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Thursday, 5 December 2013

Could we see a dual-SIM iPhone soon?

After working on this deal for months (and possibly years), Apple and China Mobile today worked out an arrangement for selling iPhone's through the Chinese carrier's network officially.  The stakes have always been high when it comes to securing a deal with China Mobile as they've got a subscriber base of 700 million users which trumps that of any US or European network provider by miles.

China has been one of the largest markets for Apple officially till date and Apple cut the legs off the grey market this year when they released the iPhone 5s and 5c officially in China in the same day as they did in other Tier 1 markets like the United States and the UK.  If there has been one thing Apple CEO Tim Cook has been brutally clear about, it's that China matters and he's made numerous visits to China since taking over as CEO.

Tim Cook at the Foxconn factory in China.
Image: Bloomberg.com

However, reaching an agreement is probably just the first part of the deal.  Taking advantage of that and now building products to attract consumers in China is where the real challenge will come for Apple.  The iPhone 5c was long rumoured to be the "cheap" or "China" iPhone but it turned out what Chinese consumers wanted was the premium iPhone 5s and the 5c wasn't quite as "cheap" as most of us expected.

With the China Mobile deal, Apple though will undoubtedly be looking at the mass market in China and this will mean that they have to probably tailor products to the Chinese market.  One of the first features I think they may have to look at is a dual-SIM iPhone.  This may not be a product we see in the iPhone 5s initially but rather in the iPhone 5c as Apple will look for ways to get wider acceptance for the iPhone 5c.  

Why is a dual-SIM phone needed in China?  Well, if you look at it today, products like the HTC One and the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini come in dual-SIM variations in China (we don't get both these models in a dual-SIM flavour officially yet in the UAE).  Chinese brands like Huawei and Lenovo which have got a strong foothold on the Chinese mobile market also have a variety of dual-SIM models in their line up as well.  Most of these manufacturers have understood that consumers want the freedom to have multiple network operators to choose from and thus it's become common sight to see consumers in countries like China or India carry around more than one mobile phone with them.  Even in the UAE, we've got mobile penetration rates well in excess of 200% as per the TRA.

Beyond the dual-SIM model, it remains to be seen how much more Apple will make changes to their offering in China.  I have a feeling some of these changes may be the type that'll make every Apple fanboy cringe but in the effort to stay competitive in third world countries like China, India and Africa, things will eventually have to be done differently.

So now the question is, will a dual-SIM iPhone have two Nano SIM slots or a Nano SIM and Micro SIM combo?  Over to you Sir Jony Ives and the design team at Apple...

Posted by: Ashish Panjabi, Chief Operating Officer, Jacky's Electronics LLC

Saturday, 23 November 2013

My year of smartphones

2013 has been a fairly unique year for me.  I've always been someone who's experimented and played with technology but I've probably had my hands on more smartphones this year than I ever did in the past and have been fortunate enough to enjoy playing with lots of goodies.

I've resolved myself that I won't be trying out any more smartphones this year but have decided to summarize my year with smartphones in this blog post.

Just to put things in context, I normally have got two phones with me at any given point of time as I've got two SIM cards when in Dubai and occasionally carry a third phone when traveling with a local SIM.

Now to get on with the review...

1. Apple iPhone 4S
Background: I was using this phone last year and continued to use it during much of 2013.


  • Syncs to iTunes where I have most of my podcasts and music
  • iPhone 4S.
    Image: technobuffalo.com
  • Works best with most Apps that I use on a regular basis (I also have a Nike FuelBand which syncs with Apple iPhone's at the moment).  

  • Sluggish. With the iOS 7 upgrade that happened in the last quarter of this year, the iPhone 4S did start to feel sluggish.  
  • Camera. The camera also wasn't as good as many of the newer entrants that appeared in the smartphone space in 2013 
  • The smaller screen size became a more apparent disadvantage once I got used to bigger screens on the other devices I was using through the year.

Bottomline: To summarize it, the iPhone 4S was just efficient.  It did most of what I wanted fairly well.

2. Samsung Galaxy Note II
Background: I was using this phone as well towards the end of 2012 so continued using this when the year started.


  • The bigger screen on this device made for a big change but when you're working on e-mails, the extra real estate on the screen is much appreciated.
  • Battery. The Galaxy Note II comes with a huge battery and if you've got a day on the road, the Galaxy Note II is the device to carry with you.  I've been frustrated with the fact that I've had to carry a charger or power bank around when using most other devices during the year.
  • Plasticy Finish. As nice as the Galaxy Note II is, the plasticy finish doesn't give this phone the premium feel it should have given the price you pay for it.
  • Weight.  The Galaxy Note II is a heavy smartphone to carry around and after I bought the iPad Mini earlier in the year, I realized the two devices more or less weighed the same so I opted to carry an iPad Mini when I needed to get serious work done on the road.
  • Size.  As much as I enjoyed the bigger screen, it became awkward to carry a large smartphone everywhere as it doesn't naturally fit in most pockets and given the fact that I had two phones with me at most times, it became a drag, especially on weekends where you're trying to fit both phones in your jeans pockets.
  • Two hands on deck.  It was difficult to use this phone with only one hand because of the size and weight of the device.  Even though it had a one-handed mode, it wasn't always practical.
Bottomline: A great device if battery life is a priority for you.

