Universal Mobile Interface

The role of the operator

Posted in UMI by Martin Vendel on January 28, 2010

The roles and perspectives of five kinds of stakeholders are discussed and debated: the end user; the device and hardware manufacturers; the traditional media houses; the Internet giants and the telecom operators. All are very important and play essential parts in the mobile/Internet eco-system. The balance between them has shifted over time and will continue to do so. The telecom operators seem to be the most criticised and questioned. Is this unfair or have they earned it?

Historically the telecom operators have been enormously successful offering high quality global fixed line telecom services. Next in line was mobile telephony developed in cooperation between Nordic operators, such as Telia and Sonera, today merged into TeliaSonera, and hardware suppliers such as Ericsson and Nokia. The success of the operators has been based on a network centric business model. Even with many attempts to expand into new adjacent areas almost all of the profits still come from the original core of the business. Moving into new areas has shown to be difficult. This is probably due to limited knowledge and experience, cultural differences and conflicting business strategies. Focus has been on increasing traffic and not end user value, a strategy which now even may show quite dangerous risking ending up in a network apocalypse scenario. Should then the operators avoid new tempting areas and just stick to what they clearly understand, running networks and offer access?

The operators struggle with the dilemma of finding new revenue sources at the same time as they desperately defend the existing cash cows. The main difficulty lies within that the old network business is local/national and telecom centric and most new business is global and based on IP/Internet logic. You can’t move into the new business without starting competing with the old thinking. Moving from a fully controlled stove pipe environment to a horizontally layered business structure with fierce competition on each layer may be an almost impossible equation.

What we see over and over again are attempts to move into new value added services without understanding what it takes to become successful. The new services most often need to be competitive by their own on a regional or global scale utilising significant scale advantages. Instead the new business is subsidised by the old until some brave young business controller analyse the case, showing that the new business is not competitive, have a far too high cost level and do more harm than good.

We have entered into a situation of access independent services also for the mobile. As outlined in a recent report by Gartner the mobile will already in 3 years be set to overtake the PC as the most common web browsing device. Internet will finally be available for all of humanity through Internet enabled mobiles, especially important to developing countries. The operators are of course instrumental to make this happen. We need well run high quality and efficient networks. There is also a number of enabling functionalities, such as efficient payment solutions, location data, device management etc. that the operators may offer partners. However, there are still some very basic elements related to cost control that urgently need to be in place, the two most important being: affordable flat rates and reasonable and transparent data roaming charges.

There is also a lot of talk about utilising all the data the operators have about usage and the end user. However, this data is hard to get out of the systems and is rather technical in nature and not originally defined for marketing purposes. It’s time to realise that the huge amounts of detailed data hidden in the operator’s systems is rather useless. We need specific data depending on business logic, that can be used for marketing purposes, and that is automatically generated and monitored without first involving the technical staff for weeks.

The operators need to shift focus from traffic maximisation to end user and partner value creation. They also need to support device and operator independent initiatives, such as UMIs, as all will be winners when penetration of Internet access through the mobile increases. Differentiation of the access offering through exclusive value added services and content is a very costly and is not sustainable. Stop doing costly experiments in attempts to find new revenues sources in business areas you don’t understand. There’s no reason why being a bit pipe provider should not be a profitable business even in the future, except for if the regulator mess things up completely. Please realise that moving into an IP environment gives access independent services, focus on making data charges understandable and affordable and incentivise all to maximise the value to traffic ratio.


Key mobile trends

Posted in UMI by Martin Vendel on January 12, 2010

I was asked at the Mobile Monday event at the Squace office in Stockholm yesterday what people read on this blog. Going through the statistics over the last year some conclusion may be drawn. If this says anything at all regarding general mobile trends could be debated. The top three posts discuss the importance of the mobile to developing countries, as a new marketing channel and as a way to distribute long-tail content. Reflecting key industry trends? Yes, I think they do.

Below the top 10 blog posts are ranked based on popularity:

The importance of the mobile phone to developing countries

Key considerations when choosing mobile marketing platform

The Reversed Long Tail – Key to the success of mobile Internet

The first ever true UMI is born!

Why companies should do mobile versions of their web sites

Will the business models of web 2.0 services work when expanded to the mobile?

Why search will not be as powerful when accessing Internet through the mobile

Cloud computing – a key enabler for mobile service development

Microsoft moves into the Universal Mobile Interface space launching OneApp

The operating system forest may turn into a jungle

Avoiding app stores turning into app graveyards – Part 2: Any solution?

