Apple’s Product Strategists Maintain The Company’s Premium Positioning In The Mainstreaming Smartphone Battle

My colleague Charlie Golvin and I took the time to step back from the flow of news following Apple’s announcement today. Here below is our take from a consumer product strategy perspective.

Apple’s product strategists face an ongoing paradox: maintaining premium leadership with an annual product renewal while tapping the rapidly mainstreaming global smartphone market

Today, Apple’s product strategists revealed their newest premium smartphone: the iPhone 4S. Just like the 3GS at its introduction, the 4S relies on a leap in processing power and a new interaction paradigm but eschews technology upgrades upon which product strategists building Android-based devices rely today, such as LTE and behemoth screens.

Apple’s new iPhone lineup provides a complete portfolio of products, from the premium 4S in memory configurations up to 64 GB, to the 8 GB iPhone 4 which will allow all of Apple’s carrier customers (including new partners Sprint and KDDI in Japan) to offer a mid-tier iPhone. Apple’s product strategists have opted to add an entry-level option for its GSM-based carrier partners by maintaining the 8 GB iPhone 3GS.

With the iPhone 4S, have Apple’s product strategists designed a product that will maintain Apple’s leadership in the high-end smartphone battle? Forrester believes so — even though Apple chose not to include features that its competitors use to command a premium position, including:

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The Global Mainstreaming Of Smartphones

Thanks to the phenomenal popularity of Apple’s iPhone and Android’s growing traction — more than 550,000 Android devices are activated each day — many product strategists tend to assume that smartphones are a mass-market phenomenon.

The reality is that in a global population with more than 5 billion subscriptions, smartphones are still niche. However, in the US and some European countries, smartphone penetration is racing past 25%; smartphones are going mainstream, albeit at a varying pace across the globe.

Consumer product strategists should anticipate the consequences of moving from a smartphone target audience of early adopters to one that is more mainstream.

When targeting the second wave of smartphone users, we believe strategists should: 

  • Design specific mobile products by better understanding new smartphone owners. New segments of smartphone owners will emerge, with a much more diverse profile than the first wave of smartphone early adopters. One way to obtain more detailed information about these consumers is to use the basic connectivity of the smartphone to establish the beginnings of a digital customer relationship. The promise of ongoing product upgrades is one incentive that may convince these new customers to share their information, but free content such as an application is more likely to win their confidence.
  • Carefully monitor new smartphone owners’ usage. There is always a huge gap between the features available on a smartphone and the actual use of these features. It is critical to constantly analyze how smartphone users are using their devices; this will allow strategists to optimize the road maps not only for new devices but also for those products and services to be delivered to the second wave of smartphone users. 
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Mobile Location Becomes Invisible

Maps and navigation are not yet mainstream, but they are more useful as product features anyway. This means that location is no longer a service like maps or navigation but is increasingly an enabler of new product experiences.

  • Location and maps are increasingly becoming features of new mobile products and services.
  • Location will happen automatically, behind the scenes. Adjustments will be invisible from a user perspective (think about the automatic weather update on your home screen widget).
  • Relevancy of local data will improve quickly. The era of basic point of interest (POI) information is over. Enriching addresses with more accurate information on opening hours, real-time data (traffic information, promotions, etc.), product/brand data, dynamic data (consumer reviews, inventory information) will deliver greater consumer benefits.
  • New algorithms will bridge the physical and digital worlds. Coupling more accurate local data with user context and other sources of information will foster the development of crowdsourcing and predictive analysis (e.g., predicting traffic congestion or air quality monitoring). Moving forward, these new algorithms will have far-reaching consequences well beyond mobile.
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The Future Of Mobile Is User Context

I have had the opportunity to contribute to a brand-new piece of research led by my colleague Julie A. Ask, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester.

We both believe mobile has the potential to be even bigger and more disruptive than the Internet.

That’s a bold statement! Today, few of the numerous professionals we interviewed are developing digital strategies that leverage context and make the most of the phenomenal technology packed inside mobile devices. Even fewer are anticipating the opportunities that will emerge tomorrow, with technology innovation driving capabilities around the user’s context.

