Most consumer brands are in the process of experimenting how to utilize the mobile channel in the best possible way. Many have a quite limited experience of the mobile and the obvious answer seems to be app stores and apps. Even being the phenomena driving the development and being the by far most massive mobile success story in years, investing in apps may turn out to be quite a disappointment. The issues are that the space is quite crowded, you have to invest over and over again to cover all different operating systems and most importantly the majority of the apps generate a rather limited usage. Most apps are unfortunately a waste of money but do you still dare to say no?
The Canadian newsstand platform service provider and publisher Mygazines announced a few days ago the launch of a Universal Mobile Interface. It may not fully be in line with the general UMI definition, nevertheless the basic thinking is the same. “We want to allow our publisher’s content to be accessible anywhere and everywhere,” says Yoav Schwartz, CEO of Mygazines, Toronto, in an interview by Chris Harnick in the Mobile Marketer. Yoav Schwartz continues: “If a person receives an email with a link to the latest issue of Relevant, then he or she can click on that link and open the magazine on whatever device they want – you can’t do that with an app.” “If I’m a publisher and sending out e-delivery to my subscribers, I want them to start engaging right away. With a traditional app, it’s up to the user to then either download or install an app or visit the app to access the content.” “Apps are great, don’t get me wrong, but they’re a closed environment.” Mygazines dares to say no.
Mygazines clearly supports the basic thinking behind the UMI concept. We can expect their approach to become quite successful within the online publishing arena and to be followed by others. This in not a battle between apps and UMIs, both will become successful on their own merits. For those that want a very efficient way to reach all mobile phone users not bothering about different mobile operating systems and high development costs the UMI approach should be carefully considered as an alternative to apps.
So what can we then conclude from this years big European mobile event? The most striking is probably that there was not any big news or underlying trends. It seems like the main movements already spotted, are just even more pronounced.
The app mania is continuing. However, there are now a number of companies addressing the issues with the approach, offering tools for cost efficient development of apps and somewhat trying to overcome the problem with development for each individual OS. The next phase that may be seen, if you look carefully, is that the apps will decrease in importance replaced by better mobile browsers in combination with better services in the cloud.
The developing countries stand for the majority of the growth of the overall mobile penetration. According to ITU we will pass 5 billion mobile phoneusers worldwide during 2010. Even if this is a European event a strong interest and targeted products for developing countries could be seen. With the majority of the world’s mobile phone users in emerging markets this will certainly influence the industry focus and hopefully also drive innovation globally.
And then we have the Microsoft launch of Windows Phone 7 Series which seems to have been recognised more in the media compared to at the congress itself in Barcelona, where few did seem to care so much. Microsoft certainly knows how run the PR. It’s a bit early to judge Windows Phone 7 Series but it looks like we get just another OS, further fragmenting the market. It looks nice but may follow the general rule: the nicer the UI the more of a closed environment.
The number of phones running on Android is growing but to announce Andriod as a clear winner that will solve the OS enigma is not only premature but will probably not happen. We have for instance the announcement of the Nokia and Intel cooperation regarding MeeGo. The operating system war will continue and those that hoped for common standards etc. will just have to wait a bit longer, quite a bit longer. The operating system jungle is here to stay.
There’s a lot of tension in the market and it is clear that there’s not room for all. It will be quite interesting to follow the development in a market where all are so dependant on each other and cooperate at the same time as all are competing. This time we had announcements like the one from the Vodafone CEO Vittorio Colao warning about Google and other companies dominating parts of the mobile value chain and even suggesting that the regulator should interfere. When did Vodafone all of a sudden become so pro regulation?
In conclusion, there was not a lot of news or surprises this time. It’s however clear that the industry has gained some momentum compared to last year. There will be a lot happening in the market but presently the established players seem to think that everything will continue more or less as today not recognizing that the mobile is just another Internet access point.
First when the mobile phone became a device for more that voice and sms we started to worry about the different operation systems. Ringing tones and games were down loaded and we started to surf the operator WAP portals. The non voice services were taking off and the enthusiasm was high. This was though shown to be rather difficult to manage for the content providers and operators due to different operating systems and even variations depending on phone model and brand. Many versions of each individual game had to be developed and we had to keep track of exactly what phone model the end user had and sometimes even the software version of the particular phone model.
