Friday, November 28, 2008

SIM cards are coming back

Well, SIM cards of course have never disappeared from phones, but does anybody remember times when we were waiting for bigger SIM cards that could store something like 10 SMS messages and 50 contacts? Then terminal become the data repository and SIM card was only the token that opened the network subscription for you and nobody seemed to care about the cards anymore.

Years rolled by and SIM card really wasn't something that could excite people.

Last week I had an interesting discussion with a colleague who has been following the SIM-card developments closely and I learned that new SIM cards that implement Java Card 3 specification can do very interesting things, like create a local HTTP-server - running inside your SIM-card!  I still haven't quite figured out what kind of support (if any) that needs from the host terminal, but just imagine what kind of innovation possibilities that would offer for low end terminals in developing countries. SIM card is also a very safe place to save small amounts of data. More information available for example from Gemalto's site.

As if this wasn't enough, I yesterday became aware of a solution that turns your SIM card to a A-GPS receiver - and yes, information is not published 1st of April. BlueSky Positioning has put the necessary software into the SIM card and created a proprietary antenna solution that allows the signal to be available for a card hiding under the battery. This innovation can turn also older terminals into a nice platform for location based solutions and thus enable LBS-services to be delivered to such user groups that can't now even imagine about buying a latest smartphone with GPS-support. If this really works as promised, this kind of an innovation can enable unprecedented solutions in the future.

Must follow SIM-card platform innovations more closely in the future!


Monday, November 24, 2008

Too much plus one

As told before, last week I was invited to Forum Nokia's events at Budapest (see other visitor's diary from here) to see and hear how the platforms are evolving. On my way back home I made a list of different possible environments that could turn your idea into action on a Nokia mobile device. What do you think about this breathtaking list (have I missed something?):
There surely is everything for everybody, I'd even say that some platforms could be dropped and development resources reallocated to make the rest of the platforms stronger.

As if this isn't enough, VMWare launched Mobile Virtualization Platform that soon will allow us to run virtual images in mobile phones. When we will see first Symbian OS terminal running Windows Vista in a VMWare image?

Update 1.12.2008: Links to Forum Nokia site updated.


Friday, November 21, 2008

Innovator's Dilemma

The Innovator's Dilemma is a great book by Clayton M. Christensen where he presents an idea that great companies fail because the too long do the “right” things. This seemingly absurd claim is explained well in his book, but summarized it means that listening your customers and constantly improving your old product will finally kill you. This happens because at the same time new and hungry companies enter the market with their disruptive innovations. Typically these innovations at first seem very bad when compared to the specs of the current solutions; their performance is worse, capacity is smaller and so on. Such products would never be done by the old giants, they could do much “better” and their customers are not asking them to do products like this.

The clue is that new innovations carry attributes that are different compared to the old ones. These new attributes allow in turn new innovations for the customers and possibly enable whole new products to be created. In his book Christensen studies disk drive industry, how new smaller disk sizes have every time been overlooked by the old giants, and industry newcomers have taken the market. Old players have asked their customers and they have told that bigger disk capacity is needed - so disk manufacturers did a justified management decision and didn’t invest into production of smaller disks. After some time there was no market at all for such companies. Can you imagine how would your iPod look like if we only had 14” disks now?

To my great surprise I one day understood that this kind of Old Giants vs. Innovative Newcomers battle is happening at the moment in the laptop industry. When first mini-laptops became available I just couldn’t understand why anybody would like to buy one (in fact, I still don’t understand that but it’s another story). They don’t fit into the pocket like a phone and if you must carry a bag for a laptop, why not carry a normal sized one? Their performance specs are ridiculous and keyboard is small. No wonder that Fujitsu-Siemens or Lenovo didn’t innovate these, at least I wouldn’t have given a permission to invest any money on the R&D project for mini-laptops.

Despite all this, mini-laptops are a very hot thing now, Gartner reported that for EMEA region year-over-year shipment growth for Acer has been 60.9% and for Asus 179.8%! HP also lost it’s No. 1 market position to Acer, thanks to the mini-laptops. There is really a change in the air!

Could same thing happen also in the mobile phone industry? Of course Apple’s iPhone was kind of a surprise when it came out, but I wouldn’t consider it as a disruptive innovation, after all. The device is comparable to the old smartphones, although Apple has weighted slightly different features than Nokia. The disruptive innovation is in the business model that makes the operators to fight for the terminal, compared to the old situation that made device manufacturers to come crawling to the operator’s doors.

