The News – 07/09/01
You know something has really entered the mainstream
of American life when folks don’t feel bad about throwing it away. It
happened to pocket handkerchiefs (Kleenex®); it happened to lighters (Cricket, 1961);
it happened to cameras (Fuji, 1986). And now it’s happened to cell phones.
Soon it’ll be laptops.
are several companies making disposable or recyclable phones today. Dieceland Technologies
has designed an extremely simple, call-only phone made of coated paper. Most
of its circuitry is printed on the paper surface, with the exception of a
few circuit chips and a battery source. The phones range from $10 for 60
minutes to $30 models with more features. Each can be thrown away,
replenished with airtime or maybe even recycled. The company has more than
100 million units on order. That’s right, 100 million cheap, disposable
phones hitting the streets soon from just one vendor. A paper laptop is on
the drawing board.
phones are a bit more durable, and are made to be recycled. The AirClip
portion holds the battery and number of minutes purchased. Consumers can
purchase more air and battery time in stores that carry the phone. The
phone is also call-only, but Telespree is working on one that can also
receive calls. Telespree’s big innovation is the lack of a dialing pad;
their phone is voice activated, employing technology from Nuance Communications.
third company, Hop-On.com,
recently inked a deal with fiber backbone provider Williams Communications
that has Williams carrying all Hop-On’s long distance traffic for the next
three years. Hop-On’s phone is also extremely simple – only two buttons –
and comes with 60 minutes of talk time. The consumer uses a hands-free
earpiece and dials via voice. The phone supports the GSM, CDMA, and TDMA
protocols, but it’s not clear if that’s all in one phone or not. The
company is developing a biodegradable plastic it will soon use to fabricate
its cases. Hop-On is also working on call receiving services as well as a
package of informational services featuring sports, weather, stocks and
entertainment. Hop-On’s parent company is involved in Internet casino
gaming, so we can imagine what the entertainment might involve. Despite the
Williams deal, the future is uncertain for Hop-On. The publicly traded company
has a market cap of $376,000 and shares traded on the pink sheets at $0.18.
Wireless carriers spend roughly $150 in cell phone
subsidies for each new subscriber, according to Current Analysis. Prepaid plans
are intended primarily for those who fail a credit check and are typically
much more expensive on a per-minute basis than monthly plans. Prepaid users
typically are not loyal to a carrier and don't commit to buying a regular
amount of minutes. Analysts figure teens and seniors are two groups ripe
for cheap phone sales.
So what can we learn from the disposable phone trend?
Well, basically that services are more important than ever. Assuming the
phones will remain feature lite – no Internet, no WAP, no J2ME, no buttons
to push – obviously the strategy is increased wireless penetration. Yet no
one is going to get rich on $10 phones, although if Dieceland sells 100
million of them, well, that ain’t hay. The real revenue stream is in
serving the users of those phones. But, wait. If the future trend for
wireless phones is going to be stripped down phones with extremely simple
user interfaces (UIs), what’s that mean for all the wonderful applications
people are hoping to build?
A certain percentage of people who would otherwise buy
the latest phone as their first phone will gravitate toward the simplicity
and perceived cost savings of the disposable, especially once the phones
can receive calls as well as place them. This means the penetration of the
full-featured phones – the kind that need consultants to write apps for
them – will necessarily suffer. Certainly, not everyone who would buy a
disposable is a potential geek phone buyer. However, with handset sales no
longer growing robustly, Nokia and others are counting on increasing
penetration to maintain revenue.
On the other hand, let’s face it, the typical geek
phone UI sucks. Converged PDA/phone combinations are only a little better.
The simplicity angle of disposables just means more work programming the
backend and some sort of voice interface like Nuance’s or TellMe’s. In some ways, this simplicity
is more consistent with the usual function of a phone, to receive and give
audio information. You also don’t have to be adept at doing two things at
once: looking at and using a visual display while talking on the phone.
So who will benefit, no matter whether the trend is to
geek phones or disposables? Voice interface vendors and consultants. That’s
the service component this particular disposable enables.
Next time: other disposable tech.
