Free Kindle Phone? Here’s how Amazon can make it work
Sep07

Free Kindle Phone? Here’s how Amazon can make it work

Amazon Kindle phone is like a unicorn. Or maybe like an iPhone, in the years before it was actually launched. Everybody has heard that such thing may exist, nobody has ever seen it, and everyone agrees that if it was real, it would be something different and really cool. Today we get a new dose of Kindle Phone rumors, this time from a a well connected former WSJ reporter Jessica Lessin. According to her, Amazon is now trying to figure out how to offer Kindle phone for free, off contract. Is that even possible?  Lets see how the free Kindle phone could work. Building usable smartphones these days is pretty cheap. Xiaomi sells their Red Rice smartphone with 4.7” 720p display, 1.5GHz quad-core CPU, 1GB of RAM,  8 megapixel camera and Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean for $130 in China, and it costs just $85 to make. You can also get off-contract BLU’s smartphones from $79.99 from Amazon  U.S. The latter are somewhat obsolete by today’s standards, but it is safe to assume that if Amazon commits to a several million unit order, it could get Kindle phones delivered to its warehouses for something like $80 to $100 per device. Then it’s just a matter of recouping that $100 over the lifetime of Kindle phone. And the biggest hurdle to Amazon here will be U.S. carriers. The problem with wireless market in the U.S. – are carrier subsidies. It doesn’t matter whether you bring your own phone to AT&T and Verizon, or take one of theirs. Their monthly post paid plans are the same. And they subsidize their own phones heavily. You pay  $200 for a handset that should cost $600, and you can get a smartphone that would otherwise cost up to $400, for free. It will be impossible for  Amazon to make Kindle phone  for $100, that is better than $300-400 phone from Samsung, LG or Motorola. And if your monthly installment for wireless service is the same, you will have no reason to chose Amazon’s Kindle phone over a free Samsung Galaxy S3, even if Galaxy comes with a two year contract attached. Unless two biggest carriers decide to unbundle their service fees from phone subsidies, or Amazon is able to persuade them to create some special plans, two thirds of U.S. market is pretty much closed for free  Kindle phones. That leaves T-Mobile, and smaller carriers like Metro PCS or Boost, that already offer cheap unbundled wireless plans. And this is where things get interesting, and where Amazon can gain a foothold with a free Kindle smartphone. The market covered by these operators is still big enough to make a difference,...

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HTC One has failed. With August sales down another 16% MoM, 45% YoY and profit warning looming, now what?
Sep04

HTC One has failed. With August sales down another 16% MoM, 45% YoY and profit warning looming, now what?

HTC One has failed. Taiwanese smartphone OEM’s August sales data leaves very little doubt about that. Last month HTC’s revenues declined another 16%, to $NT 13.2 billion ($444M), from already dismal July, and are down 56% from May’s peak, the first month One started shipping. Which means that while HTC may have gotten its carrier partners excited about their new flagship, that excitement was very short lived, because the end customer sales just weren’t there. With revenues falling so fast, there must be a lot of those Ones shipped in May, still sitting on retail shelves, unsold. Which is a darn shame, because once again, there was nothing wrong with  HTC’s flagship device. In fact, it probably was the best smartphone of the first half of 2013, with only one real competitor – Samsung Galaxy S4. But, just like last year, HTC’s poor brand recognition and lackluster marketing campaign transformed a clear winner into an also ran. And things are not getting better anytime soon. In fact we are probably looking at another HTC profit warning in a few weeks. They have sold $NT 29 billion worth of smartphones in August and July. To get to the lower end of the $NT50-60 billion guidance for Q3, HTC’s September revenues have to come in at at least $NT 21 billion. A 60% jump in monthly sales from August. Even in May, when One monthly sales peaked, HTC was able to grow monthly revenues only by 48%. What chance do they have to meet and exceed that number? With what? HTC One mini? It has been shipping for most of August, and didn’t help at all. The new marketing campaign? They are focusing on long term branding with it, and a chance that it will significantly boost current product sales, just isn’t there.  One on Verizon? The days when a single U.S. carrier could do that for HTC are long gone. Newly announced Desire 601 and 300? Those don’t start shipping until October. And don’t forget the iPhone, which hits the markets in two or three weeks. And LG G2, which starts its worldwide rollout now, backed by a huge marketing campaign too. That’s just the things to spoil HTC’s lunch in September. In Q4 we’ll get Sony Xperia Z1, Galaxy Note 3 and a bunch of low and mid-end Samsungs to wreck havoc on HTC sales in the West, while the the upstarts like Xiaomi, Oppo,  Meizu and established players like Lenovo, Huawei and ZTE put pressure on them in China. Knowing what the competitors are bringing to market later this year, and what HTC has in its portfolio, things are looking very bleak for Taiwanese smartphone OEM. 2013 will...

