Saturday, February 11, 2012

Windows Phones are here! (er, but where exactly is here?)

Windows Mobile 7.5, i.e. Windows Mobile Mango was launched officially in India recently but the only Windows phone that I can talk about it probably the Nokia Lumia. That is not really a phone that builds up an aspiration to buy such phones. Even the ads are a bit firang, for desi tastes at least. The amazing everyday campaign does not seem to connect with consumers either.

What Windows phones need is multiple phones at various price points for the consumers to be able  to choose. But before that, what is really needed is an iconic phone that will help drive an aspiration for Windows phones. From what I have seen of the Windows phones and from what I hear from some of my distinguished colleagues (distinguished in the field of technology), this OS is an awesome piece of software. The Metro style text and social life integration into the OS is really good. One of my friends mentioned this is a zero depth OS which means that it doesn't have separate perceived depths between say buttons and other text - this is supposed to do a whole lot of good for the performance of the system, even better than Android.

So, Windows finally seems to have got something right but why is it then that there isn't a lot of marketing muscle that is being flexed either from Microsoft or from Nokia? To their credit, Samsung and HTC did come out with some neat WM phones but again, someone needs to take up the responsibility of driving the marketing buzz. I am not quite sure how things panned out in the case of Android. Back then, (which was not a very long time ago) Samsung, HTC, Motorola and even the Micromax of the world went all out on Android and promoted their own Android devices - probably because green and mean Andro was perhaps the first competitor to the iOS. One could really get that iPhone like effects for far lesser dough - so the manufacturers marketed and the consumers lapped it all up. Now, with that sort of history, it would make sense probably for a Samsung, HTC and of course, good old Nokia, to drive the marketing for WM. But is Samsung worried that too much of Windows marketing could eventually help competitors like Nokia take gains out of their efforts? After all, as I see from my interaction with umpteen number of people, a lot of people still regard Nokia as a better quality phone than the Korean Samsung! Yes, I have to live with this kind of people also, even today! But Nokia does have a way with build quality and of course the famed Nokia reliability of the basic phone that one could throw from the balcony and yet all one had to do to start making calls was to just put the battery in the slot and voila!

We would like to see ads with more consumer engagement

So, maybe Samsung and its kin have reason to limit the advertising for Windows Mobile, especially given the fact that Nokia is now more or less a division of Microsoft (that's a prediction that should come true sooner than you know!). Samsung was the chosen one by Google for the Android and it has emerged as the biggest Android smartphone maker in the world. While Google's support lent a lot of credibility to Samsung, Microsoft being the sole OS on Nokia now means that Nokia should get some special treatment from the OS maker - this should lead to Nokia being the biggest Windows Mobile smartphone maker as well.

It all seems to add up fine on paper. But why is no one at Nokia or Microsoft doing something on the ground? I can't see much action in India at least. Let me know if you see some...

Tablets and Smartphones - the loveliest things life has to offer today!

OK, the title is slightly exaggerated! But I am not far away from the truth either. :-)

Now that the tablet market has grown by leaps and bounds, my previous post on whether tablets will really work or not seems archaic. Yes, I have to admit that. But then, at the time, it did not make sense to me, so I said that. Anyhoo, the market has evolved such that the difference between tablets and smart phones is blurring with every new product. The five inch Dell seemed too big when I first saw it. So did the Samsung Galaxy Note but as long as you can get it in your pocket (gotta have deep pockets, even on those formal trousers!), you can have it. It seems an easier fit for the gals as it fits in just right with their lady purse! Who would have thought, Galaxy Note is just the device you can gift to your girlfriend this V-day! I just hope mine doesnt get any such idea 'cos I am not doing too well with the finances right now.

My not so good finances also mean that I havent bought a tablet for myself either. I did get a Galaxy S phone, yes, just the S, not S II aka S2. That was more cost effective for me, by a whole 10,000 INR - that's a good deal of money. But the good part about not getting S2 is that i would have been so so so jealous of Galaxy Note right now. You can buy one for the same load of money that you dished out for the Samsung Galaxy S II a few months ago! Phew, I really had not thought it over so much - good thing I am writing this thing - almost makes me feel happy!

So, why do I like the Galaxy Note? Real estate baby - that's the name of the game. Yes, wonderful real estate on that touchscreen! The only problem with love for real estate is that it doesn't stop anywhere. So, tomorrow, you get me a bigger screen, I may want to get on to that again. But then, will it fit in my pocket as well? Probably no - so I guess it has to be the NOTE!

