of 1,000s of application mini-stores, each targeted to niche sub-segments, much like Amazon mini-stores.

However, the gap in application marketing services is widening in 2010 due to the rapid growth in application volume, which is outpacing the appearance of app discovery and recommendation solutions. We believe that application marketing and retailing services remain the biggest opportunity in mobile applications today.

Challenge 2. Application submission and certification.
Application submission and certification are two of the top four challenges for mobile developers, according to our survey. Overall, the most important issue related to certification that was raised by nearly 40 percent of respondents is its cost. In some cases, developers report that the certification cost rises to a few hundred dollars per app certification (not per app). Such economics do not work for low-cost apps, but only for mega-application productions. Java developers, for example, report that Java Signed is impractical; developers have to purchase separate certificates based on the certificate authority installed on the handset – and certificates are expensive.

Challenge 3. Dubious long-tail economics
The mobile app economy is nothing short of hyped from the successes that have come into the limelight – the $1m per month brought in by the Tap Tap Revenge social app, or the $125K in monthly ad revenues reported by BackFlip Studios on their Paper Toss app. Yet the economics for long-tail developers – i.e. the per-capita profit for the average developer – remain dubious at best.

At least 25 percent of Symbian, Flash, Windows Phone and Java ME respondents reported low revenue share as one of the key go-to-market challenges. Most app stores are still playing catch-up to Apple in terms of the revenue share they are paying out to the developer. As one developer put it, “There has been a bastardisation of the 70/30 rule which has been mis-marketed by app stores; for example with Ovi Store, where operators often get 50 percent of the retail price, so developers gets 70 percent [of the remainder]”. Unsurprisingly, the revenue share was not a major challenge for iPhone or BlackBerry respondents.

Moreover, less than 25 percent of respondents stated that revenue potential was one of the best factors of their platform; on average revenue potential ranked last among “best aspects” of each platform, showing how mobile software development is still plagued by poor monetisation in 2010.

The dubious long-tail economics are reinforced by our findings on developer revenue expectations. Only five percent of the respondents reported very good revenues, above their expectations, while 24 percent said their revenues were poor. Note that we didn’t poll for absolute revenues, because of the discrepancies across regions, different revenue models and distance of developers from revenue reporting. At the same time, there is a general consensus of optimism; 27 percent of respondents said that their revenues were as projected, while another 36 percent said they should be reaching their revenue targets.

There are two effects at play that make for poor long-tail economics. Firstly, the number of ‘garage developers’ who are creating apps for fun or peer recognition but not money; and secondly, the noise created by the ‘app crowd’ which prompts developers to drop prices in order to rise to the top of their pack.

There are also platform-specific effects: the unpredictability of revenues, in the case of the Apple’s pick-and-choose culture for featured apps; and, the limitations of paid app support for Android, where paid applications are only available to users in 13 countries out of 46 countries where Android Market is available, as of June 2010. Android has also been jokingly called a “download, buy, and return business”, referring to how you can get a refund for any paid Android application without stating a reason within 24 hours of purchase – a policy that allows many users to exploit the system. In addition, the applications that are published on Android market are not curated by Google, resulting in 100s of applications that are low quality or are infringing copyright, thereby making it harder for quality, paid apps to make money. Even in economically healthier ecosystems like Apple’s App Store, a standalone developer can hope to sell in total an average of 1,000-2,000 copies of an application at an average price of $1.99, which is barely justifying the many man- months of effort that it takes to develop a mobile application by today’s standards.

We maintain that the monetisation potential for the long tail of apps won’t be realised until effective policies are put in place to curtail the adoption of free apps – for example by enforcing a minimum $0.01 app price. Psychology experiments have proven time and time again how our perception of value is distorted when the price drops to zero. It is time for app store owners to borrow from cognitive psychology to help boost the long-tail developer economy, rather than compete on number of downloads.

Challenge 4. Localisation.
Another issue highlighted was the lack of localised apps. One developer said characteristically, “There is a big problem for developers in markets with low penetration of English as a second language. Since the platforms are poorly adjusted to localisation, the costs of development grow and thus profitability and attractiveness [drop]. It would be great to see platforms that take action towards easing the challenge of localisation.” The lack of localised apps for non-English markets is exacerbated for Android. A search on AndroLib reveals that out of the approximately 60,000 apps on Android Market, there are only about 1,400 apps localised in Spanish and only 1,800 localised in French, as of early June 2010.

