Two Months In Nokia’s Life

Back in June I questioned whether Nokia might be a new entrant in the f*dcompany,com hall of fame. Until this week that looked a distinct possibility. Nokia shares are down 60% since the iPhone was introduced 3 years ago and until 7 days ago the downtrend looked to be continuing, as the graph of 2 months worth of daily stock prices shows (data from bigcharts.com)

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Yesterday’s announcement of a new chief executive (preceded, naturally, by the sacking of the old one) is seen as the catalyst the company needs to change. Stephen Elop, the new chief, is ex-Microsoft (but also ex-CEO of Macromedia, the original developer of Flash). His record is of turnaround and growth.

Symbian is not having a good time. App development is low (no users means no customers means no apps) and the o/s doesn’t seem to have adapted to the touch screen / image rich / socially networked world. Perhaps the N8 due out soon will change that (my take on the N8, purely drawn from online reviews, is that they’ve thrown hardware at the problem so as to hide the lack of progress in the software; it has a great camera, great video etc but that’s about it).

Developing a new o/s or even enhancing a current one will be a big job – and so there will be plenty of questions about whether to adopt Android or even Win Mobile 7 given Mr Elop’s doubtless flawless contacts in that space. Or perhaps a multi-o/s strategy – why back one horse from the get go? Build on several o/s and upgrade Symbian in the background might work. It will take more than that to sort out Nokia though.

Mr Elop, despite Nokia’s strong performance everywhere other than the USA and Europe, probably doesn’t have the luxury of time. He’ll need to describe and start executing on his plan very quickly. But the man at the top can make a difference – when Steve Jobs returned to Apple it was worth barely $2bn; it’s now worth more than 100x that. Is Mr Elop going to do a Jobs on Nokia? His track record – the lack of experience in consumer product – suggests not. But he’ll get the benefit of the doubt for now I think and rightly so.

It will be interesting to watch. I hope he returns Nokia to its former status as one of the innovators in the world, even if not to the kind of market share they enjoyed for so many years.

The Real iPhone Antenna Problem?

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The so-called death grip hasn’t caught up with me on my iPhone 4 (I’m running 4.1 beta 3 which helpfully fixes the proximity sensor problem that I had from day one with the phone but that doesn’t fix the reported antenna problem – maybe it’s all in the wrist?). But I have noticed significant delays with receiving texts. In a low signal area, I seem to have enough juice to send a text, but not too little to receive the reply.

Emerging from a building earlier this week I was surprised to receive a dozen texts in quick succession – despite my having sent perhaps the same number whilst in the building. It wasn’t the first time this had happened.

Is this iPhone 4 antenna related? A problem with the O2 network?

Or something else entirely – that perhaps using email or browsing the web somehow affects the ability to receive texts and so delays them?

Or is it just me?

BeBox Ubiquity

A while ago I used to connect to a WiFi network called “BeBox”. On the way to and from work, my iPhone will flash a pop up box inviting me to connect to BeBox – all I need to do is enter the password. These BeBoxes aren’t, of course, the BeBox I used to connect to (hence the need to enter the password). I had no idea that BeBox was a product name and even less idea that people set up WiFi networks with the same generic name, although I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by that anymore – why configure something if it works out of the box? What I am surprised about is that the iPhone doesn’t know it isn’t the same BeBox and that, so far, I can’t find a way to make it forget it ever heard the name BeBox so that it won’t try and mate with every other BeBox out there.

The .GovApp Goldrush

Last May I looked at iPhone apps delivered by governments. Almost inevitably, Utah had been first but there was already an “open.gov.alike.” I challenged direct.gov to do the same (at launch in 2002 it rendered a version with cutdown content to fit any mobile screen and we’d enhanced that over the years to deal with newer phones, using CSS that detected which browser was accessing it, but an App, well, that’s a whole new thing.

At the time, though, I missed the obvious point which was to define that moment as the starting gun for the goldrush. Just as departments had rushed to put websites live in the years from 2000 onwards, it should have been obvious that the same would happen for apps.

Now, a year on, the BBC published this story:

BBC News has learnt that the Government has spent tens of thousands of pounds developing iPhone applications. A Freedom of Information (FOI) request revealed that development costs ranged from £10,000 – £40,000.

The most expensive application was a proposed Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) app that provides “a masterclass for changing your wheel”.

Documents seen by the BBC reveal that the DVLA Motoring Masterclass app would cost £40,000 and would also work out fuel mileage, act as a hazard light and track RAC patrols.

By the end of May there were over 53,000 downloads of the Jobcentre Plus app, although critics have asked why someone who can afford both an iPhone and the expensive running costs would need a Jobcentre Plus app.

But very quickly the guillotine has come down on this line of spending – and many departments have said that they have no plans to even start:

However, a number of government departments said they had no plans to develop iPhone applications, including the Department for Culture. Media and Sport, HM Treasury, Northern Ireland Office, Scotland Office, Government Equalities Office, Ministry of Justice, the Cabinet Office and the Department for International Development.

“Future spend on iPhone development will be subject to strict controls: only essential activity, approved by the Efficiency and Reform Group, which is chaired by the Minister for the Cabinet Office and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, will be allowed”.

One department was unable to provide information:

But the Home Office declined the FOI request for information on its iPhone apps, saying security concerns “prevent us from supplying information”.

