I recently returned from a trip to the UAE (Dubai mostly) and Oman. While there I did a bit of research on my own - just talking to folks about how they use their cell phones and so forth. I also had the chance to interview the head of mobile banking services in EMEA for a large, global bank. More on how global banks are avoiding building new branches by offering mobile banking services in another post.
First, I took the public bus from Dubai to Oman. The average income per family in Oman is far below that in the States - probably less than half. Gas and other utilities are cheap as is education and healthcare. That said, we know that cell phone usage has little to do with income. One of the first things I noticed is how many of the men had at least two cell phones. My initial hypothesis was a work phone and a personal phone. I was soon corrected by my guide who drove me up to Jebel Shams. In a country where men can have more than one wife, apparently more than one cell phone is necessary. My guide's father has five current wives, but has had nine all together. My guide had two cell phones and a lot more SIM cards.
My guide was 37 years of age. He had four children and seemed to have an about average income. He worked in sales when he wasn't serving as a guide. He's probably easily one of the most sophisticated cell phone users I've ever met. His cell phone was his portable media player for both music and video. I was astonished by the number of videos he had sideloaded from YouTube. The ringtones were pretty much driving me crazy after about 15 hours in a car with him road tripping. He only had a couple of different ring tones and his phone rang a lot.
I give my colleague Charles Golvin credit for finding this article on the official Google blog. I'll be working on a report on the intersection of social and mobile in early 2010 so please send me more examples if you have some. I'm especially interested in the role of social/mobile in the Retail environment.
Google is mailing out storefront window stickers to 100,000 local businesses in the US. (see their blog post for complete information). If you have the right type of phone and supporting software, you can take a photo of the code on the sticker (see below) and you'll be taken to that business' PlacePage on the Web. The service will show available coupons, allow for ratings, get reviews, etc.
Here is their post on the applications that work with the service:
This report looks at the state of the European mobile market and at how consumers are using mobile services. We have created different profiles looking at how consumers are using their mobile phones in the different countries.
Over the past two years, the introduction of the iPhone has changed the way consumers and brands perceive mobile phones. It acted as a marketing catalyst, raising awareness of smarter devices and conveying the idea that there are as many mobile services as there are consumers. Consumers will continue to shift their attitudes toward mobile phones — perceiving them not only as communication tools but also increasingly as entertaining and productive devices that can help them in their daily lives. More than 40% of European consumers are beginning to demonstrate sophisticated usage of mobile services.
We expect this to grow over time led by the two most sophisticated group of users (SuperConnecteds and Entertainers). They will change the general perception of mobile phones:
Many innovative start-ups have pioneered mobile social networking in the last few years: BuzzCity, Peperoni, Fring, Nimbuzz, eBuddy, Zyb, Plazes, Loopt, Foursquare and many others demonstrated the potential of the market.
In the last few months, a bunch of announcements clearly showed that the convergence between mobile and social computing is gaining traction and attracting the largest stakeholders:
The pace of innovation is accelerating in the mobile space like never before and opening up new opportunities. Mobile has the potentiel to bridge the digital and the real worlds. Not a day without a new mobile augmented reality service or application out on the market. Of course, that's still niche but it clearly demonstrates the potential of the mobile platform.
If you disagree or if you don't get my point, just watch the video below
This video is not brand new and has already been seen close to 500,000 times. The service is provided by an innovative start-up that offers a reality browser available for Android. However, these types of applications are flourishing. See for example the Métro Paris application here or more recently the Meilleursagents.com app here.
I bet the best mobile service at the next MWC conference in Barcelona will be a mobile augmented reality app or service. If you haven't submitted your service, the contest is now open at www.globalmobileawards.com.
At the end of this year, Forrester expects mobile Internet penetration to reach 17% in Western Europe — the same adoption rate for the PC Internet a decade ago. At that time, mobile phone penetration was still below the 40% threshold and mobile shops were opening at every high-street corner. Companies were only starting to launch their web presence and to anticipate the impact of the Web. Operator-branded mobile Internet solutions would only launch 3 years after and 3G in 2003/2004.
10 years after, the mobile Internet is reaching critical mass and a virtuous mobile Internet cycle is kicking off. Consumers who have a flat-rate data bundle spend more and more time on the Internet from their mobile phones, brands begin to launch their mobile Web presence to monetize these growing audiences and engage with their customers via more relevant mobile content and services, which in turn attracts more and more consumers to unlimited mobile Internet tariffs.
The current economic climate will lengthen handset renewal cycles, foster the development of low-cost offerings, and boost the uptake of SIM-only contracts. Operators are likely to postpone major investments in new networks such as 4G / Long-Term Evolution, despite early trials and commercialization in the Nordics. However, it will only slightly reduce the pace of growth for those elements that stimulate mobile Internet usage: 3.5G and Internet-centric mobile phones as well as all-you-can-eat data plans will be widely available in the next five years. That's the reason why Forrester expects mobile Internet to grow to 39% by the end of 2014. That's a lower end point than for the PC Internet in 2004, but the growth curve per se looks quite the same.
