All posts by lgalli

“Smartphones”: market share & usage data

After every quartery release industry analysts, experts and all comment on the latest market share data, based on sales in that timeframe — something a bit misleading if you think about the expression “market share”: in fact, these numbers does not tell much about the actual distribution (i.e. platform share in a given period: look e.g. at the market share of Symbian, RIM and iOS published alongside this FT piece on Nokia CEO troubles, in which you have Symbian declining from over 60% in 2006/2007 to slightly above 40% in 2010, RIM moving from less than 10% in 2006 to 20% in 2010 and Apple iOS raising to something like 15% after the 2009 slightly higher peak; sorry for not being precise but the chart is very small… precious exact figures are missing ofc).

Update: via @tomiahonen I just found a Reuters infographics, Strategy Analytics data, that shows the general dynamic very well.

This is not to say that this information is not important: of course it is, 100%, for a number of obvious reaasons. But there is big but here in my opinion: if we want to look at the “user” side of the coin (end-user or business), then discussing smartphones market share makes sense as long as they are accompanied by some data on the actual usage of the specific capabilities that make them different (supposedly “smart”) when compared to “dumb” phones: i.e. online applications usage, be they related to Web app/mobile sites or native apps. Even in this case, we would still be at a very high level, unless we discuss about some sort of activity or product/service category: e.g. search, games, social networks etc.

To make the point clearer, look e.g. at the chart below, taken from a post on a recent Pew survey:

In other words: we might well have a relatively small number of iPhones around, but if iPhone users (or Android users, or whatever) are those mostly actively browsing the mobile Web, using and spending on mobile apps, searching and possibly clicking on those paid search ads etc. then this is what matters most from a business and marketing perspective.

Now, data on mobile products/services usage vis-à-vis actual smartphone penetration divided by platform do not seem easily available, at least in the public domain — or am I wrong?

Update (27-7-2010): cf. e.g. these conclusions from a Yankee Group report (Why iPhone matter; premium access only, the following quotation is from the public executive summary): Two-thirds of iPhone owners use the mobile Web daily … Plus, iPhone owners download more apps, are more interested in mobile transactions and conduct more mobile e-commerce than users of other [smartphone platforms I guess — it’s truncated right there!]

PS: I put the quotation marks on smartphones in the post title for the same reason: Wikipedia tells that a smartphone “allows the user to install and run more advanced applications based on a specific platform” and then that they “run complete operating system software providing a platform for application developers”. Still you can use a smartphone pretty much in the same way of a dumb phone, as perhaps one went for it for other reasons than the possibility to use apps, the mobile Web and the likes. In short, couldn’t be this one the case for so many Nokia smartphones around? (especially in Europe) Smartphones are not created equal…

In memoriam: William Mitchell

William Mitchell, MIT dean and professor, architect, urbanist and theorist, widely regarded as one of the most prominent thinker on “smart cities”, has passed away; see here the official MIT obituary.

William Mitchell
Photo Webb Chappel from MIT obituary page

Right now a Twitter search shows a flow of related messages. My personal impression is that Mitchell is being remembered by a really diverse big bunch of people, ranging from fellow specialists to an original crowd of professionals, scholars and students of different disciplines, all sharing the appreciation for his work and intuitions. It’s not something that I can prove with the numbers, but I feel it’s quite right. And I think it’s a mark of oustanding intellectual achievements.

Update: Adam Greenfield, author of Everyware, now at Nokia, has a short but intense post in memory of Mitchell: “Bill’s optimism about technology and cities was infectious, even if (like me) you thought of yourself as the kind of person who’d been inoculated by experience against anything as uncritical as everything implied by that word.” There is an upcoming book from Adam on technology, the city and “networked urbanism” titled “The City Is Here For You To Use” (see more on Speedbird, his blog).

