One use case that software companies have adopted is off-shore technical development. For example, a development team in the US develops a game and hands over their QA and Support to an off-shore team in, say China. Sounds like one would just send the code over, have the Chinese team download and install it on their local device and start manually testing. While this sounds not so bad at first, imagine have dozens if not hundreds of devices, and dozens if not hundreds of titles to test. This doesn’t seem to be a cost-effective and scaleable problem. Added to the difficulty is the fact that some of the applications and services are dependent on the carrier network, which is not local and available in China. Why not access a bank of handsets that the team in China can access and virtualize on their PCs and test remotely?
This would allow greater scaleability, effective use of resources, and allow more global companies the ability to develop and test from anywhere to anywhere. As an added effect, monitoring from locations on devices for things like messaging, content downloading and mobile services could be enabled to measure performance and availability. Any IT manager, who manages an e-commerce website, such as Amazon.com or Buy.com understands that for each minute the site is unavailable, the calculated loss of revenue is a significant impact on revenue, reputation, and overall customer satisfaction. The same translation would apply to mobile commerce of downloading ringtones, games, or access services such as Gmail or Yahoo Mobile Instant Messenger. The increase dependence of mobile phones and all the services that are brought to the device will need both thorough testing and monitoring if critical mass is to be achieved when growing this channel. Subscribers have already begun to expect high availability and fast results, not to mention rather seemless compatibility across networks and devices.
So where are we in 2006 when it comes to mobile monitoring and testing? Well, unfortunately, I believe that we are just at the beginning of the web when lots of companies were just happy that sites were up, accessible and traffic was surfing their respective sites. But we are quickly expecting more as competition increases and subscriber demands become greater. The alternatives of using emulator to simulate applications will not be enough to truly grab the subscriber experience that delivers that “last mile” or 100% accuracy that developers strive for. From the looks of both Mobile Complete and Keynote, both are growing their customer based both from mobile operators, content developers and portals. Hope this bodes well for the mobile industry, it certainly cannot afford to stumble on the billions of dollars and billions of subscribers all making their mobile device one of the most important thing they carry on their person.
Adding pictures, product details and customer reviews, SSL encryption and other trust methods and finally, spending quite a bit of time of User Experience. While eCommerce is still a fraction of the entire retail economy, it has certain made a dent and for certain retailers, a viable channel for distributing goods.
But let’s not kid ourselves in thinking that eCommerce or mCommerce will be the only method of buying and selling goods and services. Anybody can cobble together a site for selling books, computers, ringtones, and wallpapers. But how many have try to make it better, easier, *and* faster? If only 9% of subscribers in the US use data services, the majority of them being Blackberry users for email, then we are certainly in trouble. It’s not that people don’t necessarily want to consume content, but they are not even aware of how to or what to do. It’s great that we are providing lots of wireless access for our ever-increasing mobile lifestyle, but we need to maintain the adage: “If I can teach my grandmother how to use it…”
We need to really think more along the lines of Ubiquitous Computing.
Maybe Harris Interactive and The Gallup Organization can employ this technology instead of banks of phone agents dialing thousands of people? I’m wondering how many people an agent can call in a shift compared to the number of people you could address through a mobile device? Depending on the location, it could be more productive!If Mobile Surveying is here, Mobile Voting could not be too far off…hmmmmm….
Of some of the great brands and organizations, the Catholic Church is certainly large in membership and a well know group. While the two services that I am describing in this post do not directly work with the Catholic Church, they are definitely leveraging “faith” as an affinity group for services.
Another religious service that I recently encountered was FaithFoneWireless. Yes, this is another MVNO with a focus on the Catholic faith as their affinity group but with some added features. They have also decided to incorporate some Mobile Banking features such as donations to a charity, paying back friends and more.
- Mobile Banking with a FaithFone prepaid debit-card, and card-less subordinate bank account that is accessed using your cell phone and secure internet web-site. Transfer money to accounts, pay tithes, offering, pay bills, pay a friend, and reload cell phone minutes using your Cell Phone.
- A donation of 1% of your monthly bill to your local church, ministry or other non-profit organizations.
