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Sunday, January 14, 2007

The New iPhone

In one of the most happening month for tech-crazy we had CES, Detroit Auto Show and MacWorld clamouring for attention. Amidst this innovation frenzy, Apple launched its new device, the iPhone. There is a lot to learn from the “history” Steve Jobs created at the MacWorld.
One set of learning is more about the technological aspect itself. While other, a more generic, is related to how good companies function. In both Apple showed remarkable insight, attention to detail and perseverance to do right things right.

A device to make history
I am deliberately calling it a device and not a phone. It has almost all the qualities of the device for the next digital revolution. And that it’s a phone is ancillary. To put in a full scale OS was a real clincher. This truly makes this device a platform device rather than a collection of camera, multi-media player, phone and contact-manager taped together. A platform device enables Apple to put in user’s hands a service pipe. Through this pipe Apple can supply unparalleled range of services. Apple has augmented pipe-features for this device featuring a carrier dependant pipe (EDGE) and a carrier-independent pipe (WiFi).

Intuitive Product Features
A lot of phones / multi-media devices currently function in two distinct areas, work or entertainment. However a person who works is the same one who needs to be entertained! I have never understood the reason for separate devices for each need. Apple however packs both features into their iPhone and even packs in two separate batteries for these functions.

Superior product design
Apple launched the iPhone with two memory variants 4GB and 8GB! That’s a lot of memory for a first product. Despite of this the weight of the product is quite manageable. This incorporates the learning from wide-screen Nokia phone and N‑Series. The initial demo of creating a wall-paper from a picture is also an example of smaller innovations packed into the iPhone design.

Better Interface
Apple equipped the iPhone with touch screen, no keypad! A very sensible idea indeed as most of the time PDAs are used as phones and do not need the full scale keypad. In fact when using the PDA as a phone the QWERTY keypad is a pain to use. If you have tried to use the small keys of Treo you will know what I mean. Using software innovatively, Apple has eliminated these disadvantages, giving us a QWERYT keypad when required. Further, the company who give us pointers highlighted using the ultimate pointer i.e. finger! I have no doubt Steve Jobs has made the screen smudge-proof.

Exceeding expectations
After a lot of anticipation of iPhone, when it finally came there was a fair chance that Apple might not deliver the hype really surrounding the product. Yet, Apple not only met but exceeded the user’s expectations from this product. Nothing new that’s something CFOs have to do regularly with Wall-Street analysts. But the key difference is that Apple shows this behaviour with customers! The Wall-Street analysts are automatically addressed.

Web augmenting customer communication
Being located in India, I was asleep when Steve Jobs was making history. So the first thing I did next morning was log onto Apple’s website. And there it was the iPhone page! Neatly displayed with all the details! Here is a company which knows that a lot of users will log in to their site on or after the MacWorld. Moreover here is a company that makes it “talks” to these visitors about its new products it is desperately trying to showcase. Try finding latest versions of Mustang.

In Sum
This was a perfect example of how a company should go about creating value! Give value to customers and demand value from them! This is precisely what management jargon “customer is king”, “customer first” etc. really mean. Compare this with Ford, GM and kin, which is addressing analysts rather than customers. The rest is mere detail!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Innovation inspired Services

We have seen that devices have actually evolved and are ready to serve as a launch‑pad for innovative services to takeoff. Creating innovative devices is costly. There are development costs, roll-out costs, (user) training costs and finally cost of changing user preferences. However, it is not difficult. It benefits from competitive race between device manufacturers. The nature of new devices soon becomes a standard expectation. Services, however, are a totally different ball game.

Current services
Currently services that are gaining acceptance are those that are based on the mobile phones’ ability to interface with computer (e.g. mobile phones as MP3 players) or mobile phone content being downloaded on the phone (e.g. movie ringtones, wall papers etc). This is in some way a parallel to what happened with computers.

Location-based Advertising Service through mobiles
We know that telecom providers have a database of subscribers with addresses. They also know where you are located based on the nearest tower your cell-phone connects to. Yet if I want to locate, let us say, a Petrol Pump then there is no service wherein I enter a keyword and the list of nearest Petrol pumps pops up. Now which network will people choose while roaming?
Let’s say if Airtel were to offer a service to owners of shops, hotels and other consumer establishments wherein they get themselves a business connection which will make their Airtel phone number searchable and accessible to people searching for it. Intuitively these people will pay a fee to get a connection with Airtel and pay a small yearly fee to get found!
Telecom service providers know this and hence will soon tie-up with Google, feed Google with the location details and Google will find you the list and keep the revenues too!
Let us twist this idea a little, if telecom equipment manufacturers can develop a small base station capable of covering a shopping mall and people within can be sent advertisements very specific to that location. Imagine you are shopping around 6pm and a restaurant close-by advertises a food-fest you might just be inclined to change your dinner plans.

Logistics – A device, network innovation
Have you noticed the range of devices logistics personnel carry to audit the schedules and delivery performance of delivery trucks? Now imagine a vehicle black‑box equivalent that can monitor all the vehicle details (speed, load, fuel) and send that across once it reaches the cell-phone coverage area through a cell connection embedded in it. Now do you think it will give GPS a run for money? I think so!
This can also help performance car manufacturers gather data from your car and keep car records for you. I can imagine myself receiving a call from garage telling me that my fuel efficiency seems to be dropping and I need to get a check-up! It can also call up authorities if there a crash which will be promptly relayed to the 911 / 100 number and the car garage as well.

A mobile Desktop calendar / Photoframe
Now imagine a company who wants to keep in touch with CEOs and key decision-makers regularly, every single working day. They give them desktop calendars to be on top of your mind. They sure are on top of your desk but it is not interactive. Now put a digital display with a calendar chip (these are very cheap) and a mobile device. This could be a desktop calendar or a photo frame and the message can be relayed through the SIM reaching the desktops of CEOs and decision-makers. Imagine they can change the picture on the frame by emailing to! They are now your partners aren’t they?

In Sum
Likewise, anything that has a battery and space can be fitted with a mobile SIM and innovations can be based around that.
Creating innovative services is not always costly, and roll-out is fairly simple. However, it has basic requirements that are not imbedded in most corporate DNAs. It needs a lot of innovation. Make that a hell lot more innovation! Add to it the very complicated “planned innovation”. Further complicate it by adding high failure rates. And the clincher, all this is easily replicable by competitors. This makes service providers lethargic to any innovation in services. So much so that telecom service providers have yet to come up with downloadable ringtones on fixed-wired phones. It will take one inspired service provider to zealously re-invent the boundaries of this space. In a nutshell, services innovation will not happen easily. What we have is a basis to dissect the possible innovation in services.