Hello and welcome.
It’s me, Ewan!
I’m back with version 3.0 of Mobile Industry Review.
Before I go into that, I want to take a step back and briefly revisit the previous versions.
Mobile Industry Review 1.0
Mobile Industry Review 1.0 was originally named SMS Text News. I started it back in January 2006 when the Motorola RAZR was the height of technical and fashionable sophistication in the mobile industry. A year or so before then, my o2 XDA Windows Mobile device came fully loaded with 3mb of inclusive data per month. Any additional megabytes were charged at around 4-5 pounds per meg. Cross network minutes were slowly being introduced to price plans across the United Kingdom. Text messaging was all the rage — whilst America, stuck in analogue hell, was beginning to splash out on the second generation of Blackberry devices. Vodafone was buying up anything that moved. T-Mobile had only just dragged its customers, kicking and screaming, from it’s one-2-one free evening call price plans.
My editorial back then was generally limited to commenting about the possibilities of mobile messaging. Text messaging marketing was only just seeing adoption from the large companies. Ringtone Barons were making a killing and 3 quid a pop for a 160-character Nokia beep-beep-beep tune. MMS or ‘multimedia messaging’ or ‘picture messaging’ was proving itself as the mobile industry’s biggest shitest marketing failure. It simply didn’t ever work.
2006 & 2007: Idiot Operators
Across 2007 I ranted, tested, reviewed, highlighted and predicted. My rants became increasingly frustrating. I frequently commented on the likes of Motorola, Nokia and Microsoft continually getting it wrong. Over and over, the big companies in the space were screwing it all up with a protectionist, single-minded focus on bollocks. Witness, for example, the Orange network launching the Windows Mobile (HTC) C500+ handset range. One of the models I bought came with it’s very own Orange Music store, replete with a whopping 200,000 expensive and shitty quality music tracks. The quality had to be rubbish in order for you to be able to store more than a few tracks on the device memory card. The implementation of the music store was… well, if a team of monkeys had sat together in front of a terminal typing gibberish for 20 minutes, they’d have delivered a better product. Later I met one of the chaps who worked on the project and asked him why it was so rubbish.
“Why did you send pure crap like that out to the market? You only pissed off the first-movers like me — and made sure that any non-geeks (or “normobs” as I named them) tried it once and never again.”
I looked dumbfounded at the guy. He smiled, weakly, in response.
“Yeah, we knew. It .. well, none of us really paid much attention to it. We just had to get it out on that date — we knew it was rubbish.”
Right. Symptomatic of the mobile operator experience at that time.
Apple Changes Everything
As Nokia began to move toward becoming the planet’s largest manufacturer of music devices, I began predicting some kind of response from Apple, who were chewing up the music player market with their iPod range. Anyone who reminded me of the Nokia stat got their head bitten off within seconds. Yes it was possible to play an MP3 file on a mid-range modern Nokia handset. Yes it was a rubbish experience. Yes hardly anyone bothered.
That said, I remember writing this:
Nokia wipes floor with Apple & other MP3 player manufacturers in reaction to a post that Russell Buckley wrote on MobHappy.
I reasoned, Apple needed to pay heed to Nokia.
Lo and behold, they did.
In November 2006, I flew over to the Nokia World conference and was wowed along with Rafe Blandford of All About Symbian and Carlo Longinho of MobHappy (Russell’s writing partner). We were told that by 2012, Nokia would unleash handsets that would change screen orientation simply by physically swiveling the device. Amazing. At the press conference, I listened patiently to the earnings-per-share run of the mill stuff of relevance to the mainstream media then stood up at the end and asked the Nokia CEO what his first handset was — and what his current handset was.
Launch of the iPhone
Two months later, Steve Jobs got up on stage in San Francisco and changed the planet, announcing the iPhone to a completely shocked mobile industry. He’d turned tables on the mobile operators, forcing AT&T to properly support ‘unlimited data’ and paving the way for the possibility of decent application development environment for the iPhone. The device was, after all, running a variant of the recently launched OSX. The Apple iPhone Changes Everything was a post I wrote on the same day of the announcement. All of a sudden, the possibility of being able to configure and augment your own mobile experience through the addition of mobile applications was becoming a real possibility.
