The eight biggest announcements from the 2014 Mobile World Congress

2:47AM | Friday, 28 February

This week in Barcelona, the GSMA – the peak global standards body for the mobile phone industry – is hosting its annual industry trade event, the Mobile World Congress.   The MWC is arguably the largest annual event in the telecommunications industry. It brings together carriers with mobile phone makers, equipment makers and app developers.   It’s where handset manufacturers make the big pitch to mobile carriers for the year ahead. A strong presentation can bring your products to the attention of mobile carriers the world over.   Perhaps more than the Consumer Electronics Show in January, the MWC is the big event where mobile phone makers unveil their new smartphones and other products for the year ahead.   This year’s event certainly hasn’t underwhelmed, with major announcements from some of the industry’s biggest players.   It’s time to take a look at eight of the biggest announcements from this year’s show:   1. Samsung Galaxy S5   Samsung is now easily the biggest handset maker in the industry. According to IDC, for the full year of 2013, it shipped a massive 313.9 million smartphones worldwide – that’s three out of every 10 smartphones shipped anywhere in the world.   Forget about Apple versus Samsung, it’s not even a race anymore at this point. Apple shipped 153.4 million units in 2013, meaning that for every handset Apple shipped, Samsung shipped more than two.   In fact, with the exception of the US and Japan, Apple is not even really competitive with Samsung anymore. That race was lost two years ago.   In addition to manufacturing smartphones, it also supplies itself with almost every component, from batteries and processors to cameras, memory chips and displays.   It is both the world’s second biggest chip builder, and the world’s second biggest ship builder.   So when Samsung unveils its main, flagship smartphone for the year, you better believe that everyone in the industry – from carriers to competitors – is watching very closely.   This year’s flagship, the Galaxy S5, was largely an incremental improvement on its predecessor, with the South Korean tech giant confirming speculation the new device is both dust-proof and waterproof.   Needless to say, both Telstra and Optus have already announced they’re carrying the new smartphone.   Aside from the Galaxy S5, Samsung shocked the industry when it snubbed Google for the latest version of its Galaxy Gear smartwatches. Instead of Android, the new devices will be powered by its own operating system, known as Tizen.   2. Microsoft’s Nokia X smartphones – powered by Android   For nearly two decades, Microsoft’s Windows operating system had battled an open source rival, known as Linux. While Linux has struggled to make inroads in the desktop PC market, it has emerged as the dominant operating system for servers.   Linux also forms the basis of Google Android, which competes head-to-head with Microsoft Windows Phone.   Meanwhile, in September last year, Microsoft bought the mobile assets of Nokia, along with a licence to use its patents, for $US7.2 billion.   In light of this, there was some scepticism when rumours first surfaced that Nokia was gearing up to release a series of smartphones powered by Android.   At MWC, Nokia confirmed the rumours by unveiling a new smartphone product line powered by Android called the Nokia X series. The new devices will come with Microsoft’s cloud-based apps and services pre-installed and won’t come with the Google Play app store.   Nonetheless, when Microsoft takes control of Nokia in April, it will be selling a consumer product based on Linux. Who would have thought it? 3. Facebook buys WhatsApp for $US16 billion   A week before the MWC, Facebook announced it is taking over mobile messaging service WhatsApp for an incredible sum – $US16 billion.   With both WhatsApp co-founder and chief executive Jan Koum and Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg delivering keynote speeches at MWC, the tech world was certainly going to pay attention.   During the keynote, Koum did not disappoint, announcing WhatsApp was launching free voice calls through its app during the second quarter, once the takeover by Facebook has been completed.   No doubt some of the mobile carriers were a little edgy about the prospect of Facebook launching an all-out assault on their lucrative voice call and text message businesses.   4. Mozilla unveils a $25 smartphone   This year’s Mobile World Congress marked the one year anniversary of the debut of Mozilla’s smartphone platform, Firefox OS.   For those unfamiliar with the platform, Mozilla is best known for its Firefox web browser. Last year, it announced it was creating a mobile operating system based on Firefox that would compete head-to-head with Google Android, Apple iOS, Windows Phone 8 and BlackBerry 10.   In Firefox OS, all apps basically work like interactive websites and are coded in web standards, including HTML5 and CSS. Since this is less demanding than running a “full” operating system with apps, the theory went that Firefox OS would perform well on low-end devices aimed for emerging markets.   