Weekly Wrap: Hard Drivin'
By Carlo Longino, Fri Sep 10 08:15:00 GMT 2004

Samsung drives a hard bargain, Motorola's designs for the top, 3 sees the (very faint) light, and more...


Hard drives making their way into mobile phones was an inevitability, and Samsung struck first these week, unveiling a handset with a 1.5-gigabyte hard drive that will go on sale in South Korea for about $800 later this month. A gig and a half isn't going to kill off the iPod anytime soon, but shows that mobile phones are happy to eat up MP3 players, just like they're doing to low-end digital cameras. But adding a huge hard drive to a well-equipped handset would make it possible to carry not just your entire music collection around with you, but all your digital media files -- an exciting thought.

Motorola's got mobile music covered through a previous arrangement with Apple to include a special version of iTunes on some future handsets, but the company is hoping to keep its mobile-phone sales strong by emphasizing design -- something that could prove difficult given the company's penchant for the familiar confines of its V clamshell series. It would almost appear that the company could be headed for the same missteps that have plagued Nokia -- betting the farm on one style, then falling hard when consumer tastes change.

Jut a couple weeks after one of its executives said anybody that wanted open Internet access on a phone was "nuts", 3 UK announced it was opening its network to third-party content -- just a little bit. The carrier will allow 12 content aggregators to deliver content like ringtones and Java games to 3 subscribers via premium SMS and WAP push, and says it will expand that to smaller providers in 2005.

So there are signs the wall is cracking, though 3's still a long way from not being the sole arbiter of what its subscribers can do or see on their device. It's a curious position for a 3G carrier to not throw the gates open to encourage data use, particularly one owned by a company that sold off an incredibly successful incumbent carrier to fund the next-generation venture. It continues to focus on voice, which so far is most successful 3G application, due in large part to it being the application with which carriers are most familiar. But smaller and better handsets should help the cause too.

Apart from the rise of 3G, another thing some people have been waiting for in the mobile industry is the rise of Linux as a handset operating system, but the way things are playing out, Linux may become a dominant force in featurephones, rather than smartphones. This scenario would let manufacturers leverage Linux's greatest asset -- its low cost -- but avoid the problems of releasing a smartphone into an environment without a sufficient base of developers making consumer applications.

Carrier-subsidized devices are nothing new, but some manufacturers are toying with subsidizing devices with advertising. The company behind a new mobile gaming device plans to sell the device to users dirt cheap if they'll sit through three 30-second video ads each day. Evidently most of the ads will be movie trailers, ignoring the idea that a repurposed TV ad probably isn't going to play well to mobile users.

Device makers aren't the only ones searching for new business models. Investors are growing weary of Asian mobile stalwarts like NTT DoCoMo and SK Telecom as the penetration in their home markets reaches penetration, preferring to put their money behind carriers in emerging markets. DoCoMo is trying to lure its 2G subscribers over to its 3G network, as FOMA users spend nearly 40 percent more per month. But once they get users onto the new networks, carriers still have to get them to spend on new services -- something that may prove quite difficult.

Mobile micropayments are turning into big business as they continue to thrive for products outside the handset. A South African portal is using premium SMS to sell access to Web content, and Danish churches are letting parishoners make donations via the medium.

Elsewhere on the site this week, Peggy Salz shares how carriers are hoping to boost MMS by using emotive content, Douglas Rushkoff wonders if mobile phone users are replacing smokers in terms of etiqutte and Howard Rheingold applies Neil Postman's principles to the mobile world.