I published my first report on mobile social networks 2 years ago (see here) at a time when Facebook audience was "only" around 50 million unique monthly visitors. At that time MySpace was a paid-for and exclusive experience on Vodafone-Live and Bebo was about to launching a mobile version. Needless to say lots has happened in the last 2 years.
Numerous acquisitions and parternships took place between the likes of Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, Twitter, Hyves and with handset manufacturers / mobile operators. Several mobile-only communities (AirG, peperonity, itsmy.com, buzzcity...) have gained traction and there is plenty of innovation in that space. INQ generated lots of media coverage and interest by lauching its so-called "Facebook phone" and plans to launch new devices. I am not sure what the latest Facebook mobile stats are but not that long ago rougly 10% of the worldwide installed base of FB users had registered to the mobile version. Even more significantly, the GSMA announced a few months ago that UK mobile consumers who access Facebook via their mobile phone spend, on average, 24 minutes on the site daily, just shy of the 27.5 minutes that PC-based Internet users spend daily on Facebook; mobile users of Facebook average 3.3 visits per day versus 2.3 visits per day from PC users.
Hardly a week goes by without a press article or conference reporting how ubiquitous mobile payment services and their adoption are in Japan. Forrester decided to put some figures on the so-called Japanese mass-market reality and to understand why Japan is the declared leader in mobile contactless payment services. What lessons can others learn from the Japanese market and to what extent do they apply to Europe?
There are several reasons why Japan is ahead of the curve among which the role of Felica Networks in the value chain and the scale merchants could benefit from (Sony and DoCoMo invested several dozens of million euros to make sure that retailers and points of sale had the technology to read the chipsets embedded in mobile devices), the loosening of Japan's financial regulations (making it possible for non-banks to become financial services players), operators' role in paving the way for mass market adoption of mobile Internet and higher usage of mobile services (fostering the natural expansion of mobile payments).
Despite this, reality is that the mobile contactless market in Japan is only reaching critical mass, not mass-market adoption. In Europe, conditions differ quite a lot and even if Near-Field Technology is likely to play a key role in the future, the technology is only entering the pre-commercial era.
I recently came accross this quote in the Financial Times from the former Vodafone CEO on November 19, 2007: "The simple fact that we have the customer and billing relationship is a hugely powerful thing that nobody can take away from us". Would you still agree with this operator statement written in golden letters at the forefront of any "smart pipe" operator strategy?
Since then, new entrants such as Google and Apple have shaken up the value chain. I have two examples in mind showcasing the tectonic shifts happening: 1) Apple imposing a direct billing relationship via iTunes/App store and 2) Google managing to create its own location data base (via cell ID or Skyhook's wireless technology) without relying on operators' network.
As early as in July 2007 (before the 3G iPhone version embedding a GPS chip), Google Maps on iPhone (the combo of Google's and Apple's strengths) started offering the "magic blue circle" experience. You could benefit from a compelling user experience like never before, with instant localization without any GPS chipset. Of course, the accuracy may not be good enough if you are looking for a pure turn-by-turn navigation, but honestly this is so simple and useful if as a pedestrian you're looking at the streets nearby.
Location is at the very heart of the mobile value proposition.
It is often difficult to step back from the flow of news coming out from Barcelona but here's a quick take on the main announcements.
- new handset makers such as ACER are entering the mobile space highlighting the fact that boundaries between computers and mobile phones are being blurred. Toshiba, HP are already here and Dell or Lenovo could well follow. Will they succeed? Well they need to master not only the hardware but also the software, offer scalability/economies of scale, negotiate with operators and revamp their brands. This will not happen in one night but some of them have bold long-term objectives
- As always a great autumn/winter device collection from the usual suspects: Nokia E75, SE "Idou", LG Arena or Smasung Beat DJ. Despite few announcements (2 devices with Android OS), Google and Apple cast their shadow over the congress though. Apple because most phones were still compared to the iPhone even though the device was announced 2 years ago. If many visitors were disappointed not to see more Android handsets, one should bear in mind this is still the early days and that there is a strong support from the Open Handset Alliance. No doubt this is a long-term play and that Android is here to stay.
- Appstores are the new retailing/merchandizing paradigm. Many handset/OS vendors announced their own "vertical" solutions but operators also joined the dance such as Orange with its Application shop. The parntership between T-Mobile and OVI is one of the most interesting announcements at it shows that operators can also offer an "horizontal" layer and offer a large reach/distribution to developers. Not everybody will succeed but it is likely that both types of stores will co-exist.