05 Jan

Personal reflections on mobile 2000-2009 and welcome to 2010 and the new decade

With my first blog post of 2010 I would like to wish you and yours a happy, healthy and prosperous 2010.

And with the new year and the new decade, I reflect on the previous decade and my involvement with mobile; writing this helps me remember the good and not so good times and prepare for the new decade of mobile.

2000-2009. Wow, ten years have past! Some good times and some bad times. I survived, making a living throughout the decade mostly working on mobile. Not too bad…

During the last decade I did a bit of everything: a software developer, architect, a products guy, CTO and evangelist, business owner, researcher, speaker and writer, startup founder, raise angel and VC money, board member, mentor, events organizer, standards bodies, blogger, open source, inventor, documentation and testing, marketing and managing people and products. Top to bottom, left to right. I did great on some and not as good on other. All that while being a husband and a father…

From WAP and cHTML, to web clipping, PalmOS and BlackBerry, Symbian OS, web and widgets, local/native apps, connected and occasionally connected apps, J2ME, Android and iPhone too. From device to network to server, J2EE and Servlets and containers, from XML to Java, PHP, C and C++, DBs and many OSes. Algorithms and patents. User interfaces and user experience. From social and user-generated content software before it was called that, to SMS, LBS, personal data and proximity before it was cool and/or massively used. Lots of other things as well. I remember ‘predicting’ that enterprise would drive mobile adoption, but boy, I was wrong — consumers did! I predicted that by 2006-2007 or so mobile would become what we all have been talking about, and off I was, but not as bad.

…and we are still not there but we are getting there!

During the last decade I started companies, and joined others; both small and large. From agentGO/AGEA, Aligo, Artemis Wireless Werks, to eZee and Motive/ALU. From helping raise millions of dollars in VC money, bringing software products to market, some very successful, to creating partnerships and relationships, almost getting acquired by BEA, to selling the company assets or dissolving the company, the last decade was a hell of a ride.

With Artemis Wireless Werks (my mobile services company) alone helped dozens of companies including Skyfire, AMF Ventures, OMTP.org, MediaSourcery, RGL Forensic Accountants & Consultants, Arrowhead Electronic Healthcare, Edioma, NAKA Media, Blim Law, Sun Microsystems, Nokia, Motorola Metrowerks, Sony Ericsson, Sprint, The Burton Group, Tecnológico de Monterrey Campus Santa Fe, Aligo, Datamaxx, IBM, Mobile Candy Disk, mLoc8, Salsa.Net, PodCast Ready and Kenosia. Thanks to all for the business!

Got the opportunity to speak on many conferences and wrote hundreds of technical articles on mobile and one book, and thousands of entries on my blog and other blogs. Contributed directly or indirectly to a few other books and wrote the foreword for one. Started 3 other books but didn’t finish them, and I owe book reviews to a number of friends, all great writers; sorry guys! I will review all the pending books! and should at least finish one of those books that I had started.

During the last decade I met wonderful and super smart Mobilists, some in person and others virtually, from all around the world, many becoming good friends even though some of them I’ve never met in person. Others who started in mobile at the same time as I did are still going strong on mobile — way to go! I also helped a number of students, some local but most from around the world, thanks again to the power of the Internet, some even throughout from their Bachelor to their PhD. I’m proud of them.

The space shuttle — my first job out of college in the 90s went through very hard times and a fatal accident losing all crewmen and the vehicle Columbia — glad am I to see the program continue, even though its end of life is to occur on 2010, to move forward into the next phase of the manned space program.

Also during the past decade (in 2005) founded MobileMonday Austin which today has close to 350 members and continues strong, and also was a founding member of the Austin Wireless Alliance and the Carnival of the Mobilists which also continue strong. Helping companies is a passion of mine and throughout the decade I helped dozen of companies with software to pure advice. Got involved with SXSW Interactive as an advisory board member focused on mobile which continues in 2010; hope to see you there.

During the same decade I spent a lot of time helping evolve J2ME by helping with the specs and APIs, writing about it, evangelizing, helping with the JCP and JavaOne and with the Mobile & Embedded Community. In 2009 I was nominated for the 2009 JCP Program Participant of the Year. It is sad for me that J2ME stalled towards the end of the decade (long story) but it is not dead and I think it will (should) live as the preferred development platform for Feature-phones.

Towards the end of the decade I co-founded eZee inc. a mobile marketing and interactive advertising company and joined the UT Austin Technology Incubator (ATI). I’m a proud alumni of the ATI with which I continue having a strong relationship. eZee’s technology was based on my vision of mobile with interactions between the physical and digital worlds and the user (and the analysis of such interactions), and the mobile user context while keeping the technology and adoption as practical to the times as possible — very interesting as in 2000 when I joined agentGO I focused on the importance of user-context and agent software and data as key ingredients to a successful mobile experience. So in many ways, eZee inc was the culmination of the previous 8 years of mobile vision and experience. And that vision is not dead!

