The BBC news site ran a story entitled 'US Leading the Mobile World' by Maggie Shiels. I was just getting mentally ready to argue against the BBC, usually rock-solid news service on any global matters including mobile, but then reading Maggie's article I was delighted to observe that she strongly doubts this claim. Her article was clearly written to provoke a response from AT&T Chief Technology Officer John Donovan. Mr Donovan has recently claimed at the Venture Beat conference in San Francisco that far from being a laggard in mobile, the USA is way out in front. He continued "In the past 3 years, the US has been the clear leader when it comes to phones, design, operating systems and applications." When Ms Shiels of the BBC asked for specifics, Mr Donovan refused to give any, and his assistant promised to give a follow up with details, which the BBC has yet to receive.
So first, Mr John Donovan, CTO of AT&T, the mobile wireless giant. Please respond to the BBC reporter and give her concrete evidence why you - a network operator - think the USA leads in mobile. But yeah, I hear rumbles of a debate coming up! And I'll do a pre-emptive strike into this argument.
PAGING TRUTH POLICE
So Tomi, what is the truth in this? Note, first, that it is nearly impossible for any 'expert' who is living in one country, to accurately judge how advanced (or not) that country is, in international comparisons, without significant exposure to other countries. Note also, that Maggie Shiels of the BBC has lived both in the USA and the UK, so she is far more personally aware of the issues, and her commentary in the article is very revealing (she accurately describes several areas where the USA lags and specifically where the AT&T network does not shine as a pinnacle of world leadership in mobile). And for any 'expert' to consider international comparisons, those experiences should most preferrably include extended exposure to the world's most leading countries of that industry.
So consider Iran. They recently announced that their rocket science program sent some live animals into space. Wow. A rat, a turtle and some worms. Double-wow. How utterly underwhelming. The Russians (then of the Soviet Union) were the first rocket scientists to successfully put an animal into earth orbit, when Laika the dog was sent into earth orbit, just a few years before the Iranians did it, when was that? Let me try to remember. It was before I moved here to Hong Kong, actually it was before I left Finland to start my consultancy in the UK, no it was before that even. It was before I went to America to get my bachelors and MBA degrees. It was before I was in the Army in Finland. It was before I went to high school. It was before I started grade school. It was before I went to kindergarden. It was... It was yes, it was before I was born. It was errrr... ...in 1957.
(The Americans followed with Enos the Chimp sent to space in 1961). Russians put the first human into orbit with Yuri Gagarin in 1961. The Americans sent the first person to walk on the surface of the moon in 1969. So yes, its fair to say that Iran's rocket science program has advanced recently, but if they are putting animals into space in 2010, and the Russians did that literally more than 50 years ago, and both Americans and Russians have managed to send actual humans into space, then you cannot claim that Iran in any way now leads the space race. Yes, the Iranians have no doubt improved compared to where they used to be, but have not caught up.
So lets examine something far more complex than rocket science - mobile telecoms, and how we measure leadership, and where the USA sits in those measures today. Who is sending rats into space, and turtles, and worms. And who has sent humans onto the moon?
MOST COMMON USE IS SUBSCRIBER PENETRATION RATE
The most used measure of comparing international mobile telecoms environments, is the mobile subscription rate, measured as a per capita percentage (against the total population, not against households like we measure for example TV sets, or measured against 'adult populations' etc. The whole population from babies to great grandparents.) The USA has currently a mobile phone subscription count according to the CTIA latest numbers of June 2010 at 286 million mobile phone subscriptions in the USA. And the latest number I've seen for the US population is from March 2010 when the Washington Post said it was 307 million. So the USA mobile phone subscription penetration per capita, currently in 2010, is 93%.
That is an impressive number by itself, it is nearing 100%. Any US based expert could be impressed by it. Until we look at the Western European country average penetration rate which is already over 100%. Not just a little bit above it, the Wireless Intelligence just reported last week that the Western European average penetration rate is... 130%. Who is leading whom? And to add insult to injury, what of them Eastern Europeans? They too are ahead of the USA. But by how much? 123% !!!! The last time I did a count of mobile phone penetration rates early this year, I found that 53 countries have higher penetration rates of mobile phones than the USA! Not just European countries, many Asian and Latin American countries rank ahead of the USA. Yes, Russia, Malaysia, Chile and even South Africa are ahead of the USA. 53 countries! Someone cheers putting rats into space while others have already walked on the surface of the moon.
To put it another way, when did the USA pass the 50% penetration rate level? The USA did that in 2002. The first country to do that, Finland had passed 50% mobile phones per capita four years earlier in 1998. When did the USA pass 75%? It did it in 2007. Italy achieved that six years before, in 2001. This level of 93% where the USA is today? Taiwan achieved that level eight years before, in 2001. Its not just that the USA has fallen behind - in the measure most used by the industry - but the USA is falling FURTHER BEHIND on this measure.
Where is the global leadership today? Italy is at about 160% penetration rate, here in my home town of Hong Kong we passed 170% penetration level. Bahrain and Estonia have passed 180%, and the world leader right now is the UAE, with 202% penetration rate per capita in mobile.