- A donation of 1% of your monthly debit-card purchase to your local church, ministry or favorite non-profit organizations when you use the card to purchase air-time minutes.
Interesting to note that these three payments: pay tithes, offering, pay bills can be made. The idea of paying tithes seems a bit outrageous. Paying a percentage of your annual income to the church has been a long standing tradition, however, paying via your mobile phone might be a bit awkward versus writing a check. But if you’re in the business of revenue sharing, taking a few cents of every dollar transacted is a great way to increase your topline revenue, not to mention improve your bottom line.
Any and all ways to make it easier to subscribers to make payments using the Operator’s payment mechanism is great for them, but potentially bad for you. There are countless stories about how the Operator’s billing system is not 100% accurate and in fact has a high rate of errors and inconsistencies. So at this point, I’m sure if I would trust it to accurately pay my bills. I also find it hard to believe that the feature of mobile banking would cause me to switch providers. While I am an advocate for new services via your mobile device, perhaps some of them are still maturing and need temperance before they are ready for primetime. After working on a few projects over the past few years with large banks in the United States, their need to facilitate mobile banking is a mere curiosity than reality at this point.
It never fails that people will find ways of making money. Even if it is not their core competency. This is why strong retail brands like TESCO and Tchibo, who sell groceries and coffee, respectively have also moved into other channels, such as offering pre-paid mobile by rolling their own MVNO.
TESCO in the UK and Tchibo in Germany both have lots of physical brick and mortar presence where subscribers can signup and recharge their minutes. Adding a few items to their already massive inventory is a no-brainer. What it also does is extend their brand by creating moving advertising — similar to taxi or buses. Thus it can increase brand awareness without needed a billboard or store on every corner. And moderate success has been achieved: TESCO claims 1M plus subscribers as of July 2006, roughly 3 years since their launch and Tchibo has over 750,000 subscribers as of June 2006.
In the States, yet another MVNO spectrum has emerged. The first to mention is Red Pocket Mobile. The targeted demographic is Chinese-speaking Asians living in the US. Their marketing “hook” is targeting those who call Asia (China, Singapore, Taiwan) at the same rate as a calling card (about $0.02/minute). They can offer these cheap rates by utilizing a VoIP backend. The name plus the marketing spin is rather simple.
When will Starbucks, Barnes and Noble, Safeway, and Blockbuster be launched? They have a large physical footprint, with lots of “foot traffic” perfect for pre-paid mobile subscribers. These affinity groups can attract customers with marketing programs to reward loyalty and length of subscriptions with merchandise, coupons and more. Additionally, adding the branding the the device and making it visible allow again, for mobile billboards and continual branding, beyond the store. Think about how many impressions subscribers can help to advertise to while go about their day! As the tidal wave of MVNOs crest, fallout and shrinking profits will emerge. Then companies will being to repeat history from the ISP and Internet days where, for example, AOL was spending ever increasing amounts of marketing dollars to acquire and retain customers, just to stay profitable. Only the strongest brands will emerge and survive. Clever marketing, partnerships, content, and unique value will remain successful as subscribers become more savvy about choosing their mobile provider. Maybe one of these days, the McDonalds phone will prompt me if I want a coupon for french fries each time I purchase a ringer, game or wallpaper!
Over the past few weeks it seems that quite a few people have been asking me about new devices. They are in the replacement category and are either fed up with their current device or their contract was up. So I decided to put together a short review of a few devices. While all of these devices have been given a thorough scrubbing, maybe I just stick to what you can do with these devices vs. talk about speeds and feeds. Mind you that this is also not a bake off, just my observations about a few classes of devices.
In the States, it’s rather amusing to note that perhaps the carrier with the best signal is Verizon, but in terms of device selection, it’s rather slim pickings. GSM providers like Cingular and T-Mobile have the trendier devices, but they still a bit slower to release new handsets compared to Europe and Asia. Lots of Pros and Cons why companies like Nokia & SonyEricsson and Cingular and T-Mobile have behaved in this way, but that is a separate discussion.
Tall, Grande or Venti?
