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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

At the Symbian show today

I was taking the pulse of the smartphone industry yesterday, at the Symbian Expo down in London's inconveniently-located ExCel centre.

Some observations

- I'm feeling smug about my longstanding predictions that mobile applications will become 'bearer aware' not 'bearer agnostic'. Symbian's new Freeway architecture is essentially a bearer-awareness layer in the IP networking part of the device

- I'm also feeling quite smug about my ongoing belief in motion (and other) sensors being integrated into handsets. Nokia's keynote presentation highlighted this, with some cool usage cases like sending a busy tone & diverting a call to voicemail by just flipping over the phone while it's lying on a table.

- Apparently there will be upcoming Symbian WiMAX devices - my bet is for Nokia to look at ones for Sprint as it's still hoping to make headway in the US. On the other hand, SonyEricsson may be looking at Japanese deployments. One to watch.

- The spec sheet for Symbian v9.5 mentions that it 'supports UMA', although I still haven't seen a UMA Symbian phone in the wild.

- Symbian still doesn't seem to identify prepay subscribers as a specific end-customer segment. Most of these users don't get subsidised phones, and don't have data plans suitable for regular low-cost (ie daily) usage of data services.

- S60 is still essentially a Nokia-only game, although Samsung now has a range of 4 new devices. Not much sign of LG, or any of the ODMs and other tier-2's.

- Less FMC and wVoIP than I'd been expecting, although there were a couple of interesting things hidden away, like an encrypted voice app from Atelier and Phil Zimmerman of PGP fame

- Apple was hanging over the event like a cloud, the word 'iPhone' unspoken but essentially meaning that everyone's scrabbling to divert game/multimedia graphics efforts over to the UI instead

My thought is that the smartphone community is slowly coming to uncomfortable realisations. Firstly, normal people don't download applications to handsets. No, it's not about 'educating ' them, they just don't/won't. Get used to it, and use the browser instead, or get vendors/operators/retailers to preload them if you're really, really good. And secondly, the ultimate addressable market for smartphones as a percentage of overall handsets is more limited than they'd hoped.

Separately - I met two people brandishing iPhones who've been using them (with European eyes) for a month or more. They both said that, against their initial expectations, the SMS user experience is surprisingly good - something I'd thought might be an impediment to its uptake. Apparently it's not.

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