Earlier this year I wrote a couple of posts about what gov should do with mobile apps:
1) Can gov do beta? On how .gov might deal with negative feedback over its apps on iTunes2) Apps on the move – suggestions for other apps

I find myself, therefore, torn when I read the BBC’s article. Surely we want:

Our government to be where the people are. My dear, late, friend Angela Vivian talked often of putting her JobCentrePlus kiosk in the local pub- because that’s where the unemployed people are (a very John Dillinger-styled quote).

Services that are easy to use, that require no thinking, that don’t tether people to a PC at their desk (remembering that we have more phone penetration than PCs in the UKs and that whilst the bulk of those phones are not smart phones, they will be

Innovation at many levels in government, including in the way services are offered, the way data is opened up, the joining up of services and so on

Migration from call centre operations to self service, whether on a desktop or mobile phone so as to reduce costs

But we certainly don’t want a wildly diverse ecosystem of departments writing mobile phone apps, learning the lessons over and over again. Which leaves us with two options
All mobile apps are written by the direct.gov team and so consistency of brand, presentation and capability is maintained. Spend can be tightly managed and audited, code will be reused and lessons learned each time, making the next one slicker. But direct.gov doesn’t own the integration with the back ends of [m]any government departments, so will be reliant on those departments opening up their systems for access. Direct.gov is also not the likely route for local government applications (which formed the bulk of the apps in my “apps on the move” post above)
Or

Government writes no apps and continues the policy of making its data available by making its APIs available. If opening data is hard, opening APIs is even harder – imagine the risk you take if you allow a 3rd party app developer to access you tax information. Imagine also the flak that government will come under if services developed are shoddy, lack features, are unstable or insecure and so on.

Neither solution is ideal but, on balance, I favour the former. At the same time, I favour controls over what gets built and why, to ensure that there are no vanity projects – ie that each app fits a real need that is backed up by strategy and underpinning data.

The remaining problem then is which phones to support? From the sounds of it everyone has so far gone for iPhone presumably because that’s where the customers are (although I remember seeing announcements that directgov would be supporting Android).

When we put Self Assessment online, all those years ago, we started with the most common tax forms (the ones that 7 million of the 8 million odd taxpayers needed). We didn’t put the complicated ones in – those that dealt with foreign income, multiple homes and so on. We also only supported Windows. We had plans to support everything eventually of course.

But not long after launch we received a formal complaint from a Welsh Mac-using vicar. It turns out the clergy have a special tax form, just for them. And, of course, we hadn’t got as far as Macs or the Welsh language (in contravention of the 1995 Welsh Language Act of course)

Inevitably, the mobile app teams started somewhere. And all those who weren’t at the same start point naturally complained. They will have to broaden their offer but I am sure that was the original plan. With the new controls on app development, it may be some time before we see further innovation (or even expansion of the range of platforms supported). Personally I think that will be a shame.

Having cautioned government to think hard about venturing into mobile services in 2003 because of a range of difficulties, I was proud to see directgov step into the fray with their initial offer.

Has $RIMM lost the plot?

RIMM make the blackberry. On their quarterly earnings call, the CEO was asked how they could gain market share from Apple. This was the response:

Be careful about [your] implicit assumptions in your question, or shall I say your explicit assumptions in your question. Yes, I think you guys will just have to watch and see what the plans are. I think there’s a lot of implicit and explicit assumptions that maybe should be examined. Part of that is the question of how much does — how powerful is their innovation is a good question. What’s the timing of it is a good question.

That’s all clear then.
(From Silicon Alley Insider)

A Rare Example of Apple Reuse?

Lesson number 1,482 … never throw away an Apple iPhone dock.

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Not only do several versions from the universal dock collection above work, but so does the original iPhone dock and, even better, the dock that was designed to accommodate the iPhone and the bluetooth headset (short lived – in every sense – as it was).

My guess, then, is the iPhone 5 will go back to the dock used by the 3GS …

Unable to verify account information

If you’re getting the message “Unable to verify account information” when trying to synchronise either a new iPhone or an upgraded iPhone (having moved to iOS4) with an Exchange server (or even with a gmail account), you need to:

– go to settings

– General

– Reset (all the way at the bottom)

– Reset Network Settings

It should work then (it did for me)

If Nokia Loses

There used to be a site called f*dcompany.com. Nokia is starting to look like a company that might have qualified for it’s death watch clock. No, that’s too extreme. But as I said in October 2009, they’re in trouble – and for reasons that were all visible (if not actionable by investors) as long ago as 2003.

In October 2009 when I wrote that post, the stock was at around $14. Right now they’re at $8.81.

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If you look over a longer timeframe then Nokia have been largely flat since mid-2002 (unless you bought in late 2008 – but pretty much anything you bought then doesn’t look so great now).

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(both graphs sourced from e*trade)

My closing paragraph was

Two years from now, is it possible that Nokia’s market share will be less than 20% of the global total with a single digit percentage share in smartphones? It sounds far fetched, but it’s possible. Were that to happen, it strikes me that acquirers would move in – and Nokia’s response would be to close down failing businesses and make significant cost reductions to fend them off. Would the Finnish government allow a foreign company to acquire all or large parts of Nokia? We will, perhaps, see. Place your bets – are you long or short Nokia?

Market share is heading down, cost cuts will have to be made and margin compression is inevitable. I think there’s more downside from here.