The lack of localised apps on Android presents the number one opportunity for alternative app stores like SlideMe, AndAppStore and Mobihand, i.e. to attract communities of regional app developers, or to facilitate localisation of apps to different languages – in other words, to reach where Android Market doesn’t reach.

Challenge 5: Application planning and testing
Application planning and testing is a core part of taking an application to market. Our research confirms that planning techniques are near-ubiquitous for application developers. Yet, small development firms have limited means today to beta test and peer review their applications with a cross- section of representative users. Given the hundreds of thousands of mobile apps, we believe that efficient (crowd-sourced) testing of apps in a global market of users is considerably under-utilized. This presents an opportunity for the few solution providers in this segment – Mob4Hire and uTest.com, for example – but also for network operators, who can generate a channel for testing applications with end users, and provide an open feedback support system back to developers. Overall though, the need of mobile developers to have their apps tested cost-effectively by real users around the world is very much under-served.

Looking forward to your comments. Later this week, we’ll look at the next chapter in our research on the building blocks of mobile applications. Stay tuned or, better yet, subscribe to the blog.

Full report is available for free download, thanks to the kind sponsorship of Telefonica Developer Communities. You can follow Telefonica Developer Communities through their blog.

Are you a mobile app developer? Want to participate in the next mobile developer research and voice your own opinions on mobile development? Fill out the registration form & we’ll be in touch.

– Andreas
you should follow me on twitter: @andreascon

Mobile Developer Economics 2010: The migration of developer mindshare

[In part 1 of the 4-part series on our latest research – Mobile Developer Economics 2010 and Beyond – Andreas Constantinou looks at the migration of developer mindshare that is taking place in mobile software and the drivers behind that. Full research report available for free download]
The article is also available in Chinese.


Software has played a critical role in transforming the mobile industry since the beginning of the century. Since 2008, mobile software and applications have moved from the sphere of cryptic engineering lingo to part of the essential marketing playbook for mobile industry vendors.

In stock market terms, developer mindshare is one of the hottest “commodities” in the mobile business, one whose “stock price” has ballooned in the last two years. Platform vendors, handset OEMs, network operators, hardware vendors, and infrastructure providers all want to contribute to mobile apps innovation. Mobile players, from hardware vendors and handset OEMs to networks, are now vying to win software developer mindshare, in order to add value on top of their devices and networks. But how is the landscape of mobile developer mindshare looking today?

Our new report Mobile Developer Economics 2010 and Beyond, offers many new insights into mobile developer mindshare, and analysis into every touch point of the developer journey, from platform selection to monetisation. The research is based on a set of benchmarks and a survey across 400+ developers globally, segmented into 8 major platforms: iOS (iPhone), Android, Symbian, BlackBerry, Java ME, Windows Phone, Flash Lite, and mobile web.

In terms of developer mindshare, our research shows that Symbian and Java ME, which dominated the developer mindshare pool until 2008, have been superceded by the Android and iPhone platforms. Despite Symbian remaining in the pole position in terms of smartphone market penetration, ‘out-shipping’ iPhone 4 to 1 and Android many-times to 1, the signs of dissatisfaction with the way the Symbian platform has evolved have long been evident.

Indeed Android stands out as the top platform according to developer experience, with close to 60 percent of developers having recently developed on Android, assuming an equal number of developers with experience on each of eight major platforms. iOS (iPhone) follows closely as the next most popular platform, outranking both Symbian and Java ME, which until 2008 were in pole position.

In the last two years, a mindshare migration has taken place for mobile developers away from the incumbent platforms Symbian, Java ME and Windows Phone, while a substantial number of PC software developers have flocked to iPhone and Android. The large minority (20-25 percent) of Symbian respondents who sell their apps via iPhone and Android app stores reveals the brain-drain that is taking place towards these newer platforms. The vast majority of Java ME respondents have lost faith in the write-once-run-anywhere vision. Moreover, anecdotal developer testimonials suggest that half of Windows Phone MVP developers (valued for their commitment to the platform) carry an iPhone and would think twice before re-investing in Windows Phone. We should also point out the exodus of some influential developers from the Symbian camp, as is the case with the closing of Symbian-Guru.com, one of the leading community sites related to the platform, whose founder moved to adopt Android.