One thing that amazes me about the rise of Samsung is that when it rises, all other players seem to be committing what tennis-wallas would call "unforced errors" - errors of judgement, it seems. While it was Nokia earlier which chose to simply look in the opposite direction while Samsung dished out double SIM phones to the masses, followed by the big bang plunge into Android phones, this time around it seems HTC is going down while Samsung continues to be the sole challenger to Apple. While HTC does not seem to be in as bad a situation as Nokia, it does not seem to be in a mood to introduce more models at the entry level. Even at the top end, Samsung is innovating faster to create something new every few months for its customers. Is Samsung the King Bali (Sugreev's elder brother, remember your Ramayana?) of this epic drama of smartphones, i.e. sucking away the powers of its competitors? Only time will tell, as they say.

Enough masala for this post I guess. A number of things that I have spilled out above probably need a post of their own, so I hope I will get to them shortly!

What good is a tablet for?

When the purists write an account of how words in the English language have got completely new implications in the 21st century, the word "tablet" will have its own page (which, who knows, might be read on a tablet!)

Even a year ago, a "tablet" would more or less imply that small little pill that you took with a glass of water to get rid of the headache or whatever illness plagued you. Personally, it was something I really abhorred for a little over 18 years. It was coincidental that I gulped my first tablet (pill) around the time I turned an adult. But for the last one year or so, ever since there was news in the air about Mr Jobs bringing the iPad into this world, the word tablet has made children out of adults; adults who want a tablet as their latest toy. A toy they can show around to their other (adult) friends to convince one and all of their status as the uber cool gift of life on this planet. Or you can showcase it to random (but obviously amazingly hot and beautiful) girls in a mall where they would fight each other to lay their hands on you and your lovely tablet.

However, while a certain part of my brain and heart wants to have a tab, the remaining parts make me wonder of a slightly innocuous question:

What will I do with a tablet?
OK, so I can go to Facebook, watch and share photographs, movies, check and send emails and do some other general stuff. Yes, that's great BUT, I can do all of that on my laptop or the even cheaper and sleeker netbooks na?

Oh, you can do all that on the tablet with touch functionality bro!

But, I can do the same thing on my smartphone also na?

Oh wait, there is the lovely ebook reader application that one can use to read books!

But I can do that on Kindle and that too at a MUCH lesser price. Hmmm... so what do I use the tablet for then?

Well, I have read somewhere that Mercedes was planning to use the iPad as a device that their salesmen would use to showcase the features of the cars to prospective customers. Ok, sounds good - so tablet can be used to showcase luxury products features. Limited use but adds to the overall high value for the product. The folks at Mercedes must be really smart to do this because I know for a fact that at least good old Hyundai could not really understand what to do with it, so they have decided to give away free iPads with one of its high end SUVs; in a way they are according higher respect for their customer that at least the guy who spends so much money to buy our SUV will have brains enough to make some use of this iPad/tab.

Ok, so a couple of automative related uses for iPad. Apple's website shows what all you can do with the iPad. Samsung tab videos also show what you can do with the tab, but, of course, Apple's ads are iconic.

If this was not enough to confuse you, Dell has introduced a 5" Dell Streak. Now 5" may sound so much better than a 3.5" phone screen but I have actually taken one in my hand and if you want to use it as a phone it is a tad too big and if you want to use it as a e-book reader, it is a tad too small. So, in short, it's not a tab but a tad too unfit for what it should do. Some of my friends have pointed to me that the iPhone is also pretty big and that is why Dell Streak5 might just work but I still don't think this is a workable option. What I understand from my marketing and strategy classes is that Dell is trying to be a differentiator by trying to fill a niche area, a sort of a blue ocean - an uncharted territory, for the uninitiated.

But at the moment, for me, it seems this uncharted territory may remain just that. There are reports on the internet that there are 7 and 10 inch Streaks coming in future - those will at least take it from a position of my abnormal confusion to a state where I am normally confused. Even Steve Jobs feels some of the tabs in the market are too small - so I have a feeling I am half right! Meanwhile, here is Dell's TV ad: do check the girl holding it at 13 secs and at 25secs and at 42 and at 48 and you will understand what I mean when I say it's a tad big for carrying around like a phone (interestingly, they don't show people holding it as a phone at all and just when they are about to actually use it as a phone, the lovely ad ends!)

OK, so it seems (at least to me) that there aren't very many real uses for an iPad (that I cant do with my smartphone or laptop) but apparently 7.5 million people who have bought iPads and tablets over the last one year don't think so. If you are one of those who had the money to buy one and brains to actually use it for some good purpose, please let me know why you bought the tab/iPad. Going by the fact that I don't have the money to buy an iPad now kind of tells you I am not the brightest folks anyway :D