As is traditional, at the beginning of the year I get out my crystal ball, transform myself into Mystic Rafe and peer into the year ahead...
But first let's take a quick look at 2007's predictions. As usual, some were reasonably accurate while some were... less accurate. I was broadly correct on the number of devices shipped, the rise of GPS, predicting the first signs of wider consumption of user generated video, a better year for UIQ (though I was optimistic about device numbers), OS and UI updates and some general ecosystem predictions.
The problem was not so much what I got wrong (Symbian ownership), but what I missed out - no mention of Apple's entry into the market (it's been over-hyped, but is still important) or Google's for that matter. Nor did I really predict Nokia's Ovi platform - I was suprised that a relatively coherent (at least at the conceptual level) software and services platform emerged so quickly. Perhaps I can excuse myself by saying that the missed areas were largely hot air in 2007, and that their true impact (yes, even Apple's entry) will not be felt until 2008 and beyond.
And so to 2008 and the year ahead... [FX: dry ice and swirly ambient music]
- As in other years, Symbian will release a new version (OS 9.6) with an emphasis on modularisation and the usual support for new technologies and performance and resource usage improvements. While I do not expect license fee changes this year, I do anticipate that Symbian will underline total cost of usage merits in the face of increasing competition from Linux based platforms.
- Symbian OS device shipments will be around 100 million in 2008, taking cumulative smartphone shipments to around 290 million.
- Symbian's overall market share will inevitably fall in 2008 (arguably from 70%, depending on how you define 'smartphone'). Symbian will start facing competition in the mid tier in 2008 from Linux and in the high tier from Apple and Windows Mobile. However, it will be well into 2009 before a truly open Linux platform (i.e. including the addition of native 3rd party applications by the user) starts to gain traction - Google's Android is a likely player here as is Motorola's MAGX. You'll see plenty of headlines announcing that platform 'x' is the fastest growing, but that will be in percentage terms. Despite this, remember that Symbian will continue to grow fastest in terms of numbers of devices.
- Expect to see a renewed family relationship among Symbian's various UIs as the competition from outside hots up. Some small initiatives such as the rolling back of Open C into Symbian more generally will suggest this, but vested interests may make wider declarations of mutual love little more than hot air.
- MOAP on Symbian had a very strong year in 2007 with a significant increase in market share. I would expect market share to hold steady this year and device shipments to grow slowly. Japan has been one of Symbian's lesser known success stories and I don't expect this to change in 2008. Windows Mobile and Apple are both expected to get more traction in Japan, but they will be producing relatively specialist devices whereas NTT DoCoMo's MOAP devices (Symbian/Linux) remain the mainstream mainstay.
Nokia and S60
- S60 Touch devices will debut in 2008, but this will be towards the end of the year. For the first half of the year, standard devices (mainly running S60 3rd Edition Feature Pack 2) will continue to dominate. Such devices will also provide the majority of sales for S60 for the foreseeable future, even if the Touch devices attract more attention. While the first S60 Touch device will draw a lot of attention, it may be the second or third device that truly shows potential.
- There will be plenty more Nseries devices released during 2008. Nokia will continue to push specifications at the top end, with an upgrade in screen resolution (to VGA?) seemingly inevitable at some point in the year. However, the upward specification spiral will slow as it's a tertiary focus. Primary is the introduction of the new software platforms (S60 Touch and S60 3.2) and associated technologies such as touch and sensor components. Secondary will be moving some of the existing technology down the portfolio. Expect to see some of 2007’s cutting edge technology (GPS, high performance cameras, accelerometers) become more common place in cheaper handsets in 2008.
- Ovi, which at least initially goes hand in hand with Nseries, will be a very important part of Nokia’s activities in 2008. A more coherent set of software and services and the associated message will emerge as the PC and web components of Ovi become available. Success or failure will not be gained in 2008, but a clearer vision of how Nokia’s vision of openness will work will be necessary if Ovi is to gain the traction to reach its full potential.
- Nokia Maps will continue to develop, with greater integration with other applications (e.g. Contacts) and improved (premium) travel guides and associated products. With the availability of the mapping framework in S60 3.2, a range of applications using the mapping data of Nokia Maps (similar to Google Maps mashups) will become available and the first stages of an open mapping/geographic information platform common to S60 devices will become more apparent.
- N-Gage will launch quietly and initial activity may be low with little enthuiasm from the traditional gaming media, but gradual grass roots growth (thanks to the N-Gage icon shipping on all new devices) point towards a more encouraging second half on 2008.
- Nokia Music will roll out stores in further countries in Europe and Asia, but the US will have to wait until the fall. Comes with Music will make a big impact when it launches, especially as other labels will have come onboard. Unlimited free music with your Nseries phone is sure to be one of the most compelling marketing messages of the year in terms of mass market success. Comes with Music will initially be available on one music centric phone, but will spread to others in the later stages of the year.
