What if Palm made a smartphone and nobody cared?

These must be frustrating times for the people at Palm.

The company recently pre-announced that it's creating a 3G Treo for sale through Vodafone later this year. This was a very important breakthrough for Palm. It has been trying for years to get broader distribution for its smartphones in Europe, without great success. Now the world's largest mobile operator is embracing the company, and saying specifically that it'll offer the new Treo in at least the UK, Germany, Spain, Italy, and the Netherlands. That's a huge increase in reach for Palm, and it should help to produce incremental sales for the company.

What was Wall Street reaction to the announcement? Nothing. No change at all in the company's stock price.

I don't pretend to understand why stock prices move the way they do. Palm ought to be rewarded for this breakthrough. But there are also some reasons for caution. The first is that this will be a Windows Mobile Treo, not a Palm OS Treo. I believe there's pent-up demand in Europe for a well-made Palm OS 3G smartphone – Palm sold huge numbers of handhelds into Europe, especially Germany, and I'm sure some of those people would trade up to a well-designed 3G phone using the same OS. I'm less certain of the demand for a Windows Mobile Treo in Europe. There are already a lot Windows Mobile devices on the market there, so Palm is entering a crowded field.

Supposedly sales of the Windows Mobile Treo in the US have been disappointing, so Wall Street may be fearing the same thing will happen in Europe.

Of course, it's possible that Palm also has a Palm OS 3G Treo in the works for Europe. Palm doesn't like to pre-announce its Palm OS-based products (supposedly, the only reason it pre-announces the Windows Mobile-based ones is because the US government views any Microsoft deal as a "material event" that has to be announced early to prevent stock manipulation by insiders). The same requirements don't apply to Palm OS-based products, so it's very possible that Palm's going to ship a Palm OS Treo through Vodafone as well.

Regardless of which software ends up on the Vodafone devices, the other thing I'm not sure of is how well the Treo product design will play in the countries of Europe. I should explain this, for the benefit of my readers in the US.

Many Americans make the mistake of believing that Europe is full of Europeans. It's not. It's full of French people, Germans, Italians, British, and so on – each from very distinct cultures with very different beliefs and traditions. Other than the World Cup, I'm aware of only two truly pan-European cultural institutions. One is the Eurovision song contest, and I'm not going to even try to explain that. The other is the practice of displaying your mobile phone on the table during a meal.

Go to lunch or dinner in any country in Europe, and when everyone sits down they'll take out their mobile phones and put them on the table. There's even a proper place to put the phone, about like this:



Note that you don't lay down the phone straight – it needs to look like you just casually dropped it on the table.

Then everyone at the table surreptitiously checks out everyone else's phone. There's a subtle hierarchy of status associated with which phone you carry. I haven't decoded all of it yet, but definitely you get some extra status for having what's perceived to be a stylish phone. Brand also plays a role, although I think that varies from country to country. For example, carrying a Siemens phone is OK in Germany, but will peg you as a cheapskate anywhere else in the western half of the continent. Nokia has good status, depending on the model you carry, and I think SonyEricsson gets you tagged as a little more creative than average. If you have a Motorola it says you're an American.

And then there's the Treo. I've been told by several European friends that slapping down a Treo on the table gets you labeled as a geek. And not a nice geek in the American sense (visionary and probably rich), but geek in the bad sense (socially misfit and physically underdeveloped). The keyboard, which American users tend to regard as a badge of business power and importance, comes across as pathetically computer-obsessed to a lot of folks in Europe. At least that's what I've been told by people over there.

It's possible that image is evolving as RIM and Nokia bring more keyboard-based phones to market. But if not, Palm will have a lot more trouble on its hands than just what OS it's running.

The other question about this hypothetical Vodafone Palm OS phone is whether Palm can even build it. As I've speculated before, it's not clear that the current version of Palm OS can easily be revised to work with the 3G networks in Europe. Now Brighthand has pointed out that PalmSource/Access missed its deadlines for delivering the next version of Palm OS, freeing Palm from a series of fairly substantial minimum payments it was required to make to Access.

If the Access platform won't be available in time, what else could Palm do to fill the gap? David Beers has compiled a lot of evidence indicating that Palm's working on its own Linux-based operating system for smartphones. I don't know if it actually is, but let's speculate irresponsibly for a moment.

Adapting Linux to mobile devices is not as easy as most people think – the OS was created for PCs and servers and doesn't naturally understand concepts like power conservation and limited memory. Palm certainly could be trying, perhaps with help from one of the companies already making working on mobile Linux, but it's not a slam dunk for a company of Palm's size.

We know for sure that Palm is working on a secret new product that's neither handheld nor smartphone. It's also not based on Palm OS, so the software for it must be something different. It could be Windows Mobile, but I'm betting that Palm is creating a new operating system for this new class of device. Would Palm work on two new operating systems at once? I doubt it. So maybe what Palm's doing is creating an OS for its new product category – now far advanced in development – and then adapting that OS to its smartphones as well. That OS might or might not be based on Linux.

If Palm did create its own OS, that would complete the circle of Palm's long, strange evolution – the company would be back under the management of its founders, owning its brand name, and with its own proprietary OS.

