A sheep on a unicycle
Symbian, one of the oldest of old school mobile institutions, has seen some changes of late. There’s an open source bandwagon rolling through the industry and Symbian’s on it along with Google, the Open Handset Alliance, LiMo and the many other flavours of Linux. But Symbian’s taken the whole open source thing to [its big yellow] heart, shifting from a for-profit venture to a not-for-profit organisation, along with a whole new touchy-feely brand.
It occurred to the Informer as he was flicking through the Smartphone Special supplement, which will be distributed at the SEE show in London next week, that the Symbian Foundation’s new branding betrays a lot of what’s going on beneath the surface. It’s very chaotic and busy, full of flying fish, cows with jetpacks and a sheep on a unicycle. A bit gimmicky you might say. The Informer is told that all Symbian employees will have the big yellow heart that forms the new Symbian logo emblazoned upon their business cards. But the gimmicks don’t stop at the branding. During the keynote sessions there will be a rule that nobody is allowed to ask a question verbally – all questions have to be submitted via Twitter. The Foundation even open sourced the sessions at SEE, allowing community members to organise sessions themselves, and participate in speed dating type business card swaps at certain stands at certain times.
But there’s an even more curious change taking place behind the scenes. David Wood, one of the platform’s old guards – he was an employee of Psion back in the EPOC days and a co-founder of Symbian – is leaving the Foundation. At quite short notice too it appears. Why, the Informer was only chatting with him the other day and he made no mention of his plans to leave the organisation, nor is it clear from Symbian’s and Wood’s respective announcements whether he left of his own accord or was nudged out. The Informer heard from someone with an inside track that there was a difference of opinion between Wood and some of the other Foundation top brass over what the strategy of Symbian should be. It seems that Google’s got the market all shook up, causing havoc by flooding the space with a cheap smartphone platform that establishes its own services to users. Technically, Symbian may be the superior platform, but it isn’t cost effective when stacked up against Android due to a longer integration cycle. Wood has been a long time proponent of building a solid platform, complete with good tools and documentation, which might go against the new ethos the organisation is adopting to combat the threat from Android, and when the question was asked – whether he fit into the ‘new’ Symbian – the answer it seems, is “no”.
Interestingly, Lee Williams, executive director of the Symbian Foundation, recently made some comments about the changes taking place, and how the much reduced workforce had been affected. Broadly speaking, there are three groups of employees, Williams said – those who are cautiously optimistic about the new ideas of the foundation; those who are on board, the true evangelists, like Williams himself; and those who do not accept the fundamental shifts in the business and will need “a heck of a lot of work” to bring them round. Or not, as the case may be. Indeed, Wood, who called the Symbian Foundation an ‘experiment in openness’, was given the title of ‘catalyst and futurist’. The Informer notes that while the point of a catalyst is to speed up the change in an experiment, it remains unchanged by the process.
Anyway, this week saw the first open source version of the Symbian OS kernel released under the Eclipse public licence, a milestone reached a whole nine months early. Yet somehow the image of the sheep, wobbling along behind the open source crowd on its one wheeled cycle seems strangely fitting.
So from one peculiar rebrand to another, where this week’s award for most pointless rebrand goes to mobile video processor firm Movidia, which has changed its name to Movidius. Apparently the ‘us’ suffix reflects the “connectivity of the social network” and is nothing to do with the firm wanting to sound less like a brand of shampoo and more like a comic book villain.
Sticking with villains, Turkey’s infamous Uzan clan has made a reappearance in the news in what must be one of the mobile industry’s longest running soap operas alongside the Nortel financial scandal and various mobile radio patent disputes. Apparently Motorola and Nokia have been tipped off to a hiding place for some of the $3.4bn owed to them by the Uzans. If you remember back in 1998, the Uzans, which then owned Turkish operator Telsim, got vendor financing from Nokia and Motorola to buy a GSM licence and roll out the network. Shortly after deployment the repayments dried up, the family was involved in a number of scandals including the collapse of a Turkish bank, had most of its assets seized and subsequently went on the run.
The Informer wonders where the hiding place for some of this loot might be. A desert island? An underground bunker? Or perhaps not. If memory serves, Cem Uzan, who sought asylum in France while facing up to 45 years of porridge on numerous counts of fraud, embezzlement and other forms of book cooking, was at one point hiding thousands of Telsim prepay top up cards in an empty swimming pool at his holiday villa.
It’s results time again and one company that most certainly did not make off like a bandit is Ericsson, which took a beating during the third quarter of 2009, watching its net income dive 74 per cent year on year, dragged down by poor demand and further hits from its joint ventures.
Net income for the period shrank to SEK800m, down from SEK2.9bn in the third quarter of 2008. Net sales were also down 6 per cent year on year to SEK46.4bn, compared to SEK49.2bn in the third quarter of 2008.