You want to say 'so how is this relevant'? It means that in the more advanced countries, the mobile industry itself is far more advanced than that in the USA. Take Estonia. Estonia was the first country to have a mobile phone based national lottery. They became the first country where all parking is paid by mobile. They just this year enabled tax returns to be filed by SMS (American readers, think about that on the next April 15th tax filing day? Taxes by SMS.. when will you see it in the USA? Will be YEARS..). And yes, Estonia will become the first country to allow mobile phone based voting later this year. This is the type of innovation that we see when a country is a 'leader'. Not all of those were 'invented' in Estonia - mobile parking and mobile tax returns by SMS were both invented in Norway for example - and yes, Norway's penetration rate is over 120%.
You cannot seriously suggest that the USA is anywhere near the global lead in mobile, when over 50 countries have a higher adoption rate of mobile phones than the USA.
SECOND MOST USED MEASURE IS 3G PENETRATION
(I'm reminded of the Muppets and their regular feature 'Pigs in Space' featuring Miss Piggy. Now we can celebrate 'Turtles in Space!' haha) Yes. you can argue the 'quantity' argument (subscription penetration) is perhaps superceded by the 'quality' argument ie who has the newest, most powerful networks. The international standard measure of that today is migration rate from 2G networks to 3G networks. For example the original iPhone 2 was not a 3G device in 2007, it was a 2G device, but the three upgrades to it, iPhone 3 in 2008, 3GS in 2009 and now the iPhone 4, are all 3G devices.
Who did 3G first? It was not the USA. No. It was Japan (NTT DoCoMo on October 1, 2001). The USA was not the second or the third or the fifth to do so. The USA waited until beoming the 10th country to launch 3G. How far is the USA migration today from 2G to 3G? Its at about 34%. Today 17 countries have migrated more of their subscribers to 3G than the USA. So the USA has not 'caught up' with the leaders, the USA has fallen further behind. (Turtles in Space!) And how far are the leaders? Six countries have already migrated more than half of their subscribers to 3G - Singapore, Sweden, Taiwan, Australia, South Korea and Japan. And Japan? It is now this summer becoming the first country to migrate 100% of its subscribers to 3G, when the last 2G network is shut down. The USA is not even talking of 2G networks being shut down. Chimps in space? Who is Iran in this picture? Americans have landed robots on Mars. Iran puts turtles into Earth orbit.
Why is this relevant. Take the iPhone 2, the original iPhone in 2007. In 2007 the US media and tech analysts loved the original iPhone and considered it revolutionary. They thought it was very advanced. In Japan in 2007, the industry had stopped selling 2G phones altogether in 2007, so very literally, what was considered advanced in the USA was obsolete in Japan. The 'magnificent' original iPhone 'this changes everything' jesusphone was literally obsolete in Japan. If you look at almost any innovations we associate with advanced mobile 3G networks - from all-you-can-eat data plans to app stores to internet browsing to WiFi parallel connection for heavy data use, to videocalls to watching TV - on all of these, the Japanese were first ...in the world. In Japan since 2006 the majority of internet access was from mobile phones, not PCs. In the USA we are nearing the half point now.
You cannot seriously suggest that the USA is leading by the 'quality' of networks when 17 countries are ahead of the USA in migration to 3G, and one country has migrated all of its customers to 3G where the USA has only migrated a third. Someone is bragging about putting a turtle into space.
THEN MOBILE DATA USE
(Worms! I think worms was the funniest. Spaceworms! Haha that suggests very bad sci fi movies from the yes, 1950s haha.) The third most used measure to indicate how advanced is any country, is how much of its mobile telecoms traffic use has shifted from voice to data services. The most common measure of this, and the only one of an internationally relevant measure with reasonably standard service across all networks in most countries, is SMS adoption rate. The USA has recently passed 64% adoption of SMS text messaging by its mobile phone subscribers. This is severely behind the global average of 78% and even the CTIA's Steve Largent, in his public debate with me a while back, admitted that yes, in SMS adoption, the USA lags the rest of the world. (Spaceworms, wiggly monster nuclear spaceworms, haha)
But lets put a bit of context to this measure. SMS was invented by my mentor, Matti Makkonen of Finland and the first commercial person-to-person SMS was sent in Finland. No surprise then, that the world leader in terms of SMS migration is also Finland, where today 90% of the total population (not of 'mobile phone users', but literally of the 'total population') uses SMS. When you count out the under 7 year olds who are too young to read (8%) of the total population, it means that of the reading age population in Finland - 92% - already 90% actually use SMS. Remember this includes now people like blind people and those so old with Altzheimers and those with bad arthritis to prevent text entry etc... Essentially everyone who is of reading age, and who is not physically disabled, is already using SMS in Finland.