In practice, some of the first Firefox OS smartphones, including the ZTE Open, have left a lot to be desired.   As I explained in Control Shift last week, Mozilla’s expansion drive has left it in a precarious position in the marketplace:   As if the situation weren’t already urgent enough already, Mozilla’s lucrative deal with Google expires in November of this year. In a sense, it’s fitting that [Mozilla founder Mitchell] Baker has taken up trapeze as a hobby, because Mozilla’s in the middle of a high-wire act. It might be that, over the coming months, one of Mozilla’s growing number of Firefox OS-driven side-projects gains traction in the market place. However, it could also backfire spectacularly, endangering its main source of revenue in the process.   Aside from the seven new smartphones on display, Mozilla also announced that a smartphone costing just $25 would hit the market this year.   Given that, up until the fourth quarter of last year, more than half of all mobile phones sold worldwide were still featurephones, mostly in emerging markets, the $25 phone might just be the big hit Mozilla’s looking for.   Story continues on page 2. Please click below. 5. Major updates for BlackBerry enterprise customers   BlackBerry chief executive John Chen’s bid to turn around the fortunes of the smartphone pioneer were filled out in a series of major product announcements at MWC.   Up until now, enterprises using BlackBerry Secure Work Spaces on BYOD (bring your own device) smartphones needed to use different versions of BlackBerry Enterprise Service (BES) depending on whether staff used newer BlackBerry 10/Android/iOS devices, or older BlackBerrys.   That has been cleared away with the release of BES 12, in the process clearing away many headaches for IT administrators. As an added bonus, it supports Windows Phone devices too.   The company also unveiled a new flagship phone with a full keyboard called the Q20 and an enterprise version of its BlackBerry Messenger service called eBBM Suite.   6. At least Sony’s new products are water-tight   Earlier this month, Sony announced it is selling its VAIO PC business to investment firm Japan Industrial Partners, spinning off its Bravia TV business into a separate subsidiary and slashing its global headcount by 5000 as part of a major restructure.   At the time, the Japanese tech giant announced it’s setting its sights on the smartphone, tablet and wearables markets for its future growth. Suffice to say, the company is hoping it delivered a hit with the products it unveiled at MWC.   The company unveiled a new flagship smartphone called the Xperia Z2, a 4G Android 4.4 KitKat smartphone powered by a 2.3 GHz quad-core Qualcomm processor. The company is proclaiming its 20.7-megapixel camera capable is the most ever used in a waterproof smartphone.   Which I’m sure is fantastic news for scuba-diving photographers.   The company also unveiled a 10.1-inch tablet called, imaginatively enough, the Z2 Tablet. The tablet is being marketed as the lightest ever used in a waterproof tablet.   Finally, the company unveiled a smart wristband called the SmartBand.   7. Opportunity knocks for LG?   The highlight for LG was an update of the KnockON security system called “Knock Code”, which uses a series of knocks rather than a password to secure a device. The new feature will appear on the LG G Pro 2 phablet, a new six-inch phablet set to go head-to-head with Samsung’s popular Galaxy Note devices.   The company also unveiled its “L Series 3” range of low- to mid-range smartphones at the show.   That said, most of LG’s big announcements came at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, including its LG Lifeband Touch activity tracking bracelet, LG Heart Rate headphones, and webOS-powered smart TVs.   8. Tickets please!   With the rapid growth of mobile ticketing, it’s no surprise the world’s largest telecommunications show would embrace NFC tickets.   Telstra was one of a range of carriers to trial NFC badge technology for tickets to this year’s event.   The badges use information stored by a mobile carrier, including name and telephone number, to help verify an attendee’s identity. The validation process also includes a photo ID check.   This year’s show also features an NFC Experience demonstrating NFC-based mobile commerce systems for payment, retail, transport, mobile identity and ticketing/access.   In addition, there are 61 NFC-enabled Tap-n-Go Points providing event news, schedules, documents, presentations, videos and other information.   According to figures published by ABI research, in the next five years, 34 billion tickets to be sent to mobile devices,. In terms of technology used to authenticate tickets, the figures show 48% will rely on QR codes, near-field communications (NFC) will be used on 30%, while SMS or other technologies will be used on 22%.   If the forecast is accurate, it suggests using our smartphones to touch on for events, public transport or entry into secure areas could soon be a part of everyday life.