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Apple returns to Samsung for 2015 14nm Ax chips, will pay 20% more. Deal shows Sammy’s increasing power, but for how long?
Jul16

Apple returns to Samsung for 2015 14nm Ax chips, will pay 20% more. Deal shows Sammy’s increasing power, but for how long?

It must be really frustrating to be in Apple management shoes right now. Samsung has been a major component supplier for iPhone for years. But ever since Sammy began blatantly copying iPhone with its Galaxy S line of smartphones, Apple has been hard at work to distance from Korean company for as much of component supply, as they can. The problem is – for some things, there’s no one else who can make iPhone parts in volumes and quality that Apple needs. Case in point – Apple’s Ax application processors that go into every iPhone and iPad. Samsung has been the sole manufacturer of Apple’s Ax CPU’s from the very first iPhone that shipped with it. But for several years now, Apple execs have been touring chip foundries around the world to find someone else to produce iPhone brains. Without much success, until recently. Few weeks ago, Digitimes and WSJ  broke the news that Apple has finally signed a contract with TSMC to produce the next generation iPhone chips, hopefully replacing Samsung as the main CPU supplier. If only things were that easy. Even those early reports pegged TSMC only as a supplier of the next generation iPhone CPUs, made with 20nm manufacturing process. Samsung will still produce all A5 and A6 CPUs made with 28-45nm process technologies, that run currently available iPhones and iPads, and is the most likely AP supplier for the upcoming iPhone 5S and new iPads to be released this fall. TSMC only gets to provide chips for the next generation of iPhones and iPads, that Apple will launch in 2014. And who will be the supplier of the next next generation of Apple CPUs, for products of 2015 based on next next generation 14nm manufacturing process, was up in the air. Until now. It isn’t anymore. Yesterday two Korean sites – Korea Economic Daily and Korea Herald reported that Apple had signed a contract with Samsung, for the production of 14nm Ax CPUs from 2015. The contract is said to run for 3 years, the new chips should be 30% faster than previous generation TSCM CPUs, and double the efficiency of currently available 28nm processors. Later, Mobile Review’s Eldar Murtazin chimed in, telling us that, according to his sources, under the new contract, Apple will now pay 20% more per chip to Samsung. So what can we make from all these Apple chip supplier news? Not much, beyond the fact that semiconductor fab owners hold the upper hand vs mobile chip designers, for now. The fact that Samsung was able to negotiate 20% price increase for the next generation Apple CPUs, is one good illustration of that. That Apple wasn’t able...

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Nokia Microsoft Windows Phone contract is for 5 years, in force until 2016. But is it WP exclusive?

Now that the deal to sell Nokia to Microsoft fell through, the Finnish company may start considering its other options. And one of them is to add Android smartphones to their product line-up. But Android option has one problem- the contract Nokia signed with Microsoft, when it went Windows Phone exclusive. And which includes $250 million a quarter platform support payments from Microsoft, of which Nokia already received $1.5 billion. Helsingin Sanomat, Finnish biggest daily paper, reports that the duration of Nokia Microsoft contract is 5 years. Which means that Nokia’s options to separate itself from Windows Phone until 2016, are limited. The big question is – how limited? It is obvious that there should be some penalties there, if Nokia decides to abandon Windows Phone and switch to another smartphone OS. And we already know that Nokia has made some firm commitments on the amount of Windows Phone licenses it must buy from Microsoft each year, no matter what. But is there some exclusivity clause there, that would prevent Nokia to adopt some other, third party smartphone OS, if it continues to promote Windows Phone too, and meets its minimum royalty requirements? It is possible, but I really doubt that such clause exists. The decision to go Windows Phone exclusive was purely Nokia’s, and was based on high hopes for Microsoft OS, way too inflated confidence in its own sales force, and belief in ability to “flip a switch” and cram almost anything down consumer throats. After all, back then, even disastrous phones like Nokia N97 sold in millions. And, in late 2010, they managed to ship 5 million smartphones running the flawed Symbian^3 OS, within 3 months after its launch. Why not repeat the feat with Windows Phone next year? But adding the clause that forbids Nokia to even try some other, third party OS? That would be going too far, and may have some serious issues with European competition/anti-trust authorities. Remember how things looked from both companies perspective back when they negotiated this deal? They didn’t go into partnership, expecting it to fail. In early 2011 Nokia was still the biggest smartphone and mobile phone maker in the world. And expected to remain the biggest OEM indefinitely, gradually phasing out Symbian smartphones and replacing them with Windows Phones. Now imagine if the optimistic assumptions of Nokia Microsoft partnership came to pass. Nokia would still be the biggest smartphone maker in the world, Windows Phone would already be bigger than iOS, probably even Android. All Nokia competitors – Google, Apple, Samsung – will be looking for any opening to take Nokia down a notch. European anti-trust authorities...