2007 was, then, all about the iPhone and the industry’s reaction to it.
Mobile Industry Review 2.0
By 2008, the name SMS Text News was becoming a little bit dated. So much so that, version 2.0 arrived in September.
I ummed and ahhhed for a whole week trying to think of a more suitable name, something that didn’t hark back to the days of trying to send a text message to someone on another mobile network. Eventually I settled on ‘Mobile Industry Review’.
By that time we had a sizable crew manning good ship MIR (which, I later learnt was the Russian word for ‘World’. Space Station MIR etc. Of course. I never recognised the connection.) A back-room staff of four helped me sort through the myriad of feeds, releases and daily avalanches of email from readers. At one point we had upwards of 10 people involved on a daily basis and I was spending a stunning amount of money delivering the service. Occasionally we did the odd sponsorship, advertising or event deal and that helped offset costs.
We brought you such mobile industry household names as (alphabetically), Ricky Cadden, Ricky Chotai, Jonathan Jensen, Rob Kerr, Samantha Kidd, Alex Kinch, Dan Lane, Ben Smith and James Whatley. Some were paid, others were voluntary — but the content and coverage we were delivering was second to none. (Don’t forget Mr Operator, who used to bring many CEOs to tears with his eloquent, razor-sharp paragraphs).
We filled a huge gap in the marketplace, focusing not just on the fanboy gadget perspective, but also from the viewpoint of those working in the industry. I really enjoyed helping break new companies into the marketplace — and the ability to help them grow was a stimulant that kept me coming back to the keyboard every morning. There is nothing quite like getting a phone call from a world leading Venture Capitalist asking for more information or for the direct number of the entrepreneur you’ve just written about. Making those introductions — introductions that are potentially life changing for those involved — is a continual buzz, especially since I’ve been in similar situations myself in the past, hunting for money, hunting for someone to give me a break. The opportunity to actually offer this as more or less a public service was brilliant. Whilst our editorial style at MIR was conversational in tone and generally light hearted, the analysis, the perspective, the future gazing, has been more or less proved accurate time and again.
The iPhone Effect Begins
I finished the year in Val d’Isere high up in the French Alps observing Europe’s rich at play. Russian, German, French, Spanish, British… Almost everyone I saw on the pistes was sporting an iPhone 3G. Glancing over shoulders and peering into cafes and bars, I saw countless Facebook, ShoZu and similar logos on the device screens. I reasoned that the affluent who couldn’t give a toss about roaming charges would probably be the first to grab their iPhones and try using these multimedia computers on the pistes and whilst on holiday. I wasn’t wrong. The teens and those in their early 20s were the biggest users, continually updating their Facebook Status and galleries whilst I privately sweated at the roaming charges their parents no doubt took care of. Only a few months previously, I’d trained-it up to Hartlepool, more or less the centre (right) of the United Kingdom — and one of the more deprived areas of the country, suffering from and adjusting to the recent loss of major industry. There, I found the appetite for iPhone-style augmentation of the mobile experience just the same — tempered by fiscal reality.
“Why have you got that Nokia? Are you a Nokia fan,” I asked one teenager outside an o2 store.
“No,” she replied quickly, “it was free.”
Offer her a free iPhone and she’d jump at it, with bells on. Such was the marketing dream that Apple cooked up. I marveled at the demand for iPhone-like experience from almost every normob I met. They weren’t quite ready to shell out the cash for it though.
The iPhone wasn’t just a dream for the users though. Quickly, an army of developers was putting out thousands and thousands of applications to the iPhone populace. Still a glint in the milkman’s eye, as far as total handset sales, yes. But the results galvanised the industry. Before we knew it, Blackberry, Nokia, Microsoft and even the likes of Samsung began to discuss introducing their own application stores.