So thats the global leaders. How is it in the USA? In the USA, 64% of cellphone subscribers - ie 59% of the total population - are active users of SMS. The growth is continuous and the use is addictive, and a third of US teens already send more than 100 SMS every day, and 42% of American youth can send SMS text messages 'blindly' ie not looking at their phones, and even the elderly in the USA are adopting SMS. But it is very very clear, that the USA is nowhere near the global leader in SMS adoption. More than half of the countries in the world are ahead of the USA on this measure. (Spaceworms!)
Why is this relevant? We are now witnessing in America, driven by the iPhone, a migration of cellphone behavior away from voice calls, and into mobile internet use, mobile services and apps. A lot of innovation is happening in the USA because of this. So, lets compare. Does your library send alerts to you via SMS? Does your dentist send cancelled appointment offers to you if you have an appointment, to get you faster dental care? Did you notice American Airlines recently started to offer cellphone based check-in? Do you get coupons onto your phones? Do you see advertising on your phone? Do you listen to music on your phone? Do you pay for your public transport like the subway train, by phone? All of these were invented in Finland and all delivered at least in part, by SMS. Finnair already has more than half of its fliers using mobile phone check in. Helsinki area public transport has long ago passed the point where more than half of all single tickets are sold via mobile phones. Can I pay for the New York subway with my phone today?
You cannot seriously suggest that on this the third most common measure of international mobile industry leadership, SMS text messaging adoption rate, that the USA is anywhere near the lead. Iran is yes improving with its space program putting worms into orbit around planet Earth, but Americans sent a probe to visit that Asteroid previously known as a planet, called Pluto, at the edge of our solar system. Someone is a leader and in space that is indeed the USA. In mobile it is not the USA.
Note that these three measures are specific to mobile carriers/operators (ie AT&T own business). So AT&T CTO John Donovan talks of phones and operating systems and design and apps - none of these are operator or carrier factors, they are factors to the handset side of the industry. So even if it were true - that those four factors are where the USA leads - even so, AT&T and its network and services, offers none of those issues of leadership, and of those three areas where AT&T does have any influence - subscriptions, network migration to newer technologies, and mobile data services adoption - the USA not only lags seriously - the USA has fallen further behind from the pack. Fallen further back, on all three measures!
BUT THE ADVANCED PHONES
Fine. Its very easy to look at the US phones, in particular smartphones now, and then look how others seem to be copying them and conclude, that the USA leads in handsets. The 'visual' evidence is compelling, isn't it? Many Nokia E-series phones seem to be carbon copy clones of the Blackberry. How many touch screen smartphones are clear clones of the iPhone including Nokia's next flagship model, the N8?
Case Blackberry. So fine, lets examine the evidence. Blackberry? (and yes yes yes, I know my geography, I have lived both in the USA and Canada, yes yes yes, the Blackberry is made by RIM out of Waterloo Canada, I know. But what do you want me to argue in addition to the iPhone? The Motorola Rokr perhaps, haha?)
As a phone (not as its service, remember John Donovan claimed the USA leads in phones). It was the first North American phone with a full QWERTY keyboard, and the first Blackberry model was released in 2001. How innovative was that? Nokia invented the QWERTY phone with the original Nokia 9000 Communicator - five years earlier. By 2001, when the Blackberry debuted, it had a monocrhome (black and white) display. Nokia had already released its color screen Communicator, the 9210 model. Today all Blackberries have color screens. The first Blackberry to add a camera was in 2006. When did Nokia think of this innovation to the Communicator? in 2004 for the 9500 Communicator. Blackberry added a 3 megapixel camera in 2009. Nokia's E90 Communicator had 3 megapixel camera in 2007.
Now, I am not in any way dismissing Blackberry's excellent market success and its clearly iconic form and the remarkable success it has achieved in the enterprise space (with the service with very secure email and corporate apps support) and in the youth segment, but if you want to argue handset leadership, while the Blackberry is clearly iconic, it was not the innovator. It followed very closely what Nokia was doing with Nokia's flagship phone, the Communicator line, and adapted those ideas to its cheaper Blackberry smartphone line, several years later. While American pundits and experts mostly have not seen the top line Nokia smartphones and the US carriers (like AT&T) tend not to bring the best phones by Nokia, Samsung, SonyEricsson etc to the US market, that does not remove the fact, that at least when it comes to the Blackberry, the bestselling smartphone of North America, that has not been the most advanced phone even when compared to Nokia. And I could pull similar phones from SonyEricsson for example, often even more advanced.
Case iPhone. So yes, lets take the iPhone. This is clearly the most obvious exhibit of US leadership in producing a 'superphone' that the rest of the world will admire and copy, eh? Lets examine the evidence.
The original iPhone 2 was released in June of 2007, three years ago. It was indeed a remarkable phone. I was mistakenly credited with inventing that moniker 'jesusphone' for it (I never called it that, it was mistakenly referred to this blog by that term, that was then adopted by the mainstream press). I did say its the most important phone of all time, it would forever change this industry, and that we would mark time in mobile by 'Before iPhone' and 'After iPhone'. Yes, a remarkable phone.
