mobile internet

Time to think seriously about the iPhone

4:00am. I find myself reading an interesting story covering Portfolio’s web site – on my iPhone. As sleep comes back, I reflexively reach for the “save” (for later reading) button that is on every iPhone news application. But I am reading from the magazine’s site, as opposed to running an app on my smartphone; web sites don’t have a save button. I just became aware of a new set of habits, barely conscious and now ingrained thoughts/actions created by reading news stories on an iPhone (or an iPod Touch). A good sign.

In the Monday Note, for quite a while, Jean-Louis and I have been discussing the development of news-related iPhone apps (our first story “Why Publishers should grab the iPhone” goes back to a year ago,
or follow the iPhone tag on the Note). Since then, several news organizations have developed specific applications (not just tailored websites) for the iPhone. More

Reading from a smartphone, the smart way

I’m quite fond of Bloomberg’s iPhone application. My insomnia companion is my iPod touch, used as an alarm clock, and as a convenient bedtime newsreader. And the Bloomberg app is my favorite: good navigation, a simple bottom toolbar (News, Markets, MyStocks, StockFinder). In the News section, stories are shown as they are published and each time I open a page a banner briefly pops-up inviting me to go (or not to go, which is good) to the advertiser’s site. Articles are excellent as always, stocks charts — although depressing for those who owns any — are great, with pinch-zoom when looked in landscape mode. For a demo, you can go to this video,  or, better, download the app for free on iTunes Appstore.
Fine, but the Bloomberg app is still version 1.0. More

The end of Motorola?

Once upon a time, Motorola was the king of cell phones. AT&T invented the cellular network, Motorola, already a leader in radio technology, designed the mobile devices and, in 1983, introduces the Dyna-Tac, the first of a long line of clearly superior products, all ending in Tac.  In the late eighties and nineties, MicroTacs and StarTacs were musts for Silicon Valley geeks and MBAs alike.  Motorola’s prowess was, in fact, much wider, ranging from NASA communication equipment to microprocessors (6800, 68000 and PowerPC families) and networking equipment.  The company even made yet another name for itself by inventing the Six Sigma quality improvement processes.  Motorola was a widely admired electronics giant.  Was. More