The disparity between devices and applications

One of the most telling clues about the speed of evolution of the new vs old platforms is the great disparity between the device installed base and the number of available apps for each platform. While Windows Phone, Symbian, Java and Flash have many times the market penetration of Android, iPhone and BlackBerry, the number of apps available tells a very different story.

The two platforms that best illustrate the above point are Java ME and iOS (iPhone). Java ME boasts an installed base of a staggering 3 billion, while the actual number of apps is very low by comparison. The iOS platform on the other hand is available in just over 60 million devices (not including iPods/iPads) but its app store contains more than 250K apps at this time, a number that will climb even higher in the foreseeable future.

The disparity is also pronounced in cross-platform runtimes i.e. Java ME and Flash Lite. This flies in the face the traditional common sense, i.e. that cross-platform runtimes are the way forward, when the number of apps available for those platforms are tiny in comparison. The recent Apple vs Adobe rift and the subsequent banning of Flash from all iProducts has only weakened Adobe’s position. In parallel Sun has launched half-hearted attempts at reducing fragmentation, the number one Java ME pain point, while the Oracle take over is only worsening the problem.

Choosing a mobile platform – facts and perceptions

Most developers work on multiple platforms, on average 2.8 platforms per developer, based on our sample of 400 respondents (although note that 60% of respondents had more than 3 years of experience). Moreover, one in five iPhone and Android respondents release apps in both the Apple App Store and Android Market.

The question is: in a market crowded with software platforms, how do developers choose between iOS, Android, Symbian, Java ME, BlackBerry, Flash, Windows Phone, mobile web, WebOS or Samsung Bada? For today’s mobile developer, market penetration and revenue potential are hands down the two most important reasons for selecting a platform.

Large market penetration was chosen by 75 percent of respondents across each of the eight major platforms we surveyed. Revenue potential was the second most important reason, chosen by over half of respondents. In fact, market penetration and revenue potential were more important than any single technical reason for selecting a platform, revealing how mobile developers today are savvy about the economic implications of mobile development.

The preference of marketing over technical reasons signifies a turn in the developer mindset. Developers no longer see programming fun as a sufficient reward in itself, but consider monetisation opportunities as a primary priority. It seems that, mobile developers now have a sense of commercial pragmatism. As commented by one of our developer respondents, “Technical considerations are irrelevant. The choice of platform is always marketing-driven”.

Looking forward to your comments. Next week, we’ll look at the next chapter in our research on taking apps to market. Stay tuned or ,better yet, subscribe to the blog.

Full report is available for free download, thanks to the kind sponsorship of Telefonica Developer Communities. You can follow Telefonica Developer Communities through their blog.

Are you a mobile app developer? Want to participate in the next mobile developer research and voice your own opinions on mobile development? Fill out the registration form & we’ll be in touch.

– Andreas
you should follow me on twitter: @andreascon

Lead, innovate or assemble: three choices for handset OEMs as mobile starts to look like the PC industry

[Android has triggered more changes to the mobile industry than anyone had imagined. Research Director, Andreas Constantinou looks at the profound changes taking place and how the handset OEM market is shaping up].

Mobile industry connoisseurs used to smirk at the notion that the mobile industry was any similar to the PC world. How can the two industries be any similar when the software, services, channels to market, operator control, regional economics, and range of experiences were all so different.

This is so last decade. The march of software has irreversibly changed the economics of value in the mobile industry. Google’s Android and Apple’s iPhone have caused disruptions that threw all analyst predictions off the chart. Industry pundits used to project a linear growth for ‘open’ operating systems (Symbian, Windows Mobile et al) that saw them take over an increasingly large share of mobile handsets sold.

But the evolution of software has been anything but linear in the last two years; Google’s Android, an operating system that was greeted with skepticism in 2008 become a launchpad for just about everyone working within the mobile industry.