Again, I don't know if it'll actually happen, but the idea's kind of poetic, isn't it?

41 comments:

Laurens said...

Interesting article. Yes, there's a cultural difference. Europeans tend to care more about style than functionality when it comes to phones and stylistically the Treo doesn't fit the bill. It's too big and has (or rather, had) a bulging antenna.

Thomas Landspurg said...

Remarks seems to be perfectly valid from the European point of view...That's true that a Palm was 5 or 6 years ago considered as trendy, which is ot anymore the case.And yes, the US obsession of keyboard enabled devices seems strange to many of us....
It also help us (european) to better understand point US point of view and interest regarding phones...
Thanks....

Iliya said...

Very funny article. Just to tell you some of my experience…
In the 90s in my eastern european country to have a mobile meant that you are criminal. Only those people had enough money to have a mobile. For criminals was so common to have a phone, that we even invented a new urban word “mutraphone” (“mutra” means criminal). The passion was to have a big phone with a big antenna so you can scratch your back if you want.
Later some businessmen started to buy phones, but for example talking in the tram or in the bus was considered bad behavior. The people used to say that if you have money for mobile, you better get a taxi.
After the year 2000 the big bang happened and all this was forgotten. Today the people around me still measure their phones and it is mostly in two directions - first, the look and the design, and second - the ability of the phone to really work as a phone.
Actually, for me this lastly happened yesterday when I was in a mountain for fishing. We were sitting around the fire, drinking beer, preparing the barbeque and making phone calls for free. The winner was one thin stylish unknown VK mobile phone (neither Nokia 6600, nor E70).

Cheers, Iliya

jeff said...

Very interesting column. I'd like more information about the differences between US and European smartphone users. For US developers of smartphone software, this really helps us to figure out how to make our products fit better across the pond...

Mike Rohde said...

Mike, thanks for the insight into European phone etiquette. I have an Austrian friend in London who always complains how huge the Treos were saying something like:

"I'd never be seen on the tube with THAT huge brick up to my head. I'd be a real geek. No way!"

I have to agree. I know why the Treo is so large (features, screen, etc.) but it's still a brick compared to so many other small phones.

SMS messages are by nature, short, and used more as a supplement on the road to a laptop or desktop. Meanwhile, the focus of the Treo seems geared toward a full blown email and office experience on the road — in many cases completely replacing parts of a laptop or PC rather than as a supplement.

Your post suggests quite different cultural attitudes about work and connectedness between the US and Europe. Like Jeff, I think a detailed report on those differences would be a very interesting read indeed!

Michael Mace said...

Thanks, everybody, for the very interesting feedback. I especially appreciate the comments from folks in Europe. You're assisting with my education.

Laurens wrote:

>>stylistically the Treo doesn't fit the bill. It's too big and has (or rather, had) a bulging antenna.

Yeah, exactly. That's what was so interesting to me about the reactions I got to the Treo in Europe. People just said, "yuck." Some of them couldn't even explain their reaction – they just said it didn't look the way a phone should look.

I don't know why, but when it comes to phones, what's beautiful in one country seems to be ugly in another.

I've seen some similar reactions to the Razr from bloggers in Europe. To my American eye, the thinness makes it intensely cool; by comparison, a lot of Nokia's products look like little plastic blimps. But I don't think most users in Europe would have the same reaction.

I should acknowledge that there are also a few other areas in which American tastes are at odds with the consensus in most of Europe. The wearing of t-shirts and bermuda shorts while on vacation seems to be a good example.


Thomas wrote:

>>the US obsession of keyboard enabled devices seems strange to many of us

I think that's because most people in Europe know how to input text using a keypad. Most Americans over the age of 25 are hopeless at that.


Ilya wrote:

>>In the 90s in my eastern european country to have a mobile meant that you are criminal.

This is why I adore the Web. I get to learn things from all over the world. Thanks!


>>Today the people around me still measure their phones and it is mostly in two directions - first, the look and the design, and second - the ability of the phone to really work as a phone.

Kind of leaves smartphones out the equation, doesn't it, since they are usually bulkier than a feature phone and often don't handle voice as easily.


>>Actually, for me this lastly happened yesterday when I was in a mountain for fishing. We were sitting around the fire, drinking beer, preparing the barbeque and making phone calls

There's another difference between the US and Europe. In the US, mountain lakes where you can make campfires generally don't have mobile coverage.


jeff wrote:

>>I'd like more information about the differences between US and European smartphone users.

Mike wrote:

>>Like Jeff, I think a detailed report on those differences would be a very interesting read indeed!

I don't pretend to have all the answers, but I'll do a brain dump of what I do know and put it in a future post. Thanks for the suggestion.

fiat lux said...

I spent 2 weeks in and around Barcelona in July and did not see a cell phone on the table the entire time I was there -- and I ate in a very broad range of restaurants, including locals-only places off the beaten path. Perhaps that custom hasn't made it to Catalonia yet?

Michael Mace said...

Fiat wrote:

>>I spent 2 weeks in and around Barcelona in July and did not see a cell phone on the table the entire time I was there

Aw, dang it. You'd think I would have learned by now. Every time I make any sort of categorical statement about a part of the mobile market, it turns out there's an exception to it.

