Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Vodafone BetaVine

As it's my last day at Vodafone today, I thought it only appropriate to use my last few hours constructively and do a post on a great intiative being led by our Group R&D team - a collaborative mobile innovation portal called Betavine.

"Vodafone Betavine is a testing ground for the latest concepts and technologies in mobile and internet applications. It allows people to test their ideas in real-world conditions, with others who are knowledgeable and interested in developing mobile applications for the future".

Take a look today and you will find a directory of mobile applications, discussion forums (including open source, API's, resources and Apps), and a Developer Zone where you will be able to create a project forum, solicit input and feedback from other members, and test/trial your application with a willing community. The site is a work in progress so naturally there are some sections that are "coming soon".

This is an altrusitic contribution from Vodafone designed to foster more information, more transparency, more discussion and ultimately more innovation. I hope that this will eventually evolve in to what many have been craving for years; an operator "API" that provides access to location, presence, device data, customer profile, billing and more.

Paul Walsh @ Segala had the exclusive here

Screenshot 1 - displays most popular downloaded mobile applications together with device compatability and popularity. Screenshot 2 - Forum listings.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Mobile Bits and bobs

I've been a bit slack on the blogging front....busy times.So I thought I'd write another summary as the last one proved quite popular....

Michael Mace continues to deliver the goods over at Mobile Opportunity with a great article and some original analysis on mobile data and handset segmentation. Mr Mace argues the existence of three main handset segments (entertainment e.g. NGage, communication e.g Treo, and information e.g. PDA) and that what lies intersecting all three is the "Zone of Death". IMHO, the "zone of death" presents the biggest opportunity IF the device manufacturer can get the UI and marketing right, and I dont mean market it as a Swiss/army phone. Surely, the mass market needs a credible combination of all 3 capabilties? Communication, Entertainment and Information are converging right? (2ndLife, WOW, Habbo, Pica etc)

Paul Fisher of FirstCapital has written a great overview of VC activity in Europe during 2006. This was a great read as most of the coverage I see is about the US with little to no European specific coverage (except TornadoInsider). Looking at who raised what and from who is also interesting - I'm still amazed that one of my favourite mobile services Zyb only raise 0.6m - a very slick backup service that works on most mobiles - i'd happily pay for that.
And while were on the subject of VC, AlarmClock Euro has a good summary of mobile-related 3i trade sales and an interview with Snr Partner, Ian Lobley.

I noticed that Steve Ives (former founder of trigenix which was sold to Qualcomm in 04) has started a mobile search company called Taptu - nothing to see but one to watch.

And again, while we're on mobile search, i came across a refreshing approach to mobile content search from MogMo - take a look.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Pikeo from Orange

Last week, Orange officially launched the unofficial Pikeo, a web-based photo-sharing location-tagging map-viewable community environment which has spawned out of the Orange R&D labs in San Francisco.

"Available in French, English and Spanish, Pikeo allows everyone to share their talents, travel diaries, favourite collections and visions of the world with their friends, family and other Web users. Microsoft's Virtual Earth cartography service is integrated into Pikeo so that users can enrich a map of the world with their own photos.As a result, users can navigate through their friends' network of contacts to discover new members of the Pikeo community and the photos they have taken".

It's a product recipe made from ingredients such as Flickr, Buddyping, and Duosnap, but in it's current beta form, it doesn't taste too great. The application interface is designed in Flash which takes an age to load, and isnt very easy to navigate once it has. Uploading pictures can be done via your PC, or via your mobile using Shozu. I was surprised there was no MMS number available for users who don't have a Shozu supported device. You can set access rights and add tags as you upload your pictures, and each account appears to get 1Gb of space, which seems generous until you realise that uploading pictures doesnt work, so it doesn't matter if they give everyone 100Gb because there's nothing to store! So, yes - nice try but its broken and doesn't work. We should all check back in a couple of months once its out of Beta.

Hedge-funded Start-ups

I heard an amazing quest for funding story last week...about a UK company in the mobile space that raised an undisclosed (about $5m) Series A. They spent quite some time talking to VC's but opted for hedge-fund funding instead. The entrepreneurs behind the venture rationalised the funding intake arguing that they already had a strong network in place, it took very little time for the two parties to agree a structure and valuation, the funds were made available very quickly, there was no board-seat requirement, and because the fund was based in the US there was minimal day-to-day intrusion.

So I get home last night and open up my freshly delivered copy of Red Herring, and theres an article describing this new source of funding as an example of "financial convergence". It says that in the US, this is now quite common-place.
With the emerging trend of Micro-VC, hedge-funds and traditional VC, entrepreneurs are now witnessing a refreshing innovation wave across available finance sources, broadening choice and increasing the total amount of available funds.
P.S I would add that the hedge-fund route appears and makes sense only for the experienced and proven, so if you're starting out in this business, best probably to stick to the usual financial watering holes.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Network Spaghetti

If you want to drive from say Battersea in London , to Brighton in Sussex , you will find that your journey encompasses a variety of motorways, A roads and maybe the odd B road. The A205, the A23, the M23, back on to the A23, the A27, along the A2038, and right on to the A2010, and then finally a cheeky hand-brake turn on to the seafront. Ignoring the heinous amount of stealth tax you pay in petrol (and if its a company car, the tax man will have billed you for that privilege as well), the only cost you pay for using these roads is the road tax that you pay each year. Something like a 175 squids for unlimited use of the UK 's finest roads. And if you're a foreigner, it's free!