One of the more fundamental questions I try to ask is about size. Handsets come in all shapes and sizes, it’s much akin to clothing selection. A lot of women want a dainty phone to fit in their purses, particularly the one that is shiny and fits just a bit more than a tube of lipstick, some credit cards, a photo ID, cash and some breath mints. But like a trendy pair of shoes, what you gain in style may cost you in comfort, such as small buttons, impossible to read screens and possibly missing a few other keen features like bluetooth or a decent camera. For guys it’s all about fitting in a pants or shirt pocket. But on the opposite spectrum, the handset is more like a Swiss Army knife that has to pack as much as you can per square inch.
Clams, Candybars and Sliders
What does seafood, candy or hamburgers have to do with phone? You have to ask yourself, what type of handset user are you? Flip phones or â€œclamsâ€ are great for compact size and rogue key presses while in your pocket or purse. They have generally gotten quite thin, but generally wider. It seems that sacrificing depth causes compromise in width.
But would you really want a phone that is even easier to lose? Clam-style handsets potentially suffer from the fact that a lot still have aerials (stubby antenna) in their design. Candybars or non-flips handsets are quite good, with lot of features, large displays, and tend of have a lot of accessories to change face plates, etc. However, if you don’t know how or keep forgetting to use the Keylock function, I’m sure quite a few have experienced the rogue call from a friend or loved one, only to hear muted conversation or faint background noise. Generally candybars are create for the QWERTY keyboard and large screen form factor for email junkies and decent at surfing the Internet. If you’re rather accident prone, candybars also can increase the chance to damage the screen.
They tend to be larger and thicker, but comparing the Motorola RAZR to a Nokia 6680 shows very small difference in height, width and depth. Finally, the latest style of phone is the slider. Like clams, they generally are compact when they need to be, and expand to reveal keypads or QWERTY keyboards. A few even sport a stylus for touchscreen capabilities. The spring-activated sliding action is quite good and constant repetitive opening and closing seem to fair well. However, over time, just like any moving parts, the mechanism gets loose and the threshold to flip is open or closed gets progressively looser (easier). Perhaps an indicator to get a new handset is when you feel that it’s getting â€œtoo flimsyâ€ to open and close the slider. They also tend to be favorites among those who like to fidget and are restless.
Pockets, Palms, Symbians, Java, and other strange BREWs
No we’re not talking about a witches potion, these are the different flavors of Operating System or software to run things on your phone. A few years ago, when phones were just getting more complicated, the software was rather primitive and customization and personalization were a fleeting thought. Today, nearly everything from when you turn on the device to what picture displays or ringer sounds when someone contacts you can be *fully* customized. You true personality and interests can show, by the ringers you choose, the wallpaper and face plate or color you handset has. But on the inside, it starts to matter more and more about the Operating System to drive the applications and services, not just making phone calls that will continue the happy experience vs. cursing at yet another device (The blinking 12:00 on your VCR!).
The Microsoft PocketPC Platform has definitely evolved and matured, like it’s big brother Windows XP. Humble and rather crude beginnings have been shed for rather svelte interfaces and true functionality. Email is just as good if not more pleasant than a RIM Blackberry and ActiveSync generally does a good job with PC to handheld synchronization. One main drawback however, is that any PocketPC platform seems to suffer from the same penchant for a fast and powerful processor with lots of memory that Windows does on the PC side. This also makes battery life a rather tethered problem rather than trying to be a bit for liberating from power cords. Unless you have the PocketPC Phone version, another problem is that the platform for the handset tends to be more bulky than others as a result of large processors, memory and a heavier battery. A general annoyance about most PocketPCs is that they lack a Task Manager. The Moto Q, which very popular and attractive looking in some of my field tests, has rather poor battery life with normal use of phone, texting, email, and Internet access. I have also noticed that if you run the email client, web browse and try and talk, two things happen. The first is the high potential to forget to close your data connection. This causes battery life to evaporate in a hurry. The second is the ability to truly close applications and release vital memory. This can lead to the handset frozen or even the ability to send and receive phone calls – something essential regardless of all the bells and whistles that must function with all these smartphones. One of the few devices where I have found a Task Manager is the HP iPaq. Once I start to notice rather slow performance, I can see what’s running and close any unnecessary programs. In some instances, though, I have still had to soft reset (switching on/off) the device. In rare instances I have even had to hard reset (pull out the battery) the device. Not exactly what I have had to do with past mobiles.
