Thursday, 20 December 2007

Tis the season......

.... for predictions.

So here are mine

1. One major manufacturer will hit the wall BenQ-style and decide to forgo manufacturing devices (this might be in 2009 but we'll go for the bleeding edge prediction first)

2. Operators will continue to stimmy and stifle the mobile internet; some will flex their muscles and try to use their position as the access point to ensure a significant share of revenue and will continue to breed resentment amongst third parties and users; most will try to catch up with third party requirements and make a genuine attempt to deliver something third parties can reasonably use; one will break the mould and strike out on a more visionary strategy which looks to a more conciliatory model and take the result hit on marginal profit on the basis there will be more of it in total. I continue to be a pessimist as regards the operators opening up despite the current trend to pay lip service to the concept.

3. Android will prove far more complicated to organise than Google thought, there will be inevitable delays but there will be shipments but we need to wait another year to realise the true potential of the scheme.

4. Mobile advertising will still struggle for prime time but trends keep moving in the right direction with more campaigns now including mobile in the planning stages and mobile service providers becoming a little more sophisticated in how they supply ads.

5. Location based services will continue to be hyped but no-one shall succeed until they solve the underlying fundamental issues with the business model (even excluding any cost of location APIs).

6. Mobile Internet will still struggle in 2008 to reach that free wheeling stage where
sensible innovation will be rewarded with scale. The internet brands will continue their creep into this space and more will come to realise that the mobile internet is just the internet. There will be a handful of mobile specialists that are sought and bought by the giants.

7. Roaming backlash - no, I don't believe it either but I continue to hope.

8. Operators and OEMs shall seek to show their environmental credentials in above the line advertising.

Will 8 do?

Friday, 7 December 2007

Bourne Yesterday

I was on a long haul flight yesterday and happened to catch the Bourne Ultimatum again - a trilogy which I have really enjoyed. So much of these movies depends on the believability of the plot and being able to suspend disbelief at some of the events that take place. I remember long debates on talk shows and in the press for example about whether the use of cameras in Waterloo could be used in such a way to trace suspects and the fact that there was such a debate was a triumph for the movie because the believability added to its suspense.

Now, I noticed something yesterday which I had not before (I do not know why it is usually one of the first things I see): namely that all of the 'assets' (the assasins used by the Government) receive their instructions through their Motorola V3's.

Come on! You can only stretch the truth so far and if I were an 'asset' deep undercover relying on successful mobile communication to function, there is no way I'd entrust my life to a device which has almost single handedly sent mobile data back by a year or more in the US.

More Bourne Yesterday than Bourne Ultimatum

Thursday, 29 November 2007

I'm free!

I have just had the most hilarious recounting of a good friend's experience in unlocking their O2 iPhone: if you buy the device and unlock it you avoid the £35 per month or more for 18 months. Suddenly the iPhone seems like a far less expensive proposition.

It took my (not particularly geeky) friend 4 days worth of reading up of the topic and then four hours of tense, nervous tweeking coupled with a heart stopping moment when for all the world it looked as if the iPhone had just died.

He did it though and not has his existing SIM working perfectly within the phone.

It sheds some interesting light on this article yesterday from the Register which indicates that just 26,500 iPhones have been activated in the UK which compares to first weekend sales estimates of over 100,000.

Surely seventy-five thousand people haven't hacked the iPhone? But then again I was really surprised that my friend had, so who knows...

Monday, 26 November 2007

Opening up?

This post might be premature but four times in the past two weeks we have been contacted by carriers (on different continents) wanting to list our service on-deck without any pre-empting by us. We have long believed that, for the mobile internet market to be successful, operators must acknowledge that aside from their own activities they must seek to promote the best in class services available to their end user base. They must also do this without punitive revenue share conditions.

Is this the beginning of a brighter future? It would be nice to think so.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Blyk - the case for

I noticed this piece at We Love Mobile which benefits from a meeting with the team from Blyk. I thought it worth posting because, as Ben writes here, it was perhaps too easy to point out the faultlines in the proposition when, for many reasons, we all fervently hope that this succeeds.

Thursday, 22 November 2007


I was at a dinner last week with a number of CEOs from a variety of different start-up companies, including those in the tech sector. The average age was slightly higher than is normally the case at these start-up events but even so I was taken aback by some of the commentary.

Wine was free flowing and conversation open and I may have responded with slightly more vigour than normal to the assertion from a fellow attendee that the 'social communities on the internet are killing any sense of normal social interaction between today's youth and creating a vacuous generation'.... in fact if memory serves correctly I think I said 'Bollocks' as a reflex before I could bite my tongue.

Honestly. Where do you start in trying to unravel that thinking?

Others may have been able to do so more eloquently but I pointed to the ability of people to connect with others that share their precise interest, how people are sharing more about themselves then previously in order to form these communities, how these online communities are now reinforcing the old community ties that people fondly recall from yesteryear, how these communities are creating a far more mature dialogue on a large number of topics and how these communities begin to reassert themselves in the physical world.

For the latter, here is an amusing example - perhaps does nothing for the audience at that dinner to persuade them of a less vacuous generation but it made me laugh and does I think illustrate a powerful point.

Devil in detail

The really very useful Mobile Marketing Magazine carries this post today concerning PayforIt, the UK carriers project to phase out PSMS as a payment means for content. There is many a good intention behind this project but at ground level many mutterings from those being forced to use it. Beware the propoganda if you want a balanced view of its success.

First, companies are being told they must use the new system or not have their transactions fulfilled.

Second, effectively cartel pricing has meant that this is no cheaper and often more expensive than premium SMS.