The iPhone is seven years old today – what’s next in mobile phone technology

1:37AM | Friday, 10 January

It’s seven years today since the launch of Apple’s first iPhone and since then it’s brought about new sectors of business, increased connectivity around the globe and forced its competitors to innovate.   On this day seven years ago (January 9 in the United States), Steve Jobs introduced the first iPhone in a keynote address at the Macworld Conference and Expo in San Francisco.   It wasn’t the first smartphone, it didn’t have the best hardware, but its software and usability quickly made it the dominant phone on the market and Apple challenged the positions of other phone manufacturers and telecommunications companies.   With the introduction of the iPhone, opportunities for businesses emerged which had never before been realised. Social media became pervasive, app businesses emerged and new payment technologies were developed.   When the iPhone launched on the market in November 2007, thousands of people queued around the world to secure their first iPhone. Many of these people are still devout Apple users today.   Telsyte managing director Foad Fadaghi told SmartCompany in the past seven years consumers have adopted smartphone technology at a rapid rate.   “This has created both opportunities and challenges for businesses. On the app side of smartphones, it’s provided a new platform for businesses to sell and interact with customers which is more engaged and it’s also facilitated micro-transactions,” he says.   “But it’s also created additional requirements for businesses to have mobile websites and to actually develop these apps.”   Technology expert Paul Wallbank told SmartCompany the iPhone also challenged the business models of telecommunications companies.   “The iPhone broke down the telco model of trying to lock us into their proprietary applications… Apple went behind the backs of the telcos and they’ve never really forgiven it for it,” he says.   “The iPhone has been a huge thing for business. Apple created an app store and showed businesses they can help drive sales and productivity. It’s helped businesses both as technology consumers and by allowing them to create their own apps to capture further business opportunities.”   Thanks to the rise of the smartphone, driven largely by the success of the iPhone, businesses such as Appster, Smart50 winner Outware Mobile and AppsPro have come to exist.   Businesses have also been forced to up their customer engagement via social media, new banking methods have been developed to allow people to transfer money and monitor their accounts on the go, and increasingly businesses are developing payment technologies which allow people to pay for things like their morning coffee while in transit.   But Wallbank says the best innovation has been the most simple – making business mobile.   “It’s liberated people from the office and automated a lot of field workers systems. At the time the iPhone was released I was running an IT support business and I was struggling to find something which would let my field technicians do their paperwork on the road,” he says.   “Smartphones have changed the way many industries can work with their mobile workers. Before the iPhone, the mobile revolution was stunted by the telcos and companies like Blackberry and Nokia, but Apple opened up the platform.”   Both Fadaghi and Wallbank agree in the next five years smartphones will become integrated with other smart devices.   “What we’ll see is an extension of the smartphone to a number of connected devices and smart accessories. Their functionality will be extended through wearable devices, docking solutions and software which lets it integrate with other devices,” Fadaghi says.   “When it reaches maximum penetration innovation will be around its integration with other devices… There is a pent up demand for Google Glass and these kinds of products at certain price points.”   Fadaghi says the success of wearable devices will depend on their price.   “Longer term, one thing which will occur is the computing part of the technology will get smaller and smaller. You’ll have the full functionality of a smartphone in wearable devices, SD card-sized computers and smart computing units will be applied in different ways like wearables and sensor type devices.”   Wallbank says the current International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas has shown there will be more integration between smartphones and in-car navigation and entertainment systems, fitness equipment and medical devices.   “Smartphones and tablets are becoming the centre of our digital lives. They’ll be the remote control for everything from home security systems to fitness watches,” he says.   “The trend prior to smartphones was phones getting smaller. I think the form factor of the phones will evolve as we use them. It could go back to tiny phones if we use them to engage with things like Google Glass and smart TVs predominantly.”   Wallbank says just as the motorcar changed the twentieth century, “the smartphone will change the twenty-first”.

If your company is nosediving, don’t buy a private jet!

9:44PM | Sunday, 29 September

Occasionally, when you read a business news website, you’ll spot something that really makes you shake your head. Earlier this week, Old Taskmaster read such an article in The Wall Street Journal. Now, as a business owner, just imagine yourself in this position.   You’ve just had the quarter from hell.   And by quarter from hell, I mean your company somehow managed to blow nearly $US1 billion in just one quarter. You also have nearly $US1 billion worth of inventory of your flagship product sitting in a warehouse somewhere gathering dust, potentially destined for landfill.   You try to launch another critical product – an app for Android and iOS – but a technical gremlin stops that going ahead the weekend it was supposed to go live.   Retailers have abandoned your products. So have executives and enterprise.   You were preparing to launch a new version of your product, but that got overshadowed by the dramatic resignation of one of your directors, who is now trying to buy the company off you.   You’ve announced that you have to let 40% of your staff go. Google has conveniently opened up a new facility just down the street to try to lure away the other 60%, given how shot your morale is. Oh, and there’s also been reports of an exodus of senior executives.   What would you do?   That’s the situation that confronted embattled Canadian smartphone maker BlackBerry chief executive Thorsten Heins this quarter. And you know what he decided to do?   He bought a new corporate jet.   A nice one. A Bombardier Global Express. The company took delivery of it in June, and has since sold it again.   Now, as regular readers of this column will know, it’s not too often that Old Taskmaster is lost for words. Well, dear reader, this may be a first.   Buying a new BlackBerry corporate jet can’t even be compared to fiddling while Rome burned. After all, back in 64 AD, Nero didn’t have the luxury of a leather seat in an air-conditioned cabin, now did he?!   While it’s a fairly extreme example, there’s a general principle at play here.   Being ambitious is great. But there’s a big difference between ambition and delusion – along with the skewed, private jet buying-priorities that result from it.   So be honest with yourself – and prioritise accordingly.   Get it done – today!

