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Death knell for mobile?

I'm not at the point that Michael Mace has reached.  Not yet. In his piece Mobile Applications, RIP, Mace sounds the death knell for the mobile applications industry.  He blames it on the proliferation and splintering of platforms, and operator and distribution channel greed.  He recommends vendors focus on the web, and ignore the operator. 

I am certainly not far behind Mace at this point, having experienced exactly the barriers he describes, but I remain hopeful that the current mess can be corrected. Native applications provide a better experience for the end user than web based applications, and will do so for as long as there isn't universal, high speed connectivity available at reasonable price points.

My hope isn't based on operators suddenly waking up and wanting to do the right thing to grow the market.  Not at all.  As they conduct their interminable little pricing wars and lock-in attempts, the picture for third party developers looks bleaker and bleaker all the time.  No,  my hope is that giants like Nokia and Apple can force the market open in spite of the operator.

At some point operators will wake up and understand that they do two things very well indeed — they carry traffic and they bill.  They are terrible applications service providers.  The very best thing they could do for themselves, their customers and applications vendors would be to:

  1. Stop trying to dictate what goes on handset.  As Mace points out, the handset is a highly personalized experience.  Operators can't possibly cover all the angles. 
  2. Open the billing infrastructure to accredited third parties.  That would present customers with a single unified bill, provide application vendors with a viable business model, and most importantly drive traffic and usage on the operators networks.

It's inevitable that this will happen.  Either the operator will help the applications market to grow, or (as Mace counsels) the applications developer will move to the web and sidestep the operator.

{ 4 comments… add one }

  • Jonathan Jensen February 26, 2008, 10:38 am

    However, the operators are desperate to move up the value chain so they are looking at more & more ways to get into content. They know their existing business is commoditised so content looks like the way forward.

  • Ameet February 26, 2008, 11:13 am

    Alec,

    Isn't NTT DoCoMo doing that? I remember reading somewhere (a while back), that NTT was actually stepping back from provinding applications to its customers. They were letting third party vendors provide new applications and NTT was just providing a single stop billing service to the customers and taking a small percentage of that.

    I hope that service providers everywhere learn something from NTT!

  • Alec February 26, 2008, 1:48 pm

    Jonathan,

    I think the problem is simply that most operators want to deploy applications which target a substantial swath of the market. Here in Canada, for example, one operator isn't ready to talk unless you can show a 65% potential vs the overall market.

    Yet we're becoming more and more invidual, and the handset is becoming more and more personal.

    I would argue that content is not the way to go. Being the content delivery platform certainly makes sense. Being in control of what content is available is a reversion to the old broadcast television model. That doesn't work anymore. Just ask anyone in Hollywood who's fighting bittorrent downloads.

  • Alec February 26, 2008, 5:49 pm

    Ameet,

    That is the docomo model, in fact. I’d love to see that replicated elsewhere.

    A

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