Third, it often requires extra steps in the user flow for payment resulting in two cases known to me of a dramatic reduction in third party revenue.

Great concept but the operators need to work harder at being end consumer focused and on sharing any value with those subscribing to the service. Bango indicate significant savings in customer care: if so, why cannot the operators provide this cheaper than PSMS?

I have another post in draft concerning worrying signs that appear to have their roots in the fact that the operators control too many aspects of the value chain and are either implicitly (in this case) or explicitly in others abusing the position of access control to the end user.

This implicit instance is forgiveable but operators need to listen better to those focused intensely on the user experience.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007


If you want a clearly articulated synthesised view of my initial reaction to the Google Android announcement then I recommend you read up this article across on Mobhappy. There are two elements in particular which chime. First:

It would appear that Google’s trying to imply that anything written for Android will run on any Android device — but those of us who have been around a little while will remember how many times that’s been promised in the mobile world, only for different vendors’ implementations of various technologies to break the “write once, run anywhere” promise. One big question for Android is how it will avoid this.

I have been involved in alliances before. I have run alliances before. Trying to sustain progress and ensure that the common sense solution is reached is an enormous challenge and it is difficult to avoid compromises which subsequently leads to a diluting of first principles.

Either Google has worked on a governance to beat all others; has faith that its functionality will not suffer any fragmentation through flexibility or superiority; or, the reverse, that fragmentation will not matter because Android will be such a small base component of what is actually delivered. It will be fascinating to see which.

The second element which chimes with me is:

Looking at the list of OHA members further reinforces my previous assertion that handset vendors and operators are primarily interested in working with Google in this space because of its brand

This is perhaps stating the obvious but how much of the Open Handset Alliance is due to belief in the subject matter or belief that this is the right way to make it succeed? It would appear to me that the true value for companies is basking in the sheen of being associated with Google: hence, the roll call of CEOs at the event yesterday. Google and Apple certainly know how to corral a good story.

When the iPhone came out I think the single biggest impact was actually around bringing thought of mobile internet to end users again irrespective of their device. A secondary impact for the industry was to challenge existing views of user design and interaction which will also have a deep long term impact.

What will Android achieve? At this point, for the mass market it means nothing (aside from a disappointment to mild curiosity of what the Gphone might be). It will be fascinating to see how this unravels and what it catalyses generally within the industry. How do those not involved in the announcement react? Will this create a knee jerk reaction from the industry in general to greater openness?

For the latter, I think not. I must be becoming cynical. I suspect that many incumbents shall wait to see if Google succeeds in its Android ambitions and only then seek to join or respond through an alternative means in due course.

The one thing I have not really been able to fathom is: why announce it now? What was there really to talk about yesterday? Without the tools to get developing, nor the visibility of what devices will be developed or how many will be distributed, what was yesterday aside from a glorified roll call for buddies of Google?

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Net Promoter Scores

I was recommended The Ultimate Question by our investors earlier this year. It is an easy read but not less compelling for being so.

It deals with asking customers - would you recommend the to a friend? A scale of 0-10 is provided and all scores less than or equal to six are deducted from all scores greater than or equal to nine.

The book is originated from a survey undertaken in the US and suggests that the strongest companies would have a net promoter score (the result of the sum above) of 70 or higher. When I initially looked at this number I was a little incredulous but the book includes the survey results. That companies in the US can achieve such a mark I think underlines the importance of customer service in the US and how it is actually rewarded.

The results in the UK are a lot lower. Thanks to Simon Andrews in his Big Picture blog for alerting me to the LSE survey for the UK. The report is excellent. No surprises that the mobile operators (the red bar in the chart) return hopeless scores.

This chart (which is more legible in the report) shows that O2 is the best of a bad bunch with T-Mobile bringing up the rear. This is not really that surprising (though the survey was in 2006 and I observe the laggard getting better and the leader getting worse recently) but I am interested that the sector as a whole is so far off the average for the whole UK.

Returning to a previous theme: if the operator wants to be more than a bitpipe - they need a BIG shake-up. Customers need to love them and they oh-so-clearly do not.

Friday, 19 October 2007

Oh dear! Oh dear! That's Oh! 2

Take a look a this post at ZDNET and then put your head in your hands as to how the collectively small-minded operators never fail to snatch a PR disaster from something potentially so positive.

So, O2 is to impose a fair use policy of 200MB on the iPhone and a limit of 60 hours per month of Free WiFi.

That latter in particular is a joke. Wasn't free WiFi given as compensation for the fact that the iPhone would be considerably limited by the lack of 3G? And, given that there is a lack of 3G perhaps a limit on data is less relevant or should be waived as compensation for the poorer download times and hence user experience.

What bugs me is that it is all so unnecessary. A tiny minority of users would actually abuse the system, compared with the huge PR and market share gain from launching with the iPhone.

What operators are failing to realise is that they co-exist in a high tech space which is covered and scrutinised daily by a wealth of early influencers, by reverting back to penny pinching ways and not seeing the bigger picture they sustain a relationship with the customer which is one of a necessary evil: not that of day-to-day buddy.

Apple will see it and you can be sure their PR team will be backtracking from this mess and laying the blame squarely at O2's door.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Rant at eBay

eBay: not really a fan.

It hit me again this week, as I tried to buy tickets for a sporting event from someone who never had the slightest intention of going, that this is just a money making scam for students and stay-at-homes who have the opportunity to block phone lines when tickets become available with the sole aim of turning that into profit.

I guess I'd be doing the same if it were me but surely this is one practice which should be actively discouraged - it is basically touting for the mass market. I thought that was illegal.

