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Wednesday, 30 January 2013

iPhone 5 now on LTE in the UAE (for some...)

A day before the launch of Blackberry 10, Apple released iOS 6.1 and with that flipped the switch for iPhone 5 users to start enjoying super fast data connections using LTE via their telecom partners in the UAE, du and etisalat.  

For iPad users though, the news isn't as rosy as it seems Apple hasn't enabled LTE yet in the UAE even though LTE is available in several other regions for the iPad already (click here for a list of markets where LTE is available for the iPad).
Image Source: CNET

For those of you who bought grey stocks (i.e. stocks not sourced through Apple's official channels in the UAE), you may possibly end up with the raw end of the deal.  It seems not every iPhone 5 was created equal (as we'd eluded to in an earlier blog post) and only if you have the iPhone 5 model number A1429, it will work on LTE in the UAE.  If you've got another model of the iPhone 5, you can click here to see which countries it will work on LTE at.

This may mean many of you in the UAE have started enjoying the benefits of faster LTE speeds on your iPhone already, some of you with an iPad may need to be a little more patient and those of you with the wrong model iPhone 5 will be stuck on 3G.

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

Monday, 28 January 2013

What RIM needs to fix with Blackberry 10

Blackberry 10 (also known as BB10) is going to be unveiled finally to the world this week and I don't think since the launch of the PlayBook tablet by RIM has there been so much anticipation for a product launch from the Canadian smartphone manufacturer.

While the operating system software is built on a kernel similar to what we've seen in the PlayBook, it has been vastly improved if we go by what RIM has shown us publicly thus far.  The hardware though is another story.  RIM has been tight lipped about the hardware specifications and only told us that there will be a touch screen launched initially.

The hope is RIM has been listening to feedback of their customers over the last couple of years and apart from the obvious advances in UI that RIM is bringing to BB10, I hope they've managed to tackle the following nine points in the new generation of Blackberry devices:

Image: geardiary.com
1. Boot time - Anyone using a Blackberry device knows the frustration in waiting for their device to boot up.  Why does it take Blackberry devices that much longer to boot up than any other smartphone? Even on the Blackberry PlayBook, the boot times are much too long and if the operating system for BB10 is built on the platform that exists the PlayBook, I hope RIM has has found a way to  improve this on the new generation of devices.

2. No more pulling out the battery - The solution to any problem on a Blackberry device till now has been to open up the back cover, remove the battery and re-start the device.  I hope RIM finds a way of reseting the device without having to go through this arduous task in the future.

3. Freezing Screens - The whole reason the above two points mattered at all is that Blackberry devices tend to freeze more often than most other comparable smartphone devices on other platforms.  I don't know what the reason for these issues is (memory, processor, display, OS crashing, etc), but I do hope RIM has fixed this in BB10.

4. Better battery life - RIM was known for superb battery life.  That was until the Blackberry Bold 9900 was released and with it OS7.x.  The battery life on most Blackberry devices since then hasn't quite been as good as the previous generation of devices.  RIM is still better than many brands when it comes to battery life but what was once a USP has slowly diminished.  I hope RIM gets their mojo back and manages to get us a battery life that we were used to on previous generations of Blackberry devices.

5. Stop blaming WhatsApp - One of RIM's  excuses for poor battery life deterioration that I've heard in the last eighteen months from executives at the company and from their telecom partners has been to blame WhatsApp for bringing down battery life.  RIM needs to accept the fact that a lot of users have moved on from solely relying on Blackberry Messenger (BBM) and now use both platforms simultaneously.  They need to find a way to accommodate WhatsApp and stop thinking of them as a threat.  RIM needs WhatsApp as part of their ecosystem as BBM alone isn't the solution anymore.

6. Quality, not Quantity of Apps - RIM has boasted that they've got some 70,000 Apps on their BlackBerry World App Store.  This is impressive but its about quality - both in terms of the Apps you have available and how good the user experience is with these Apps.  There is no need for 50 weather Apps.  One or two good Apps does the job.  It is though about having Apps like Instagram, Flipboard, Google Maps, SoundHound available on day one and making sure the experience is as good as it is on iOS and Android.  A compromised UI or quality of App isn't going to win you any prizes.

7. Better App Store - The current App Store is cumbersome to say the least.  Having to re-start your phone when you update or download a new App is another annoyance.  Fix this please.

8. Better Touch Experience - RIM's track record with all touch devices hasn't been entirely encouraging till date.  I know this is an area they've recognized as been vital to the overall experience moving forward and the fact that BB10 is launching initially with an all touch device means RIM better have got it done right as they've bet their marbles on this.

Image: businessinsider.com
9. The Flashing Red Light - Smartphones are all about being connected anytime, anywhere and RIM has probably been at the forefront of this revolution as they've had data plans that ensure you're likely to use your Blackberry device when you're on the road.  The downside to this is that flashing light to indicate you've got a notification ensures you're never truly switched off, whether it be on a weekend, at night when the phone is on your bedside or when you should be enjoying family time.  With most devices you can change your settings to that you download mails, etc. only when you want.  I hope RIM finds a way of allowing you to take control of the flashing red light and take control of your life again.