Android Week

Something to keep our mind off the Wall Street catastrophe. Who knows, we might be on the verge of a “nuclear winter” as the Bush administration wakes up to another consequence of its intellectual shallowness, of its inability to understand that for markets to be really free they need to be regulated with an effective, uncorrupted police to enforce regulations.
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So, turning to saner pursuits, this coming Tuesday September 23rd, T-Mobile is slated to announce their first Android phone. What does this mean, how will this impact the smartphone market and the cellular carriers?
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Android is the name of the Open Source smartphone OS developed by Google’s engineers. What we think T-Mobile will introduce is a set built by HTC, running the Android OS and applications.  In advance of the launch, T-Mobile appears to be upgrading its network, or parts of it, to 3G connectivity.  In addition, T-Mobile plans an on-line store for Android applications, the rumor being it won’t impose the kind of restrictions Apple is known for.  In other words, T-Mobile welcomes Android developers with open arms.  Predictably, prices, handset and service, will be iPhone-like.  What appears to be not at all iPhone-like is a slide-out keyboard to be used with the screen in landscape mode.
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If all of the above is close enough to the upcoming facts, this will add a considerable amount of energy to the already lively smartphone market. Many, yours truly included, are happy to see more competition for the iPhone and his imperious maker.  As I was documenting my iPhone’s numerous crashes, one Apple individual expressed happiness: There was only one “real” OS crash, you see, the rest being processed “killed because they started to use up too much memory.” It’s a relief to know my rudely interrupted Safari browser connections or Maps searches are not real crashes.
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But, more competition is a vague phrase. Nokia has been around a long time, Windows Mobile is about 10 years old, RIM (Blackberry) too, to say nothing of Palm, Sony Ericsson and Motorola.  The iPhone has had competition for more than a year, what changes now?
Not the operator situation.  T-Mobile is a good company, with good customer service, they’re part of the big Deutsche Telekom konzern, arguably smaller but more solid than Sprint.  Curiously, neither Verizon nor AT&T, nor Sprint appear to be interested in Android.  Is it because they fear Google will have too much power on them because of the openness of the platform, because it could lead to Android VoIP applications bypassing their network billing system?  T-Mobile, in a challenger position, has no such fear.  On Blackberries, they offer what is known as WiFi Mobile Calling, that is VoIP over WiFi at home or at the office.  In other words, carriers don’t like Google pushing them towards their pre-ordained destiny: becoming wireless ISP.  Verizon talks the Open (that word again) Network talk but doesn’t really walk the walk, that is allowing anyone to bring their handset to their network.  They and Motorola got sued, and had to settle, for removing Bluetooth features allowing too much data exchange between a laptop and a phone.  Such exchange was bad: it reduced billable network traffic.  A bigger threat to the iPhone would be Verizon embracing the Android platform.
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What about the product itself?  I’ll get one as soon as possible, I already have a T-Mobile subscription. I suspect the keyboard-based UI will be well received and I’m sure we’ll see good applications on the handset, if only native Google apps, games and utilities.  The technophile is excited, and so is the venture capitalist as Android will help more applications developers make more money, resulting in new opportunities to finance interesting companies.
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And there is Google. Not the Android team, some members are ex-accomplices of mine, I admire what they do, but Google the search and advertising and Cloud Computing company.  Will Google help the still very timid smartphone advertising market?  Will a better keyboard enable more mobile applications?  For example, even as a long-time Blackberry user, I would not write this column on it.  And I won’t do it on my iPhone either.  But, will I use Google Docs on the T-Mobile handset because of its (rumored) horizontal keyboard?
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Moving to content, will the T-Mobile Android phone run all YouTube videos, will it run a version of Flash?  The iPhone doesn’t, a topic of muddled technical and industry politics debate, Apple and Adobe aren’t working too well together of late.
Still on content, imagine this: Google makes a deal with Amazon and all the Kindle content becomes available on Android phones.  Or, not at first but in a future iteration, the video downloads Amazon sells become available on Android.  And why not start sooner with the music (MP3) files Amazon sells.
You see why I’m curious.  I’m lucky, the T-Mobile office in Palo Alto is about 100 yards away from my office.  –JLG
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A second look at 3G