The BlackBerry Messenger fiasco: How not to handle a major product launch

9:12AM | Monday, 23 September

When it comes to business advice, embattled smartphone maker BlackBerry is like the Kevin Rudd of smartphones: study it closely and then do the opposite.   Their latest fiasco? This past weekend, the company was going to launch a version of its BlackBerry Messenger app for Android and iPhone. This launch is crucial for the company. If their mobile phone business goes under, at least they’ll have a cross-platform messaging app and some services to sell.   Sure, the company probably should have released it six years ago. Still, better late than never.   Now, if you had a crucial product launch coming up, what sort of press release would you issue the day before?   If you’re BlackBerry, the answer is obvious. You pre-announce nearly $US1 billion in losses for the current quarter, along with the fact you’re slashing 4500 jobs or 40% of your global workforce. You know, just to make your consumers feel secure.   Worse, most of those losses came from write-downs on unsold inventory of their touchscreen-based ‘comeback’ product, the Z10 smartphone. Basically, if this company is going to lose a billion bucks, this is possibly the worst way it could have happened.   Now, before anyone accuses Old Taskmaster of being a BlackBerry hater, read this. Your humble correspondent is firmly of the opinion that the Z10 could have been a success – if the phone was marketed properly. It wasn’t. Or if BlackBerry communicated the fact it used a new operating system. It didn’t. And now there’s a $US1 billion worth of unsold Z10 smartphones sitting in a warehouse somewhere, gathering dust and getting ready to be dumped in a New Mexico landfill.   This is on top of the existing uncertainty over the company’s future ownership. Apparently, co-founder Mike Lazaridis is now circling like a shark, and so is Canadian investment guru Prem Watsa. But whether they want the company whole or just pieces of it is anyone’s guess at this point.   Well, a day after all this bad news, with no clear air, the big launch weekend comes.   The Android version is supposed to be launched on the Saturday, and the iPhone version on the Sunday. There’s an official BlackBerry Twitter account to let users know when the app is available in their country.   Well, Saturday comes around and the app launches in a few different countries – for iPhone rather than Android.   It launches in three or four countries. Then the notices stop, with no warning or explanation.   Several hours go by. Finally, there’s a message from the official Twitter feed: “Pausing #BBM4All rollout to fix issues caused by unreleased BBM for Android app.” The company also issues a statement explaining that issues caused by the Android version of the app are to blame.   A few more hours go by, then this: “We will provide you with an update on timing as soon as we can. Teams are working non-stop.” From then on, it’s been radio silence.   Now, anyone who’s dealt with a big tech product launch knows anything that can go wrong will.   Which is why companies like Google have, in the past, made new product launches invitation only. Alternatively, instead of staggering out a launch over a weekend, they’ve staggered it over a week or a month.   That way, you slowly build up the traffic on your servers instead of having a sudden load of people trying to access your service all at once.   Likewise, make sure you have clear air in the media before a major product launch. There is a time and a place to announce bad news – and the day before a major product launch is never that time or that place.   In short, if you want your business to succeed, look at what BlackBerry have done lately – and do the opposite!   Get it done – today!

THE NEWS WRAP: Coles records 15th consecutive quarter of same-store sales growth

3:02AM | Friday, 15 March

Wesfarmers-owned retail giant Coles has recorded its 15th consecutive quarter of same-store sales growth, along with a 5% growth in second quarter sales to $7.71 billion.

THE NEWS WRAP: The Australian dollar is on track to reach parity with the US dollar

12:40AM | Monday, 6 December

Business is facing a period of hard bargaining with unions pushing for pay increases above inflation rates and superannuation contributions above the statutory 9%.

Small businesses face wait for iPhone 4

12:36AM | Tuesday, 7 December

Strong small business demand for the Apple iPhone 4 has contributed to significant waiting times for the device in Australia.