5G has already yielded 12 phones and five chipset vendors – GSA

The Global (mobile) Suppliers Association has launched what it claims is the first global database of commercial 5G devices.

Here’s what they’ve spotted so far:

  • 12 phones (plus regional variants)
  • 5 chipset vendors (Huawei, Intel, Mediatek, Qualcomm and Samsung)
  • 4 hotspots (plus regional variants)
  • 8 CPE devices (indoor and outdoor)
  • 5 modules
  • 2 Snap-On dongles / adapters
  • 1 USB terminal

“Commercial services need commercial devices, so the momentum behind 5G devices represents an important benchmark for the worldwide roll-out of live 5G services,” said Joe Barrett, GSA President. “While early 4G devices were modems and dongles, with 5G we’re seeing smartphones lead the way with early commercial availability. This gives an early indication of where the industry is expecting to see the first 5G opportunities.”

This is the latest component of the GSA Analyser for Mobile Broadband Devices (GAMBoD) database, a tool designed to help industry stakeholders keep track of all this stuff. By pure coincidence, or maybe not, its launch comes on the same day at the publication of the latest 5G Market Reality Check from Hadden Telecoms.

The eponymous Alan Hadden was for some time the VP of Research at the GSA, before deciding to go it alone with a similar set of analytical services. His company’s latest publication lists the 211 operators around the world known to be investing in 5G, but earlier this month it too was alking devices, as you can see in the slide below.

“Operators globally are preparing for the large-scale introduction of 5G, the first services have launched, and the devices ecosystem is rapidly building and poised for the imminent scale availability of a range of smartphone models,” said Hadden. “Dozens more operators are expected to launch their respective 5G services in the coming 12 months.”

Hadden 5G devices

Qualcomm lands roundhouse in Apple legal battle

The on-going legal battle between Qualcomm and Apple has taken a twist as the US District Court for the Southern District of California has ruled in favour of Qualcomm.

The court has decided Apple’s iPhone 7, 7 Plus, 8, 8 Plus and X infringe two Qualcomm patents, while the iPhone 8, 8 Plus and X devices infringe on a third. As a result, the jury has awarded Qualcomm $31 million in damages.

“Today’s unanimous jury verdict is the latest victory in our worldwide patent litigation directed at holding Apple accountable for using our valuable technologies without paying for them,” said Don Rosenberg, General Counsel for Qualcomm.

“The technologies invented by Qualcomm and others are what made it possible for Apple to enter the market and become so successful so quickly. The three patents found to be infringed in this case represent just a small fraction of Qualcomm’s valuable portfolio of tens of thousands of patents. We are gratified that courts all over the world are rejecting Apple’s strategy of refusing to pay for the use of our IP.”

The three patents support different functions on iPhones, all of which has become normalised features of the devices. Patent No. 8,838,949 enables ‘flashless booting’, removing the need for a separate flash memory and allowing smartphones to connect to the internet quicker after being turned on. Patent No. 9,535,490 speeds up internet connections. Finally, Patent No. 8,633,936 enables high performance and rich visual graphics for games, while also increasing battery efficiency.

The $31 million bill will actually mean very little to Apple. Looking at the iLeader’s 2018 full year results, it would take just under 62 minutes Apple to generate revenues to cover the $31 million, though it does set precedent around the world.

Alongside this ruling in San Diego, courts in China and Germany has also ruled Apple has infringed Qualcomm patents, questioning whether Apple is legally allowed to continue sales not only in these countries, but other territories around the world. In Germany, Apple has been barred from selling any iPhone 7 and 8 models, while in China all devices from the iPhone 6 to the iPhone X have also been banned from sale.

The legal battle between two of the digital economy’s heavyweights has been dragging on for some time now, but this round has been undeniably chalked up to Qualcomm.

Three questions to ask at MWC this week

The sandwiches are stale, the beer is over-priced and the queue for a taxi is a depressing sight, it can only mean one thing; we’re heading back out to Barcelona for Mobile World Congress.

Some people might suggest the importance of this annual event is dwindling, but it is arguably still the focal point of the telecommunications industry. Buzzwords will be everywhere this year, but there are three important questions we are hoping to find the answer to over the next four days.

How will the telcos sell 5G to the consumer?

After years of being promised 5G will change our lives, now is the time for the hype to transfer into reality. Over the next twelve months dozens of operators around the world will launch 5G networks and we’ll start to experience the connected vision of tomorrow. But for all the propaganda, now we need the delivery.