Network operators/carriers saw Android as an opportunity to reduce their dependency on two players, Apple and RIM whose stellar sales were depriving operators from any negotiating power. Operators have always tried to divide and conquer amongst their suppliers, for example working in 2002 with HTC and Windows Mobile to reduce their dependency on Nokia, or in 2007 using a three-pronged OS strategy (WinMo, Symbian, Linux) to reduce their dependency on Microsoft. Android allows operators to deliver iPhone or BlackBerry –like devices at much higher levels of customisation and at much lower subsidies.

Handset OEMs saw in Android the opportunity to develop iPhone clones at less-than-iPhone prices for operator customers. In 2008-9 most Android projects were kicked off by operators, while in 2010 OEMs are investing in Android big-time. LG and Samsung, who used legacy real-time OSes for 90% of their high-end phones in 2009 have now 10s of Android projects in the pipeline for 2010-11.

Software developers saw the opportunity to enter the mobile ecosystem of downloadable apps – in the role model set by Apple’s App Store – in the most approachable and developer-friendly platform ever created for mobile.

But the biggest changes are yet to appear.

Android has triggered a mass arrival of 10s of ODMs from China and Taiwan eager to create me-too touch-screen handsets. Qualcomm and Mediatek, the chipset vendors powering the majority of feature phones today have launched or preparing to introduce out-of-the-box Android designs that reduce the time to market for Android handsets to 6-9 months (or circa 3 months once Mediatek’s design hits the market). Platform development for Android has dropped to the $300 per engineer-day mark, while big outsourced development centers are being set up in Asia dedicated to Android handset development. All these developments will allow Android touch-screen handsets to hit the €150 mark retail price.

The new world order: Lead, innovate or assemble.
The developments triggered by Android have made it possible to replicate the economics of the PC industry, leaving mobile industry insiders dumbfounded. Last decade’s rules and role models no longer apply. Instead there are three role models emerging for handset manufacturers in the world of commoditised software: leaders, innovators and assemblers.

Assemblers. Dozens of contract manufacturers can now take Android and deliver fully-featured, high-end handsets at made-to-measure requirements, but at price points and wow-factors only enjoyed previously by top-5 manufacturers. Think iPhone me-too experience at €150 retail price.

Innovators. The price pressure from assemblers will force the top-5 OEMs to innovate-or-die. With the innovation moving out of the pure user interface domain, widgets or touch innovations or no longer the ‘wow’ factor. To claim higher prices at €300 (and a respectable margin above the BOM) the top-10 OEMs will have to innovate.

Handset innovation lies in three elements: firstly, novel industrial design (think Nokia’s ‘listick’ or sports handsets of 2006) that will break the boring mould of today’s form factors and plastics. Secondly, novel use of sensors that will enable user interactions only imagined so far. Thirdly, use of shelf space within the commonly used applications (idle screen, menus, browser chrome, app store) to promote and monetise from third party content. Yet innovation will have to be balanced with application compatibility. Already we ‘ve seen how Android implementations have created fragmentation headaches for developers.

Leaders. To reach the top-tier of handset pricing (circa €500) handset manufacturers have to deliver new product experiences. This is the privilege enjoyed by Apple, RIM (and Amazon Kindle to an extent) who have integrated hardware, software and services under the same roof. You can buy Mediatek-powered iPhone clones in China (Shanzai in local speak) for $75, but the experience is laughable to an iPhone user. Only by controlling and integrating hardware, software and services under the same roof can a manufacturer deliver new product experiences that can command top-tier retail prices.

Mass producers. Naturally, emerging markets where retail prices are at circa €50 make up the majority of the mobile handset market – at least revenue wise. And while assemblers can produce low-cost devices, they won’t have the economies of scale to make a profit at €50 retail price. Mass producers, i.e. companies with the supply chain sophistication and negotiating power of Nokia and Mediatek can do that.

The picture that emerges for the mobile handset market in 2015 (the predictable future) is surprising in many ways. We estimate that the top 5% of the market will command as much revenue as the bottom 50%, but with a higher profit – for example Apple and RIM today bring in around 55% of the industry’s profits. The middle two segments (what some observers call mass-market smartphones) will generate much higher revenues.

The mobile industry is starting to look scarily close to the PC industry, both in terms of business models and profit vs revenue patterns.

What do readers think? Is the PC future for mobile inescapable?

– Andreas
you should follow me on twitter: @andreascon