by Jean-Louis Gassée
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Revelation or revelator?  I’m referring to the iPhone, of course. We’ll quickly skip over the revelation part, enough praise (and some well-deserved barbs) already.  Instead, we’ll look at the light the iPhone sheds on the cellular infrastructure and on the culture of operators.
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The symptoms: spotty 3G coverage, bad reception, ‘bandwidth’ (meaning download speed) far from the “twice as fast” claims, poor battery performance.  To say nothing of software reliability complaints.  Add Apple’s lofty claims and relative inexperience in cellular telephony and you get a nice target.  As the French like to say, the higher the monkey climbs, the more people see his… mistakes.
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This being America, we now have three lawsuits broadly accusing Apple and AT&T of false claims. At the same time, the chattering classes, read the blogosphere and the aging MSM (Mainstream Media), promptly filled up with comments, explanations and accusations.  More confusion than light.
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Apple first clammed up in its usual imperious style but, soon, emails from Dear Leader himself leaked out.  Steve Jobs replied a couple of customers, acknowledged the contribution of software bugs to battery and connection issues and promised fixes in September.  All along, the company refrained from implicating carriers.
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However, as more facts emerged, we began to see a different picture.
The magazine Wired conducted a nationwide study that pointed the finger at the carrier, AT&T.  Then, a Swedish lab took it upon itself to test the iPhone reception (story on Cnet and in the Göteborg Posten), comparing it to leading 3G handsets.  The result?  With regards to radio performance, the 3G iPhone was indistinguishable from Nokia or Sony Ericsson handsets.
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Then, it transpired that Orange, in France, was ‘throttling’ the 3G iPhone. Throttling?  Here the word refers to Orange deliberately limiting the transfer speed, the bandwidth provided to iPhones to 384Kbps (Kilobits per second), which seems to be the ‘legal’ minimum of the ITU (International Telecommunications Union), not the 1Mbps or more ‘sold’ by the carriers.  [I went to the ITU site and entered 3G in the Search field.  The answer is: “The component required for this action is not available”.  This in both Simple and Advanced search.  Fortunately, Google provides the usual abundance of links and things become even less clear.  Regarding the 384Kbps number, some interpret it as the maximum rate for slowly moving devices, such as a handset carried by a walking user.  Others quote the IMT-2000 standard and ominously remind us: “The total max bandwidth of 2.4 Mbits are to be shared by all users within a single cell sector. One cell normally has 3 sectors to cover the full 360 degrees area around a cell antenna tower”.
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Confused?  Let’s step back a bit.
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When we look again at the Orange item, one implication becomes explicit: the network knows it is serving an iPhone.  A dialog, a protocol sets up the connection, identifies the phone/customer for billing, etc…  The “etc” part is very sophisticated as it allows the network to regulate the phone’s radio power, for example, no need to “shout” if the cell tower is near.  This, in turn, points to the ‘client’ side, to the iPhone’s role in the protocol.  Hence the acknowledgement by Apple of connection and power management bugs, hopefully corrected by this past Friday’s 2.1 update.  (I installed it and have nothing useful to report yet – which could be good news.)
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On the carrier side, a set of facts emerges. To begin with, carriers weren’t prepared for the iPhone, because it isn’t really a phone, it is an Internet device with a phone thrown in.  As noted here before, Google found that the iPhone provided 50 times more search traffic than the next smartphone down the list.  In the past, carriers touted smartphones as having browsing and multimedia messaging capabilities but these were hard enough to use to be hardly used.  The iPhone comes in with the first real smartphone browser and the naïve customers use it.  So much so that the network buckles under the load or, in Orange’s case, tries to survive by spreading the penury.  (In recent statements Orange appeared to promise to be back at 1.5Mbps “in September”.) See also how iTunes wireless download are only allowed with a WiFi connection, not 3G.
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So far, carriers have managed to maintain an oligopoly, a market with a very small number of suppliers. Economic theory holds an oligopoly suppresses real competition and leads to various forms of implicit or even active price fixing, as we’ve seen in France.  The lower level of competition allows carriers to delay investments and ‘milk’ their network (and their customers) just like the good old cable networks operators.  In downtown Palo Alto, the birthplace of Silicon Valley, there still are ‘white spots’, places where you have No Service.
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In keeping with the carriers’ culture, we see a combination of small print and outright misrepresentations of services.  Summarizing: your payment is mandatory, our performance is optional.  No wonder ‘trial lawyers’ are rising to this tempting occasion, this after courts started taking another look at the dreaded
mandatory arbitration clauses
carriers use to prevent disgruntled customers from seeking redress in court.
This is unfortunate.  Cellular networks are wonderful, when they work.  The voice and data services they strive to provide make our lives more productive, more fun and emotionally more connected.  (I know, there are also terribly annoying and dehumanizing uses too.)  For the technically curious, wireless networks are both admirable and ugly, an ever evolving patchwork of high-tech bits and pieces striving to appear seamless.
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We can only hope regulatory authorities will pay more attention to the gap between what carriers promise (and ruthlessly charge for) and what they deliver. As for the tall markitecture tales of 4G networks, today they’re just a way to move the debate away from today’s shortcomings by touting a bright future. –JLG
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By the numbers. And what do they mean for our industry

