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Both MediaTek and Jolla raise eyebrows at MWC 2015.
- It seems like MediaTek has been around for ages but it is a very different company now than it was even 12 months ago.
- Most people think of it as the cheap and cheerful vendor of vast volumes of low end chips but things have evolved.
- 12 months ago MediaTek launched its awareness campaign around “Everyday Genius” and since then it has built on that with the launch of “Helio”, a brand to compete against Snapdragon.
- This message appears to be much more than just fluff as this MWC has seen MediaTek launch products that bring these marketing messages to life.
- Furthermore, MediaTek’s strong presence in media devices has been put to good use by transferring technology into mobile.
- The rapid autofocus, dynamic contrast for display visibility in very bright light, ultra slow-motion are good examples of technology that has come from the media side but translate into features that are differentiating in mobile.
- This goes hand in hand with the launch of a range of chipsets that highlight the move into competing on performance not just on price.
- The LTE modem is still missing but MediaTek is planning on having Cat 6 LTE sometime in H2 2015E.
- These launches fit nicely into the strategy that is laid out but the real proof will come when it is seen how well these devices perform in the wild relative to their headline specifications.
- The mobile chipset merchant market is no longer comprised of a technology leader and a cost leader but two companies that are competing hard against each other at most levels of the market.
- This makes it increasingly difficult for others to fare well in this market and I suspect that exits and consolidation will continue.
- The brave sailors of the Sailfish OS received a massive boost with the announcement that Intel will now also support the platform.
- This combined with a nice update to the platform has propelled Jolla to be a talking point at the show.
- I strongly suspect that a partnership with Intel will bring next to no commercial benefit but it hugely increases Jolla’s credibility.
- The fact that Intel thinks that Sailfish is worthy of consideration will make it much easier for Jolla to get access to the large Chinese Internet players all of whom are trying to create their own ecosystems.
- In this regard Jolla along with Ubuntu, Tizen and Firefox are the main options for anyone looking to create an ecosystem that excludes Google.
- This appears to be exactly what the Chinese want and it also makes it possible for any handset vendor who makes GMS compliant devices outside of China to get involved.
- Tizen is seen by many to be the child of Samsung and Firefox is very low end, leaving Sailfish and Ubuntu as the strongest contenders to be the basis of a Chinese ecosystem.
- Furthermore, Jolla offers good compatibility with Android via its use of Myriad’s Alien emulator, and claims to have tweaked this such that the app performance has been vastly improved.
- This means that the Android apps should run pretty well on Sailfish and meaningfully reduces the disadvantage that Jolla suffers by having no app store of its own.
- With the device business now self-funded through crowd sourcing and $50m in the bank, Jolla has some resources to play with.
- Jolla has survived the rough seas of the last 18 months and the future is looking better than it has for quite some time.
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The real action in the mobile industry is no longer in Barcelona.
- With 90,000 attendees, MWC 2015 is bigger than ever but all through the bustle and the endless halls something is missing.
- Not only are the companies who make all the money in the mobile industry conspicuously absent, but no one is talking about software or ecosystem anymore.
- All of the product launches, the announcements and activity are almost entirely hardware centric.
- All of the stands are covered with endless slabs of black glass with a home button, a wearable or two and very little else.
- Samsung, Huawei, HTC, and many others have all launched products but the focus on the user experience, software and ecosystem is almost completely absent.
- It is almost as if the mobile industry has given up trying to compete in this space and has ceded the world to Google, Apple and China.
- The focus is back on hardware specification, connectivity and how much functionality can be crammed into a tiny piece of silicon.
- For the likes of Qualcomm, MediaTek and Intel, that is fine because there is a sustainable advantage to be had by being a provider of technology to consumer electronic devices.
- However for everyone else, nothing more than a commodity future beckons and the industry is set up to continue its break-neck race to the bottom.
- What is left is the possibility to earn a superior return by being significantly larger than ones competitors as R&D and sales and marketing are still critical parts of this business.
- By having greater revenues over which to amortise the fixed costs of R&D and marketing, slightly superior margins can be earned but these are very unlikely to get much above 10%.
- It is the ecosystem players such as Google, Apple, Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent who are making all the money with Microsoft, Yahoo! and Xiaomi snapping at their heels.