This Christmas, I found my self doing a lot of traveling. With family in UK and Greece and home in Germany , my girlfriend and I managed 8 flights, 6 airports and 7000 miles. My internet access during this period consisted of my home access provided by T-Com (@ €35,99/month), Vodafone Germany Unlimited (limited to 5Gb/month!) 3G data card (@ €50/month), 3 x 15min access on a T-Mobile Hotspot at Köln airport (3x 15 min = €12), 2 x 1 hour access to Swisscom Wifi at Zurich airport (2 x 1hr = 12CHF), 2 x 1 hour access to BT Openzone at Gatwick (2 x 1hr = 12ukp) and some borrowed bandwidth in Greece on EOL, and AOL in UK. So 1 month cost of Internet connectivity comes to a grand total of about €130!! I'm paying another €15/month for a "fixed" telephone line and about €50/month for my Germany Vodafone mobile contract. So my total basic "connectivity" requirement came to about €200 (excluding fixed and mobile calls, SMS and MMS messages and mobile phone data usage). What the %&$*!

This is not how it should be. So how should it?

Firstly, I want my provider to provide me with a "personal connectivity" solution - this means a home internet connection, a mobile phone and connectivity wherever I go. Companies are making inroads, offering combined billing for each of these differnet access offerings, acquiring or own-branding elements they dont offer and combining the offering under a single brand. Problem is, each network connectivity component is often provided by a different network infrastructure and therefore a different business unit. This makes technical and business integration and proposition development very challenging (although it really shouldn’t be that tricky). Look at T-Mobile - with its T-Mobile mobile division, T-Com fixed line offerings and T-Mobile Hotspots wi-fi business. If you go in to T-Mobile shop, you may find a T-Com leaflet, but no salesman is going to sell you the benefit of a seamless & simple personal connectivity solution.

Secondly, If I accept I may have to use a few different networks and providers (3G isn’t always available nor suitable), then please can I put everything on one bill. Perhaps my personal connectivity service provider could do a deal to enable me to use other networks using my mobile phone to authenticate and bill the transaction. This will avoid me having to whip out the credit card in front of a hundred tired and hungry passengers jostling for place in the EasyJet boarding scrum.

Thirdly, if I have a query or glitch, I would appreciate the ability to make a free call to a helpful service agent who can see my account details and ideally speak the same language as me. It would be a real bonus if they saw a read out of my customer value in terms of total historical expenditure, rather than the total of €3 that I just paid them. And it would be great if they could fix the problem.

Finally, I don’t want to have remember usernames, passwords, PINS and access codes for all these networks and services. This is rubbish. This total space is a frickin nightmare. My head is so full of different numbers, passwords, access codes and other crap that I can hardly remember my date of birth argghhh.

Ok - breathe deeply....

I know it’s a very crap and tenuous analogy, but I want the London to Brighton experience for my connectivity requirements, without any traffic jams. I dont want to have to stop at tolls at every junction. I would like one connectivity provider with one customer number I can call for any problems. I want one bill, one username and one password. If I happen to go abroad, I want to use the same account without having to pay extra. I want simplicity, seamless connectivity and value for money. And I really couldn’t give a toss if the network I’m using is 3G, DSL, HSDPA, Wifi, Wimax, or WiBro.

Sounds like it should be simple, but it ain't. Spectrum regulation, Telecoms de-regulation, Oligopilisation, Government deficit repayments, Technology IP ownership, standardisation, biggness, ignorance and a lack of customer focus have all contributed to what is now a spaghetti plate of network services across Europe . It's a mess, and although some companies are now heavily focused on detangling the mess, it will still be some time before we will get to this.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Swiss Army iPhone

Saw this which made me chuckle. Everybody wants one but I don't. Why - cos I think the usability will be awkward, the battery life appalling, it will be unreliable and if I drop it, it will break. Most mobile phones lead a pretty tough life. I get through at least 2 a year and a 300 pounds a pop it becomes an expensive consumable. If Mr Jobs saw the state of my 18 month yr old iPod he would cry. Me, I'll be sticking to my faithful Nokias and will take a close look at the iPhone at the beginning of 2009 when most issues and glitches will be resolved. Before then however, if I'm wrong, its hats off to Apple. If they do crack this nut, then they can build and sell anything. (thanks for the vid Bruno)

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Gizmodo Japan Mobile Shop Visit

Vid showing how Europe and US is almost medieval when it comes to handsets...Happy New Year y'all....