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First to market or first to create an ecosystem?

By on February 24, 2011

First come, first served?

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It was always said, be first to market and you carry an advantage over your competitors. This is why we’d always see companies looking to innovate as the common belief was that if you were first, you had the greatest chance gain market share.

This is certainly a philosophy that companies like Intel follow, which is where Moore’s Law (which said you should double the number of transistors on a processor chip within every two years) originated. This obsession to be first to market at times has meant that someone has gained total market share overnight. However, it has also meant that we’ve some absolutely horrible products which have been released or that products were released that weren’t quite fully though through as there wasn’t much use for them yet.

Being in an integrated, connected world as we are in today, it has become more about the ecosystem that exists around the product than the actual product itself. The classic case is smartphones. The fact that RIM has built a closed ecosystem (which was only strengthened by having their killer App – BlackBerry Messenger), has meant that unless you’re able to penetrate RIM’s ecosystem, as a rival smartphone manufacturer, you aren’t able to grab market share.

The same goes with Apple. Apple weren’t the first to market a smartphone or a tablet. What Apple did do was be the first to create a fully integrated ecosystem that revolved around iTunes and its content distribution system. Once you’re a part of the ecosystem, there isn’t much room to move around. Ask an Apple iPhone user to move to an Android device and often times they stumble, just because they don’t want to exit the Apple ecosystem. This is also precisely why the hordes of tablets from unknown brands that are being marketed today have failed.

Sony also did the same in the television business when they re-emerged with LCD TV’s. Sony was in fact a late entrant into LCD TV’s and never really figured in the plasma TV business. Sony’s main business was still CRT and projection TV’s when most of the industry had already started investing in newer and better technologies. Sharp was the global leader in LCD TV’s, with Samsung, LG and Philips also in the race. With the launch of Sony’s Bravia, things changed over-night and Sony was well ahead. Bravia wasn’t just a brand name, but Bravia became a part of everything Sony did. Everything connected to or was linked with Bravia. Concepts such as high definition or HD capture and output became synonymous with Sony. The same is the case now with 3D, though the success of this hasn’t been quite what we expected just yet. By creating the Bravia ecosystem, Sony had essentially transformed a category of products and made it its own. The main downfall for Sony came from the fact that they had supply restrictions and the fact that the likes of Samsung had invested much more aggressively in manufacturing facilities meant they eventually lost their number one spot to Samsung. While Sony’s ecosystem helped it become number one, it wasn’t a unique ecosystem and very quickly Sony’s competitors learned they be a part of the ecosystem.

Another example where Sony got the ecosystem versus having the product first to market was when they launched the original Sony PlayStation. This was back in the mid 1990′s, when the gaming console market was largely dominated by Nintendo and Sega. Sega was in the midst of launching their Sega Saturn console in 1995, months before Sony could get their first PlayStation out for sale. Sega, being an incumbent, should’ve had the upper-hand but failed in that they launched at a higher price than Sony but apart from that, they didn’t have as many games ready at launch time, which immediately diluted the impact the Sega Saturn could have. Sony for their part launched the PlayStation with a plethora of games and ensured their ecosystem was robust, despite being a late entrant.

Today the gaming industry works on this ecosystem and this is why Sony, having realized they fell slightly behind the curve, is investing in Android gaming devices like the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play and is rumoured to be developing an Android-based tablet for gaming. Sony is not restricting this gaming experience to just tablets and smartphones, but the successor to the PlayStation Portable (PSP) for now called NGP, will also be running on Android.

Amazon’s Kindle is yet another example of how the ecosystem matters. Amazon weren’t the first ones to launch an e-book reader, but what they did do was integrate it with their content library better than anyone else did and just to ensure they’ve created enough stickiness for themselves, they’ve gone one step further and made sure that tablets like Apple’s iPad are also compatible with their ecosystem.

