Smartphone market share myths

Samsung sells more smartphones than any other company. Reuters reports Samsung accounts for every third smartphone sold around the world in 2013.  Gartner puts Apple’s market share at around 12 percent.

Conventional thinking says this gives Samsung a dominate market position. The same thinking says this means strong profits. And you might think it would make Samsung a favourite target for app developers.

Yet Samsung lags behind Apple in both departments.

That large market share counts for less than you might think.

Two years ago Horace Dediu showed how despite a smaller market share, Apple took the largest slice of profit from selling smartphones. If there are more up to date figures on this, I haven’t seen them.

Technology moves fast, but it’s likely Apple still takes a larger slice of profit from the phone business than Samsung. Both companies recent financial reports suggest this is the case.

You could argue a smaller share of profits from a larger slice of the market means Samsung is buying market share.

The app developer question is a little more complex. Few write programs specifically for Samsung. Instead Samsung phones use the Android operating system – depending on which set of numbers you believe Android could account for anywhere up to 80 percent of all smartphones.

As Dave Smith writes for readwrite:

Though Android dwarfs iOS in devices and downloads, Apple rakes in an estimated $5.1 million in revenue from the App Store each day, while Google banks just $1.1 million per day.

Smith goes on to report Android accounts for 75 percent of app downloads while Apple’s iOS only has a 18 percent share. Yet the Google Play store – used to distribute Android apps – only took 13 percent of the revenue Apple achieved.

Although Android’s app market is catching up, it’s clear Apple users are not the same as Android users. Each Apple customer is worth far more to the hardware maker and software developers. That’s why most successful developers focus on iOS apps first. Many don’t bother with Android at all.

Samsung’s Galaxy s4 customers are an elite group by Android standards, but they still appear to be considerably less valuable than iPhone customers.

The problem here is that when we look at markets, it’s too easy to be seduced by simple statistics such as market share.  That’s not surprising, in many technology sectors there’s a direct correlation between market share and profits. One day the smartphone market may be the same, but that day has yet to come.

Nokia Lumia 625, big orange phone at a good price

A review by Bill Bennett for Scoop Techlab

http://tech.scoop.co.nz/reviews/nokia-lumia-625/my-orange-lumia-625-not-just-a-day-glo-case-that-stands-out/

Nokia Lumia 625A Nokia Lumia 625 is sitting on my desk. You can’t miss it. It’s bright orange. The kind of orange that would match a high visibility safety vest. It makes the phone hard to lose.

Once your eyes adjust, you realise the day-glo case isn’t the only thing that makes the Lumia 625 stand out: It has a big screen. The display is larger than any I’ve seen on a Windows Phone 8 device. It’s particularly large screen given the smartphone’s $500 price.

The display measures 4.7 inches diagonally. That’s a little bigger than Nokia’s other smartphones. It compares with 4.5 inches on the $1150 Lumia 1020 and the $1000 Lumia 925.

It’s also much bigger than the 4 inch screen sported by Apple’s $1050 iPhone 5S, although at 5 inches across the diagonal the $1000 Samsung S4 is larger.

Big screen, fewer pixels

The catch is the Lumia doesn’t have anything like as many pixels as those other phones: just 800 by 480. That’s roughly 200 pixels per inch which is a lower pixel density than you’ll find on more expensive smartphones. You can buy Android phones at roughly the same price as the Lumia 625 with a higher pixel density.

Giving the phone fewer pixels is not the only display compromise Nokia made to get the price of its phone below $500. Unlike Nokia’s more expensive Lumias, the 625 doesn’t have the ClearBlack technology that makes the screen easier to read in sunlight. And the colours are less saturated. They look relatively washed out compared with the Lumia 920 or 1020 displays.

Which in turn means photos don’t display as sharp, movies look a little blurry and text is not so beautifully presented.

Away from sunlight this is less of a problem than you might imagine. That’s because although there are fewer pixels to form characters on-screen, the slightly bigger size means text is still easy to read. It helps that Microsoft uses special fonts for Windows Phone 8 that are easy to read in all circumstances. You’ll find email and text-based apps are easy enough to read, poorly designed web pages can pose a problem.

An OK camera

It would be silly to put a high resolution camera on a smartphone with a relatively low resolution screen. While Nokia didn’t drive all the way to the bargain basement for the 5 megapixel camera in the Lumia 625, there are no fancy optics like the more expensive Nokias.

So let’s spell this out before we go any further. If taking and viewing high quality still pictures and video are your thing, the Lumia 625 is not for you. Likewise if you expect to read a lot of text on screen or work outside in bright sunlight, it would be worth investing in a more expensive phone.

On the other hand, if you want an affordable modern smartphone that does all the important things to an acceptable standard, the Lumia 625 is a good choice. It does have two things going for it that sets it apart from the competition: decent software and 4G compatibility.