3. BlackBerry Z10
Background: Having used a BlackBerry for several years, I had finally given up on using a BlackBerry in the last quarter of 2012.  In early 2013 though when the BlackBerry Z10 was released, I did give it another chance.

  • Good build quality and feel
  • Extremely quick (especially when compared to the previous generation of BlackBerry devices)
  • Data packages. The most cost effective roaming data packages as compared to other platforms
  • The little engine that could. BlackBerry Z10.
  • One hand use.  You could comfortably grip this phone in one hand and complete most tasks.
  • The App ecosystem is the biggest let down.  The fact that you had to wait weeks, if not months for many popular Apps to become available on BlackBerry OS 10 and when they did, they weren't of the best quality.  It just made you realize why wait for Apps to reach this platform when you can adopt another platform that has all the Apps available on day one.
Bottomline: This was essentially BlackBerry's best attempt at a comeback and sadly it fell short.  It was the revolution that we anticipated and given the advances that iOS, Android and even Windows 8 devices were making in 2013, BlackBerry OS 10 just didn't feel like it would get mass support from the App developer community.

4. HTC One
Background: I was fortunate to be able to get my hands on a pre-release unit and experience HTC's revolutionary step forward.

  • Fantastic build quality.  The metal body meant this phone had the best feel and look out of any phone I used during the year.
  • Camera.  The ultra-pixel camera technology that HTC brought to the table with this smartphone meant that it delivered some stunning results in low light or indoor scenarios.
  • Sound. The Beats Audio experience coupled with the two speakers on the front of the phone meant that the HTC One had the best audio output of any smartphone this year.
  • LTE connectivity.  This was the first LTE smartphone I had used and I'm addicted to the speed that LTE offers.
  • Snappy.  A more powerful processor and an improved version of HTC Sense meant that the phone was very quick.
  • BlinkFeed.  This was HTC's attempt to aggregate your social feeds and news in one screen.  While it was a good attempt, I ended up installing Facebook Home and found that to be a lot more intuitive.  It certainly made me start using Facebook more.
  • No memory card slot means you can't expand memory.
Bottomline: An excellent device.  One of my favourites for the year.

Galaxy S4 vs. HTC One.
Image: gsmarena.com

5. Samsung Galaxy S4
Background: I went from using an HTC One to using a Galaxy S4.  These are probably the two best smartphones that emerged on Android this year.

  • Quick.  There is no doubt about it, the Galaxy S4 was the quickest phone I've used this year.  Regular Android updates also meant that several improvements that Google made to the operating system were apparent on this device.
  • Lightweight.  The Galaxy S4 isn't a burden to carry around.  The smartphone was one of the slimmer devices I used during the year and after using several heavy devices during the course of the year, I appreciated carrying this phone with me, especially on the weekends.
  • Display.  Watching videos on this screen is a pleasure.
  • Samsung Apps. This may seem like a bit of a joke to many but I've found Apps like S-Health to be useful.  S-Health keeps track of my footsteps during the day and at least gave me some indication of my activity levels.
  • Build Quality.  The phone feels extremely plasticy and after migrating to this from the HTC One, it just doesn't feel as rich when in your hands.
  • Battery Life.  Even though Samsung have packed a huge battery into this phone, I've found myself having to charge this phone a few times during the day.  This may have been partly because I've found myself using this as my primary device but I still feel the battery life needs to improve.
Bottomline: Everything just works well on the Galaxy S4.  I found it extremely efficient and I hope to finish out the year using this as my primary device.

6. Lenovo K900
Background: Lenovo is a relatively new entrant to the smartphone business.  I had the chance to use their phablet device during this year.  This was also Intel's first major foray into smartphones so it took a little getting used to hearing the Intel tone whenever I switched on the phone.

  • This phone was much like the Samsung Galaxy Note II.  The bigger real estate was welcome and additional battery life was welcome.
  • Great value for money as this has been priced a few hundred Dirhams cheaper than comparable phablet devices.
Lenovo K900 vs. Galaxy Note II.
Image: slashgear.com
  • This is a big phone.  It was even bigger than the Galaxy Note II and this made it difficult to use as it didn't necessarily fit in my pockets.
  • No LTE.  The Intel chipset unfortunately had a limitation in that it couldn't work on LTE and when you've got a bigger phone like this where you're tempted to watch videos, you enjoy it even more with a faster connectivity.
Bottomline: This is a good entry into the smartphone business by Lenovo.  I expect them to only get better from here and it is encouraging to see Lenovo move in the right direction.

7. Samsung Galaxy Note 3
Background: I had the opportunity to use the Note 3 when it was released during the fourth quarter.  I didn't however test this with the Galaxy Gear smartwatch that Samsung released alongside this phablet.

  • Lighter and slimmer than the Galaxy Note II.  While I found the Note II a drag to carry around, the Note 3 was a pleasure to hold.
  • Large screen size.  Samsung have pushed their engineering team to try to minimize the bezel on the side and increase the display area on the screen.  This has been achieved when compared to the Note II.
  • The artificial leather on the back of the phone made it feel less plasticy than the Galaxy Note II.
  • Awesome battery life. The Galaxy Note 3 continues where the Galaxy Note II left off and was excellent if you're out on the road quite a lot.  Also as compared to the Galaxy S4, it has much of the same functionality but with better battery life.
  • Screen lag.  While the Galaxy Note 3 felt much faster overall, I did find some screen lag, especially when opening the browser from another App such as Twitter or Gmail.  I expect this is a software related issue and will be resolved in a future software update.
Bottomline: This is a natural upgrade for anyone using a Galaxy Note II.  For those hardcore BlackBerry users, this is the probably the best phablet to move to if you want a device that let allows you to remain productive.

