20 years is a long time in the tech industry – a nostalgic trip

Find out what these devices are about in this article

Last week it was the CES tradeshow in Las Vegas where the latest and greatest new gizmos and gadgets are shown off and launched to 150,000 attendees.  I was there for the launch of AppCarousel with our partner Myriad.

On the Wednesday of the event I received a voicemail on my mobile phone.  When I dialed in, I heard the voice of someone I had not heard of or seen or spoken to or emailed for 20 years.  He had been a good friend of mine 20 years earlier when we lived in the UK, we had worked together at 2 mobile companies, and I had also worked with his wife.  The four of us (including my wife) were good friends.  They had attended our wedding in 1989.

I have to say, it stopped me in my tracks.  Imagine how you would feel if you suddenly heard a voice that had been out of your life for 20 years?

My mind started racing … the last time I spoke to him;

  • my mobile phone was bolted into my car, there weren’t really hand portable phones back then
  • there was voicemail, but you had to pay extra every month if you wanted it
  • there was no GSM or digital cellular technology, it was all TACS analogue with crackles and clicks as the network handed you off from one cell site to another
  • and there was no SMS text message capability
  • my carphone didn’t have any letters on the keypad, only numbers, because there was no need for letters (the only thing you could do was dial, and the phone didn’t have enough memory for a phone book)
  • there was no concept of roaming, because only a tiny percentage of people had a phone and even less would drive abroad with it, and most networks were completely different technologies
  • there was no internet!  That’s right, the average consumer or worker hadn’t heard of the internet in 1992, and they certainly didn’t have access to it (nor did they have any need, because there was nothing to access!)
  • most people didn’t possess any kind of computer at home or work
  • he and I worked together at a radiopaging company, where we sold pagers to people who needed to be reached via “bleepers” or “beepers” as they were known.  That was a huge success because we were entering an era where people were starting to use technology to become more efficient and pagers were the smallest easiest way of keeping in touch.  We even launched a service where our users could receive BBC news headlines on their alphanumeric pager screens (how advanced was that for 1992!)
  • in the UK, deregulation and privatisation were happening all over the telecoms industry.  The incumbent British Telecom saw many new competitors emerge, and me and my colleague were among them
  • in 1992, telex and fax were still the dominant ways to send something to someone faster than snail mail
  • it was possible to send data over those old analogue cellular networks, certainly in the UK anyway, via a technology known as CDLC, where the huge phone was coupled to an equally huge modem.  The modem modulated data over the regular voice channel at the lightning fast speed of 300 bits per second ;-) but it was the genesis of what we now take for granted
  • there was a technology being rolled out called CT2, which were thousands of micro base stations in areas of high pedestrian density (train stations, street corners) enabling people with CT2 handsets to make calls within a hundred feet of the base station.  CT2 was aimed to replace the payphone booth, but was a complete failure.  Each base station only allowed 2 concurrent calls, so they were nearly always busy, and people in rainy England would rather stand inside a phonebox rather than in the middle of a street.  The story of CT2 is a must read, at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CT2
I still have my radiopager, CT2 phone, and my first ever hand portable mobile phone which I bought later on in 1992.  Here they are in all their glory!

Radiopager, CT2 phone, and my first hand portable mobile from 1992!

Anyway, to finish off the story, he and I met up that evening in Vegas and reminisced on old times and old technologies.  This article is therefore a small tribute to the fact that all three of us (him, his wife and me) have stayed in telecoms for 20+ years and have been successful at it, watching all the highs and lows along the way.

Apps weren’t even a twinkle in anyone’s eye 20 years ago.  Apps is short for Applications which refers to installable software for devices, and there weren’t even applications 20 years ago.  You couldn’t install any software on your mobile phone, and the PC and Mac were in their infancy.

I guess that 20 years ago, “App” could have been short for;

  • appetizer
  • appetite
  • apology
  • aptitude
  • appearance
but the reality is that the word wasn’t being used at all.

Haven’t we come a long way in 20 years when you think about it.  Amazing.


Managing Director

App Carousel

AppCarousel’s tea leaf predictions for 2012

What a crazy year 2011 was in the mobile industry.  Who would have predicted a year ago that Google would buy Motorola, and that AT&T would try unsuccessfully to buy T-Mobile?

2012 is lining up to be equally unpredictable, which is why when I used the ancient art of tea leaf predicting the other day, the leaves lined up as a great big question mark.  I don’t blame them!  Can you predict what will happen in 2012, I can’t.