All too often though, brands get lost in specifications and lose sight of the bigger picture. There was a time when most manufacturers of DVD players and televisions were fighting to ensure they could guarantee the highest quality playback when little did they realize, most consumers weren’t watch such high quality content but were rather watching MPEG or AVI files that they downloaded from the Internet. Immediately, most manufacturers started bringing out TV’s or DVD players that could playback DivX files either of a CD, DVD or USB drive. This took a big mind shift for top manufacturers as the thinking was initially that if you make your products incompatible with pirated content, fewer consumers will buy pirated content. It ended up being the other way around, fewer people bought their televisions or DVD’s from the brands that were trying to stop pirated content from being viewed. Today, you’ll find nearly all the top brand names have products that can playback pirated content, else they risked further market share.

Having the best specs on a smartphone or tablet means little if you can’t download any Apps for it. Having the sound output from an MP3 player means little if you download your content onto it. Having the best quality 3D playback means little if there is no 3D content or broadcasting in your region.

The ecosystem needs to be there if a product is to do well. Nokia have learned this the hard way and are now changing themselves. This is also precisely why we see everyone looking to market the fact that their product can connect to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter or Flickr for example. Without this connectivity to these ecosystems, it becomes very difficult to sell your product, no matter how good your specs are so the next time you shop, think about ecosystem you want to be a part of and if your products allow you to be a part of this.


Why are mobile phones limited to one operating system?

By on February 20, 2011

Less is not more.

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Imagine if you bought a PC and could only use Windows XP on it. You couldn’t change the operating system without voiding the warranty on your PC. You couldn’t simply upgrade to Windows 7 or even Linux. For that, you would have to buy a whole new PC and throw away the old one that you paid thousands of Dirhams for. Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? So, why do mobile phone manufacturers get away with it?

Considering phones these days are as powerful as PCs were a few years ago, would it not make sense for manufacturers to go the DIY way simply selling hardware and allowing users to pick their choice of operating systems? Imagine a world where phones are no longer restricted by operating systems – you could pick whichever one you like and if you picked one that you didn’t like, you could simply switch to another.

A few weeks ago my colleague Abbas posted a blog piece about the HTC HD2 (Leo) and the fact that you could easily hack it to run any operating system including Windows Mobile Phone, Android, Meego and even Linux. This led me to get a hold of another HD2 and the experience has been quite liberating.

I used the dual boot to switch between operating systems when I liked to and had access to all the facilities the different operating systems could afford. It was mobile nirvana.

I’ll concede that I have no hopes of ever running Blackberry’s OS or the iOS on the phone but it was certainly refreshing to have a choice.

Hopefully, with mobile phones going the way of the PC, one day we will all get access to a choice of operating systems and not be limited to just one per phone.


The end of Nokia? Or a new beginning?

By on February 12, 2011

Will using Windows Mobile give Nokia the boost it has been looking for?

A LOT has been written about the new partnership between Nokia and Microsoft with many analysts seeing it as though Nokia has signed their death warrant. I beg to differ.

Nokia was already on life-support as far as Symbian is concerned. I reviewed their N8 and C7 some time back- both fantastic devices but crippled by an OS that was nowhere near what the current leading phones come equipped with.

Nokia had to jump ship from Symbian as as their new CEO Stephen Elop pointed out, Meego was to far away to rescue them. The only options they had were Android and Windows Phone 7. As much as I wanted Nokia to switch to Android, I think choosing Windows 7 was a smarter move.

I have yet to receive a Windows Phone 7 equipped device from Microsoft officially to give a proper hands on but that hasn’t stopped me from trying out Windows Phone 7 on my HD2 and I must say that I was thoroughly impressed- even by a hacked and slashed method.

Unlike other OSes that were trying to find gold copying iOS (Android included), Windows Phone 7 feels incredibly fresh. Its also the newest OS allowing developers to look and learn from the pitfalls of iOs, Android and WebOS. Back that by the tremendous resources that Microsoft has at hand and you’re looking at a serious player in the longer run. Yes, it doesn’t offer many features that some of the above mentioned OSes do, but let it mature- its only on its first iteration at the moment.

Choosing Android would have meant that Nokia would have had to compete against a new player almost every month. And the openness of Android would have made it hard for Nokia to stand out amongst the countless skins and themes available for the Android platform- many of them really good such as MiUi and HTC Sense. However, with Windows Phone 7, Nokia has the exclusivity of being the only manufacturer to customize the look and feel of the OS. It will help Nokia differentiate itself from the already very few players supporting Windows Phone 7.

