Google bought Motorola, Nokia tried to regain its mojo, fake Apple stores were discovered in China..
20. NFC - coming whether you want it or not
The history of mobile can be carved up into three eras: voice, messaging, data. And after data, well who knows? But if the combined will of Google, Mastercard, Visa and the world’s operators has any bearing on it, it could be contactless payments. This year has seen a series of remarkable announcements in the field of NFC-based mobile wallets. In the US, the big three operators unveiled their own project, called Isis. In the UK, after Barclaycard and Orange rolled out a service, the big three networks unveiled a cross-operator collaboration. And then, in September, Google actually went live with its own Google Wallet service. Remarkable, given that NFC is present in just a single mainstream Western handset, the Nexus S. To be fair, the emphasis isn’t entirely on payments – Google and the UK opcos are more interested in coupons and advertising – but it’s still bold future-gazing stuff given that one survey in 2011 showed that 91 per cent of consumers have never heard of NFC.
19. The Cloud – coming whether you want it or not
When did server farms in remote Nordic locations become the cloud? And, er, what is the cloud anyway? This year saw two huge announcements bring the cloud into the mainstream. Well, the B2B mainstream anyway. Because it’s pretty obvious the punters haven’t got a clue. Apple confirmed its plan to press ahead with the iCloud system that lets users keep all their music in cyberspace (the stuff they’ve purchased anyway) and have a copy locally too. Then Google did the same, but letting users upload their collections. Then there’s the DNLA consortium, which is trying to give OEMs one standard through which to offer ‘access anywhere’ media on TVs, in-car etc etc. Then there’s Spotify. All are slightly different, and all have distinct business models. Yet they’re all the cloud. It was so much easier when we had external hard drives.
18. Did we all dream the Nokia N9 MeeGo phone?
In the first series of Happy Days, Richie Cunningham had an older brother called Chuck. The makers soon realised that Chuck wasn’t interesting, and that Fonzie was ‘the one’. So one day Chuck went to his room and was never seen again. In the mobile world, the Nokia N9 is Chuck Cunningham. It’s the lonely MeeGo device deemed surplus to requirements. A handset with no narrative purpose when set against the Arthur Fonzerelli that is WinPho 7. Get an N9 now. Keep it in the box. And save it for Antiques Roadshow.
17. If you've got one I want one too: social gaming
There’s money in coins. Well, of course there’s money in coins. That’s the whole point. This year it was the virtual coinage offered by various social gaming platforms that lit up the M&A columns. As micro-payment surged (app analytics firm Distimo found 49 per cent of the revenue on iPhone apps in 2010 came from in-app purchases), these firms suddenly looked very tempting. After DeNa bought ngmoco in 2010, RIM swooped for Scoreloop and Gree bought OpenFeint.
16. There are other tablets beside iPad. It's just that no one buys them.
When Apple launched the iPad in 2010, people said ‘oh tablets, that’s been tried before. No one will buy them.” They were right. No one would buy tablets. They’d just buy iPads. It’s an exaggeration of course, but the truth is that rivals have tried smaller tablets, cheaper tablets, tablets with 3D – and still Apple rules. Analysts put iPads share as high as 75 per cent. In October, ComScore revealed that 97 per cent of tablet data traffic in the US comes from iPads.
15. Never mind fake iPhones, let's fake an entire Apple Store
China eh? It’s like a foreign country or something. They certainly do things differently there, as one US blogger discovered when she felt there was something weird about the Apple Store in Kunming. There was. It wasn’t one. Your heart bled for the cheery staff who thought Steve Jobs was their boss, not some bloke who could also do you dodgy D&G belts. A month later the BBC unveiled 22 more fake stores. It’s not funny.
14. Barcodes may not be shit
Designers hate the way they look on adverts. Most consumers don’t know what they are. Barcodes are rubbish, aren’t they? Not so fast. In June, 14m Americans scanned mobile barcodes (says Scanbuy), and overall global scans grew 88 per cent in the quarter to May (says I-nigma). Barcodes are everywhere and they are converging around a single (QR) standard. The public is catching on. And when the first codes hit the peachy backsides of Olympic Beach Volleyball players, the mainstream may beckon.
13. Spotify streams into the US
After protracted legal negotiations Spotify finally hit the US this year, and then pulled off a coup by tying up with Facebook. The results were impressive, which must have royally annoyed Real, Napster et al. Spotify now has 2.5m premium subs, roughly half of which come from the US.
12. Here you go, InMobi. Have $200m.
Over the years, we’ve become accustomed to large VC rounds in mobile. And why not? If you’re going to invest in tech firms, then damn right you should be looking at mobile media players. But the $200m thrown at ad network InMobi by Softbank and others in September took the breath away. $200m! Easily the biggest ever in our space (although others have chalked up huge sums in increments – MobiTV’s $115 million for example). But it was only the biggest of a series of investments in mobile ad players, including £4.7m for Adfonic and $25m each for JumpTap and Mojiva to name but three.
11. Lawyers reluctantly fight multiple mobile IP wars
The world’s beleaguered IP attorneys were given a lift by mobile handset makers this year when they all decided, in legal parlance, to sue the arses off each other. Infographics spread across the web showing the spaghetti soup of lawsuits, most of which revolved around who invented icons, touch interface, tablet form factor and more very basic stuff. They involve Microsoft, HTC, Motorola, Qualcomm and many more. But the bitterest battle of the lot is between Samsung and Apple, which variously saw the Galaxy and the iPhone banned from various countries round the world.