I first heard about Mitchell quite late; it was end of 2004 or beginning of 2005. I was attending the first public meetings of what then became the network of Living Labs, a mixed formal and informal coalition of various organizations engaged with open innovation (see the site of ENOLL, European Network of Living Labs). In that context, Mitchell was credited as the one that originally forged the concept at MIT Media Lab. I remember especially references made by Veli Pekka Niitamo (Nokia, CKIR Helsinki) and architect/professor Jarmo Suominen. See e.g. this definition reported in a presentation given in Budapest by Niitamo (I can’t publish it right away as it reports a copyright notice; likely the document has been just shared between meeting participants — can’t remember exactly):

[The Living Lab idea] [O]riginates from the MIT, Boston, Prof Wiliiam Mitchell, MediaLab and School of Architecture and city planning. ‘Living Labs as a research methodology for sensing, prototyping, validating and refining complex solutions in multiple and evolving real life contexts’.

I found the idea quite fascinating. The “living lab” image was very powerful, if anything. Perhaps it might appear as nothing big when one considers the amount of books and scholarly work produced by Mitchell, but I think that these concrete imagery is badly needed in the research and innovation discourse. It helps a lot in communicating the vision, it creates the opportunity for more articulate conversations.

At that time I also started following a bit the Living Labs community, and I tried to kick-start an interest group in Milan, but without much success (see the archived page); anyway, I haven’t been much involved in the community as such since then, even though I managed to keep some contacts alive.

Photo source:

Latest “Internet trends” from Mary Meeker

Mobile business and online advertising enthusiasts have welcomed this latest deck from Mary Meeker, perhaps the most famous Wall Street Internet analyst to date (see the Wikipedia bio). I noticed it on the blog of London-based mobile agency Addictive (their weekly Mobile Fix is also worth reading).

The presentation has been given at a major industry event in New York just a couple of days ago. I read somewhere that Meeker has been often credited with an outstanding capability to capture big trends early on. So, her takes on the “unprecedented early stage growth” of the mobile Internet are of particular interest for all of those concerned with mobile things.

Meeker co-authored a seminal report on then emergent Internet industry more than 10 years ago — “The Internet report”. There is a digital version available from the Morgan Stanley web site but it comes also in book form from Amazon. The picture below is from KPCB site.

Mary Meeker portrait
Mary Meeker (pic from KPCB site:

Apps are suburbia, the Web is downtown (or Chinatown)

Chinatown by Atomische – Tom Giebel 2006 Creative Commons

The analogy is by Virginia Heffernan, television critic and columnist for “The Medium” at the New York Times — it is included in “The Medium” dated online 17 May, but it appeared the day before in the Sunday supplement. I think the article title is somewhat misleading: The death of the Open Web; well, to me she does not argue very much about the actual or desirable death of the “open Web”, but rather she contrasts the differences between the more closed enviroment of the App store, the iPhone, the iPad etc. on one side and the more open, or totally open Web. But I had better report here the synthesis of Leo Laporte and Jim Louderback, from which I learned of this article; it’s clear and funny (as always with Leo Laporte’s TWiT):

Jim Louderback It’s almost like we are seeing 1990 played out again with the Mac and the Windows, or 1984, or whatever.

Leo Laporte Well it come down to – do you read Virginia Heffernan’s article in last Sunday’s New York Times where she said apps are the suburbia of the Internet. She said the free and open worldwide web is essentially like downtown where anything goes, there’s ads, there’s scummy people…

Jim Louderback Chinatown…

Leo Laporte It’s dangerous, it’s Chinatown Jake.

Jim Louderback Forget it.

Leo Laporte Forget it. And she said, but apps have become the suburbia, the place that you go…

Jim Louderback It’s a strip mall.

Leo Laporte It’s a little nicer, it’s a little cleaner, there’s – and so – but it has the same problem where if you have everybody leaving the city, the city goes to hell, you stuck with these apps and I think this is the problem. I think we are seeing a fight now between open and closed. Open is always messy, it’s dirty, it’s not – it’s got little issues with the UI. But closed is dangerous in the long run, that’s what I would submit.

Jim Louderback Yeah, I can see that. I can see a good parallel there of Apple’s app store and Android’s app store for that matter being like the strip mall, where you get individualized…

Leo Laporte You get porn.