This is the Fall season of business plans for the coming year. The numbers will mean pain for the media industry. Below is a set of facts and figures to keep in mind when considering newspapers, advertising, search, mass collaboration… and coffee.
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The newspaper industry’s overall condition
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80% gone: Within the last 12 months, the market value of newspapers groups such as Gannett and McClatchy went down by 80% or so. The New York Times lost 70% of its market cap during the same period, closing Friday at $13, lowest in ten years.  Monthly figures are not encouraging either: the New York Times Co.’s revenue (including the International Herald Tribune and the Boston Globe) dropped by 10% from a year earlier. Advertising sales are down by 16% and circulation revenue slipped by 0.5%. Classified (jobs, cars, real-estate) are down 30%.  For Gannett and McClatchy, ad revenue losses are accelerating, approaching the -20% zone for the past twelve months basis. Even News Corp has seen its value erased by 40% since Rupert Murdoch bought the Wall Street Journal. (Alan Mutter is tracking those numbers in his blog)
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What it means: two things. More newsrooms layoffs, more consolidations.  For the latter, consolidations, the weightiest — and yet quite unlikely – would be the acquisition of the New York Times by Murdoch. As reported by Michael Wolff in Vanity Fair’s latest issue, Murdoch keeps crunching numbers in contemplation of such a move. (One of the assumptions is merging the back-office operations of the Times and the Wall Street Journal). Europe won’t be spared by massive restructurings, not only slashing the editorial meat (the easy way), but also by repositioning newspapers and changing revenue models.
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IPhone & mobile browsing
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$1million a day. That’s the gross revenue for iPhone applications sold through the AppStore. Apple reported 60 million downloads of applications for the iPhone, just one month after the opening of the AppStore (source: Wall Street Journal, Aug. 11). Apple is getting “only” 30% of this revenue. Still, this market, potentially $1bn a year, didn’t exist three months ago.
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+58%. IPhone browsing has increased by 58% from July to August as reported by Market Share (the 3G version was launched July 11).
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What it means: the mobile Internet is finally gaining traction. By the end of the year, several competitors (Nokia, RIM-Blackberry, Android) will join the fray with powerful and user-friendly browsers. We foresee another steep increase in mobile browsing after the holiday season. 2009 could be “the” year for mobile browsing.
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140 million users of mobile social networks by 2013. According to ABI Research, the next big thing is mobile access to social rings such as Facebook or MySpace. ABI might be right judging by the number of people who got the Facebook app on their iPhone.  The exact number isn’t known but this app received the highest number of reviews of all iPhone apps, more than 2030 reviews, compared to a couple of hundreds for the next one down the list.
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What it means: even though social networking has yet to become a channel for news delivery, it is the medium of choice to reach young people. Facebook, MySpace and others are used by:  85% of online and mobile active users from the “Generation Y” (born after 1979);  71% by Gen X (born  between1965-19789); and 59% by Baby-boomers (born between 1946-1964). (Sources: Pew Research and eMarketer)
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Advertising
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24.4 million downloads of the ad-blocking plug-in for Firefox, a 10 times increase in one year. It is by far the most popular add-on this browser. This yields only 5,4 million daily users but their number is growing fast and a rate of half million download per day can’t be ignored. (Source: Mozilla.org)
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What it means: sites should think twice before before inundating their home page with invasive and poorly executed advertising. Those are incentives to use to ad-blocking software.
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42% of all online ad spending goes to search ads, and the proportion is growing. According to this eMarketer 2008 estimate, display ads spending will remain flat. (In fact, the percentage share will decline, since the overall online ad market is still growing at a healthy 20% in the US).
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What it means: keep that in mind if you are in business plan or website redesign mode (make room for Google Ads rather than for big banners).
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Search and News
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83% of people reading news on the internet use search engines to find stories of interest, even though they land, most of the times (51%), on a news brand they know (small consolation). The proportion was 70% in 2004, it is reaching a new plateau. But the intensity of search engines use is still growing: in 2004, 19% admitted using a SE three times a week; this proportion is now 31%.
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What it means: search engine optimization is definitely a “must” investment. No doubt. A good SEO person in an e-newsroom quickly pays for his salary.  As far as Search Engine Marketing (keywords acquisition) is concerned, this is a different story. Some news sites (such as Le Figaro in France) are racking up great ranking thanks to a massive investment in keywords. Viewed from an Excel perspective, it does work — in the short run. But there is still no model showing how a site that relies heavily on keywords purchases actually keeps its audience. It’s dope, you’re high for a short time.
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700 to 1000 Google computers are used to execute a single search (when you hit the enter key). In a split second (113 million results for ‘léonard’ in 17 hundreds of a second), a Google-brewed software called Map Reduce slices up your request, distributes it among its million servers and sends back results. Google invests about $2bn a year in datacenters.  For this, the company buys up land across the world on one condition: as traffic grows, it must accommodate a new building within six months.

