Let’s give a though to what’s really valuable to you when it comes to content accessed trough your mobile phone. And your explicit and immediate needs in different every day situations.
Analysing what content people really value and want immediate access to, independently of were they are, can be divided into two main categories: broadcasted live streams such as sports, news etc. and on the other hand micro community or very personal stuff, such as your own contacts, photos, messages etc. Radio, television as well as to some extent the web, all with their merits and drawbacks, are utilised to broadcast content to a wide audience. Television is the dominating media for broadcasted live sports, while all three media are more equally important for the distribution of the latest or live news. The mobile can act as a complement for the distribution of both sports and news, but so far the additional value having access to these services through the mobile has been perceived as limited. For the majority the incentive has not been large enough to overcome the initial obstacles to get started and become a regular user of Internet services through the mobile phone.
What has shown to get people started to use Internet services through their mobile phone is rather the very personal need for unique information, information that is extremely valuable for the individual or a very small community and in a very specific situation when other media are not available. What type of information are we then talking about?
This is information such as: your own travel schedule; when and where your kids have their next football training; the phone number to your kids’ friends’ parents etc. Information needed when on the move and that facilitates a normal everyday life. These types of services are many but each one is used by quite few and they thereby belong to the Long Tail of mobile services, borrowing the term first introduction by Chris Anderson in 2004.
In a trial with a number of day care centres in Stockholm, done in cooperation between Squace, SICS ,Vinnova, the possibility to get schedules, contact information etc. has been very well received by the parents and resulted in that many now use the mobile Internet for the first time and regularly. The same effect has been seen as a result of mobile extensions of web sites for kids’ sport teams, school sites, local communities etc. The value of the content to the individual is not a function how many that value that specific piece of content but rather how unique and difficult the content is to substitute and access. The entry point to the mobile Internet services thereby seems to be the end of the long tail and not as was seen in the early days of the web where we started with the most popular services and then found niche content. It’s now time to turn the picture around; the success of the mobile Internet comes from starting with small services. This phenomenon is called the Reversed Long Tail. The users will gradually explore more services and probably the usage pattern will eventually be similar to the PC.
To improve the value of mobile access to the Internet, and to get people starting to use the services, niche content thereby has to be available. And as we all are interested and value different things in life the whole Internet and the long tail of content thereby needs to be accessible and in a user friendly way. Key to this development is that all micro communities and sites with a very limited number of users can distribute their content to the mobile in a very convenient and cost efficient way without bothering about all the messy technical complexity that we unfortunately presently have. They also need to rely on technologies that can deliver the content independently of what device the user has. The best example of a UMI that presently deliver this is Squace, that now also are just about to release their new version of the UMI Squace service.
The reach of the mobile phone by far outnumbers any other communication device. There is today about 4 billion mobile subscribers and half of the worlds population is estimated to have the possibility to access the Internet through the mobile by 2010. This should be compared to about 1 billion PCs accessing the Internet. In addition the PC penetration is very low in developing countries. In Africa the mobile penetration was about 30% by the end of 2007 and is estimated by Africa & Middle East Telecom Week to pass 50% already 2010. This should be compared with the overall Internet usage penetration in Africa which according to Internet World Stats was only 5.6% by the end of 2008. The primary access point to the Internet will for the majority be the mobile and not a PC. Already today all phones have the capability to receive and send sms giving messaging services a superior reach but there are clear limitations with sms compared to Internet services.
There are a number of issues to address in developing countries. These are different from one country or region to the other and the possibilities to find solutions are not the same. There are some general needs, such as political stability and democracy, education, working financial system, health care, distribution of wealth, human rights, transparency etc. The capability of the mobile phone to act as a tool to educate and gain knowledge as well as spreading viewpoints and communicate with the rest of the world, support but do of course not directly solve all the issues. This importance of the mobile phone has been recognised by organisations and agencies such as the UN and USAID, which support and reward new mobile services suitable to meet the needs of developing countries. The community MobileActive.org work actively in trying to increase the effectiveness of NGOs through mobile technology.
In industrialised areas such as the US and Europe, we presently debate the LTE (4G), iPhone, app stores and advanced smart phone (high end device) applications as the solution to increase usage of advanced and a new generation of mobile services. These new services will not for the foreseeable future be a solution for developing countries. They are many times too costly and are most often not possible to use independently of device and operator. What’s needed are services that give access to the Internet, the whole Internet and not just the very limited mobile Internet sites, through all mobile phones including the lowest level of Internet capable phones. There should also be possibilities to easily publish content directly through the mobile. These services also have to be quite cost effective so that they can be offered for free to the end user. The services also have to be able to work on more or less any phone and phone operating system solving the issue with different mobile technologies. Even though it is important that all Internet sites are made available they still have to be transformed into a format that: substantially decreases the data capacity need; makes them readable and possible to brows on the small mobile screen; takes into account that there are no real keyboards on simple phones. Services that from many aspects may be brilliant, but can only be used on smart phones or a limited number of phones, will not penetrate these regions. What’s needed is a general Internet service platform that can migrate the vast user base from just using sms to taking advantage of the full Internet, but done in a way so that it’s easy to use and gives a decent user experience when using quite simple low end phones. I believe the Universal Mobile Interface concept is what can make all this happen.
Let’s invite the rest of the world to the Internet by making it possible to access the web over simple mobile phones. I’m convinced that we then put a very powerful tool in the hands of the people to support them in their ambition to improve their situation. In addition, this will also unleash massive innovation based on specific needs, as well as local limitations. Utilising a general platform that works independent of device and operator will also create an environment where viral and very fast distribution of information and services is possible. I really look forward to see how this can spur development and awareness.