- We can expect to see new Eseries devices in the first half of the year, most likely at 3GSM. As the E51 was the update for the E50, it seems likely that there will be updates for the E61i and the E65 and their styling will follow that of the E90 and E51. A successor or sister device for the E90 may put in an appearance in the second half of the year, but this could slip to 2009.
- We will see several new (to Nokia) form factors in 2008 as well as further refinements of some of Nokia's existing device form factors. Touch is clearly one area where this will apply, but also expect to see more devices with full keyboards.
- For developers there will an emphasis on the run-time and other tools that widen the developer base: Open C, WRT, Flash Lite. Overall consumer awareness will be low as the phones are run-time agnostic, although there may be some activity around widgets. The actual effect will be relatively low in 2008 as the installed user base of such technologies will take time to develop. Also expect too see a big push on S60 Touch from a developer's perspective when it (S60 5th Edition) is officially unveiled at 3GSM.
- Samsung’s push into S60 will continue and we will see at least some of the devices announced at the Symbian Smartphone Show go on sale. Samsung will also provide competition to Nokia in the S60 Touch arena, but an end of year timeline may be a little tight.
- S60 may pick up another couple of phones from other licensees (LG, Lenovo) or gain another licensee as manufacturers realize there is a market gap for non-Nokia S60 devices, as more operators choose S60 as a standard platform. Nokia will continue to dominate in sales terms, but S60 will be keen to play up any multi-manufacturer credentials it can lay its hands on.
UIQ, Sony Ericsson and Motorola
- I expect UIQ Technology to start showing the results of the additional investment that was made available to it as a result of last years acquisition by Sony Ericsson (and subsequent buy-in by Motorola). It seems likely that new versions of the UIQ software platform will be made available. A significant advance is the emergence of a finger (touch) focussed version of the UIQ UI in addition to the stylus and non-touch driven versions. UIQ Technology has been working in the touch space for a long time and I expect to see at least a couple of innovations emerge in the new versions of the platform (e.g. phone unlock process driven by drawing a particular symbol on the screen).
- Sony Ericsson has not used UIQ in the same way Nokia has used S60. Although I've now said this for several years in a row I do expect Sony Ericsson to start to move towards using UIQ more extensively in its portfolio. In terms of actual devices, this may not happen this year, but there will be several attention grabbing high end UIQ phones. The much rumored next generation P series will make an appearance with the usual boundary-pushing specifications. There'll also be new UIQ-powered Walkman devices and the first UIQ-powered Cybershot branded device.
- Sony Ericsson will launch its own set of software and services. Notionally these will be a competitor for Nokia's Ovi platform but are unlikely to have such a broad scope. Instead Sony Ericsson is likely to play to its strengths in the music markets and make the services available across a broad range of its portfolio, perhaps suggesting that the service element will be stronger than the (UIQ) software element.
- The true nature of Motorola's involvement in UIQ is open to debate (in terms of their strategic approach to software platforms), but 2008 will see several UIQ devices from Motorola. One of these will be a high end multimedia phone (GPS and multi-megapixel camera), aimed at providing Nokia's Nseries with competition. The hardware should measure up for the most part, but the surrounding package (software and services) and lack of platform history may prove a problem. You can also expect to see a few other models too starting with a Z8 upgrade, the Z10 (as we went live with this article, the Z10 was officially revealed at CES).
- UIQ and its licensees have managed to pull off quite a few surprises over the last year and I think we might see another one this year. Perhaps we will see a new licensee or another company taking a shareholding?
- The mobile web, more properly the web on mobile, will enjoy rapid expansion. 2008 will see wider real awareness of the ability to access the web from a mobile phone, although mass market take up will take a little longer and will vary greatly from market to market. However the reality may not meet expectations as the idea of what is a good web on mobile experience continues to evolve. But what we will see is more companies offer mobile versions of their site and expanded use of transcoders for those sites which do not have specific mobile versions. Look to widgets (from Nokia and others such as Opera) to reinforce the message of the web as an application platform on mobile.
- While open software platform phones are now truly mainstream, this does not have the implications that were predicted a decade ago. Typical users will not be installing multiple applications and services themselves. Instead they will rely on out of the box solutions and the software and services that come with the phone. As such, for the time being, open software platforms will remain far more important to manufacturers and operators who can use them to bring additional software and services to market quicker and at a lower cost. The ability for users to install additional services and software themselves is important, but usability and, more importantly, discovery problems will continue to plague this area in 2008.
- Following on from the above point, the ability to add additional functionality to a device with minimal user interaction will receive new attention. Technologies and areas to watch include FOTA (firmware over the air) updates from operators, increased usage of services via the Internet (e.g. portals or doorways such as the Ovi web site enabling additional links to services after a device has shipped), and updates triggered within applications (e.g. updating search providers in Nokia Search).