We all know the saying that a cat has nine lives.  I do hope RIM proves that they don't need to use their nine lives to stay in the business.  The above nine points if taken into account in BB10, will help ensure that the frustration that most users have tolerated till date disappear and anything new that BB10 delivers will be a bonus.  There is no point having a new operating system if these core issues continue to exist so RIM, I do hope you've listened, learned and will deliver.


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

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

What next for smartphones?


I've had a busy week answering questions about what direction is the smartphone industry heading in with the release of Blackberry 10 at the end of this month.  After responding to a couple of different requests, I decided to put together a lot of my thoughts that I'd shared individually into one document that would probably express better my sentiments in case I missed out on something when asked about the introduction of Blackberry 10.

To talk about Blackberry 10 though, I also need to cover the other bases and talk about where I see the other smartphone platforms heading in at the moment.

Apple

In the case of Apple, in our region they have not ever really had more than one device available at a time.  This device has been priced higher than most other devices and targets primarily the top end of the market.  Apple has traditionally had the biggest App and game offering via their App Store when compared to other platforms.  In the last couple of months, Apple broadened their offering by introducing films and music in the UAE iTunes Store.  For now, this includes English, Arabic and even some Bollywood content but I wouldn't be surprised to see other languages that the UAE embraces to be covered over the period.
A screenshot of the UAE iTunes Store.

Apple's advantage till date has been that much of this content can be ported onto tablets or iPod type devices.  No other platform is as well integrated at the moment, though Microsoft is moving in this direction with Windows 8.  

There has been speculation on whether Apple may have to rethink whether they need to adopt a differentiated approach if they want to get the customer that can spend between Dhs 1,000 - Dhs 2,000.  At the moment, the approach from Apple has been that they don't target the low end but with other brands active in the lower priced price brackets, could Apple be forced to offer another device?  Only time will tell.


Android

Android and Samsung became synonymous in 2012.  Prior to 2012, HTC could've probably claimed to have been the King of the Hill as far as Android adoption went but starting with Samsung's Galaxy series, the balance of power in the Android world started to shift in Samsung's favour.

Android has gained market share faster than any other platform in 2012 but apart from flagship products like the Samsung Galaxy S3 and Galaxy Note 2, Android as an operating system has capitalized from a basket of products that brands like Samsung have been able to offer.  For example, you can find Samsung products running on Android in the sub Dhs 500 price bracket as well those in the priced at over Dhs 2,000.  Samsung has also been able to differentiate itself due to products such as those with dual SIM cards which aren't available on other smartphone platforms.  Android has a slew of Apps available in the Google Play store and by default all tablets at the low end of the market run on Android.  There are a few flagship devices on Android like Samsung's Galaxy Tab or Google's Nexus series but the lion's share of the market on Android tablets has been eaten up by the OEM brands.  With the pricing strategy and suite of products that brands like Samsung maintains, Android as an operating system should continue to prosper in 2013.


Windows Phone 8

If the Android battle is all about Samsung, then the battle for Windows Phone 8, is all about Nokia.

For Nokia, it's all an upside for them as they move into a more level playing field with the Windows Phone 8 powered Lumia devices.  Till now Nokia, who once led the smartphone race with their Nokia Communicator series, found themselves left behind as most brands innovated on operating systems and user experiences like that seen in Apple's iPhone.  Microsoft has thrown their muscle into learning from the mistakes that others like Palm made when trying to compete with Apple and are reliant on Nokia's core distribution and product reliability to gain market share.  The Lumia 920 is a complete smartphone and there is very little that you don't find on it.  No other device actually quite compares with the Lumia 920 at this stage. What Nokia is also doing right is building up a portfolio of devices like Samsung did so we have seen this month for example the introduction of the Lumia 620 which is priced at Dhs 899 that goes after the mass market consumer.  Nokia still has their Asha series of Symbian based smartphones at the very low end and this could be a base that potentially buys a Lumia one day.  
The Lumia 620, on sale now for Dhs. 899

The App universe on Windows Phone 8 should also continue to grow as Microsoft has ensured they get most available on that platform.  The advantage that brands like Nokia will eventually end up enjoying is that most laptop or PC devices will end up running on Windows 8.  Even though the adoption rates may seem relatively slow, there will be little choice for most consumers as apart from Mac OS (which most consumers won't be in a position to afford), there is no other operating system for them to use.  This means that the App portfolio that Microsoft will have on the Windows 8 platform will grow exponentially during 2013 and 2014 to the point that  many App developers may not find it as much of a stretch to develop an App for Windows Phone 8 as well.  The only question is will they update Apps on Windows Phone 8 as often as they do on iOS or Android.

Nokia should grow in 2013 with Windows Phone 8 as there are still many more chinks in their armour and we can expect another flagship device from Nokia to replace the Lumia 920 some time during 2013.