10. Galaxy II – someone took on iPhone
It’s always a little unfair to compare Android sales with those of iPhone. It’s like saying the football teams in the Championship, and Divs 1 and 2 have more supporters than Liverpool. Not like for like. But this year something interesting happened. One device – the Samsung Galaxy S – seemed to establish itself as a genuine iPhone alternative rather than just an acceptable ‘second best’. The S II sold 10m in five months while its predecessor, the Galaxy S took seven months to reach the same milestone.
9. Everywhere you look people are using BlackBerrys. So why is RIM in the toilet?
Even the most die-hard Nokian would conceded that you just don’t see people using their phones any more. Not in Europe and the US anyway. But BlackBerrys are everywhere. So why has the (financial) world got it in for RIM? Well, the devil is in the detail. BlackBerrys fly off the shelves, but mostly the cheap ones that teenagers like. The far more profitable enterprise users are looking elsewhere. So the company shipped around 10.6 million phones in its Q2, but revenues of $4.2 billion were down 15 per cent year-on-year. Problems were confounded by the inability to get new devices out with a new OS better configured for apps, browsing and touchscreen. And then there was PlayBook. Just 200,000 shipped.
8. How the avian flew: 500m Angry Birds downloads
Angry Birds should be the app that’s encouraging other creative developers into the space. In reality, it’s probably ruining their chances: users don’t have time for their products – they’re too busy on Angry Birds. In November Rovio’s game passed 350m downloads. The firm was also selling one million plush toys and t-shirts every month.
7. Android – It can't be bargained with. It can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop
Without doubt, 2011 has been the year of Android. We’re a long way from the rather ugly G1 that kicked things off in 2008. Every week, new research is published that testifies to the dominance of the platform. By September, Millennial looked at its metrics and revealed 54 per cent of its ad impressions are on Android devices. In most markets, Android now has between 45 and 55 per cent of all smartphones. Earlier this month, Google revealed there are 700,000 new activations every day, equating to 21 million a month, or 250 million a year.
6. The world’s most interesting hardware manufacturer is… Amazon.
Amazon used to sell books. Paper ones. Then it was music, then clothes, electricals, lawn mowers. Then it started selling digital content. Then cloud services for other businesses. Was there anything left? Oh yes, an e-reader. Step forward the Kindle, which everyone loved because it was a single-purpose device, just for reading. Black and white. Battery lasted forever. And buying books on it was so so easy. The Kindle worked because it wasn’t trying to be the iPad. Then came the Kindle Fire. Which was – well, almost. Kindle Fire is small and cheap and, unlike its predecessor, it has a touchscreen colour display for running movies and other video content. If the Kindle process is anything to go by, Amazon will make content downloading/streaming easy. And in so doing it may make Amazon a bigger threat to Apple than Samsung, Motorola, HTC, LG…
5. Apple's 'disastrous' 4S launch turns into a triumph
Even by previous standards, there was immense excitement before the October Apple press event. This was Tim Cook's debut as CEO and there was a lovely new iPhone 5 to be unveiled. In the event, Cook was lacklustre and the new phone was just the old one with some voice search thrown in. Worst Apple Event Ever. But the public didn't think so. it went crazy for iPhone 4S, buying 4m in a weekend and an expected 30.3m this quarter to put the annual iPhone total on target for 111.4m.
4. Google buys Motorola, terrifies its partners
Who would buy the ailing Motorola Mobility? Surely not Google. Why worry its many Android OEMs with the idea that it might slip all its platform secrets first to its new hardware division. Too bad, because in August Moto became a Google company for (gulp) £12.5 billion. Google says this is all about 17,000 patents. Samsung, HTC, LG et al say they’re cool with that. Let’s see what Motorola’s Jellybean devices are like before rushing to judgement.
3. HP murders its own child
You can accuse HP of lots of things, but indecisiveness is not one of them. On August 18th, it announced it was to kill its webOS-based TouchPad tablet – just 49 days after it went on sale. Stunning. That beat the previous record for brevity set by Microsoft’s disastrous Kin (55 days). HP had paid $1.2 billion for Palm in 2010. $1.2 billion for a software platform with apparently limited appeal to OEMs and the developer community.
2. Nokia aligns its with the underdog – Microsoft
Nokia’s decision to jettison decades of self-determination and become an OEM for Microsoft. It’s not just the magnitude of the decision, it’s what it says about the speed of change in mobile. Nokia was a firm that utterly ruled the space (with 40 per cent plus market share, and 1m phones sold a day) just three years ago. Now mobile lives in Silicon Valley, kept in the handbags of Apple and Google. So Nokia had three choices – Android, Microsoft or death. It chose the plucky outsider. The Lumia devices got a decent reception, but it's too early to say whether WinPho has turned round Nokia in smartphones. In 2012 we’ll see whether Nokia can help make Microsoft the evil overlord in mobile it so wants to be.
1. RIP Steve Jobs
The mobile story of the year is not a tech story at all. It's the death of a human being. We all knew he was very ill. But none of us could imagine waking up to find that Steve Jobs had finally succumbed. He was without doubt the man of the century so far, a man whose creative vision and relentless desire to dominate transformed the way the world listens to music, accesses the web, communicates. A lot of lachrymose nonsense followed Jobs' death. But the subsequent biography of Jobs spelled out what we all knew – that Jobs was no saint. He could be ruthless and unpleasant. Why? Because he was driven to make things better. Well, he did that alright. I'm writing this on a MacBook Air. It's wonderful.