I've seen the phone-on-table ritual in Germany and the UK, and among a lot of different European nationalities at PalmSource's developer conferences in Europe. I assumed it was continent-wide, but sounds like I got it wrong.

If anyone has more insights on this, please post a comment.

By the way, I'm jealous that you got to spend two weeks in Barcelona. It's a fabulous town, even if it is a bit warm there in July.

toafc said...

Fabulous article, again. I think it pinpoints exactly what Palm is facing in Europe. Here in The Netherlands, Palm is nothing compared to all the Windows Mobile *and* Symbian OS smartphones. I doubt it's more than 5% market share. Palm Benelux is reduced to one (!) employee, long time head Henk Dinkelaar, who does all the PR, distribution etc. from his home office.

Let's hope this new Palm Treo with Vodaphone will mark the beginning of a new era. The Treo 650 is starting to show its age as well.

fiat lux said...

>>I've seen the phone-on-table ritual in Germany and the UK, and among a lot of different European nationalities at PalmSource's developer conferences in Europe. I assumed it was continent-wide, but sounds like I got it wrong.<<

Perhaps it is a Euro-geek thing?

I was in Barca as part of my MBA program, so it was a business-y setting, but the people I was with were either academics or business folks from non-tech organizations. Pix are up on Flickr.

Mike Featherstone said...

As a European (British) Palm owner with a RAZR (a non-american with a motorola phone?) I will confirm a lot of what you report.

I think it's actually, largely the antenna and the size that really do the Treo a great disservice over here and raise sneers and jeers when seen in public. The general opinion seems to be that this is a dinosaur from the 80s that should have been buried a long time ago.

Keyboard exposure is growing with the march of Blueberries(!) and similar devices so resistance to that is weakening, but they still have a disproportionate affect on the size of the unit.

I'd agree that the RAZR is cool small phone, at least to the UK eye (or is it just me?).

Anonymous said...

I'm wondering whether the keyboard means "I'm ready for business anytime," which is certainly an appreciated attitude in the US, but in Europe, there is less identification with the job, and people are more distant to their work - you don't want to be seen as the slave who can be contacted by the boss after hours?

Anonymous said...

Absolutely on target.

It also hold true in areas of British influence like east Africa. The mobile (not cell phone) goes on the table. In some areas of Tanzania, for example, reception is actually better on the table. A Nokia 6310 is a business man and a Nokia Communicator is a rich geek. Networks (or mobile operators) also carry status with them. Phones are carried in the hand more than the belt, and when on the belt, much closer to the buckle than American men wear it.

Anonymous said...

I think the vodaphone deal is a big step in the right direction for Palm. I wouldn't read too much into the stock market reaction. Apple introduced iPod back in 2001, and the stock price didn't really take off till two years later. Not to mention that it is summer now...

Avi Greengart said...

Just FYI, the numbers I've seen suggest that the Motorola RAZR is now one of the (if not the) best selling phones in Europe. I'm not sure Moto = American applies any more...

-avi

Michael Mace said...

Mike wrote:

>>I think it's actually, largely the antenna and the size that really do the Treo a great disservice over here and raise sneers and jeers when seen in public. The general opinion seems to be that this is a dinosaur from the 80s that should have been buried a long time ago.

Ouch!

I'll be very interested to see how the new antenna-less Treo will do.


>>Keyboard exposure is growing with the march of Blueberries(!) and similar devices so resistance to that is weakening, but they still have a disproportionate affect on the size of the unit.

Ahhh, okay, so the issue is not the keyboard itself, but what it does to the size of the phone.


>>I'd agree that the RAZR is cool small phone, at least to the UK eye (or is it just me?).

According to the info from Avi, at least six percent of the local population is with you.


Anonymous wrote:

>>I'm wondering whether the keyboard means "I'm ready for business anytime," which is certainly an appreciated attitude in the US, but in Europe, there is less identification with the job, and people are more distant to their work - you don't want to be seen as the slave who can be contacted by the boss after hours?

Mike touched on this above. Any other comments from folks in Europe?

I've never been completely persuaded by the idea that folks in Europe are less job-obsessed than Americans. I think attitudes vary dramatically from country to country, and from person to person.

My gut is that the distaste for the keyboard was more about the aesthetic geekiness of it, plus the fact that so many folks in Europe take pride in their ability to text quickly using a 12-key pad. I think maybe the full keyboard feels like training wheels to a lot of people.


Anonymous #2 wrote:

>>It also hold true in areas of British influence like east Africa. The mobile (not cell phone) goes on the table.

Excellent. Thanks for the info. Maybe the problem with Barcelona is that it was never colonized by Britain. ;-)


>>Phones are carried in the hand more than the belt, and when on the belt, much closer to the buckle than American men wear it.

Ahh, the mobile phone as jewelry. I have been told that in China and some other parts of Asia, the mobile phone is worn on a lanyard around the neck, almost like an oversized necklace. But I've been in Beijing a couple of times now, and have never seen anyone wear a phone this way. Maybe I didn't hang out in the right circles.

I think that as phones and other mobile devices have gotten smaller, wearing yours on your belt has become a bit of a fashion faux pas in the US. Do other folks agree?