So what’s the point in this writing? The same that has happened in many businesses (like hard drive, PC, laptop, etc. industries) will happen also in the mobile phone industry. Someday finetuning existing features, adding more and more megapixels and memory storage is not enough. New player will enter the market and launch a product that at the first sight may look stupid with its small feature set and technical limitations, but after some time we will understand that disruptive and bold innovation has once again entered the market. Who will do this and which of the old companies will survive, I don’t have a clue.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

About Mobile Strategy

Someday you might get caught in a situation that you should be talking about company’s mobile strategy. Quickly Googling around the Internet, gathering some information and telling about present and forthcoming mobile technologies doesn’t make your presentation “strategic”, perhaps only obscure from the audience’s point of view.

In my vocabulary strategy work is about looking into the future so that companies can make decisions and plans in an organized way. If strategy work fails, company will have its back against the wall and it is forced to react. On the other hand a good strategy will allow company to make decisions when there are real options available. Of course “Black Swan” situations will challenge even the brightest strategies - check the book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable.

For Mobile Strategy paper I think you should cover at least following topics.

Meet the Business
If you have read my writings, you must have noticed that “mobility for mobility’s sake” is one thing that I hate. You should meet the people who run the actual business, don’t only speak to IT department. What applications there are already available, what are the needs in everyday business, where are the worst performance bottlenecks that could be solved with mobile solutions etc. If there is no actual need for mobile solutions, be honest and say that.

Security policy
Company must think beforehand what impact mobile solutions will have on company’s security policy. How access is allowed from mobile networks into company network to fetch data? Who is responsible for all this? Is there some data that absolutely not can be used on mobile device?

If topics like above are not documented, there is a risk of “maverick projects” that create their own solutions - sometimes just because there is nobody who can comment on issues regarding mobile access into corporate network.

Something about the devices
Strategy paper should not handle actual device models as they change far too often. Better way is to comment on platforms and predict their future in a couple of years timeframe. Try to make a reasoned suggestion about which platforms the company should use. Implementing a “pilot project” with every possible platform is not something that you should suggest.

Does some function require special devices? Can devices be categorized for different user groups?

Something about the architecture
Adding mobile device access to a closed proprietary IT architecture can be a painful process. Try to get an overview about the current infrastructure and suggest how mobile needs will affect infrastructure during the next three years.

Getting feedback and learning from the projects
As always, companies should measure the results and get feedback from the projects. If mobile solutions are new to your customer, they should carefully gather data from projects and evaluate the performance. As you probably know, there are many ways how a mobile project might fail. Failing once is allowed but doing the same mistake again is plain stupidity. How feedback data is gathered and how it will be analyzed?

Support and maintenance
Mobile applications require new skills from help desk because solutions include functionalities from many sources; terminal, network, operator, possible new middleware components, company’s own infrastructure etc.. How that will be taken care of?

How mobile devices are managed after they have been delivered to end user? No management at all, user’s are not allowed to change anything or something in between?

Risks and opportunities
Do mobile applications create new risks (business or technical) to company? What is the probability of the risk and what if risk really happens?

What are the opportunities that mobile solutions can create for business, customer service, cost structure, quality, customer satisfactory and so on.

This was a quick list of things that I think belong to corporate mobile strategy. Comments and suggestions are welcome, as always!


Thursday, November 6, 2008

Port forwarding and nice surprise from SonyEricsson

In the current turbulence of mobile business email after Nokia’s announcement about dropping the Intellisync solution from their portfolio I once started to think about new ways of connecting to corporate email accounts. The quick and easy answer is to use IMAP, but many organizations feel that opening direct IMAP port to public network is a security risk. I got an idea about doing port forwarding with smartphones, a trick that is common in the desktop environment: open an ssh tunnel between two computers and route traffic from a local network port over encrypted session to the another network. Kind of a "poor man's mobile VPN". This way we would need to first open an ssh session to the local network, map terminal’s IMAP (or any other) port to the remote site and create an email account that has “localhost” as email server. Implementing this seemed straightforward, as POSIX-libraries are available for Symbian and there are sources available for different implementations, like OpenSSH. The critical success factor would be how easy solution is to use and how well it is productized.

I did some Googling and found that this has already been done, at least by SSHForwarding application. Unfortunately application failed to run on N95, but anyway this application proves that the idea is not all bad if somebody else had already thought about it. Does anybody know other productized solutions that do the port forwarding thing with smartphones?

Nice surprise from SonyEricsson

I haven’t much used SE devices in personal use, just tried those every now and then. Some time ago I started to use SE K800i just to get some real experiences with the device. To my big surprise I found a remote control application from the phone, launched that and application found my Apple laptop. Before I understood what was going on, the application listed a couple of different keyboard mapping options, selected one of those and to my big surprise I was able to control laptop’s mouse and some special keys with my phone, over Bluetooth. Great tool when giving presentations and all this was available for free! I haven’t seen similar feature in Nokia terminals and K800i is an old phone, became available 2006. In addition to this surprise old K800 has been very nice to use - if you have used just smartphones for a long time, try to use something else. You’ll probably be astonished how fast a phone can be.