Now lets examine the claim of US leadership. That iPhone 2 was not perfect by any means. Even US based analysts admitted it was deficient in many significant ways (no 3G, no GPS, a modest camera etc). In addition to improving some internal electronics with faster or more capable components, ie faster processors, more memory storage, etc, the iPhone model has since made 15 major upgrades and improvents to the features and abilities of the iPhone (apart from making it faster, which any updated edition is expected to be).
Note these are not somehow "Tomi's criticisms" of the iPhone. These are what Apple itself has found worthy to fix or improve, and Apple has featured all 15 in their big announcements of what is new and awesome in the newest upgrades to the iPhone line. So, when looking at the original iPhone 2 from 2007, these can with hindsight be seen as shortcomings or even "faults". The 15 significant improvements are:
3G, MMS support, GPS, better camera (first 3, now 5 megapixels), stereo bluetooth, cut-and-paste, voice dial, video record, autofocus for the camera, Microsoft office applications support (Word, Excel, Powerpoint), user-installed apps, multitasking, video calling with second forward-facing camera (FaceTime), sharper display (retina display) and LED flash. Do not crucify me, Tomi Ahonen, for picking these items. These all have been featured as the 'top news' by Apple itself when it announced the upgraded models.
So, the 'awesome' iPhone 2 in 2007 had at least 15 major flaws, that Apple itself has found worth fixing in the next 3 years. How advanced are these features? I do honestly not know the exact date of each of these innovations and which handset maker did it first, so to provide some reason to the comparison, lets just compare to Nokia, as being an ex Nokia executive, I happen to know the Nokia brand very well. 15 upgrades to the iPhone since 2007. When did Nokia do these changes to Nokia phones?
3G? Apple added 3G in 2008. Nokia offered its first 3G phone the 7600 in 2004.
MMS? Apple added MMS support in 2008. Nokia's first MMS phone was the 7650 in 2002.
GPS? Apple added GPS in 2008. Nokia's first GPS phone was 3585i in 2003
5 megapixel camera? Apple added that now in 2010. Nokia's first 5MP camera was on the N95 in 2007
Stereo bluetooth? Apple the iPod maker didn't add it until 2008. Nokia offered it on the 8800 in 2005.
Video recording? Apple waited until 2009 to let its camera be used for video. Nokia's 7600 did video in 2004.
Voice control? Apple offered in 2009. Nokia included since 3110 from 2001.
Autofocus? Apple added in 2009, Nokia's first AF was on the N90 in 2006
Cut & Paste? Apple didn't allow cut & paste until 2009. Nokia's Symbian OS smartphone Communicator 9210 had it in 2001
Microsoft Office apps support? Apple added in 2009. Nokia had it back on 9110 Communciator in 1999
User-installed apps? Apple added this in 2008. Nokia has had it since the N-Gage in 2003.
Multitasking? Apple adds it now in 2010. Nokia/Symbian phones had multitasking since 9210 Communicator in 2001.
Videocalling/forward facing camera? Apple now adds (limited) videcallling with FaceTime. Nokia's first videcalling 3G phone (with forward facing second camera) was the 6680 in 2005 (with the world standard 3G videocalling, not the limited FaceTime)
Better resolution to screen ('Retina display')? Apple offered a 4x sharper display now in 2010. Nokia has never offered a 'retina display' but already back in 2007, Nokia's E90 Communicator had twice the resolution of the iPhone 2 (you could call it 'half retina display' haha)
LED flash - Apple adds in 2010, Nokia had it since the 6680 in 2005.
So, in conclusion. Apple has found the original 'radical' iPhone 2, so deficient, that the same phone model in essentially the same physical form factor, has already had 15 major improvements, and of those 15 major improvements - EVERY ONE had existed on a Nokia phone before Apple's original iPhone 2. some had existed for 5 years or more, before the iPhone.
You can claim that the multitouch screen of the original iPhone 2 was revolutionary in 2007. One change. Three years ago. But then look at all the 15 major changes done by Apple since. They all - all of them - are playing catch-up with Nokia features from years before. Yes, Apple makes things work wonderfully well, they are the masters of the user interface, but where is the 'global leadership' if we examine the evidence of the iPhone 'over the past 3 years' as AT&T's John Donovan claims - all 15 of those changes were indeed deployed by Nokia years ago.
Remember those rats and turtles that Iran sent into space? Iran is not the leader in putting animals into space. Now think iPhone. While yes, every iPhone owner loves these upgrades, and yes, each consecutive iPhone has been better than the previous one - but rats in space! Nokia did it years before.
On one Nokia model released prior to the iPhone 2, the Nokia N95, there were 14 out of those 15 changes that it took Apple until 2010 to bring to customers. Yes, the N95 had 14 of the 15 'improvements' to the iPhone, and had them all in early 2007. But the N95 had tons of improvements that Apple fans keep asking Apple to add still today, like a removable memory card slot, replacable battery, FM radio, etc.