And I ended-up the decade at Motive, which was later acquired by Alcatel-Lucent, where I work on software for Telcos in the areas of device management and call-center software and network stuff; things that typically happen “behind the scenes”.

The decade was hell of a ride, as I wrote before. I’m sure I’ve missed a number of things but the above is a good summary — I ended up writing much more that what I had anticipated.

2000-2009 was a decade of vision on things mobile, with lots of research, and partnerships, with some real deployments, with lots excitements and some disappointments. The mobile industry has taken a long time to evolve, mainly because of the operators, and as a consequence the technology took long to evolve and become adopted.

But it is happening now. I see it. I feel it. From the mobile lifestyle, to the ecosystem, from the operator to the developer, from the network to the devices. And as we enter the new decade, mobility will be even *more* pervasive. The technology, the devices and networks are catching up, and we will be able to bring to market all those product concepts that we have been talking about/researching over the last decade. For one, the users are ready with a next generation of users that if you think you and me are connected today, think again. Voice? Nah, only 1% of usage will be voice, and apps/data/messaging/social/media will be the other 99%, always-on/connected. Where 80% of the devices will be Smart-phones and Feature-phones will have 80% of Smart-phone capabilities/functionality. Hybrid apps (80% local/native and 20% web-based) will rule for the first half of the decade, and by the 2nd half, mobile web should rival local/native apps and/or complement them in ways that it is almost transparent when jumping from one to the other and back. The next decade will see Augmented Reality and digital/physical world convergence become a common tool, with the mobile handset right in the middle, and AR it will be standardized and absorbed into the browser as a view — similar to the “street vs. map view”. The mobile handset will also serve as the personal gateway to the Internet, providing the computing power to simple sensors and to the new 5th screen — AR visors/eye-glasses powered by the mobile handset.

And many thanks to all the companies such as Apple and Google and RIM and Nokia and Symbian and the other hundreds of super innovative small companies and people who made the difference during the last decade; while some made it and others failed, they all have a part and made important contributions.

So welcome to the year 2010 and the new decade… Let’s see what the new decade will bring us.

Let’s make it happen! Bring it on!


17 Nov

Near-Field (Proximity) Communication in late 2009

It almost is the end of 2009. And where does near-field proximity communication-based applications stand? From mobile marketing, to customer loyalty, payments and authentication, to information exchange, transportation and health-care. Well, it still stands very far from its full potential.

Due to its characteristics, proximity is an excellent class of physical interaction. And inherently a very special class of interaction. It can be very personal, in theory secure, and it can be very localized — all excellent attributes for interactions that provide secure context.

Regardless of its potential and benefits to consumers (which is about convenience) and the real business models that exist, NFC have had major adoption (growing) pains. Pilots have said again and again that consumers do like the convenience, but it is the enablement problem what has basically prevented its adoption. It took Bluetooth more than 10 years and it will take NFC the same.

If we wanted to deliver the convenience benefits of proximity-interactions today, what is the answer? Will it be RFID or NFC the one that stands up at the end? Will it be embedded chip-sets, USB or microSD, or plain RFID stickers?

While not the perfect vision the NFC Forum members had, sticker (RFID) are the short-term solution for this today. Some call it an interim solution, but we will see.

From Blaze Mobile (to whom I provided my services to back when they were called MobileCandyDish), to Giesecke & Devrient, Alcatel-Lucent (my current employer), Oberthur Technologies, MasterCard, First Data, and Tetherball, they all are dealing with the realities of NFC and while waiting for it have decided to follow the “RFID sticker” route. Blaze Mobile was one of the first one years ago.

Stickers. But RFID stickers are very limiting as they are limited to “one function”. How many stickers can you fit, or want to fit, on the back of your phone? Yet stickers bring NFC close to reality. Expect branded and colorful RFID stickers of all kinds.

When I saw ViVOTech (a leader on NFC and contactless in general) recently announce their ViVOtag product; in other words, even ViVOtech has submitted to the realities of NFC, I said to myself, “NFC is dead, long live NFC” – this time is the sticker way. Yuck. See ViVOtech Launches ViVOtag.

There are other vendors going the route of USB or microSD NFC devices such as Tyfone, Giesecke & Devrient and DeviceFidelity. Another example is Sony — see Sony’s next generation Memory Stick which might potentially be integrated with NFC.

In the meantime Gemalto Boosts Rollout of SIM-Based Mobile Contactless Services and touchatag, an Alcatel-Lucent venture and Clear2Pay partner on technology for contactless payments.