As late as October last year (from memory), Dan, Ben, James and I headed down to an LG Renior launch to be absolutely shocked that the company had produced such a brilliant device (from a hardware perspective) but had next to no plans to introduce any augmentation or third-party application facilities beyond moving a few widgets around on the handset.
Indeed, I began to get rather annoyed with our editorial output. Tales or woe after tales of woe. Operators, manufacturers and service providers simply weren’t getting it. Hardly a day went by that I didn’t discover or witness absolutely ridiculous examples of stupid, stupid business decisions in the industry. I felt like a broken record. I remember reading a news article featuring the CEO of Motorola apologising to the world (and his investors) for not-quite-getting-it, for not quite understanding the shifts taking place across the industry leaving the company on it’s knees. I opined that the staff of Mobile Industry Review would have been much better placed to have (correctly) advised the company over the preceding year than the army of committees and consultants at Moto.
The MIR Show and influence
My annoyance was tempered by the weekly (and sometimes bi-weekly) production of the Mobile Industry Review Show, usually featuring Dan, Ben and James. We took the camera to product launches, events and parties — and filmed our own stuff as well. My absolute favourite feature is still the segment we produced each week by the name of ‘Sony Ericsson News’. It was simply 30 seconds of the camera filming me standing staring down the lense in silence before I shrugged and shook my head slowly. You can still see the old shows here.
By this time the site’s influence was extending far and wide. Whilst the mainstream media and the triple-A bloggers monitored our feeds and linked now and again, it was always a delight to watch the traffic pour in from the corporate networks of the industry.
Initially I was quite surprised to get calls from executives referring to particular stories that we’d written. I remember thinking, ‘Goodness me, we’re actually influencing people.’ Such is the strength of social media done-right nowadays. If you’d like an example of one story that nearly caused heart attacks across the planet for many an executive, check out this headline: Google buys Vodafone for $200bn; gains 252m customers; drops all call charges, published April 2008. That’s April 1st, of course. I think that was our single biggest story, by traffic, for that month. It still gets a lot of traffic but I’ve put a big APRIL FOOL label on the headline to avoid confusion.
We topped January 2009 with about 300,000 visitors — about 150,000 unique IP addresses, but with the majority viewing from behind the myriad corporate firewalls, or viewing our feed on hundreds of sites across the world, it was nigh impossible to count exact numbers. We doubled the uniques to get a rough estimate.
The Acquisition That Wasn’t Quite
In March, with my wife starting to rightly assert that she could better spend the 15-20k a month I was spending on the site, I got an offer from a company asking to buy the site. That was, at least, the initial approach.
The conversations progressed swiftly and we reached heads of terms within about 4 hours. So quickly did it happen that I talked with the (understandably shocked) team as soon as I could and rushed to publish the update for the audience. The company wanted MIR all for itself and insisted the site go subscription-only, mandating that anyone who also wanted access needed to stump up a whopping 1k per month fee.
“We’re paying for the content,” was their viewpoint, “So anyone else who gets access should contribute too.”
In January alone the site had cost 33k to produce. I remember remarking to some of the team that you could live quite happily on that kind of money for a year. It was getting a bit silly. You could buy a lot of 20 quid handsets for that too. Thus, the good news with this deal was that I would soon be released from the 150-200k annual expense of producing MIR.
The bad news was that there was no longer a platform for me or for the rest of the team. For the most part, the team’s reaction was a mix between shock, anger (at the unavoidably short notice), surprise and sadness. It was a difficult time, managing the demands of the acquiring company, the shocked team and the disappointed audience — and looking back, I could have handled the situation a lot better.
Output more or less stopped after the end of March whilst I began the subscription-only service and finalised the deal with the ‘acquirer’. I’ve put that in quotes because, well, they didn’t acquire anything in the end. The company didn’t actually acquire the site, the assets or the domain name. As with many a transaction, the final deal was completely different from the initial one we started with.