And please, remember, in most cases those innovations were actually invented in Japan (first cameraphone, first video recording phone, first GPS phone etc etc etc), and in many cases, there were advanced Samsung and LG and SonyEricsson phones that had many of those features also in Europe etc before Nokia did. My point is, because I happen to know Nokia the best, all of these 15 improvements to the iPhone had existed on some Nokia models (and 14 of the 15 on one specific phone) prior to the iPhone., You cannot claim US phone leadership by looking at what the iPhone has offered us in the past 3 years.
Why is this relevant? Today American pundits are excited about the latest 'super' improvements to the iPhone 4 (as they were in 2008 and 2009 with the previous updates). In the most advanced mobile phone market, Japan, far far far far - FAR FAR FAR - FAR - more advanced phones exist than the iPhone 4. It does not mean, that the iPhone cannot sell well in Japan (it is selling well on the one carrier who has it, Softbank) but yes, consider. The iPhone has now a 5 megapixel camera with LED flash. Top Japanese phones have 13 megapixel cameras with Xenon (ie 'real') flash. The iPhone screen size is 3.5 inches. Top Japanese phones have screen sizes of 4.5 inches. And what of all those things the Japanese have that Americans' haven't even started to ask for? Most top Japanese phones include digital TV tuners. All include the mobile wallet with near field connectivity. Where Apple offers WiFi, top Japanese phones offer WiFi 'hubbing' functionality so you can connect other devices via the phone to WiFi. And a third of Japanese phones are now waterproof so you can take them to the bathroom and shower. Don't laugh, now that I mentioned it, the next time you are in the bath, you'll think - actually playing some games on the phone, or listening to music, could be fun..
Where is Nokia in this? The E90 Communicator had a 4 inch screen (bigger than iPhone) already in 2007. Nokia's top phones run 12 megapixel cameras and have Xenon flash units. Nokia's N96 had a digital TV tuner back in 2008. And Nokia just announced earlier this year that they will roll out near field radio into all smartphones. So who is leading in phone design globally? (Japan obviously) and who is far ahead of the Americans in the most advanced phones? (Nokia obviously).
BUT THE ICONIC iPHONE FORM FACTOR
Yes, many Android phones follow the appearance of the iPhone, don't they? Even Nokia's N8 (and when keyboard was closed, also the N97) seem to be clear 'clones' of the iPhone, aren't they. About 3.5 inch touch screen smartphones, very flat in design. Clearly clones of the iPhone. Yeah, that talks to the 'design' part of the iPhone. Iconic indeed. Except that who was the real inventor of that form factor that we now all ape? It was not Apple. Apple's only significant contribution was multitouch. But that 'iconic' design of the original iPhone was a blatant copy of a spectacular phone design - from 2006, that won many international industrial design awards in 2006 (also well before the iPhone prototype was even shown by Steve Jobs in public in January 2007) Not invented by Nokia, no. Not even by the clever Japanese. That design form factor of a slim one-button design 3.5 inch touch screen - was invented by LG and they have a chest full of 2006 awards for it. The model was called the LG KE 850. Don't for one moment think that the outwardly sexy 'design' of the icon was by Apple. It wasn't. That design won awards for LG a year before. Its just that LG didn't feel the USA was ready for such advanced phones in 2007 and released that phone in Asia and Europe (before the iPhone was even sold in the USA).
Yea, apps stores. Not invented in the the USA either. Nokia's first app store was for the N-Gage in 2003, five years before Apple upgraded its 'featurephone' (as how the tech purists called the original iPhone 2) and finally added full apps installation capability to it in 2008, making the iPhone 3 finally a pure smartphone. But who did it first, its the Japanese again, NTT DoCoMo had the world's first app store in 2001.
And yes, clever operating systems. I am not an expert on operating systems and have to keep this very much at the top level only. I cannot possibly judge how good or bad any one OS is. I know from lots of complaints, that for example Symbian is accused of being very difficult to develop for, and Apple's OS/X or iOS is far easier, etc. But lets look just at the couple of major upgrades to the Apple iPhone OS. It has since launch added multitasking, folders and cut-and-paste. As I mentioned in the above, all these there 'improvements' to the iPhone were standard features on Symbian 'the obsolete smartphone OS haha' years before Apple launched its first iPhone. Who is leading whom? And Adobe Flash support? Apple refuses to add this internet staple, Symbian (and Nokia smartphones) has had it for years.
MATCH ME THIS, AMERICA
So lets compare. Who is advanced. Lets pick a couple of clever things that are normal in Japan. 2D barcodes (QR codes). Do you use them? How long have you had a 2D barcode printed on your business correspondence, brochures, etc - your business cards? They are totally commonplace on business cards in Japan (invented in Japan). Even I have had a 2D barcode printed on my business cards since 2006 (I have never lived in Japan and hadn't even moved to Asia by then still living in Europe). Do you have one on your business card today? Who leads?
The translator utilty? Do you have that app on your phone that you can speak to it, it listens, then does a translation and speaks to you in another language like Spanish? Sounds science fiction? Or the printed text cameraphone (scanner) translator? Take any printed page in a language you can't read - like say Russian - and scan it with you cameraphone and it displays on your phone screen in English? You have that on your phone? Japan has had these kinds of services on their networks and phones for years. One in five Japanese uses translation services on their phones. Who leads in mobile?
