“The concept of a universal mobile interface is appealing for many reasons. The independence it affords from tie-in to specific vendors, platforms, and distribution mechanisms will appeal to all those who prefer an open environment. For the B2B environment it is the potential to increase the return on investment and to get to market as broadly and as quickly as possible. Ovum is particularly supportive of the elimination of the boundary between the use of desk-bound Internet usage and that of all forms of mobile device,” concludes Ovum in their new report analysing the UMI concept and in particular the Squace service.
In their further analysis regarding the need for a Universal Mobile Interface they state: “If the mobile device is set to become the primary personal window into the Internet then all the issues regarding delivery of content and transparent availability of applications, and the ability to switch devices, suppliers, and operators becomes critical. It is quite possible that user communities will be happy enough to exist in a world that’s owned by a supplier that they trust, but in the end this limitation on freedom of choice is likely to slow down the widespread deployment of new and innovative features and content as developers struggle to keep up with all the varying platform requirements. The user community is rapidly getting to grips with the concept of cloud/server-based computing and the fact that they do not need to retain content locally if they are always connected to the Internet at realistic bandwidth. The idea that they could have one common interface that was under their control and available on any device they chose, regardless of the operator, platform, or hardware manufacturer becomes very attractive indeed – that is, as long as that interface supported the sort of rich environment that the current ecosystems can support. For those involved in the development and distribution of content, the degree of uniformity and the ease of deployment are obviously critical. Over the next few years we expect to see a major increase in the way users are targeted by mobile marketing, suggesting appropriate offers to them based on their profile and their location. A universal mobile interface would be very advantageous to those supporting that need.”
The full report is availed to download for free.
“Will 2010 be the year when new use cases and emerging business models start to make their mark? What can we expect from the consumer market? And what are the latest in the mobile enterprise space?” These were some of the questions setting the framework for a panel which I chaired this week at the Red Herring Europe 100 in Paris. The venture capital community as well as entrepreneurs were represented by Jan Vocke, Cartagena Capital (technology-focused corporate finance advisory firm), Javier Rubió, Nauta Capital (VC specialized in technology, media and telecom), Stefan Hultberg, Accumulate (mobile payment and authentication solutions), Andy Munarriz, HulloMail (visual voice mail provider).
The fundamental issue or frustration is the inability of the market players, except for operators and device manufacturers to make substantial revenues and profits. The area has looked so promising for so many years, but still has not materialized in line with the expectations. How can this be? We have the fastest growing new media and the highest global penetration ever with about 3 billion phones capable of browsing the Internet. There are many hundred thousands of apps available and billions are downloaded. The majority of the time spent using the mobile is for services other than voice and SMS. And still both investors and entrepreneurs seem frustrated about the malfunctioning business ecosystem and desperately seek new and sustainable business models. This is not a question about greed or maximising profits but rather that we need working models and systems to fully utilise the benefits and potential of the mobile media.
What is quite clear is that there is no doubt what so ever regarding the potential or that this media will influence and benefit humanity worldwide. From a technology point of view there are no real obstacles anymore and everything is possible. The three key areas slowing innovation down and that where pinpointed by the panel are the fragmentation of operating systems, the walled garden or protective approaches by present larger stakeholders (operators, device manufacturers and Internet giants) and that some enabling and supporting services are not yet openly available, efficient or well enough established. The general view is that the operating system fragmentation is here to stay and that there is a huge potential in services managing to bridge functionality cross platforms, which in essence is the vision of the UMI concept. The panel did not share the same view regarding whether the big players will open up further to facilitate partner businesses. We all agree that it in the long run would benefit all stakeholders but the ambition to capitalize on existing businesses and lock customers in may turn this into a very slow process. The general recommendation giving highest probability for fast uptake is to launch services and business models that manages to work well independently of operators or device brands and that can handle all relevant operating systems. Independent global players that can offer supporting cost efficient functionality such as payment solutions, security solutions, ad solution are also essential for a fast development. These supporting roles are of course very attractive positions and will create substantial value.