The exception to this is Blackberry users, who want instant access to their devices every time a message comes in, and don't care if it makes them look geeky.


Another anonymous wrote:

>>I think the vodaphone deal is a big step in the right direction for Palm....Apple introduced iPod back in 2001, and the stock price didn't really take off till two years later.

Okay, good point. I went back and checked Palm's stock price when the company first announced its deal with Windows Mobile. No change in the stock price then either.

So why the heck does the US government consider these announcements to be material events?


Avi wrote:

>>Just FYI, the numbers I've seen suggest that the Motorola RAZR is now one of the (if not the) best selling phones in Europe. I'm not sure Moto = American applies any more...

Thanks, Avi. I got to pay more attention to the news.

I went back and checked, and it looks like the main source of information on the Razr's performance in Europe is a Telephia report issued in March of this year. Telephia is not the first company I'd look to for phone market statistics; the company's roots are in measurement of wireless coverage and service quality. But the Telephia report seems to be the only set of numbers we've got.

Telephia showed the Razr at 6% share in Europe, which isn't a terribly impressive number to me, but puts the phone in the #1 position because the other major mobile phone companies have so darned many phones that they split the market into tiny slivers.

Although the raw percentage doesn't sound too impressive, keep in mind that the western part of Europe consumes about 50 million mobile phones a quarter. So the Razr's 6% share amounts to about three million units. That's a lot of phones.

Interesting sidebar: the trend toward ultra-thin phones is the third straight major change in phone design that Nokia was late on (the previous two were flip phones and camera phones).

Mike Featherstone said...

I'll be very interested to see how the new antenna-less Treo will do.
Yes, that will be telling to a degree but the OS difference between that and the 650 may have some impact on the numbers.

Incidentally, I don't know if you've come across this but someone, somewhere is pushing the idea of a 'short antenna' for the 650 (http://discussion.treocentral.com/showthread.php?t=117934)

Ahhh, okay, so the issue is not the keyboard itself, but what it does to the size of the phone.
As I understand it, carrying a brick is a large part of it, yes. There is still resistance to the keyboard concept itself (geekiness I think, as you say) but as I said before, with more keyboarded devices appearing (e.g. Nokia E61), resistance is eroding slowly. Plus, if you want a large screen (for a phone), you need a large device to put it in.

Maybe the problem with Barcelona is that it was never colonized by Britain. ;-)
Maybe not, but I'm sure we must have pushed the French out of the area sometime around the early 1800s ;)

Euroclie said...

Hello Michael,

Very interesting post!

Here are a few comments from a European (French) user:

1) I've never observed people putting their cellphones on the table during meals in France. Not at home (in your own house or when you're invited, it would be considered rude), and not in restaurants either (where you're supposed to switch them off or at least put them in silent mode). Maybe it's just something seen during "business" meals where people are amongst colleagues and must be reachable?

2) A 3G Treo is, all in all, a good thing, but I fear that Palm's reaction is too small and (most importantly) too late. Palm used to have quite a large number of followers here in France in the PDA era, and many (inluding myself) have followed the smartphone move with the Treo 600. But Palm has left us alone in the dark for so long, with the Treo 650 a half-brained attempt at best (buggy NVFS, no WiFi, ridiculously limited memory...), so most if not all the users I know have turned away from Palm, I even had time to test a Linux, a WinMob and (my current) a Symbian device while waiting.

3) While 3G is fine, I think that it's still too costly (for non business users, at least) for a 3G Treo to gain a large audience. It also have a considerable impact on the battery life, and the gain is somewhat limited (faster download? Who wants to downloads megabytes of data on the road anyway on an otherwise limited device?). 3G for apps like mobile TV might still appeal to some but the overall Treo design will not attract them (bulky, not stylish at all). So only hardcore businesmen might be interested by the 3G Treo, or would be if the competition wasn't so fierce amongst Windows Mobile smartphones. If at least it was running PalmOS, even old as it is, it might have a chance to stand out of the crowd and appeal to long time PalmOS users, but it seems PalmOS i lost for good! What a pity...

4) Otherwise, I agree with your analysis of the design preferences for US vs. Europe, even if it's quite difficult to find a common point between the different European countries for things like mobile phone design taste... ;-)

5) In Singapore and Tokyo, I've actually seen plenty of users (mostly women) wearing mobile phones on a necklace, but then in Asia they have a lo of (really) small phones which are adequate for this. I'd never dare do this with a Treo or my current E61! I'm wearing it in a beltcase - and keep it there during meals! :-D

Michael Mace said...

Euroclie wrote:

>>I've never observed people putting their cellphones on the table during meals in France.

Merci beaucoup for straightening me out (and for being so polite aobut it). I sometimes feel like writing this weblog is a process of shared education -- I'm learning as much as I'm teaching.


>>Not at home (in your own house or when you're invited, it would be considered rude), and not in restaurants either (where you're supposed to switch them off or at least put them in silent mode).

That's pretty much the way it would work in the US, although behavior in restaurants varies here a lot (the more expensive the restaurant, the more pressure there is not to use the phone).

I'm starting to think that travel guides need to include a chapter on mobile phone etiquette in each country.


