In October, market analysts Gartner slashed its forecasts for phone sales, following on from a third financial quarter in which sales were pretty much non-existent. Predicted growth rates were cut from around 11% as compared to 2008, to as low as just 3%.
Despite this, the industry is hopeful and 2009 is already promising to be an exciting one for launches. In 2008 we finally got the iPhone 3G, but there was also the Google Android G1, the BlackBerry Bold and Storm, the Sony Ericsson Xperia X1, the LG Secret, Motorola Aura, HTC Touch Diamond…the list goes on. However, hints for this year include the Palm Pre, a whole host of Android models and then there’s the Niagra, Fairbanks and Harmony – a trio of handsets from Motorola – pictures of which have surfaced on various blog sites.
What is certain is that as times get tougher, customers are going to get more demanding both in terms of the features they want on their phones and the amount they are happy to pay for their tariffs. 3 has already made a move to attract more customers by introducing a thrifty “groundbreaking” £9 a month tariff with a free handset.
Andy Streeton who is head of Pay Monthly for 3 claims: “Our Mobile Broadband and Mix & Match tariffs continue to provide some of the best deals in terms of data allowances and minutes and texts.
“On top of all this we will continue to offer six month tariffs on a range of handsets as not all customers want to be tied into contracts for 18, or even 12 months. We are currently well placed to deliver the best value to support customers as the economic climate continues to deteriorate.”
Data packages are going to be the differentiator in 2009, as manufacturers will continue to wow us with phones that do so much more than provide text and talk facilities.
Increasing numbers of us are downloading or streaming huge amounts of data to our phones, and many are turning to smartphones (which were traditionally aimed at business users) to get the internet features we want.
RIM is now aiming its handsets – the Bold and Storm in particular – at savvy phone users, moving away from the notion of a man in a pinstriped suit jabbing away at his ‘CrackBerry’. As RIM’s CEO Mike Lazaridis said at the London launch of the Storm, the company wanted a model that would “capture imaginations” and would also capitalise on the smartphone boom – an area Gartner highlighted for growth this year even as sales of normal handsets slumped.
Mark Loughran of Nokia believes the key for manufacturers is going to be the ability to continue to provide a range of phones, right from basic models like the Nokia 6300 through to multimedia phones with touchscreens and QWERTY keypads, such as the forthcoming N97.
To make it even easier for people to get online when out and about, Loughran adds that Nokia is going to launch an email set-up service next year. “Some people struggle with setting it all up and so our back-end services will be set up to deal with the complexities. We want to make emailing from your phone easy and accessible,” he explains.
3 has certainly made things easy with the INQ phone, which has widgets that allow immediate access to commonly used web tools – from BBC News updates to Skype to Facebook.
David Kerrigan, head of internet services at 3, explains that consumers are looking to use their phones as they do their computers, and both the Skypephone and INQ1 allows them to do this. And 3 is promising more in 2009. He says: “INQ1 is just the first device from INQ. Building on the foundations of the Skypephone, 3 will work with INQ to further innovate and bring the richest, easiest Internet features to the mass market.”
Streeton adds that 3 has the tariffs to maximise the features of the phones: “One of the most interesting tariffs that we have launched is exclusive to the INQ handset – a £15 per month offer which includes unlimited data, unlimited 3 to 3 calls, unlimited texts and 75 mins, providing amazing value for money.”
Got a satellite?
Satellite Navigation is sure to be another key area of focus in 2009. Kerrigan says that GPS facilities are set to “become more prevalent, even on lower-end phones” and overall “software will become increasingly important as the focus moves to how services are delivered on handsets”.
This is certainly the case with Nokia. In October, the company was given the green light by its shareholders to buy mapping specialists Navteq for 5.7 billion euros. It has its own dedicated mapping application, Nokia Maps 2.0, allowing users to navigate their way around and search for restaurants, hotels and cash machines amongst other things. The next generation of the software will even allow them to interact with others, whether finding out where their friends are or sharing info on places to visit.
But as we become greedier for features, phone manufacturers are going to have to find the chipsets and also the connectivity to support our demand for data. This is where chipmaker Qualcomm comes in. In London in November, senior vice president and general manager of Qualcomm Europe Enrico Salvatori spoke of HSPA+, LTE and 4G technologies, which could deliver download speeds of 28Mbps for mobile phones. This level of connectivity, coupled with the Snapdragon chip which will be in devices as early as next year, will enable more applications.
As Salvatori explained in an exclusive interview with What Mobile: “we are not reinventing the wheel in terms of applications, but just bringing new technology to mobiles in an attempt to reach the existing mobile community.
“2008 saw the launch of the BlackBerry Storm, HTC Google Android G1, Sony Ericsson Xperia X1 and the INQ – all of which have Qualcomm chips. But the common elements between them is the user experience, and a feature set outlined by the iPhone. Apple did a great job in clarifying what people want – namely to access the internet but in an intuitive way.”
