Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Access is the problem, but Yahoo Go may be on to something

The most important determinant of user adoption of applications is access. It is a noble (and potentially very profitable) effort for companies to add more applications platforms to increase the number of applications to the mobile device. Yet, the pending need is not the number of applications. There are thousands of BREW and J2MEE aggregate applications. Handango currently sells over 7000 applications for the Symbian platform alone.

Yet the issue of access to those applications that remains unsolved for the most part. Access today remains a major roadblock for consumer adoption and stickiness. I synthesize access into three areas:

Discovery. Given the abundance of mobile applications out there users find themselves overwhelmed. Even when a user has an idea of an application he/she is interested in using, finding it in the operators’ or storefront catalogs can be quite the ordeal. Not to mention when it is done from the device itself.

Adoption. Most existing platforms have actually made the process of trying out and signing up for applications significantly simple. An application download will typically involve a series of authentication and provisioning processes. Most of these processes combined take place in a matter of seconds and are usually invisible to users.

Stickiness is another problem area. Mobile phones have a very limited user interface that has resulted in cumbersome navigation and layers and sub-layers of menus. Frankly, it is easy for consumers to forget about an application they downloaded in the past along with many others. It is easier to stick to the basic applications, like WAP or SMS, which are closely integrated with the physical user interface.

On this front, Yahoo is on to something with Yahoo! Go. It brings potentially thousands of applications to the consumer in a self-contained, seamless and user-friendly experience. The Yahoo Go experience is client based, so reaching a wide device footprint will be a never-ending challenge for Yahoo. However, since the downloading can be initiated from the Web, and through a SMS containing a URL, getting the client to supported devices will be easy for the consumer. The discovery of new applications that are part of the Yahoo! Go experience has been made so simple, thanks to the Yahoo Go user interface that allows for extremely simple navigation. As the number of applications, or widgets as Yahoo calls them increases, however, discovery will become increasingly more challenging. Hopefully Yahoo will add an effective Search and/or Recommendations engine to future versions of Yahoo Go. Yahoo will still have to address the problem of stickiness. Depending on the device, the Yahoo! Go client may be added to the device’s layers and layers of applications. Alerts (opted-in by the user, of course) may be a simple way, for example, for Yahoo to remind users to shift the Mobile Web paradigm to Yahoo Go on an on going fashion. The other, even better and very possible alternative, is the Yahoo Phone through direct relationships with OEM's for device-embedded Yahoo Go.

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