Jim Louderback …sanitized choices…

Leo Laporte Right.

Jim Louderback …that are very easy to get to, get on a [indiscernible] (43:50).

Leo Laporte Yes, yes, yes. But Apple’s especially, not so much Android’s.

Jim Louderback But you are not going to be able to find the chalk that gets rid of the ants or the weird ethnic food or…

Leo Laporte Right.

Jim Louderback …any of the cool stuff.

The (wonderful) TWiT 250 transcript is from Podsinprint

I recommend the reading of the NYT piece, not just for the point under discussion but really for the analogy as such. I think we need more of this to make sense of what’s happening. Concrete images, communicative and inspiring.

Then, the idea of apps as suburbia might be more or less appropriate, but it certainly conveys some values or desires and expectations of people living in suburbia. This is the most interesting part, as it leads to a discussion about culture and technology. Then one might consider that “suburbia” are not the same all over the world…

PS the hint on “porn” in the transcript might be not very clear– shortly after this part Laporte and friends went on with an amusing exchange on porn on iPhone etc. — but it was too long to be included here… play TWiT if you are curious about it (I also recommend TWiT in general; I wonder sometimes how many listeners they have here in Europe).

Design research “against needs”

What we need from research is more than description, and especially, more than a list of “needs,” explicit or implicit, met or unmet.

This is from Rick Robinson‘s talk at IIT Design Research Conference 2010, very recently made available online as a video on Vimeo. I listened to it one first time while writing but I will strive to go for it a second time with more attention.

Among other things, Robinson argues against the point made by Donald Norman in a much debated post and following article on Interactions, in which he said that ethnography-inspired design research quest for “unmet needs” can not provide a basis for breakthrough innovations, which are rather a result of technology invention (Norman added also that still design research has a key role in improving innovative products, making them usable and enjoyable).

One of the key points of Robinson is that actually “needs”, and hence uncovering “unmet needs” is not or it shouldn’t be the main business of design researchers; instead, they should focus on the values that inform design decisions.

Now, it is interesting to note that at the end of the talk Norman himself stood up and expressed his praise for Robinson, saying that he was not in agreement 🙂 about their disagreement (and asking for one of the t-shirts exhibited by Robinson, namely the one with the “against needs” slogan).

IIT Design Research Conference 2010 on Vimeo via Putting People First.

Android surge vs. iPhone repeats Windows vs. Apple pattern

This is not the blurb of some Google enthusiast or Apple hater but the reasoning of Fabrizio Capobianco, the CEO of Funambol and a leading voice in the industry, especially when it comes to mobile and open source. See the original post (published about one week ago. 9th of November 2013 update: failed to open page…) for the complete commentary on the NPD data on US 2010 Q1 sales reported below (again, copypasted from Fabrizio’s blog 9th of Nov. 2013 update: same data and image now taken from this post at Android and Me blog by Taylor Wimberly).

smartphone operating system unit share trend circa 2010

In short, the parallel drawn by Fabrizio is about the contrast between better but closed operating systems (the ones from Apple) on one side and not vertically integrated / somewhat open alternatives on the other side (Windows in the past for the PC, now Android for mobile — yesss, not open source on the MS side 😉 The end result is that Apple’s share in the PC market never reached high marks.

Any pattern recognition? I bet. That’s the PC business. One Apple operating system which was closed, and one Microsoft operating system that hardware manufacturer could adopt and ship at “low” cost (for the time). Apple was better and now they have 4% of the PC OS market share.

via Mobile Open Source

Two personal takes:

1, We all have heard the argument that you can run a very successful company with a small share of the market; but it can be counter-argued that the perspective of the analysis above is not focused on a single corporation as such, but on general market dynamics, which at some point in the future could indeed impact the performance of any company in the arena.

2, I know that I am mixing (real 😉 apples and pears, but the surprising NPD data are a striking confirmation of the expectations about future mobile OS diffusion expressed by the respondents to the RTM survey on which I blogged about a while ago (it was: Android first, iPhone second, but now it looks like it could be a very distant second).

