Phones that go bling

Nokia are betting they can create a super-luxury mobile phone brand. It’s called Vertu. £15,000 buys you a pretty ordinary GSM phone (called an ‘instrument’) in a hand-tooled platinum, white gold or silver enclosure. They’re borrowing explicitly from the vocabulary of hand made mechanical watches and they come with a one-button concierge service for helpless billionaires.

I guess it’s logical to expect this kind of luxury segment to emerge as the market matures, in fact, Frank Nuovo, Nokia’s California-based head of design, tells the FT (subscription) that they’re now designing phones “…for six separate product categories: Premium at the top; Fashion (“stylishly provocative and creatively trend-conscious”); Classic; Expression; Active (“healthy active sports and leisure”); and Basic. He believes these categories will grow more diverse”.

Moore’s law doesn’t apply in the world of timepieces, though, so unless the Vertu ‘intruments’ can be upgraded continually into the future it’s hard to see them becoming heirlooms. The Vertu is more LA bling than Zurich swank. It’ll fit in nicely on the dash of that Escalade you’ve been thinking about.

No no no no no

Er, excuse me for blurting out my first reaction but have you lost your mind? An Apple takeover of Vivendi Universal Music will inevitably be a disaster. Much as I love the cat-among-the-pigeons potential of a tech counter-strike deep in the heart of showbiz-land, we now have decades of evidence that mega-mergers like this one almost always destroy value (and sometimes wipe out the merging businesses).

Here’s an idea: resist the mechanical logic of a merger – “we got a platform, they got content” – the kind of logic that produced AOL/Time Warner. Leave Vivendi Universal to dispose of its music division to some old school media mug and spend that cash pile on technology, design and marketing – stuff that will more directly produce high margin sales which is what a 2% market share luxury goods player like Apple needs most. Thanks to Jack Schofield at Online Blog for the the link.

A distributed business

Three flights of stairs to Sense WorldwideThe Sense Worldwide officeInma Martinez
Up many flights of stairs to the not-very-glamorous offices of brainy trend-spotters Sense Worldwide. Jeremy Brown, Tom Savigar, Raj Panjwani and Inma Martinez run an unusual business, employing only 8 staff but with on-demand access to about 1,000 other people from a global email network of egg heads, designers, fashion victims, people watchers and journos (Sensers, they’re called). Very contemporary, very distributed, very cool. Sense recently spawned a clutch of pretty good new weblogs too.

An Athens by the Central Line

So UpMyStreet – apparently a latterday Athens peopled entirely by cool, fun people who worry about things like geo-encoding their web site – has gone bust. Over at NTK the shock was so great they announced a total cessation of sarcasm for a minute to record the company’s simultaneous slashdotting and receivership. Elsewhere, no one can find a bad word to say about UMS.

The thing is, this wasn’t supposed to happen. While I was running, we thought the UMS guys were golden. They were supposed to have survived the bust, they were supposed to have a bullet-proof (at least not chewing-gum and string) service-based business model with recurring revenues. They had groovy, meaningful technology and excellent people who weren’t running-dog opportunists. What happened, guys?

Innovation in weird snacks

The ingenuity of British manufacturing industry continues to impress, even if its timing doesn’t. The FT reports on an upmarket extension to the defiantly trashy Pot Noodle range from Unilever – and I mean upmarket. We’re talking Wild Scottish Salmon, Kobe Beef, Caspian Caviar and Tuscan truffles. Apart from being a bit weird, this is textbook product innovation and a real sign of vitality in the sector but would you launch a new convenience food in the middle of a war? (The Confectionery Early Warning boys over at Snackspot have already issued their verdict, naturally).

Update: of course, I clocked this one as an April fool, no problem. Honest. To be really honest, I’d read the FT front to back and satisfied myself that there were no April Fool jokes in it. I think I’d convinced myself it must be something to do with the war…

Shelter brands?

Leica offers hope for stick-in-the-mud analogue brands. The gorgeous MP rangefinder camera is packaged explicitly as a device for digital refuseniks – ‘100% mechanical’ boasts the brochure. Jean-Jacques Viau, marketing manager for the MP says in the FT (I think you’ll need a subscription or a free trial) “We could be the shelter for people who react to the changes of model every six months.”

I know that I treasure the mechanical charms of my old Nikon as a tactile, ‘clunk, whirr’ contrast to all the digital gadgets in my life. I wonder if there’s any mileage in hybrid products for people who want digital flexibility and control as well as the older pleasures of hand-made, mechanical instruments? Why can’t I snap a digital prism onto my Nikon, for instance?

Sarcastic link title of the month award

Via demented (in a nice way) Snackpot and branding newsletter LucJam I learn from Food Navigator that targeting kids is getting more difficult. The article is interesting (lifestage vs. demographic segmentation and so on) but LucJam’s link is much more entertaining than anything in the target article: ‘Generation Y not sure what they want to eat’.

Digital cinema

This feature about digital cinema is mostly about the production end (George Lucas has made his last non-digital film and so on) but I think it supports my thesis that the economics of running a High Street cinema are about to change completely. Whether I’m right in thinking that this will produce a new wave of independent cinemas is another matter…

Business idea

Movies are distributed to cinemas via satellite (or even the Internet) these days, right? I mean, I assume trucking cans of celluloid around the country is more or less finished (correct me if I’m wrong…). So, the economics of running a cinema must have been transformed in the last few years. I notice that, after a major crisis during the nineties, the independent cinemas are enjoying a bit of a revival.

So, would you visit an independent cinema showing an intelligent mixture of first run blockbusters, indie pictures, oldies and cult movies; making use of digital distribution to keep costs down and flexibility up; serving good coffee and food and maybe using its flexible space to run other events (concerts, art shows, parties)? Do you think you could spin this simple idea into a chain of cinemas (perhaps run on a franchise basis)? Could cinemas be the next urban lifestyle phenomenon?

Categorized as Business

Toyota triumphs

I learn from the FT’s latest survey on the motor industry (which requires a subscription) that, in the midst of the longest recession of the modern era in its home territory, the mighty Toyota is in the ascendant. This year the business will make profits twice as large as any car manufacturer has ever made before and this is prinicipally because of an extraordinary rise in market share in the USA of over 50% in the last ten years while the big three US manufacturers (GM, Ford and Daimler Chrysler) continue to shred each other’s margins in a disastrous price war.

Categorized as Business