Sunday, July 9, 2006

ATT: The Mobile Internet should be pronounced dead

[X2: I´ve been saying that for two years... totally agree on it!!!]

Exclusive column by Walter Adamson, Founder and President of Digital Investor, VP of the i-mode Content Forum and Advisor to the Wireless-Watch Community.

Mark Twain famously said "The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated" and we can also say that reports of the death of the mobile internet have also been greatly exaggerated, unfortunately, and it is now time to really kill it.

Part of an answer may be to change the words - thus changing expectations and what developers and content providers do to create business for mobile handset users of non-voice applications. We have to declare the Mobile Internet dead in order to be able to move on. The mental baggage of the Mobile Internet is a killer application – a killer of commercial success.

This also highlights the need for debate about the difference between mobile access and services.

When Telstra (Australia) announced it's i-mode service in June 2004, a then Group Managing Director of Telstra Ted Pretty said some interesting things in his press release. He noted that mobile revenue growth rates had started to plateau, and he said Telstra believed the future in the Australian mobile phone industry was in data, which includes text messaging, video and internet services for mobile phones.

"The next frontier for growing Australian revenue is data," Mr Pretty said

Strange thing. People don't buy "data", so what are Telstra and all the other telcos actually selling? They're selling an "access to the Internet" mental model.

Telstra officially launched i-mode in March 2005 and 6 months later Adam Turner, reviewing the NEC N600i handset in the Sydney Morning Herald said:

As for browsing the web, whoever wrote the i-mode slogan, "it's like the internet on your mobile" really needs to change their internet service provider.

I can kind of understand how a group within a corporate culture would have come up with that slogan, seen as a perhaps radical and innovative approach to smoothing the education and empathy of the consumer to i-mode and mobile services. But I flinched when I heard it the first time, and every other time, because it can only lead to misplaced expectations, and ultimately disappointment.

A mobile service is not the Internet on your phone.

And in almost every country of the world it is not even an Internet experience at the most basic level in the Internet Hierarchy of Needs – fast response. It was the first level of "access disappointment" to which the reporter above was referring – he didn't even comment on the services.

Just so that we can't be accused of 20-20 hindsight, the same trap lies ahead for so-called "mobile TV". The Texas Instruments brochure, available from the Mobile TV: About Mobile TV section of their website, called "TI Digital TV for Handsets" contains the following clause:

Broadcast TV on a handset combines two of the greatest consumer products of all time—the TV and the mobile phone—and makes the TV experience mobile.

"Makes the TV experience mobile" !!!!

I have to say it again because it is just so bizarre that my brain has hit a neuron storm and I can't reproduce anything else for just a moment:

"Makes the TV experience mobile".

That "TV experience" is just exactly what you DO NOT want on a mobile and that mental model leads to doomed commercial models and violent mismatched expectations with consumers. It hardly takes any imagination to imagine the miserable consumer reaction to advertising that hypes that kind of model.

We can't be too hard on TI because most mobile handset makers have no idea why their customers buy – except for the sales person's rebates – and how customers interact with their handsets and the services offered. So TI, being even further removed from consumers, could hardly be expected to know.

TI's customers are the handset makers. In most markets the handset maker's customers are telephone companies. The so-called consumer end of a handset maker's marketing and advertising is simply to add pressure to the mobile operators to add the maker's handsets to their range. That's why it rarely makes sense in terms of any promised experience or brand value – because the handset maker cannot promise what the telco may or may not be able to deliver within one or many of their difference "access offers" and plans and network service levels.

The mobile handset maker has limited means to influence the user experience. This limitation was recognised at the very beginning by DoCoMo and their integrated solution is one of the strengths of the i-mode system (this is why the common misconception that "i-mode" is somehow just the browser is so wrong – but that's another story).

DoCoMo seriously specify handset performance, and this takes into account network performance, content performance, developer specifications, and the consistency of user experience through the middleware, user interface and content discovery.

