Sometimes being the early mover in technology doesn’t always make you the winner– just look at when Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) and Google (NSDQ: GOOG) launched smartphone initiatives (much later than Nokia) and how they are perceived today (ahead). But Anne Bouverot, mobile operator Orange’s EVP in charge of mobile devices, is hoping that its initiatives in new areas like NFC, tablets and those still-conceptual Nokia (NYSE: NOK) Windows phones will be an exception to that rule. [more, including video, after the jump]
Orange is at the head of a major project — the first and largest of its kind — to implement NFC technology throughout its footprint in Europe. It’s starting with Nice, where it has equipped thousands of people with NFC-enabled handsets which they can use for transactions in a number of participating retailers.
Some observers like long-time mobile analyst Dean Bubley have pointed out that NFC may end up offering little or no return to the operators running them, because they will be used for “interactional” services, not transactional. Bouverot says that’s wrong: Orange will be getting cuts in more ways than just on transactions. “We wouldn’t be doing this if we weren’t going to make any money,” she told me.
Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) and Nokia: Bouverot admitted to me that Meego was its first choice, but Orange will also be behind Nokia’s choice to use Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 platform for its next generation of smartphones.
Why? Orange is already a partner of Microsoft’s and has been for years — it was the first in the world to launch a Windows-based smartphone (which was awful — buggy, slow and clunky; I had one), and thinks that being the challenger will mean that operators like Orange will have more leverage incorporating themselves into the picture. That could include services like charging for apps, and more integration into mobile advertising (and gathering customer info to make those rates more premium) behind the services on the platform.
Orange’s implementation of Windows Phone 7 has given it returns in spades so far. Bouverot says that Orange gets significantly more use for its own mobile services on WP7 than it does on Android or Apple’s platform (unfortunately, she wouldn’t share the actual number). This is because Orange gets to pre-load its services onto the device as “tiles”, creating hotlinks where there are none on the other platforms.
Tablets: One other area we talked about was Orange’s new own-branded Android tablets. Yes, another Android tablet, this one made by Huawei and also known as the Ideos S7. These, for now, will be sold only in Spain, Poland, Slovakia and Romania, and will be priced lower than high-end models like the iPad “lowering the entry level for tablet computing”.
Orange has some questionable history with tablets. In what was perhaps another example of where being the early mover isn’t necessarily the best place to be, it was the first to launch the iPad under subsidised prices, at less than £200 with a two-year data contract. But reportedly the device sold only in the thousands (Orange never confirmed the figure).
The jury is still out over whether that was just an early blip or if Orange really will tap into a tablet market with its cheaper own-brand product.
I thought Anne was a good interview, and brings up a lot of the issues facing operators in the smartphone space today — see for yourself in the video below.