>>Maybe it's just something seen during "business" meals where people are amongst colleagues and must be reachable?

Or maybe it veries from country to country, or maybe it's just a geek thing ;-) I'm interested in getting comments on this from folks in other European countries.


>>I fear that Palm's reaction is too small and (most importantly) too late. Palm used to have quite a large number of followers here in France in the PDA era....But Palm has left us alone in the dark for so long....so most if not all the users I know have turned away from Palm

I am very sorry to hear that. France and Switzerland were historically the two strongest markets in Europe for Palm OS devices.


>>While 3G is fine, I think that it's still too costly (for non business users, at least)

Yeah. In the US, most Treo users are professionals who can charge the data plan to their employers, or who are at least rich enough that they don't mind the fees.

The problem in Europe is that the operators generally will not subsidize (or even sell) a small smartphone that doesn't support 3G. Full 3G is not necessary to do a lot of really useful mobile data work (remember, the original RIM devices were not 3G). But the operators have invested heavily in building 3G networks, so they want to force people onto them.


>>Who wants to downloads megabytes of data on the road anyway on an otherwise limited device?

Nicely put. That kind of summarizes my whole experience with 3G. That's why my favorite use of a 3G phone is as a wireless modem for my notebook PC. It's great for that. I used it just yesterday in a meeting at a company that doesn't allow WiFi inside its buildings (they feel it's a security hole).


>>If at least it was running PalmOS, even old as it is, it might have a chance to stand out of the crowd and appeal to long time PalmOS users

I agree with your analysis. It'll be very interesting to see what Palm does. Some people in the Valley are expecting Palm to license the Palm OS 5 emulator and run that on top of a new OS. That might let them tap the installed base of Palm OS users.

And Orange's endorsement of the Access Linux platform was intriguing. If an operator asks for an OS to be supported, the licensees will follow.


Thanks again for the very interesting comments.

Iliya said...

Just for the fun :

Top 5 reasons to put your phone on the table:

1. Uncomfortable to sit if the phone is in your close-fitting jeans.
2. Uncomfortable to take the phone out and put it in especially if you make a lot of phone calls. Wherever you put your phone in, it will be just one hand far from you if it is on the table.
3. If your phone is state of the art, showing it to the others will give you "additional points". Very valuable on business meetings.
4. If there are some phones on the table you always have a subject to talk about and to avoid the uneasy silence. You can even talk about how disappointed or bored you are from your phone and to ask for advices to buy a new one.
5. Sometimes, better coverage. Very common before in my country, maybe it is the same now in US. It was typical for the small phones with small antenna to have coverage when out of your pocket, but when you put the phone back nobody can call you.

Cheers, Iliya :-)

Albert said...

Mike, here's the Spanish translation of your interesting post:

http://www.canalpda.com/displayarticle869-flat.html

I guess some of our readers will not fully agree with you. If so, I'll let you know.

marcol said...

Now the world's largest mobile operator is embracing the company, and saying specifically that it'll offer the new Treo in at least the UK, Germany, Spain, Italy, and the Netherlands. That's a huge increase in reach for Palm, and it should help to produce incremental sales for the company.

Not completely convinced about this 'huge increase in reach' argument. Off the top of my head, the Treo 650 was (prior to falling foul of EU hazardous substances legislation) offered by Orange in the UK, France and Switzerland, Vodafone in Spain and TIM in Italy. A somewhat smaller-sized market perhaps, but not massively so.

I suspect that the key to increasing sales (relative to the 600/650) is in large part about delivering a package that more people find compelling. Removing the antenna and adding UMTS/HSDPA will help in this respect (as, probably, will the switch to WM5), but I'm not convinced that Vodafone are the best partner - their data prices are just so damned high (at least in the UK). These are the monthly bundles Vodafone UK currently offer:

2.55 MB - £3
11 MB - £6
12.77 MB - £14
25.53 MB - £25
51.06 MB - £40

Horrific isn't it? In contrast T-mobile UK will give you 2 GB for £7.50! I can see the data costs impacting negatively on 750v sales - unless of course Vodafone introduce more competitive pricing to go with the device. What's the point of a 3G device if you can't afford to use the 3G?

Anonymous said...

I'm living in Italy and I'm confirming 100% we are using to eat with our phone just near sitting on the table. Very bad but we don't use (at least male) to put our phone on the belt or similar, so sitting with a phone in a pocket could be dangerous (try to push treo antenna in your body...)

Treo 650 looks very funny as you put your palm on the table. People is saying..."strange design, too big, too heavy.." but later, when they are asking you where is your laptop, and you show them treo.. they realized "treo is fantastic".

I'm using it as gps, listen mp3, writing report, watch movies, find info on access database,checking email and finding infos on internet..

Who can beat it?

Treo is starting to be very common in businessmans, as it should be dedicated for this area..

and I think we don't need 3G; data connection are still too expensive in Europe and we can't use internet too much so speed isn't a must..

I.E. Vodafone is selling 250 mega/month at Euro 40,- in Italy.. this for your information

Anonymous said...

Although I would not totally agree with the status you connect to the different types of cell phones, I must say that it is - in the Netherlands at least - considered normal to have your phone on the table near your plate in a (cheap) restaurant. In more formal circumstances, you would - as the French do - turn your phones off or at least in a silent mode.

