The mobile industry is in full swing. Its center of gravity is shifting from hardware to software, from voice to data and services, and from traditional telecom stakeholders to new entrants.
Google’s “mobile first” approach and the shadow that Apple cast over the show are forcing mobile operators in particular to redefine their position in the value chain. The traditional focus on infrastructure (LTE..) and this year’s debate on operators’ congested networks need to be put in the context of nontelecom players’ willingness to monetize mobile. Mobile World Congress is a unique opportunity to witness how mobile is reinventing itself and to see how it will become even more disruptive in consumers' daily lives in the future.
It was a surprising weekend for those of us who had naively imagined that after crossing the River iPad, we might actually get some Elysian rest. But, alas, the fates conspired against us and handed us the curious case of Amazon vs. Macmillan. Or Macmillan vs. Amazon?
For those who actually took the weekend off, let me summarize what happened. John Sargeant, the CEO of Macmillan Books, gave Amazon a wee-bit of an ultimatum: switch from a wholesale sell-through model, where Amazon buys digital books at a fixed wholesale rate and then can choose to sell those books at whatever price it deems appropriate (even at a loss, as it does with $9.99 bestsellers), to an agency model, where Amazon agrees to sell at a price set by the publisher in exchange for a 30% agency fee. Sargeant explained to Amazon that if it did not agree to the switch, Macmillan Books would make its eBooks subject to significant "windowing" wherein new books are held back from the digital store for some period, say six months, while hardback books are sold in stores and possibly, digital copies are sold through the iPad at $14.99.
This is more detail than we usually know about a negotiation like this because of what happened next. Sargeant got off of a plane on Friday only to discover that Amazon had responded by pulling all Macmillan books from the Kindle store as well as from Amazon.com. He then decided to make it clear to the industry (and his authors) that this drastic action was Amazon's fault, in a paid advertisement in a special Sunday edition of Publishers Lunch.
I have a weakness. I like to think big. And when we heard so many juicy rumors about the Apple tablet device, now named the iPad, I knew that with Steve Jobs at the helm, I could afford to think big. So big did I think, that I suggested the iPad should take media consumption to the next level and create an entirely new category of device.
At first, Jobs appeared ready to confirm my suspicions. He said seductive things like, "Everybody uses a laptop and or a smartphone. The question has arisen lately. Is there room for a third category in the middle?" I was sitting on the edge of my seat, ready to hear Jobs demonstrate that new category of device. But he didn't.
Instead, what Apple debuted today was a very nice upgrade to the iPod Touch.
Don't get me wrong. I love the iPod Touch and I was this close to getting one for myself. Now that the iPad has arrived, I can finally get one, the new, big one. But it's not a new category of device. It doesn't really revolutionize the 5-6 hours of media we consume the way it could have. It doesn't even send Amazon's Kindle running to the hills for cover. In fact, the competitor likely to take the biggest hit from the arrival of the iPad is Apple, in the form of fewer iPod Touches sold and fewer MacBook Airs sold.
A storm has been brewing at The New York Times for a while now. Ever since TimesSelect -- the paid digital version of the Times -- was cancelled back in 2007, the "content wants to be free" crowd has danced around its proverbial grave, singing the equivalent of "ding, dong, paid media is dead."
It's hard to argue against that viewpoint given the reality we're seeing: long-time newspapers closing their print editions entirely (see Seattle Post-Intelligencer), august magazines such as Gourmet shutting their doors, newspaper subscriptions at unprecedented lows, not to mention the power that Google has over the traffic that newspapers and magazines generate. Worse, our consumer surveys show us that 80% of US adults will choose not to pay for online newspaper or magazine content if they can't get it for free (see my colleague Sarah Rotman Epps' post on this for more).
It is amidst this maelstrom that nytimes.com is reportedly considering erecting a new pay wall -- one presumes a shiner, prettier one than the last wall, but a pay wall nonetheless. Read New York mag's take on the situation here. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is a bad idea whose time has unfortunately come.
Another interesting announcement was made this morning at the LeWeb conference in Paris, where Orange officially announced the launch of its Application Shop (available in beta in the UK and France for several months). This shop will first be available to 1 million customers in these two countries before being roll-out to millions more customers throughout 2010. For now it gives acess to 5,000 applications.
Replicating Apple's success will not be an easy task and operators should not follow this route. They should on the contrary leverage their key assets to offer:
I was in the middle of an ICTC (my new acronym for InterContinental Telepresence Conference) when I got an urgent message from Brian Chen at Wired News. Without any announcement, it seems, Apple had cut the price of its 160 GB Apple TV to $229, dropping the smaller model altogether. What did this mean?
I've been following the Apple TV since its announcement 2.5 years ago. I bought one of the first, and I spent hundreds of dollars on TV shows testing it (I have all the episodes of Battlestar Galactica, seasons 1, 2, 3; and you don't). That said, I haven't used the Apple TV in months, even after I hacked it using Boxee. It's because the Apple TV doesn't make watching top shows easy enough to compete with cable, Hulu, and Netflix.
Brian wrote a very solid piece in Wired News yesterday, click here to see the article. He managed to get in a lot of the big picture points I raised, which is always hard to do since I go there so quickly and barely pause to breathe. The point is this: The Apple TV is on its way out.
Apple's announcements yesterday were mostly focused on iTunes and adding a video camera to the Nano (beautiful device by the way - shape, colors, form factor, weight (lessness) - blew me away). There were a couple of interesting things that came out about the iPhone platform though.
A few of the facts:
30 million iPhones sold to date
20 million iPod Touch devices with about 225 million iPods sold to date in all with 50% to new customers (wow!)
1.8 billion downloads of more than 75,000 available applications
100 million billing relationships with credit cards ... this impresses me the most and is what I consider to be one of their important competitive advantages
You've got to be hating life if you're a videocamera maker like Sony or Kodak and you've just been bested yet again. First, it was the immensely successful Flip video cameras that sold more than 2 million devices without a significant brand name simply because the camera was so darn easy to use. ( Personal anecdote, I recently spent a day at a major CE maker with a group of industry analysts -- they let us try their new Flip camera competitor and one of the smartest guys in the room couldn't figure out how to turn it on. Said a nearby analyst: "Hmmm, no wonder Flip beat them to this market.")
Now the game just got more complicated because Apple has decided to add video camera capability not to the iPod Touch line, but to its Nano iPods. Pause for reverential awe. This was a brilliant move. (see Wired's take on it here).
Not only because it hits Flip in a sensitive spot -- right in the high school and college market where Flip was such a hit -- but because it further disrupts the videocamera market, opening it to more innovation and rapid change. You no longer have the three tiers of videocameras (disc or tape storage, digital decent, and then your lousy phone camera), instead, you have a fourth competitor. A personal media device that is now capable of actual personal media. Oh, and did I mention it's made by Apple? Right, just checking.