8. Huawei Ascend P6
Background: This was the first time I was using a Huawei device so I wanted to see just where the company was as far as the overall Android experience went.

  • Extremely lightweight and slim.  This was the sleekest phone I used all year.
  • Android Skin. Huawei have done away with the menu button to open up all your Apps and set up their Android skin so that you can swipe from the home screen to see all your Apps.  The overall appearance on your eyes of this skin is also fairly appealing as they've used more soothing colour schemes.
  • Huawei Ascend P6. Image: pcpro.co.uk
  • Fantastic value for money given the price you for the specs, size and weight of the device.
  • Battery life.  For what you get in size and weight, you lose out relatively in battery life.  It is a ready compromise you have to make it.
Bottomline: Huawei much like Lenovo seem to be making a step in the right direction.  You can anticipate both brands to be challengers to stalwarts like Samsung or HTC in the long term.  If you're not a heavy smartphone user, this may be the device for you.

9. Nokia Lumia 1020
Background: This was Nokia's first 41 megapixel Windows powered phone after they introduced the PureView 808 last year on Symbian.  

  • Unbelievable camera.   There isn't going to be another phone you find this year that comes with a camera that is anywhere near comparable to the Lumia 1020.  The quality of pictures you achieve and the advanced editing capabilities set this phone apart from the rest of the competition.
  • Dedicated camera shutter button.  Whether the screen is locked or not, you can take advantage of this button to take pictures almost immediately.  
  • Fantastic build quality.  Nokia have never compromised here and this phone feels fantastic to hold. 
  • Nokia Music (now renamed MixMusic).  Nokia's music App is great and the ability to download mixes onto your phone for offline play for free is fantastic value.
Nokia Lumia 1020.
Image: cnet.com
  • Lack of Google support.  I use Google Apps fairly extensively and apart from native Android Apps, I've found it a bit difficult to get a satisfactory experience on most other operating systems but this seems particularly more challenging on the Windows Phone 8 operating system that Nokia uses.
  • The Bump.  In order to accommodate the 41 megapixel sensor, there is a small bump on the back of the phone.  This can be a bit awkward as I found either the phone sliding off a table or whatever I'd kept on top of the phone to slip off.  It takes getting used to.
  • Apps.  Windows Phone 8 recently got Instagram and this was what I missed when I was taking all those awesome pictures.  Much like my experience BlackBerry, I found myself missing Apps or finding that the App experience was compromised.  I would've struggled if I didn't have a second smartphone with me.
Bottomline: This is the best device if you're on holidays, have young kids or take a lot of pictures.  I would replace my DSLR camera with this and carry it with me without a SIM card even.  

10. Apple iPhone 5s
Background: When the iPhone 5s was officially released in the UAE, I bought myself a 64GB iPhone 5s (not gold).

  • TouchID.  It works extremely well and I'm able to move from lock screen mode within a second or two by placing my choice of finger or thumb print over the finger print sensor.  It generally works quite well.
  • Fast.  The new 64 bit processor coupled together with iOS 7 works extremely well.  The lag I felt with the iPhone 4S seems like a distant memory.
  • Camera.  This has got one of the better cameras I've used this year.  If you want a phone that has a camera that anyone can use, this is probably the one to look at.
  • No Memory Card support.  The fact that you're paying a little more than a USD 100 to move from a 16GB to a 32GB model or more than that to move to a 64GB model seems unjustified at a time when you can buy a 64GB memory card for most other devices for about USD 35.  
  • Inability to tinker.  When you've played with Android you enjoy the flexibility it provides you and Apple has always restricted the OS to do just what Apple wants you to do and that's it.
  • Screen size.  Even though the iPhone 5s has a bigger screen than an iPhone 4S, you wish it would be closer to size of what you find on devices like the Samsung Galaxy S4 or HTC One.
Bottomline: Everything just works seamlessly. 

As the year starts to come to a close in a few weeks, I've decided not to try any more phones this year.  I'm closing the last few weeks of the year using a Samsung Galaxy S4 as my primary device and an iPhone 5s as my secondary device.  The pace at which I've changed phones this year has been unprecedented but the ease at which I've been able to change also shows just how intense competition has become.

A few years ago, you had many people glued to BlackBerry or Apple devices because it wasn't easy to migrate but with the advent of Android, guaranteeing loyalty to an ecosystem has become that much more difficult.

Posted by: Ashish Panjabi, Chief Operating Officer, Jacky's Electronics LLC

Thursday, 14 November 2013

GITEX shopper 2013 at Jacky’s closing with a Bang!

It all started roughly 120 days back when our team at Jacky’s started looking at the floor designs, customer experience, range of products to carry, marketing campaign, communication approach and logistics plan along with host of other consideration that goes into making a success of GITEX shopper.

We have been undisputed No.1 Retailer at GITEX Shopper, yet again with Retail Presence of 15,000 Sq. ft.
We can’t thank enough 26,000 customers that shopped with us during those 8 days at shoppers and the strong workforce of over 700 that made it all possible!