Michael Mace said...

Iliya wrote:

>>Top 5 reasons to put your phone on the table:

:-)

Iliya, you should be writing for David Letterman. (Dang, you probably don't know who David Letterman is. He's a talk show host in the US who does a lot of top 10 lists.)

I'll add one of my own: If the phone's on the table and you get a text message, you may be able to read it without others noticing.


Albert wrote:

>>Mike, here's the Spanish translation of your interesting post....I guess some of our readers will not fully agree with you. If so, I'll let you know.

Yes, please do.

We already had one person report that no one in Barcelona puts their phone on the table during dinner. Can you confirm if that's true for all of Spain?


marcol wrote:

>>Not completely convinced about this 'huge increase in reach' argument. Off the top of my head, the Treo 650 was...offered by Orange in the UK, France and Switzerland, Vodafone in Spain and TIM in Italy.

Fair enough, although since the Treo 650 isn't 3G the operators were less willing to push it aggressively than they would have otherwise. Besides, Vodafone's adding Germany and the Netherlands, both of which were very good Palm OS markets at one time. So I think the deal is still very important.


>>I'm not convinced that Vodafone are the best partner...These are the monthly bundles Vodafone UK currently offer... Horrific isn't it?

Wow, those are high.


>>In contrast T-mobile UK will give you 2 GB for £7.50!

They hate Palm OS, but come to think of it this new phone is Windows Mobile. Maybe now that Vodafone is on board with a Treo, T-Mobile will sign up too.

It would be a real breakthrough for Palm if they could start lining up all the operators who have resisted them in the past. Just the increase in distribution ought to help their sales a fair bit.


>>What's the point of a 3G device if you can't afford to use the 3G?

I agree with you completely, but I think an operator would turn the question around – what's the use of spending billions of Euros to create a 3G network if you can't charge people an arm and a leg to use it?

(My answer – you should have thought of that before you built the network.)


Anonymous wrote:

>>I'm living in Italy and I'm confirming 100% we are using to eat with our phone just near sitting on the table.

Excellent. So maybe I didn't hallucinate this thing after all.


>>Treo 650 looks very funny as you put your palm on the table. People is saying..."strange design, too big, too heavy.." but later, when they are asking you where is your laptop, and you show them treo.. they realized "treo is fantastic".

Makes sense. Maybe Nokia is right to call its high-end smartphones miniature computers.


Another anonymous wrote:

>>I would not totally agree with the status you connect to the different types of cell phones

That's okay, please correct me. I'm learning a ton here.

>>I must say that it is - in the Netherlands at least - considered normal to have your phone on the table near your plate in a (cheap) restaurant.

Okay, so here's where I think we stand regarding mobile phone on the table in a restaurant:

France – no
Spain – no
Belgium – no (according to a comment on Brighthand, which linked to this post)
Philippines - no
UK and former British colonies – yes and no (we need more votes on this one)
Italy – yes
Germany – yes (because it was a bunch of German folks who originally told me that everyone puts their phone on the table)
Netherlands – yes

I'd love to hear from folks in other countries. This is really interesting.

Anonymous said...

Austria and Croatia: phones on all tables in caf├ęs and restaurants. Siemens mostly considered a poor man's choice, Razr seems to be the first well accepted Motorola, although it may be for the fact that most Austrian operators were giving them for free with new contract or contract extension. Nokia Communicator and successors leave a positive impression, Treos and RIM devices cause staring, particularly when used for voice communication, ridiculous when used on Vienna underground (subway) lines, where constant loud mobile phoning is otherwise a norm.dzhqonlc

Victor said...

> Moto Q cleaner design than Treo - "cool" in EU, even with keypad?
> Don't put mobile on "vibrate" on table - worse noise than on "low" (I learned this hard way)
> We need a dockable (detachable) keypad for weekday business use - comes off for nice restaurants, evenings, weekends!

Andrew Orlowski said...

Wonderful observations Mike - thank you.

If I may add one aspect to the phone mania in Europe and Asia which mystifies North Americans. Fashion is secondary. It's easier to socialize spontaneously in Europe here while under the influence of ... something, usually alcohol. Physically, the countries
are small, there's good (or good enough) public transport, and so the scope for spontaneity is greater. This needs more impromptu organizing, hence the need for the phone. The phone increases in value.

And once the phone is visible, it assumes a social status in its own right - it's a shorthand for "who are you", and "how did you get here". Compare this to the US where you know how you'll be getting from A to B and back again, when, and how you'll be
getting there - by car. (After-work, all-welcome drinks is very rare in the US, beer-busts excepted, while commonplace social drugs in Europe carry heavy penalties in the US).

This is a bit of a generalization: London is so big and
dysfunctional, that to see friends you often have to plan it 2 weeks in advance. But I think it's broadly true that there's a lot more spontaneity and informal contact here around early evening time.

(While in Asia, which is status obsessed, the phone is simply a status symbol in its own right - even for people who never use theirs.)