Data Protection: Update

There is an update on Read/Write Web concerning 'GooTube's' (I like it!) first crack at a solution to the data protection issues. I continue to believe that this will turn into nothing. What youtube proposes is reasonable given its business and resources but will not satisfy the data owners. The latter need to evolve to be able to deal with it and turn their minds as to how to make it of benefit.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Transcoding, blah blah

It seems at the moment that some industry message boards are jammed with comments over transcoding and the apparent hash Novarra and Vodafone have made of their recent implementation. A lot of people have become passionate on the topic and this week's Mobile Monday did not diffuse the situation as many had hoped. This lack of success was nothing to do with the organisers but more to do with the poor presentation given by Novarra who could have simply said:

- we underestimated the impact of this setting in our implementation
- here is the immediate fix
- here is what we are going to do about it long term
- we are on the same side

Job done.

Instead, the team tried to give their credentials. Guys, you missed out. You need to think: what does my audience need to hear?

For the record, I do believe that there is a role for transcoding. Simply put, people will always develop for where they get the most return. For many publishers this will always be the web and they will not develop for mobile. Transcoders can help bring complicated sites to life for the mobile user potentially - though we are at the beginning of the development curve if this is ever going to be more than a stop gap for commerce specific sites for example.

Nonetheless, the conversation is overblown at a higher level. Most sites do not need transcoding!

A huge amount of publishers try to help the user out by saying, "look, here is the meat of my site; all my content in a wrapper". It is called RSS and a service like Mippin cuts to the chase and makes it a mission to dress and monetise these feeds as elegantly as possible. RSS - what a wonderful invention.

I wish I could speak to all the frustrated users out there who are being forced through transcoders and getting frustrated by the results when there is no need. There is a better world. Try Mippin!

Monday, 8 October 2007

The future is Blyk?

So, Blyk is now live.

I had high hopes for this MVNO when it first became known that someone would attempt to provide a free service on the back of advertising to a targeted base.

I am not the only one and my only fear is that Blyk's future becomes a talisman for the health and potential of mobile advertising.

Of course, this fear is only a problem if Blyk does not succeed; if it blows all growth expectations out of the water then such association is good for all concerned.

But, where is the downside?

We know that mobile is the most intimate of channels which holds a special relationship with the user, increasing its usability with every new phone feature.

We know that there is a tidal wave of advertising money out there looking for a home as TV becomes less and less effective and advertisers look for other channels.

We know that there is a market out there for the 16-24 years olds: if you were to a brand recognition test on Genie in this age group today I think you would still get a reading most brands would kill for.

My fears can be conveyed with a KISS

Keep It Simple, Stupid

I had this drummed into me many times in the past and know from my own experience how I have always tried to justify subconsciously that the inevitable compromises will not matter, that the user will still go through the process because what you are (eventually) offering them is very cool.

My fears for Blyk are: what is free is not that compelling; how to take advantage of the offer is too complicated.

The offer is 217 texts and 43 minutes free each month. This is the communication tagline!

Rather than sounding a lot, it sounds scientific and as if Blyk is counting hard just in case you go over your allocation - operator speak and ethos infects everywhere. Aside from the communication, I am not sure it is even that much for this age group with overrun then at standard Orange pay-as-you-go rates, 10p per text or 15p per minute.

Then for the offer itself, you need to have an unlocked phone or an Orange phone to use the SIM card. You can buy the phones - undiscounted - on the Blyk site if you wish. If you buy a Blyk SIM card to put into your O2 phone - unlucky!

For the mass market, this kind of inconvenience matters and one user who has misunderstood the instructions repeats it to another which kills your viral effect.

This lesson comes from my own experience and leads me to fear for Blyk. Please guys, you have a phenomenal idea: please move mountains to simplify the experience from both a technical and a communications perspective.

Friday, 28 September 2007

Data Protection: Time for Change?

As a company receiving information about a user of a service there are strict regulations concerning the use of personal data. You are able to use such data in an anonymised way when promoting to users but cannot use data at a personal level to direct a specific promotion to them and in particular cannot share that information with others.

This is to protect the individual from any abuse from advertisers and other parties.

The world is changing though. Our conceptions of what is private information are changing. The younger generation are re-defining the rules as to what is acceptable in this arena and I feel that data protection legislation will be revolutionised in the next five years from an area which sets the boundaries fiercely as to what can and cannot be used and is always seeking to restrict and protect; to an area which is exploring the boundaries of what people want and are prepared to accept.

I am of a generation that is queasy about privacy. I read the press and the images painted that Google, Microsoft and other internet giants know a lot about us. It does lurk at the back of my mind. Creating a facebook profile was a torture for me, it consistently asked me to disclose things openly that I would only offer up to friends.

For the younger generation, there is not this barrier. The internet is full of friends you have not met yet and the youthful are quite prepared to offer up all information in order to find them.

With micro blogging services such as Jaiku and Twitter, users constantly feed each other their activities and presence. Social events can be organised in facebook with people you have not met yet but with whom you already know you share a passion. An email from a five year old relative carries the signature - I like Frogs and Books - already outreaching to people who might like the same.

Press scaremongering around paedophiles in chatrooms or the proliferation of adult content really does do the internet a disservice. It is rebuilding the communities we know miss in everyday life. The youthful community wants to share, embrace, reach out to people of similar interests and if you have something to offer that group which would enrich their lives - then you should feel free to promote it.

Here is manna from heaven for an advertiser. People are willing to give you the information you need to be able to target the people that are most likely to be interested in your product. You can also avoid those that you know are going to take against it or be ambivalent about it.

Data protection should embrace this concept, after all advertising is now the recognised means by which most new media services are offered for free. Protection should be focused on controlling abuse of this trust, but even here the community has shown that when a brand acts irresponsibly it is very capable of defending itself and leaving a very deep bruise. Google 'chevrolet tahoe' for an example of this.