Expressing our gratitude and appreciation to all the partners and industry representatives that have been ever supportive in bringing mutual success during this event, we hosted a Gala dinner last night at Crowne Plaza, Dubai and it will be just appropriate to acknowledge once again some of the partners for their support. We thank you, once again.

Partners facilitated at Gala last evening

Sandisk - In Recognition of Highest Sales Acheivement of IT Accessories
TP Link - In Recognition of Highest Sales Acheivement of Networking Products
WD - In Recognition of Highest Sales Acheivement of Hard Drives
HP - In Recognition of Highest Sales Acheivement of IT Pheripherals
Mio - In Recognition of Highest Sales Acheivement of GPS
Samsung - In Recognition of Outstanding Sales Acheivement of Cameras
Canon - In Recognition of Outstanding Sales Acheivement of Cameras
Nikon - In Recognition of Highest Sales Acheivement of Cameras
Lenovo - In Recognition of Outstanding Sales Acheivement of Smart Phones
Nokia - In Recognition of Outstanding Sales Acheivement of Smart Phones
Samsung - In Recognition of Highest Sales Acheivement of Smart Phones
Eurostar - In Recognition of Outstanding Sales Acheivement of Tablets
Samsung - In Recognition of Outstanding Sales Acheivement of Tablets
Apple - In Recognition of HIghest Sales Acheivement of Tablets
Philips - In Recognition of Outstanding Sales Acheivement of Televisions Sales
Sony - In Recognition of Outstanding Sales Acheivement of Televisions
Samsung - In Recognition of HIghest Sales Acheivement of Televisions
Dell - In Recognition of Best Notebook Value Sales
Lenovo - In Recognition of Best Notebook Retail Sales
HP - In Recognition of Best Notebook Overall Sales
FDC - In Recognition of Outstanding Partner
Jumbo Electronics - In Recognition of Outstanding Partner
Eros Electricals - In Recognition of Best Partner

Monday, 21 October 2013

A Gold iPad

On Tuesday evening (Dubai time), Apple is due to announce a refresh to their iPad line-up.  Whilst the pundits have been debating what may be next in Apple's conquest to save or maintain their share in the tablet space, I think it comes down to one simple question: Will there by a gold iPad?

No matter what else Apple puts into a new iPad, for many end consumers, it is down to vanity and just as has been evidenced in the case of the iPhone 5s, people in regions like the UAE like gold.

Gold. Enough said.
Image source:http://eofdreams.com/gold.html 

So I'm hoping Tim Cook & Co. do their best to dazzle us tomorrow evening but nothing beats the shine of gold when it comes to kicking up a storm in this part of the world, so if Apple is hoping to regain and strengthen marketshare, they know they potentially have a golden ticket on their hands.

P.S. The iPhone 5s and 5c launch officially in the UAE on November 3, 2013 at prices that aren't ridiculous.  If you want a gold iPhone, there is no need to pay inflated premiums that the grey market is currently charging and wait for the official launch.

P.P.S. Apologies for the puns. :)

Posted by: Ashish Panjabi, Chief Operating Officer, Jacky's Electronics LLC

Thursday, 3 October 2013

The future of Jacky's is retail

It's been a busy few months here at Jacky's in planning for what is traditionally our busiest quarter of the year.

During October - December, we're normally busy with Gitex Shopper, Eid, Diwali, UAE National Day celebrations, the December festive season and planning for the start of the Dubai Shopping Festival in early January.  We've also got a slew of new product releases that typically happen this time of year (a new iPhone possibly?) and at times its just the sheer adrenaline that keeps us going.

This year though we're even busier than usual.  We've recently entered an agreement with Samsung whereby we will be opening several Samsung brand shops over the next five months.  These outlets will be owned by Jacky's but be branded as Samsung outlets.  Currently the locations confirmed for these concept retail outlets include the existing locations that Jacky's occupies in Mall of the Emirates and Deira City Centre as well as new locations in Abu Dhabi and Sharjah.  The outlets will be managed by Jacky's in partnership with Samsung.

In addition to this, we've got several changes happening with our multi-branded Jacky's Electronics outlets.  Our flagship store in Dubai Mall will undergo its first major renovation since we opened back in 2008.  Back then, Apple was yet to release its first iPad and since then, we've seen completely new categories of products emerge and other categories decline or disappear.  We've been constantly making changes to the retail outlet to adapt to trends as and when they emerge but a complete renovation has become necessary.  This renovation will hopefully reflect not only what we see as the current trends within the technology space but also what we anticipate will come in the future.  There will be a clear focus on experience shopping and hopefully this will become evident when the renovation is over.  We're also planning to renovate our retail outlet in Sharjah City Centre to reflect some of what we're trying to achieve in Dubai Mall.

We're also in talks with various landlords for new retail outlets for both retail concepts we will be operating going forward.  Retail is about detail and if there is one thing we've learned in the twenty five years we've been operating retail outlets, it is that managed growth is always better if you want to be able to manage those details.  We're not in a numbers game but in a business of delivering quality.  In fact, our Group's Quality Policy says "Serve our customers from the heart by offering value added products and services, for strengthening customer's trust in Jacky's as a brand."