Nokia Lumia 625, a 4G handset for $500

Only a limited number of handsets work on the Vodafone and Telecom NZ 4G networks. If Nokia’s Lumia 625 isn’t the least expensive 4G handset in New Zealand, it is certainly a contender. That’s increasingly important now that Vodafone’s 4G network is reaching across the country and with Telecom NZ’s 4G network about to go live. I didn’t get to test the phone on 4G – although I will as soon as my 4G Sim arrives.

Whether you like the Windows Phone 8 software or not is partly a matter of taste and partly to do with how you plan to use a smartphone. I don’t aim to revisit the debates on these matters, but I want to make three points:

• First, Windows Phone 8 is a reliable and stable smartphone operating system. After an adjustment from whatever you used before, you’ll find things always work in a predictable and consistent way. In my book it is a better choice than Android for everyone except people who like to tinker with their software and settings.

• Second, If you use Windows computers or work for company that has a lot of Microsoft software, life will be relatively easy. The phone comes with a version of Office and connects to Skydrive where you can quickly get at files.

• Third, it’s true there are fewer third-party apps in the Windows Phone store than in Apple’s iTunes or the Google Play store. On the other hand, there are surprisingly few essential apps that are either missing or don’t have a reasonable alternative.

What else?

Inside the case you get 1.2 GHz dual-core Qualcomm Krait CPU and the Adreno 305 GPU. Unless you’re something of a smartphone geek, these are unlikely to mean much. What they tell me is there’s more than enough power to do most things you buy a smartphone for. It certainly doesn’t feel underpowered or slow – but that’s after only a few hours. I’ll revisit the Lumia 625 after spending more time with the device to talk about some of the practicalities of everyday use.

I like that the Nokia Lumia 625 has a slot for MicroSD memory – that’s a nice bonus. On the other hand, the Ram is a measly 512 MB, so I guess I won’t be doing much multitasking.

Finally, the case is, well, plastic with curves. It feels nice in the hand and while it is noticeably lighter than the Lumia 920, at 160g it is still fairly hefty for a modern smartphone.


Content Note: This post has been enabled by Telecom NZ , but the thoughts are my own. Find out more about the Nokia Lumia 625 here. Scoop TechLab is a project of Scoop Independent Media www.scoop.co.nz. It is edited by Scoop Editor Alastair Thompson.

BlackBerry Z10, under-rated, affordable business smartphone

Blackberry’s Z10 was supposed to be the company’s come-back phone. It’s solid and capable. There’s much to like. But, as it turned out, not enough to revive the company’s fortunes.

Let’s break the laws of reviewing and start with a history lesson to explain the opening paragraph.

Until Steve Jobs decloaked the first iPhone, Blackberry was the smartphone superpower. The company’s range of qwerty-keyboard equipped handsets and its back-end messaging services meant Research in Motion, Blackberry’s former name, dominated the business mobile phone sector.

Momentum, a strong brand and those rock-solid back-end services saw the company ride out the first iPhone waves. Complacency set in. By the time Apple was on it’s third generation iPhone things started to look bleak for BlackBerry. Apple showed you could type messages without a physical keyboard and safely send mail without heavy-duty systems. That BlackBerry physical keyboard suddenly looked less essential.

Blackberry responds to iPhone

blackberry-screenThe Z10 is Blackberry’s late response to six years of iPhone and the rise of Android. The company learnt much from its rivals, just not enough to steal the lead it so desperately needs. Keep in mind the Blackberry Z10 isn’t priced as a premium smartphone. At around $800 in New Zealand it belongs to the second tier. Carriers will give you one for nothing upfront it you commit to $100 a month.

Unused Z10s sell on TradeMe for less than $500. It doesn’t come out badly when compared with other phones in the same price range.

Physically the Blackberry Z10 is an iPhone-like touch-screen phone. The company also has the keyboard-equipped Q10 for die-hard Blackberry fanatics.

The display is as good as any other phone I’ve seen in the price range. The phone feels good in my hands. It has a rubbery back cover which makes it comfortable and easy to grip most of the time. Unlike the more sleek models, it won’t slide out of your hand.

The Z10 is roughly the same size as an iPhone 5. You can do most phone tasks using one hand and your thumb. It weighs a fraction more than the iPhone 5 – but you don’t notice the difference in practice.

Camera weakness

On paper the Z10′s 8 megapixel camera looks good, in practice it can’t take pictures as good as you’ll get from top of the line rivals. Pictures are often grainy. The Blackberry Z10 struggles with poor light conditions – the real test of a phone camera.

Taking pictures is easy enough and for most of the time the picture quality is acceptable, even if they lack crispness and clarity. If picture taking is important to, spend more money and buy a Nokia 920 or an iPhone.

