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Spillikins #95. Google Maps Attacking, or Voice-Assisted Turn-by-Turn Navigation for Everyone
Last week flew by very quickly but was quite eventful. For instance, RIM, the company that owns the Blackberry brand, stripped the KIK messenger of the ability to send PUSH messages to its devices. Why? As of this writing, there is no official reply from RIM available and I can only refer you to the KIK team's response. In my opinion, we should wait for some more information before taking sides.
Throughout the whole week, I was being asked about the reviews I had mentioned in the previous issue of Spillikins. Believe you me; I am not sitting on my hands but rather the opposite. I have about ten devices at my disposal right now and every single one of them will be reviewed during the next several weeks. Rushing reviews has never been our policy. Hence please be patient. You will get it all when the time comes. In the meantime, let's discuss some things that drew my attention last week.
On the one hand, Nokia keep saying that developers are very important for them and Symbian remains their primary operating system but on the other hand, they are shutting down all Symbian Foundation resources devoted to the OS. In my opinion, behavior that strange just doesn't make any sense. Effective December 17, all Symbian Foundation websites will be closed. Therefore, if you need some developer documentation, it's about time you downloaded it all to your hard drive. And of course, there is no argument about how easier this whole thing will make it to create and support Symbian software and how many more developers it will attract.
All irony aside, Nokia's actions speak loader than words. The days of Symbian are numbered and the company is going to put fewer and fewer resources into it. They are betting on MeeGo and that is where the most of the investment is going. Symbian is of secondary importance now and even that is not going to last for long.
Here is the list of resources that will be closed:
Be that as it may, I still have one question left. Provided that Nokia wasn't very successful in making Symbian attractive for third-party developers, what makes them think that they will manage to make MeeGo so? I don't have an answer to that yet I can't but notice the Nokia N9 get delayed because of MeeGo not being ready again.
One of our readers, a proud owner of Sony Ericsson X10 sent me a menacing letter:
At the beginning of 2010 you started spreading lies that SE X10 does not support multitouch, though everybody knew it was not true. You claimed that the screen was outdated, but it is the best screen for mobile devices I have ever seen. My friends have a similar opinion. Not long ago a video proving that you lied appeared online. It shows how the multitouch works on the model. Subsequently, I don't believe a single word you say about SE Anzu, as the flagship of the company cannot be as weak as you describe it. Everybody knows that it features a 16.1 MP camera and not a 12 MP or even an 8 MP camera. Please stop telling lies to your readers. It's time to reveal the truth.
Sincerely unhappy about your work,
It is a wonderful letter of a Sony Ericsson fan. Similar people still buy products of the company and while such letters can be dedicated to different brands it made me think about decision making in Sony Ericsson and the rationale behind.
I received the message when I was updating Sony Ericsson X8 from 1.6 to 2.1, which was quite symbolic. You cannot get a wireless update as in other products from rival companies – you have to use a computer. The only reason is that Sony Ericsson developers had no time to add this basic feature to the model. My first impressions after moving to 2.1 on X8 are positive, but I feel the model started working slower, which is unpleasant for this handset. Read about details in an appropriate review and we will go back to general issues in Sony Ericsson.
On numerous occasions I mentioned in the Spillikins how Sony Ericsson saves pennies on important components. For example, in April 2010 issue I touched the question with the multitouch in Sony Ericsson X10. The absence of its support was influenced by the decision to choose the cheapest screen and its controller, which did not support multitouch. They saved 1 Euro or even less on their flagship, but this weird decision was still made.
That Sony Ericsson flagship caused controversial discussions. Some people tried to convince me it was a bestseller without rivals, etc. The model had such support throughout first 2 months of sales, when it was heavily promoted by the advertising campaign, but then all debates subsided. Sales figures worsened with every coming month, but Sony Ericsson was not ready to cut the price. The flagship handset was being covered with dust and it was appropriate to crack a bottle of champagne when somebody decided to buy another item. I find it interesting to analyze the destruction of Sony Ericsson brand and the analysis of flagship models during the last several years is a good starting point. Unfortunately, you cannot have a true head to head competition, because starting with X10 all flagships were based on Android, while Satio was still built on Symbian. Anyway we can study the long and winding path of the models in comparison with each other. We will take the Russian market as its transparency is caused by low influence of carriers. Elsewhere the same tendency will be present despite all evident differences.
Let's take sales of Satio for 100%. These are sales during the first 3 months. We will not take subsequent figures into equation (we calculate sell-in to retailers, partners, etc.). In days of Satio the company was already in decline, but the model was still attractive for Sony Ericsson. It was inferior to competition, but it was selling more or less successfully. Sony Ericsson X10 was a whole different ball game. The market did not need it badly, while wholesalers and retailers saw a weak potential of the handset, which could remain interesting for customers only during the first months after the introduction. Sales constituted 65% of the Satio level. Look at the second quarter of sales and again take Satio for 100%. X10 had merely 37%. Look into the future. For example, in March of 2011 Sony Ericsson X12 gets 65% of sales in comparison with Sony Ericsson X10 and things could only get worse afterwards. The same sad story repeats every year and the company loses ground considerably.