There’s nothing worse than making predictions that don’t come true, so I decided to play it really safe with my 10 predictions for 2012.  In fact these are so safe that I will happily buy a beer for any of you of they don’t all come true.

  1. Cellular data usage will continue to go through the roof (it wasn’t that long ago that carriers didn’t want WiFi in phones, now they are begging for WiFi offloading as their networks get more clogged)
  2. There will be new entrants in the tablet computing space (I won’t guarantee that Google will be there, but it’s a fairly safe bet)
  3. There will be at least one huge acquisition, but who will it be?  Now that’s worth speculating about
  4. IPOs will continue to be in vogue (to keep the investment bankers out of mischief)
  5. Data privacy will continue to be a hot topic, thanks to CarrierIQ kicking that off debate in 2011
  6. The patent wars will pick up speed (2011 was the year when the big guys lined up their patent portfolios, 2012 will be the year when they use them)
  7. The overwhelming majority of apps will continue to be free, and those free apps will continue to swell the app stores and create an ever longer tail of (often) cruddy content
  8. “4G” will be yesterday’s news and the carriers will all re-position what they have with new services and new words
  9. The Buzzword of the year will be “over the top” as in “the over the top players will disrupt the market”
  10. Democratization of the app economy will continue in areas such as app building (where anyone will be able to build and publish an app) and app showcasing (where anyone will be able to have their own mini app store)

OK, that was a bit lightweight wasn’t it, so for the heavy industry analysis we invited the Managing Director of Open Mobile Media to be our first guest blogger of 2012, and you can read her excellent article here.  A must read for anyone in the wireless industry.

I will leave you with a true funny story about predictions.  My wife had planned to go to a Psychic Fair and when she arrived she was greeted with this sign – I love it!!

Let’s all make sure that our businesses don’t have any “unforeseen circumstances” in 2012.  easier said than done.

Happy New Year, here’s to 2012.

The AppCarousel team

A Christmas anecdote about Santa and Steve Jobs

Last week my 9 year old son Tom told me he wanted a tablet computer for Christmas.

“I am not sure Santa and his elves make tablets in the North Pole”, I stated.

“I am sure they do” replied Tom, “because they are so popular, so Santa wouldn’t miss a trick like that”.  Wow, kids are so commercially minded these days.

We then got into a debate about which tablets Santa makes.  I explained the operating systems, and how Android is open source, and he replied that he felt Santa would choose an open source platform because he had been operating in an “open sleigh” mode for years.  Good point.

As much as we think kids’ minds are weird, here’s an example of how the adult mind can be just as wacky…  I then said to Tom “No, I disagree, I think Santa will focus on iPads this year because Steve Jobs is now up there with him and I am sure they are colluding.”

“What are you talking about?” said Tom. “Why would Steve Jobs be in the North Pole?  He is dead.”

For some bizarre reason I had got heaven confused with the North Pole, and I looked like a bit of an ass when my son called me on it.

I sincerely hope Santa isn’t in heaven because that could cause a few problems on Dec 24th.  But if he was in heaven Steve would be all over him, because Steve never missed an opportunity to lock down a distribution ecosystem and Santa does have the mother of all value chains.

iSleigh anyone?!

Merry Christmas, Season’s Greetings, and Happy Holidays to everyone.


AppCarousel – the next ‘Batman utility belt’ for apps

Two days ago Terry posted a great thought stream about how his smartphone has become his ‘Batman utility belt’, replacing the nostalgic one he carefully crafted as a child… I couldn’t agree more about the fact that my smartphone has replaced a number of things I used to carry around; such as my paper daytimer, a calculator, my address book, in certain cases my laptop, etc, etc; And yes, like Jenny Barr commented – even my mirror for lipstick applications. However, when I thought about this analogy further I realized that carousels of apps (or,as in the case of AppCarousel, apps and all kinds of digital content) are gearing up to be the next wave of ‘Batman utility belts’.

If the entire world of hundreds of thousands of apps were in a big suitcase, you wouldn’t want to carry that around all the time, you would put together a utility belt of your very best and favorite apps and content, there might be 10 or 20 items on your belt. You would probably show everyone else too… Well that’s AppCarousel in a nutshell. Batman wore his belt on the outside of his costume, so millions of people on TV and in the movies could see what he wanted to showcase; Bring on App Carousel as the new kind of utility belt.