We've invested over 43 years in creating the the Jacky's brand and we look forward to seeing the brand continue forward for many more years as well.   Retail has been in our blood and whether it be our multi-branded Jacky's Electronics outlets or the Samsung-branded outlets operated by Jacky's, we hope to continue adding our flair to retail in the UAE.

Posted by: Ashish Panjabi, Chief Operating Officer, Jacky's Electronics LLC

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Thoughts on Microsoft's Acquisition of Nokia

With the flash announcement early this morning Dubai time (at night in the United States) that Microsoft is going to acquire Nokia's handset and devices business, the question a lot in the industry have been asking themselves is if it is too little too late, it is at times easier to talk in hindsight.

In the case of this deal, there were a few things that struck out to me that I wanted to highlight as I've worked with Nokia for a number of years and have always had an interest in wanting to see the company do well.

Market Coverage 

Nokia has got a very strong position in the UAE.  While the focus at the top end of the market may have moved towards what Apple and Samsung were doing, Nokia had been chipping away at certain core segments.  In fact a report from the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) in the UAE from August 2013 showed that the top four devices registered on the mobile networks in the UAE came from Nokia.  This does include feature phones where Nokia is still quite strong.  The potential to gradually move this segment to low-end smartphones like the Nokia Asha series is something that Microsoft could capitalize on if they play their cards right.

Build Quality

Nokia devices have always been known for being amongst the best when it comes to build quality.  This is something Microsoft clearly wants to take advantage of as they've started rolling out their own hardware such as the Surface tablets.

Distribution Network 

  1. Microsoft failed with the Microsoft Surface on various fronts.  Even though the announcement of the Surface was covered globally, the product reached very few corners of the world just because Microsoft didn't have the right distribution network.  If they were to couple this together with Nokia's global reach, the situation would've probably been quite different.  Instead of writing down USD 900 million as they did for Microsoft Surface stock, they would've probably been able to move the stock to parts of the world where the product may have been better accepted.
  2. If Microsoft expects to compete with Apple and Samsung, they need to have a wider distribution network.  Samsung is probably the leader in this industry but Nokia isn't far behind.  By being able to leverage on this, you could see Microsoft potentially being able to launch products in 90 countries instead of the handful of countries they're introducing the Xbox One in towards the end of this year.
  3. Wearable Tech - Microsoft wants to compete with Google and Apple.  Both of them do software and hardware.  Google is moving in the wearable technology market with Google Glass, Apple is rumoured to be launching a smart watch and Microsoft I'm assuming has something up their sleeves as well.  Whether independently or jointly, I assume both Nokia and Microsoft had been playing in their labs with wearable technology but combining this knowledge, together Nokia's distribution network and build quality, could mean we see Microsoft as a force to reckon with.
Could we finally see a Nokia tablet?
Image: pocketnow.com

Camera & Antenna 

Nokia has been known to have one of the best cameras in the smartphone industry.  Whether it was the PureView 808 or the Lumia 1020, Nokia has shown they've got a leadership within the industry.  Nokia also has got equally strong capabilities in the antenna space and have always been regarded as one of the best when it comes to packing in antennas for different bands into a mobile device.  You can only imagine how many ways Microsoft could take advantage of this.

The Battle for Number 3 

Microsoft has been long trying to establish themselves in the mind of consumers as the number three operating system.  This is a battle they've fought with BlackBerry and it is difficult to say clearly who is on top at this stage.  However, it is not only a battle operating systems at the number three slot but also that of the number three hardware manufacturer.  Apple and Samsung have a clear leadership position in the smartphone hardware space and gobble up most of the industry's profits between them.  Nokia would want to cement themselves in number three but would have faced challenges from the likes of LG, Huawei, Lenovo, Sony, Motorola and a host of others who want to be number three.  By combining hardware and software, Microsoft can make a push to cement their stake as the number three player in both hardware and software.

Quick Integration

Mergers between big companies can often be slow and bureaucratic.  Microsoft is not known for being the quickest company and with their own restructuring recently announced, one would hope they would work to integrate Nokia quickly.  The advantage Nokia has got is that both Stephen Elop, the former Nokia CEO and Chris Webber, the head of Nokia's Sales & Marketing activities are both ex-Microsoft men.  This could help in the sense that they know the culture of both companies quite well and could find a way to make sure Microsoft doesn't drop the ball here.

Risk of Bureaucracy

There are a lot of advantages both companies would have in this merger but the risk is that they get stuck in bureaucratic processes.  I've known Nokia for a number of years and there are certain things they do very well.  I just hope those processes don't get stuck into the bureaucracy that Microsoft is known for.  Samsung is extremely aggressive despite being a large company and Microsoft will have to model themselves on this model if they want to succeed.

Find a Design Guru FAST

One bit of news that slipped under the radar with the acquisition announcement was that Nokia's design head, Marko Ahitsaari is leaving the company in November.  This is the equivalent of Apple losing Sir Jony Ives and while Nokia have said there is a replacement on board, he has to be as good if not better than Ahitsaari as he looked over all aspects of hardware design, software and packaging in Nokia.