Blackberry

Blackberry is in for the fight of its life in 2013.  

A much needed overhaul of the operating system should see them come with an offering that at the very least puts them on par with other operating systems.  It remains to be seen how keen the developer community is to design Apps for the new platform and update it as often as they do for Android and iOS.  

Many Blackberry users have been patiently waiting for a new device from RIM and most had tolerated with the previous versions of Blackberry because of attractive data plans and Apps like Blackberry Messenger.  

Over the past 18 months though since RIM introduced the Bold 9900 was introduced, other messaging Apps like WhatsApp have soared in popularity so if Blackberry 10 has to be successful, it will have to be about more than just BBM.  During this 18 month period as well, we've seen Apple introduce the iPhone 4S and iPhone 5 while Samsung has introduced the Galaxy S3, Galaxy Note and Galaxy Note II.
This is NOT the new BlackBerry 10 device, just a device
given to developers before the launch that had some
elements of BlackBerry 10.

Blackberry is also moving onto a new set of handsets which are largely touchscreen based where they've struggled till now.  They have promised a much better experience with the new devices which they've thus far seems to be focused on their social hub, improved touch keyboard experience and camera App.  RIM has recognized the battle for Blackberry 10 will not be won on the enterprise circuit but on the consumer battlefield so they've had to focus on the end consumer experience more than they've ever done on any other launch till date.

The other core strength RIM had till date was a broad range of products with prices ranging from Dhs 599 upwards.  The flagship models which are priced at over Dhs 2,000 will be on BB10 but the overall success of the platform will hinge on how quick the rest of the platform moves onto this platform.  RIM has a large base on Blackberry devices in the UAE that will potentially move to Blackberry 10 devices, which is a luxury they don't have in most other parts of the world.  In many of these users also today have a second smartphone so the benchmark for many of them will be firstly how BB10 compares to the previous version of Blackberry devices and secondly how it stacks up as compared to the Apple, Android or Windows Phone 8 device that many of these same consumers already own. 

Concluding Thoughts...

2013 will be a a bloody battle for smartphone vendors and operating systems.  This could be the year we see stalwarts in the smartphone industry marginalized or even worse, eliminated.  This could also be the year we see the balance of power start to shift again as smartphone operating systems lock horns.  Apple and Blackberry have potentially got the most to lose in this case if the other operating systems manage to innovate more.  This could also be the year we start to see hardware brands from the Far East emerge stronger with the likes of Huawei, ZTE and Asus showing that they are amongst the innovative players in the industry at the moment.

With RIM about the unveil Blackberry 10 in a few days and others set to make announcements of their own at Mobile World Congress in February, we'll have to see how many shifts in power happen this year.  The fact is there probably is space for only three smartphone platforms and one will have to give way eventually.  Which one it is that disappears is hard to say but rest assured, Apple, Google, Microsoft and RIM won't be resting on their laurels this year.

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

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

A Cheaper iPhone - The Samsung Effect

It's interesting to note this morning that the Wall Street Journal has reported that Apple is rumoured to be working on an entry level smartphone.

In the Steve Jobs-era, things were very clear.  Apple wasn't going to sink to the bottom of the barrel for marketshare and this is why Jobs so vehemently spoke out against the netbook market when it looked like that was going to be the next big thing in mobile computing several years ago.

The response to netbook computing that Apple had was the launch of the Macbook Air and then the iPad.  Apple created two premium segments that more really begged the question as to why would someone want to buy a netbook as a secondary device.

Would you like Fries with that? Steve Jobs with the Macbook
Air. Image: www.businessinsider.com

In this case, when we've seen Tim Cook release a 7.9" iPad Mini to compete with all the 7" tablets that we saw emerge and now if these rumours are to be believed, an entry level iPhone could be launched because of the threat the Samsung poses.

Like it or not, Samsung has made major in-roads into the smartphone business and where Apple had the benefit of migrating consumers from one generation of iPhone to the next, Samsung has been successful in making consumers migrate from entry level smartphones to their premium smartphones over the period.

This must be what is worrying Apple because not everyone can afford to drop more than Dhs. 2,500 for an iPhone whereas with an entry level Samsung smartphone, you're talking about investing a few hundred Dirhams and working your way up from there.
Samsung's Galaxy Pocket. A smartphone that costs just Dhs. 299

Apple's solution till now has been to offer their older smartphones as an alternative in some countries, so if for example the iPhone 5 is the flagship model in the Apple line-up, it's possible to find the iPhone 4S, iPhone 4 or even the iPhone 3GS available at much lower prices in certain countries.  The problem with this is that no one wants to be walk around with a device that is a few years old when a brand like Samsung can offer you a newer model at a much lower price.

Apple's strategy of having one flagship smartphone has worked well for them till now.  However, things aren't static and the competition is certainly working as hard as they can to make in-roads.  If not Samsung, there is always the Microsoft-Nokia Lumia threat that remains so it would be a surprise to see Apple say a shift in strategy is the order of the day.

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