Monday, July 23, 2007

Heated debate about i-mode's exit from the UK

One of the newsgroups I belong to, focussed on the mobile market in Japan, is up in arms about this article from El Reg claiming that it's cultural differences that have determined the success of i-mode in Japan. Unfortunately, the myths about Japanese life today still exist and the writer of the article has succumbed to them in terms of the Japanese not having home computers and the like (except that you can get rather nice laptops these days to desk top real estate isn't the issue it was 10 years ago). Not what one would expect from El Reg but hopefully it's a one-off.

Anyway, it prompted me to think about why i-mode failed in the UK...

1. It was an exclusive deal with o2 so had no chance of gaining critical mass. There were probably folks on other networks who would be interested, but not if it meant switching networks. AFAIK, there was little marketing effort to move existing o2 customers to i-mode and instead the marketing effort that I was exposed to was about recruiting new customers and it is common knowledge that it is way more expensive to recruit a customer than to retain one.

2. There is little awareness in the UK as to what i-mode is unless you happen to work in the mobile industry or are really geeky about mobile phones (in which case, you're probably working in the mobile industry!). I know of a few folks who had i-mode phones for testing but it never became their primary phone.

3. Timing was out. We were already in the start of the 3G world in the UK by the time i-mode came out. Why are you going to go 'back' to 2.5G/i-mode when you can have the overhyped wonders of the 3G world? The network operator Three had already spent millions on extolling the virtues of 3G so the i-mode message was lost in translation

What do you think? Was i-mode always on a hiding to nothing in the UK or could/should it have worked if handled differently?