The obvious reason is the loss of innovation crown by Sony Ericsson. At the time of its inception SE offered best solutions in terms of value for money, while several features were simply not available in rival products. During 5 years Sony Ericsson developed its customers and provided them with models which stayed competitive and technologically advanced for one or two years. People were happy with the situation and became loyal followers of SE. Current products were impressive and they created a platform for future success. The company went from strengths to strengths.
Today we have a completely different situation. Products are weak and expensive, so owners of Sony Ericsson handsets see others with better models for less, which means their SE choice was a mistake. People don't like to make mistakes and the next model is likely to be produced by another company. To change the situation SE has to return to the old spirit of the brand and produce only the best products in particular segments. Motorola is trying to do the same and they are succeeding much better than SE in their quest to start from scratch.
Sony Ericsson sees its problems elsewhere, namely in the profitability. It is a serious issue as the company has to stay profitable, but there is a controversy here. You can fire expensive engineers responsible for future development to show that you cut expenses and get a temporary break. Deterioration of models leads to fast loss of the market share and to reverse the trend you need to hire the same engineers, whose salary expectations have increased and they don't know how to move the company forward by now. By destroying its R&D department Sony Ericsson effectively ended all hopes for successful growth in the coming 3-4 years. It's a huge period for the mobile phones market. It's a pity, but the profits of Sony Ericsson show only the saving on components, developers and employees. I would not be surprised to see another wave of job cuts in the second part of 2011 and the withdrawal of Sony Ericsson from several local markets. Today's structure of the company is redundant for a niche player, which is the current role of SE. In its plans for 2011 Sony Ericsson has no mass market or just interesting models and I don't know what miracle can save the company from further downfall. The vicious circle can be broken only if new managers come and start everything anew. Such changes are not on the horizon, and moreover SE wants to become an Android leader, but the sales go down with every coming quarter.
This long story was required to explain how and why Sony Ericsson saves on components. This side of the business does not depend on engineers. Now let's look at the video filmed by Sony Ericsson engineers on multitouch support in X10, which will hit the shelves in the first quarter of 2011 in reply to numerous requests of customers. Russian office of Sony Ericsson offered its own variant without explaining the limitations of the technology.
What SE engineers were doing for 6 months? Were they creating new features for their phones? Absolutely not! Managers ordered to add multitouch support to a cheap screen. It was treated as a point of honor and all efforts were made to invent this bicycle. Qualified developers created new screen drivers to get some sort of a multitouch support (Sony Ericsson calls it Pinch to Zoom). What is its difference from traditional multitouch of contemporary models? In X10 it can be used only in some apps adapted by Sony Ericsson, but will not work in the majority of games (you can see it at the end of the video). Engineers of Sony Ericsson created a pair of crutches for the flagship, which will disappear in the oblivion after the first quarter of 2011, because it will be outdated by day one of sales. You will have enough of time to buy the handset in retail (and somebody will celebrate it with champagne). I am surprised by the rationale behind this decision. It would have been more effective to employ the engineers for the creation of new features and not to waste time to create models without future. Multitouch could have been added by purchasing a slightly more expensive screen, which surely would not have upset the budget balance of SE. The company decided to use another option. The work of developers is somehow considered unimportant, so they are given silly tasks. This is another example of decision making processes in Sony Ericsson, which makes all hopes of the brand revival too faint.
Last week, a friend of mine shared his opinion about the future of Symbian and gave me a few examples of applications where the OS has no alternatives. Many arguments were farfetched yet some were strong indeed – e.g. OVI Maps that offer free navigation throughout the world. However, one shouldn't overestimate navigation capabilities, which are just another factor that affects one's choice of a phone or smartphone and not the most important one for the majority of customers.
My friend argued that Google Maps don't support turn-by-turn navigation, which is not true as the latter is in fact available for North America. Such ignorance is not uncommon among Europeans and can easily be explained. In March or April, Google will offer turn-by-turn, voice-assisted navigation for virtually any country in Europe and select countries in other regions. Since the feature is offered for free, it is a strong move. When that happens, the only thing that OVI Maps will be able to oppose is the ability to work offline, without a network connection. It could be a great advantage if you are roaming but in my experience, most of the time, the maps don't work offline properly, refusing to indicate your current location. And you will definitely have to go online if you want to get some traffic data, so it looks like the navigation solutions from Google and Nokia are more or less equal in terms of functionality. Roughly speaking, the solutions appear equal to the regular customers with the only exception that Google Maps come pre-installed with many devices and all of them will get a seamless navigation update. In a matter of weeks, the mobile version of Google Maps will become the dominant navigation system for mobile devices (with turn-by-turn navigation). Throughout August 2010, the navigation system was used by over 100 million users worldwide. And those were actual users and not a simple device count (with pre-installed maps) that Nokia uses for this kind of statistics.
The new version of Google Maps will add a number of other familiar features, like Street View, Drive/Walk modes, comments, etc. As of this writing it is not known, however, whether or not we will get some functionality similar to 4square. Nevertheless I can assure you that the market is about to go boom, bringing new and exciting features to Android.
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Published 01 december 2010
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