The kind of obvious solution to the issue was to try to agree on open standards and platforms and harmonise the different operating systems. One solution after the other was announced to facilitate the further development, new operating systems such as Symbian, operator initiatives on common device specifications, and languages such as Java. But Symbian ended up being owned by Nokia, operator initiatives never materialised fully and a language such as Java ended up in many different versions. Why? The strategic agendas of the device manufacturers and the operators as well as others in the ecosystem were not aligned and most players thought they had more to lose than to gain through cooperation. All claimed to supports open standards but the drive to differentiate and keep competition out was evidently stronger. This has resulted in a forest of operating systems significantly increasing the barriers to innovation and decreasing the efficiency of the industry.
Then Apple iPhone added further to the complexity, having a very positive impact on the take up of new services but being a vertical it added yet another operating system. Next solution that we then hoped for was Android, being a free software and open source and we finally seemed to get closer to making it all more simple for the developer community. But is this really the case?
Now device manufactures, such as Motorola, start doing their own versions of Android. Where will an Android quickly mutating itself get us? If we to the present complexity and all verticals add a number of versions of Android, similar but not similar enough, this will not make it easier but rather turn the present operator system forest into a jungle. A decrease in number of operating systems that all know would make life easier and spur innovation is obviously a too scary thought for most and will most probably not happen within the coming five to ten years. The only short to mid term solution that seems available is to add a layer on top of all existing operating systems creating a virtual common operating system interface. This will make it much easier to reach the mobile users and minimise the hassle created by the jungle of operating systems. This needs to be made in a way so that the overall performance is not set by the weakest system and so that we achieve a good enough overall user experience.
Within the Internet world we see one example after the other of successful services that manage to utilise viral marketing and distribution, and many times in combination with a sophisticated PR strategy. We also see examples of services that seem to take off by themselves mainly due to accidentally good timing and due to that the service gives an exceptionally good user experience or something unique. Working in the mobile space I have long been quite envious of the speed by which new services can reach new users within the PC-environment. We have struggled so hard trying to get a decent take up of new mobile services, but to be honest with limited success.
Viral marketing is in essence quite simple in theory, but in reality not that easy to achieve. The key is that there has to be a value for the individual to give and for the receiving party to receive. It also has to be easy and possible to give and receive. Regarding distribution of services that are expected to be used frequently, then the efficiency in distribution becomes even stronger when there is a mutual value for both parties that the services are used. This leads to limited churn as individuals then encourage each other to continue using the services. One example of this is the area of communication services, such as the IP-telephony service Skype.
Looking at barriers to viral marketing and distribution, comparing the mobile environment with ordinary Internet services, huge differences can be seen. The value for giving and receiving services may not be so different, but when it comes if it’s easy or even possible to share digital content mobile to mobile is quite a different story. On the PC sharing a link, a program, a movie etc is more or less just a few clicks away. On the mobile you need to take many other considerations into account. Does the receiver have a device that can use the service, do I even know what device she has, does she have the same operator, does she have the correct settings etc. Even if the answers to all these questions are positive, which may happen in some rare cases, just needing to even being worried about them have most probably discouraged the giver enough not to even try.
But do not let the present situation stop us from further exploring the opportunities. To distribute content freely mobile to mobile does hold one of the most interesting potentials and new forces of the Internet. Once the barriers to sharing content freely mobile to mobile an even faster viral distribution can expected compared to the present PC experience, as: there are about four times as many mobile phones as PCs; the phones are always on and they are personal and the phone is always accompanying the user. The UMI concept holds the potential to overcome the barriers to mobile viral distribution and doing so before any standardised and universal mobile operating system is agreed upon. Some basic success factors for mobile viral distribution are:
- Creating value for the giver
- Creating value for the receiver
- Additional value for the giver if the services is used by the receiver
- Notification to giver that the service given is used
- Distribution independent of what device the receiver has
- Distribution independent of what operator the receiver has
- Services are easy to down load, install, find and use
- That content and services are free or initially for free