Will Google kill ZigBee?

Or will it main Bluetooth?  Or Wi-Fi?  Or maybe Z-Wave?  Or any of the multitude of other short range wireless standards.  It’s a question that was raised last week when Google did a keynote presentation on Android@Home at their I/O Conference where they announced a wireless light bulb which could be turned on and off from a mobile phone.  The technical details are very sketchy – much of it coming from Lighting Sciences Group, who did the accompanying demonstration.  It’s unclear whether it’s a new radio, a new protocol, a new standard or even what frequency it’s running at.  But you don’t expect the absence of little details like that to stop speculation.

The greatest level of speculation has come from the smart energy industry, who are suggesting that ZigBee could be the main casualty.  Jesse Best at Smart Grid News asks whether this will take away ZigBee’s momentum.  And there’s an interesting range of comments about that on his site about that, which are worth reading.  Throughout the industry, Google’s announcement is making people question whether they’ve made the right choice?

I’m not sure that anything Google does will displace ZigBee from its place in smart meters.   That’s actually quite a closed market, as most utilities don’t really want to share that data with consumer devices.  Where it is a threat is in home automation.  Home Automation is still a very nascent market and Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and ZigBee are all pitching to own it.  The reason I think they are at risk is because of what Google can bring, which is an API (Application Programming Interface).  Google has succeeded in areas like mapping because it makes it easy for developers to access and mash up data.  In contrast, wireless standards shy away from making their stacks easy to use, particularly for embedded designs.  If Google can make it easy, thousands of garage and backroom developers will take it and innovate with it, and the existing standards may all find themselves left behind.

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My Last Nokia

The recent partnership between Nokia and Microsoft has created a lot of comment, with the more upbeat view being that it combines Microsoft’s skill in software with Nokia’s expertise in hardware.  That reminded me of the quote from Bernard Shaw to a beautiful actress who suggested they should have a baby so that their child would have her beauty and his brains.  “But Madam,” Shaw retorted, “what if the child has my looks and your brains?”  We don’t yet know what this union will bear, but there are good reasons for asking whether many phone users have already bought their last Nokia?

The marketing world has always understood that if you want to catch a consumer, catch them young.  Tom Lehrer parodied it well with his song “The Old Dope Peddler” who “gave the kids free samples, because he knew full well, that today’s young innocent faces, will be tomorrow’s clientele”.  The consumer electronics industry is equally aware of that principle, as I was reminded today when I went past a window exhorting parents to start their children off on a life of electronic materialism with “My First Sony”.

Nokia must wish that they could be that confident.  When I upgraded my phone to a Nokia E72 this year I thought harder about that decision than I had for most of my previous upgrades.  What finally won me over and stopped me jumping to Android were two features – Ovi Maps and a battery life of four or more days.  But I bought it with the realisation that my next phone would probably not be Finnish.  With the announcement of the new relationship between Nokia and Microsoft, I wonder whether their marketing departments need to get together and make a final push for short term market share with the slogan “My Last Nokia”? 

It’s one of those questions that could enter the public consciousness, like “do you remember where you where when Kennedy was assassinated”, or “when Neil Armstrong took his first step on the moon”?  For today’s generation of phone users, they may look back and wonder “where was it that they bought their last Nokia”.

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OneAPI to bind them.

There’s trouble in Mobile Earth.  Or so it appeared at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last week.  Darkness is spreading throughout the networks, as the twin towers of Apple and Android continue to suck application developers into their empires.  But help was at hand.  Step forward those plucky little hobbits at the GSM Association.  Prior to the Conference their ivory burrow had been echoing to the sound of furry feet as they hastily put together the Wholesale Applications Community (WAC) to thwart those twin evils of the cellular world.

ARPU is precious.  Brand is even more precious.  As without that, you’re just a data pipe.  But both are fading.  The only thing that consumers appear to value these days is downloadable apps, and lots of them.  Last year at MWC, every operator was busy launching their own Apps Store.  A year on, the cellular shires have realised fighting alone didn’t work, so they’ve banded together to pit their combined forces against the dark empire.

It’s an odd alliance, and probably one that is doomed to failure. 

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