While many have been gearing up for enterprise related services and business models, telcos will have to figure out how to sell 5G to the consumer. It might not be the biggest pot of gold available, but it is certainly revenue which can be squeezed out of customers. But how do you convince consumers to spend those extra pounds each month?

Marketing and sales strategies in the telco industry have always been built around the idea of ‘bigger, badder, faster’, with consumers constantly being told extra speed is the best possible solution for worldly woes. To be successful in the future, new ideas will be needed. As it stands, 4G is very fast and can get faster. These are networks which can handle pretty much every service or product which is available to the consumer, and it’ll be years before we hit the speed ceiling again. So how do you sell 5G to a consumer when speed is no-longer a pain point.

Currently, 5G is a solution without a consumer problem. Soon enough the services will appear to demand the bigger speeds, but whoever figures out how to balance this tricky equation in the meantime will certainly be in a good place.

What impact is politics having on the telco industry?

Its impossible to escape politics at the moment, and the on-going conflict between the US and China is central to this tale.

There is certainly an impact, though how much trauma this will create in the long-run remains to be seen. Right now, you can already see certain markets thriving and others dithering through a landscape of accusation, aggression and uncertainty.

Over in Korea, the telcos are rapidly rolling out 5G. This is one country which snubbed Huawei, though this should have come as little surprise considering a preference for a domestic champion. The Korean telcos are embracing 5G and the stable environment which has been created, leaping ahead to claim a leadership position in the race towards connected riches.

In Europe, progress might be faltering. Although many of the European nations do not seem to share the aggressive anti-China sentiment as the US, rule makers are yet to carve out a specific position on Huawei as a vendor in the 5G mix. Right now, it does look like Huawei will largely be able to operate throughout Europe, but the various governments and the European Commission are yet to define a concrete position.

All this creates is an element of uncertainty and uncertainty is the enemy of investment. It’ll be interesting to see what impact this political predicament is having on the industry, and how much of a slowing impact it is having on deployment plans throughout the bloc.

What does the future hold for the humble smartphone?

Foldable phones have been stealing the headlines over the last couple of weeks, and it does beg the question of what the smartphone will look like in a decade.

Although numerous companies have tried and failed to redefine what we conceive as a communications device, there are certainly some interesting developments which will not only encourage the evolution from a form-factor perspective, but also the way in which we use and perceive devices.

The foldable devices are an interesting development, entertainment and gaming will be taken up a notch, but you also have to consider gesture control, voice interaction, biometric authentication and edge computing.

Looking at the gesture control and voice interaction to start, with connectivity being built into everything around us not just the smartphone, the idea of a digital gateway is completely redefined. Factor in Bluetooth headsets and augmented reality glasses, suddenly you don’t need to look at a screen all the time to ride the virtual highway. The constant demand for a screen might erode when your voice can deliver everything you need.

For biometric authentication, once most of your data is stored on the cloud, theoretically every screen could become your interface. And of course, once edge computing starts leaping forward, more processing power can be removed from the phone and hosted elsewhere. Not only will this allow for more powerful services and applications, but it changes the requirements for components in and on devices.

Combine all of these factors, and the idea of a smartphone changes. There could be a lot more freedom to create new products.

Grab me and talk to me!

We’ll be wandering through the halls over the next couple of days at MWC, so if you want to expense a beer and set the world to rights, grab me and talk to me!

Gimmick or genuine progress? Foldable phones are coming to MWC

Pretty much all the major phone manufacturers have been teasing the world with foldable smartphone launches, and now its Huawei’s turn to tickle the fancy.

The Chinese brand has not gone as far as promising a foldable phone, but in a tweet (which you can see below) the imagery suggests this might be the next step in the evolution of Huawei devices. Considering Samsung, Xiaomi, LG and others have all dropped their own hints, it should hardly come as a surprise Huawei is joining the party.

“It is certain that foldable devices using flexible display technology are going to be hot topic at MWC,” said Ben Wood, Chief of Research at CCS Insight. “Samsung’s intentions to deliver flexible displays are clearly building on its Infinity Flex Display showcased in October. Xiaomi has teased an interesting prototype and upstart Royole has managed to steal the limelight with its FlexPai foldable tablet/smartphone albeit little more than a clunky prototype still a long way from being a mass-market consumer device.”