What it means: theses numbers are just a glimpse at Google’s unparalleled power. The latest iteration of Google’s drive for more power is the new browser Chrome (see Jean-Louis’ column below). But it is not the last. Google wants to index the world, from 32 million books listed in libraries worldwide to your voice-print if you call its phone directory, or street views (readable text included) of your town. Now, Google must be taken into consideration while planning for any information system.
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Long tail true stories
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90% of Netflix’s catalog (the American DVD rental store) is rented at least once a month. And nearly two-thirds of the movies are rented thanks to a recommendation generated by the site itself.
MSNBC uses a cookie to keep track of the 16 articles recently read and uses automated text analysis to predict what news story you’ll want to read. (Source: Super crunchers by Ian Ayres)
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What it means: social recommendation engines and collaborative filtering works. They help revive inventories, movies or news stories. OK, this bruises the charming notion of serendipity. But keep this in mind: a ten-year old newspaper publishing an average of 50 stories a day built a stock of 150.000 articles to dig in.  Next, consider that online papers have between 3 to 5 pages views per visits.  An optimized delivery system for related stories makes a huge difference in revenue.
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10 million subscribers for Safaricom, a Kenyan mobile phone operator. Interestingly, when Vodafone bought a stake in this company back in 2000, the first version of the business plan bet on 400,000 users max. It got 25 times more. Among things other than good service and good pricing, Safaricom encouraged new uses such as transferring money. Working with Barclays, Standard Chartered and Oracle, Safaricom created M-Pesa a mobile phone cash-transfer system, now a quasi-bank. Safaricom is a profitable $1bn company (read its CFO interview in Kenya business daily).
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What it means: new (big) businesses can emerge  from unexpected applications based on existing platforms.
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Wiki dynamics
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1.7 minutes. This is the time it takes to see an obscenity removed by the editors of Wikipedia, according to the MIT. Nature magazine took a sample of 42 scientific entries and found 3 inaccuracies in Encyclopedia Britannica and 4 in Wikipedia. One big difference: on Wiki the new, corrected edition, is just minutes away. (Source: Wikinomics,  by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams).
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What it means: the idea of full-of-crap wiki systems is dead. Fact is: due to its contributive structure, Wikipedia is a fairly accurate tool. On a purely statistical basis, editors and publishers should not be afraid of setting up Wiki-information systems for news-related topics. Today’s reluctance lies in our culture, not in the cost column: Wikipedia has only five full time employees.
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Water consumption
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840 liters of water to produce this article. That’s about the eco-footprint of the six cups of coffee I drank writing this note. Each 125ml cup required 140 liters of water to grow and process the beans. Stunning, isn’t it? And that’s nothing compared to 16.000 liters (yep, sixteen tons of water) to produce one single kilogram of beef. By comparison, the computer industry is downright frugal with only 32 liters to produce a 2gr microchip. How does it relate to the news business. Uh, it doesn’t. (Source:waterfooprint.org). –FF
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Fiction: How Steve Jobs Cuckolds AT&T

Steve shimmers into a bar, materializes next to Dan Hesse, Sprint’s CEO, crying in his mojito and whispers: I can fulfill your fondest dream. You’re the Devil, go away! No, I’m merely Steve Jobs and I want nothing to do with your soul or your chiseled body. Relax, it’s just about money.

