Universal Mobile Interface

The iPad – how it may influence the mobile arena

Posted in UMI by Martin Vendel on April 16, 2010

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.

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GSMA Mobile World Congress in Barcelona – Anything new?

Posted in UMI by Martin Vendel on February 18, 2010

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.

Why companies should do mobile versions of their web sites

Posted in UMI by Martin Vendel on April 14, 2009

Many times I find myself taking for granted that all organisations and companies understand the importance of having their web content and services accessible through the mobile phone. All don’t, and many seem not even to have reflected over the need. Others have, but show a reluctance to create a mobile version of there web site. Indeed, there are a number of very good reasons why they should be sceptical, such as: cost, limited penetration, immature technology etc.

 

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But what can they then gain by doing a specific mobile version of their site/service? This depends on the explicit requirements and environment. The needs the PC and the mobile phone meet can be categorised in two dimensions: timing – is the need immediate or can it wait; and complexity – does the service demand a large screen and keyboard to be used in a proper way. The first dimension, timing, is very hard to circumvent while the other, complexity, may be reduced by making the site much simpler and by using a concept such as UMI.

 

A very simple answer to those that wonder if they should do a mobile site is to respond with the following questions: Is it important for those you address to always be able to have immediate access to the site? If yes, is it possible for you to simplify the site so that it is possible to use over the mobile and more or less any mobile? I would argue that the answer to the second question is always yes, but it may demand some additional work to realise. But are then the users as logical as predicted above in terms of when they use one device as an alternative to the other? Do they really use the optimal tool? No, experience has shown that there are many reasons to act less rational.

 

Comparing the PC to the mobile, there are clear differences in how they are used, when they are used, why they are used, why they are not used, differences in screen size etc. The table highlight the limitations of a PC compared to a mobile phone and vice versa. Special attention is given to why the devices are used despite not being an obvious choice.

 

new-picture-5Reasons not to use the mobile when it still would be the best choice are mainly due to lack of experience and knowledge about the mobile. There are still limited possibilities for cost control, the settings may not be correct and the user may not even know how to use additional features and clients on the phone. These barriers are all expected to gradually decrease in importance as the maturity improves over time. Reasons to use the mobile when the PC would be a better choice are different in nature and can be expected to remain. The most significant one is of course that there is a quite limited penetration of PCs in many regions. But there are also less logical reasons such as laziness, similar to why many of us have made more expensive calls from a mobile as we don’t have the energy to look up the phone number and then make a cheap call from a fixed line phone when in reach.

In conclusion, you do not need to do a mobile version of your web content if: there’s no need for your users to access your site when only having a mobile phone available; and if the web site is so simple and with so limited functionality that it can be used directly on any mobile. I guess however that most will conclude that they need good, ubiquitous and user-friendly mobile presence and that the present web site is unable to deliver a good enough user experience. In addition, please keep in mind that the mobile will also be used in situations where you would expect the user to prefer the PC.

 

Some reflections on the Mobile Glasnost panel discussion at Mobile Life, March 4th

Posted in UMI by Martin Vendel on March 6, 2009

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I participated in the in the industry panel at Open House at Mobile Life Centre in Kista. Represented in the panel were, except for myself representing Squace, Ericsson – Martin Körling, Sony Ericsson – Troed Sångberg and TeliaSonera – Johan Wickman. The panel was moderated by professor Lars Erik Holmquist, Mobile Life Centre. The topic as phrased in the programme: “Mobile services have been stuck in a winter, closely guarded by specialized engineers and proprietary business models. Now, the ice is melting – operators, device manufacturers and infrastructure providers are opening up their walled gardens, telling their most valuable secrets and sharing opportunities with the masses. Or are they?”  

 

There was clearly a joint understanding that an open approach is needed and that walled garden and vertical approaches will slow down the development and limit the success of the mobile Internet. However, we may put different meaning to the word “opened”. Operators and device manufactures have over the years shown a clear reluctance to open up to not decrease their competitiveness. We can hope that this will now change but take their somewhat conflicting strategic agendas into account. This change will not come easy, both due to their need to differentiate but even more importantly due to mindset and culture which is very seldom changed very quickly.

 

The direct question on if the solution to overcome the complexity and key barriers to innovations and growth is a common operating system illustrates the core of the issue. This is a very technical approach to the problem and the panel have somewhat different view on if this is even necessary and if it will happen, how long this will take. The concept of a horizontal layer over all different operating systems were discuss as a faster and most probable solution as the present players presently have limited incentives to agree on a common operating.  This is what the Universal Mobile Interface is, one generic interface towards the content providers so they don’t need to bother about all different operating systems etc. and at the same time a generic interface for the end user so that they can freely change from one device to the other without being lost.

 

In conclusion we may now see a “Mobile Glasnost”, but this just one of the first steps and there are still many obstacles ahead. Remember that Glasnost created a very painful transformation phase for Russia. As Russia do, we will have to deal with many future issues, they are probably not be called mafia, oligarchs, Putin and Chechnya, but we need to remember that the Glasnost was probably necessary start and that change of mindset and culture is one of the hardest things to accomplish.