Indeed, the fancy features, such as GPS and NFC, embedded in mobile phones will become common, while new sensors like barometers will reveal more about the user’s environment. The phones will also act as modems, relaying or interpreting information from other machines or from attachments with sensors. In a few years, mobile will be divorced from the PC. While a mobile device may have the ability to act like a PC, it has the potential to do much, much more. Product strategists must step into the leadership role, driving the development of user-context-based products. Increasingly, voice and motion will control devices and applications. There will be an entirely new generation of products and services delivered on mobile platforms that will not originate online.

At the end of the day, who knows you best? Your mobile phone! Why?

Because it will become the device you use to interact with the world around you — your hotel room, your shopping cart, your TV, your bank, your parking meter, your car, your running shoes, and many other aspects of your life. You won’t be able to keep anything secret from your mobile phone.

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Mobile Is Bridging The Digital And Physical Worlds: It Is Time To Invent New Product And Services

Google’s product strategists just announced the launch of Google Wallet — an NFC-based mobile payment solution. As my colleague Charlie Golvin pointed out, this is another early salvo in what will be a long and hard-fought battle to change consumers’ payment behavior and, as a potential result, the makeup of the payments landscape.

We have covered this issue in more detail in a new Forrester report “Google Wallet Is Not About Mobile Payments.” Clients can access the report here.

Given its core search business and ad-based revenue model, why would the company make that investment? Because Google’s product strategists’ focus is not on the payment itself; it’s on all of the other elements that comprise a commerce experience and the data that characterizes those elements.

Indeed, appending real-world purchase information to its treasure trove of online behavioral data will vastly increase the value of customers’ profiles and increase the rates Google can charge its advertisers. It will be a way for Google to increase its local presence. NFC is too often equated simply with payments, but Google understands that NFC tags have broad application (working like Quick Response [QR] and other 2D barcodes do today). Google can help retailers use NFC tags for in-store promotions and check-ins, augmenting the understanding of customer behavior for ad targeting.

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Why The “Web Versus Application” Debate Is Irrelevant

Rarely a mobile conference goes by without this debate popping up: Should you build a mobile website or an application? I don’t think it really matters; in fact, I’d say it is irrelevant. This is just one of many topics where technology leads marketing by the nose— as is often the case in the mobile industry! Product strategists often forget to ask themselves the right questions: which product and services, for which audiences, at what cost, and when?

Consumer product strategists designing product experiences for mobile phones and smartphones must decide on their development priorities across the mobile Web and apps. While some believe this is a fundamental “either/or” choice, current consumer behavior suggests that consumers are using both. More than half of European (and 60% of US) consumers who download apps at least monthly also access the Internet via their mobile phones at least daily. In short, heavy app users are also heavy mobile Web users. The more frequently consumers access the Internet via their mobile phones, the more likely they are to download apps at least monthly. More than 10 billion apps have been downloaded cumulatively since the launch of the Apple App Store — the majority of them via iPhones. But this doesn’t stop iPhone owners from being the most frequent mobile Internet users: 72% of European iPhone owners (and 63% of US iPhone owners) access the mobile Internet on a daily basis.

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Mobile Payments Enter A Disruptive Phase

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal mentioned that Google could team up with MasterCard and Citigroup to pursue a role in mobile payments; this is yet another indication that disruption is looming in the payment space.

In his keynote at 2011’s Mobile World Congress, Google CEO Eric Schmidt stated that “NFC should revolutionize electronic commerce as well as payments.”

What does Google have to do with payments? Well, it has already rolled out (quite unsuccessfully so far) Google Checkout. What’s different about this new proposal is that this is not just about payments: Google would embed Near Field Communication (NFC) technology in Android mobile devices, allowing consumers to make purchases by waving their smartphones in front of a small reader at checkout counters. So what? Well, NFC is more than just a payment technology; it brings mobile payments together with mobile marketing and loyalty programs. As with mobile devices in general, it helps bridge the digital and physical worlds.