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Nokia in acquisition talks with Microsoft? So that’s why Meltemi had to die and Elop kept his job in 2012
Jun20

Nokia in acquisition talks with Microsoft? So that’s why Meltemi had to die and Elop kept his job in 2012

It seems that all that Nokia’s talk about things finally turning around, Windows Phone being the right choice and how we will finally the impressive results of that choice later this year, was just that. An empty talk. Putting on the brave face, trying to positively spin the collapse in its mobile phone business in Q1, even some positive signs of Lumia growth… It was just a spin to get a better price. All this time Nokia management was actively shopping themselves to Microsoft. According to WSJ, Microsoft was recently in advanced discussions about the acquisition of Nokia’s device business, but the talks have recently collapsed “… in part because of the price and Nokia’s own strategic predicament”. Which probably means that after the disastrous Nokia Q1, Microsoft got scared with the speed of Nokia’s mobile phone business decline and way too slow ramp-up of Lumia sales, and significantly reduced the offering price they’ve been discussing before. Stephen Elop couldn’t justify the new low offer to his board and Nokia walked away from the talks. That talks were very advanced, nearly at an oral agreement stage, is a very interesting bit of info. It means that they have been going on for many months, possibly for more than a year. And it explains so much about the disastrous strategic choices Nokia made for its mobile phones division over the past year. Killing of Meltemi, abandonment of Qt, using the Smarterphone to transform S40 into some pretend smartphone OS, dubiously premature WP8 announcements, even Elop’s extended stint as CEO after the disastrous 2011-2012 – it all makes perfect sense now. I still think that February 11th deal to go exclusive Windows Phone was made in a good faith by both parties. Of course, there was too much hubris at both Nokia and Microsoft, but they really thought they can make the deal work. BAck in early 2011, Nokia was still way too impressed with its own distribution power, and was sure that all it takes is to “flip a switch” to start selling millions of Lumias a month. And Microsoft was still sure that they’ve had a strongly competitive mobile OS on their hands, and all they need is a partner like Nokia to get strongly behind it and really push. But by mid 2012 it became clear that both of them were wrong. The strength of Nokia sales organization turned out to be an illusion, as did the competitiveness of Windows Phone. Realizing his mistake, and that he will never be able to bring Nokia back to even a shade of former glory, Elop decided to sell the company...

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Moto X may transform Motorola into Google X type advanced project lab, with very strong product focus
May30

Moto X may transform Motorola into Google X type advanced project lab, with very strong product focus

Moto X phone is real and is coming this fall. Motorola certainly took its time to produce the first smartphone after it was bought by Google. The acquisition deal closed a year ago, and its now been almost 9 months since Motorola released any new device to the market. In the meantime, it more or less eliminated their presence, including an important R&D division, in China, closed down sales offices in most parts of the world, and practically exited the feature phone business. But now the transition is almost over, and new Motorola management team from  Google is almost ready to show us the first results. And they are really ambitious. During an interview at D11 conference, Motorola CEO Dennis Woodside confirmed that they will launch Moto X hero device this fall, with more to come later this year. According to CEO, with Moto X, Motorola is not trying to follow the specs game other smartphone vendors play. He says  that the main focus is to rethink the use of various available sensors, to make the device more context aware. E.g. – Moto X will know when you take it out of the pocket and will turn itself on. When you want to use a camera, presumably orienting the device to take pictures, the camera app will launch automatically. When you are in the car and travelling at 60 mph, Moto X will switch into car mode and behave differently than when you just walk. Moto X engineers also paid a lot of attention to battery life, and effective power management of phone CPU and active sensors. Hopefully, they’ve got some good results from their efforts, and we’ll see a device that will easily go through a day or two of active use. From previous remarks of Google CEO Larry Page, it seems that Motorola is very concerned with the phone durability. Presumably that will produce at least IP57 certified water and dust proof smartphone. Some earlier rumors mentioned sapphire glass for Moto X. But that will not happen. According to Dennis Woodside, Motorola’s hero smartphone will be manufactured in Texas, in the old Nokia factory, with OLED displays supplied by Korean company, probably Samsung. Motorola CEO also says that Moto X will be widely distributed. I’m not sure how will they achieve that after shuttering almost all of Motorola’s worldwide sales organization. We’ll just have to wait and see. But from the CEO tone it sounds that there won’t be any carrier exclusives at least. That’s about all what we know today about the first Moto X. But Motorola does not stop there and is thinking much more...

