View From Above

May 24, 2012  11:34 AM

Mobile Data Site Illustrates Consumerization of Big Data

Posted by: Ron Miller
Big Data, Google, mobile
Using data from the Our Mobile planet site I was able to easily create this chart.

Using data from the Our Mobile planet site I was able to easily create this chart.

What do you think the most popular phone OS is in South Africa was in 2011? Was it Android perhaps or iOS? It turns out, it was Blackberry.

And you can answer all kinds of detailed mobile questions from a new site called Our Mobile Planet.

The site is a joint effort between Google and Ipsos MediaCT in partnership with the Mobile Marketing Association and the Interactive Advertising Bureau

The site provides a way to slice and dice mobile demographic information to create customized charts, which you can download for use in a presentation or report (or blog post).

I believe this is the very edge of a new trend we are very likely to see more of where services like Google and other data owners, whoever they might be, package the data in this fashion to make it easy to create, consume and understand data in ways that were never possible before without sophisticated tools and a valuable data pipeline like this one.

How did I find out about the Blackberry question? Well, I chose to compare four countries, the US, South Africa, Australia and India and I compared what phone OS was most popular by country. As you choose different data elements, the chart you are building updates automatically in real time on the screen.

You can get detailed data for a range of information and you can increase or narrow the focus as you wish by country, age range or a surprisingly broad range of mobile behavior data points.

Many businesses today have at least some interest in mobile, whether it’s producing an app or just providing access to your web site via mobile. This site is providing you with valuable data you can use to learn more about general trends or how you want to focus your resources based on actual data and not guess work.

For instance, if you were considering getting out of Blackberry development and you do a lot of business in South Africa, you might want to reconsider that based on the data you find here.

And that’s the true value of big data in general, whether you are talking about mobile or other data. You can use publicly available information in combination with your own company data sources to make more informed business decisions about where to best allocate your resources.

Hockey great Wayne Gretsky in his heyday used to talk about skating to where the puck was going to be, not where it’s been. That’s what you need to be doing as a business and valuable data sources like Our Mobile Planet can help you understand where the puck is going to be.

Our Mobile Planet is probably just the first of many sites of its kind we are going to see moving forward. The key to understanding Big Data is providing context for it and sites like this one do that with a set of simple data visualization tools. This one’s mobile, but it could just as well be anything else.

May 15, 2012  8:28 AM

Oracle Declares War On Cloud and Open Source

Posted by: Ron Miller
Cloud, Google, Java, lawsuits, mobile, Sun

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
~Dylan Thomas, Do not go gentle into that good night

Oracle's case against Google could be much more than it first appeared. It could be a declaration of war on the cloud and open source.

Oracle's case against Google could be more than it appeared. It could be a declaration of war on the cloud and open source.

Larry Ellison and his company, Oracle appear to be afraid, deathly afraid of the change that cloud computing and open source software represent. Like most disrupted industries, they may have even dabbled with their replacements, but never very seriously. Instead, they use the refuge of last resort for all disrupted industries — the courts.

Oracle used a clever strategy to get at Google because Google represents everything that Oracle is not. Oracle is all mainframes and big complex software packages. Google, while a large corporate entity of its own, is in the cloud and with Android, it offers an open source cell phone operating system.

And with that, you have the two things that scare a company like Oracle the most, concepts that could bring down a company that sells large complex software packages. Instead of complexity, Google offers simplicity. Instead of expensive systems, Google offers most of its tools…for free.

Not that Google is purity itself. It surely has some of its own crosses to bear including its infamous WiFI mapping case where it not only extracted information about WiFi networks, but email addresses and passwords. Oops.

But as a company that makes free tools and makes use of open source software too, Google like many companies used Java, an open source programming language created by Sun. Oracle bought Sun, and with it a strategy to get at that pesky Google cloud- and open source-using beast. When Google created Android, it based it on Java — and Oracle saw an opening.

But even Oracle probably couldn’t have hoped for an outcome like the one it got when the court case took a turn suggesting APIs could be copyrighted — or maybe it did — a move that Andrew Binstock, writing on Dr. Dobb’s believes could actually represent the end of programming as we know it.

“Essentially, every language implementation not issued forth by the copyright holder will be suspect until the copyright owners announce a permanent statement dispensing with any threats to enforce the copyrights. There is no reason to believe that copyright holders will naturally act with such restraint. As we know, Oracle certainly has not..,” Binstock wrote on Dr. Dobb’s.