And as I wrote before, Will the iPhone trigger the Mobile RFID/NFC revolution?

So there is lots of interest, noise and activity related to mobile NFC/RFID. It is a matter of time, I’m convinced. But the ideal solution is NOT stickers, yet stickers are the fastest and cheaper way to get there, and because of that, the best way to validate the applications and models. And once that happens, I hope that for the sake of the consumers themselves that we move on to a solution that allows for MULTIPLE applications such as smart-cards or handset-based (which includes USB or microSD-based) approaches.

For a good paper on alternative NFC form factors see white-paper by The Human Chain titled Alternative NFC form factors.

Now, last but probably the top deployment reason why proximity interactions based on NFC/RFID are extremely important: to work around that pesky patent on barcode interactions (i.e. nn-ee-oo-mm-ee-dd-ii-aa); with the NFC/RFID path there is clear and well documented (including in the NFC standards) prior-art.

It is time for operators and device manufacturers to push for NFC. Yes, enabling NFC require investment but pilots already provided good results. Go sticker in the interim to validate, and remember that it is about the applications and usability. No need to wait on Apple, again, to define the path. (The exception to all this is Nokia who has been forward looking since day one, with the handsets, APIs, documentation and toolkit to make this happen.)


17 Jun

Call for Submissions – VentureBeat Announces the “It’s the application, stupid!” Competition For Outstanding Mobile Apps

VentureBeat Mobile Trophy

VentureBeat is looking to recognize Mobile innovation at the second annual MobileBeat Top Startup Competition.

Last year the awards went to firms such as AdMob and Loopt. This year the competition shifts to mobile applications and services, with 50 finalists to be determined and a final 14 to present live at MobileBeat on Thursday July 16th.

Top Startup Submission Rules:

  • Startups must complete and submit a form by June 30, 2009 for consideration
  • Fifty finalists will be announced on July 2nd on Venturebeat.com. Voting will then be open to the public to select the top seven companies per sector.
  • Seven finalists from each category will present for five minutes each to the MobileBeat audience determined by judges as to avoid any vote manufacturing.
  • Nominees must be younger than three years old. Special consideration will be given to companies that are launching for the first time.

Winners to be announced at the MobileBeat Conference July 16th, San Francisco CA San Francisco.

Directly following each two-minute presentation, a panel of judges will provide feedback in rapid fire. After final deliberation in the afternoon, winners will be announced.

Submitting a company for nomination is completely free. For more information visit the startup competition website.

MobileBeat 09 will take place on July 16, 2009 in the Parc 55 Hotel in downtown San Francisco. The theme of this year’s show is “It’s the application, stupid!”, focusing on mobile applications’ recent explosion in popularity.

See registration information.

Speakers at this year’s MobileBeat include: Dr. Tero Ojanperä (Nokia), Russ McGuire (Sprint Nextel), Matt Murphy (Kleiner Perkins iFund), Rick Segal (Blackberry Partners), Nagraj Kashyap (Qualcomm Ventures), Aditya Khurjekar(Verizon), and Michael Rayfield (Nvidia)


10 May

Top 5 smartphones and MNOs – Q1 2009 (USA)

Via @hametner, a couple of handset and Mobile Network Operators (MNO) metrics of interest (USA).

Top 5 U.S. smartphones sold in Q1 2009

  1. BlackBerry Curve
  2. Apple iPhone 3G
  3. BlackBerry Storm
  4. BlackBerry Pearl
  5. T-Mobile G1

Note that 3 out of 5 are BlackBerry handsets, and that 4 out of 5 are Java handsets! RIM seems to own over 50% of the *consumer* space in the US; i.e these numbers do not include enterprise sales. As @hametner ponders, “does this mean that Apple needs to expand beyond exclusivity to have a broader cross carrier offering?”… Yes,interesting…

Top 5 US MNOs by number of subscribers at the end of Q1 2009

  1. Verizon — 86.7M subs
  2. AT&T — 78.2M subs
  3. Sprint — 48.1M subs
  4. T-Mobile — 33.2M subs
  5. US Cellular — 6.2M

Verizon continues to be ahead, and with Verizon committing to LTE that means a very large LTE deployment supposedly starting in 2009, and with rumors that Apple and Verizon have been talking that would be a great opportunity for Apple and its “Pinky and the Brain” world dominance expansion plans for the iPhone!

Other MNOs, at&t and T-Mobile are all either committed or still evaluating LTE with eyes towards 2011, with Sprint pretty much committed to WiMAX (at this point).


Disclaimer: I’m a Pinky and the Brain fan!