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Google plans to include haptic/tactile feedback engine into Android to… make their ads more effective
May23

Google plans to include haptic/tactile feedback engine into Android to… make their ads more effective

Looking from the business model point of view, Google is an advertising company. All their apps and services, almost all the technologies they are working on, are geared for one purpose only – get as much pageviews as possible to display ads on, and get as much information about you, to show the most actionable ads possible. Today USPTO has published a patent application called “ Providing information through tactile feedback” that makes Google’s obsessive advertising priorities even more clear. The patent app deals with the issue of the tactile/haptic feedback on touchscreen devices. The lack of such tactile feedback from our full touch smartphones and tablets, is probably one of the most annoying things about them. Apple, Nokia, Samsung and other companies in the smartphone biz have been trying to solve the touch device tactile feedback problem for years. But, except for the rather primitive haptic engines that vibrate most of the device on touch event, outside an R&D lab, none of them has anything interesting to show us. But they will figure something out eventually. And this brings us to Google, and their latest patent app. In it, Google does not go deep into the technologies of how to make the tactile/haptic feedback work. They do an overview of what might be possible, and how it might be done, but it is very broad and not really helpful. For all intents and purposes, Google just says that eventually the solution will be there. That devices with a very granular tactile feedback, along full surface of a touchscreen, will come along. And then Google will be ready with their own “Tactile Interface Engine” inside Android, to …. display all those ads on Android smartphone,  with tactile feedback – to make them better and more effective. The ways to do so, described in the patent app, include: Separating an ad displayed on a webpage with a border having a distinct tactile feel, so you notice when your finger is approaching the ad. Displaying multiple ads in separate tabs, and giving each ad different textures/feelings of roughness. The ad which is considered the most relevant will give the roughest feedback, the next one will give a different and lighter sensation, and so on. If you decide to drag one of the background ads to a new place, the display will provide you with the physical feeling of dragging something, to keep you more focused. And those different textures of roughness? Well, they can be adjusted to the ad content, too: if the content displayed in the first region 208 corresponds to an ad for a beach resort, the haptic feedback provided...

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Facebook Phone’s UberFeed to pull info/feeds from everywhere. Enhanced caller ID, privacy mode in the works too
Apr02

Facebook Phone’s UberFeed to pull info/feeds from everywhere. Enhanced caller ID, privacy mode in the works too

So, the Facebook Phone we told you about few weeks ago, is finally coming on Thursday. One of the key features for this handset will be an active Home/Lock screen that will display Facebook feed. There’s a talk about dedicated camera app to replace default Android one, and improved FB messenger. But getting a news feed to show-up on your Android Home screen sounds kinda lame for three years of effort by Facebook’s mobile head Eric Tseng, who joined social networking giant from Google way back in 2010. To see what else Facebook may brig to their new device, we looked at the patent applications filed by the company and Eric Tseng himself. There were quite a few interesting ones. Active Home Screen with UberFeed Let’s start with the active Lock screen displaying Facebook feed. Yep, they have a patent app for that. It’s called “Display Dynamic Contents on Locked Screens” and talks about displaying your Facebook feed intermixed with your SMS, e-mails, shared pics and stuff. But the social news feed on your locked HTC Myst display is not the interesting part here. For its grand entry into mobile Facebook may have something much bigger in the works. They call it “Uberfeed” and describe it in detail in the patent application with the same name: … various types of information relevant to the user (e.g., relevant to the user himself or relevant to the user’s life) obtained from multiple sources may be mixed and combined into a single, yet comprehensive information feed, which may be referred to as a “uberfeed”. The term “uber” is a prefix originated from German, which may convey the meaning of “increased elevation or quantity”, “superiority”, or “excessive degree”. Thus, a uberfeed may include many different types and pieces of information obtained from many different sources. In particular embodiments, the specific informational content contained in a uberfeed is user specific. That is, the information contained in a uberfeed constructed for one user may differ from the information contained in a uberfeed constructed for another user. In addition, the specific informational content contained in a uberfeed constructed for a specific user may also be time and/or location specific. A uberfeed may thus provide a single information feed (i.e., a single information source) that includes all types of information relevant to the user. Consequently, the user only needs to look to one information source for all the information he may need. The Uberfeed information sources can include: news (e.g., news feed), notices, advertisements, network content (e.g., information publicly available on the Internet), messages (e.g., email or SMS), social-networking information (e.g., information associated with the social-networking system,...