And writing on Wired, Robert McMillan wondered if this victory would actually blow up the cloud.

The actual verdict came down Monday and it wasn’t quite that dramatic, at least not on its face. The jury actually left the  question regarding whether APIs could be copyrighted unanswered for now, unable to reach a verdict, but as Wired reported, found that Google infringed on Oracle copyrights for copying 9 lines of code.

But as Wired points out that pesky API copyright question remains open and it’s up to the presiding judge to decide.

My guess is judging from the tone set by the judge (at least to the extent I can determine that in published reports), he’s not going to go the extreme here, but until we hear we are left with a lot of uncertainty.

And you can be sure that regardless of the outcome, this will not be the last we’ve heard of this. Oracle surely sees an opening here and it’s going to ride it for all its worth until the Supreme Court itself offers an answer.

I don’t know about you, but I find the idea of the court system deciding highly complex technical decisions to be more than a bit chilling. But companies like Oracle do not go gentle into that good night. They rage against the dying of the light with all the gusto that their billions can buy. And that surely will be the case here.

Photo credit: iStock Photo - wragg

May 9, 2012  11:07 AM

iPhone Might be Too Successful for Providers

Posted by: Ron Miller
Apple, AT&T, iPhone, mobile, smart phones, Sprint
iPhone has been tremendously successful, perhaps a little too successful from network provider's perspective.

iPhone has been tremendously successful, perhaps a little too successful from network provider perspective.

iPhone is a successful device by virtually any measure. It provides a way to access content and connect with the outside world via the Internet with simplicity and ease — and people who own them love to use them. And that’s a problem for providers. They are clogging their networks.

At least that’s what I’m reading from complaints from the CEO of AT&T and Sprint’s recent financial troubles.

Let’s start with AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, who admitted publicly at the Milken Institutes’s Global Conference this week that he deeply regretted offering iPhone users the all-you-can eat data plan for just $30.

Turns out when you give people unlimited data, they actually use their phones and damn, that bandwidth adds up. You see when you get a piece of highly sophisticated technology that does all kinds of things from show movies to deliver directions to Siri voice recognition, it turns out you want to, you know, use it. Imagine that.

But apparently poor Mr. Stephenson felt that all those people who bought iPhones and lined the coffers of AT&T through the initial years of exclusivity were bandwidth hogs and he wasn’t prepared for that.

AT&T now offers a tiered plan starting at $20 for 300 MB, $30 for 3 GB or $50 for 5 GB. I still have one of the old unlimited plans, which remains grandfathered in and it’s the only reason I’m still with AT&T at this point to be honest, but if you sign up today, you’re probably looking at a minimum of $30 a month for 3 whole GB. And don’t forget that doesn’t include unlimited texting which will run you another $20 per month.

Make sure you download an App that shows you where to find free WiFi around you. Geez.

Lest you cry for poor Mr. Stephenson, The New York Times reported that the tiered data plan approach has been very, very good to his company bringing in $6.1 billion in revenue last year.

At least AT&T is crying all the way to the bank. Sprint, apparently is not so fortunate.

The iPhone has always been a bit of a conundrum for Sprint. They wanted it so badly and once they got it, in order to differentiate themselves from the bandwidth-controlling AT&T and Verizon, decided to offer the old unlimited data plan. Fantastic for you, but for Sprint, not so much.

According to a Reuter’s article, Sprint placed a $15 billion bet on the iPhone and so far the phone subsidies combined with the unlimited data access is killing the company, so much so that Sprint CEO Dan Hesse has decided to take a symbolic pay cut in his salary and bonus. Nice, but probably won’t dent that bill.

When you see the success of the iPhone, it’s easy to think that it must be a boon for providers too, and in many cases it should be, but it also has a dark side. Users use these phones. They bombard the networks. They tax the bottom line because of subsidies.

I don’t cry for the providers though. Instead of whining, be a network and do your job. Of course phone users are going to use bandwidth. If you don’t like it, you’re in the wrong business.

Photo by Yutaka Tsutano on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.

May 4, 2012  9:40 AM

There could be more to RIM than fading US sales

Posted by: Ron Miller
Apps, Blackberry, Blackberry 10, mobile, Playbook, RIM
Blackberry claims it will have plenty of apps when Blackberry 10 comes it. It had better be right.

Blackberry has faced years of steep and steady decline in US sales, but its CEO says there is more to the company than the US market. For its sake, there had better be.