But here is the big question; is this a gimmick to catch the attention of bored consumers, or could foldable devices be the next big thing in the smartphone world?

Starting with the gimmick accusation. The last genuine disruption to form factor for smartphones arguably came a decade ago. Apple released its smartphone which decided to ditch the keyboard, a move which was initially dismissed by some in the industry. Nowadays anything but a massive screen looks positively odd.

With global smartphone shipments flat-lining, manufacturers need to search for a means to re-capture the attention of the consumers, convincing them the increasingly extortionate prices are justified. The devices segment needs to be reinvigorated, but foldable devices need to be more than a gimmick.

“It feels like we’re currently in the Stone Age when it comes to products with flexible screens,” Wood said. “But this isn’t a criticism, merely an observation that we have seen the first very tentative steps toward implementation of a technology that may seem to be a solution looking for a problem now but is likely to become a pillar of designs of consumer electronic devices in the future.”

That said, the sceptics need to bear one thing in mind; smartphones are so much more than communications devices nowadays. These are devices which people work on, play games, watch content and increasingly access services such as online banking. Perhaps the foldable devices can help with increased interface.

A foldable smartphone could soon become a hybrid communications/entertainment device, folded for normal phone functionality, but then opened up to allow for a bigger screen to improve the gaming and content experience. More people are catching the gaming bug while video has been massive on smartphones for some time now. It can potentially address a pain-point for consumers.

Improving the experience is difficult as people don’t want to carry massive devices around with them. The convenience of a smartphone is its size, this is the reason its rare to see people carrying around a tablet. A foldable phone could bridge the chasm. That said, there could be some issues in the pipeline…

“The big worry I have with the sudden rush in foldable phones coming out now from several manufacturers is that the technology could be coming to market before the software is properly optimized to work with foldable designs,” said Ovum senior analyst Daniel Gleeson. “Turning technology advances into satisfying and impactful user experience changes has not be the strong suit of Android manufacturers.

“This is partially due to their lack of control over Android, but also the intense competition between various Android brands means that short term thinking tends to win out when it comes to deciding when a technology will be introduced. Apple on the other hand has traditionally been much more controlled with how and when it introduces new technologies, ensuring there is a good user experience and clear use cases associated with each innovation.”

As Gleeson points out, the devices need to pass the ‘so what’ test. As long as the device manufacturers prove there is a use-case and genuine applications for the advancement in form factor, this idea could be a keeper.

We are going to reserve judgement on the devices until we get to see, and play around with, them at Mobile World Congress later this month. If the experience is positive, it could certainly provide some impetus in the sluggish smartphone segment.

Weak iPhone sales take bite out of Apple revenues

It might not come as a huge surprise, but the Apple financials are not as glorious and fruitful as the quarterly bonanza of yesteryear.

The devices market is plateauing, China’s economy is slowing, Indian consumers are more interested with other brands, iPhone sales are down, as is revenue and operating income, expenses are up. It doesn’t exactly paint a picture of serenity and profitability, but share price increased more than 5% in overnight trading.

CEO Tim Cook and his team did manage the situation quite effectively with a recent profit warning and have seemingly tabled a plan which has caught the interest of investors but let’s just put this overnight surge into perspective. The last couple of months have not been good for Apple. At the beginning of September, Apple share price was hovering around the $228 mark, while at the time of writing, it has declined more than 30% to $154. Cook should be nervous.

“Last night’s results beg the question, are investors falling out of love with Apple?” said Christopher Dembik, Head of Macro Analysis at Saxo Bank.

“The results of the former favourite stock – Apple was the fifth most traded stock by clients at Saxo Bank, behind Facebook, Amazon, Alibaba and Tesla – signalling a tough climate for traders right now with a gloomy global economy, weak returns across the board and whispers of another recession on the way.”

Apple Topline

Overall revenues were down to $84.3 billion, 5% lower than the same period in 2017, though it was in-line with the revised forecast from a few weeks back. For the next quarter, revenue is expected between $55 billion and $59 billion, with a gross margin between 37-38%.

Looking at the results, the iPhone weighed Apple down heavily. Shipment numbers will no-longer be released by the team, though revenues for the cornerstone product declined an almost inconceivable $9.1 billion, a 15% year-on-year drop, to $51.982 billion. This is still a huge amount of cash, but such a dramatic decline indicates someone got something very wrong somewhere.