In fact, I have a feeling that Samsung and LG will probably focus more on their Android handsets than Windows Phone 7 and HTC might end up dividing their limited resources between the thus slowing development. This will leave Nokia in the lead with Windows Phone 7 and with their incredible hardware designs and Microsoft’s development resources, this will be one relationship that is probably already causing CEOs of competing organizations re-strategizing.


How not to deal with a critical review

By on February 10, 2011

Benihana Kuwait demonstrates how companies should not deal with bloggers.

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The problem with being a critic is that people don’t always like what you have to say, even if you are being honest – or in a lot of cases, especially if you are being honest. Often when we write a critical review, it results in people taking offence. In mild situations, it usually involves a phone call from the company to ask us if they have done something to offend us or in more interesting cases, if we have taken a bribe to write bad things about them. In more extreme cases, companies refuse to advertise with us on account of something we have written and stop dealing with us altogether. The worst thing that can happen though is that you get sued or issued threats for what you’ve written.

What companies don’t realize though is that one surefire way to commit media suicide is to publically issue threats against writers or bloggers. It’s a bit like heckling a comedian during a stand up act – you know you’re not going to win. He has the crowd behind him and the mic and you’re just a tiny voice in comparison. The situation gets worse a hundred fold if you’re in the wrong.

A couple of weeks ago, Benihana Kuwait issued a lawsuit against Mark Makhoul who runs the 248am.com blog, one of the most popular blogs in Kuwait. It started with Mark visiting Benihana in Kuwait and having an unpleasant experience. He writes about it in his blog here. As any good reviewer, he voices his opinion on what he thinks is good and bad about the restaurant. As a critic, I have to say it’s a rather mild review and not overly harsh. However, the GM of Benihana Kuwait takes offence to it and replies with a threat to sue the blogger.

Mark’s blog has a decent readership. If Benihana Kuwait had not issued a lawsuit, it would have probably been read by a few hundred people and be dismissed as just another food review. However, thanks to the lawsuit, the review and Mark’s website has reached millions of people across Twitter, newspapers, websites, radio and TV. In fact, the first thing you now see on a Google search for “Benihana Kuwait” is information about the lawsuit. What was once a molehill of a slightly critical review is now a mountain of a social media disaster.

The Benihana Kuwait disaster will certainly go down as an important case study in social media books. Hopefully, it will serve as a reminder of how not to handle a critical review.


My other eight hours

By on January 31, 2011

Separating work and leisure time.

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Eight hours of my life are spent sleeping and the other eight hours are spent at work. That leaves me with about eight hours of my life left for myself. These I call my other eight hours.

Call me old but I still fondly remember a time when my other eight hours would be time to myself where I could put all my work away and do the more important things in life – spend time with the family, go for a walk or read a book.

Over the years though, the lines between these hours have blurred a bit and the separation between work time and playtime has become less apparent. It isn’t just me though, it’s a similar trend with most people these days. Think about it… how much time do you spend now at work checking your Facebook messages? And on the flipside, how much time do you spend at home looking at your work emails? How much time have you spent playing minesweeper in the office? And how much time have you spent on conference calls from home?

Are mobile phones to blame for this? Or is it the Internet? Or is it just that we now have a much looser definition of time and when to do things?

Productivity gurus will tell you that it’s very important to separate these things. For instance, the biggest problem with people who work from home is that their mind often cannot separate entertainment areas with work areas. For example, if you work from home, you’ll be more prone to slack off and watch the telly than if you were in an office environment.

So then are we less productive if we mix work and play? Probably. You’ll have to excuse me now though; those mines are not going to sweep themselves.


Liberating your Smartphone

By on January 19, 2011

With Smartphones becoming more like computers, why restrict them to one OS.

Smartphones are wonderful devices, but more than that, is the community that tries to extract that extra bit of functionality from them that many manufacturers don’t allow us. For example, Jailbreaking the iPhone allows me to run SBS and LockInfo, two great tools that Apple won’t allow me. Similarly rooting my Android handset lets me take screenshots from the device or enable Arabic on a non-Arabic phone.