Let’s think about it some more…

I bet you’ve got a collection of websites, apps, videos, music shopping sites, plus, plus, plus that you visit/consume on a daily/every few days/weekly basis. How do you keep track of all these different content elements? Through bookmarks in your web browser? As apps on your phone? In emails that you keep in your inbox for easy access? What if you could keep all of the content that’s of relevance and importance to you in one place – say on a circular carousel of content and apps… How convenient would that be? A virtual utility belt for apps (and, like a utility belt, our carousels are round too!)

This new way to showcase the content you care about has great potential… Or you could be like my father-in-law who, although he has a smartphone, still loves his old school ‘Batman utility belt’. On a daily basis he still carries: his iPhone for personal calls, his BlackBerry for work, a highlighter (just in case he needs to highlight anything important), a mini flashlight, and a calculator watch to tell the time and make any tip calculations in a flash at a restaurant. Personally I’m all for my new ‘smart’ utility belt and for creating a carousel utility belt.

If you could have a ‘Batman utility belt’ carousel of content – what would you include? What would you want to carry around with you and what would you want to show everyone else? Which apps do you depend on? And what content do you care about?


Your smartphone is your Batman utility belt

For those of us old enough to remember, Batman had a cool thing called a “utility belt” which he carried around everywhere.  The one thing it didn’t do was hold his pants up, but it did everything else.  (Didn’t he have shark repellent in there, what are the chances of having to use that?!)

As a kid I remember building my own; it had string and a knife and handcuffs and a map and a flashlight and on and on.  It was too heavy to wear!

Anyway, I have been a smartphone user for a few years and I have become increasingly reliant on my phone as my “utility belt”, i.e. it does so much more than phone calls.  I believe all of us are the same, we rely on our smartphones for so many things.

So, for a bit of fun, I decided to put a list together, and I would love your additions!!!, so add a comment below and I will not only add yours to the list but give you full credit (just like Batman always credits Robin for helping him).

These are all the items that my smartphone has replaced in my life (in no particular order)

  • calculator
  • store catalog (boy were those things heavy!)
  • GPS SatNav
  • paper notepad
  • paper tasks list
  • newspapers and magazines
  • deskphone
  • paper diary / calendar
  • stopwatch
  • scrapbook
  • alarm clock
  • shopping list
  • dictation recorder
  • postal mail and stamps
  • paper address book (that went a long time ago!)
  • MP3 player
  • music library (thanks to Slacker)
  • DVD player
  • books (well, not really, you still can’t beat a real book)
  • thermometer (I used to have a thermometer outside my house to tell me the external temperature, now my phone tells me what the temperature is in my city)
  • camera
  • photo album
  • video camera
  • boarding pass
  • compass
  • walkie talkie (push to talk)
  • wallet (both for expenses and for some m-payment stuff)
  • FM radio
  • hand-held gaming device
  • flashlight (yes, everyone has a flashlight app don’t they!)
  • Yellow Pages book
  • business card holder
  • white noise generator (seriously, I have an app for that and love it when staying in hotels)
  • paperweight
  • filing system (thanks to DropBox)
  • remote control for my PVR
  • winter hand warmer (seriously, if your hands are cold, get your 4G phone out and make a call, it warms up nicely)

Simply amazing when you think about it!

I know for a fact that I have missed quite a few, so what has your smartphone replaced in your life?  Now that your phone talks intelligently to you (as in Siri), do you even need relationships any more ;-)

I look forward to hearing from you … via my smartphone of course.


Occupy … mobile app industry!

With all the talk about Occupy Wall St, Occupy Oakland, Occupy this and that, and all the protests and unrest in European countries and parts of the Middle East, I started talking to my mobile industry colleagues about whether there is unrest and uncertainty in our sector, and if so who we should Occupy … and when we go there and Occupy, what our demands should be.  Of course having demands at all would be a novelty because most of the present batch of Occupy protesters in tents in major cities don’t seem to be able to string a sentence together to articulate what they are asking for.

So, if a bunch of us were to gang up and Occupy parts of the mobile app world, what would they be, and what would be our demands?  (And, along the way, how could we get sneaky mentions in for our wonderful app carousels and app solutions!)

[Disclaimer: this is only a bit of fun, a tongue in cheek jab at the Occupy movement, but we would love you to join in the fun by adding your own Occupy … targets.  Make sure you bring your own tent, you are not sleeping in mine.)

Occupy Apple

“We want you to stop bullying people who use the generic words App Store, we want you to reduce your 30% tax on subscription apps, and we want you to open up your app distribution a little so that solutions like ours can more easily promote and distribute your apps.”