The last couple of months of 2018 were a scrap for Apple to justify the pricing of its flagship devices. Cook and his cronies seem to have accepted what many people were telling them; the devices have become too expensive. Moving forward, the team seem to have indicated there will be price reductions.

This is what Apple have specialised in over the last few decades; customer loyalty and sweating the brand. There aren’t many cults out there who can count on their followers as loyally as Apple can count on the iLifers, but when the company was innovating they could justify marking a premium on products and rely on the Apple followers to make purchases. This doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.

If you look through the portfolio, none of the products are particularly mind-blowing. Yes, they might be high-spec and feature the Apple brand, but there has been little innovation in the last few years to justify the increasing prices. Married with consumers becoming more cash conscious, Apple has seemingly pushed its customers over the breaking point of what they are willing to spend.

That said, it isn’t just innovation which is to blame here, Apple is losing out to competitors in key markets. The Americas grew, though Europe, Japan and Greater China all declined. In the European and China markets, Chinese brands such as Huawei and One Plus has been gaining greater traction, with the price much more palatable for consumers. These are good devices which are offering just as technologically advanced features, suggesting Apple is losing the vice-like grip which it has on its customers.

Apple Breakdown

“And so, what we have done in January and in some locations and some products is essentially absorbed part or all of the foreign currency move as compared to last year and therefore get close or perhaps right on the local price from a year ago,” said Cook during the earnings call.

How much of an impact the price reductions will have remains to be seen, but what is worth noting is that there was some good news from the call. iPhone revenues might have plummeted over the period, but all other categories grew, including the much-valued software and services unit.

This is where Cook has been pinning his hopes, and there have been some gains. The software and services unit grew revenues by 19% year-on-year taking the total to $10.8 billion. Apple is attempting to evolve itself into a very different type of business, with recurring revenues as the ambition, though success has to be put into context. Yes, there have been gains, but it seems the dangers of the hardware world are being realised much faster than the benefits of software evolution.

Apple has largely struggled in the world of software and services, perhaps because its traditional business model is not suitable. When you look at where Apple has been successful in software and services, iTunes, AppleCare and iOS for example, these are all areas which tie the customer into the Apple ecosystem. They are products which build on the Steve Jobs mantra of ‘closed is better’. However, Apple will have to embrace a new mentality is it wants to succeed in the new world.

At CES, Apple captured most of the headlines without actually being there as it announced a content-based partnership with Samsung. Beginning in the Spring, new Samsung Smart TV models will offer iTunes Movies & TV Shows and Apple AirPlay 2 support for Apple customers. This is a good move from Apple, embracing the concepts of openness and collaboration which will be critical moving forwards.

Another interesting development, which has remained unconfirmed, is the creation of a Netflix-like gaming platform. Apple would herd developers and gaming content behind a paywall which will offered as a bundle service for customers. The subscription service would take Apple into a potentially profitable segment, which is set to boom over the coming years. However, this cannot be tied exclusively to Apple products and would have to demonstrate openness.

The last few months have shown that Apple is not immune to global trends and the need to evolve as a business is overdue. The reason companies like Google and Amazon never report revenue dips like this is they are constantly searching for the next idea. Apple might have been slow to react, but there is some progress being made. It just needs to be made quicker.

Deloitte predicts 50k 5G smartphone in the UK by 2019-end

While the vast majority will have to wait some time before experiencing the euphoria of an extra ‘G’ Deloitte is predicting there will 50,000 early adopters in the UK.

After several years of slugging, the glorious 5G world is upon us. First in the US and South Korea, though pockets are starting to emerge everywhere else as well. San Marino is live while it won’t be long before countries like China and Japan start hitting the green button.

“The introduction of 5G handsets expected this year will look a lot like 2010, when 4G phones first entered the market,” said Dan Adams, Head of Telecommunications at Deloitte.

“There will be a lot of noise in the first year from vendors vying to be first to market, and relatively little action from consumers. We’re not talking about an overnight switch to faster connectivity with lower latency, we will see 5G used by consumers in hotspot locations in the next two to three years, with mass adoption by 2025.”

The first devices are likely to be with us in Q2, though this year’s Mobile World Congress will almost certainly be a shouting contest between the main smartphone manufacturers. It’s already rumoured Samsung will be launching a foldable-phone (albeit not 5G) prior to the event, while LG and Motorola are also in the running to produce a 5G compatible phone.