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With Google Glass Sergey Brin Betrays Us All

A buff Sergey Brin strode onto the TED stage. He branded smartphones “emasculating.” “Is this the future of connection, just people walking around hunched up, looking down, rubbing a featureless piece of glass?” “Is this the way you’re meant to interact with other people? It’s kind of emasculating. Is this what you’re meant to do with your body?” Brin, with TED serving as both promotional backdrop and technical validation, then showed off Google Glass, a fashionable pair of glasses complete with video recording, Internet connectivity, voice commands, phone, texting and augmented reality overlay. A true marvel of engineering. “But I whip this out and look as if I have something important to do. What Sergey whips out and deems important, I consider a violation. Google, I understand. Google benefits from capturing my personal privacy. They sell my information to the highest bidders, just like yours. I confess, however, that I am surprised that Sergey Brin is leading this latest charge. Sergey Brin is the co-founder and Director of Special Projects at Google. He is worth $23 billion. His work and life story are in many ways an inspiration. Yet I believe he has betrayed us. Brin may think smartphones are emasculating. He may feel super-cool and extra-masculine wearing his Google glasses on the New York subway, but I am merely creeped out. You should be as well. I think of this while relaxing in a large public courtyard in Southern Caifornia, soaking up the sun and pining for a mojito. Suddenly, and without warning, the place is overrun with about fifty middle schoolers. Gangly, goofy boys and pretty, uncertain girls. Wearing my sunglasses, just sunglasses, I realize what a violation Google Glass can be. Perhaps I should record these children – merely out in public; the boys chasing the girls, the girls teasing the boys till they chase them. I could then upload the video onto YouTube, this very moment, with their real-time location embedded. Perhaps a few of them I can stare at just long enough for my Google Glass to facetag them – then in nanoseconds have the Googleplex deliver any information on them directly to me. How could Brin do this? You want a continuous visual overlay between you and your fellow human beings, that’s your choice. I choose otherwise. Only, Google and Brin are now trying to strip me of my ability to choose. Google Glass is neither empowering, nor liberating. Rather, it is the tool of the stalker, or a device worn by the masses to ensure any upstart never thinks of straying from the popular line. Brin has repeatedly noted that anti-Semitism, experienced inside...

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HTC Should Abandon Android And Embrace Firefox OS

Once mighty, the smartphone wars have badly weakened HTC, which continues to stumble, delaying product launches and issuing profit warnings. I do not expect the HTC One to mark any appreciable change in HTC’s fortunes. I propose a radical solution: embrace Firefox OS. As we have documented since last year, Samsung so utterly dominates Android that it leaves little room for anyone else to succeed. After Samsung takes its oversized profit share, there are simply too few profits remaining for HTC and other Android members to survive. Samsung will not destroy iPhone. Samsung could, however, destroy Android. Samsung sucks up nearly all the profits of the Android handset market. This limits product roll-out, marketing and ongoing innovation from other ecosystem members. No profits, no business. Samsung is a threat to iPhone, no doubt, but in this case, it’s more a threat to Google and its vision for Android. Google will not come to HTC’s rescue. The news out of Google last week was that its chief, Andy Rubin, is out, replaced with the man behind Google Chrome. Consider that as a sign of which platform CEO Larry Page most values. Add to that the persistent rumors that Google’s Motorola division is working on a “X Phone” to take on Apple and Samsung, and Google’s long-term commitment to fostering platform partnerships is in doubt. One of the first Android handset makers, HTC should be celebrating Android’s dominance. Except, it can’t. The 2012 smartphone sales numbers reveal that while Android currently leads the global smartphone market – with a 65% market share compared to Apple’s iOS at 20% — HTC placed no better than 8th, accounting for a meager 4.5% of all smartphone sales. Worse, HTC’s already low numbers are trending downward. Their sales share fell from 4.6% in Q3 2012 to a shockingly low 3.2% in Q4 2012 (including both Android and Windows Phone products). Android will not save HTC. Neither, however, will Windows Phone. It’s innovative UI and ‘live tiles’ based operating system arrived too late — well after the ‘app phone’ became the global standard. As of Q4 2012, the Windows Phone share of the global smartphone market sits at a laughable 2%. Of this, Nokia accounted for 77% of all Windows Phone sales. Samsung accounted for 11%. HTC came in third, garnering a meager 10% of the already meager Windows Phone sales. HTC can’t rely on Android, nor on Windows Phone. The company may claim that they are ready to “challenge” Apple and Samsung, but victory is unlikely. HTC simply can’t compete with Apple on product innovation. Nor can HTC compete with Samsung on scalability, manufacturing prowess or on...

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