For the first time in a long time, I would dare to say that a Data Protection Lawyer would be a fun thing to be.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Apple wins; consumer loses; O2 ?

There is a lot of commentary around the iPhone in the UK of course after the O2 announcement yesterday. The carrier had long been out as the worst kept secret in a while but the package has caused a stir.

To be honest I am a little surprised that O2 got the deal: it has the worst mobile data tariffs in the market (though Ewan here gives an insight into what is coming), it has the highest prepay base to whom it has never allowed access to the open internet and has already murdered one i-brand in the UK having recently shut down i-mode. These are quite compelling arguments for the prosecution case.

To its credit, O2 has always been the best marketer of services in the market when given a particular proposition to work with (e.g. messaging, music) and I am sure this played well in discussions with Apple.

What I am absolutely convinced of though is that the defining factor in the Apple discussions was not the maturity of the marketing, nor the pricing of data, nor necessarily brand fit nor customer fit but: just money.

Peter Erskine admitted in a Press Conference that there is revenue share back to Apple from the deal though it was ambiguous as to whether this was the service revenue or the handset revenue. If on the service revenue, it is arguably an industry first, though one could imagine it being packaged as a license fee for the software on the device such as that HTC pays to Microsoft for example which is less revolutionary.

The biggest stir in the press has been on the cost of the package with commentary on the £35 per month for 18 months together with the £269 purchase price adding up to £1000 over that period (a bit of poetic license in the tabloid maths there).

That's not the real scandal however. Dig a little deeper.

Apple has held the operators to ransom over being first to market with the iPhone - as it is able to do in a market where such a device might buy 1-1.5% market share in a market where less than that separates the top three. The net result is that it is not O2 that is paying for the Apple revenue share but YOU!

On any of the operators at the moment I can get any device for free on a £35 18 month contract. The £269 you are paying is O2's way of covering the squeeze applied by Apple. That an operator would take a decision which is sub-optimal for the consumer is really no surprise, I am sure however that Apple, the people's champion, will try and distance themselves as much as possible from this link.

As a post-script and a topic for another post: the UK market is completely screwed by the fact that no operator dominates. Even in this case, O2 is not arguably the winner. Forced now to deploy an EDGE network for this purpose and this purpose only is a large price to pay. All the operators should have turned to Apple and said no until a 3G device was available - I would bet that Vodafone did.

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

The State of the Union

There is a lot of discussion on Forum Oxford at the moment concerning the US market and generally represents the perennial view that the US is a long way behind Europe.

In order to correct this view or at least offer up sensible alternative evidence, Russell Buckley from Mobhappy and AdMob comments on the current usage statistics from AdMob which shows that the US generates between 20-25% of global advertising revenue on mobile at the moment.

There are always sceptics, so here is another. During my time in T-Mobile, the US team generated 2.5 times the downloads of the European Team despite having a quarter of the subscribers.

I think there might have been a case for the US being behind on mobile internet penetration previously. US operators only allowed people to use mobile data if they were subscribed to a data package. This meant that the take-up of mobile data was on a similar trajectory to that of phones in the first place (which was slow everywhere but particularly in the US). In fact on the US style pay upfront for a generous package means that people do not subscribe until they are certain it is going to be reasonable value.

As a result, early take-up was better in Europe but people quickly worked out that the cost was high and stopped using the service. Early adopters are now moving back in by getting involved on all you can eat bundles, but even here there is a high discrepancy between markets: the UK is moving this way quickly; Germany is still miles behind.

Current statistics suggested 25% of the mobile population in the UK and US are using mobile internet. It is my very strong hunch that the US, having caught up, shall continue to grow more quickly and that these users are less constrainted by cost fears and thus will be more progressive users.

Monday, 20 August 2007

RIP .mobi?

Just a quick observation here.

The team at .mobi have done a lot to raise awareness of the need for publishers to take mobile seriously and consider making a separate implementation for the mobile web. One can debate whether the emphasis has been in the right place: is it about technical implementation or about the end user proposition? Perhaps the topic for another post (I'll take a look though - this must have been tackled before).

Nevertheless, I think .mobi has lost the war without hostilities really beginning. The dream that all publishers would have .mobi at the end of a url to denote their mobile version seems irrelevant now. Just trawling mobile internet sites over the past weeks and months, it occurs to me that I have come across less than five instances of a .mobi url but many either re-routing directly from www or pointing me to This latter looks like becoming the de facto standard without any form of marketing whatsoever.

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Voda Live! Review

The nice chaps at the New Media Age asked me to review Vodafone Live! for this week's publication. I thought I'd drop it in here too. For far more detailed commentary on the transcoding and initial niggles you should check out Forum Oxford which had a very detailed string of commentary from different sources but the below is my take in a strictly monitored 600 words.

Vodafone Live!

There were high hopes for Vodafone’s re-launched mobile offering both in terms of an opening of the walled garden and a fresh approach to pricing to match other unlimited offers in the market. And, while there are things to commend in the new offering, ultimately it fails to fulfil the expectations of a typically well executed and committed advertising campaign that promises “The Internet is now Mobile”.

Access At face value Vodafone Live! combines the best of Live! with email and the open internet. This is an operator offering so every device is configured to take you to the right place as soon as you hit the browser key.

All the pages within Vodafone Live! are free but I was constantly irritated by the reminders when heading ‘off deck’ that I would now be charged – particularly when I have one of the new “unlimited” (not quite) bundles. In fact, I was also instructed to leave the browser completely and re-start if I wanted to enter Live! again. I suspect that Live! is only free as long as you do not make a foray into the open world mid-session. This pricing and presentation structure is a relic of the walled garden environment and really should be discontinued.