It’s easy to just dismiss RIM as another company that missed the mark when the market changed. That’s because if you judge RIM by its US market share numbers, the situation is pretty dire indeed, but RIM is more than the US market, a fact RIM’s CEO made clear at a press conference this week at RIM’s Blackberry World Conference.

And as we wrote here earlier this week, the market share numbers in the US are seriously ugly. RIM has plunged from 42.1 percent as recently as February 2010 down to just 12.3 percent according to comScore’s most recent numbers. It’s hard to put a smiley face on numbers like that, but CEO Thorsten Heins gave it all he had (as well he should given the condition of his company).

Heins as you would expect, chose to accentuate the positive. As Wayne Rash reported on FierceMobileIT, he made it clear that RIM is doing well in Latin America, Asia and the Middle East selling feature phones, it wouldn’t think of marketing in North America and Western Europe.

That’s all well and good, but as Rash wrote in another piece, Blackberry needs a home run and it needs it badly.

But as Jason Perlow pointed out on ZDNet, it won’t matter how good Blackberry 10 is — because nobody is going to pay attention if the device doesn’t have apps. “Without the developers, you have no apps. With no apps, you can have the sexiest device in existence but nobody is going to buy the thing,” Perlow wrote.

Perlow says that the reason Apple is so successful is that it has come up with the perfect combination of sex appeal on the device side combined with what he calls the Superheroes, the developers who feed the app ecosystem.

And Perlow’s right, if there are no developers, the device will fail. When my wife was looking at a new smart phone recently, she flirted briefly with the Nokia Lumia 900, but in the end she went with an iPhone, partly because she owns other Apple devices, but partly because Microsoft’s app marketplace seemed a little barren.

That’s why apps matter a lot, so it was with some surprise that when I read an exclusive interview on FierceMobileIT with Andrew Bocking, RIM’s senior vice president of software product management, he was practically boasting about the apps for the upcoming release of Blackberry 10.  You may recall that there were a dearth of apps for the Blackberry Playbook tablet when it came out and that was one of the main reasons it has done so poorly.

Yet in this particularly interview, Bocking claimed QNX apps (the OS on the Playbook and upcoming Blackberry 10) had grown 240 percent this year, which certainly sounds impressive, but it’s hard to know, compared to what.  But Bocking didn’t stop there, he predicted that when Blackberry 10 launches, it would have a “substantial” number of apps. He wouldn’t put a figure on that, but he did say it would be more than what Windows had when it launched Windows Phone 7.

Not exactly the best comparison given what I said earlier about Windows Phone 7 apparent lack of apps, but if it’s more, it’s certainly a good start, especially if they are geared toward business users and not the Angry Birds variety.

One of the big issues with the Playbook was that it lacked a native email client, a strategic error so huge, it’s mind-boggling that RIM allowed the product to go to market without it.

That’s why I remain skeptical about RIM’s claims. They need to build buzz at any cost of course, and it would be silly to make claims then not be able to back them up, but RIM has been stumbling and bumbling for so long now, you’ll excuse me if I’m a bit cynical about its ability to deliver.

So I’ll file this one under I believe it when I see it. The rest is up to RIM to prove it’s more than those fading US sales.

Photo of the Blackberry 9380 Curve, courtesy of RIM.

May 2, 2012  1:19 PM

RIM Teeters on the Edge of Oblivion

Posted by: Ron Miller
Blackberry, market share, mobile, RIM

RIM has been preaching to its last loyal followers this week down in Orlando, Florida, and as my colleague Wayne Rash pointed out, Blackberry 10 must succeed or that’s all she wrote for the once popular business smart phone.

RIM is at a make or break point and the company literally is teetering on the edge of oblivion.

RIM is at a make or break point and the company literally is teetering on the edge of oblivion.

As this infographic on the Ness Blog points out, you can trace a direct line to the decline of RIM to the release of the iPhone in 2007. As the infographic illustrated, as 2007 dawned, RIM was hey number one, king of the hill, top of the heap with more than 10 million subscribers, then there was the moment everything changed in June of that year. The iPhone was released and so began the long, slow and steady decline of RIM and its iconic Blackberry phone.

Like many established players RIM didn’t realize it had been disrupted by the newer iPhone — and then one year later by the upstart Android. RIM’s answer was too slow in coming and the Blackberry Storm disappointed loyal Blackberry users and didn’t do anything to attract the growing legions of iPhone and Android phone users.