But thats not what I want to talk about today. My subject for today is the device that HTC released as HD2 but one that is lovingly called Leo in the xda-developers community. Leo was released over a year back but its specs can still put many Smartphones released last week to shame. It has a 4.3″ WVGA LCD screen, a 1GHz Snapdragon processor, 512MB or 1024MB flash ROM and all the other usual trimmings of a modern day high-end Smartphone. Since its over a year old, you can probably pick one up from the second hand market real cheap. I managed to get mine from dubizzle for just a 1000 Dirhams (US$270). This was a T-Mobile US version which has 1024MB ROM and comes with a 16GB MicroSD card. There were some at souq.com as well for around 1300 Dirhams. That little money for that kind of hardware is really a steel and I encourage any enthusiast to pick one up.

So you might ask why I picked up a unit that comes equipped with the aging Windows Mobile 6.5 operating system. Well, thanks to a bunch of wonderful guys at xda-developers.com, the Leo has become more of a computer than a mobile phone allowing you to run many different operating systems on it and not just the one installed by HTC. Other that Windows Mobile 6.5, you can easily run v2.3 Gingerbread of Android as well as Microsoft’s latest Windows Phone 7 OS. With a little more time and effort, the Leo can also run MeeGo and Ubuntu. That is the reason I picked up the HTC HD2.

If you know what you are doing, installing these Operating Systems is not that hard. I bought the phone with Windows Mobile 6.5 pre-installed but I really wanted to test Windows Phone 7 so that is exactly what I did. The whole process took about an hour and my Leo is now sporting Microsoft’s latest mobile OS. Obviously, there are few things that are not yet working such as the Marketplace but overall the unit is running beautifully. In fact, I’m really liking Windows Phone 7 and thinking of buying an official device. I wouldn’t have done that had it not been for Leo and the xda-developers community showing me the way.


If only my phone could do this

By on January 17, 2011

All about Berries and Pomegranates.

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Last week, our deputy editor suggested that we all write a blog piece about what we would like to see invented. Asking a geek to put together a technology wishlist is tantamount to asking Willy Wonka for a chocolate wishlist. Where do you start and where do you stop? Would anyone read a 10,000-word blog article? Well, in the hope of keeping this short, here are two showcase videos of mobile phones that I thought were impressive.

The first one is the Pomegranate phone. Turns out this commercial for the pomegranate phone is over a year old but I have just chanced upon it a few days ago and I can’t help but imagine the possibilities if these features were actually available in a real phone. The commercial is a hoax, intended to grab people’s attention and promote Nova Scotia. Regardless, it’s a pretty interesting concept. Here’s the video:

Look besides the shaver/harmonica/coffee maker gimmick and the commercial had a few good ideas. Like, being able to use the phone as a projector for powerpoint presentations. It should hopefully be a reality at some point. I also like the idea of a phone that isn’t perfectly rectangular in shape and an operating system that isn’t Android, Blackberry, iOS or Windows. That Pomegranate phone would have been pretty impressive if I didn’t think I would end up with a phone covered in hair and coffee stains.

The second video is of Blackberry’s new concept which introduces stretchable screens.

From what I’ve been told there have already been a few companies at CES showcasing stretchable screens, so hopefully this is something we should see more of in the future. This could finally mean that laptops, tablets and mobile phones converge into one device as you could have multiple form factors on one device.

So, that’s my tech wishlist for this year. Non rectangular phones and stretchable screens. What’s yours?


2011- the year of tablets

By on January 13, 2011

Apple will have to work hard to keep their market share this year.

CES is generally a good indication of what to expect from the rest of the year. Last year, 3DTVs made a lot of noise at CES and expectedly, we saw Sony, Samsung, LG and Panasonic roll out their 3DTVs throughout 2010 creating tons of hype and noise. This year, it was all about tablet PCs.

Considering that Tablets are going be priced around the same as netbooks, expect to see all major vendors as well as the ones that you have never heard of enter the market- thanks to Google. I must say that their upcoming Honeycomb or Android 3.0 OS is looking pretty slick and will surely give the iPad some good competition.

I also got a chance to test out the BlackBerry PlayBook which turned out to be much more impressive than what I was expecting. The interface was beautiful and fluid and running a few heavy duty apps simultaneously on it did not slow it down. You also have the added convenience of connecting it to your BlackBerry through a Bluetooth connection and get your emails, calendar appointments and BBM chats.