The presentation within Live! itself is excellent: always clear and amongst the best design we have seen from an operator both in terms of the aesthetic design and in the understanding of user flows.

The use of advertisements is also clear and not over the top and provides a good “best practice” example for others to follow.

In the open web offering, there has been much blog commentary concerning niggles with the new transcoding software and I have to confess that it is not as bad as fear made it. It does depend on the site itself though: at times you have a wonderfully rendered page and at others it looks as though the page has passed through a blender. A hint to Vodafone: I would certainly have chosen better rendered sites than the “Suggested Favourites” to show off the true capabilities of the software.

Initially, I was nervous on hearing about Vodafone placing its own headers and footers to open web pages. I feared it might be used to place ads rather than provide for extra user functionality. At the moment, it seems, the user comes first and you have several options available to you such as bookmarking, going to the next page etc.

I did find RSS reader frustrating to use. The directory that is there does not need to be termed RSS and can be used to populate the directories elsewhere. It offers the ability to fetch your own but I could not successfully conjure up my own blog or any of my favourite feeds and gave up in the end.

Being the open web I would also expect that I would receive search results from the web first before search results from within Vodafone itself. Another walled garden hangover but a minor quibble.

The bottom line
Live! shows significant advances and is a well-intentioned attempt to allow the user to gain broader access to the web. If I am disappointed it is only because my expectations were high. Vodafone has long been the thought leader in the UK and T-Mobile’s web’n’walk has been out for close to two years now and, aside from some design advantages, it really offers nothing better. Additionally, Vodafone’s own advertising sets the expectation of the “Internet is now Mobile” and the service does struggle to meet that promise.

Thursday, 2 August 2007

O2 and i-mode

I am sorry to post on this a week after the news but I have read yet another article on the abandonment by O2 of i-mode which missed the point.

O2 never gave this a chance. It was possibly the most inept launch of an additional data service in the UK ever. In fairness I should say two things: one, O2 is usually very good at marketing execution; two, there is a lot of competition from other operators for this award and I might have been too hasty.

If O2 were to launch i-mode it should have done it as its exclusive portal not as a possible alternative to O2 Active. To run two side by side is completely perplexing (are you listening T-Mobile with web'n'walk and t-zones? Nobody understands that! - not even your product managers).

If O2 were to launch i-mode it should have done so on the maximum available number of handsets. Not launch it on four devices that looked positively prehistoric to the market, the NECs were an embarrassment which could not handle the incremental traffic that such early adopting customers would want to see. Devices which would laugh out loud if someone even thought about downloading an app to them. Trying to mimic i-mode through using the same handsets was pointless; it is correct that the devices were a defining element of i-mode in Japan but that was only because NTT DoCoMo had the market power to say to suppliers - "you will build devices like this" - and then built them precisely for its market. That was never going to be the case in the UK.

Finally, if O2 were to launch it should have done so with the full support of the management team - the alternative would be not to bother or fire them. What you see here is a classic of a project which was always doomed to fail because the whole team was not behind it - such projects litter large corporate history and particularly operators.

However, O2 did launch i-mode and yet has failed to extend its good points into the rest of the business which is possibly even worse. Fairer business models for partners and all inclusive pricing for the data would considerably improve O2 Active. On the latter it is lagging the market considerably. On the former, i-mode succeeded on a 9% and then a 6% revenue share for the operator and not on the ridiculously outdated 50% that operators persist in asking for.

i-mode had a great brand amongst the early adopter community and could have been a considerable asset in the UK if the operator had been brave enough to shift its existing product into it and make it is mainstay. If I were i-mode I would be extremely annoyed, learn for the future and make sure that if someone destroys my brand in such a way in a key market again that I have cause to sue.

For O2, at least their approach is consistent and it is clear (for now) that the O2 brand is pre-eminent. Remember that it voluntarily shelved Genie - probably the most successful youth mobile brand in history - to focus around O2. Really that i-mode has ended in the dustbin is no surprise, the writing has been on the wall for some time.

Tuesday, 31 July 2007

iPhone: so what is success?

I think it would be possible to write a book - or several books - on the iPhone by now. Certainly, there are some important facets of the iPhone story: from the fantastic PR around the launch, to the way that Apple have operators on at least two continents clambouring for the opportunity to sell the device (I still like this Open Gardens blog on this particular topic), to the innovation in the UI design.

Regarding the PR, I think that there are already ample lessons to learn from the Apple machinery from previous launches. But on the last two points around the operator influence and the UI, I think the iPhone will be credited in time with a significant shift in strategies for the major players in the industry though it may not be the biggest beneficiary of this itself.

I have had a play with the iPhone - it's nice and it draws admiring glances and in time, if I were committed to it, I could probably migrate to it from my existing handset (as long as it integrates easily with my Outlook) which is a good sign as I am notoriously fussy. But, I do wonder if it will be a commercial success in its own right, right now.

This blog from Mobile Opportunity outlines the mismatch in statistics from AT&T stating that 146,000 have been enabled and Apple reporting 270,000 subscribers. Now, even allowing for a number of people without i-Tunes accounts saddled with a device they cannot work out how to use, it seems that Apple has left AT&T with a nice working capital management problem. But am I the only one that thinks that this number is not that great?

I think back to the V3 and how that took off - a triumph of style over substance if ever there was one - which gradually became more and more pervasive as it penetrated from the board room into the classroom. Everyone clamoured for it immediately - not just the geeks.

I also recently look back to the N95 which achieved a significant early adopter following and was pushed heavily by a number of network operators.