Your car analogy is spot-on. To an American, the car is the engine for spontaneity in the same way a phone is to a European. Just compare the cheap phone tariffs and bundles in Europe to the low gas prices in the US. And in the US, you can get a car for less than than cost of a Nokia 6230 on eBay :) Europeans can't really understand American psychology unless they've loaded up a car with cheap gas, the trunk with cheap beer (and fill in X, where X is a hobby, a drug or a combination of the two), and set off on the open road.

Our technologies simply adapt to what we want them to do.

Just look at the thirst for spontaneous fun. Or parties, as we used to call them ;-) ...

Jan Braakman said...

Some 15/20 years ago I spoke to a Scandinavian executive of a phone company who explained why Scandinavia was so advanced in mobile phone techniques. Compared to the Netherlands, he said, the Scandinavians have to bridge larger distances, which is easier to do via the air than through cables in the rocky earth.
I did not believe him when he said that it would be a matter of time before the majority of the Dutch would go mobile too (although 99 percent of our population already had a cable phone). But he was right. Nowadays (almost) everyone has a mobile (we call the phone a "gsm" or a "mobile") and many still have their cable phone too.
Visiting Finland in 1997 I was surprised by the number of mobile phones you saw on the streets. Even children were carrying them. At one spot in Helsinki I counted the people using their phones on the street: 7 (seven)! I was astonished. Now it would be difficult to find a spot in a Dutch city not seeing at least 7 people using a mobile phone.

Michael Mace said...

Thanks, Andrew!

Your comment about the "engine for spontaneity" really resonates with me. If someone wants to understand the US (or at least Californian) car culture, the thing to do is rent a Mustang (preferably a convertible), pack a picnic lunch, and drive some of Highway 1 (the Pacific Coast Highway).

What I want to know is, what's the equivalent activity that a traveling American should undertake to experience the European mobile culture?

Dimitar Vesselinov said...

1. I suppose Iliya is Bulgarian. More info for the Bulgarian mobile market at:
- Digital Media Europe
- Communications in Bulgaria - Wikipedia

2. The UEFA Champions League is the real pan-European cultural institution.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UEFA_Champions_League

Albert said...

Michael Mace wrote:

Yes, please do

The reader who commented mostly agrees with you in terms of cellphone as a status symbol, and compares it to the car. But he also says that you don't need a smartphone to be considered a 'geek': you will be tagged as such if you use all functions that a regular cellphone includes.

Michael Mace also wrote:

We already had one person report that no one in Barcelona puts their phone on the table during dinner. Can you confirm if that's true for all of Spain?

Whatever Fiat says, I can confirm that many people here in Barcelona do put their phone on the table during dinner. Actually, your mileage may vary depending on the region of Spain, and even on the social layer: I'd say you'll find more phone-boasting among highest- and lowest-income people. Maybe the former don't want to damage the pockets of their suits, and the latter don't have any pockets on their tight-fitting tank tops ;-) And those who don't go out for dinner, carry their phones hanging from their necks with a lanyard. Branded lanyards for cellphones are a goodie frequently given away at shows and events.

Albert said...

Michael Mace wrote:

By the way, I'm jealous that you got to spend two weeks in Barcelona. It's a fabulous town, even if it is a bit warm there in July.

Mike, don't hesitate to call next time you're in Barcelona. We always try to make our friends from the US feel comfortable here.

Anonymous said...

An example of a David Letterman Top Ten List:

Top Ten Messages Left On Paris Hilton's Cell Phone

10. "You probably don't remember me, but we had sex about 3 weeks ago."

9. "Consider switching to Verizon*, we rarely let hackers steal our personal information."

8. "So this is the second most embarassing thing that's ever happened to you?"

7. "Uh yes, I'd like to book a room for next Wednesday night at the Detroit Hilton."

6. "It's Bill Clinton. I've been meaning to call you for some time."

5. "Hey it's Pauly Shore--thanks for getting my name in the newspaper."

4. "Sorry I missed you, you must be at work...just kidding."

3. "Hi, it's Christo. Wanna get freaky in Central Park?"

2. "You have a collect call from Dave Letterman, will you accept?"

1. "Is there anything of yours NOT on the internet?"


*Verizon Wireless is the largest cell phone service provider in the US. It's owned by Verizon Communications (formerly Bell Atlantic, NYNEX, GTE, and MCI) and Vodafone.

Michael Mace said...

Thanks for the info, Albert.

And Dimitar, I appreciate the links on Bulgaria and especially the link about the UEFA. A sad example of the lack of American knowledge about international football: not only was I unaware of the European Cup, I didn't know there was a North American equivalent.

Michael Mace said...

Yikes, apparently this phone on the table thing is starting to show up in the US too. Thanks to Nilofer at WinMarkets for pointing this out.

Anonymous said...

since it was mentioned I must confirm that, at least in Greece, the mobile-pjhone ritual YES it EXISTS.
well thought article.

Anonymous said...

Firstly, it's so refreshing to see an American who knows that Europe is a continent comprised of many different countries!

I can confirm that the phone on the table phenomenon is pretty widespread in London and also generally seen in New Zealand (another former British colony).