- Most of these companies are either not here at all or are operating in stealth mode leaving the rest of us vying for the scraps.
- It is still a massive industry with a vast revenue opportunity, but most of the real action and innovation is no longer here.
- Making the most of what is left is Samsung which has pulled out all the stops to differentiate itself in hardware and Samsung Pay but even if it is successful margins are likely to go back to 10-12% in the best instance.
- The two exceptions are Microsoft and Sony but they limited their announcements to the launch mid-range devices clearly aimed at recapturing the momentum lost in 2014A.
- It is clear that as far as the important announcements that will decide who makes the money in this industry and who does not have completely switched to the developer conferences.
- This is where the ecosystems reveal their latest services, their strategies to capture the hearts and minds of the users which at the end of the day is what now dominates the purchase choice by the user.
- Consequently expect the real action at BUILD (Microsoft April 29th – May 1st), Google i/o (May 28th – 29th) and WWDC (Apple – early June) to name but three, and it is there where the real future of the mobile and consumer electronics industries are likely to be decided.
- In that vein, I still think Microsoft has the greatest opportunity in front of it, but the time has come to really take the bull by the horns and explain its ecosystem to the end user.
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Hardware alone cannot restore lost margins.
- Samsung’s launch of the Galaxy s6 and s6 Edge clearly demonstrated how little is left for Samsung to play with now that Google has taken the whole ecosystem.
- Samsung launched the Galaxy s6 and a double edged variant at a large but somewhat subdued event in Barcelona.
- Samsung has really pulled out all the stops when it comes to innovating in hardware and in that regard, the Galaxy s6 is different.
- The new processor is a 14nm FinFET processor which offers more performance in a smaller footprint with less power consumption.
- The user replaceable battery is gone but in return Samsung has integrated wireless charging and LoopPay into a device that is only 6.8mm thick.
- LoopPay (see here) is the wireless payment company that Samsung has just acquired that transmits payment data to the magstripe sensor in any payment device.
- Both front and rear cameras have been improved with the real emphasis being placed on low light performance.
- The combination of a wider aperture of f1.9 and software interpolation gives impressive results in low light even compared to the mighty iPhone 6.
- Samsung also announced improvements in the screen but adding 77% more pixels to the already impressive s5 is unlikely to make users notice.
- Furthermore, the screen curving around both edges of the device is little more than a pointless gimmick as even Samsung could not come up with a good use for it.
- However, in high end devices if a pointless gimmick is perceived to be cool it can trigger very high volumes at good prices.
- Pointless gimmicks can sell phones but the lack of excitement that was generated around the first Galaxy Edge does not fill me with hope.
- It did not surprise me that Hyun Lee from the Samsung user experience innovation did not have much to say.
- This is because since January 2014, Samsung’s hands have been tied with regards to the changes that it can make to the overall user experience.
- Samsung has made a few cosmetic changes here and there but this remains first and foremost, a Google device.
- Users will make their primary ecosystem choice and then choose which device manufacturer to use to run it.
- This means that whatever kudos Samsung can win with its hardware innovation will be secondary to what is in the user’s mind at the point of purchase.
- This means that there is no real scope for these innovations to give Samsung’s back its ability to price its products at a premium, leaving it as a commodity just like everyone else.
- However, if Samsung can hang onto its current market share it may be able to get its margins back to 10-11% through scale but no further.
- With a plethora of new devices hitting the market driving more and more capable devices further down to the mass market, usage of smartphones is likely to continue growing.
- In the Google ecosystem, the only beneficiary is Google, as its handset partners continue to cut each other’s throats to drive more traffic to Google servers.
- Consequently, Google is the only stock I would consider within the Android camp but I would still prefer Microsoft over all.
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Apple in a weak position in its fight against Ericsson.
- Following the expiration of their licence deal in January 2015, Apple and Ericsson are heading to court to fight over the licensing of standard essential IP that relates to 3G and 4G.
- Ericsson has filed 7 complaints in the US claiming that Apple infringes up to 41 of its standard essential patents.
- Ericsson is also asking the ITC to ban Apple products from the US market as a result of the patent infringements.