A little bit of context before we move to the How of Steve’s bargain.

In the US, we have three main carriers (sorry, T-Mobile), AT&T, Verizon and Sprint. Verizon appears to have the better, more modern (EVDO) network.
AT&T is rapidly upgrading to what is known as 3G, a world standard, competitive but not compatible with EVDO. Sprint, the smaller one, has EVDO, almost identical to Verizon, it is losing ground to the two big ones. The Sprint-Nextel merger is a disaster, to the point where Sprint wants to get rid of the company it acquired for $35 billions in 2005. Sprint’s revenue is falling: -11% when compared to the same second quarter last year, this in spite of introducing a $99 Everything plan, unlimited voice, data, music, video. “Some restrictions apply”: look at the minuscule print here, at the bottom of the screen, tiny white characters on a black background. In the almost illegible but instructive gibberish, they have the nerve to add: “Other restrictions apply. See store or sprint.com for details”. But I am on the Details Page on sprint.com!
(Intrigued, I checked: Verizon does a better job of spelling out its conditions and AT&T has the best organized one of all three.)

And, for the first six months of 2008, Sprint has lost 2 million subscribers, nothing to do with the reality and the perception of Apple smartphone sales: probably more than 10 million units in 2008, a majority of in the US.
Now we understand why the CEO is in his cups.

Steve whispers: Dan, look at the iPod Touch here. We’ve added a microphone, already available from third parties, and we grafted a Sprint radio, liberated from Jeff’s Kindle. It’s not a telephone. No, we have this exclusivity agreement with Ma Bell. In 2007, we let them say it was for five years. Now, with our 3G product, it’s been “extended” to 2010. Who knows, next year we’ll extend it to 2009.

Offer this iPod Touch with one of your All You Can Packetize plans. I’m sure the iPhone developers will put one or more Skype-like applications on it, VoIP software. You won’t mind, right? You’re not as uptight as AT&T outlawyering the use of an iPhone as a 3G laptop modem. This iPod is not a phone, it’s an Internet device, you’ll sell millions of them, your errant subscribers will return to Sprint’s fold. And you’ll keep your job. What do you say?

Awright, stop drinking that stuff and sign here. –JLG

Launchpad Chicken: MobileMe and Sync Trouble

by Jean-Louis Gassée

Simple is hard. Easy is harder. Invisible is hardest. So goes one of the many proverbs of our computer lore. As Apple found out last month with the MobileMe launch misfires, the lofty promise of “Exchange for the rest of us” translated into a user experience that was neither simple nor easy — in a highly visible way. Four weeks later, the service appears stable but doubts linger: Is Apple able to run a worldwide wireless data synchronization service for tens of millions of users.


What happened and what does it mean for MobileMe’s future?


Let’s start by decoding the “Launchpad Chicken” phrase. The game of Chicken is one by which two young males test their virility in the following way: from opposite directions, two cars speed towards each other on the same lane of a country road. The one who steers away first obviously lacks cojones and is derisively called chicken. You might ask about brains versus testes but here we are, the chicken is the one who “blinks first”. Now, let’s turn to the launchpad. Picture the NASA control room before the launch of an expedition to the Moon. Hundreds of (mostly) men in white short-sleeves shirts, pocket protectors and eyeglasses, hunched before screens, keyboards and telephones. Each one monitors a subsystem: left liquid hydrogen tank, backup gyroscopes, main engine telemetry… In the huge air-conditioned control room, five of these men are sweating, something’s not quite right with their baby. The temperature keeps rising, the pressure is falling, the telemetry link is weakening. Almost but not quite in the red zone. If the parameters keep drifting like this, they’ll have to pick up the red phone. But who wants to be the one who aborts the launch? So, they sweat some more and hope someone else blinks first. There you have it: Launchpad Chicken.


