2006-02-13

PDA markets, communicators and the 770

Old news, but Mobile-review provided some rather interesting predictions for the year 2006, see link: http://www.mobile-review.com/pda/articles/2006-forecast-en.shtml. According to IDC's Worldwide Handheld QView, shipments of PDAs dropped by 20.8% from 2Q04 to 2Q05. The reason is clear: many users have migrated to the more attractive smart phones and communicators. A communicator offers all the same capacities as a PDA in everyday use: calendar, contacts, notes, messaging, web browsing - and you don't need to carry around a separate phone in addition. Just under 60% of the smart phone and communicator markets consists of Symbian devices, Nokia being the only serious Symbian player with its series 60 platform. Only a small fraction of mobile phone sales consists of smart phones and communicators, and Nokia is seen as the clear technology leader in this market, so one could conclude that Nokia is in a very nice position, business wise, to benefit from this market where rapid growth is to be expected.

However I think users could migrate into other directions in the years to come. The technology for mobile devices has matured greatly, and also markets for different devices have developed greatly from what they were only 5 years ago. Consider digital cameras and mp3 players for example. Users will soon own multiple portable devices which can communicate and transfer data via memory cards or bluetooth (WLAN seems also very popular in upcoming communicator models). This ground is fertile for further innovation and mixing of different capacities into differently positioned packages.

A communicator may be the current holy grail of our times - it provides for just about every major mobile use case. However it does nothing really well: it's big for a phone, constrained in display and software for PDA use or web browsing, the audio quality may be lacking and storage capacity will not scale too far. The camera may be pretty bad. A good many consumers will have a certain killer use case in their mind and opt to rather carry multiple devices with them, at least occasionally. Mp3 players are a good case of this. Another case could be internet tablets like the Nokia 770 - they would allow for much more powerful and convenient internet communication than communicators.

However markets for internet tablets did not develop at the turn of the century despite associated hype. Perhaps mobile technology was not ripe at that time, or there just was no serious attempt by a major vendor to make a really popular tablet. Or it could have been that there was no connectivity available - it would seem that Nokia has timed well its recent launch of the 770 internet tablet, as many homes and public locales will nowadays have WLAN connectivity, and a number of 3G phones have been introduced, providing possibilities to use the 770 as a device connected to the Internet.

In other words, the Nokia 770 is trying to restart a practically barren market. Given the current importance of the Internet in everyday life, one would expect the market to be there, but it just isn't. Considering the decline in PDA markets, it might seem that there is not much demand for mobile internet browsers. Or then the PDAs just aren't good enough for internet browsing - the high end is at the basic VGA resolution, 480x640, and the browser software may not be that stellar. Contrast this with the 770's excellent display in 800x480 resolution and the very good Opera browser.

Nokia has made some very good choices with the 770. The version of Linux is very similar to what one would run on a desktop PC, so it is very easy to port, develop and support software. Combine this ease of development with the reliable and adaptable nature of the Linux OS, and you can see that Nokia may just be creating a mobile platform that has a distinctive edge over its competitor platforms, Symbian and Windows. Currently Linux is making its way into mobile platforms in other directions as well, for example Palm recently announced they are moving to the Linux kernel, Flander is developing its own smart phone platform on Linux, Motorola already sells some Linux phones... Linux and mobile enthusiasts are going to see some interesting stuff.

As an open platform the Linux running on 770 could be easily adopted by other mobile vendors. Initial development costs would be low, but it would be likely the other vendors would develop it further, as it's good to keep one's platform living, and the open source community can give a good response to your efforts. The 770 is fairly affordable, so it could take its place as one's 3rd computer. Or it could be one's primary computer in the emerging market countries, where interest in the Internet exists, available funds are low, and little infrastructure is in place (so the only connection could be via WLAN, for example). I wouldn't be surprised if some of the best hackers on 770 would come from Poland, Russia, or India.

In addition to communicators and internet tablets, there would be a few more paths for migration from PDAs. One option could be some kind of a media player or generic purpose computing device. This device would be slightly larger, with better performance and storage capacity, and of course more expensive. Palm's Lifedrive I think goes into this direction with its 4 GB hard drive. It will be interesting to see if Nokia will try to pursue this path with a beefier successor to the 770 - the open approach to the Linux platform could provide the perfect mobile general purpose computing device.

2 Comments:

At 20:54, Blogger Chippy said...

I'm totally with you there. There are other migration paths from a PDA. There's the smartphone path but it leaves a big gap behind for something with decent input and a decent screen for browsing and video.

I have a blog on that subject at
http://blog.carrypad.com

 
At 13:17, Blogger Varis said...

Over time new migration paths will become active, for example PC->carrypad. Perhaps I'll need to draw a picture... I read your nice blog by the way and I think I'll make a new entry about the role of carrypads on tomorrow's mobile/pc markets :-)

 

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