I think that if you’re looking for opportunities in tough times, the telecoms market is a really good place to look. [This is part of the Tough Times series.]
First of all, telephone service is, by and large, pretty cheap. On top of which we are all of us irremediably addicted to mobile phones: we’ll give up our HDTVs and SUVs and sunny vacations and lots of other things before we’ll let them go.
The Opportunity · It’s not just in that; it’s in that the current downturn coincides with the sea-change in the market. This year, with the advent of the iPhone and now Android, there is a large and rapidly-increasing number of highly-programmable devices out there, which (and this is new) don’t have moronic, blinkered, old-school mobile network operators erecting barbed-wire fences between developers and the people who actually buy phones.
The great thing about mobile apps is that everyone already expects them to be cheap, which is tolerable for vendors because the potential market is so large. Even in tough times, people will pick up a mobile app if it costs them less than a beer at the pub. So why don’t you get out there and start building one?
Declining? · Here are a couple more data points. A couple of weeks ago, there was a much-ballyhooed slide deck from Sequoia Capital going around the Net, about how awful things are going to be. Some of it’s worth looking at, but for the moment skip ahead and have a glance at slide 34. Gosh, isn’t it awful how mobile subscribers and handset sales are declining? But hold on a moment, this depicts growth rates, not numbers. As regards subscribers, that awful-looking graph shows that the headcount is increasing by a mere 6% a year, as opposed to 10%. Not so bad.
And yes, handset sales are declining a bit, but huge numbers are still being sold, and the number of truly programmable devices entering the marketplace every month is very large.
Symbian? · For another interesting sidelight, check out David Wood’s Serious advice to developers in tough times, which is mostly a write-up of my FOWA talk which provided the raw material for this series. He’s from Symbian, and judging by what he says and the fact that he appears in a suit, is likely fairly influential. He reacts, interestingly and from a Symbian perspective, to these points about the opening-up of the mobile-device market. Is it too late for Symbian to get into the open-phone ecosystem?