Your mobile wallet? Do you pay your grocery payments when filling up your car at the petrol station or when going to the movies or buying an airline ticket - do you pay with cash, or credit cards, or do you use your phone to pay? In Japan the mobile wallet is commonplace and tens of thousands of points-of-purchase accept mobile phone payments including 7-Eleven stores haha. The active base of phones supporting mobile wallet (on 'Near Field' technology, something almost non-existent on US based phones today) is 51 million, almost half of Japanese mobile phones.
What about your TV shows? American Idol takes TV voting yes, but do you have TV shows where viewers can personally join the reality TV show with creating an avatar on their mobile phone, and control that avatar while in the live TV broadcast, seen by all in the country? Yes, this is normal in Japan, they have had several such reality TV shows that were ratings smash successes, where viewers joined in through their mobile phone avatars.
Oh, have you created an avatar on your phone yet? Do you have any mobile service on your phone that even lets you create avatars on your phone? One in six Japanese already use avatars on their phones. One of the oldest ideas is the Honda virtual hitch-hiker by which your avatar can take rides on real Honda motorcycles around Japan. That mobile adver-app was launched in 2004. Yes, who leads?
And what of those magnificent coupons services on iPhone apps and other mobile coupons? Massive Adoption in the USA? The most successful coupons have what 1% or 2% adoption of the total US population. In Japan MacDonald's mobile phone coupons have an opt-in (voluntarily signed on subsribers) database that covers 14% of the total Japanese population. Considering how much Japan is a fish-eating nation, thats probably near the total customer base of MacDonalds restaurants in Japan. One in seven Japanese has already signed up to receive mobile coupons from the Golden Arches. One in seven. Did you mention something about the USA leading in mobile?
Lets take just one more. The Idle Screen. Do you have a real time app on your phone that gives real time breaking news (like the CNN news ticker) on you phone? That works 24 hours per day in the background, feeding news for you onto the idle screen, like a PC screen saver, but collecting news in real time? Like your personal permanently connected 3G CNN feed or Reuters news feed for your phone idle screen? No, you don't happen to have one? That was invented also by NTT DoCoMo and in just 18 months from launch, they had 16% of their subscribers using the news service on the idle screen - and note, this is a paid service. They loved it so much, one in six Japanese use it, even though it cost 2 dollars per month! The service is spreading now to other Asian markets like India, the Philippines etc.
You seriously mean to suggest that the USA is a leader in mobile when such innovations as these seven common mass market services of Japan are not launched or used at all in the USA, or where launched recently, are still used in trivial numbers in the USA, yet they are totally commonplace in Japan. Someone is putting worms and rats into space, while others have been sending men to the moon and robots to Mars. Lets face facts, and the fact is that the worlds' undisputed global leader in mobile is Japan.
If AT&T Chief Technology Officer John Donovan claims that the USA has taken the lead in mobile because of advanced phones, design, operating systems and apps, then first - this ignores his own business of being a network operator. He conveniently ignores the facts the USA is definitely not a leader in the mobile operator/carrier business where we have subscription penetration rates per capita, 3G migration rates and SMS adoption rates. But even on these other four measures, the USA is far from the global leader. Japan is undisputedly the world leader in mobile telecoms, in networks, in handsets, in services, and in innovation. Many other countries from Finland and Estonia to South Korea are years ahead of the USA.
Yes, the USA has improved, but like the turtles and rats and worms that Iran can now put into space, the Iranian space program has in no way caught up with Americans and Russians who have developed re-usable space vehicles (the Space Shuttle fleet now being withdrawn) who maintain an international space station for humans in orbit, have a giant space telescope in orbit, and have sent space robot vehicles to the surface of Mars, and sent probes to the outer planets and even beyond the solar system. The USA is about to offer commercial spaceflights for normal (but very wealthy) passengers soon. Sorry, Iran is not the leader in rocket science.
And neither is the USA the leader in mobile. Not today. They have improved recently - far more so on handsets than in networks (shame on you AT&T and the other US carriers for falling FURTHER behind) but the USA is years behind the leading countries in mobile. The USA lags on all major measures of global mobile leadership. And the USA lags also on the four other issues raised by Mr John Donovan, Chief Technical Officer at AT&T. The USA is certainly not 'way out in front' of others. It has not passed the world leaders. It has not even been able to catch up to the rest of the world in mobile. No Mr Donovan, the USA is falling further behind in mobile and in your business of being a cellular telecoms carrier/mobile operator, the degree of falling behind is worse in networks than it is in handsets. The USA is not ahead, it is falling further behind. And that is a fact.