25 Jan

Meet at Mobile World Congress 2009

MWC 2009

For those attending Mobile World Congress 2009:

  • I would love to meet my (virtual) friends, followers and people who I follow,
  • From work perspective, if your company has or will have “end-to-end digital management” needs anywhere in the world from activation to support to management for mobile handsets and 3G-and-4G nomadic devices, I would love to chat with you and explore…
  • Send me an email if you can meet.

I will be in Barcelona the whole week. My personal email is enrique dot ortiz at gmail dot com.

Also, if there are any events that you recommend I attend, please let me know too; for example, I believe MobileMonday Barcelona is that Monday.

See you in Barcelona!


02 Jan

Mobile Apps in 2009: Local/Native, Mobile Web, App Stores

Happy 2009 New Year to all my readers. My first post of the year is about mobile applications: local/native vs. web, and app-stores.

App-stores have been shifting the balance on application development and distribution (back) towards local/native applications. I don’t mean to undermine mobile web which will continue to be very important and very large for access of information of type “web content”. But the reason for this is the same reason I’ve been preaching for a long time: the ability to deliver/maximize “application richness, functionality and experiences” – which (today) maximizing these is only possible via local/native applications. This is the same topic took Ajit and myself into a debate at JavaOne’s keynote a couple of years; that was fun.

What I’m describing above can be seen on the iPhone which is the best mobile web handset today, and which redefined and raised the bar on mobile web applications, yet the really cool applications are local/native, and more importantly, developers of local/native applications seem to be the ones who are generating (receiving) the most revenue – after all, it is about making money. And this trend will continue… I do believe that in the future mobile web will be able to match the richness and functionality of local/native applications, once the proper APIs and functionality are put in place and become standard, and that today a happy medium are local/native applications that consume mobile web content; i.e. hybrid apps providing the best of both worlds.

And when combining the above with App-stores, which provide for the application discovery and revenue streams for developers, the market place becomes very attractive and thus active.

But to be successful, app-stores must exhibit certain characteristics:

  • From the end-user perspective: the app store must be seamless and well integrated into the user experience. Downloaded applications must work. There must be a good selection of high-quality apps. Integrated checkout/payment is easy and straightforward and secure. The end-user is in control, including influencing how applications will perform on the market (via feedback that influences ranking).
  • From the developer perspective: there must be a low cost and barriers to entry and distribution. Must provide application visibility (see below). Good revenue model. Provide feedback back to developers for improvement.
  • Application visibility: the app store must provide the means for good application visibility. Already established applications are ranked appropriately based on user feedback, while new applications (including new versions) go into a different bucket that allows them to be visible regardless of ranking (perhaps for a period of time).
  • As Ajit writes, must provide a true ecosystem (that benefits everyone: developers, network providers, the end-user, and so on).

Part of the above is why the iPhone has been successful. And is also the reason that I expect the Android app store to do well once it starts paying back to developers — it is just then when the Apple and Android stores can be compared.

There are app stores for Java ME, for example GetJar. The problem faced by GetJar is that there are things that are out of their control, such as cost and barriers to entry (due to fragmentation and certifications and fees and it is just a pain-in-the-neck to deal with network operators issues in general), and not being well integrated (seamless integration) into the overall user experience.

For years I’ve been attributing the lack of integrated solution for Java ME that works (per the above) for application discovery and download and revenue share, as one of the top the reasons why Java ME has failed to maximize its opportunity. As a member of MIDP expert group, this is an important lessons learned for me, that sometimes you do need to include such functionality into the platform vs. expecting 3rd parties to solve the problem; this seamless solution is still needed for Java ME…

On Goodbye 2008 and welcome 2009 and some predictions on mobility I made some predictions on app stores, which I will repeat here:

  • Google will introduce a checkout process for its app store, and developers wanting to make money will notice; the Google app store will explode with a large number of applications.
  • App stores will continue to have its huge effect on mobile apps and distribution. Due to the revenue and fast distribution models offered by iPhone and soon Android app stores, developers will first target such local applications (vs. mobile web). An even larger number of local/native applications will be created and distributed via app stores for Android and iPhone.
  • The BlackBerry app store will be somewhat successful.
  • Someone will introduce an app store for mobile web that goes beyond an application catalog. dotMobi will take leadership by going beyond an application catalog but also providing an associated business/revenue model.

Last but not least, and related to this topic, check out Paul Golding (Wireless Wanders) on his video blog entry Mobile 2008/9 all about App Stores where he discusses and provides his insight on why app stores have been important in 2008 and how important they will be in 2009… right on.

Also related to this see Ajit on Mobile Web Megatrends event – Making money from Appstores – Singapore – April 27 and 28, as well as his related thread on ForumOxford.