Hubba Hubba

Blackberry’s software innovation is the Hub, this is a central point pulling together all your mail, Twitter, notifications, calendar reminders and other incoming services. Think of it as a unified inbox. It’s a good idea: perhaps the place where you can expect to spend most of your time.

A little red LED lights up when something arrives in the Hub. If you’re like me there’s a constant stream of incoming stuff. It’s easy to get overwhelmed. A tip for new players, don’t enable the Twitter feed, it will ping all day long and you’ll never do any work.

Swipe-based user interface

You control the Hub, and most other phone features with a simple set of swipe gestures. They tend to be unfamiliar at first, once you’ve tuned in, they work fine.

One thing the swipe gestures replace is the traditional hardware home button for that matter there isn’t an obvious home screen.

When you swipe the screen to open the display the phone takes you to a grid of open apps. You can easily move between them, close them and see what’s going on, but I don’t find this as good as the live tiles on the Windows Phone 8 home screen or even the messy Android home display on phones like the Galaxy S4.

Some of the gestures are good. I like being able to slide up the screen to see if there are incoming messages waiting for me. I prefer this to the Android notification bar. A simple swipe up and right will take you to the Hub from any other application.

Blackberry fans expect nothing less than the best software keyboard on a screen-only smartphone. The Z10 delivers this in spades, although it takes getting used to. The keyboard even learns your behaviour.

So is it for you?

You won’t like it if you’re a geek. There’s relatively small app store and the fact that the Z10 doesn’t hook directly into a complete technology stack the way iPhones, Androids and Windows Phones do. There’s no much scope to tinker and customise.

And you probably won’t like it if you’re mainly concerned about social media – although it does a good job notifying you of incoming tweets and Facebook messages. Nobody would describe it is a ‘fun phone’.

On the other hand if you’re more concerned with owning a business-class smartphone simply to get a few basic tasks done, it will appeal. It’s relatively straightforward with little to distract you from productivity. The phone will connect with your existing email service and comes with Microsoft Office compatible software. All the most important smartphone apps are included.

 

Nokia submits to the inevitable Microsoft juggernaut

Risto Siilasmaa, Nokia and Steven Ballmer

Risto Siilasmaa, Nokia and Steven Ballmer

Speculation started about Microsoft’s take-over of Nokia the day former executive Stephen Elop took the CEO job at struggling phone maker. Bookmakers already considered Elop favourite to succeed Steven Ballmer as Microsoft CEO. Those odds have shortened.

On Tuesday (New Zealand time) the long-expected deal became a reality with the software giant digging into its war chest for the €5.44 billion in cash needed to buy Nokia’s devices business.

Microsoft gets Nokia’s crown jewels

For that money Microsoft gets  control of Nokia’s smartphone manufacturing. It also gets 32,000 Nokia employees. Or will assuming the deal completes as expected in the first three months of 2014.

Spin doctors pulled an extra shift to put fine sounding words in their bosses’ mouths:

We will continue to build the mobile phones you’ve come to love, while investing in the future – new phones and services that combine the best of Microsoft and the best of Nokia.

The quote is attributed to Elop and Ballmer, in an open letter published on Microsoft’s site. Let’s be honest here, the ‘you’ in that sentence does not refer to a large slice of the phone buying market.

What price the Nokia brand?

As part of the deal Microsoft gets a 10-year license to the Nokia brand. This may or may not prove valuable. Before the deal was announced most observers expected Microsoft to take the wraps of an own-brand phone some time this year.

On the other hand, the Microsoft-branded Surface tablets have not set the world on fire. They already cost the company a US$900 million write-down. Perhaps devices with the Nokia brand could do better – it certainly gives Microsoft an opportunity to start with a clean slate.

A new Nokia

Nokia minus its phone business becomes a completely different company but not completely independent from the new Microsoft. It gets to keep its Here mapping and location services – something that turns up on Nokia smartphones.

There’s NSN, a market leader in network infrastructure and selling services to telcos. Nokia also keeps a development and licensing operation. Risto Siilasmaa, currently the chairman of Nokia’s board of directors, will become CEO of the remainder of Nokia.

May you live in interesting times

The deal comes at an important time for Microsoft. With Steven Ballmer moving towards the departure gate, the company has to decide on its future direction.

Full steam ahead was never an option. There was a danger it would move further down the innovation league into comfortable old age, like say, IBM, before it. Alternatively there was the option of being more Google-like.

Instead, Microsoft has chosen the boldest and riskiest course changing direction to challenge Apple’s dominance in devices. That will be interesting, the company was wrong-footed when Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007 and again in 2010 when the iPad was launched. But now it has an opportunity to get back in the race.