Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Android Apps Lack Innovation

I agree with Andrew Seybold’s statement about Android developer challenge applications lacking innovation. It is true that even for mobile standards most of these applications are remakes of past attempts.

I believe, however, that the problem is not a lack of creativity. Many of the participants were not even aware of those past applications that never took off. And given what the developers do know (or don’t) their applications are creative and well designed. More importantly, their timing is more on target than any old-school mobile developers could have ever wished for.

To close this note, I extend my criticism to those “more experienced” in the mobile field, myself included. Given this much awaited opportunity to have direct access to a superior platform, it is really a shame we are much too jaded to participate. And instead, would rather sit back, observe, and criticize.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Oh, Verizon Stealing the Thunder from the G1... or Trying to

So much for the anticipation for the G1, which is due to be released tomorrow by T-Mobile. Today's big news, at least on my radar, is that Verizon is removing the long term contract requirement. Verizon now lets new subscribers sing up with just a month-to-month commitment. Even more surprising is that the operator will now accept any un-locked device.

There are obviously conditions for this to take effect. Customers must pay the actual cost of the device, which can amount to more than twice what customers are used to paying. Customers must also sign up for a Nationwide plan.

As expected, there is much speculation as to why Verizon would make this move. I do not buy the possibility that it was to prepare for 4G and the promise to attract AT&T subscribers then. It may be to deflect potential scrutiny from the FCC. One thing is for sure: given the high cost of devices and the fact that the only other CDMA network in the US is Sprint's month-to-month subscribers will have to think twice, and very hard, about bailing on Verizon.

Perhaps Android phones will be the reason. The iPhone on AT&T's slow and unreliable network is far from being it for me.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

I want "Allstreaming" for my mobile

I just returned from VLAB's "Lifestreaming: The Real-time Web" event at Stanford. As usual, I have tried to conceptualize how such a significant Web 2.0 trend can transpire into mobile.

In mobile, where time and space are hot commodities, the ability to give users access to as much relevant content as possible, and as efficiently as possible poses a significant challenge.

However, the assumption that life-streams as we know them today are the key to this problem is as far stretched as the notion that that is the only way in which users want to consume content even on the Web. According to Bret Taylor the "your friends are your filter" concept is one of the foundations for FriendFeed. And that might work fine for an application whose sole purpose is to aggregate feeds from what one's friends are saying. In fact, this applies to all companies represented at the VLAB event tonight (Pownce and Seesmic were there too). But while one's friends' life activity may be entertaining for bits at a time, the majority of the media we consume still falls outside of this realm.

So what ever happened to the not so old, but almost unheard of today trend: the RSS feed? - (Mobile Bloglines being my personal fave). Could this trends possibly coexist with "lifestreaming", thus bringing users a more complete experience? This could be particularly interesting in mobile for all the reasons I keep mentioning. So I hope someone is looking into it.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Long Tail: A Glimmer of Hope for Premium SMS

In a matter of just a few years premium content over SMS grew from nothing to a multi-billion dollar industry. In the US this growth has been losing momentum in the past year and a half. This would not come as a big surprise if it weren’t for the fact that in the rest of the world PSMS continues to grow.

The problem in the US could perhaps be attributed to the shortsightedness of some content providers who, so intent on making easy money, consistently delivered a poor and, in some cases, even deceptive user experience. Or perhaps the mobile operators are to blame for discouraging investment by content providers as a result of imposing controls that not only are demanding on content providers, but that also stifle user adoption.

From where I see it, however, where there is easy money there is little innovation. Many mobile content providers have settled for delivering the same user experience over and over again. The common recipe is a combination of uninspiring Web sites, cheap late night TV ads, and itty bitty print terms of service. So I’d be willing to bet that consumers also got bored, and smarter.

This is why it is so refreshing to see content providers delivering innovative ways to spread the adoption of mobile premium content. And more importantly, for delegating the discovery to parties better positioned to deliver a relevant and compelling user experience.

ThumbPlay’s Open Marketplace provides all the tools any independent Web publisher would need to distribute ThumbPlay’s vast library of digital content. By doing so distributors can partake in the revenue. Integration of the set of APIs and feeds promises to be not only easy, but also to provide a set of rich tracking and optimization tools.

Open Marketplace also allows independent artists and content creators to submit their content for distribution

Following this trend, FunMobility also announced MoMoney. MoMoney is a widget that allows any Web site or independent publisher to provide a storefront for mobile content by embedding simple code on their Web property.

I expect this is just the beginning of a trend that may result in users becoming more receptive to this type of product. When offered within the context of something else, these products should be less perceived as a hard sale. Another benefit could be that the cost of user acquisition will be reduced as these Web publishers already have a captive audience.

