The other day on a restaurant table I saw an iPhone, a BlackBerry and a G2. They are supposed to ‘communicate’ to each other but, as soon as the latest comScore and Gartner reports appeared, the conversation turned into a philosophical war that has a lot to do with branding.
- same same but different
It’s not simply a matter of competence; it looks more like the screen of a ‘Civilization’ battle war, with different kinds of armies fighting for the possession of the territory.
Less than four years ago, commander in chief Steve Jobs made the strongest breakthrough in the mobile phone industry with a wonderfully designed keyboard-less internet machine that could fit into your pocket. The first reaction of somebody in the business community was “500 dollars? Fully subsidized? With a plan? I said that is the most expensive phone in the world. And it doesn’t appeal to business customers because it doesn’t have a keyboard. Which makes it not a very good email machine.“ (a bottle of Argentinean Malbec for he/she who guesses the author of this visionary statement without using Google) … “it may sell very well …”. Well, it did. Not simply a well designed technological tool, easy to use but also a better designed business model; leveraging on the million of iPods already in our pockets, iTunes opened the doors of an interesting revenue stream for application programmers and content producers worldwide.
A wonderfully designed army with a huge cash flow to finance innovation, but an army with very strict rules and just one single device that allows you to do a lot of things but prevents you from doing some others. A device that was isolated from the rest of Apple’s world until the launch of the iPad (that is now trying to connect as a bridge to the rest of their world) and the use of MobileMe to generate a sort of private cloud.
At the same time, Google was working to create the Open Handset Alliance (OHA) and launched some months later something much more complex but with huge potential. Not a phone, not even an operating system, it was a philosophy. Android was born as a framework plus 10 million dollars for programmers that wanted to contribute developing the platform. Empathy with the conversation starters of the web, leveraging on what BigG developed in the latest 10 years, the control of the cloud. Opening a GPhone, it’s like connecting the dots backwards, you understand that Google docs, Picasa, Gmail, Maps and an advertising model based on search and geo-localization, were thought to allow you control of your world with very low computing power in your pocket. It’s not just an excellent technology, it’s also an open and free system driven by the business idea of sharing revenues with hardware producers, application developers, service providers.
No surprise for the people that know well the deepest culture of the Internet that it’s selling very well.
An army with a strong possession of the cloud, open to everybody, with a huge price stretching and an advertising based revenue stream.
RIM was the first mover and keeps maintaining its Polar Star in business and corporate clients. As a telephone it works really well, long lasting battery, very flexible to connect to any kind of network. As a brand it represents a business status but it’s still easier for RIM to sell 5000 BlackBerry’s to a corporation than to conquer the heart of a teenager or to develop a network of programmers for it’s applications. BB users simply love it and are the least open to switch.
An army more focused in protecting its very profitable niche market than in conquering other territories.
While iPhone, BB and G2 were discussing, something started to move into my pocket shouting, “I’m still the market leader!”. Mr Nokia, forgotten in the pocket, with it’s symbian based operating system. It has been my first brand of mobile phone, my first WAP connection on a 7110 that made me feel like Neo in Matrix, the always present backup on the bottom of the suitcase, it does not need care and it simply works. N-Series brought Nokia to an excellent level of Smartphones but seemed not to have understood that Mobile world cannot generate empathy if it does not connect emotionally with the internet community. Not a generic set of partnerships, you need direct connection. It’s much more difficult if you try to outsource the bonding connection to Yahoo or some other pure internet player. They are now re-organizing and they have been keeping our pockets warn for the last two decades.
The largest army, that recently changed commander in chief, lot to do with the bonding but also huge knowledge of emerging markets.
“Can I join the conversation?” said a device with two huge suitcases. “No, you KIN’t “ started laughing mr. iPhone that loves to cheat with Mr. Microsoft.
It has always been kind of difficult for them to really be ‘loved’ by their customers. And you really need to love a brand that lives in your pocket, that has your friends & family pictures in it, that connects you to your physical and virtual world anywhere and anytime. Same happened with MSN several times, with Zune, with the cloud in general and lately with KIN.
The suitcases of a business model based on device-installed applications are full of very interesting things but seems to be to heavy in order to allow the army to move fluently in a fast changing market. Let’s wait for Windows Mobile 7 and see what happens. Part of the success is deeply connected to the empathy that Live will be able to generate.
While looking at the crush of civilization, I’m sitting in the middle of an under-exploited market. I’m in a Latin American capital, were the monthly salary of a waiter is less then the cost of each of the three devices on the table. Looking at the lands that still have to be conquered, thinking of Latin America, Africa and a great part of Asia, where billions of less than 50 US$ phones are sold, I try to guess who will expand faster in these markets selling low-end Smartphones and still make money from other revenue-streams.
My guess is that in emerging markets it will be a battle between two armies: Nokia with Symbian and OHA with Android. Most likely they will find some Asian army on the battle floor, there are interesting things happening there.
Microsoft has some potential to enter this competition but with a completely different branding proposition.
RIM and Apple will continue to grow strong in the first world but in emerging markets they will apply just to a few business customers and elites.
I have told you mine, now, what is your guess? Who is going to win in emerging markets in the next 3/5 years?