Both devices exceed the early take-up of the iPhone. From a volume perspective, I'll keep my eyes open but Apple might find that its reliance on deep network integration and its assumption that people want to use their phones for more than voice and messaging limits its commercial success.

Nonetheless, I do believe that the iPhone will create a shift in favour of the user by giving device OEMs the confidence to take control again for solving user interace issues and encouraging them to take riskier UI strategies. I very much look forward to the operator roadmaps for 2008. The GSM show in Barcelona next year should give the manufacturers plenty of time to have given an immediate response and also deep seat the response to the iPhone in the roadmap DNA going forward.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

I wish I could like Jaiku

I am on my third attempt to enamour myself with Jaiku having played with it first on an N80, then an N73 and now my N95 (that sounds as though I am a big Nokia fan but the first two were out of the test cupboard and the current one is an experiment, we'll see how it goes). I still don't get it. Is it a generational thing? Or have I not tried hard enough yet?

I remember being recommended netvibes for the longest time and only after half a dozen attempts having that epiphany where it did something useful for me and from there I have gradually added more functionality and discovered more features at my own pace (and am now an evangelist - if I have not told you, you should try it). I'm still waiting for that a-ha moment for Jaiku.

I know it's popular amongst the uber-geeks of the space - a couple in the office are glowing from being on the latest beta ahead of anyone else - but as far as I can make out it involves letting people know where you are at any moment of the day which seems somewhat at odds with the new media fears of Big Brother following you everywhere. Perhaps this is a generational thing. Whilst having a facebook page - doesn't everyone (even my sister - cripes! that's mass market penetration!) - I am not one of the social networking generation and it feels uncomfortable to me to own up to that information.

Aside from a quibble about how difficult I find it to locate people I know on the service, it seems like a quality implementation, so I'll keep trying and hope for the 'moment' where it all becomes clear.

Monday, 16 July 2007

Mobile - will it ever work?

"Mobile - will it ever work?" was the title of a short forum held today by the generally excellent Associated Online Press (AOP) and does actually give you an idea of the tone of the event.

Usually one walks into a barrage of scepticism when talking about mobile but this event seemed to bring together the industry's pessimists: I have not heard people be genuinely downbeat about mobile advertising for some time. Perhaps I caught them on an offday?

Some interesting feedback from the event from Informa:

The mobile advertising market is due to increase from $2.2bn to $11.4bn by 2011 - though this will still be just 2.1% of the global advertising market. (My note: surely we can be more positive that this; given the unique characteristics of mobile I would bet anyone this share will be significantly higher).

In Q4 2006, 20% of users were frequent content purchases - where frequent is someone that has used the service in the last 90 days (I wish my investors would believe that generous measure) and a further 30% might make a purchase once a year. For me, this would seem to underline that there is not really a standalone market for content purchases and that this is a model to be used to "top-up" revenues made elsewhere.

The feedback on advertising was interesting and worth consideration. I have seen many surveys recently sponsored by players in the mobile advertising space suggesting that 90% of all users would be accepting of mobile advertising if they were to receive something in return. The Informa numbers paint a completely different picture.

Asked: would you support advertising if you received cheaper or free content?

46% disagreed strongly
14% disagreed
21% were indifferent
12% agreed
7% agreed strongly

One has to believe in Informa as an impartial reporter and as a result I found these results to be a real surprise and potentially a little alarming: 60% of users would be against advertising.

Time will tell but this is indicative of the tone of the event which suggested that mobile advertising is not and will not be a reality and that if you can focus on content purchases then you really should as being the sensible money making play of the next two years.

I think this is too aggressive (which is my polite way of saying "hogwash"). I think I'll post the case for the defense of mobile advertising in another post. There was truth in today's figures but I think that there is a misread of the momentum in the industry right now.

Friday, 13 July 2007

For those in the UK, I really like the service on mobile. Both the client and the WAP service are really well conceived. It is a simple proposition for the end consumer to be sure, but the team has clearly put a lot of thought into the user interaction. I have found it useful on a number of different occasions and would recommend it.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Making a Pig's Ear of Mobile Internet

It is interesting to see how the operators are approaching opening the mobile web.

T-Mobile started the ball rolling with web'n'walk way back in late 2005 and really did not get the credit it deserved. It was the first all you can eat bundle for open mobile data and for early adopters it was nirvana. Unfortunately, by trying to put a destination site in as the home page, the message became blurred and users were presented with an operator portal under another name as the home page. Really a case of a missed opportunity. T-Mobile was a case of having honourable intentions and open technology but poor promotional execution.

Vodafone by contrast has just launched its (nearly) unlimited web surfing package* with a (mangled) ability to view internet pages, but has done so with an impeccable marketing campaign that shows that from a marketing perspective the operator appears to 'get it'. The technology bugbears I hope are just that, rather than, as I suspect, really an attempt to put and keep Vodafone at the centre of the advertising value chain albeit at the expense of user experience.

T-Mobile had the best proposition but could not get the message across; Vodafone has the communication down but has compromised user experience at many levels.

On the sidelines with a much smaller user base is Three; definitely the people's champion. As good as T-Mobile but with the ability to communicate why people will use the unlimited bundles, rather than just to view what is in their portal. Thus Three, through its X-Series, highlight all of the cool apps and services that you may desire before they plug their own content. A mature view and one that all operators need to adopt if they have any reasonable expectations that they will retain part of the audience attention.

In three years I would guess that only one or two operators will retain any kind of audience in their own portals. The others will be abandoned and these operators will function as a kind of boosted ISP.

* read all exceptions at

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Factoids from White City

A small titbit from a couple of different sources which should convince all publishers of the coming of the mobile internet.