“Sales of network equipment declined due to lower demand in the current tougher market environment. Despite lower volumes, Network margins remain stable. The strong development in Professional Services continued,” said Carl-Henric Svanberg, president and CEO of Ericsson. Svanberg said the credit environment is still tight in several emerging markets, however, other markets, including China, India, US and Japan are showing good development.
Earlier in the week joint venture and chip firm ST-Ericsson said net loss for the third quarter of 2009 shrank to $112m, compared to a loss of $213m in the previous quarter. Net sales were up to $728m, compared to $666m in the second quarter of 2009, but down from $1bn in the third quarter of 2008. Meanwhile, Sony-Ericsson watched its net loss for the third quarter increase to €164m, compared to a loss of €25m in the same period last year. Sales dropped to €1.6bn for the three month period, down from €2.8bn in 2008, while unit shipments were down 45 per cent year on year to 14.1 million, giving it a market share of about 5 per cent.
This latest round of financial results give an interesting view on where the power lies in the mobile industry. While the traditional telco firms continue to take a battering in the economic storm, everything is coming up roses for Apple and Google.
Apple this week reported its “most profitable quarter ever,” racking up $1.67bn in earnings for the quarter ended September 26, compared to $1.14bn in the year ago quarter. Revenues were also up from $7.9bn a year ago to $9.87bn in the 2009 quarter.
The Californian firm sold 7.4 million iPhones in the quarter, representing seven per cent unit growth over the year-ago quarter. The latest version of the device – the iPhone 3GS (the ‘S’ stands for ‘speed’) – was launched in June 2009.
Last week, in stark contrast to Nokia’s results, Google claimed the recession is all but over, reporting an increase in net profit for the third quarter to €1.6bn from €1.3bn in the same period last year. During the earnings call, Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, said: “Mobile is a high-growth business for us already, with 30 per cent quarter-over-quarter growth in mobile searches in the third quarter.”
Google was one of an unlikely pair of bedfellows, alongside Microsoft, getting jiggy with social networking phenomenon Twitter this week. The firm with a business model that still eludes the Informer announced a collaboration with Microsoft’s Bing search engine that will see the platform used to help it provide real time web indexing of the entire public Twitter feed. But not to be outdone, Google will also be including up to the minute Twitter updates in its own search results, which alongside Microsoft, appears to stress just how important real time information is in the battle for internet search ownership.
Google’s mobile OS venture Android was causing a stir again as US carrier Verizon Wireless appeared to be positioning Motorola’s second Android-based handset to go toe-to-toe with the iPhone.
In an advertisement that started broadcasting this week, Verizon turned Apple’s marketing on itself with a video that proclaims, “iDon’t have a real keyboard, run simultaneous apps, take five megapixel pictures, customise, run widgets, allow open development, or have interchangeable batteries. Everything iDon’t, Droid does.”
While it’s entirely possible that ‘Droid’ will just be the name given to Verizon’s forthcoming portfolio of Android-based devices, it is thought that the next Android-based handset to emerge from Motorola’s labs will be officially named the Droid, and is none other than the device code named the Sholes. The word on the web is that the handset will hit shelves in the first week of November, which ties in nicely with the recent advertising pitch.
The struggling US vendor’s first Android handset known as the Cliq in the US and the Dext elsewhere, was unveiled in September but will not be available until nearer Christmas, so it might be the Droid that comes to market first.
Motorola’s not the only one gunning for Apple. In what threatens to turn into another long running soap opera Nokia has filed suit against Apple for allegedly infringing ten wireless patents with the iPhone. The claim includes all models sold since the device launched in 2007 and is likely to take years if it goes to court. On the one hand Nokia might be able to claim a cut of every iPhone sold, but on the other, the Finnish firm could have its own patents ruled invalid.
While Motorola’s trying to regain some of its cool with aggressive advertising and much thumb-biting at Apple, struggling web giant Yahoo is going about it in an altogether different fashion. The firm was forced to issue a public apology after hiring scantily clad women to give attendees at the Taiwan Open Hack Day – an event for developers – lap dances.
Needless to say the stunt has backfired and many developers have been blasting Yahoo on blogs and forums for sullying a well respected developer event.
The debacle reminds the Informer of a drinks party he once attended at the invitation of a certain software and multimedia firm in deepest, darkest Soho. After being greeted with drinks by waitresses wearing nothing but body paint, and refusing the bizarre and downright dangerous offer of a combined haircut and lapdance, he made his excuses and left. On the way out he was approached by a mild mannered lady in a pinstripe suit who asked him if he “Would like a lady for the evening?” The Informer politely declined the offer but it left him wondering how the company in question slips that one though on expenses. Still, this was in the days when the tech sector was awash with cash and company strategies were fuelled by gourmet coffee. That said, if the recent behaviour of Google, Apple and Yahoo is anything to go by, a return to those good-old-bad-old days might be just around the corner.