Start Listening

I've met Stephen Elop on a few occasions and I've noticed he brought about one major change in Nokia in that he made them listen again.  Nokia's circumstances were pressured when he took over and the company had little choice but to listen.   However I've seen companies to the position that Nokia is in that till today operate in a vacuum.  Many of these companies continue to be extremely arrogant and if Stephen Elop does become CEO of Microsoft, I hope he starts making them listen as well.  Consumers, enterprise customers, channel partners, the press and all the other stakeholders in Microsoft have got a lot to say about how Microsoft can improve and I hope this acquisition of Nokia brings about a change in Microsoft's corporate culture as well.

If not Microsoft then someone else...

Had Microsoft not acquired Nokia, then it would've just been a matter of time that someone else could've potentially acquired Nokia.  Companies like LG, Lenovo and Huawei for example are keen to dig their teeth well into the smartphone business and organic growth alone isn't the way forward.  Microsoft probably knew that if they didn't make a move for Nokia, then it may have been acquired by someone else and most likely you'd see Nokia move to Android, killing any chances that Microsoft would've had to make Windows Phone 8 a contender in the smartphone business.

We will see a lot more in the next few months over how all this pans out.  What is for sure, most people like me have an emotional attachment to Nokia.  For many, it was the first mobile phone they ever used and it was a loyal companion in the years before smartphones emerged.  Nokia has a legacy and has got the trust of most consumers.  I just hope Microsoft appreciates this, works to maintain this and keeps the  Nokia flag flying high.

Posted by: Ashish Panjabi, Chief Operating Officer, Jacky's Electronics LLC

Fasten your Seatbelts...

In the early hours of September 3rd, we in Dubai came to hear about Microsoft's acquisition of Nokia's handset and devices division.  This will though for most of us following the tech industry be a whirlwind week and a month of non-stop activity in the tech sphere.

Expect to hear in the next seven days the ramifications of this deal analyzed in great detail.  However,  there's a trade show in Berlin called IFA where Samsung is expected to announce the Galaxy Note III, the rumoured Galaxy Gear smart watch and maybe an OLED TV.  Sony will also undoubtedly try and grab some share of the headlines as well whether it be again with their smartphone, smart watch and TV businesses.
Image: ecogirlcosmoboy.wordpress.com
Then on September 10th, we expect to hear from Apple formally about a new iPhone and the official release of iOS7.

Somewhere during the month of September we will undoubtedly hear from LG, HTC, Lenovo, BlackBerry and a host of others of what they've got planned.

Towards the end of the month, most brands and retailers, including ourselves will start ramping up for Gitex Shopper (which is from October 5 - 12, 2013 at the Dubai World Trade Centre) and there will be I'm sure a barrage of news releases, new product announcements and launch events.

If you're a tech journalist or blogger, my sympathies are with you as you can't expect to get much sleep but if you're an enthusiast like me, this will feel like Christmas has come early.

So sit back and enjoy the ride!

Posted by: Ashish Panjabi, Chief Operating Officer, Jacky's Electronics LLC

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Telecom Wars: Jedis not Included

There was a headline that grabbed my attention in the Gulf News this weekend that read "Etisalat vs du mobile tariff wars 'cannot continue.'"  At first I thought it was a misprint but it indeed justified and sided with the two incumbent telecom operators in the UAE that the rates they charge are unsustainable in the longer term.

The gist of the article was that Etisalat dropped its rates to 24 fils per minute to eleven selected countries for prepaid customers with a one Dirham fee charged per call whereas du is charging 30 fils per minute to nine selected countries with a 50 fils fee per call for prepaid customers.

Image Source: http://photo.net/photodb/photo?photo_id=8718675

The UAE is home to a large expatriate community and with these offers being offered on prepaid plans only, it is largely targeting those at lower income groups in the UAE.

What surprised me though was that the article suggested the telecom operators in the UAE were unsustainable as it may negatively impact their profitability in the long term.

These offers are being offered purely to prepaid customers but surely the telecom operators know that if they don't do their best to offer better rates, they risk losing these customers to services like Skype, WhatsApp and WeChat (the latter two offer voice messaging on their instant-messaging platforms).  If, as a telecom operator you want to keep this customer with you, you need to offer lower rates and better services.  It is not about du vs. etisalat, it is about du vs. etisalat vs. Skype vs. WhatsApp vs. WeChat vs. BBM vs. Viber vs. whatever else you can think of.

I also assume that for most telecom operators, they don't make the lions share of their profits from prepaid customers.  I assume the more profitable customer for most telecom operators would be those with post-paid plans who are being charged higher rates for the very same international calls and many of whom would have fixed data packages.

Just a quick glance at the financials of both telecom operators on their respective websites reveal that Etisalat recorded a net profit of 24% in Q2 / 2013 and a net income of Dhs. 1,519 million for their UAE operations whereas du had a net profit margin of 29.24% with a net income of Dhs. 778 million.

Given the chance, if I was writing or commenting on this story, I would have recognized the fact that the telecom operators have acknowledged the fact that they have competition from Internet-based technologies and in a rush to ensure they don't completely get side-lined, they come with a pricing plan that is affordable to this particular target segment.  It would mark a victory and check off a box in that particular telecom providers KPI's and help ensure they made some revenue from that particular segment instead of no revenue.

However, as this shows, any story can have two sides and in this particular case, the other side was demonstrated.

Posted by: Ashish Panjabi, Chief Operating Officer, Jacky's Electronics LLC

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Microsoft re-orgainzes but where's the design guru?