The BBC - for whom I have a lot of admiration, continually pushing the envelope and investing in forthcoming technologies - has divulged a couple of interesting facts from the White City fortress.

Fact One: the BBC estimates that 20% of its total new media unique users access their content from mobile only and no other source.

Fact Two: forecast charts within the BBC with a three year time horizon are showing total page impressions from the mobile internet surpassing that of the fixed internet.

I find both a little mind boggling but incredibly illuminating. Reflecting on them confirms the fact that mobile is becoming an incredibly powerful mass media.

Monday, 9 July 2007

Orange Application Shop - chapeau!

Orange has its application shop up and running after a long period in the think tank. It is the brainchild of the team behind the Partner Programme and has much merit. The team pledges to provide a meaningful interface into the Orange organisation (for any partner which signs up to their programme - which is free and pain-free so do not be put off).

For those that have not worked within an operator, it is worth pointing out that this is a tremendously difficult programme to get off of the ground. It has a lot of doubters: from the front-end marketers who see it as an unnecessary extravangance eating into their budget; to the voice marketing team who think encouraging small, predominantly data services, is a frippery; to the product management team who nervously view innovation as complicating already complicated lives.

The shop is to be run by Cellmania who run T-Mobile's application download service in the US amongst others and have ample experience in delivering something of the required quality.

This is great effort - delivered in the context of an operator where many are sceptical that mobile data services shall ever take off. Congratulations to the team and sincere best wishes that this has continued success for the providers involved.

For further info you should register at:

Friday, 29 June 2007

An Enthusiast's Wish List from the 800lb Gorillas

Some time ago now, I wrote a paper for the GSMA outlining 10 areas where co-operation from the operator community would go far in helping third party application developers get to market.

I hear on the grapevine now that the operators are returning to this topic and being pushed - for the first time - by their marketing teams to be pro-app. It's nice but I think with greater browser functionality and the oncoming mobile widget world, they'll be too late.

In an case, I think the list still stands. Comments welcome.

10 Steps to Mobile Data Profitability

This is a brief for the operator community from the third party world designed to improve the mobile data ecosystem and drive revenues and take-up for all parties. The paper is relevant for a number of purposes but does concentrate on the market for on handset applications.

The principle behind these suggestions is that there is a huge potential for the mobile data market, but, that the potential will only be reached if the operators embrace the off portal community. Off portal to date has been starved of investment and has happened often in spite of the operator rather than with operator aid. To use a familiar analogy, while there are many issues with the ringtone market, there is a core truth that the market is so much larger, including the operator share, for the support given third parties to deliver direct to consumer.

It should be noted that this is a paper to highlight potential roadblocks and raise discussion. It is not intended as a paper to resolve all of those issues.

(1) Blocking installation of 3rd party J2ME applications

Some operators require their own certificates for third party Java applications to be installed on their handsets, or for such applications to access key APIs (e.g. Internet connection, file system access...).

The US GSM carriers seem to have this policy across all their phones, whereas in Europe, this rather randomly implemented on certain operator / handset combinations.

There is typically no way to get the required certification without a lengthy process of developing a commercial relationship with each individual operator concerned.

It would help greatly if applications could be certified with a single third party that would enable the application to be installed on all operator handsets.

There is a piece of work here which is also to set the rules and guidelines for a third party to be allowed the privilege of certification. Any reputable third party application provider would support this mechanism. All are currently suffering from the persistence of fallout from ringtone subscription sales – and yet the operators continue to allow this pricing policy to exist in the market. Stronger controls and guidelines are needed.

(2) Inconsistent Set-Up of Internet Settings on the Device

Some operators are sporadic in their deployment of devices with the correct internet settings (and in addition in the case of Sony Ericsson devices in the deployment of the correct java settings).

Without internet settings on the device connected apps such as multiplayer games cannot establish online connection to the detriment of the user experience. The remedy for this is relatively straightforward. However, it is awkward for the customer and creates a bad impression of the application, device and carrier.

Our estimates indicate that 15% of all shipped devices are deployed without the right settings. In the majority of cases these relate to pre-pay customers but not exclusively.

It would be extremely useful if operators were to ship devices with the correct online and java settings – or even better……

(3) Single APN

End users are confused by the need to configure different APNs for different services. It would be much simpler for subscribers to use a single APN to access all services (whether from the operator or from a third party), and for access to this APN to be provisioned automatically for all SIM cards.

This problem can be exacerbated by operator call centre staff, many of whom still don't understand the difference between WAP and Internet access, and insist that the caller has full Internet access if they can use the WAP browser. It is a simpler brief for the operator internally if there is one simple answer.

This would also help avoid the instance when if one application requires the Internet APN and another requires the WAP APN. Users who want to use both applications must go through a complex manual process for switching between the two APNs.

Equally, if operators were to consistently upgrade to WAP2.0 then there would be no need for third parties to search out a different more suitable http APN; they would simply be able to route through the same WAP gateway as for the operator services.

(4) Realistic Pricing for Internet APN access

Some operators charge very high prices for data connections through their Internet APNs, including minimum fees per connection and exorbitant per-MB data rates.

  • The cost of uploading a 200 KB photo to the Internet at using ShoZu on Cingular's $0.01 per KB tariff is over €2.
  • The cost of downloading a 5 MB video on the same tariff would be over $50.
  • The cost of backing up a contact in the phone's address book when roaming on Movistar in Spain would be over €1 (due to minimum connection fees and high roaming rates), even though less than 1 KB of data is transferred.

These data rates discourage any usage of Internet applications. More reasonable data pricing would lead to much higher levels of usage, which would benefit all parties.

