Thursday, November 26, 2009

The New Emerging Open Source "Mobile" Parade and Food for Thought on Thanksgiving

I can't believe it's been six months since I published a post here, I promise to do better. As I watch the Macy's Parade today, I started thinking about some market dynamics and disruptions we have been witnessing in recent months. Those who know me know I use an iPhone and am in my second year of loving this phone. Why? Applications - ease of use - the collaborative nature of this device - which is the leading market disruptor for mobile phones - and the way it has carved out an entire industry. Let's look at what I mean.

I talk on the phone maybe 5% of the time I use this device. Mobile devices used to be either 100% phones or 100% email. I am on email mostly, text, the web, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, taking pictures, checking weather, travel arrangements, and so on.  I am not an online game player but I have a couple of individual games I enjoy. It has become a collaboration tool. It is even an extension of my Digium Switchvox phone system - my calling rules set to find me/follow me to my mobile and if I don't recognize the number (yes, I see caller ID) or am tied up it bounces back to my office voicemail. Cool call screening method, eh? More importantly, I have improved my productivity with my iPhone. It's only going to get better. On business trips, I find I use my laptop less and less each trip.

Now, the more interesting 'technology disruption' is the coming force of - Google Android. That's right, Android. This open source OS is being used for mobile phones and desktop phones. The nature of open source lends itself to a broad community of developers. My Digium and Asterisk experience helps me understand the potential of the future Android AppStore - or maybe AppStores. It's not there yet, but eventually the community and commercial offspring will be the driving forces. Like the iPhone and Apple's iTunes AppStore the Android mobile phones and desktop phones will create nightmares for traditional players. This market is exciting. Just check the number of Android-based products appearing.

Note that these are mostly all consumer oriented.  Well, guess what? The features and capabilities of iPhones and Android-based mobile phones are so compelling, they have permeated their way into business enterprises of all sizes. RIM's Blackberry devices, although a  favorite of many, are under attack and IT executives are listening. More companies are allowing "user supplied" choice of mobile phones for a number of reasons: unbeatable features, cost - the individual owns the phone, and the collaborative nature of these phones does lend itself to increased productivity. The management of these devices is a huge new market opportunity but this disruption parade has begun! 

This is the tip of the iceberg. As more evolves I'll cover some of the more interesting developments here. In the meantime, watch Google's Android progress. Thanks for stopping by and now it's nearly time for "food to eat" rather than "food for thought!" And of course football! Happy Thanksgiving 2009!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Mobile Phones vs Office Phones, is it a race?

There is no doubt many people would love one and only one phone for personal and business. The problem is, not one phone does everything that you need. Let's visit this concept:

- mobility is convenient and mobile phones are improving with larger color touch screens and much improved quality
- office desk phones have been improved with built in speaker phones and high quality, ability to run software applications, and personalization of these phones
- home phones have improved with multi-handset systems that cause much less interference between handset and base stations many with built in applications including caller ID

However, the requirements vary for each use and application and there are few people who can be totally satisfied for all applications using a single handset. Millions of people just like me love our iPhones and for most things can be very well suited as a desk set replacement, however, for business use it lacks easy basic transfer capabilities, its far too hard to do a 3-way conference call and can't do one larger than that, it's speaker phone is very weak and the screen although it is of high quality is not well suited to many day-to-day office routine activities.

The office desk phone has come down in price mostly driven by SIP standard (session initiation protocol) over IP networks for interoperability standards, but this also limits advanced features found in business telephone systems as proprietary systems always implement extensions overlapping the standards implementation. There is no mobility with desk phones except wireless 802.11 handsets that are more expensive per station because they always need a base station. Some companies have come out with wireless phones that work with both business phone systems (private branch exchange or PBX) and wireless carriers that suppot hand-offs when the user leaves the phone's range inside the business or home. This type of solution is few and far between today and is both expensive and requires cooperation of service providers who lose revenues and minutes when the user moves inside as a PBX extension.

Home phones are getting better and cheaper and the emergence of DECT wireless phones seem to work better than previous wireless handsets at home and "play nice" with home wireless networks.

So what's the problem? Let me count the ways. Many of my highly respected and some well-known friends and colleagues are loud (Twitter, blogs, conversations) about not wanting or needing a desk phone. They want one wireless phone, iPhone-like, that does it all. Some consultants and road warriors may have taken this step. But most people will not quite yet.

I have been collecting unscientific data from Twitter and Facebook survey's of strangers and friends and followers who are happy to provide their input. Although I have access to purchased research and privileged access to real users, vendors of phones, and customers of business phone systems, I believe my method provides as good of a cross section as one might find. Here are some comments in abridged form:

- I love my cell phone but when I have an important business call, I always say, "Can you call me back on my landline?"

- A job hunter (one of my good friends) says, "I'd never have a cell phone interview call for a new position, I insist we set up a time when I have a landline!"

- One of my contributors said, "I am in the VoIP business, can provide free SIP trunk to the house, connected to an Asterisk PBX but my wife insists a good old phone company connection with ma Bell!"

- One of my favorite analysts friends says, "We'll only need one phone, and it will be the cell phone. But it needs to access our enterprise network and tools!"

- One responded to me with this note: "We all know it will be a cell phone that wins this battle, so why don't you product strategy guys face the facts and make it happen faster?"

(My answer was when no one buys phones anymore except for cell phones. Today, I do listen to my customers!)