- Apple has countersued Ericsson claiming that by asking for a percentage of the wholesale price of the device, Ericsson is unfairly benefitting from Apple innovations around design which it claims is a driver of its high ASPs.
- Ericsson claims that it offered Apple a licence, presumably on the same terms as before, but that Apple turned it down.
- Of all the companies that licence standard essential patents, Ericsson is reputed to be one of the fairer players.
- RFM research indicates that Ericsson seeks a price of around 1% of the wholesale price of the device compared to many of its peers which seek around 2%.
- This is despite the fact that Ericsson has one of the stronger patent positions in both 3G and 4G.
- The problem for Apple is that when it comes to settling legal disputes, what has happened or been agreed to in the past in often used as the basis for the outcome.
- This means that Apple is at a significant disadvantage in the following ways:
- First, Apple has previously agreed to pay Ericsson on the basis of the wholesale price of its devices.
- This implicitly means that has accepted this system as fair and reasonable (how SEPs must be licensed).
- Second, Apple has paid for these patents before meaning that it openly admits that its products infringe.
- RFM believes that Ericsson is asking for the same royalty rate as its previous agreement.
- Third, The fact that Apple has historically agreed to pay this rate means that it has implicitly agreed that this price both fair and reasonable.
- Fourth, by offering a license to Apple, Ericsson shows a greater willingness to negotiate, which will help how it is viewed by the court when the dispute is heard.
- I suspect that the net result is likely to be an outcome in Ericsson’s favour as the power of precedent means that the court is most likely to impose a royalty rate at the same level as before.
- Ericsson’s request of a ban to the ITC is extremely unlikely to amount to anything as the White House set a strong legal precedent by previously vetoing an ITC imposed ban related to the infringement of standard essential patents.
- The problem for Ericsson is time. Court cases take a very long time and I think that it will have to make a choice between accepting less money now or waiting for years to get paid.
- The other problem is that if Ericsson gives in to Apple, it will then be forced to give into everyone else because it must licence its essential patents in a non-discriminatory fashion.
- Given that Ericsson is profitable with good cash flow and a reasonable cash balance, it does not need the money now and can easily afford to wait it out.
- Consequently, I expect Ericsson to stand its ground meaning that this complaint is likely to be heard by the court.
- The net result is going to be yet another expensive fight where the only real beneficiaries are the lawyers.
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YouTube contributes no profit but a lot of value to Google.
- Even though YouTube managed to earn around $4bn in revenues in 2014A, the inherent nature of video economics continue to prevent it from turning a real profit in its own right.
- I suspect that the main reason for this is that most of the data that it gathers is monetised elsewhere within the Google ecosystem.
- As a result, YouTube is an excellent example of how important it is to look at the overall economics of an ecosystem rather than its individual pieces.
- I believe that YouTube is unprofitable for the following reasons.
- First, Although it has billions of visitors, it is estimated by data analytics company, Pivotal, that 9% of users consume 83% of the videos viewed.
- This has a substantial and negative effect on the advertising opportunity that exists for marketers on the platform.
- Second, A large proportion of the videos are viewed from embedded players rather than on the site itself.
- This reduces the opportunity for profiling of the user as well as the opportunity to advertise to that user.
- Third, The real money in TV, movies and video is not made in the long tail.
- In TV and video there is a small amount of content that appeals to almost everybody and then a long tail of categories and genres that appeal to special interest groups.
- YouTube is the long tail whereas Netflix is the small amount that everyone watches.
- Fourth, The popular content is many times more expensive to acquire but it is only here where the benefits of scale can lead to sustainable profitability.
- The cost to support video streaming is much higher than it is for audio or a webpage.
- A video requires much more storage space and transmission capacity than audio or a simple webpage.
- This means that that in order to have comparable economics, advertising revenues per video have to much higher than for a piece or audio content or a webpage.
- This is exactly the problem that made video calling over 3G completely pointless for mobile operators as they would have needed to charge 10x the price of a voice call for a video call in order to earn the same return.
- Advertising revenues from video have been the fastest growing in recent years but I think they are still far below the levels needed to match the economics of audio or a webpage.
- Given these limitations, I think it extremely unlikely that Google will turn YouTube into a meaningful profit centre anytime soon.
