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14 January 2009

Robert Scoble and the fallacy of uniqueness

Filed under: innovation, Nokia, operators, Qt — David Wood @ 11:58 pm

I was surprised to see esteemed blogger Robert Scoble fall into a weird reality distortion field in his recent piece, “Smartphone competition: It’s too late for Nokia and Microsoft, but not too late for Palm in USA“.

Here’s the core of his argument:

…in the USA there are only these major carriers: AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile.

  • AT&T? Gone. Apple has them sewn up.
  • Verizon? RIM has them sewn up. I met with RIM’s director of marketing at CES and he was smiling. That should give you a hint.
  • Sprint? Palm has them in the Palm of their hands now.
  • T-Mobile? Google’s Android is their key smart phone.

So, what does this mean? All the US carriers now have their SmartPhone choices. All the trains have left the station.

Who is out in this game? Microsoft and Nokia.

This argument depends on the fallacious idea that each major network operator can be “sewn up” by just one provider of smartphones – that there will be one uniquely preferred smartphone platform per network operator – and that this choice is already set in stone.

It’s true that almost all major network operators, worldwide, have expressed a desire to reduce the number of smartphone platforms that they have to support. The reason for this reduction is to avoid lots of effort being duplicated across different platforms.

However:

  1. Most major network operators are aiming at a number of supported smartphone platforms that, while small, is greater than one;
  2. One reason for supporting more than one platform is to benefit from an important element of competition – this is particularly relevant while so many smartphone platforms are either relatively new, immature, or going through a significant transition;
  3. Another reason for supporting more than one platform is that end users on the network frequently want a choice;
  4. Even if a carrier decides not to actively support a given smartphone platform – in the sense of becoming involved in customising phones from that platform to take advantage of specific network features – they often allow phones from that platform to run on their network.

Scoble also dismisses the prospects for future Nokia products:

I’ve seen the new Nokia OS, just a month ago. They don’t have it.

This judgement seems highly premature to me. It also seems that AT&T, for one, maintain an interest in shipping Nokia phones. Witness, for example, the AT&T-branded user’s manual for the Nokia E71.

More fundamentally, there’s much more to the future of Nokia than just one initiative (“the new Nokia OS”). There’s a whole raft of new initiatives coming. Some will come to light through forthcoming releases of the Symbian Platform. Others will reach the market in many other ways.

Nokia’s announcement today of an additional licence for the Qt Platform, in order to strengthen developer interest and participation in that platform, is just one example. To quote Sebastian Nyström, Vice President, Qt Software, Nokia:

Broader use of Qt by even more leading companies will result in valuable feedback and increased contributions, ensuring that Qt remains the best-in-class, cross-platform UI and application framework. The accelerated development of Qt will allow developers, including Nokia, to deliver better devices and applications, reduce time to market and enable a wider deployment base for their solutions.

In short, there are plenty more trains to come.

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1 Comment »

  1. David,

    Thanks for posting about this topic, I've been also thinking about writing my concerns about this approach – luckily, you did it with deeper insights.

    I don't buy the idea of carriers choosing a single smartphone vendor, either. For example, I have never heard anything about iPhone branding. It seems to me that Apple is in such a strong position that they can afford not being branded to any of their customers. Luckily, it opens a door for other vendors (like Symbian) to fill this gap (e.g. at AT&T).

    Comment by Gábor Török — 15 January 2009 @ 8:43 am


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