Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Challenges faced by the Operators and Mobile Developer Community by Umar Akram

I was approached this week by Danish entrepreneur Umar Akram (see pic) from Mobile Weaver ApS to publish his article which is a discussion about the challenges faced by mobile operators and mobile developers with a call for a unifying standards body for mobile development to ease those challenges.

It seemed like an interesting enough topic to publish, and as I'm not a developer myself, I'd really welcome your thoughts and comments on what Umar has to say and whether or not you agree. Do we need a unifying body? Do any of the industry associations cover any of this off? Where do the W3C standards fit in to this? I'll let Umar take it from here.

"The revenue generated from voice is clearly diminishing with every passing day, forcing the operators to explore new areas of growth through continuous innovation in technologies and services. Recently I had an opportunity to attend a Vodafone D2C strategy briefing which brought out Vodafone initiative for the next three years. During this briefing Vodafone significantly highlighted the fact that despite the anticipated consolidation by European operators, the operators should focus on services other than the traditional voice based services so that they can generate greater revenue for themselves.

In the fast moving competitive market of Europe, operators are not only facing the challenge of competing with low cost MVNOs (mobile virtual network operators) but are also continuously struggling to retain their existing subscribers. Besides few exceptions, many operators in Asia and other developing countries have still not been able to implement long term data services strategy, with the result their mobile play is still primarily focused on voice.

As the ARPU (average revenue per user) on voice continues to decrease, data has become the most dominant factor for operators in retaining and attracting the customers. The key factors which have complemented the growth of data services in developed countries are the increasing capabilities of mobile phones, faster networks like 3G and mobile applications that bring a rich user experience by changing the way people live, work and play.

With the changing trends, operators are now expecting their revenues to grow, as the subscriber’s appetite for content has increased. They are always on a look out for a “killer application” that can easily become popular among the subscribers and thus create brand loyalty for them. But from the mobile content developer’s perspective it’s not a simple task to come up with such an application.

The major challenge highlighted at the Google’s Open Source discussion event was the absence of standards for the developers in the industry. Optimizing these applications for different OS and broad range of mobile devices with varying screen sizes and versions remains the biggest problem for the mobile content developers. Even if the portability issues are resolved, distribution still remains a big challenge for the developers. It is the dream of every mobile content developer to get their content distributed through an operator. But the unending list of pre requisites on various issues of portability, certification and in some cases localization can turn this dream into a complete night mare.

The explosive growth in mobile content has transformed it into the buzzword of every article, publication and news around us. A new report issued by market intelligence firm iSuppli forecasts that the market for premium mobile content will exceed $44 billion by 2011, more than doubling the $20 million anticipated for 2007. The major driving force for the mobile content developer is to get an easy access to the information and APIs (application programming interface) which are held confidential by the OEMs and OS providers of mobile devices.

There should be one organization that can set guidelines and standards for content development by consulting all the stake holders in the value chain. This will facilitate the developers to focus only on the core issue, which is to develop applications for the consumers that can add value in their lives. This thing is not as simple as it seems.

Due to various political, economical and competitive landscape constraints, it’s very hard to unite all the stakeholders in one place and develop standards for content developers globally. Otherwise we can rightly say that lack of standards will remain the biggest hurdle for the content developer community."

This article is written by Umar Akram, a Danish entrepreneur who focuses on mobile and internet services. Umar is the founder and Vice President of Mobile Weaver ApS and is currently serving as the member of the board. Youpark, a flagship product of Mobile Weaver, is an online storefront that provides mobile users with over 12,000 best selling mobile software and games suitable for wide range of popular devices.

8 comments:

  1. Umar might want to check out our solution to the problem. We have a mobile thin client that can access the operating system API's and then make the information available to the any web. We simply stream the information via the browser HTTP request headers. It bypasses the carriers control over the mobile device. In addition we have a set of Open API's that developers can access and then stream their own request via the browser. There's more information and business use cases on our web site (www.5o9inc.com)

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  2. @peter Thanks for leaving a comment. But can you explain in plain, non-technical English what this actually means either to the developer, or the end customer please? Thank you!

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  3. I'm not sure I'd agree with some of the assumptions around this one. If voice revenues are falling, does this mean that operators are necessarily seeing data as the future? From what I've seen data is still such a small part of overall revenues for MNOs that it's not seen as core to their business.

    The idea of a regulatory body for the industry to mandate adherence to standards is an interesting one, but unrealistic in open markets IMHO. And if it arrives tomorrow, it'll take 3-4 years before we start seeing the benefits thanks to slow uptake of handsets etc... so I don't think it's a goer for the near future.

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  4. I agree with Umar's about the challenge of developing mobile content for multiple handsets with different screen sizes and capabiliites. I think this is an issue for mobile-web or client applications.

    We have an international user community for our air travel related service, so an additional hurdle for us is the punitive data roaming charges levvied by mobile operators.

    As a result, we've put our mobile-web development on the back burner until 2008, and we're sticking with SMS for now. SMS isn't perfect but currently it's the only way to reach a mass audience of mobile consumers, and our overseas users can receive text messages at no cost.

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  5. I too agree that he has a good point! The cost of data on most networks criples anything that doesn't use SMS, granted Three and T Mobile seem to have made data a bit more accessible with Web n Walk and the X Series packages but there are still issues for the devs.

    The key issues as Umar states are the designing successfully for cross platform & cross browser for multiple devices. (OK so there are paid for platforms, but for the innovative entrepreneur and the enthusiast developer the cost of such platforms is the dampner here!)