- If YouTube is making no money, one has to ask why Google bothers holding onto it?
- The answer to this is simply that video is a very important part of the ecosystem and I suspect that Google’s overall revenues would fall by much more than $4bn if YouTube was to be sold or closed.
- This is because YouTube is an integral part of the overall Google ecosystem where I continue to believe that the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts. (see here).
- Consequently, while YouTube does not turn a profit in its own right, I believe that it enhances Google’s ecosystem to a point where the overall return on investment is nicely positive.
- This makes YouTube a very valuable asset despite the fact that it earns no money in its own right.
- RFM forecasts that Google’s revenues from its ecosystem will grow nicely again during 2015E, albeit more slowly than it did in 2014A.
- Google after Microsoft, is my second choice in the digital and mobile ecosystem.
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Mobile payments could cause the gorillas to start fighting again.
- Google’s acquisition of technology from Softcard threatens to shatter the fragile peace that has existed between Samsung and Google since January 2014.
- For more details please see Samsung & Google – Gorilla War – 27th May 2014
- Following the failure of its own Google Wallet that was launched in 2011, Google has decided to acquire the technology and patents of Softcard in another effort to get a foothold in this important space.
- At the same time Samsung has acquired LoopPay (see here) which I think will be already be integrated into the Samsung Galaxy s6 when it launches on Sunday.
- This is because Samsung has been working with LoopPay for quite some time and I think that the acquisition is a sign that this is the technology that Samsung has decided it wants to run with for payments.
- This will lead to Samsung and Google once again competing against one another for the attention of the user, but I do not think that Samsung is going to fall for the same trick twice. (see here).
- Softcard is (or was) a collaboration between AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon that offered users a NFC based mobile payments system.
- Unfortunately due to a clumsy set up process, poor user experience and limited credit card support, Softcard has gained virtually no traction.
- Vast sums of money have been poured into it as the cash burn looks like it is around $15m per month.
- However, it looks like Google has simply acquired the technology and the patents, leaving most of the people and the infrastructure behind for the telecom operators to deal with.
- Using Softcard will provide Google with much greater operator support but it will not fix the inherent usability problems that exist within both Google Wallet and Softcard.
- Google must now put the two technologies together and come up with a seamless, easy and fun to use solution that users will love.
- This will take quite some time (I am expecting some announcements at i/o on May 28th and 29th), giving Samsung a lead in terms of having something workable in the market.
- Samsung has lost of lot of market share over the last 9 months but it is still the largest Android vendor by quite some margin.
- In order to ensure that Google’s payment system has the best chance, I can see Google altering its Mobile Application Distribution Agreements (MADA) such that its payment system is required to be the default option with the app. placed front and centre on the device.
- Samsung is Google’s biggest distributor of its ecosystem and I am pretty sure that this time it will refuse to put Google’s payment system in a more prominent position than its own.
- This is because payments is one of the few areas left where Samsung can differentiate itself having ceded the entire ecosystem to Google in 2014.
- The winner of this latest conflict will be decided by the user, but Google has an advantage by being able to tie its payments system into its very popular ecosystem.
- This is likely to cause further conflict within the Android camp, handing the advantage to Apple and giving Microsoft an even greater opportunity to bring its ecosystem to life.
- Microsoft remains my top choice for the ecosystem in 2015E as Yahoo! is still failing to make any real use of the assets it has.
February 24th 2015: Radio Free Mobile updates its flagship research product with the publication of: Mobile Ecosystems – Devil in the details
Mobile Ecosystems – Devil in the details – (Click here for details and purchase options). RFM corporate subscribers will receive their copy directly by email.
Ecosystems are becoming more sophisticated as users do more and with their devices. Consequently, how one ecosystem differs from another is becoming less obvious. RFM has introduced 4 new Laws of Robotics to better evaluate the different players. iOS continues to gain in strength while Google is still struggling with software problems. The lead challengers are Microsoft, Xiaomi and Yahoo! all of whom have a lot to do.
- Maturing market. Users are becoming more sophisticated in terms of what they demand from their Digital Lives. Ecosystem providers are beginning to cotton onto this and differentiation between different players is becoming more difficult.