Although the deal is a profitable 3-year enterprise, I’d have liked to have known that they didn’t actually need the MIR assets right at the beginning.
The arrangement morphed during the final negotiation to require me to produce a heavily customised private daily feed, focused on mobile transaction related news, for the company. This, we’ve been doing now for two months. It’s a profitable enterprise and if you’re interested in mobile transaction news, we should talk, as we’ve got a ton of it.
MIR — the site, the content, the domain, remains untouched by the deal. People still ask me about the ‘acquisition’ and enquire as to how it went. For the most part I typically say ‘yeah, good’ as explaining what actually transpired can get quite involved.
I didn’t have much time to think about the site for a month or so and wondered exactly what to do with it. Some members of the old team were adamant that, since I’d publicly stated it was ending, that I should make good on that intent.
Indeed, many of the chaps previously involved in MIR had already independently created and launched The Really Mobile Project — a brilliantly inspired video-focused evolution of many popular elements of the original MIR site. If you haven’t checked it, you’re missing a super compendium of commentary and mobile related entertainment.
The Next steps for MIR
MIR was, fundamentally, an outlet for my opinions, perspectives and commentary. It felt rather weird writing about mobile on my own personal site at Ewan.net. For example, the article I wrote about leading iPhone Developers ignoring Nokia was picked up across the industry. Various outlets linked to my personal site which caused quite a few issues, most notably the fact that the body of evidence supporting many of the comments I made in post resided on MIR. I fielded many an email from readers demanding to know how I was qualified to make the various statements in the article. After reading through the back catalog of posts on the dormant MIR, most were satisfied.
I recognised that if I was to continue to write about mobile, I should do it on MIR.
Whilst I considered that point, I setup and launched Mobile Developer TV (“MDTV”) to profile the movers and shakers in the mobile applications/services sector of the industry. After predicting (and hoping for) a revolution in the mobile applications sector, actually seeing it arrive inspired me to create the new site to document it. There’s some editorial there, but the focus is more or less exclusively on the people shaping the marketplace. You won’t ever see me on camera — I’m not the story, they are. (Although you’ll occasionally hear my voice prompting questions.) We’ve published 13 episodes already and I’ve got about 35 ‘in the can’ so far. If you’re working in the field of mobile development, I’d like to document what you’re up to and tell the world. (Drop me an email and let’s arrange an interview.)
I’ve been talking to a number of outlets and sites who’re shortly going to begin distributing the MDTV feed to about 1.5 million mobile executives and fanatics each month. The prospect of being able to interview and shine the light upon brilliant examples of mobile innovation is very, very exciting.
As well as working on MDTV, I’ve been working away on other ventures, helping companies out with strategy, connections, advice — and I’ve been working on my own companies too.
Mobile Industry Review 3.0
It’s here, the next generation of the mobile industry. Finally.
Finally I can stop worrying about crippling data costs. Or stupid, stupid roaming costs. Or handset manufacturers hell bent on delivering their own bollocks services to a customer base who only want to call and text each other.
I began sensing the change back in October and November 2008, but it’s really, really coming to pass now. There’s a heck of lot of energy fizzing about the marketplace. People are actually making money. Normal people, not just billion dollar corporations. Some of the manufacturers and operators have already woken up and smelt the coffee. The argument that Nokia still has a large (yet slowly dwindling) marketshare is one that simply can’t stand up. How long before the world sports 100 million+ iPhones?
It’s certainly not just about iPhone. Witness, for example, the launch of the Palm Pre last weekend. About 50,000 were shipped in the first few days. By Monday, when the Pre store officially launched, applications developers were phoning me, astounded. Some were reporting thousands of downloads — and in one case, almost 15,000 downloads, in just a few days. You’d expect this, of course, given the Pre launched into the iPhone-mad North America and that the store launched with a limited amount of applications.
