Interpreting an artifact from the future

Has any consumer product felt so much like it came from the future as does the iPhone? How about this quote from Business Week [via Daring Fireball]:

The most expensive component on the phone, [Portelligent CEO David] Carey says, is the touch screen, for which Apple tapped a little-known German concern called Balda. The estimated cost of $60 per unit is mostly an educated guess. “This screen is like nothing IĆ­ve ever seen before,” says Carey.

Sounds like a line from a science fiction movie.
If you’re an online publisher and haven’t already bought an iPhone, I’m about to do you a favor. I’m going to give you an excuse to buy one. Go ahead. You can thank me later.
I’m not an early adopter. I kept buying Startacs off Craigslist long after they were discontinued and hung on to my aging T616 long after pixel rot wrecked the display because the handsets we’re (still!) being offered by the carriers are such irredeemable rubbish. I’m glad I waited.
Once you use the darn thing, you’re reminded why WAP is so hoplessly lame and degrading. Of course, you already knew that. But — admit it — in your hunger to participate in the mobile future, you held your nose and did a little WAP.
Having access to a large, hand-held, responsive, high-resolution, touchable Web, you realize there’s just no point to WAP any longer. WAP’s adoption by consumers is grindingly slow, and now it’s staring doom in the face. When you’re using the Web on your iPhone, you don’t need a carrier’s “deck” to help you navigate. The ad model makes sense because it’s the same one publishers are already using. No one has to create special lite pages for this device, although it might be a good idea for some producers to do so.
Mobile devices that don’t compromise the Web are not the only problem for WAP. Julie Ask is working on a report about some other alternatives to WAP sites that don’t require an iPhone.
I know some publishers are making WAP work. If you’re not already one of them, you’re unlikely to be one. But when you play around with this device, you’ll wonder why you’re dealing with all the middleware, special clients, pixel-poor ads — and the carriers’ hands in your pocket.
Originally published on my blog at JupiterResearch.

Deadly synergies

I’m still obsessed the ways that pursuit of synergies that turn out to be dyssynergies is almost always a deadly mistake. So, I enjoyed Julie Ask’s Jupiter blog entry about the difficulty of buying unbundled data service for an unlocked cell phone.
Here are three elements that are bundled together (the handset, voice service, and data service) in a way that makes it impossible for the customer to get what she needs. The only reason someone even had this conversation is that the person in question was a mobile analyst who had access to a cool gadget, and knew what question to ask. Unfortunately, the answer to her question was “No”.
Confusion, forced choices, and high penalties for choosing the wrong plan will cause consumers to buy more than they need and pay more for it than they should. But in the long run, you can’t base a business on confusing your customers out of their money.
The current structure of the industry makes it possible the carriers to pursue these “synergies”. But the natural consequence is that their consumers are not the only ones who are confused about what business the mobile carriers are in.
Originally published on my blog at JupiterResearch.

Why I'm holding out for an Apple mobile phone

My Sony Ericsson T616 is competent and usable, but it’s starting to fall apart after a couple of years of hard use. I’m not terribly excited by my options. The only thing that keeps me from just going ahead and getting (a not terribly exciting) RAZR is that I’m holding out for Apple to release a phone.
Long rumored, never confirmed, the possibly apocryphal Apple mobile phone seems like a certainty to me. I don’t cover mobile phones for Jupiter, so I’ve got no inside information. But how could they not do it?

  • Mobile phones are encroaching on iPod. The technology to make a mobile phone a music player for undemanding consumers is getting small enough and good enough that iPod’s advantages over music phones are narrowing quickly. Apple’s rapid product life cycle shows they understand the nature of this threat. iPods are getting so small that the only way to make them usable is to incorporate them into some other device.
  • Apple needs a network for iPod. Even if mobile phones weren’t evolving into a threat, there’s money to be made by allowing users to connect to the iTunes store whenever they’re bored. There’s also money to be made from iPod users who don’t have easy or regular access to a computer.
  • Apple can cut a good deal on a network. Apple can get a good deal on network access, and can achieve critical mass in a reasonable period of time. Don’t think we won’t dump our current cell carriers overnight to use an Apple phone.
  • Apple can create the phone we all want. This is the company that re-invented the MP3 player, after all. Even with a few years to study what they did, the industry is still scratching their heads and asking, “How’d they do that?”
  • Apple can add real value to a network. The only thing that consumers hate more than their cheap, trashy, hard-to-use mobile phones is the company that provides the service. Don’t we all crave the simplicity of iTunes’s pricing structure from our mobile carrier?
  • Apple owns its distribution network. The mobile phone industry may be the only business with lousier distribution network than Detroit. Apple has the end-to-end control necessary to break through the noise and clutter of fake promotions, dishonest bundling, and cheesy retail that characterize the mobile phone market.
  • Apple needs another hit. In iPod, they built a new company that is now bigger than their computer company in a few short years. How much longer can they sustain their growth rates with their existing product lines?

Or maybe it’s just wishful thinking.
Originally published on my blog at JupiterResearch.

Mobile, but going nowhere

I’ve always believed that top-level domains should be too cheap to meter. We should set up as many as we can, in order to get rid of the artificial scarcity that surrounds domain names in general. But that doesn’t mean we need a “.mobi” domain for mobile device websites right now.
As long as we pretend that TLD’s represent something special, we should treat them like they mean something. And I have no idea what .mobi means.
The idea that a “mobile” device for accessing the Internet is different from a “nonmobile” device will seem charmingly naive before we decide how to use this new TLD. The idea that a single domain could say something useful about the capabilities of the device and protocols accessing it was never charming.
Perhaps it could serve a similar purpose to the “.xxx” TLD — a good place to avoid while we’re gobbling up well-designed conventional websites and RSS feeds on the road.