What was a no-show was HP and their latest acquisition- the Web OS from Palm. I’ve played around with the Palm Pre and I think it’s a fantastic operating system that could use fresh and powerful hardware to bring out its best. Also, I won’t be surprised to see Microsoft moving Windows Phone OS to the tablet space. Windows 7 hasn’t exactly proven to be a hit in the tablet space.

Last and certainly not the least is Apple- the company responsible for creating a market as far as tablets are concerned. The iPad is, without doubt, the product of year for 2010 but Apple will really need to step it up with the follow up that is expected to launch this quarter.


Blog: What do you actually use your tablet for?

By on January 9, 2011

Ashish Panjabi, Jacky’s COO, takes a closer look at what made tablets tick in 2010.

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It’s been an interesting few months since Apple introduced their revolutionary Apple iPad during 2010.  A product category that we as retailers thought existed for years but had a very limited potential in business-to-business applications suddenly morph itself into a different being.  What was a sleepy category suddenly became the category of 2010 for us.

So what did make Apple click and what was the difference from earlier generations of tablets?

Well, first and foremost was form factor. At Jacky’s, we’d been selling tablet computers from the likes of HP and LG for a number of years but basically what they were was notebook computers with a touch screen. They ran the same Microsoft Windows operating system that you found on your regular notebooks and largely ran the same applications as a regular notebook. We were told that the real potential for that generations of tablet PC’s (or rather tablet notebooks as they should’ve been called), was in segments like car-hire companies (where a person could come out with the tablet PC and inspect the car on the spot) or in the medical sector (where probably medical records, transcripts, X-rays, MRI’s, etc. could be kept and instead of moving around a patient file, a tablet PC with the person’s records would be used instead).

Honestly, it wasn’t a terribly exciting category for us as a retailer and as such always had a muted presence in our outlets.

Then came along Apple and shocked us, our customers and most other manufacturers. All of a sudden a tablet had become cool.

The user-interface that Apple’s been running on the iPad was largely developed for the iPhones and had the “touch” elements integrated as part of the development of the platform. This immediately stood out as even Microsoft will tell you that Windows is not designed for a touch interface per se.

Apple also had the advantage that they could further leverage on their huge pool of iPod / iPhone family experience. This included the fact that they now had an App store concept in place, they had experience with wireless radio technology (both GSM/3G and Wifi), a marketing buzz that generally was associated with their products and a huge install-base of loyal customers.

Apple has till now never actually focused too strongly on the business or enterprise capabilities of the iPad. It is a true consumer device, which then begs the question, what are we actually using tablets for and why do so many men & women in suits carry them around?


Reinvention and Nostalgia

By on January 6, 2011

Those who live in the past cannot survive in the future.

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Chuck Lorre is one of my favourite TV show directors. You may not recognise his name but you’ll surely recognise some of his work. He has directed popular TV shows like Two and Half Men, Big Bang Theory and Mike and Molly. At the end each show, he has a little vanity card that flashes by for a second. It’s usually filled with personal insights, witty remarks and ocassionally a profound message. Here’s an excerpt from vanity card number 316, that I thought fit the description of the latter:

“I believe that there are two forces struggling to dominate. Reinvention and nostalgia. The first seeks to imagine and work toward a better future by changing the status quo. The second insists that things were better in the past and works to undo change.”

These words hold true in many facets of life and even so in the tech industry. You would think that with how quickly things change in the tech industry, reinvention would be a norm. Google reinvented how Internet searches work and managed to take Yahoo’s crown. Facebook reinvented how we interact socially online from the norms that MySpace, Hi5 and Orkut had set. Apple reinvented the mobile phone bringing a better experience to smartphones than Windows CE at the time.

The biggest challenge most large tech companies face now is resigning to nostalgia. This is particularly a problem with big tech giants who’ve used the same technology for a while and having been on top for a long time, cannot begin to grasp that they’ve been outdone by a new competitor and that their once cutting edge technology is now second rate.

So here’s my advice to companies that own outdated mobile operating systems, ageing desktop software or monopolistic telecom companies that cannot see the need to provide better service to its customers — please give reinvention a chance. Those who live in the past cannot survive in the future.


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