- Devil in the details. To take this increasing sophistication into account, Radio Free Mobile has expanded the criteria by which the quality of an ecosystem is judged from 3 to 7. This is to take into account the increasing sophistication of ecosystems as well as to be able to more accurately reflect their strengths and weaknesses.
- Four new laws. Law 4: App equivalency. How well the app. store of an ecosystem compares to Apple. Law 5: Data sharing. How well the user experience is enriched through apps and services sharing data. Law 6. User data integration. How well an ecosystem understands its users. Law 7. Software consistency. How consistent is the software used across the devices upon which the ecosystem is present.
- iOS. RFM’s research indicates that Apple has decided not to compete on Digital Life services but instead to differentiate through exclusive functionality based around HomeKit, HealthKit and Apple Pay. The superb reception of the iPhone 6 has given Apple more time to get this strategy up and running before commoditisation starts to bite.
- Google has the largest ecosystem but the user experience remains hobbled. The quality of the user experience and Google’s inability to get its software into the market in a timely fashion, continue to be serious hindrances to user loyalty and Google’s ability to monetise Android. RFM expects Google to aggressively exert its control over the Android software in the short to medium term.
- Microsoft still has a massive hill to climb. Its ecosystem is gradually getting better but it continues hide its light under a bushel. Its marketing remains very weak and users still have no idea why they should consider Microsoft’s ecosystem. As a result, Microsoft actually lost market share during 2014A.
- Others Xiaomi and Yahoo! head an ever growing list of challengers.
Click here for a full summary
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Yahoo! still fails to address the central issue of its ecosystem.
- Yahoo! hosted its first mobile developer conference last week that barely created a ripple in the newsflow.
- This was because it was devoid of anything really new other than the launch of mobile developer suite that looks a lot like the developer tools that Twitter already makes available through Fabric (see here).
- The new mobile developer suite provides the ability for app. developers to access Yahoo! search and three mobile advertising options directly from within their apps.
- The idea here is that it makes it much easier for app. developers to monetise through advertising and users of those apps to access search without having to leave the app.
- This is all well and good but this hardly represents a big innovation that is going to bring developers flocking to use Yahoo!’s tools.
- In fact, the only kind of developers I can see liking this are those that for some reason do not want to use Google.
- Google is bigger and better in almost every way and in all likelihood offers better opportunities for monetisation.
- This is a good step in Yahoo!’s evolution but it is still refusing to address the central issue.
- Revenues are drifting sideways and despite Yahoo!’s claims of having a significant position in mobile, the facts do not stack up.
- RFM estimates that Google had around 614m users of its ecosystem on Android at the end of 2014A from which it made $6.9bn in revenues (excludes iOS).
- Yahoo! claims over 500m mobile users but it was only able to earn $1.2bn in revenues in 2014A.
- This tells me that Yahoo!’s ecosystem remains an unconnected, unrefined jumble of assets which have not been streamlined and integrated.
- Using Google as a benchmark and assuming Yahoo! has 500m mobile users, it would seem that this lack of execution on its acquisitions and assets have cost it $4.4bn in potential revenues in 2014A.
- Its failure to address this opportunity is why the core business continues to underperform and until it moves to do something about sorting out its ecosystem, this will continue.
- For the last two years Yahoo! has traded on a single investment that was not made by Marissa Mayer.
- Now that the window for that trade has passed, one has to ask hard questions of the underlying business which so far, the company is failing to answer.
- I expect Yahoo! to continue underperforming Google, Apple and Microsoft on its financial performance in 2015E.
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Lollipop in danger of sucking.
- Despite promises of significant performance improvements, initial testing is showing that Lollipop is not much better than KitKat.
- This will rub salt into the wound caused by the upgrade that has been sitting on the shelf for months and is still not in the market in any meaningful way.
- Techspot (see here) ran some detailed tests on the Moto X, Moto G, LG G3 and Samsung Galaxy s5 before and after being upgraded to Lollipop (Android 5.0).
- The devices were tested for CPU performance, GPU performance and battery life which arguably are the things that are going to impact the user experience the most.
- The difference in CPU performance was negligible with the best devices registering a 5-6% performance improvement on multiple measures.
