Orange France loses iPhone exclusivity

The French Competition Council - the Conseil de la concurrence - ordered yesterday that Orange's iPhone exclusivity be immediately suspended, with the result that any French carrier (SFR and Orange) is now able to offer Apple's iPhone.

Orange will appeal the decision before the Court of Appeal in Paris, but in the meantime (it may take as long as 12/18 months to have a final decision) Orange's competitors will be able to sign distribution deals with Apple. SFR annnounced it had anyway already 45,000 unlocked iPhones active on its network. However, the time those agreements are in place, Bouygues and SFR cannot benefit from the Xmas sales period. After one year of its exclusive partnership, Orange announced that they will have sold over 150,000 first generation iPhones and over 450,000 3G iPhones. But beyond the idea of attracting high-end users, such an exclusive agreement was a key way for Orange to differentiate from competition, drive traffic to shops to cross-sell other Orange/France Telecom products and to nurture the brand (iPhone being all about "convergence").

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Vodafone & Wayfinder

Vodafone announced thisweek a recommended cash offer to acquire Wayfinder Systems AB. This is not a done deal yet but my first take is:

- Wayfinder like other software vendors really pioneered the market for navigation on mobile phones. Initially, the Swedish company (at that time named Itinerary systems) started in as a R&D project in the mobile phone division of Ericsson in the 90s! It is thus no surprise that Wayfinder recently announced an intensification of its global collaboration on GPS handsets with Sony Ericsson, one of its main clients. Back in July 2007, the company acquired Finnish application provider Navicore.

- According to its interim report (ending September 30th 2008), Wayfinder wanted to focus on a small number of global partners and to planned to reduce costs by 30% in 2009. The company reported close to 2,5M activated user accounts but only 294,000 paying users, who had activated a paid for application in the past 18 months. Vodafone's offering value Wayfinder at around €23M. I am not a financial analyst so I won't comment the cash offer in detail but from an industry perspective, it seems to me:

* this is a small amount of money for a global operator like Vodafone

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Mobile gaming $

Following the publication of this article in Moconews, I had a call with Greg Ballard, CEO of mobile gaming company GLU.

Glu is adamant that despite a smaller size than EA Mobile or Gameloft, the company is very well placed in porting games on the balkanized mobile handset market. He righlty pointed out that if smaller in revenues, Glu has a scalable business and claimed to be ahead of its competitors in some regions of the world (n2 after EA in the US and after Gameloft in Latam, n1 in China and Australia). He also made the point that Tetris still represents a significant chunk of EA revenues. Looking back at the Jamdat acquisition in December 2005, I have no other choice than to agree.

So, let me precise that my comment "the larger companies have economies of scales that their smaller rival doesn’t" mainly addresses the smaller players in the mobile gaming industry. Despite consolidation that took place over the last few years, this market is still very fragmented. Also, it is fair to point out that Gameloft's developer/production/porting teams represent close to 90% of the workforce (and thousands of employees). But I am not a financial analyst so I can't really make a call here.

However, I still believe that:

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Apple AppStore - Top Apps

eApple recently released its top downloaded applications on the AppStore since launch in July 08. No mention of the split here between apps downloaded on the iPhone and on the iPod touch.

Top 10 Free Downloads (Overall). My comments in italic

1-Pandora Radio (music, 2 million iPhone subs who spend 90 minutes listening on average)
2-Facebook (social networking)
3-Tap Tap Revenge (game)
4-Shazam (music)
5-Labyrinth Lite Edition (game)
6-Remote (entertaining app)
7-Google Earth (only launched 2 months ago!)
8-Lightsaber Unleashed (cool and fun app, close to a game for Dark Vador fans...)
9-AIM (highlights the strength of AOL Instant Messaging in the US vs Europe)
10-Urbanspoon

My first take:

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NokiaWorld: Distracted by the N97 Flagship

by Ian Fogg

Everyone appears to have spent the last week discussing Nokia's new flagship N97 phone. But it's far from the most significant announcement.

Why? The N97 will be premium priced and won't be the only handset to feature a touch screen from Nokia, or the new 5th Edition Series 60 Symbian OS.  The N97 isn't due to ship until mid-2009 by which time it will face improved competition. The current models that commentators have compared it with in the last week are a red herring. Against mid-2009 rival handsets the N97 will look less strong.

The N97 is important as a part of a bolder overall strategy by Nokia and is not the entire story in itself.

The mid-range will be the new mobile Internet battleground in 2009:

Samsung (especially), LG, SonyEricsson and Motorola are already pressing into Nokia's traditional mid range strength. At some point, Apple will extend the iPhone range with lower priced models as it did in the past with the iPod Mini, Shuffle and Nano. This will open a new front onto Nokia's heartlands. RIM is already targeting consumers with cheap'ish Curve's and consumer-focused marketing.

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