    In terms of test kit... as Google staff said at the Girl Geek Dinner, even they struggled without huge investment, so for the individual dev it's so hard. Then you have the issues of the code signing for each network... there are just too many barriers to entry for many and in the end it comes down to who you know as well as what you know!

    It's time some of these walls were broken down.

    Devices these days can also hold on device apps and these aren't really discussed here but there is so much untapped potential if only those barriers weren't there! (if only... the ideal world of mobile!)

    I hear a post on "parking innovation, the mobile space!" Coming up at some point! ;)

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  6. It's ultimately not feasible to have a single body representing every player in mobile, obtaining agreement and organising standards - operators and manufacturers pull in opposite directions. Asking for such a body and expecting tangible results from it is like asking for peace in the Middle East - lovely idea, not actually going to happen any day soon.

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  7. I had some more feedback from Peter via email which may be useful here too.

    Hi Helen,

    As marketing is not my core strength this might be a swing and a miss, however if we persevere we’ll come up with a great answer that helps everyone. Ok here goes…

    Technical folks…

    The issue at hand for the developers is that there is no common “standard” to work to on mobile. Even the lowest common denominator doesn’t work well for designing web pages. All of the current mobile operating systems and their default browsers behave differently so it’s hard to deliver a great customer experience. Secondly as new hardware features make their way into the phone, such as finger print readers, eye scanners, and GPS in addition to the slew of Bluetooth devices that can be connected, developers want a way to access that information easily. This means Open API’s (application programming interfaces). Typically the operating system handles this task. The problem arises when you need to transmit this information to a web server. Currently there is no way to get information easily from a COM port or disk into the outgoing web request. And even if the developers could get it there, the web servers wouldn’t know what to do with it. The two current approaches are to try and use either Java or JavaScript.

    However neither one solves the problem. JavaScript has its own sandbox and can’t access the operating system API’s, and Java can’t talk to the JavaScript API inside the browser. 5o9’s solution solves this technical problem. Essentially we can transmit any information from the operating system API’s and send it either directly to the web server or interface it with the JavaScript API. What does this mean for developers? Simple – you can now take advantage of any device connected to a mobile phone to value add your web service. You can send GPS, Bluetooth sensor information even USB data to a web server with nothing more than a simple plug-in for the browser. All of this can be done securely and due to our design the customer remains in control of the data that is transmitted.

    Marketing folks…

    From the customers we’ve talked to in the Enterprise they have one simple initiative. They want to extend their current web services to mobile devices. Unfortunately there is no easy way to map what occurs on the desktop with a large screen, keyboard and mouse with a mobile device which has none of these features. The solution is do the following…

    1. Reduce data entry by adding context to the web transaction coming from the mobile device

    2. Free up the screen for relevant content by adding contextual menus to the browser

    3. Add privacy controls and adaptive content optimization to speed the transaction

    The value proposition is thus…

    1. Cost-effectively extend Web services to their mobile customers and employees

    2. Supports contextual Web services across any network and device

    3. Reduces time to market

    a. 98% of solution uses existing infrastructure, 2% is new

    4. Delivers increased CAPEX/OPEX efficiencies

    a. Decreases mobile development/execution costs & risk

    Here’s a picture of how it works… imagine you fire up your mobile browser and go to www.starbucks.com – here is what you might see. Notice how there are no hyperlinks on the page. It’s entirely devoted to the corporate brand. All the customer then has to do is click on the menu button. Remember on mobile it’s all about finding information, NOT browsing for information.
    [follow link to see pic] http://tinyurl.com/2qosg6

    And then they would see something like this… notice what happened? The normal browser menus have been augmented with “contextual menus” based on (off) information received from the mobile device. Instantly I can select from a menu of items that drives me to “relevant content” in a single click. On this particular demo clicking on “Find a store” loads a new page which has directions to the nearest store and also a mobile coupon. How does it (the web server) know where I am… this is where the technical folks come in. They access the onboard GPS chip to derive the current position of the mobile customer. This information along with my Starbucks loyalty information is transmitted up to the server when I typed in www.starbucks.com – essentially the web (Internet) has now become contextually aware of not only who I am, but also what device I’m currently using, where I currently am, and finally what time of day it is. This is important for the marketing folks when they are delivering coupons which are time sensitive.

    [follow link for pic] http://tinyurl.com/3bjtkk

    If you like we can chat via phone and I can show you a live demo over the web. From the customers we’ve talked to, and engaged with, the power of the solution hinges around the following critical elements of mobile… which is known as the 0-1-2-3 rule.

    0-1-2-3 rule | 5o9 solution

    --0 or no required user behavioral changes | Uses the default browser
    --1 log on, point of entry | Supports single log on
    --2 sec response time | Uses advance optimization techniques to load the page in less than 3 seconds
    --3 no more than three clicks away | Contextual menus drive relevant content in a single click

    If I had to sum everything up it would be like this.

    · Customers want mobile to work. They want to use the browser which they understand and they want to get to relevant content in a single click. It’s all about finding vs. browsing

    · Developers want to access everything on the device and use that information to derive new web services for their customers. They want the solution to work the same way across all devices and all networks

    Our solution aligns those two objectives.

    Hope this helps, and if you have the time (30 minutes) I can give you a demo which will give you all the necessary context.

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  8. http://www.openhandsetalliance.com/index.html

    This would solve "many of the issues highlighted.

    Came across the posts on the article (thanx Sara at Pr/media relations for Youpark ApS & Helen at Beep Marketing.

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