Now, move the imagery to projects with complicated subsystems. You see how the NASA metaphor made its way to Silicon Valley. There is always hope some other engineer will raise a hand and spare me the embarrassment of admitting my part of the project could crash the launch. This is what happened for MobileMe, with a twist on the cojones, so to speak. No one had enough brains and guts to risk humiliation, to raise a hand and say: Chief, we’re not ready here, let’s stop everything. As a result, MobileMe badly crashed on launch. A couple of weeks later, we have a leak: an “internal” memo from Steve Jobs. The email states the retroactively obvious, the project should have been delayed or at least launched in stages. No less obviously, a new leader is appointed, Eddy Cue, he’ll continue to run the iTunes systems as well. Charitably, the deposed MobileMe boss is granted anonymity, he might have been misinformed by his charges, or he might not have asked the right questions at the right times, it doesn’t matter anymore.


But, you’ll ask, that doesn’t tell us what went wrong, which liquid hydrogen tank sprung a leak. This now gets us into two more topics: sync and size. Sync here means keeping information identical, consistent over two or more devices. Less abstractly, for a simple example, I have a phone and a computer, I want their address books to identical or, at least, consistent. On simple cell phones, I use a cable (or a Bluetooth wireless connection) plus software to copy (parts of) my computer address book to the phone. But, wait a minute, I entered numbers on the phone that are not on my computer; I don’t want the copy from the computer to wipe out those new numbers. Trouble starts, as if connecting the cell phone to the computer and running the program wasn’t buggy enough. Tou want the software to compare the two address books, the phone’s and the laptop’s and decide what to keep and what to change, on both devices. But what about homonyms, or different numbers for the same person’s home? The program, hopefully, raises those “exceptions” and lets a human arbitrate.


We’re just warming up. Now picture a more real-life situation. One traveling consultant with one laptop, one smartphone, both carrying mail, address books and calendars and one assistant in the office with a desktop computer. In Microsoft Exchange’s lingo, the assistant is a “delegate”, has access, including modifications and new entries, to the traveling consultant’s data. Everything must be kept identical, consistent, in sync. How is this done?


Using the Exchange server as an example, it keeps the “true” data. And the “clients”, meaning the smartphone, the laptop, the assistant’s PC submit changes, new mail, an updated appointment, a new contact home phone to the Exchange server. In turn, the server propagates changes to the clients. We say the updates are “pushed” to the smartphone or the laptop, just as they “push” new mail or a new calendar item to the server. You can easily imagine conflict situations: the same appointment changed by the consultant and the assistant, address updates and the like. By now, at least on Exchange, these “exceptions” are well understood and generally well-handled. But it took years of practice. Just as it has taken years for RIM (founded in 1984), the Blackberry (launched in 1999) creators to polish what is the best-selling synchronized smartphone. Details, details and more subtle mistakes and special cases found and fixed. The Blackberry got its stardom from truly delivering the Simple, Easy, Invisible proposition referred to in the beginning of this essay.


MobileMe aspires to deliver a similarly invisible level of synchronization for people who don’t have an Exchange server, hence the “Exchange for the rest if us” slogan. But seeing the launch glitches, I wonder how many people at Apple stooped to using a Blackberry with an Exchange account. Doing this would have sobered them a little in advance of the launch, or delayed the whole thing, or tempered the boasts. Shortly after MobileMe’s first missteps, Apple publicly and smartly retracted its use of “Push” to describe MobileMe’s synchronization and the “Exchange for the rest of us” motto is no longer seen on the company’s Web site.