A few days ago I had put out a post on Microsoft's attempt to make itself relevant again.  Microsoft is still a larger than life entity in the tech world but looking forward five years, ten years or twenty years from now, I pondered on whether they will still be able to carry the same sort of clout as they have for the last thirty years.  Microsoft has lost a number of senior people who were responsible for some fairly major projects including those heading the Windows and gaming divisions of the company.

Then on Thursday, Microsoft announced their reorganization and they shifted the focus back onto unifying the company.  Moving from a product centric structure and it has organized itself around specific functions.  That means engineering, marketing, business development, advanced strategy & research, finance, HR and operations get centralized for all product groups.
Microsoft's structure previously was designed to promote infighting
according to many industry experts.  Let's hope this changes now.
Image: http://gigaom.com/2013/07/11/one-microsoft-reorg-aims-to-break-down-silos-good-luck-with-that/

While I hope for Microsoft this is the right step forward, it was starting to clone the way companies like Apple today operate.  That is except for one significant difference, there is no apparent design guru waiting in the wings at Microsoft.  Sir Jony Ive at Apple is the Senior VP of Design and responsible for the hardware and software design of the products we see today.  Over at Nokia, Marko Ahtissaari heads their design unit where details such as hardware design, packaging and software come under his purview.
Apple design chief, Sir Jony Ives after being knighted.
Image: wired.com
In Microsoft's case, this still looks to be a divided function and if Microsoft wants to be the company that inspires us going forward, a design guru is a must.  The UI changes that Microsoft implemented with something like Windows 8 have been radical and this has been a problem with many users who failed to understand it.  Sir Jony Ive is battling the same issues with iOS 7 on the iPhone where he has also been vary of the fact that if you change too much, you risk abandoning the masses.

So Microsoft, if you're listening, centralize your design team and give us a design guru who can reach the same sort of cult status as Sir Jony.

Posted by: Ashish Panjabi, Chief Operating Officer, Jacky's Electronics LLC

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Microsoft: Make yourself relevant

Once the behemoth of the tech industry, Microsoft has spent the last couple of years on the ropes as they struggle to make themselves relevant going forward.  Microsoft's staple product till date have been their operating system (Windows) and productivity products (Office).  Over the period though, we've seen Microsoft make themselves important in various other arenas whether it be in browsers (Internet Explorer) or gaming (Xbox).

The tech industry though changes very fast and while Windows and Office will still continue to be the bread winners for Microsoft going forward, they've found it extremely challenging in some of the businesses that should have been a part of their future.

The major threat that Microsoft has seen has come from the fact they weren't the company leading the smartphone or tablet revolution, whether it be with operating systems, browsers, search capabilities, location based services, cloud storage, gaming or even hardware.

Microsoft has been assuring us they will come back but when two senior executives leave a company shortly after announcing or releasing products that are supposed to be bring the company back, you have to wonder, has Microsoft seen their best days?

Microsoft's ex-Windows head, Steven
Sinofsky at the Surface tablet launch.
Image: technobuffalo.com
Steven Sinofsky was President of Microsoft's Windows division from 2009 through to November 2012 just days after Windows 8 was released.  Sinofsky had joined Microsoft in 1989 and was responsible for products such as Windows, Internet Explorer, Outlook.com and SkyDrive.  If Sinofsky was confident that Mircosoft had got it right with Windows 8 and the other ancillary services that make up a mobile, tablet or desktop operating system in 2012, you would've expected him to stay to enjoy the rewards of his hard work.  Instead, he released the product and left.  Since then we've seen Microsoft struggle to sell PC's, tablets or smartphones.

Ex-Microsoft Xbox chief, Don Mattrick.
Image: ign.com
Don Mattrick was President of the Interactive Entertainment Business at Microsoft till July 1, 2013.  Just a month earlier, Mattrick was on stage at Microsoft's keynote event that took place alongside the E3 gaming exhibition where he revealed to the world the new Xbox One.  This was to be Microsoft's next generation gaming console and the product that would establish Microsoft in the centre of the living room going forward.  Why then would someone in such a senior position leave before the product could even launch commercially?  Mattrick has instead taken over the reins of social gaming company Zynga (which he looked to buy when he was at Microsoft), which itself has been struggling of late but where Mattrick obviously sees a brighter future for himself then he did as head of Microsoft's gaming empire.  

A company doesn't revolve around two people but if Microsoft says they're going to be as important in the future as they've been in the past, seeing departures when key products are announced or released is worrying.  Steven Sinofsky and Don Mattrick have probably escaped before they could be made scapegoats.

Just as we saw IBM have to reshape themselves several years ago, companies like Microsoft will have to do the same.  Microsoft has had their share of failures whether it be their Zune music player or their Kin smartphone but a company today is applauded when they take a bold step to say they're going to focus only on what they do best.  In the case of Microsoft, they've got their hands in too many pies and if they were to refocus their efforts on doing what they are good at, we can probably see Microsoft bounce back like IBM did.

Steve Ballmer is due to announce some management changes some time in July and I'm hoping a lot of this revolves around sticking to the core business.  With as many imitators as there are out there, no one does a spreadsheet program the way Microsoft does Excel and if they can continue to innovate where their strengths are, I'm sure we'll continue to see Microsoft dominate a particular space of the tech business moving forward instead of trying to be everything to everyone in tech.

Update (13 July, 2013) - Microsoft announced their reorganization and another post with regards this was written.  You can find it at this link.