As market share declined steadily, so did the company’s stock price. Today, RIM is a company on the edge of oblivion. That’s why this week’s announcement was so important. As Rash pointed out, RIM seems to have put a lot of thought into this phone — even if on first glance it looks an awful lot like Microsoft’s Window Phone 7 tiled interface.

And it’s done away with the hard keyboard, the one differentiator that Blackberry fanatics seemed to love the most. But Rash writes that the new keyboard is not your typical touch-screen variety. It has been designed to be as Blackberry-like as possible and to do a better job of auto-correcting than the competition (which wouldn’t take much).

Whatever Blackberry does, it better be dramatic because the numbers just keep getting worse and worse. A year ago I wrote a post called Can RIM Come Back. If you click through, you can see a chart which traces the steady decline of Blackberry market share from February 2010 when RIM still commanded over 40 percent of the smartphone market until last February when it had dropped to 28.9 percent.

And the numbers kept on dropping from that point forward. When comScore came out with its latest US mobile phone market share numbers recently, once again RIM had declined from 16 percent in December, 2011 to 12.3 percent in March of this year, a loss of 3.7 percent. Meanwhile Microsoft, which is supposed to be finally becoming a serious player in this game, declined once again as well, dropping from 4.7 percent to 3.9 percent in that same time period.

As for the winners, Google lead the pack with 51.7 percent (up 3.7 percent for those keeping score at home) and Apple was in second place with 30.7 percent (up 1.1 percent).

Numbers like those are a bit mind-numbing for the competition. Yet Blackberry is faced with a pivotal corporate moment here. This is literally make or break time. And much like Microsoft and Nokia who will live or die together, RIM and Blackberry 10 will do the same.

The one thing Blackberry has in its favor at this point that Microsoft lacks is there is still a core group that loves Blackberry, even if consumers seemed to have fallen out of love with the hand sets. For governments and companies that must have secure phone systems, RIM is still the company they turn to.  In July of last year, I wrote a post called Security Could Be RIM’s Ace in the Hole. And I still believe that.

There is little doubt that at this point RIM is in dire straits, and it’s hard to imagine it picking up the pieces and coming back, but stranger things have happened, and at least they can play the security card, and hope for the best.

Photo by istolethetv on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.

April 30, 2012  10:46 AM

Microsoft Could Be Trying to Buy Its Way Into Consumer Tablet Market

Posted by: Ron Miller
Android, Apple, comscore, Google, iPad, Microsoft, mobile, tablet, tablets

Last week comScore released its Android tablet market share scorecard and Kindle Fire was at the top of the heap, surging in just three months to take more than half of the Android market share.

Microsoft, perhaps fearing that the tablet market is getting away from them, might have bought its way into the consumer market today by buying a share of the Barnes and Noble Nook.

Microsoft, perhaps fearing that the tablet market is getting away from them, might have bought its way into the consumer market today by buying a share of the Barnes and Noble Nook.

And the Android tablet market just got a lot more interesting today, because as you might have heard by now, Microsoft invested a hefty $300 million in Nook today. This is delicious on so many levels it’s so hard to know where to begin.

First of all, in case you didn’t realize, Nook is an Android tablet. That’s right underneath that e-Ink screen beats the heart of a Google Android operating system (even though most users won’t ever know or care). In fact, you can even hack it if you were so inclined. But the fact that it’s running *Google’s* OS and Microsoft just invested $300 million of its money, well it’s hard not to love that.

If that’s not enough to whet your appetite consider that Microsoft had filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Barnes and Noble last year. With the influx of cash, of course, they have kissed and made up and all is forgiven and forgotten. The lawsuit is moot. How convenient — a bushel of cash and you make your legal troubles disappear. B&N executives must be doing a happy dance all over the C-Suite this morning.

Of course with large cash infusions comes the inevitable quid-pro-quo and for B&N they have to develop tools for the upcoming Windows tablets. There is also speculation already that a future version of the Nook Color could be running Windows 8? Who knows?

Last I checked it didn’t cost B&N anything to use Android. It probably would require a complete overhaul of the hardware to make it compatible with Windows 8, but Microsoft probably didn’t invest that kind of money for nothing, and it might want a slice of the market that right now is dominated by Apple, while the minuscule share of Android tablet marketshare is dominated by Amazon’s Kindle Fire.