Posted in UMI by Martin Vendel on January 11, 2010

The app stores grow in size and it becomes very hard to gain visibility and sufficient usage for the majority of the services offered. What was first a market place for small developers has now become an important marketing and sales channel for well established brands.  Less known services and brands, that initially may have gained some attraction, now find it harder and harder to succeed. The app stores have turned into huge warehouses where the consumer may find what she’s already familiar with and is looking for, but with quite limited or low precision support to encourage exploration of new services. Increasingly the most successful and used apps rely on a brand with an existing user base from other media such as the online web, television, and print. There are exceptions but they become more and more rare.

Why have the very promising phenomena of the app store resulted in a very limited usage for most services offered? There is fundamentally nothing wrong with the app stores but the expectations are far too high. Why?  This is due to a number of reasons:

  • The app stores are not really built as stores. Let’s just compare to the ordinary grocery store. The most frequently bought items, such as the milk, is far into the store and on the way there you are bombarded with promotions and offers. The business is carefully managed to: promote products in cooperation with the suppliers; align with other marketing channels; make us buy specific products by intelligent shelf management; improve loyalty by cards and programmes resulting in increase revenue and decreased customer acquisition cost etc. For the app stores to really become stores there is a long way to go.
  • Most of the services offered are actually not good enough. The services are actually not meeting a demand from a big enough market segment. Many developers are prepared to take a chance developing and launching a new service, but many times with limited knowledge about the market need or how to reach a specific target group. Most services should never have been developed and are just a waste of resources. Trial and error may many times be a quite costly way to determine if there is a true market need or not.
  • There are very limited means to reach a specific target group. Many apps would probably be quite appreciated by a specific and limited group but there are not good enough support to make this happen. The logic is now mainly based on that the end user knows what she’s looking for or that she’s regarded as an average user offered the same as anyone else. There needs to be ways for the suppliers to target specific groups is a cost efficient way.
  • Most services are not marketed at all. With the exception of established brands with existing marketing channels, the services are hardly marketed at all. You can hope for that you get some free PR, being mentioned in a popular blog or similar, but what are really the chances of getting attention among 100.000 apps without a know brand or a substantial marketing budget? I would say that they are quite slim.
  • Recommendation is underdeveloped. As the number of apps grow to very high numbers it starts to become much harder to find what you are looking for. Search will help you to find what you know exist, while recommendations will help you find what you did not know existed or that you were looking for. The recommendation tools are today quite limited and recommendations are mainly found on online web sites. Seems like quite a detour.
  • The app stores have a too wide scope. As the stores grow and the end users become more advanced there is a growing need for niche app stores or sites focusing on specific interests. You need to put the services in some kind of context which will also improve the marketing and PR possibilities significantly.
  • Most apps are bad business. The business cases for most apps are rather optimistic. Far too little resources, if any, are allocated to marketing and with limited revenues further development and promotion of the service become quite a challenge. Even a very good app may be buried under piles of other less attractive services and with very limited possibility avoiding a slow death.

Is there a solution to the problem? From the app store owner perspective they need first to figure out what they want to achieve running a store. With the limited competition a warehouse approach may be ok for the time being. However, eventually the present app stores have to decide if they should stay as “app warehouses”, if they should develop into real managed niche stores or shopping malls. One may also question the sustainability of the business models and if there’s really a need for the app stores further down the road. If staying with the present strategy they need to strengthen the recommendation functionality and possibilities to involve the end user. There need also to be better possibilities for suppliers of apps to directly target specific customer segments.

As the app store owners presently are quite happy, advice given to the developing community may be more worthwhile:

  • Add the chapter Marketing to your business plan. As we all know, no product will sell itself. Don’t rely on that the app store will market and sell your service. Partner up with known brands, market through existing channels and allocate resources and money for this.
  • Address specific needs of a defined segment that you have the possibility to target. Do the homework. Is the market really big enough?
  • See to that the service is good enough. Depending on addressed market you have to see to that you really fulfil the needs of that target group. Services giving a close to good enough experience for many but not really good enough for any, will hardly gain usage or loyalty.
  • Enable viral marketing. Make sure a happy user can act as an ambassador for the service and recommend this within her network.
  • Keep costs down and have a realistic view on the revenue potential. Make sure you have enough to develop a good enough product and to market it. Go for general platforms, such as UMIs, to avoid high additional costs redoing the same service in different versions for all different devices. Consider a browser based approach as opposed to the more costly and harder to manage app/client approach.
  • Minimize your risk. Have a portfolio approach as it is very hard to predict what services that will really become successful. Calculate and prepare for that the majority of the services will fail.