Generally this platform has been rather niche. From my first PalmPilot to the latest Treo 700, they have generally been built on small programs that are quick and run well given the device constraints. But as they migrated into the smartphone category, making phone calls proved to be rather difficult as this feature suffered from poor voice quality. Other problems are the level of complexity in a Palm device which potentially led to more and more soft and hard resets. Generally some of the other complaints from users have been the small keys, large stubby aerial, and on average the heavy and bulky form factor. All in all, a solid device that somehow needs to shed some weight and decrease in thickness. Synchronization has been very strong from the inception, with their cradle design and HotSync technology. Palm Desktop and other tools to integrate with email programs such as Outlook and reading Microsoft and Adobe documents have also made it a favorite amongst cubicle-less, road warrior workers.
As Nokia owns the majority of interest in this platform, all Nokia phones utilize this. There are also some other handsets like SonyEricsson, Samsung, and others who also use it for some of its phones. From a developers perspective Symbian tends to be much more difficult to build applications due to their version of C++. But applications tend to be quite solid and fairly responsive when using Symbian. They suffer in some respects as they are a somewhat proprietary platform, particularly with PC synchronization, but there *are* lots of tools and software out there than make it a popular OS. Perhaps one of the most intuitive interfaces to use on Nokia devices, they are quick easy to pick up and start using.
Few phones on the market today are using the Java OS, but most all use a JVM (Java Virtual Machine) and carry a MIDP (Mobile Information Device Profile) and a CLDC (Connected Limited Device Connection) which allow everything from games, applications and other tools to run on a phone. It is more portable than Symbian, and there are over 2M Java developers, many who can program for J2ME. Nearly all mid-range to high end handsets will have Java built in, which allows hours of entertainment in the palm of your hand.
Qualcomm came out with their own plaform BREW (Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless). Much like Java, it also comes as an OS as well as a language for developing applications. Less popular as you need a device that runs BREW, it is yet another flavor of platforms on a device. Most new devices that operate BREW can also run Java apps.
While this has mostly been a work-enterprise email tool, they have slowly been moving to a more consumer device. There have been some recent changes in the RIM Blackberry Developer Program where they are beginning to target entertainment applications. All those knowledge workers and Executives need something to do when not checking email! Another marker that RIM wants to expand into the consumer space is the Blackberry Pearl (8100). The smaller package which resembles more of a phone, than a PDA should do quite well.
Is there a perfect device? The actual answer is no. It really depends on what you want to do, want to spend and style. Just like clothes, shoes and cars, there is something for everyone. All shapes and sizes, costs, functionality and more. Just make sure you go to a store and get a feel of how the device feels. Make sure you really will use the functions like a camera, MP3 player, bluetooth, keyboard, and more, as these features quickly increase the price of the device you want to spend. It’s rather sad, but I even carry two devices. One for work and one for everything else. While it does cost more and you have to manage two devices, sometimes it’s a necessary evil.
For the past few months there have not been any posts on my blog. To my readers, I apologize, I was succumb to quite a few changes both professional and personal. But now that thing have settled down, I can go back to writing. I do hope the comments and suggestions continue. Never seems to be a dull moment in mobile – as we get closer to 2007, things I seem to feel a maturing in the mobile space, particularly mobile data.
I not talking about how we are shifting from an Early Adopter market to a Early Majority, what I am talking about is the fact that more and more people are simply harnessing the power of mobility. The mainstream now sends text messages, snaps picture messages, and looks up movie times or email.
While Microsoft was down, never consider them out. Charging ahead are PocketPC devices (this post was written, using Pocket Word, on a plane from Frankfurt to London, on my PocketPC). When you pull out your device from you clothing or luggage, no one gawks at you for what device you have – only to listen to what ringer is calling your attention.