- The GPU benchmarks also saw virtually no discernible improvement. It is worth noting that the new Android Runtime (ART) improvements are not geared towards 3D rendering which is what all of the benchmarks measure.
- Battery life was also not meaningfully improved in any of the devices tested.
- The net result is that as far as the user goes, he is very unlikely to see a significant performance improvement when he upgrades to Lollipop.
- This is a far cry from the promises that Google made when it launched Lollipop with up to 2x performance improvement touted as a result of ART.
- This is a classic example of how performance gains in optimal conditions in the lab evaporate when tried out in the real world.
- This is due to differences in the way the stock software has been implemented and any tweaks that the handset makers may have made to the code to add differentiation.
- That being said, the modifications by Motorola are minimal (having very recently been a Google company) meaning that manufacturer tinkering is unlikely to be the cause.
- Apart from the material design user interface upgrade, which many manufacturers look set to remove any way, there is seems to be very little that will excite users.
- Lollipop is not going to suddenly fix the problems of Android in terms of software consistency and the poor user experience.
- This is bad news for Google and it is becoming increasingly clear that if Google wants to fix the user experience and software problems that plague its ecosystem, it will have to do so by completely taking complete control of the code.
- I believe that this is very much on the cards and that in the medium term, we will see the Google software become just as controlled and inflexible as the software that runs iOS or Windows Phone.
- Google’s weaknesses continue to leave the door open for Microsoft to come in and entice users away, but it will only succeed in doing so if it can fix its marketing and properly explain to users why they should consider the Microsoft ecosystem.
- Microsoft remains my long term top pick in terms of a place to look for upside in the mobile and digital ecosystem.
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LoopPay must become seamless to create value for Samsung.
- With the complete cessation of any attempts at the ecosystem (see here), the acquisition of unique hardware is the only way left for Samsung to differentiate.
- To this end Samsung has announced the acquisition of LoopPay which is an enabler of wireless payments with any terminal that has a mag-stripe reader.
- Loop Pay consists of a piece of hardware that wirelessly transmits the data of the card to the sensor in the card terminal that reads the magnetic stripe.
- This is the main advantage that LoopPay has over Apple Pay which requires an NFC enabled terminal.
- LoopPay will work with any terminal in the world whereas less than 10% of terminals in the US alone are NFC enabled.
- LoopPay also includes an app. to manage all of the stored cards and to ensure that the appropriate security is observed when making a transaction.
- There are two disadvantages:
- First: The user still has to sign or enter a PIN to complete the transaction making using LoopPay no less onerous than using the original card.
- Second: It requires the user to have a case on his device that turns it into a brick or he has to carry around an extra fob.
- This is why LoopPay sells itself on “leave your wallet” at home rather than as a “much easier way to pay”.
- I have suspected for a long time that the Samsung Galaxy s6 will include the LoopPay hardware integrated into the phone which will solve the second problem.
- However the first problem will be more difficult to solve.
- LoopPay expects to be able to enable tokenised transactions (like Apple Pay) this year which should solve this problem but how successful it will be remains to be seen.
- There is a simple test.
- If the user can pay for goods and services as easily with a Samsung Galaxy s6 as easily and safely as he can with Apple Pay then this will be a resounding success.
- There is no space for compromise.
- The slightest complexity, extra step or compromise and this will be a complete failure as many wireless payments solutions have already found to their cost.
- To date LoopPay has prided itself on supporting any card and a very large range of smartphones but that is now going to change.
- I suspect that users of other smartphones will be able to use LoopPay with the external piece of hardware but only Samsung devices will have it integrated.
- This will give Samsung an important differentiator if painless mobile based payments become something that users demand on their mobile phones.
- Samsung will also have the advantage of having the system work on any payment terminal in the world as long as LoopPay can solve the usability problem with tokenised transactions.
- Given the complexities involved in tokenised transactions, I don’t expect this to make a real difference on the Galaxy s6 but it could be fully ready for the s7.
- Consequently, I still see very little that is going to make users rush out and pay up for the Galaxy s6 meaning that Samsung faces another very difficult year.
- With no catalyst and difficult comparisons to H1 2014, I still prefer Microsoft, Google and even Apple for the ecosystem.