However, in order for this model to work well these content providers must ensure that the end user experience is preserved. Systems and processes for completing the transaction, splitting the revenue, reconciling, and reporting must be well implemented and supported.

If this model works it could mean a turn of tides for the troubled Premium SMS space.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Snippets from CTIA's "A Generation Unplugged" keynote

Harris Interactive presented the “A Generation Unplugged” study results at a keynote session at CTIA yesterday. For the survey Harris Interactive surveyed 2,089 teens ages 13-19 about their motivations, usage and behaviors towards mobile phones.

Harris hinted at making the presentation available for a price, so I thought I would post the following highlights:

  • About half of teens interviewed say they would die without their mobile phone and ability to make calls. Texting was not far behind.
  • The two biggest motivators of mobile usage for teens are: 1) staying in touch, and 2) (surprise) feeling safe
  • Mobile gaming is not so important to teenagers. Self expression is much more important
  • Status is first established by the clothes teens wear, and secondly by the phones they own
  • What the phone does is more important than the way it looks
  • Teens love ring tones, but they like texting and picture messaging, and more than surfing the web
  • Teens like small phones but with a lot of features
  • Teens text more than they talk on the phone
  • Teens like text because they like that it allows them to multitask, that it's fast, easy, and cheap
  • Loyalty for teens is driven by relevance of features, phone diversity, customization - in order of importance.
  • Teens want to own multiple devices
  • Most teens purchase at carrier brick and mortar
  • Teens are most influenced by parents, then their friends, then their boyfriend or girlfriend, and last by celebrity endorsements
  • When it comes to Games, teens want better selection, experience, and controls. However, overall teens care less about gaming than communication when it comes to mobile
  • One in three teens browse the mobile web. Top apps are email and social networking. However, most social networking is taking place on the PC
  • The biggest barrier to adoption of mobile video is cost
  • Teens don't mind ads on mobile device
  • The dream phone: water proof, endless power, scratch proof...
  • Teens want from phones: emergency transmitter, translations, 3D, remote control, TV (in order of preference)
  • "The phone of the future" according to teens: flexible material, just software, paper thin, appended to your eyes, wearable, projector screen
  • Teens want a single device for all or their consumer electronics needs
  • Teens dislike location applications, but they want GPS

Shameless Plug: hi5 mobile

Back in April while reading Danah Boyd’s blog I stumbled upon a research paper about mobile usage by Palestinian teenage girls. Given to these girls by their boyfriends, the mobile phone had become a symbol of relationship status, and no longer just a communication tool.

The authors’ quote “…the nature or the effect of technology is not inherent in the medium and cannot be presupposed.” captures the essence of that phenomenon. And it also sums up the key challenge of designing services for mobile.

Especially with mobile it is difficult to predict how users will welcome the application and interact with it, and what the social implications might be. In mobile the most seemingly cumbersome of activities turn out to be extremely popular, such as entering SMS messages. In contrast, the most obvious of use cases, such as mobile video or LBS, often times fail to capture the audience. In my experience, this challenge is exacerbated when trying to port an existing Web product to the mobile realm.

Little did I know at the time that soon I would face this challenge yet again, but on mass scale. I spent the past two months working on the mobile version of hi5, which is the 3rd largest social network in the world with 56 million active subscribers.


During the process of coming up with hi5 mobile, at hi5 we avoided at all costs the temptation of simply trying to cram hi5 into the mobile device. The process involved really understanding the medium itself and the context in which this medium is used. As a result, hi5 mobile does not emulate the Web experience like other SN mobile services do. hi5 mobile really brings out what matters most when both the medium (screen, keypad) and time are limited.

Not a Utility

The mobile phone is the ultimate and most widely used communication tool in the world. In youth, in particular, mobiles are a tool for establishing and nurturing relationships. Much like hi5 itself, for youth the mobile is all but a utility. As a result hi5 mobile is a fun place for nurturing friendships through messaging, commenting, and updating status. It is very much about contributing and reciprocating. It is not a phonebook.

About status

Traditionally, the mobile phone has been a powerful tool for building status. Possession of a mobile phone signals to the world that one belongs to a social circle, has relationships; it also signals independence. According to Danah Boyd many of the activities that promote peer status in the real world also take place in social networks. With hi5 mobile we want to contribute to users’ ability to build status within hi5. Initially, this could be as simple as showing when someone is utilizing a mobile phone to access hi5. But over time this theme could expand to other users’ interactions within hi5.

It is quite possible that even in spite of the highly contextual design of hi5 mobile the net impact it could have on hi5’s users may surprise us. But in the mean time, all usage and feedback points to a good reception by our users.

To try out hi5 mobile, visit us at