But still, the writing is on the wall and the old business plans are being torn up. Vodafone, Telefonica, AT&T, China Mobile, the industry titans have seen the light. So, too, have the manufacturers.
I remember rubbishing Michael Arrington’s ridiculous claim, a year or so ago, that Silicon Valley, having been the centre of the internet industry, was now the ‘centre of mobile’. Laughable then. But once America woke up to the potential of the mobile industry, I reckoned Michael’s statement would ring true.
You only have to walk around Silicon Valley to sample the excitement and the fast-paced innovation. Michael’s statement is, I think, wholly accurate now.
If you think it’s all stuff-and-nonsense, if you’re still hell-bent on the fact that the old guard of Nokia, Sony Ericsson and co. are still in the driving seat in this marketplace, take a minute and watch this video advertisement currently playing across America:
It’s an advertisement for Nationwide Insurance. For those reading in the UK, Nationwide is very much like Direct Line or Norwich Union (or “Aviva”). The advert isn’t selling insurance, per se. It’s selling their iPhone application that you use when you’ve had a crash or need to make an insurance claim.
Seriously, watch the video, then come back here.
The Nationwide Insurance application features an interactive form to help you correctly exchange information with the other driver (if there’s one involved) in a crash. It includes the facility to upload pictures of the accident/crash, call for a tow truck, record the relevant accident information that Nationwide need — and to submit and track your insurance claims. And of course, the iPhone will fill in your location too. They even integrated a flashlight application into the main Nationwide app.
Total unmitigated genius. Not only does this bring peace of mind and clarity to the customer, it will no doubt save Nationwide a ton of cash in processing fees. They’ve clearly integrated the iPhone application directly into their business workflow and they’re using it as a competitive advantage (“We’re the only insurer to offer an iPhone application” [for now]).
I guarantee you everyone watching that advertisement will be moved, somewhat, to do business with Nationwide. It won’t be long before their competitors, broadsided by this innovation, are doing the same. It won’t be long before other similar huge companies copy the concept for their own consumer-facing businesses.
If you’re Nokia, Samsung, LG, anybody else operating in the mobile equivalent of the last century, you should be watching this move with concern.
There’s a reason the app was built for the iPhone. It just works. It was relatively easy to build and there’s an easy and proven distribution model. And Nationwide are PAYING to tell 300 million people across America about the iPhone and these capabilities, fueling demand for this type of mobile service. How many watching the advertisement will look forlornly at their rubbish Motorola RAZR and think, ‘hmm, that $99 iPhone offer…’
Of course it’s not all about the ‘smartphones’. The dramatic changes that basic mobile and feature-phones are bringing to the third world are hugely exciting. Once additional functionality filters out to the other few billion (perhaps through the likes of Android), it’s going to be a rather interesting time.
But it’s here right now — the innovation is moving the market very, very fast. Although the iPhone accounts for a very small segment of total users around the world, the fact that it’s a platform that works (whether you’re a fan or not), that’s bringing real big (and small) businesses into the ecosystem and it’s completely changing the face of the industry.
Which is why I’m back!
Version 3.0 of Mobile Industry Review is all about the next generation. I’m going to be writing regularly here on the site about applications, marketing, handsets and the evolution and introduction of magnificent mobile services. Finally I can. Finally, what I’ve been hoping for is beginning to actually happen. There will, I’m sure, be space for the odd rant at the slow moving behemoths — but the source of much of the ire that we covered with MIR 1 and 2 is very much negated.