New business models and markets are thereby expected to be developed on top of and bypassing existing proprietary and closed solutions. Having a larger addressable market enables a very fast penetration and also very competitive cost levels. We can expect to see quite disruptive new services not only affecting the mobile market but also other areas in the same way that online Internet services more or less changed the rules of any business or market, being consumer or enterprise.
What is also quite encouraging is that the company Squace, fully dedicated to establish a world class Universal Mobile Interface solution on the market, was announced Red Herring Europe 2010 Winner.
Another hyped and as always well orchestrated launch by Apple. The iPad is since launch scrutinised and the comments are many. And what is really the iPad? Many views are posted on blogs like this one. All try to compare the iPad to some existing device: a laptop; a mobile device; a Kindle etc. It could be that the iPad does not really compare to any existing device but defines a new market. What need the iPad really can and will meet only the future can tell. The key difference to a laptop is probably not the lack of a real key board, missing USB ports etc. The iPad merge the large screen and usability of a laptop with the business ecosystem and the elegant UI of the iPhone/iPod touch. And as in most mergers one of the cultures may eventually be more pronounced.
Why does the iPad get all this attention? The main reason is that it is launched after the huge success of the iPhone and its app store. But is the iPad really building on the success of the iPhone? In many aspects the iPad is a lap top size iPod touch. The success factors of the iPhone/iPod are a superior UI making it very easy to find, explore, buy, access and use relevant Internet services and a working business eco-system incentivising 3rd party developers and companies to invest in the development of apps. In both these aspects the iPhone and the iPod has excelled compared to the competition and the key to the success has been a closed environment fully controlled by Apple. The competitive edge is on the other hand not so obvious anymore when doing the same for a lap top size device. A superior UI is nice to have but does not bring huge benefits and a working business eco-system is in many aspects already in place for computers.
What one may assume Apple hopes to achieve is yet another closed Apple environment where Apple guarantee the end user a superior user experience at the same time as they fully control the business eco-system within this closed environment, further driving hardware sales. The ambition is to extend the successful business model of the iPhone and its app store to more computer like devices. Many support this thinking, especially media conglomerates and publishers now see the opportunity to finally get a working business model, getting paid for digital versions of their news papers and magazines as well as new opportunities for advertising.
Sometimes we seem to forget what really made the PC and the Internet into the huge successes. And what ones almost killed the Mac in the process. It was certainly not a superior UI or a closed environment but rather the opposite. We may question the dominant position of Microsoft but getting one ubiquitous operating system, Windows, made it possible to launch services and software reaching the full market independently of device brand or ISP. The limited fragmentation and easiness by which you could address the market spurred innovation and diversity. This is unfortunately not the case within the mobile area and will not be for the foreseeable future, the mobile operating system jungle is here to stay. The success of the iPad can therefore not rely on the same criteria as the iPhone and we will most probably not accept a development where we now at this level of maturity get more closed environments within the personal computer area.
The iPad may find a niche as for instance a wireless reading device, such as the Kindle, where users are expecting a closed environment. But if the iPad becomes more of a general lap top for any media consumption the users are likely to expect more of an opened environment. Apple will, in this case, most probably be forced to open up to meet the customer expectations and not to limit the iPad to a few niche markets. With the similarities between the iPad and the iPhone it may be hard for Apple to justify a more closed environment for the iPhone. What may first have been seen as a very clever idea to expand the successful business model of the iPhone into the computer market may backfire and gradually open up the iPhone eco-system. The present willingness to pay for services in the mobile arena may be transferred to the online environment and maybe vertical approaches are a way to get there but it can’t be a general and sustainable solution.
The successes of vertical approaches such as the iPhone confirm the enormous potential of Internet services accessed through the mobile as well as the willingness to pay for useful services. To fully capitalize on this huge opportunity the answer is not to build more verticals, but rather to make services and communication platforms work across all mobile platforms unleashing the true potential. This is what the UMI concept is all about.
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.