Posted by: Ashish Panjabi, Chief Operating Officer, Jacky's Electronics LLC

Monday, 24 June 2013

S4, Q10 and HTC One a disappointment? Not in our Opinion.

There was an interesting headline in 7Days today that quoted research and polling firm YouGov on the impression consumers had on the wave of new smartphone launches that happened in the last couple of weeks.

The article says "the S4 appears to be in front when it comes to impressing customers, but their 'general impression' of the brand plunged when it struggled to meet demand for the new handset."  This statement was a bit confusing for me as a retailer because we in fact thought Samsung did a great job securing supply this time.  There was a slight shortage for the initial two week period after launch but the moment Samsung launched the LTE model of the Samsung Galaxy S4 via Etisalat, we saw no shortage of stocks.  It was probably the first time we'd seen such strong supply of a new device and a lot of this goes down to Samsung's multiple manufacturing and logistics facilities.  In this case, Samsung was able to trump most other brands during that period in our retail outlets because Samsung was the only one who was in stock for most of this period.
BlackBerry Q10. Image: gizmodo.com

The second statement was more specifically about BlackBerry.  The article says "Blackberry took a hit in its 'satisfaction score', 'suggesting it did not meet the expectations of customers.'"  If anything, the BlackBerry Q10 surprised us with sales on the cash tills and has been far better received than the BlackBerry Z10.  Even if our sales figures are not considered, I compared it with sales reports from research firm GfK that tracks sales of most consumer electronics retailers where they've also shown that in the UAE, the share of BlackBerry in the smartphone segment jumped to nearly 25% for the weeks following the launch of the Q10.

The differences between what we've seen as retailers or what GfK reports as compared to YouGov may come down to the sample size that YouGov worked with.  For us as retailers, we saw a huge jump in our smartphone sales during the months of April, May and June because of these new phone launches.

As a consumer, I leave it to you to decide who you find more credible but I just tend to think that the consumer wallet is ultimately what gives a more accurate picture of the market landscape at the end of the day.

Posted by: Ashish Panjabi, Chief Operating Officer, Jacky's Electronics LLC

Monday, 17 June 2013

Change Everything, Change Nothing

Somewhere in the 2012, smartphone and computer users all over the world start demanding one thing and that was CHANGE.  Were all of a sudden millions of smartphone owners all across the globe inspired by President Obama's campaign slogan or was there indeed a need for a change in the way smartphones and notebook computers looked?

Without exception, most mobile and desktop operating software companies were being told that they were behind the times whether it be Blackberry, Windows, Google and Apple.  The powers that be behind these companies eventually relented and in late 2012 and 2013, we've seen CHANGE.

What have been the results so far?

Blackberry initially took a beating for their BB10 operating system when the Blackberry touch-screen only Z10 smartphone was launched but bounced back into the good books of most consumers when the keyboard model Q10 smartphone was released.

Microsoft was singled out by research firms for the decline in the PC industry because they released a radically different version of Windows called Windows 8.  Microsoft has had to respond within a year by releasing Windows 8.1 that brings back some of the functionality of previous versions of Windows.  In the smartphone space, Nokia released a series of Windows Phone 8 devices which have been critically acclaimed by pundits for being functionally excellent but panned by consumers who still don't see it as a viable alternative to iPhone or Android devices.  Poor Microsoft has also suffered the wrath of gamers by radically changing the next generation of Xbox devices whereas Sony stuck to their age-old agenda with their PlayStation 4 (the video link below shows how Sony responded to all the changes Microsoft made to sharing games by having two gentlemen standing in front of a camera handing a game from one person's hand to another).

Google was singled out for fragmenting their user-experience by allowing manufacturers to customize their own skins of Android responded by announcing a series of Nexus and Google-edition smartphones.  Despite all of this, it turns out consumer wallets still prefer buying Android devices from Samsung despite the pre-loaded Samsung Apps or skin on Android.

Facebook also tried to innovate on Android by releasing Facebook Home, a skin that they placed on top of Android which they felt made the phone more personable.  Despite taking the bold step of doing things differently, they got slammed by poor reviews on the Google Play store.

Apple last week came back with their most radical change to their iOS operating system for smartphones and tablets to a rather mixed response.  Apple CEO, Tim Cook called it the "biggest change" since the introduction of the iPhone but so far several pundits have gone to great lengths to criticize a lot of changes made.  The pressure that Apple has been under to change was evident in the rather aggressive presentation given by Apple exec Phil Schiller during Apple's developer conference where he blurted out: "Can't innovate anymore, my ass!"

Tim Cook at Apple's iOS 7 unveiling

What has all this meant then?  In short, CHANGE EVERYTHING means CHANGE NOTHING.  As  consumers, many of us have gotten so used to doing things a certain way that when a brand comes forward with a radical change, we shun it.

Just like the days of the classic Nokia user-interface on their old-school mobile phones, consumers have learned how to use an operating system and then said they're comfortable with it.  They may complain it looks dated, they may say it is limiting their productivity but often when brands or manufacturers have been bold enough to make radical changes, consumers have said they don't like it.

Image: wikipedia
This then leaves me wondering, will the old school typewriter start to make a comeback anytime soon...

Posted by: Ashish Panjabi, Chief Operating Officer, Jacky's Electronics LLC