Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Mobile Internet development can 'wind you up'

When developing the mobile Internet experience for the mass-market, we’ve traditionally taken a bottom-up approach using mobile device capabilities to guide design decisions. The bottom-up approach means mobile operators have classified devices in their portfolios according to constraints such as the physical dimensions, functionality, and performance of the device. Device classes typically range from the most feature-rich handsets with large touch-screens, state-of-art camera functionality, and high mega-pixel image resolution, to the least feature-rich handsets without cameras and perhaps featuring technology that wouldn’t be out of place in a Tevor Baylis - Pipe Smoker of the Year 2008 Trevor Baylis ‘wind-up’ product. Given the broad range of devices and capabilities available, and the lack of any real universal standards for mobile application platforms, the use of device capability classes has been the most sensible approach. It has helped operator product development teams manage some of the incredible technological complexity in this industry and control development costs, whilst at the same time allowing for successful delivery of a reasonably differentiated experience for groups of mobile data service consumers based on the capabilities of their chosen devices. However, the approach has by necessity also created a ‘dumbed-down’ experience that has been forced on a largely disinterested market of mainstream mobile consumers who have been thoroughly underwhelmed over several years.

During 2008 the Apple iPhone 3G turned the heads of this mobile Internet user community – well at least 1% of them. The iPhone designers at Apple have created an uncompromised user experience based on a vertically integrated 'closed' product stack, and with focussed support of the sophisticated Apple marketing machine, the iPhone has become the latest must-have Apple device for consumer technology buyers. Free from the shackles of compromise the iPhone designers delivered us a superior mobile user experience that is powering a demonstrable increase in mobile service subscriber retention and acquisition, and appears to be responsible for increases in data service usage in all operators territories where there have been exclusive iPhone distribution deals with Apple. The new iPhone device has arguably not had the same positive effect on operator ARPU as it has had on the end user experience. However the ‘genie’ is now well and truly ‘out of the bottle’, and we of the mobile Internet consumer community are apparently demanding an iPhone-like experience on our non-iPhone devices, with operators busily investing in the additional platform capabilities and partner relationships needed to provide us with an improved experience to command our loyalty. But have a thought for the poor product development teams who are tasked with delivering this superior 'device agnostic' user experience. That's no trivial undertaking with so many 'Trevor Baylis devices' in the operator device portfolios. Awesome!