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.