…big name launches are fine, but supporting the user experience is key
eptember is traditionally the month that sees people begin to start to gear up their sales cycles, after the slower summer months. And in the mobile industry this means an increase in the number of product news and announcements, as well as the start of the speaker season.
Earlier this month we spent some time at the excellent MEX (Mobile User Experience) conference, where a small but select group of speakers emphasised many of the points we have been reporting on and illustrating in the print and virtual pages of Mobile Europe.
The first is that the issue of mobile data (by which we mean most messaging, all content and information and entertainment services) is generating a tremendous burst of technological and business activity. But that burst has brought with it uncertainty, at the handset level, where the issue is how operators can offer mass customisation and the ability for users to personalise their phones uniquely from one overall phone and content platform.
Delegates at the conference were taken through the full range of options, and barriers, from “front end” issues such as customer usage of the phone and the user interface, through strategic level discussions about who owns the brand, to complicated technical disagreements about how operators can manage their device portfolio from a single platform, whilst giving the illusion and experience of personalisation at the single device end.
The area of user experience and device management is not just about producing nice graphics for kids on their phones. It affects the whole activity of mobile content provision, partnerships and mobile marketing as well as application take-up and usage. Operators looking to do marketing deals with major companies, including those from outside even the entertainment industry, need to be able to offer flexible solutions such as co-branding the user experience on the terminal and the delivery of exclusive branded content and services. This is a major headache — as operators will be facing dozens of such relationships, to address their target markets.
One consultant we talked to in the area of mobile marketing said he has found mobile operators simply unready to have this level of discussion with major blue chip companies, who are themselves ready to spend money but cannot see a way into the market as it is presently structured.
Perhaps MVNOs will be best placed to bite off chunks of the market, dealing with one or two main partners to create segmented and branded services. Perhaps one or two of the main entertainment and retail companies will become MVNOs themselves. But the core issue of servicing the devices and content in the network will remain for the host operators.
So while initiatives to promote the growth and use of digital mobile data and content are welcome and will continue, the focus of the industry, and of magazines such as this one should continue to be on manageability at the back end and usability at the front end. Without that focus, mobile content from TV to music will remain just pretty pictures in the sky for most mobile users.