Style is definitely a factor (for my sins I have an LG Chocolate myself) and I think that this has been the driver behind the uptake of the Razr - I certainly wouldnt associate a Razr with being American. I also agree with the previous comments about the discomfort of having a large phone in the pocket of your jeans. Anyone who carries their phone on their belt instantly identifies themseves as being:
a) American
b) Nerdy
c) Possibly moonlighting as a caretaker (janitor)
d) Over 45 years old

I think the most significant reason howver is the popularity of text messaging outside of the US. I if I'm sitting in a cafe I usually have my phone on silent but keep it visible so that I will see if there is an incoming text message. I NEVER have my phone turned on, or on the table in a formal restaurant.

Finally, I think that overly self important people are frowned upon in New Zealand and the UK. Anyone with a Blackberry can be identified as someone who believes they are so important that they cannot go a couple of hours without access to email. I believe If a message is so important that is demands my attention, someone will phone me and talk to me in person.

No offence, but I also think it is a widely held belief (rightly or wrongly) outside of the US that Americans have a bit of an over inflated view of their own self worth - a view which is substantiated by their attachement to Executive 'power tools' like treo and blackberry.

Anonymous said...

Firstly, it's so refreshing to see an American who knows that Europe is a continent comprised of many different countries!

I can confirm that the phone on the table phenomenon is pretty widespread in London and also generally seen in New Zealand (another former British colony).

Style is definitely a factor (for my sins I have an LG Chocolate myself) and I think that this has been the driver behind the uptake of the Razr - I certainly wouldnt associate a Razr with being American. I also agree with the previous comments about the discomfort of having a large phone in the pocket of your jeans. Anyone who carries their phone on their belt instantly identifies themseves as being:
a) American
b) Nerdy
c) Possibly moonlighting as a caretaker (janitor)
d) Over 45 years old

I think the most significant reason howver is the popularity of text messaging outside of the US. I if I'm sitting in a cafe I usually have my phone on silent but keep it visible so that I will see if there is an incoming text message. I NEVER have my phone turned on, or on the table in a formal restaurant.

Finally, I think that overly self important people are frowned upon in New Zealand and the UK. Anyone with a Blackberry can be identified as someone who believes they are so important that they cannot go a couple of hours without access to email. I believe If a message is so important that is demands my attention, someone will phone me and talk to me in person.

No offence, but I also think it is a widely held belief (rightly or wrongly) outside of the US that Americans have a bit of an over inflated view of their own self worth - a view which is substantiated by their attachement to Executive 'power tools' like treo and blackberry.

THE Adrian said...

Hiya

As a Brit (albeit currently studying in Beijing), I can say that mobile users in the UK fall into three main groups.

The largest is the group of people who want to make a fashion statement with their phone. The SE w800i was very popular especially as the MP3 and camera functionality was quite good.

The second largest group are almost rebelling against the phones (I'm in this group) and so just want something as small and unobtrusiv as possible. MP3? Camera? Who cares; so long as it hangs onto a signal and takes good voice calls.

The third group are the office geeks who tend to have blackberries (but then need a "normal" mobile as well). They take up all the bloody room on the restaurant table :-)

I have a Palm TX which I love. great big screen and stylus for writing. I use it primarily as a chinese/english dictionary and as a general PDA. I wish it had a phone built into it (as I'm also carrying an old Ericsson T39m).

I don't want a treo - stupid keyboard thing - don't need it, and it forces the screen to be smaller.

Big hi-rez colour screen, stylus, a keypad if people really really need it (like the SE P910). That's it.

Anonymous said...

I sometimes see people in the US put their phones on the table. I've been known to do it myself and will agree with the five points posted earlier by Illya(?). I find that it gets put on the table for practical reasons. I will usually try to put is someplace inconspicuous, but where I won't forget it when I leave.

The practical reasons: The Nokia 6681 phone is a smartphone brick. If I don't have shirt or coat pocket to put it in then bad things happen when I sit down if it's in a front or rear pocket. Phone keys sometimes break off from scraping against my house keys and other things. Plus the replacement faceplace I got is so crappy that the fake plastic metal-looking coating rubs off and it looks even nastier. I often have no other pockets except in my jeans since t-shirts and jeans are acceptable dress even for a good number of work settings in the US. I believe these reasons also explain some of the popularity of the small and clamshell designs. The candy-bar style is a nightmare for putting in a tight pocket where it interacts with the other contents with little shielding or protection.

Wearing your phone on the belt was more acceptable in the US in the 90s when larger phones were common, but has become rare (and looks a little red-neck). Putting a phone on the table if it's obvious you're trying to show it off would be considered a little vain. At the same time, a fancy "chick magnet" car isn't seen as vain since you can claim you got it for the other features and it has some kind of utility you're enjoying (and people use their cars a lot). I agree with the other poster about that.

Bigger planners and planner phones aren't seen negatively since they seem to have utility--and better to carry one device that is larger than two separate devices if you need to have the functionality (and frankly the planning software on the smartphones I've tried is pretty pathetic).

I've heard from some English and French and Germans that they perceive US as being unconcerned about style in phones or clothes. Though somewhat true, I know many people who try to be stylish, but for many males, being too concerned about style may be perceived as being effete or non-masculine in the US. In certain circles it's even fashionable to appear stylishly anti-stylish with beat up or thrifted clothes and a devil-may-care attitude.