Occupy Google

“We want you to make Android Market easier to navigate, because right now it’s not easy to quickly find compelling apps among all those cruddy free apps.  Or come talk to us, we can help – you will find us in those tents in your parking lot.”

Occupy RIM

“We want you to hurry up and get your new OS BBX to market, because our developer colleagues are telling us they are excited by having a third option to develop for and right now they are in limbo waiting for the BBX tools.  RIM, run as fast as you possibly can.  And when those developers build great BBX apps, we will help you showcase them.”

Occupy Verizon

“We want you to be successful with your revamped relaunched VCAST store because we do see the need for quality carrier app stores and app showcases, of apps that the carrier recommends, and you have the size and critical mass to do way better.”

Occupy Windows Phone 7

“We think you have the power and cash to turn the mobile developer industry on its head, by doing something radically different when Windows Phone becomes mainstream.  For example, instead of begging developers to build for your platform, come up with an amazing commercial model, where you pay them / incentivize them / reward them upfront for their loyalty.  Think outside the (X) box!  Solutions like our Affiliate Commerce Exchange can help.”

Occupy Sony Ericsson

“How many more horses will you have to back before you find a winner?  Symbian, then Windows, then Android, now perhaps back to Windows.  Every time you change direction you lose developers and customers.  Stay the course this time.”

Occupy Motricity

“We saw this article, http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2011/11/15/motricity-is-late-to-the-smartphone-party.aspx  What have you done with all of our money?  How can you burn so much cash and lose so much company value?  Our tents will be here until you provide the answers.  If Motricity customers need an alternative, come find us in our tent.”

Occupy Zuora

“Zuora, you have built a really successful subscription management platform, so hats off to you for that.  You are regarded as being one of the more successful “startups” that has emerged as a major player.  But why do you need another $36M dollars?  That sends the wrong message to the industry.  We had heard that you were making good money, so why not pass the $36M to us in our tents and we will redistribute it to needy hungry mobile app startups.”

Occupy Facebook

“Your ability to leverage the power of social networking and personal recommendation in the field of app discovery, app showcasing and app distribution has the potential to change the app world beyond recognition.  Don’t mess it up, and don’t try to lock down the system like Apple has, be open.  What you are about to do will have a profound impact one way or the other.  We will be behind you all the way (well actually we will be in our tents in your parking lot if you need our help to merchandize apps).”

So, brothers, are you coming with us?  We will set up camps in Cupertino, Mountain View, Waterloo, Basking Ridge, and Sweden.  And we will make our demands heard.  Well in fact we will send our demands via BBM.  Or Google Talk.  Or Facebook Messenger.  Or Apple iMessage.  What, you mean there’s no standard way for us to send our demands?  Mmmm, I think we need another Occupy movement to protest about that.

Chief Occupier

App Carousel

Who would you Occupy, and why?  Add your comments below.

The 800 lb gorilla and the elephant in the room

While having cocktails yesterday evening after a great day at the Open Mobile Summit, we started talking about phrases such as “the elephant in the room” and “the 800 pound gorilla”.  So I thought I would research those sayings, and see what they tell us about the mobile / app world today.

The elephant in the room

Here are a few good definitions;

From phrases.org.uk;

An important and obvious topic, which everyone present is aware of, but which isn’t discussed, as such discussion is considered to be uncomfortable.

From Wikipedia;

is an idiom for an obvious truth that is being ignored or goes unaddressed. The idiomatic expression also applies to an obvious problem or risk no one wants to discuss.  It is based on the idea that an elephant in a room would be impossible to overlook; thus, people in the room who pretend the elephant is not there have chosen to avoid dealing with the looming big issue.

And there’s an example or two at idiomeanings.com;

There was an elephant in the room when I spoke with my mother, because she hates my new boyfriend.

So, here at the Open Mobile Summit, if there had been a real elephant in the conference room I think people would have had a hard time ignoring it, but there were a few elephants in the room in the idiomatic sense.  Here are three that I picked up (well, I didn’t pick them up as such, because they weren’t said, but that’s what makes them elephants in the room!)