- One of my followers and resellers says, "It will look a lot like a cell phone... because it will be!"

- One person said, "I was needing G.722 (new HD Codec for IP Phones) which takes almost everything out of play!"

So herein lies the facts. Business phones, desktop phones are being sold in huge numbers. At the office, I have a growing number of IP phone partners most selling record numbers of handsets. Newer desktop phones are beginning to look and sound different with HD (High definition audio), larger screens - like netbook PC size screens - with the usual hard phone buttons, mixed with soft programmable buttons/keys and are completely embedded systems that run purpose-built processors and software. In meetings, on airplanes, at tradeshows and conferences, we all have our cell phones with many also having their laptops or netbooks - multiple devices, multiple phone numbers, multiple phone bills and briefcases or purses to carry it all. It's tiring.

What do I mean? Let's have some fun using one end of the spectrum. Your IT departments says, "You get a softphone for your laptop!" Its your office phone. I'll give you a headset. Your PC needs to be on 24/7. We don't reimburse wireless so if you get one, you are on your own. When you have a conference call, either use the one conference room with a Polycom conference phone or gather everyone 'round your PC to use your softphone or your Skype account! Think I am kidding? Well, think again, it's happening in places.

I do believe these IT managers will be back to buy new desk phones and maybe even a cell phone for road warriors just not for everyone. At the same time, newer desk phones are in development. They will look different than today's phones, but who'd have thought this would even be a discussion a few short years ago.

On the other end of the scale, some businesses are putting in all HD phones with high end video phones for executives. For all of you who have moved to HDTV, there are many new fans of HD Phones and this is driving newer, HD phones, higher priced and with higher quality clear audio and mostly available in desktop phones. These HD phones are disrupting the traditional desktop phone market.

In my sample of 40 respondents, here is my split:

1. 10% want cell phones only in 5 years
2. 60% want landlines always to be present
3. 25% said basically that we will have multiple handsets, each for different special-purpose built purposes
4. 5% said they don't care

All in all, this was a fun and informative exercise and since this is important to me from a business standpoint, I can use this information but from a personal standpoint, we can all learn from what is actually happening in the workplace and in the consumer market as the phone becomes as important to carry as a wallet, purse, briefcase, backpack - whatever you use for carrying all your important personal and work items.

What do you think?
What is your preference?
How many phones do you have?
What will be the split of phones in 5 years?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Predictions for Last 3/4ths of 2009:

I started this blog in early January and have had to rename and rewrite it for the last 3/4 not for entire year. It has given me a little visibility into some 2009 trends. We will visit here some marketing trends for this year including trade shows, marketing chatter such as social media tools (but believe me, not a focus as there are literally hundreds of "experts" on Twitter telling you all about this) and some technology trends. Those who follow me on Twitter and Facebook know I have been researching desktop phones for business over the next 5 years and will follow this with a series on this topic. I have had some great input from folks not in the phone business which was my hope.

As we move along in Q2 for calendar year 2009, President Obama uses the web and social media and has appointed a CIO - what a concept - a technology-aware white house. We have seen the AIG fiasco where employment contracts thus far have won out over taxpayers dollars and a politically charged environment where laws will be changed for bailed out companies. The auto industry is the latest casualty. Wonder whose next? Wonder how it plays out?

We are watching many companies hang tough but they experience cut backs and reduced spending making it painful to proceed. Many friends and former colleagues are jobless. We have seen some industry trade shows and conferences aimed at "targeted" audiences grow through larger attendance while others not be as successful. We are experiencing a stock market that makes us not want to look at our portfolio statements most of the time. How will we emerge when the economy turns around?

But through these challenging times live silver linings - potentially lucrative ideas, new solutions, new ways to reduce costs and save money with select investments, and overall a cautious optimism that the recession will start to turn around. Some of the best companies emerged nicely during previous recessions. I believe open source software will be the foundation of the future enterprise for many reasons. Control, flexibility, personalization, and lower total cost of ownership are some of the driving factors.

Let's look at some downsides before we visit the upside trends.

Not so good late 2008/early 2009 trends:

- Layoffs
- Foreclosures
- Corruption (ie Maddoff, AIG, Citibank, and many others)
- Stock Market decline
- Unsure business, financials and cash can delay spending

Reasonably good trends:

- Social media in the mainstream in marketing, customer service, and the news
- Interest in Open Source-based business solutions rising
- Filly beats the Colts&Gelding in the Preakness triple crown race for 1st time in 85 years
- Excellent business class iPhone Applications

Promising trends for the remainder of 2009:

- Enterprises looking at saving money while leveraging newer technologies such as VoIP, Open Source VoIP, and applications
- Opportunity: dynamic market changes, consolidation, and lost jobs leads to new opportunities, new business and the beginning of new products, services, and innovative ideas

Many of these new opportunities will disrupt traditional leaders. Will it be automobiles? Fuel? Laptops? Phones? Internet? Video mail? Military? I could go on, but I will be looking for the most disruptive items as I can write about in the upcoming months.

My next blog series will be about business telephones - desktop phones, IP phones, Mobile phones, softphones and how applications are changing the way phones will be provisioned for use and how they are used over the next 5 years. All my information is personally gathered, it is not from customers of my commercial position or purchased from any analyst firms. Pure IMHO, 1st run primary Twitter and Facebook-based research and is all new material.

Hope to see you again soon! I commit to not waiting so long to publish a new blog post!