This DoCoMo i-mode ecosystem also has its downside – it is a system so changes and variations take a while to be consistently husbanded through, and it is unique and expensive for handset makers. And it has not worked well outside Japan because the other partners, with the exception of Bouygues Telecoms, pick and choose components of the ecosystem and the whole then loses its customer value.

To this point we've set the scene – Telstra (and most other carriers) have told mobile phone consumers that they'll get the Internet on their mobile, TI is telling the world that they'll get the "TV experience" on their mobile. Operators, outside of Japan and perhaps Korea (and perhaps more recently Vodafone) are generally not capable and not interested in working across the whole ecosystem and with handset makers, and visa-versa, to deliver a compelling user experience which is a mobile phone experience.

We all know, or perhaps we all don't, that a mobile phone is not a lounge room viewing experience, it is not a communal experience, it is not an Internet (PC) experience – it is personal, personalisable, private, intimate, interactive and integrated with lifestyle.

"Mobile Internet" as a whole is a failure – growth is a hard slog, there are no killer applications, consumers have become chilled because of previous bad experiences and failed expectations, and there is complete confusion between "access" and "services" and "applications" and open garden and Internet. Hence the reasons that the sales process, the retail conversations at the sharp end, are also in complete confusion and hence revert to the lowest common denominator – price. And price for voice services at that.

We have to declare the Mobile Internet dead in order to be able to move on. The mental baggage of the Mobile Internet is a killer application – a killer of commercial success.

Of course there have been successes, but these tend to prove the failure of "Mobile Internet" as commonly conceived.

Mike Gauba, an experience consultant on 3G and value, believes that the Internet and Mobile Commerce are reverse paradigms.

"The Internet expanded horizontally and then started witnessing some vertical growth, where as mobile commerce will first experience a vertical growth, which then will diffuse to become a horizontal market," Gauba told me.

Mobile Internet is a fallacy in the short and medium-term, according to Gauba.

"Let us look from this perspective, that mobile solutions address the needs of those on the 'go'. The needs on the go are very specific and hence limited. These specific needs will drive vertical applications.

When the mobile commerce active user market penetration reaches 60-80%, one will witness, hundreds of these applications addressing the different needs of different users. There will be a significant overlap of these applications and it is at that time, the market starts becoming horizontal."

Perhaps this explains Japan in that their penetration for mobile commerce services is already high enough to support a more general version of "Mobile Internet"?

In any case it points to the need for specific vertical mobile services applications. You notice two things that result from this – firstly that the handset makers can strongly influence "applications" and the experience, provided that they can think local and act global, and the word "services" is most important not access.

On the first point, we are seeing a trend for MVNO's turning to new handset makers to get highly customised handset experiences.

On the second point, a key is relevance and easy of access to these services. Mike Mace has documented the falling trend in application download to handsets. There are a thousand responses as to why – but I believe that at their core lies the factors of Relevance and Convenience (of install).

At the recent MEX Mobile User Experience conference in London Geoff Kendall, CTO, of Next Device described how the "right" user interface is critical.

Currently, data content and device features are crammed under the same user interface. This leads to confusion, frustration and the user not being aware of what's actually on the device. Performing tasks requires too many actions. Sometimes these actions are across many applications.

Marek Pawlowski, a founder of PNM the organisers of MEX and one of the best thinkers in the industry, has long advocated that mobile users are in the main "mission oriented" when using mobile services, in contrast to the exploration orientation of web users. Mission-orientation aligns with Gauba's theory that users first need specific vertical applications, in order to grow mobile services. Hence another reason to kill the label "Mobile Internet".

Of course many many people are working at solving these problems surrounding the Mobile Internet, and understand the issues very well. My advocacy is to change the terminology and to hence change the legacy mental models.

I've long believed in the mobile internet but I no longer believe in the name. How about "mobile services"?


(1) You can read why Mike Gauba thinks that i-mode is an accidental success Here
(2) The MEX Conference blog is Here
(3) The Telstra i-mode website Here


Walter Adamson
Founder & Principal, Digital Investor
VP i-mode Content Forum
Advisor – Wireless

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