In total, Deloitte predicts roughly 20 handset brands will launch 5G-ready handsets across 2019, with shipments totalling one million. This is still a tiny fraction of the 1.5 billion smartphones which will be sold through the year, though 50,000 of them could be heading to the UK.

Looking at the networks, there might not be much to choose from across the UK. EE has confirmed it will launch 5G across 16 cities in 2019, though these will only be in the busiest locations. Vodafone will also launch this year, though it is being coy as to when. Three is telling the same story, while O2 has confirmed its customers will have to wait until 2020. One thing is clear, these will be incredibly limited deployments and it will be years until coverage reaches what the demanding user would consider adequate.

Whether this justifies the hype, or the extortionate amount handset manufacturers will inevitably charge the glory-seekers for the new devices, we’ll leave you to decide, but it will take years for the devices to be considered mainstream. Deloitte expects worldwide 5G smartphone sales to represent 1% of the total smartphone sales by the end of 2020, with 2-3 million Brits getting their hands on the devices. As Adams points out above, 2025 is when the team expect 5G devices to hit mass adoption.

Another interesting growth area the Deloitte team is keeping an eye on is the smart speakers segment.

“Smart speaker adoption has seen phenomenal growth in recent years,” said Paul Lee, Global Head of Research for TMT at Deloitte

“With improvements continuing to be made, demand for smart speakers could be in the many billions of units, possibly even higher than for smartphones. In the future, smart speakers have the potential to be installed in every room in a house, hotel, office, school and even beside every hospital bed.”

Smart speakers are the flashy product which will attract a lot of the consumer market, but the power of the virtual assistants is what could take the segment to the next level. We’ve long anticipated the breakthrough of artificial intelligence in the workplace, but perhaps the slightly sluggish resistance has been down to the delivery model of the applications.

Should smart speakers be adopted in hotel rooms, hospitals and offices in the way which Deloitte anticipates, the world is opened up for industry specific applications of virtual assistants. One area which might help this adoption is the price point.

While smart speakers were initially an expensive appliance for the home, the normalisation of the product in the eyes of the consumer has peaked the interest of traditional consumer electronics manufacturers. With more manufacturers, including those with the ability to produce goods at greater scale, entering the fray competition will increase, bringing prices down, while advertising will also grow, fuelling interest in the bellies of the consumer.

Deloitte anticipates the marker for internet-connected speakers with integrated digital assistants will be increase to £5.6 billion in 2019, selling 164 million units at an average selling price of £34. This would represent a 63% growth rate, making smart speakers the fastest-growing connected device category worldwide, leading to an installation base of more than 250 million units by the end of the year.

This is a price point which would make enterprise adoption of the devices more interesting, and as time moves on, it will get cheaper. The increased introduction of industry-specific virtual assistant and AI applications will certainly help this segment also.

After years of promises and false-dawns, 2019 might prove to be a blockbuster year after all. There’s still a lot which could go wrong, but here’s to hoping.

Judge says no to police forcing phone unlocks with face

A judge in the District Court for the Northern District of California has denied the police a warrant which would force suspects to open their phones through biometric authentication.

While it might seem like somewhat of an unusual scenario, we’re sure many of you are imagining a man pinned to the ground with a phone being waved in his face, it is important to set precedent in these matters. Just as law enforcement agencies cannot be granted a warrant forcing an individual to hand over his/her password, suspects or criminals cannot be forced to open devices through the biometric sensors according to the ruling.

The case itself focuses on two individuals, who are suspected of attempting to extort money from a third person through Facebook Messenger. The pair are threatening to release an embarrassing video of the third person should the funds not be transferred.

Northern California Federal District Judge Kandis Westmore ruled the authorities did not have probable cause for the warrant, perhaps due to the reason said messages and threats could be read through the third persons account, and the request was too broad. This is another example of authorities over reaching and not being specific, leaving too much room for potential abuse.

While this case might sound odd, the world should be prepared for more such rulings in the future.

“The challenge facing the courts is that technology is far outpacing the law,” the ruling from Judge Westmore states. “In recognition of this reality, the United States Supreme Court recently instructed courts to adopt rules that ‘take account of more sophisticated systems that are already in use or in development’.

“Courts have an obligation to safeguard constitutional rights and cannot permit those rights to be diminished due to the advancement of technology.”