Thanks to John Skach and especially Alert SNS Reader David
Dabbs for research.
- Acme Rental Fines Follow Up – Alert SNS Reader Andrew Hargreave passed
along this update from Slashdot regarding an earlier news item
reported in SNS. The
Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection has ruled against Acme
Rent-A-Car in their practice of fining car renters $150 per speeding
infraction. The decision was based on the fact that Acme failed to
properly word their contracts when they indicated that fines would be
imposed for speeding. Dept. Commissioner Jim Fleming also stated that
the practice of renters being fined is illegal. However, the practice
of tracking vehicles with GPS is still a legal practice. So the
Roadrunner wins the round . . . again.
- 3G Problems in Japan: NTT DoCoMo will replace all 1,400 of its 3G
wireless handsets (model N2001, made by NEC). The company claims this
is not a recall. Company spokesman Takumi Suzuki said, "We are
replacing handsets to improve their function, not because of technical
problems." Right. DoCoMo has recalled more than 400,000 non-3G
handsets over the last year or so due to quality problems.
- Broadband Density: America is not the most wired country in the
world, at least as far as broadband is concerned, according to the Organization
for Economic Co-operation and Development. South Korea leads with 9.2
broadband connections per 100 inhabitants, compared with 2.25 in
America and a measly 0.08 in Britain. Canada even beats the US, while
Austria is the most connected country in Europe. Bad execution is
blamed for lack of penetration in many countries. Germany’s Deutche
Telekom signed up 630,000 broadband subscribers last year, but only
managed to hook up 135,000 of them.
- Hosting in Trouble? Once upon a bubble, Web hosting companies were
the darlings of Wall Street. They were the “picks and shovels” guys
providing the infrastructure for the Internet gold rush. Now one of
the biggest of them all, Exodus, is in trouble and may not make it.
Their stock plunged 65 percent recently, and they’re obviously taking
on water. So much for picks and shovels. Businesses should ask a lot
of questions about their hosting company in this difficult environment.
- One Fish, Two Fish: OK, I had to headline this item about Bluefish
with a reference to the Dr. Seuss classic. Bluefish Wireless recently
launched infrared access points for Palm PDA owners in Laptop Lane
outlets in Chicago's O'Hare and Atlanta's Hartsfield International
airports. During a three-month trial, users can download news from
Reuters via AvantGo and purchase books, CDs, flowers, and wine. As if
that’s not enough, users can earn United, American, or Delta
frequent-flier miles from their purchases.
- What a Difference a Letter Makes: You may be familiar with
the wireless LAN standard 802.11b, otherwise known as WiFi. It’s the
de facto home wireless LAN standard backed by 3Com, Apple, Cisco,
Intel, and Nortel. You may have wondered, “What’s up with the ‘b’? Is
there an ‘a’?” Yes, there’s an ‘a’ and also several other alphabetic
variations. A current problem with 802.11b is its use of the
unlicensed 2.4GHz frequency, the same frequency occupied by Bluetooth,
digital cordless phones, and even your microwave oven. The 802.11a
standard moves to the relatively empty 5Ghz band and promises more
than five times the 11Mbps throughput of WiFi. But that’s not all. The
other variations of 802.11 also could be important, especially to
business, in the next few years. See the article for a roundup.
- The Drive to Improve: Next month Maxtor will begin shipping a
100-gigabyte PC drive, the industry's biggest to date. Costing $300,
the drive will hold one hundred billion bytes of data, enough to store,
for example, more than 25,000 MP3 music files or a hundred million
memos you can’t remember where you filed.
Street Journal (subscription required)
- Microsoft to Drop SmartTags: Everyone’s favorite monopoly has decided
to leave out a controversial feature from the upcoming release of
Microsoft XP, their next operating system. SmartTags work in Internet
Explorer and allow the software giant to link any word on any Web page
to a site of their choosing. Despite being pretty annoying, this
technique, which Microsoft is not abandoning forever, obviously would
give it tremendous marketing power. Just what they need: more power.
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Let me know what you think. Also check out the TrendSpot for ranking of
the latest emerging trends.
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