So Microsoft gets to take on all kinds of enemies for a few hundred million dollars. It take on the hated Apple, the dreaded Google and the latest of enemies, the frightening Amazon content juggernaut and its disgustingly cheap little content-serving device, the Kindle Fire.

For now though, in the tablet market, its Apple’s world and everyone else is just on the outside looking in. In the Android market, however, in just a few months, the Kindle Fire has grabbed an astonishing 54.4 percent of market share for the February 11th figures, up from 29.4 percent on December 11th. The next closest competitor, the Samsung Galaxy Tabs had 23.8 percent on December 11th and slipped to 15.4 percent in the latest numbers from February 11th.

Perhaps that’s why Microsoft felt compelled to use its substantial cash holdings to put its own stake in the game. Windows tablets are going to face a tough market dominated by Apple on one side and increasingly by Kindle Fire in the Android marketplace, Perhaps, by investing in the Nook, Microsoft hopes to rock the boat a bit and gets its own share of the consumer tablet market.

It’s low-risk strategy that at least provides a starting point for an OS that’s going to be 3 years late to market — and it is going to need to do something dramatic to get consumer’s attention.

Note: I sent an email to comScore press relations asking for clarification on the Nook market share numbers — if they were excluded because they didn’t fall within comScore’s definition of the tablet market or because they didn’t register enough market share. I did not receive a response by the time I published this, but I will update the story if I hear back.

Image courtesy of Microsoft Press.

April 27, 2012  7:41 AM

Salesforce hires Kundra and builds social government cloud

Posted by: Ron Miller
Cloud, government, social, Vivek Kundra

You have to give credit to those folks at They’re always thinking ahead and their latest moves involve hiring former US CIO Vivek Kundra back in January and endowing him with the title of VP of emerging markets. Seems his first project is one a familar one for Kundra, for governments.

According to a New York Times article, the new site is designed to help governments on all levels — local, state and federal — adopt mobile and social technologies to interact with citizens in a more efficient and cost-effective manner. This is hardly surprising since one of Kundra’s big initiatives as US CIO was to push agencies to adopt cloud computing and to consolidate the many federal government data centers in order to reduce the overall cost of running the Federal IT infrastucture.

Vivek Kundra's first project as a vp at is a social site designed specifically for governments.

Vivek Kundra's first project as a VP is a new cloud-based site designed to simply citizen interactions with governments

What makes this specifically geared for government, separate from the regular site, is that it’s a dedicated site and it adheres to the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) requirements.

The product is designed to provide ways to let citizens interact more easily with government. This type of open government initiative was also a big part of the Obama administration’s technology plans and the Salesforce approach is to provide tools specifically for this purpose in an app-store style environment they are calling the AppExchange for government.

In addition, as with the regular Salesforce product, there is a partner program called the Salesforce Government Partner Accelerator Program, which according to a company press release, claims will train 1000 integrators by the end of this year to help governments build specific apps on top of the Salesforce government platform.

We’ll see if that’s overly optimistic or not, but the idea is a sound one and backed by someone in Kundra who obviously has a reputation for transforming government operations.

Kundra, who has been critical of the way governments purchases IT assets in the past, said in a statement, this is a way to offer these types of services in much more cost-effective and efficient way.

“The bureaucracy of legacy government IT is preventing agencies from embracing innovative technologies that deliver immediate value,” he said. He added, “We must end the era where government spends millions of dollars and waits years for IT projects that never work.” He believes that projects like this one from his new employer can provide more innovative solutions that help citizens get the services they need more efficiently and cheaply than with traditional IT solutions.

Among the apps that will be offered are Basicgov, a tool for letting government entities manage activities like permitting and inspections, while giving citizens an online portal where they can apply for these kinds of activities.

The tools are scheduled to be up and running by the third quarter this year. And while this is just one possible solution for governments to interact more productively with their constituents, it is a step towards encouraging open and innovative government solutions — and I expect we will see other cloud vendors follow suit.

April 20, 2012  9:55 AM

Greenpeace Gives Apple’s iCloud Data Center Low Grades, But is it Fair?

Posted by: Ron Miller
Apple, Cloud, Data Centers, Green Computing, iCloud

This week Greenpeace came out with a report highly critical of  the energy requirements of Apple’s Maiden, North Carolina data center. The report claimed that Apple was generating most of its energy from a coal-generated plant run by near-by Duke Energy.