In short, the rules and regulations of the land are not in fitting with today’s technology and society, but this does not mean law enforcement authorities can take advantage of the grey areas. This is perhaps an obvious statement to make, but it does hammer home the need for reform to ensure rules and regulations are contextually relevant.

While progress has been slow, there have been a few breakthroughs for privacy advocates in recent months. Last June, the US Supreme Court ruled in Carpenter versus US case that the collection of mobile location data on individuals without a warrant was a violation of data privacy and the Fourth Amendment of the US constitution.

The issue which many courts are facing is precedent. Lawyers are arguing for certain cases and warrants using precedent which is from another era. Theoretically, these rules can be applied, but when you consider the drastic and fundamental changes which have occurred in the communications world, you have to wonder whether anything from previous decades is relevant anymore.

As Judge Westmore points out, technology is vastly outpacing the pace of change in public sector institutions. This presents a massive risk of abuse, but slowing innovation is not a reasonable option. A tricky catch-22.

iChief’s Samsung tie up is long overdue

The first (proper) week in January always promises a deluge of stories from CES and one opening gambit is a content-based partnership between Samsung and Apple, which should probably have happened much sooner.

Beginning in the Spring, new Samsung Smart TV models will offer iTunes Movies & TV Shows and Apple AirPlay 2 support for Apple customers, while 2018 models will also be made compatible via firmware update. iCultists with Samsung TVs can access their existing iTunes library and browse the iTunes Store to buy or rent new content, while Apple content will also work with Samsung’s Smart TV Services, such as Universal Guide, Bixby and Search.

The iTunes Movies & TV Shows app will feature on Samsung Smart TVs in more than 100 countries, while AirPlay 2 support will be available on Samsung Smart TVs in 190 countries.

On the surface this could be a very positive partnership for Apple and Samsung, both of whom have struggled to make a significant impact when searching for diversified revenues.

“Fascinating move as both companies have struggled to make strides in services,” said independent tech and telco analyst Paolo Pescatore. “Arguably it is a smart strategic move for both companies which underlines the need for companies to work more closely together. Samsung has made numerous failed moved in video services while Apple is still seeking to crack the TV landscape.”

Looking at Apple to begin with, this is a move which should have perhaps happened a while back. Stagnation trends in the devices and hardware segments will not have surprised anyone in the Apple business, this is the reason why CEO Tim Cook has been emphasising gains in the software and services business units so proudly, but it is now abundantly clear the ‘us versus everyone else’ mentality which made Apple great will not work outside its traditional stomping ground.

Apple has seemingly long-defied trends in the technology world by swimming against the ‘open’ euphoria. This mentality dates back to its stubborn but brilliant founder Steve Jobs, who constantly resisted the idea of openness, instead tightly integrated Apple within Apple, creating a closed ecosystem which forces iLifers to buy more Apple products. Back during a 2010 earnings call, Jobs stated “open systems don’t always win”.

When Apple was creating wonderful products, with each new release offering a brilliant new feature, this was enough to ensure the loyalty of customers despite the closed nature of the Apple business. However, innovation in the hardware segment has stalled and the closed mentality does not work in the software and services world. What some proof? Have a look at the profit warning last week.

The profit warning was the first one released by Apple in 15 years, and despite progress being made in the software and services segment, the gains could not compensate for the downturn. Although Cook pointed the finger of blame at a slowing Chinese economy, the team could not convince enough consumers to buy the ludicrously priced flagship devices in other territories either. This is a wider trend in the hardware segment, consumers are extending the lifecycle of current devices, while some are leaning towards second-hand models, but the software and services unit could not fill the $5 billion hole created.

To make the content business work, Apple will have to become a more open company, adopting the culture which it has resisted for so many years, and in Samsung it has an interesting partner.

In Samsung, Apple has found something which its own smart TVs cannot deliver; scale. According to market research firm NPD, Samsung is the leader in the US premium smart TV market (August report), holding 34% market share. Considering just over 43% of Apple’s revenue comes from the Americas, this is potential a very positive catapult to secure additional services revenues from customers. And this is before we’ve even started talking about the other territories.

Samsung is another business which has struggled to make headway with alternative revenue streams, though its prominent position in the premium home electronics space offers an excellent opportunity for the aggregator business model. When looking for new money each business has to decide where it can add value to the ecosystem; sometimes it is offering new products in parallel segments, but occasionally it means helping other businesses achieve their ambitions. Embracing openness could be an excellent move here.

