Wednesday, October 31, 2007

>play's "Beyond Mobile 2.0"

I attended the UC Berkeley Digital Media and Entertainment >play Conference this past Saturday. The mobile panel focused around a somewhat vague, yet interesting topic: “Beyond Mobile 2.0”. The panel consisted of Steve Lee, Product Manager at Google Mobile, Tico Ballagas from Nokia, Jeff Sellinger, VP of Mobile at CBS, Rick Robinson, VP Products and Services at XOHM/Sprint, Evan Tana, Director of Product Marketing at Loopt, and moderated by Mike Rowehl of Sillicon Valley’s Mobile Monday, and AdMob’s tech dude. Some of the predominant themes were:


The most heard theme was: LBS is the key to providing targeted content.

According to Rick Robinson, the biggest problem with adoption today is the lack of privacy. However, I would agree with Evan’s response that the privacy control tools are in place today, so the biggest challenge is education (of consumers about these controls).

On Future of paid on deck applications:

According to Steve and Evan, both Google and Loopt get the whole ‘playing with carriers’ deal today, but believe the market is slowly moving to a more open environment. Nokia truly believes this, which was clear by Tico’s constant reminder that Nokia is evolving into a services company. Proof of this is the company’s launch of Ovi and late acquisitions (Navteq, Enpocket, Twango, and Loudeye). Rick Robinson from Xohm went as far as saying that "Xohm will tear down this wall..." (BIG statement!), but will still provide an on-deck expericence that is customized for the device.

Interoperability of different technologies:

The best description of what a rich end user experience might be was Jeff Sellinger’s. This would call for an interactive behavior between the different applications that exist on the mobile device. Jeff said it would be great to be able to tie SMS/MMS with WAP and Location. I would add streaming video and interactive gaming to this fabulous equation.

Limitations in the U.S.:

* Limited MMS support by U.S. carriers was the top item

* Absence of unlimited data plans, as in Europe, was mentioned repeatedly as a roadblock for user adoption

* Pervasive broadband (both availability and adoption) was mentioned a few times as an issue
Device fragmentation, specifically with browsers, was also mentioned as "old" but never ending "news"

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Consumers should not have to pay

As a follow up to my previous post, here is a good example of how working with U.S. carriers to develop new economic models can create opportunities for growth in the mobile econsystem.

mBlox, Inc. is making inroads with U.S. carriers to make SMS free for end consumers. Why would carriers care to lend an ear to this seemingly ludicrous proposal? And who will pay for these messages?

Today when you receive an alert from your favorite Web application, such as Twitter, your carrier collects money from you for the delivery of the message. On the other hand, your carrier does NOT charge a fee to the aggregator who delivered the message to it, nor to Twitter for delivering you your message.

mBlox’ proposition is that by removing the charge to the end user will drive more user adoption of messaging applications. In other parts of the world the model has been proven to work better for the players in the ecosystem, beginning with end consumers. In Europe the amount of traffic for simple mobile terminated messages by far exceeds that of premium content (e.g., ringtones, wall papers).

The most interesting part of the proposition is that the carriers would receive a bigger payout for each individual message. This is due to the higher willingness to pay that exists in specialized services and applications, where the ability to send a message to an end user signifies a cost saving. Examples are financial institutions and brands, which otherwise have to invest significantly to reach consumers through other means; and which, presumably, should be willing to pay for the ability to make messages received by end users feel less intrusive.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Quit Complaining

I get sick and tired of Web developers complaining about how closed they are finding the mobile space. I find the complaints ignorant and whiny. The arguments for the need for an open mobile ecosystem are not only shallow, but also obviously selfish and poorly disguised as idealism and altruism.

It is not that I do not believe in openness and opportunity for all. It is not like I do not realize that the consumer is who will benefit the most from access to a broader, more compelling, more discoverable, and price competitive range of services and applications. It is not like I do not perceive the potential that mobile has of surpassing the Internet in terms of availability and profitability of services and applications (in terms of reach, mobile has long gone surpassed the Web).

My dilemma is that as a capitalist I strongly believe that the parties who have invested heftily in laying down and maintaining infrastructure to connect the world are entitled to protect their investment to capture as much of the returns as possible. Carriers are also entitled to protect their physical assets from abuse, malice, and tear and wear. It is, however, also investors’ entitlement, if not their duty, to also maximize their ROI.

The problem I see in the carrier ecosystem is that by being so over protective and paranoid of opening the flood gates carriers may be selling themselves short. One major downfall of the walled garden is the stifled user adoption.

My call to action then to the Web developer community is to stop complaining. Instead, get your creativity juices flowing and think of ways to turn the situation around. It is time to develop innovative ways to show carriers ways to maximize their returns by opening up their platforms, and forcing OEM’s towards a less fragmented device platform environment. Successful models will be those in which all carriers, OEMs, developers, and end-consumers alike will reap benefits.

Google is Watching Me Over the Airwaves

I am logged onto Google WiFi in Mountain View right now. First time I have ever used Google's free WiFi. I did not realize that I would have to log in with my Google username. It is pretty scary to realize that Google knows where I happen to be at this very moment... Or is it?

Monday, October 08, 2007

Google Navigator

I pay $4.99 per month for Verizon Wireless's VZNavigator. VZNavigator is a Brew based LBS applications that gives turn by turn directions, local directories, maps. VZNavigator has gotten me out of many a hairy situation. The past few times I have used the application, however, I get a sporadic error telling me it is unnable to retrieve the directions I have requested.

When this happened to me today, I decided to try Google's SMS directions. I sent "directions from (my work address) to (graphing social paterns conference address)" to the short code 46645 (GOOGL). Within 30 seconds I received three messages including the turn by turn directions. So while I didn't have a friendly voice dictating to me where to turn, nor access to a map, I was able to get to my destination just fine. I must admit it is pretty tempting to want to save myself $5/month going forward... Especially when it takes almost the same amount of time and effort to type the directions request onto the SMS message, than to navigate through the device's convoluted menus to get to VZNavigator.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

One More Sequel to My Mobile Widget Ranting

As a follow up to my previous post about taking Web applications Mobile...

Yes, there's a lot of appeal to the word 'widgets' these days. And widgets are fantastic for the Web. But when it comes to mobile, whether the widgets are client-based or Web-based, they can become rather difficult to implement, and impossible to port or support across many types of devices.

Few words to the wise: stay away from mobile widgets!

From Web to Mobile, One Step at a Time

My advice to Web developers wanting to penetrate the world of Mobility is to take it in strides. Forget about dealing with the plethora of on-device platforms (from 5+ different Operating Systems, to the 3 or so middleware platforms, to the 1000's of resolution and other iterations). WAP and Mobile Web have their problems. The learning curve is steep and quite costly.

The simplest and quickest way to get your feet wet in mobile is through SMS. Through services like TextMarks or Mozes you will be up and running in no time without the need to integrate with any carrier or aggregator. But SMS will not allow you to automatically port your application to a mobile dimension. Although SMS will only allow your application to extend some functionality to the mobile device it will achieve two things:

1) It will help you learn more about your users' interactions with their mobile devices with respect to your app. This is valuable information to have before taking the full plunge and investing significantly in other mobile platforms.

2) In many cases and depending on your application it will help drive stickiness by allowing you to ping users when they are away from their PC

The best example I can think of is Facebook. They started off by supporting a few alerts to users' mobile phones. Today they host a plethora of alerts and functionality around these alerts. Facebook even allows (much like blogger) to post pictures from a mobile device. Other excellent examples are Twitter and Truemors.