Phones for your thumbs, not ears

May 30 2008, 21:44 IST
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SummaryMobile players want to pull off some ultimate convergence, combining a rich crop of applications available on computers, TV entertainment content, and the roving versatility of mobile devices.

Your mobile may always be under your thumb. But do you know it’s sheepishly losing its natural character right under your nose? Today, it’s doing all those jobs that it was not made to do.

From maps to movies, from texting to TV, from navigation to networking—you name it. And to taste all these new services, you don’t need to use your ears—thumbs will do.

Mobile marketers’ intentions are clear. They’re eyeing half the world’s population, as over 3 billion people use mobiles. Assuming that a majority of them can be enticed to use value-added services, mobile device makers as well as service providers are packing all the bells and whistles in their offerings.

So what are they up to? Look at Nokia. The device maker is joining hands with a number of players to grab every inch of the mobile marketplace. For instance, it has just roped in Japanese game developer Konami to offer Konami mobile titles—starting with Metal Gear Solid—on its N-Gage mobile games platform. Similarly, Nokia and France Telecom’s brand Orange are to provide mobile services including music, games, advertising, maps, and location-based services on Nokia handsets. To tap the ad market, it has partnered with the mobile content service WidSets through Nokia Media Network (an advertising network having over 100 mobile publishers), saying the tie-up aims to help advertisers reach customers around the globe with a single mobile advertising campaign.

Many other players are trying to pack a crop of services into mobile devices. For example, AT&T and MediaFLO USA have started Mobile TV for handsets. Wireless network operator Verizon—along with a mobile application publisher Vocel—has started offering something called “The Pill Phone” to help its US customers get drug information and dosage reminders on their mobiles. Apple iPhone is already known more as a fun tool than a phone.

But, why this mad scramble to provide so much on your mobile handset? Because the voice-only business model is not really lucrative for the operators. The equation is simple: more airtime, more profits. So they want consumers to use more of their mobile phones—if you’re not using mobiles for voice or texting, then you use them for these value-added data services.

Today, the whole mobile business revolves around average revenue per user (ARPU). And ARPU for data services is low. In the global mobile services market of about $700 billion, the share of data services is just around 15%. That means, for every one hour of mobile usage, consumers use data services for less than 10 minutes.

Now, mobile players want to pull off some ultimate convergence, combining a rich crop of applications available on computers, TV entertainment content, and the roving versatility of mobile devices. But that’s not going to be a walk in the park. Battery is the first bottleneck. You need days and days of battery life to allow people to use mobiles when they’re on the road for several hours in a day. Plus, the tiny mobile screen will continue to be the biggest irritant for consumers. Let alone a TV serial or a movie, you can’t read even a simple e-mail on a mobile screen without getting a severe headache.

If a handful of gullible consumers belonging to the hiphop culture are using mobiles for multimedia content, they’re doing so just for some experimental fun. They’ll soon get bored with this, and use mobiles for calling or at best texting.

Mobile marketers may be bullish today. But they’ll soon realise that they’ve not yet understood the way this new mobile generation behaves.

The writer runs a blog at

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