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 Yell.com 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 www.vodafone.com

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: http://www.orangepartner.com