If Apple wants to make any meaningful impact on the software and services industry, it will have to move away from the closed mentality which brought it success in the Jobs era and embrace the idea of collaboration. It will certainly be difficult to redirect such a massive supertanker, but one thing is clear; the faltering hardware segment, as it currently stands, will not support Apple’s indulgent ambitions.

The HTC fall from grace is quite remarkable

In years gone, HTC was one of the most successful and sought-after smartphone brands worldwide, but time has not been kind for the Taiwanese firm as financials for 2018 emerge.

Back in 2012, your correspondent had a One X model HTC and it was a very good phone. Due to a slight malfunction more recently, there was also a couple of months with a second-hand HTC 10. It wasn’t a phone which set the world on fire (although ask Samsung how that went down), but it was a perfectly good device. Unfortunately, it appears the brand is just not doing enough right.

As you can see from the table below, 2018 has not been a kind year as the team brought in revenues of 23.7 billion New Taiwan Dollar (NTD), 61% down on 2017.

Month Revenue Year-on-year comparison
January 3,404 -27.03%
February 2,613 -44.04%
March 2,772 -46.66%
April 2,099 -55.47%
May 2,445 -46.03%
June 2,230 -67.64%
July 1,400 -77.41%
August 1,389 -53.72%
September 1,256 -80.71%
October 1,307 -78.44%
November 1,474 -73.98%
December 1,352 -66.36%
Full year 23,741 -61.78%

All figures in New Taiwan Dollar (millions)

Just as a comparison to previous years, in 2017 HTC brought in revenues of 62.120 billion NTD, 2016 was 78.161 billion NTD and 2015 was 121.684 billion NTD. If you go all the way back to 2012, the team brought in a remarkable 465.795 billion NTD.

Of course, you have to bear in mind the business has offloaded a substantial part of its business to Google for $1.1 billion, most notably c.2000 engineers who were working on the Pixel device anyway and a horde of IP, but HTC is still running as a standalone business. Back in November, Sprint announced it was partnering with Qualcomm and HTC to develop a mobile ‘smart hub’ that will run on 5G next year.

Every now and then it is useful just to look back through the years and remember how different things were. HTC used to be one of the mobile industry’s heavyweights, alas, no more. RIP HTC.

Google wins FCC approval for gesture control tests

Google has finally won regulatory approval from the FCC to start testing the more advanced features of Project Soli, a radar-based motion sensor to allow the user to control devices through gestures.

The approval document, which you can read here, will allow Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects unit greater freedoms in testing the technology, which might look familiar if you are a fan of Tom Cruise’s Minority Report. Just when innovation is grinding to a halt in the smartphone segment, Google’s whacky scientists are working on something which could completely revolutionise the smartphone.

Project Soli initially came to be in 2015, though due to concerns the radar system would interfere with other spectrum users, power levels were limited. However, the waiver now allows Google to play with higher power levels while users can also operate the devices when on airplanes.

The idea is of course very simple. Radar sensors are in a small chip which features in the device, which detect hand and finger movements with high accuracy. Various different movements could be used to operate different features of a smart device, perhaps making the touch-screen redundant in the future. Check out the video at the bottom of the page for more details.

Interestingly enough, the FCC has not only decided Google is allowed to pursue this technology as there are no technical reasons not to do so, but also believes this project could be in the public interest.

“We further find that grant of the waiver will serve the public interest by providing for innovative device control features using touchless hand gesture technology,” the document states.

The last few years have been a bit of a baron time for smartphone innovation. Apple’s recent financial bombshell perfectly demonstrates this; not even Apple can rise above the mediocrity of innovation and grow revenues. This sort of innovation might just be what the smartphone segment needs.

And perhaps this is a sign of things to come; who knows what a smartphone or smart communications device will look like in the future. Maybe users will revert back to having two separate devices; one specialised for entertainment and the other for communications. With gesture control and voice recognition technologies, is there any need for a screen if communications is the purpose? And if you don’t need a screen, do you need such a big battery? Devices could become significantly smaller and much more power efficient.

Over the last 20 years, mobile communications devices have changed significantly. From big to small and back to big, foldable, slidable and closable, through colourful, sleek and offensive, the concept of the mobile device has always been changing. Who knows what it will actually look like in ten years’ time…