Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Mobile Handsets Family Snap

I have been reading and thinking of how the mobile phones have changed our lifestyle. A typical morning starts thus: Office dress? Check. Car keys? Check and finally- Mobile Phone? Check... Reached the main gate; something seems amiss. Oops, forgot wallet! More intriguingly, its interesting to think of how the mobile phones themselves have changed. The way mobile phones have developed in the past three years has been unprecedented. 

In this post I'll attempt a silhouette of this handset super-family snap and try to outline their places in the family.

1. The Young, Bold and Beautiful (TYBB)

Apple created a usability paradigm that was not just incrementally better than what was otherwise available but was transformational. It created and set standards that others have yet to surpass and has created an eco-system that others are trying hard to replicate. A techie may still call the iPhone a duh! phone, but if the queues at Apple stores and the buzz when Steve makes his "This is the most amazing thing ever invented" speeches are anything to go by, thats a killer product.

Google went ahead created a mobile OS called Andriod, where it had no prior experience. Amazingly, it succeeded in creating a worthy competitor to Apple. Actually a lot of manufacturers realized that if they had to compete with The Quick and Dirty pack (read on to know more about them), they needed to adopt an OS that would provide them the competitive flexibility of being able to churn out more designs and faster- Andriod proved to be a good bet. HTC Mobile is a great company that has innovatively adopted Android. Even Samsung has made some bold moves with it.

2. So Yesterday, Yet Trying (SYYT)

Lets start with a pioneer of cellphone technology: Motorola. Motorola literally created this market, saw its culmination and complacence in the Razr series and has been struggling to find its grounding ever since. Its recent forays into the Android with Xoom seem promising- thats officially the tablet space; its certainly lost its ground in the cellphone category.

Nokia has been a corner stone in the mobile telephony revolution that has certainly changed India. Rewind a few years, in the mobile app development world, Nokias used to be the targets for the Gold builds. The first two builds that would come out from most studios would be an s40 and and an s60 build. All the other builds would normally be ported out of these. I'm not sure if the case remains. I guess most studios now focus only on the iPhone version, the Android build and perhaps one for the BlackBerry. I'm sure Nokia still gets a spot, but the point is - its no longer the spotlight. Thankfully, to its credit, India is still flush with the Nokia torch phone (the so called 'made in india' 1100, 1200 series), second hand N Series and third hand S40s and S60 that still make it a majority by existing numbers. Some of its new avatars also seem to show some promise. Again, far from its glory days.

Sony Ericsson, Siemens, Sagem - heard of them lately?

Windows Mobile. The reviews for Windows 7 interface have been rave, but lets face it- these guys have been around for a long time (remember the iPaq days?) and have not been able to make a worthy dent in this domain; very unlikely that they could.

The Symbian OS. Once considered a powerhouse OS designed for the mobile platform, it was a developer's nightmare platform. Sigh, even its parents don't love it anymore! Nokia recently announced that it plans to orphan Symbian and has already adopted Windows (a case of: you're sinking, I'm sinking, lets party and try not sink together?). 

BlackBerry from Research In Motion is one helluva 'ol timer that seems to have been able to stand on its own amidst waves upon waves of assault by dozens of old and new handsets. It seems to have succeeded in packaging itself youthfully afresh, despite its age. RIM bastion has been its rock solid messaging interface, instant push emails to instant messaging- RIM has simply got this spot on, not to mention its messaging friendly key layouts both soft and hard.

3. The Quick Guns. (TQG)

In 2007 (I think) a miracle happened. This miracle was a chipset made by a Taiwanese company called MediaTek. Its SoC (System on a Chip) dramatically reduced the component count, the time taken and the cost of building a cellphone. At the same time, it dramatically increased the number of people who had access to the reference design, increased reliability as a platform and suddenly unleashed a wave of handsets that have swept TYBBs and the SYYTs off their feet.

Another miracle that happened was Shenzhen. Shenzhen is an electronics manufacturing powerhouse. And the scale I've read, is mind boggling. Read this blog to get a feel of its size and this one (also has a video) to read its scale. In India 'China Phone' is a known acronym and customers come asking specifically for it. But Shenzhen has something much more interesting. It churns out three categories of devices: 
1. Original handsets. 
2. Handsets that look like original handsets aka fakes/ phonies 
3. Handsets that are are ingenious. 

Suddenly new models began to get churned out every week and even days! while earlier the So Yesterdays painstakingly churned new ones out every quarter or two.

I'm not sure, but am led to believe that a spate of companies in India owe their origins to MediaTek and Shenzhen. These pack is led here by the likes of Micromax, Carbonn, Lava, Lemon and a bevy of names that just seem to keep popping up. Slowly but steadily, this pack began to corner a significant share of the market which was till now being held by Nokias and their likes (SYYTs) by focusing first on the tier-2, 3 and rural markets. They also focussed on features like music, video, radio and multi-SIM. Despite the fact that on most devices usability sucked, the sheer variety and incredible cheapness seem to have gone their way.

Micromax is an interesting company which I believe is trying to mature from being cheap-shenzhenish-copy-plus-a-few-features phone seller to a new-feature-centric phones churner. One innovation from its stable has been the Micromax A60 'My first Android'- the cheapest and a pretty decent Andriod phone for the masses retailing first hand at about Rs. 6500 when I had last checked.

The road ahead?

For TYBB, they need to ensure that they always remain a few notches ahead of the rest of the pack. Youthful looks don't really last that long.
For SYYT, they are bound to be sandwiched from the top by TYBB and the bottom by TQG. They need to ensure that they find their sweet-spots. Real fast.
For TQG, the very fact that they can themselves be engulfed by another TQG clone launched today means that they need to move from being simple phone sellers to value sellers.


Check out the stats from Business Standard India ( that support this story with some numbers!

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Poxed and unpoxed

Apparently, a bunch of Varicella Zoster virus found it convenient to visit my body. Usually they visit kids, guess they'd have made a mistake with my DOB - KYC problems! Its been 12 days since their uninvited arrival and after having riddled me with lotsa red spots, they are about to hibernate in my nervous system in a benign state. It seems anyone who catches chicken pox is destined to live with a legacy of Zosters in their ganglia. The good part (sic) is, my body is now pretty immune to Zoster and co.

Its been quite an experience, doing mostly nothing and being isolated in a room. Had it not been for my BlackBerry, I should have been electronically dead as well. My folks said, since I didn't give my body a break, it simply decided to take one ;). And I got to watch, relatively guilt-free, the entire semi-final and final matches and saw India lifting the ICC World Cup :)

The saving grace has been the venerable Neem tree, 'Azadirachta indica'. As advised by quite a few people, esp my colleague Anand, I've literally been fighting the red spots with some green magic. For almost the entire first week, I'd smeared myself in Neem leaf+Haldi (turmeric) paste from head to toe. I looked pretty much like The Hulk gone terribly wrong in the makeup department. I slept on a bed of Neem leaves, bathed in water boiled with Neem leaves and also ate a few Neem leaves. All that makes it sound as if I was in some exotic organic spa resort- I've never been to one, but can vouch that the results have been pretty good.

So, while I am getting unpoxed, I've been thinking how vulnerable you and I really are (two days ago, a student in my dad's school passed away because of pox he got on a pilgrimage). Most virii, you can hit around, then some random virus hits and you're out, index finger is raised and you've got to walk back to the pavilion- even if you're the mighty Little Master. Inshahallah, the next match awaits :)
Well that is life. It screws you right when you think you have figured it out. - Five Point Someone