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Back From My Pilgrimage To Mobile’s Mecca

Once again, I spent a couple of days in Barcelona at Mobile World Congress (MWC). 

With 60,000 visitors (10,000 more than last year) — including an amazing 12,000 developers (!), 3,000 CEOs, and 2,900 journalists — MWC is the place to be for anyone wanting to make the most of mobile technologies.

Year after year, it is interesting to see how the show is becoming more global, more open to non-telecom players (advertisers, developers, etc.), and more open to connected devices other than just phones.

While it is difficult to summarize all the news and announcements, here are my key takeaways from MWC 2011:

  • Android, Android, Android.Google’s Android stand was the hit of MWC this year. Why? Very clever marketing: It was located in the main hall away from all the other players in the App Planet hall; it had a “cool” bar with animations; the Android robot logo was all over the place; and it featured interesting demonstrations from startups and key players. Google’s Android was helped by Apple’s absence and the lack of a serious upgrade to Windows Phone 7, unlike last year. Of course, the Nokia-Microsoft deal came up in most conversations. Forrester has already published its take on the strategic implications of this key announcement (clients can read it here). As my colleague Charles Golvin sums it up: “Nokia hopes to produce its first Windows Phone in 2011, but it will not bring a significant portfolio to the market in volume until 2012 — a lifetime in today’s smartphone market.” With 300,000 Android phone activations per day and 170 Android-based handsets currently available from 27 vendors, Android is definitely getting a lot of traction. 
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Nokia Results: An Ovi Store Update

Nokia just published its fourth-quarter and annual results for 2010. I am not going to focus on the overall announcements and what they mean for Nokia’s device business in particular, but Nokia’s update on the Ovi Store is quite interesting.

Here are some of the key takeaways from a data perspective:

  • 4 million-plus daily downloads on the Ovi Store.This is an increase of 200% from the 2 million daily downloads statistic shared at Nokia World in mid-September. If momentum continued and we assumed an average of 5 million-plus daily downloads throughout 2011, this would represent close to 2 billion downloads for 2011 alone. That’s not bad considering that Apple just announced 10 billion cumulative downloads since the launch of the Apple App Store in July 2008.
  • Good performance in BRIC and emerging countries.Seven of the top 10 most active countries are in the BRIC region or are emerging countries. These include: China, where Nokia claims to be the No. 1 store with 65% share (based on independent research); India; Indonesia; Russia, which sees more than 1 million downloads per week; Saudi Arabia, Turkey, with 1.6 million downloads per week; and Vietnam. One should not forget that growth and volumes will increasingly come from these regions. As a result, developers may increasingly be open to Nokia’s pitch that it offers local reach and global scale. One of the main advantages of the Ovi Store is its ability to provide operator billing (currently available in 32 markets), which makes a lot of sense in unbanked or underbanked countries where credit card penetration is low. Interestingly, 27% of the current downloads come from low-end devices (e.g, Nokia’s S40 proprietary platform) — meaning that apps are not just for “smartphones.”
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2011 Mobile Trends

In a recent post, my colleague Julie Ask and I examined what happened in the mobile space in 2010. In a new report, we are highlighting what we expect the key trends to be in 2011. While we believe that most of the trends identified last year will continue throughout the year ahead, here’s a snapshot of more specific trends that will shape the market in 2011.

•           The mobile/social/local combo will explode in usage but generate little revenue.

•           2011 will be the year of the “dumb” smartphone user. Thanks to handset subsidies, smartphones will be available to the masses. Expect new smartphone users to be less engaged and active than the first cohorts of Android and iPhone early adopters. The good news is that thanks to customer education and the convenience that these devices offer, even “dumb” smartphone users will consume more mobile media than ever before and will have incremental usage of mobile data!

•           The mobile fragmentation problem will continue in 2011. Prioritizing mobile developments will still be a challenge, and cross-platform development has not yet been achieved successfully.

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