ONE MORE THING
Hey, I am not 'anti America' about this. The mobile phone was invented in America. The mobile industry was once driven by technology but is now increasingly a marketing driven industry. Marketing was invented in America. The future of mobile is competition. Americans are nothing if not competitive. And mobile today is the richest opportunity for creativity and business opportunity of any industry in any time in history. The US economy is built on creativity and business. There is no doubt, that the USA is the 'sleeping giant' of the mobile industry. Motorola and Palm and AT&T and Sprint and until recently Lucent and Canadian Nortel are poor excuses for North American leadership in mobile today (they were leaders once, long ago). But the USA has given us real leadership and innovation, such as Apple's iPhone which with its revolutionary multitouch technology ushered in the era of the mobile touch web. There are tons of innovative US companies in mobile, like say Qik or Twitter or Sybase 365 (recently bought by SAP) etc. There is no doubt in my mind that the US industry WILL awaken and become once again a world force in mobile. But please lets not be delusional about it. That moment in time is not today. In mobile its the Japanese who have sent rockets to Mars and the Finns who stepped on the moon, and South Koreans who probe Pluto. Americans are the ones now waking up to the possibilities, and carefully sending turtles and rats and worms into space. The USA cannot honestly judge its contributions and truly be motivated to grow and learn, if they are mistakenly convinced that they are now the leaders. That is why this article. I want us to stick to the truth. I am most happy to celebrate any true US innovations on this blog and have dozens of them in my books. Its not like there is no contribution by the Americans.
BEYOND THE PETTY ARGUMENT HERE
Whats the 'real point' in this continuous squabble of 'is the USA behind or who is ahead'? And whats in it for you? Lets go back to Iranian rats in space. If you were an aspiring rocket scientist, or a spacebound nation, and wanted to expand YOUR knowledge of this space, to your advantage. You could go to Iran to study how to put a turtle into Earth orbit, or you could also go to NASA and learn from people who not just sent animals into space but have actually visited space and stepped onto the moon and who build space planes and space stations. See my point?
If you read a book or blog or pundit 'expert' opinion on the mobile industry, especially about its innovation, and that expert is based in the USA and has not been exposed to the global mobile market, be careful. The expert may be very clever and very knowledgable about the US market (or US carriers or US smartphones or US apps etc) but many - not all but many - are then woefully ignorant of the bigger world market and true innovation and leadership. Like I do so many times daily on Twitter, and do frequently on this blog, I correct misguided American pundits on their misconceptions. The mobile world was not invented in 2007 when the iPhone launched. And for just about any current innovation seen in America, the actual idea has been deployed already for many years in more advanced markets. Not everything, but almost everything. That bestsellking iPhone game right now, Angry Birds. Bestselling paid iPhone game of all time, and by a wide margin. Where did it come from? Not from America. Its developed by Rovio. And where is Rovio based? In Finland. Yes even in the home of Nokia they make the bestselling iPhone games..
I do not mean that all US based experts are not tuned in. The most telling part is if that expert ever so often reminds readers that the USA actually 'is not leading'. If the US based expert is that well tuned into the mobile industry that he or she is following global trends (and is honest) and tells readers that the USA is not te leader, you can assume this expert is well in tune with reality.
If your expert suggests for one moment that the USA leads, then you better be cautious. Come back to this blog and read the facts and think. Are these points Tomi talked about signs of 'real global leadership' or not? Compare to whatever that supposed expert claimed. And consider is it possible for the USA to suddenly jump ahead of the world? And if you find that the expert seems to be not in tune with the world, then be very very careful what they tell you. They may be like the Iranian rocket scientists, for all their best intentions and achievements, their experiences and knowledge cannot be as advanced as rocket scientists in Russia, the USA, China etc.
It also means that some blogs, news sites, experts etc who focus on either a global / international view to mobile (like me here on this blog) or who focus on specifically one of the leading countries, like say my dear friend and Japan mobile guru, Lars Cosh-Ishii at the Wireless Watch Japan site, will have a far better view explicitly on mobile industry leadership. The real international leadership in mobile is expressed also by such experts as Jan Chipchase the former Nokia design guru and author who has lived for many years in Japan. Or American Dan Applequist the Strategy Director at Vodafone and author based in the UK. Or Frenchman Ben Joffee of Plus 8 Star in China who lived for years in South Korea (and Japan I recall). Or another ex Nokia design guru Christian Lindholm more recently with Yahoo in the USA and now with Fjord based in the UK (and another author). Or Christain Billich the German who lived for a long time in Japan and worked with Mobikyo there. Talking of Mobikyo, there is Kei Shimada of course also who kindly blogs and Tweets in English even though he is Japanese. There are many more but you get the picture. True global thought leadership does involve significant exposure to at least one of the world's most advanced mobile markets. You cannot learn that leadership from AT&T haha which lives and operates only in a laggard country like the USA.
Leading companies like say NTT DoCoMo based in Japan or Samsung in South Korea or yes, much as American pundits tend to belittle them - Nokia out of Finland - are showing true global leaderhip on where this industry is going. The world's most green tech company according to Greenpeace? Not Apple and not Motorola. Its Nokia. Think thats important to a global company? Think it will be more important in years to come than in past years? Nokia won it also in 2009. So yes, 'near field' - a vital element to the future of the mobile wallet as I showed of Japan's leadership in the above? - Nokia is deploying near field radio to all of its smartphones. Is RIM? Is Motorola? is Palm/HP? is Apple? What of that 2D barcode reader. Early iPhones did not have it. Nokia added the 2D barcode reader in 2006. Mobile banking? Mobile payments? Nokia has already launched Nokia Money in India. Who is really showing leadership in mobile handsets?