Greenpeace released a report this week on the environmental impact of cloud computing, and it gave Apple very poor grades, but it's not clear if it was being entirely fair.

Greenpeace gave Apple poor grades in its report on the environmental impact of cloud computing, but it's not clear if it was being entirely fair.

You can view the report (pdf) yourself along with this video, but one thing is clear, Greenpeace paints an ugly picture of Apple’s energy choices claiming that by seating the North Carolina site in such close proximity to a coal burning plant, it was showing its lack of commitment to clean energy.

Apple’s response, according a story on Wired, was that Greenpeace got its facts wrong and that Apple will draw 60 percent of its power from renewable energy when the plant’s construction is complete.

Quoting the Wired article, “When the Maiden complex is completed, it will have biogas fuel-cell plant and a massive solar array that will collectively generate 12 megawatts of energy, or 60 percent of the data center’s requirements.”

It added that the new data center under construction in Prineville, Oregon will generate 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources.

Greenpeace was also critical of Apple’s transparency on the matter giving it a letter grade of F on transparency, but when was the last time Apple was transparent about anything it does? And that could be part of the problem.

Since Apple is so closed about how it operates its business, it’s hard to separate truth from fiction in cases like this, but Data Center Knowledge did try to get to the bottom of the numbers, which seem wildly skewed based on Apple’s claims. It appears according to the Data Center Knowledge piece that Greenpeace might have made some incorrect assumptions (although again it’s hard to parse who’s right and wrong here) — but the article is highly critical of Greenpeace’s methodology saying:

“An obvious gap in that logic is that it doesn’t account for Apple’s investment in the solar array and fuel cell technology being built to support the iDataCenter – costs that are atypical for data center construction and not included in comparative metrics,” the article stated.

Greenpeace it turns out used the overall cost of the data center ($1 billion) in its formula to determine Apple’s energy requirements, but it doesn’t appear to have factored in the cost of building those renewable energy sources as part of its figures. If that is indeed the case, Greenpeace is penalizing Apple unfairly.

I will state that I’m definitely not a numbers guy, but as an Apple products user, and someone who has begun using iCloud, I am concerned about how Apple will generate energy at its various data centers — and the overall impact on the environment that is likely to have.

A few years ago I wrote an article for EContent about efforts by publishers to reduce their environmental impact. I went into the article with the assumption that by not printing, it was obviously going to be more environmentally friendly when you don’t have to cut trees, run printing presses, and distribute the print matter; but what I learned was it depended a great deal on the proximity of the data center to its primary energy source. If that data center was run primarily on coal (as Greenpeace claims Apple’s is), then it might not be greener after all.

That’s why it’s so important to get these numbers right. If Apple is burning coal, with its cash stash, it can clearly afford to be greener, but if Greenpeace has its numbers wrong, then it’s doing Apple a great disservice. The trouble is it’s hard to figure out what’s right here.

Photo by zoetnet on Flickr. Used Under Creative Commons License.

April 18, 2012  4:01 PM

Lumia 900 Didn’t Get Special Treatment at my AT&T Store

Posted by: Ron Miller
AT&T Store, Lumia 900, Microsoft, mobile, Nokia, smart phones, Windows Phone 7

As I wrote in a post last month, AT&T was purportedly going all out with the Nokia Lumia 900 phone, but when I went shopping for a cell phone last weekend, I didn’t see any evidence of it in my local AT&T Store.

On a recent trip to my local AT&T Store, I found no evidence that AT&T was giving the Nokia phone any special treatment.

On a recent trip to my local AT&T Store, I found no evidence that AT&T was giving the Nokia phone any special treatment.

According to reports ahead of the phone’s release earlier this month, AT&T was going to make the Lumia 900 its centerpiece phone. There were going to commercials galore (and I’ve seen a few). The stores would feature the phones. The sales people would trained to offer the Lumia 900 phone and there would be posters in the store featuring the phone.

Then, last week I read Roger Cheng’s and Marguerite Reardon’s article on CNET in which they walked into several AT&T stores in Manhattan posing as a first-time smart phone buyer, and were surprised to find that sales people weren’t pushing the Lumia 900  as they expected. Instead, they recommended the iPhone.

I thought that was a pretty interesting tale, so I decided to try it myself at my own local AT&T store. This wasn’t purely for research purposes though. My wife’s iPhone 3G was pretty much hosed and she needed a new phone. When we walked into the store, I noted a smallish poster at the back of the store featuring the Lumia 900, but nothing like the huge posters of the iPhone I recalled seeing in the center of the store in the past.