In particular, it is worth pointing out the large disparity between pre-pay and post-pay customer tariffs. Open internet access costs Vodafone UK pre-pay customers £7.50 per MB compared to £2.35 per MB for post-pay, meanwhile, O2 aggressively block their prepay customers from open internet access.

The following recommendations are made/requested:

- same pricing for post pay and pre pay

- the existence of an all you can eat bundle on all networks

- lower per MB data run rates (particularly given an actual cost of 4 cents per MB

- implementation a single wholesale data approach as in point below

(5) Standardised Wholesale Approaches – Part One

There is currently no consistency between operators approaches towards wholesaling data to third parties. If we follow the analogy of the ringtone market: the market did not really explode (and the operators did not make any meaningful money) until third parties were provided the tools to structure their own pricing. One might imagine the same will apply to mobile data.

To take the UK as an example:

- Vodafone will provide data on a rate of £3000/10GB to third parties linking in to a zero rated APN

- Orange will not do this but will provide a zero rated APN if there is a revenue share to be gained from the sale of the content being delivered. Revenue share to be negotiated.

- Other operators are willing to discuss and deliver according to bespoke discussions but do not have a standard model.

This structure makes it impossible for a third party to provide a consistent consumer proposition. In the UK alone there are over 30 different potential price point for the data within a connected application.

The recommended route would be to align around the approach from Vodafone UK (even if the wholesale pricing differs per operator), where the incoming internet IP address is dynamically given a zero rating through the existing APN setting.

A further recommendation would be to ensure that the most reputable aggregators are given the ability to establish themselves and create a market for third parties to connect to the zero rated data.

(6) Off Peak Data Rates

A second approach to be standardised amongst operators would be the creation of an off-peak and on-peak data rate for GPRS traffic, ideally both retail and wholesale. Certain connected applications have the ability to download in the background, overnight when the data usage is less than ordinarily the case. This could be used as a means to download chunky data types such as video clips to avoid network congestion- which, while not an issue in the short term, may come to be so at a later stage.

(7) Standardised 3rd party billing solutions

Several operators have expressed interest in billing for connected application usage on a per-event basis or timed basis, rather than per-MB. This is certainly feasible but there is a challenge in that there is no standard approach to how to integrate into an operator.

Each operator requires a custom per-event billing solution to be designed and built. A standardised approach would allow creation of reusable components, making per-event billing solutions much cheaper to design, build and maintain.

(8) Access to Off Portal Sites

There needs to be a consistent approach by operator to supporting discovery of off-portal applications. If we agree that there is a body/bodies which exist to facilitate certification of a connected service, then there should be no restraint on an operator providing a link to that service for the end user.

Ideally, each operator will have a programme to install a selection of apps at point of manufacture but at the very least provide both a web based and mobile based access to available applications for the user to browse.

Some operators are experimenting with adwords type searching of these off portal applications. This is acceptable but a free directory, classified appropriately should also be available to the user.

(9) Age verification and whitelisting

Despite early positive PR for the age verification systems, third party evidence (from those not involved in the porn industry, whose customers will typically be prepared to make a big effort to access content) is that the user experience of age verification varies widely from operator to operator and is often poor, which of course represents a significant barrier to usage.

In addition the practice of whitelisting/blacklisting wap URLs is also not only inconsistent from operator to operator but inconsistently applied within operators: i.e. it is possible to be on a (agreed with operators) non-adult shortcode for payment/provisioning and yet have blacklisting applied to the wap service.

In addition policies appear to change (or perhaps the application of them) and there is no notification of blacklisting to content owners. Finally, blacklisting for no good reason (eg as applied by a robot content reader) can represent a severe restraint on trade about which content suppliers can do little, currently.

Ideally operators should allow content suppliers to police their own age verification (as long it meets operator standards) and create clear lines of communication for the whitelisting process, i.e.: a) tell sites why and when their listing has been applied b) provide an appeal procedure with third party independent involvement in decision making process.

(10) Rendering on device

There should be a consistent standard across devices and operators to allow users to quickly access a customised top menu, configure start page keys or find quick (two click or less) access to a My Own or My Applications folder. Too frequently client applications are lost by users or fall out of favour because they are not visible. This increases the investment in CRM and reduces the revenue to the operator community.

Wednesday, 30 May 2007

First Post - Mission Statement

The purpose of this blog is to a give a view on the growing emergence of the mobile data industry.

The average user is currently using his phone around 15 minutes a day for voice calls and sms. He is currently either unaware or entirely dismissive of a host of incremental features on his device (e.g. radio, mp3 player, navigation) or of a growing list of add-ons provided by third parties.

It is my belief that the average user will grow to use his phone for an hour a day within the next five years with traditional voice and sms accounting for only a small proportion of this growth.

I'd say three years if I were braver but for this to happen a lot has to fall into place - the user has to be persuaded that he can trust the mobile environment, that pricing is supportive of him experimenting and that the applications being promoted to the user are compelling enough for him (without this, there is no chance of the mass market crossing the chasm).

I used to be braver and I am an enthusiast, but my recent activities have underlined to me that this industry and its relationship with the user is still in a nascent stage - very reminiscent of the mid-nineties experience with the internet - where many people were aware that something existed but were not willing to invest too much time to experiment.

You may often disagree with elements written on the blog- and if you do please do comment. You will be reading things from a personal perspective only based on exposure to the mobile industry from the outside looking in (as a financier), from the inside (within an operator) and from the cutting edge (as an innovator).

I have lived the mobile industry since its very beginning and have been a promoter of mobile experiences for the end user for many many years. I remain an enthusiast and you should be aware of that rose tinted view as you read my posts.