While American pundits obsess about the iPhone App store and its billions of mostly free downloads and think that equates to global leadership, consider this. Apple told us that the cumulative sales on the iPhone App Store since 2008 is 1.4 Bllion dollars. Thats it. Two years. Less than a billion per year. The mobile telecoms industry earns over 250 Billion dollars in mobile data services. That juggernaut - yes bigger than global radio, bigger than global internet revenues, bigger than global revenues of all personal computers sold this year - that mobile services industry was enabled - by Nokia. Yes, the paid download mobile services industry was first done on a Nokia phone, when the world's first downloadable paid content - the humble ringing tone - was enabled by the first 5 Nokia handset models in 1998. If you think the iPhone App Store is impressive with 5 billion cumulative downloads and 1.4 Billion cumulative sales, just remember this. Ringing tones are also downloaded and paid content. The ringing tone business achieved 5 billion cumulative downloads by 2004 - and all of those were paid downloads to phones. The ringing tone download business today totally dwarfs the iPhone App store, in 2009 ringing tones alone were worth 5 Billion dollars worldwide.
I do not mean that ringing tones are 'better' than apps or anything like that. But just remember, that 'innovation' of downloading something cool to your iPhone today, like an ebook for example - the pioneer of that ability - that concept - of downloading paid content to phones - was not Apple in 2008, it was Nokia, 10 years earlier. Nokia today may not make the sexiest most desirable smartphone for the US market (where only 6% of mobile phone subscribers live) but Nokia is by far the world's bestselling smarphone selling far more than Blackberry and iPhone combined. And if you want to see what will be in the iPhone 5, why not take an old top-of-the-line Nokia smartphone from a few years ago, you'll see most Apple 'improvements' as standard features on those old Nokias. Just remember that most of Nokia's top phones were never carried by the carriers in the USA, like AT&T who really don't care to show the world's best phones to Americans. I'm talking of phones like the N93 in 2006 or the E90 Communicator or now the N900.
So yes, the world leaders? The most innovative mobile market is Japan. You can see the future of mobile in your country if you visit Japan today. Other very advanced mobile markets include South Korea, Italy, Singapore, Finland, Estonia etc. Even the UK is in the top 10 most advanced markets in mobile telecoms. If you have experts or companies or developers or digital agencies or tech pundits who are based in those countries, odds are they are showing you true global innovations. If you listen to US based experts without any global view, odds are you are learng the equivalent of what Iran now knows about spaceworms and rats in space. That 'knowhow' while interesting perhaps, will not win you the mobile industry race and make you the success, say like Carlos Slim who became the world's richest person earlier this year overtaking Bill Gates. Carlos Slim runs Mexico based America Movil, a massive international mobile telecoms empire. He didn't get there by copying AT&T of the USA haha.
In short, if you are faced with two conflicting views of the mobile industry, one by an expert who knows the most advanced markets, and another who only knows laggard markets, please trust the one who has seen the future. NASA rocket scientists will best the Iranians for many years to come haha (Turtles in Space!)
So yes, I have been monitoring this space for years and reported on it regularly in my nine books on mobile, etc. So you'd say, is there one metric that combines all the different measures and lists a definitive listing of who is where in mobile? As we saw, Estonia is ahead in subscriptions but not in 3G. Japan is ahead in 3G but not in subscriber penetration per capita, etc. Yes, there is a metric for it, my Tomi Ahonen index of mobile industry leadership which calculates the lead in four measures (penetration, 3G migration, SMS adoption and handsets) and then gives an index rating with 100 a theoretical maxium.
I first reported this metric in my latest hardcover book Mobile as 7th of the Mass Media but then have updated it in the TomiAhonen Almanac. For the index I do not include the tiny nations of under a million inhabitants like Luxemburg and Monaco etc, so some of the 'leading countries' of the international telecoms statistics are 'missing'. But yes, in the 2010 edition of the TomiAhonen Almanac, when factoring penetration rate, 3G migration, SMS adoption and phones, as a combined number, the USA has moved up a bit, and is ranked 19th in the world, tied with Portugal, with an index rating of 68 out of 100. Just ahead of the USA is the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway, and just behind the USA are Switzerland, Estonia and France. The world leader is once again Japan with an index rating of 94, with South Korea second and Italy third. I calculate that a rough rule of thumb is that 10 index points is a lead of about one year. By this index the USA is close to 3 years behind Japan. Its the nearest thing to a comprehensive global measure of how much any one country is ahead or behind another.
To study the Index more, or to see 83 other tables, charts and statistics on the mobile phone industry, including 16 charts and tables with international comparison data - check out the TomiAhonen Almanac 2010. You can see free sample pages at the ebook ordering pages. The Almanac only costs 9.99 Euros so it won't be a major financial setback either haha.