Next year, therefore, we will see better keypads with more QWERTY offerings, an increasing number of touchscreen devices, larger displays and more voice recognition technology.
Moving away from phone features and tariffs, what O2 says next year will bring is a fundamental change in how the customer is treated. In a statement, CEO Ronan Dunne explains: “As an industry, we need to work harder to engender more trust. We still rank lower in trust than many other industries which isn’t good enough if we want to grow beyond mobile. Some of the practices that have blighted our industry, such as slamming and mis-selling must stop. 2009 should be a time for us all to take greater pride in our industry’s reputation.”
The telecoms sector is not immune to the economic environment, but the latest results show that it is in a better position than most. Consumers seem to value the importance of their communications needs highly. But when times are hard, customer insight takes on even more importance.
Dunne concludes: “The companies who listen to what their customers are saying and deliver using customer insight will come out on top. Customers will become more ruthless in dealing only with companies they really trust. So there is a real opportunity for mobile operators to play a bigger part in customer lives.”
The mantra seems to be, ‘Be nice to the customers and they will buy’. Indeed, this will make a difference, but we are going to want more than trust. We are going to demand more features for less money. As purse strings are tightened, and manufacturers and providers feel the pinch, the customer is going to be become King, and there is sure to be a wealth of models launched to tempt consumers. Just take advantage of the bargaining power a credit crunch brings.
NOKIA: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
For those of us who don’t have the money to fork out for a new phone at the moment (especially not the Motorola Aura), there’s time to consider a future where your mobile may last five years instead of 18 months, and where, when it is time to upgrade, the old model will degrade without impacting the environment.
Nokia is at the forefront of R&D, unveiling several concept models each year, and in 2009 the focus is on eco friendly designs. It showcased the ‘Wears In, Not Out’ phone built to last up to a decade, the Remade model constructed from old recycled Nokia phones and the Nokia Eco Sensor concept. The latter is a two part device that lets you stay connected with your friends, as well as keep an eye on your health and local environment. And the phone part is made with environmentally friendly materials.
Perhaps 2009 could see some of the ideals behind these concepts brought to the marketplace as society starts thinking more about the environment and more about the money you can save by not updating your phone quite so often.
Q&A: Mark Mitchinson, vice-president Samsung Mobile UK
What technologies is Samsung keen to develop?
The Samsung roadmap for 2009 is both compelling and comprehensive. You won’t be surprised to hear that we will continue to leverage our leadership in design and style, maintain and defend our dominance in slide and touch, enhance our recent success in the bar type market, keep our local independence by offering more colours and exclusives and continue to create a compelling proposition in the Enterprise market. I’m optimistic!
There are real opportunities in a crisis (recession); particularly for well run companies with an appetite to market quality products and enhance their brand awareness. One of our key successes this year has been our dominance in marketing, and I think it’s important that manufacturers continue to advertise; even more so when the market is slowing down. All manufacturers have a duty to drive retail footfall through quality advertising; the wheels of the economy will keep on turning, so we will continue to focus on buying the right advertising space and making sure we get a real return on our investment.
This coming year we are setting our sights on 35% market share and I strongly believe, whilst I’m never complacent, that with a positive and determined open mindset and a collaborative approach, our goal can become a reality.
Qualcomm: The tech driving the devices of tomorrow
Qualcomm is a behind the scenes player, hence why many of us are using phones that feature its chips but have never heard of the company. In November, Qualcomm held an event in London in which it showcased all of the products currently on the market that its chips power, from the Google Android G1 to the Hutchison Whampoa INQ phone.
But it was what could appear next year that got the journos talking. Specifically, LTE (Long Term Evolution), HSPA+ connectivity and a brand new chip called Snapdragon.
Enrico Salvatori explained that while HSDPA supports a 7.2Mbps downlink from the network to the device, HSPA+ can boost this to an impressive 28Mbps.
Qualcomm is also working on LTE solutions, offering spectrum usage efficiency to trump even HSPA+, something that is a big deal with more and more of us downloading huge amounts of data on our phones.
Devices offering HSPA+ technology are set to appear this year, whilst we will have to wait until 2011 for phones benefitting from LTE advances, but devices featuring the Snapdragon chip are already in development.
It is claimed this chip produces practically no heat and is also far more power-efficient than previous models, which means that we could see smartphones and mobile internet devices (MIDs) appearing next year with the processing power of laptops. The chip is also claimed to support impressive multimedia viewing including HD encoding and decoding and up to 12 megapixel cameras.
Qualcomm is already working with Samsung, LG and HTC, and is promising the first Snapdragon powered devices in the first half of 2009, so we don’t have long to wait until we see what this chip is really capable of.
This feature appeared in the February issue of What Mobile magazine.