Friday, February 19, 2010

Mobile strategy: despite new product introductions and media hype, all roads still lead through Apple and Google

The recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona may have been one of the most covered technology events in recent history. Product and system introductions by Samsung, Microsoft and others have been all over the web media world, with each new introduction getting its pans and raves.

In the end, however, not much has changed for publishers.

Before MWC, Apple's iPad and Google's Android platform appeared to be the path forward for media firms moving into mobile. And it still is.
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Microsoft is still a giant, and its Windows Phone 7 received its share of positive press. But in the end it might as well have been vapor ware. The new OS is not expected to appear on phones until the holiday season. Worse yet, the SDK (software development kit) is not available and not expected for a while. So since developers can not create product for the phone for a while why should publishers worry about it? They shouldn't, there are plenty of other devices to design for.

Samsung introduced its own OS, Bada. This was not a surprise to those in the industry as they had announced the move late last year. Samsung is the sales leader in mobile phones in North America, and as a result has quite a bit of industry clout. Samsung wants its share of the smart phone business and its sees its new OS as the way to go. Despite articles proclaiming that Samsung is competing with Apple, I don't see it that way: Samsung knows that consumers now expect more from their mobile phone, and their new OS allows developers to create new applications that will fill that consumer need. Their bet may be that serious mobile media consuming will be done on tablets and readers, while quick reading will be done on cell phones. Looking at it this way, Bada gives Samsung just enough to satisfy their segment without really moving into the media space.

Then there is the massive consortium, the Wholesale Applications Community, a collection of major operators and manufacturers who truly do want a share of the mobile app market, and who appear to want to position themselves as an alternative to Apple and Google.  Well I say good luck to that. A common platform is certainly a positive move for mobile media. But consortiums move slow and need to reach consensus. Publishers can sit back and see where this goes. In the meantime, if the consortium produces interesting results, there will be developers ready to move.

That leaves us right where we started: continuing to develop products for the iPhone and Android smart phone market, while creating the first media products for Apple's iPad tablet.

Publishers who wait will be late to the game. iPhone and Android application development is well along, and finding vendors or programmers to help create media apps is now a simple process. The BBC's recent announcement that they will roll out their first iPhone apps may have upset the UK Newspaper Publishers Association, but, really, the BBC waited long enough.

So while the Mobile World Congress may have been the most exciting mobile event ever for the cell phone industry, it was not the game changer many have claimed -- at least not for publishers.