In closing, I’d like to point to the About Ewan section here on the site. In the text, I wrote a monologue (or, perhaps a diatribe) about what I’d like to see in the mobile industry. I describe what I’d like to see and be able to do. I wrote it way back in August 2006. Here’s some of it:
My affinity with the mobile industry is underpinned, I think, by the Bill Gates book, ‘Business At The Speed of Thought’. Most, if not all of his points echoed my own. I want to be able to press a button on my mobile device and have 10 different taxi firms bid for the business to take me from Green Park to Liverpool Street for less than £10. I want some enterprising chap to be able to say upsell me and offer to take me home all the way home for £45. I want the ability to hit ‘yes’ and have the cash debited from my account. I want to see if there’s space at the cinema. Now. I want to send flowers to my friend as she’s had a pretty bad day. Even though I’m in a cab, I want those flowers sorted. Now, and quickly. I don’t want to spend 10 minutes on the phone to a directory services firm trying to find someone to complete the order, nor do I want to spend minutes reading out credit card details. I just want to press three buttons and have it fixed. I want to know where my friends are. I want to be connected to them on demand and without demand. I want to dip into what’s going on in the world Ã¢â‚¬â€ and I want my device to know when to interrupt me and when to give me space. Away for a break, I want to sit on the beach on the Isle of Lewis, gazing out at the awesome Atlantic Ocean with pellets of rain about to fall Ã¢â‚¬â€ and, whilst I let my mind drift to imagine what life was like there 800 years ago, I want to bring out my mobile device and read a mail from my work colleague. Then order Pizza so that when I get back to the cottage, it’s waiting Ã¢â‚¬â€ and paid for.
I want the ability to sit in Bar des Celebrities in Hotel Carlton, Cannes, reading the IHT and all of a sudden, bring out my device and locate the top 3 letting agents in the area and fire off a requirement for a month’s extended stay. Then I want to call my colleague in Australia, just before he leaves work to head for the beach Ã¢â‚¬â€ and check on the company status. Prior to hanging up, I want to receive a quick video he’s taken of his 5 year old surfing in the sun. I want to then watch a bit of Blackadder. I don’t want to carry around my data. I want it all ‘in the sky’ Ã¢â‚¬â€ ready to on demand whenever I want it. Then, I want to check out 5 minutes of Lost or 24, before heading for a stroll along the Cannes sea front. While I’m sat on the balcony at about 11pm, I want to bring out my device and dip into my communications folder and see a template proposal my brother’s working on. Though I’m on holiday, I might feel like taking a look Ã¢â‚¬â€ so I’ll bring it out virtually, mark it up with some ideas, and whack it over to him. Then, since she’s five hours behind, I might flick to see that Natasha’s presence indicator says she’s out having steak in Manhattan Ã¢â‚¬â€ I’ll ping her a ‘hi’ and get a quick video and some pictures in return. Then, I’ll go to sleep.
I very much want Ã¢â‚¬â€ and believe Ã¢â‚¬â€ that a mobile device of sorts will be central to our everyday lives shortly. Right now it’s very much centred around a one or two way communications medium, but we’re getting there.
Nope. We’re there. It’s not perfect yet — but it’s here and evolving fast. How many applications and services can you think of, right now, that are now available to answer those points?
Right now I’m planning on a mix between daily and twice weekly publishing plan but we’ll see how things go.
If you’d like to be involved, drop me a note. If you’re a PR representing a shit-hot company in the industry, I’d be delighted to hear from you. If you’re a new reader, welcome — and if you’ve been following MIR back form version 1 and 2, thank you for your patience and your attention, I hope you’ll find some interesting stuff to browse through here soon.
Sometimes I’ll be posting long in-depth viewpoints. Other times I’ll be posting updates consisting of just a few sentences. I’m aiming to keep them coming regularly.
As always, I’m at firstname.lastname@example.org. (If you’ve never emailed me before, watch out for the immediate reply from the Spam Arrest spam filter that will want to know you’re human before delivering your mail to my inbox.)
If you’d like to get updates, you can get an old fashioned email notification of every post by filling in this form:
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Get me on instant messenger if you fancy a chat: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, ewanjmacleod on Skype, email@example.com.
Thanks for reading,
Update: Goodness me how embarrassing. Russell Buckley of MobHappy, I called you Russell Beattie. Helen Keegan pointed out the error. Corrected that. And thank you David Geere for suggesting I stick in some headers. I didn’t expect to write such a long post.