There was no special display either. Again, in past visits, the iPhone had its own display area where it sat royally in the center of the store. There was no such treatment of the Lumia 900. It was tucked in between the iPhones, Blackberries and the Android phones. No special handling.

Then the salesperson came over. He pulled out his phone, which was an Android, not a Lumia 900. When we expressed some interest in the Lumia 900, he didn’t say much. When I told him I thought it was nice, but lacked apps, he agreed with me. To be honest, he didn’t push any phone (which is to his credit I think), but if he was told push the Nokia offering, he didn’t do it.

Later that day, we dropped by Best Buy where I’ve found the mobile sales people are usually knowledgeable. So I chatted up the sales person on duty about the Lumia 900. He didn’t love it, but he was rooting for it because he didn’t like Android and he was sick of the iPhone. He wanted someone, anyone to come up with a reasonable alternative, but he wasn’t ready to commit to the Lumia 900.

I know this wasn’t exactly a scientific test, and I know the press is reporting that the Lumia 900 appears to be selling well and that it was even number one on Amazon for the first week it went on sale, but if AT&T was supposed to be pushing this phone, it doesn’t seem as though it was.

Whatever you think of the phone, however, it appears that at least in my local store (and the ones Cheng and Reardon visited in New York City), AT&T staff wasn’t pushing the phone at all. Now this could be an anomaly or it could be that AT&T doesn’t care quite as much about the success of the Lumia as pre-release hype might have suggested.

What’s your experience? Leave a comment and let me know.

Photo by IntelFreePress on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.

April 12, 2012  12:27 PM

Google’s Folly: Selling its own devices…again

Posted by: Ron Miller
Android, Google, mobile, tablets

It’s been said those who have not learned from history are doomed to repeat it. Perhaps that explains why Google — which failed spectacularly at selling Google branded phones online — has now decided…wait for it…to sell Google branded tablets online. Clearly it worked so well for them the first time.

In spite of its failed attempt at online retail with the Nexus One in 2010, Google wants to try selling Android tablets.

In spite of its failed attempt at online retail with the Nexus One in 2010, Google wants to try selling Android tablets.

Just so you don’t think that I’m looking at Google’s retail foray through the clear vision of the rear-view mirror, consider the blog post I wrote on Daniweb called Google Launches Boneheaded Retail Strategy at the time they announced the online store. And I didn’t stop with juicy adjectives like boneheaded, I called it misguided, a mistake and a bad idea. You get the idea.

That’s because Google is not a retailer, it’s a search engine. Surely it dabbles in other cloud services as well, but its core product is Google Search. It knows how to sell ads. When it comes to retail selling of consumer electronics? Not so much.

And it only took for 5 months before they shut it down. Computerworld attributed the closure to sagging sales and poor customer service. That happens when a company knows nothing about retail.

So let’s zoom ahead to 2012. Last month the WSJ reported Google was taking the plunge back into retail (which I would link to if WSJ didn’t insist on putting the news behind their paywall). Obviously, the abject failure of the first attempt at retail didn’t deter Google from trying again.

But Ryan Whitwam writing on ExtremeTech thinks it has a shot. He argues that while the Android phones were selling quite well when Google tried to get involved, the Android tablets have failed to gain any traction (Kindle Fire notwithstanding, I guess). What’s more, it doesn’t require a phone contract because most buyers are thinking WiFi. Fair enough, he’s with me so far.

Whitwam thinks Google Play fits into this strategy, and it could be that Google will try to go the Kindle Fire route — not making very much  money on the device and selling content instead. Great strategy, except that Google hasn’t proven itself to be a content selling company to any extent — it’s certainly no Amazon in this regard, that’s for certain.

Frankly, I’m not feeling it because once again Google  is treading into unfamiliar territory. Companies tend to fail when they go outside their comfort zone (Apple’s foray into retail stores being a notable exception). My feeling is Google doesn’t know much more than it did the first time about retail. It’s just a desperate attempt to jump-start the anemic Android tablet market.

Perhaps I’m wrong (it’s happened more than once), but if Google isn’t absolutely prepared this time, it should learn from its earlier retailing misadventure and stick to search and Android and software –stuff they understand, and for goodness sakes, stay away from trying to sell consumer electronics online.

Photo by Salim Virji on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons Share Alike license.

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