Update: I noticed that Apple has publicly reacted to the NPD data claiming that “this is a very limited report on 150,000 U.S. consumers responding to an online survey”, as reported by Reuters and others. Furthermore, Apple reference to another report by IDC on global market sales for mobile vendors in 2010 Q1 highlights also how big is the difference for Nokia penetration in the US vs. the global markets. BTW, perhaps analysts shoud measure (OS) platforms and device vendors together (terminology discussions on “smartphone” vs. “mobile converged devices” might be interesting but they are not very practical).

Digital TV, audience, users and people

Having been invited to give a talk about “challenges and opportunities” of digital terrestrial TV — this month in Italy many regions will start the switch-over — I tried to draw some reflections on expressions like “audience”, “users” and “people”. I think they bring many assumptions that often go unquestioned. “Audience” is TV and media jargon, “users” are those of ICT, HCI and user research, and I guess “people” are the real individuals behind the previous categories. One great reference in this respect I think is the 2009 paper on “non use” by Satchell and Dourish (see here the PDF from Dourish publications page); some more comments on the local perspective in the Italian version of this post (click Italiano on top right).

Now, the presentation was mostly a series of visuals, so there is not much sense in sharing it here. But see below the video with which I managed to entertain the conference audience 😉 — It is a 2008 viral produced by a then successful FOX talkshow; the intent was to show how “insanely difficult” had been the switch from analog to digital TV. The conference has been held in Trento, under the auspices of the Autonomous Province of Trento and the public agency Trentino In Rete, in cooperation with Create-Net (I have already worked with them).

Sketching mobile application concepts on paper

Sometimes I am faced with a little bit of wonder or surprise when I suggest to sketch application concepts on paper — even from expert professionals. So the video below comes handy; I just found it by chance on Pixelthread‘s blog, a London agency, and the video itself is from Adaptive Path.

PS: students often hear me talking about the new meaning of sketching in the digital/ubicomp realm, a discourse largely drawn on the work of Bill Buxton; still, it’s nice to see here something in the more literal sense (of course, sketching as drawing is also part of the analysis of Buxton).

“Which [mobile] operating system does your future device run?” (RTM survey results)

RTM-Remember the Milk has published the results of their Mobile Survey, addressed to the RTM users’ base. With 3.300 respondents recruited only through RTM and no incentives I think that this is an original and very interesting piece of research even beyond the scope of mobile RTM evolution (I joined the survey too as an RTM pro (!) user).

See here the table concerning the question cited in the post title, one of general interest.

table about RTM users responses about their expectations on OS

A previous question on the mobile OS currently in use has Apple first and Google second. So, the very short brutal synthesis about mobile OS evolution could be:

  • iPhone first and Android second, the rest is just fragmentation;
  • then, Android first and iPhone second, same as above, that’s it.

Or is this oversimplification?

He can’t circle his programs in red pen [on the EPG]

Photo credit: Finding Love, Then by jonesing1 CC License

My Dad stopped getting his major city daily when they shitcanned the TV guide. He’s 87. I tried to explain the guide on TV. But he can’t circle his programs in red pen on it so it’s useless to him.

This comment from TroisFilles is one of the nicest from a Gawker piece on the continuous decline in magazine sales in the United States (found via Vanz feed). I think it’s remarkable because this 87 gentleman has a very good point in being dissastified with the EPG — even if I suspect that most of us would be tempted to delegate the issue to specialists of “technology for the elderly”…  Marking preferred programs with a red circle is certainly practical; I bet that whatever bookmarking feature is offered on an EPG, it can’t match the traditional pen ease of use and immediacy. But having an EPG where people can mark programs making e.g. a circle with their finger does not look like science fiction, right? Repeat with me: TV, EPG and STB needs massive doses of interaction design. (PS: this should be of concern to magazine publishers as well, unless they have already surrendered to the destiny of being reduced to pure content providers).