  1. Is the mobile and app industry truly comfortable with letting Google start to dominate via the Android OS, search, apps, content (e.g. YouTube), videos, books and movies (in Android Market), cloud, billing, Google Wallet, maps and navigation, and on and on?  Everyone talks about how open the new mobile world is, but are the traditional players (operators, OEMs, software vendors, LBS mapping companies, etc.) feeling comfortable right now?  One person at the conference said to me “At least when Nokia were trying to dominate via Symbian, people knew where they stood because Nokia is a proper company, whereas does anybody really know what Google might do next?”
  2. Are the wireless carriers already dumb pipes, but they just haven’t realized it?  I actually don’t agree with that elephant; I think the carriers are halfway through reinventing their place in the value chain, and it is the carrier networks that still power the mobile digital revolution, and will continue to do so via LTE.  Because the carriers are strong consumer brands (in the US who hasn’t heard of Verizon and AT&T?), they will still play a vital role in curating content that they recommend and deliver in a compelling manner, because their customers trust them and pay them every month
  3. Are we in another dot-com bubble where all that VC money that is sloshing into tech companies will vanish into thin air just as it did a decade ago notably in this very city, San Fran?  Now this is a good example of an elephant in the room, because while the startups are being funded, and while the app economy feels rosy, nobody wants to spoil the party by saying that silly money is being poured into silly ideas that have no chance of generating a 10x return on investment.  It’s a bit like the Emperor’s New Clothes, another great idiom that has stood the test of time.
An Emperor who cares for nothing but his appearance and attire hires two tailors who promise him the finest suit of clothes from a fabric invisible to anyone who is unfit for his position or “just hopelessly stupid”. The Emperor cannot see the cloth himself, but pretends that he can for fear of appearing unfit for his position; his ministers do the same. When the swindlers report that the suit is finished, they mime dressing him and the Emperor then marches in procession before his subjects, who play along with the pretense. Suddenly, a child in the crowd, too young to understand the desirability of keeping up the pretense, blurts out that the Emperor is wearing nothing at all and the cry is taken up by others. The Emperor cringes, suspecting the assertion is true, but holds himself up proudly and continues the procession.
In your opinion, which of those is the biggest elephant in the room, or are there others that you would like to share?  Add a comment at the bottom of this email.
The 800 lb gorilla
When me and my colleagues starting this whole discussion, we were a bit confused … is the gorilla meant to be in the room alongside the elephant, does the gorilla pretend he can’t see the elephant, how much does the elephant weigh, is the elephant scared of the gorilla, is a gorilla really 800 pounds in weight, is the gorilla outside the room waiting to come in and scare the elephant, is there only one gorilla or an entire family, and on and on.  (The discussion was over cocktails after all).
So I set about researching what the expression “the 800 lb gorilla” means;
Unfortunately the first thing Google presented me with was a picture of an 800 lb woman.  Seriously.
I needed to refine my search.  I then found a picture of an 800 lb gorilla, and he was certainly in the room as you can see.
In the picture it appears the attendees are ignoring him, so isn’t that the same idiom as the elephant?
So I then dug up a definition, thanks to Wikipedia … very interesting.

800 lb gorilla” is an expression for a person or organization so powerful that it can act without regard to the desires of others or the law.  The phrase is rooted in a riddle:

“Where does an 800 lb. gorilla sleep?”

The answer:

“Anywhere it wants to.”

This highlights the disparity of power between the “800 lb. gorilla” and everything else.

The term can describe a powerful geopolitical and military force, or, in business, a powerful corporate entity that has such a large majority percentage of whatever market they compete within that they can use that strength to crush would-be competitors. (The metaphor includes an inherent bit of hyperbole; the highest weight yet recorded for an actual gorilla is 600 lb).

The metaphor has been mixed, on occasion, with the metaphor of the elephant in the room, as in TV advertisements by the financial firm AXA Equitable broadcast in 2010. In 2011 former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee referred to the healthcare plan instituted by former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney as “the 800-pound elephant in the room”.

So I decided to see whether I could think of any “powerful corporate entity that has such a large majority percentage of whatever market they compete within that they can use that strength to crush would-be competitors“.  Now that’s an interesting question in an industry with major carriers, Apple, Google, Samsung, Oracle, and others.

My opinion is “no”.  After all these years where Symbian and Microsoft threatened to dominate the mobile industry, there is still no clear leader, in fact it’s not even a clear 2-horse race (as my previous blog article discusses).

Perhaps one gorilla is ARM, the silicon chip IP design company, which has 95% of the smartphone market tied up until Intel takes another run at it in 2012.  However I don’t see them as a gorilla because they don’t leverage their dominant position or try to crush anyone.

So, in the interests of following up on our discussion over cocktails, I will now invite my colleagues here at App Carousel (who also attended the Open Mobile Summit conference sessions) to wade in and give their opinions … is there an 800 lb gorilla in wireless, or a family of gorillas, or a gorilla riding on the back of an elephant, or ……… ?

Feel free to roar your own opinions too.


Managing Director



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