Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Text May Become the New Voicemail... Someday

I am currently test driving some of the new messaging applications that are out there. CallWave Mobile turns your voice messages into text and delives them to your phone in the form of an SMS message, and to your email. It also lets you check your voicemail from your desktop via the Web. I have found the value proposition of the application to be very enticing: it keeps me from having to dial my voicemail, entering my passoword and listening to voicemails one by one. Two minor flaws I found though: 1) Voice to Text conversion is far from perfect (surprise, surprise), so many times the text SMS or emails are unintelligible so I have to check the voicemail anyway, and 2) the voice messages do not get stored in my carrier provided voice mail, which I am very used to checking. Instead, in order to check my voice messages from my phone, I have to call CallWave's voice message number - only a matter of adding the number to my speed dial, yes, but still not quite perfect.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Keeping the Google Bus Mobile

I heard a rumor that Google’s approach for providing Internet access to its employees while they ride the commuter shuttle using WiFi was turning many of the indulgence accustomed and productive workers into disgruntled commuters. Instead of using WiFi, Google is rumored to want to supply its soon to be no-longer-disgruntled commuters with 1xEvDO cards. If the rumor is true, will this be the real outcome???

EvDO is absolutely fabulous because it relieves you from the infamous ‘hot spot’ dependency and very effectively delivers on the promise of “Internet Everywhere”. As with all wireless access technologies, however, user satisfaction highly depends on coverage. EvDO, whether it is provided by the more experienced provider Verizon Wireless or the newbie Sprint, is likely to have its “gray spots”. These are spots where EvDO may not be present and one may be temporarily switched to 1xRTT. This is the CDMA technology that preceded EvDO and which only transmits at about 128Kbps instead of over 1Mbps.

The other catch is capacity. When 20+ concurrent users get on EvDO cards all using the same bearer (part of the cell site that provides the connectivity to the rest of the network) they will probably find the bandwidth to be much less than the expected 1.4Mbps.

Throw economics into the mix and the whole thing just falls apart. For the average consumer the price of EvDO is on average $80+ for the card plus $50 to $60 per month for the service (granted, Google can probably pull off a mega-deal with a carrier). Multiply this by the 150 or more Google commuters, and compare the numbers to using instead just a few EvDO lines connected to WiFi routers that can service the 20+ employees at a time.

At the end of the day, however, EvDO is a great investment for improving employee productivity. For example, another rumor has it that at Google “Sunday is the new Monday”. Therefore, for Google the return on investment on EvDO cards for its employees may certainly go a lot further than the Google Bus.

Monday, June 25, 2007

A Few Thoughts on Mobile Widgets

I have heard of widgets within the context of mobile when referring to various types of applications. Because access (i.e., discovery, availability, ongoing ease of use on the device) is so much more critical in the mobile device the various types of Mobile Widgets should be properly defined and separated:

1) Mobile Web Widgets. These are widgets that are accessed through a Web browser on a phone. The challenges when developing these widgets are similar to those of developing Web widgets – i.e., multi-browser support. Add to that, however, multi-device browser implementation support. There is also the walled-garden that is still part of the browsing experience in most of the feature phones. Not to mention that outside of 1xEvDO the browsing experience is still very slow. Despite of these challenges, this is low hanging fruit with potential to shift part of the carriers’ WAP paradigm. Unfortunately, I have yet to find any companies focusing on this space. If you know of any, please send them my way…

2) PC-like widgets that can be downloaded to mobile devices and that can either run in stand-alone mode or require connectivity to operate, I call Downloadable Mobile Applications. This is simply what they are. These are not any different than a J2ME or Brew game, with the exception that these are being developed by new comers trying to bypass the carriers. While buzz marketing is certainly appreciated, it is important to take into consideration the implications associated with these downloadable applications. One problem with downloadable applications is discovery. How are users going to find these applications? Buried in a Web site? Or even worse, buried in a Mobile Web site? What about devices that prevent downloads to occur from a Web session? Or in a carrier supported application catalog (still buried) where the carrier demands to get paid for it? Another problem is downloading; even with optimal bandwidth, installation could be a confusing to a user and will likely vary per device. Also, a few platforms accommodate applications that reside outside of the walled garden. Take for instance Plusmo, which claims to send a text to your phone after you select your widget of choice. Once you receive the SMS, bam! you’ll be all set! – Sure thing, IF, and perhaps, you have a non-carrier-blocked Smartphone.

The bottom line is to use caution when thinking about designing applications that will require users to a) find them, b) figure out a way to download them c) deal with latency associated with GPRS and 1xRTT, and d) deal with the possibility the mobile platform may not accept the application or may require multiple attempts to download/install (well, other than perhaps… the iphone…). Remember: the mobile world is not like the computer world – it is by far more fragmented in terms of operating systems, different devices with the same OS can behave very differently, the systems are often closely guarded by operators, etc. Do not get caught off guard and make sure to develop with a clear strategy in mind.

For a vast set of examples of these visit Widsets, and Webwag.

3) Web Mobility Widgets (if anyone has a catchier term, please comment) allow Web applications to extend their functionality to mobile devices. Many of these, especially SMS messaging widgets, are showing great promise. Take 3Jam, oTxt by Owdigets, or Textdrop’s widget for MySpace, to name a few. These enjoy the viral, ease of use, and simplicity characteristics of widgets, while tapping into the mobile space in a way that even carriers can welcome their expansion through the Web.

4) PC Mobility Widgets are just like Web Mobility Widgets in that they interact with mobile devices. For the time being, the ones I’ve seen are limited to SMS Messaging whether it is a stand-alone applications or extensions to other applications such as an Instant Messenger or Email client. Great examples are: CallWave’s widget that allows users to listen to their voice mail from their desktop, or Clickatell’s Messenger Pro, which allows users to send/receive text messages directly from their desktop. These are likely to be less popular outside of the Enterprise due to the need to download and install the widget on one’s your computer. An interesting spin off these is SMSalias’ computer browser extension, which also requires downloading/installation.