Moving to size: quantity begets nature. At some (often mysterious) point, more of the same becomes something different. One server, ten servers, more of the same. One thousand servers or, in Google’s case, running one million servers is of a different nature. Meaning different people with different knowledge and appetites than the ones needed to run a company’s email server. If every other iPhone customer wants to sync a PC or Mac with the newly (or old, with the 2.0 software update) purchased iPhone, MobileMe will soon serve millions and, in a not too distant future, tens of millions of iPhones. Besides knowing or not knowing the Buddha of sync, did the MobileMe team have the experience, the knowledge, the appreciation of the “size” problem before them? Very few people in our industry do. Ask Google’s rivals why they were trounced by someone coming late to the game but with a better handle on the “size” or “scale” problem. (See this paper from UC Berkeley, where ultra-large scale computing is actively researched, with private industry subsidies.)
In passing, 10 million MobileMe subscriptions at $100/year is a nice piece of change, one billion dollars, worth the trouble.


Let’s step back a little. Apple “pushes” somewhere between 100 and 200 megabytes of updates per month to each Mac user. Last week, the iPhone 2.0.1 update was announced, I connected two iPhones within minutes, the 200Mb files were downloaded and installed without a hitch and I haven’t heard any blogosphere complaints on the matter. iTunes has sold billions of songs, serves tens of millions of customers everyday and everything works with very few exceptions. In other words, some very large scale Apple systems do work. As discussed above, the iTunes boss (some say slave driver, a meliorative term in context) in now also in charge of MobileMe.


And, last week, parts of the Gmail service were down for 15 hours or so. Last month, Amazon’s respected Web Services went down. And, last year, RIM’s servers went down for about half a day in the Western Hemisphere, freaking out Wall Street investment bankers and management consultants. Even the best players must endure their share of false notes.


Back to MobileMe today:if you ask subscribers who’ve never experienced a Blackberry’s smooth delivery of sync, they love MobileMe. It works, it’s easy to set up and in the simple (most frequent) case of a PC/Mac with an iPhone, it does the wireless (OTA, Off The Air) sync job as now advertised. We’ll see how this scales once iPhones are sold in 21 more countries, 43 total starting August 22nd.


–JLG


The rise of the nomadic web browsing

“Welcome to the Weekend Web”, said Business Week. Internet browsing differs from weekdays to weekends. In this story, Google Mobile’s chief says that the biggest part of traffic on the search giant’s mobile sites occurs Saturdays and Sundays. The weekend’s mobile web promenade involves mostly classified and local sites. Among them (on the US market), Craigslist, both a huge classifieds site and a local destination. According to M:Metrics (now part of ComScore) mobile browsing has surged 89% last year and mobile page views are up by 127%. No doubt than within few years, the mobile Web will be bigger than current PC Web… but also harder to monetize.

Here are the top 10 sites viewed on mobile phones (figures are in minutes per user and per month) Craigslist_____99 mn

Ebay_________86 mn

MySpace______85 mn

Facebook_____84mn

Go.com(1)____67 mn

Google_______63 mn

Yahoo________53 mn

AOL__________41mn

Live.com(2)___37 mn

CNN.com_____10mn

(1) Disney portal gives access to ESPN

(2) Microsoft portal

Actually, The New York Times is also quite bullish about mobile browsing. In this video interview on Beet.tv, Michael Zimbalist, head of R&D at the Times, confirms the growth of mobile pages and explains the relationship the Times is developing between mobile and print content.

Mobile phone –The value of data

ComScore, the internet measurement company, announced it was acquiring M:Metrics for $44m. Not a deal comparable to last year acquisition of Telephia by Nielsen, for $440m but still a significant event. This acquisition confirms that tracking the expansion of mobile devices as well as the behavior of its users is as important as the data currently collected on the Internet. M:Metrics is specialized in analyzing the usage of mobile phones, and more importantly, smartphones. As the founder of M:Metrics, Will Hodgman, pits it: “We want to know behavior across the internet regardless of device.” (His interview to Moconews, here).