A belated round-up of our December 2010 event held during Technology World at London ExCel from Viji Pathy.
MoMoLo's Hits and Misses of 2010 event was a panel session which reflected on what had been happening in the mobile world during 2010 and looked forward to what we might see in 2011. The panel represented different areas of the mobile industry and gave us their views on the successes and failures of 2010 and their thoughts for the future. And perhaps it’s timely we take another look at our thoughts and predictions for 2011 – were we way off or is it too soon to call it?
George Nimeh - Digital marketing and brand communications expert, formerly a digital director for iris Worldwide
Peter Globokar - Managing director at Mooreland Partners, a global investment firm specialising in mergers & acquisitions for technology industries
Jo Rabin - Mobile Monday London organiser, chair of the W3C Mobile Web Best Practices Working Group and mobile consultant
Matt Wolff – VP of mobile at Badoo, an online dating and social networking site, formerly CTO at Flirtomatic
The panel initially opened up about the phones they used, most panellists using at least 2 devices (no big surprise there). These included the Nokia N95 8GB, HTC Desire, Nokia E71, iPad, Nexus One, iPhone and Blackberry handsets so covered the broad spectrum of Android, iOS, Symbian and Blackberry smartphone platforms.
The panel then considered the general highlights of 2010. These included the fact that there was now a range of visible platforms creating a competitive market, and that Android had seen the popularisation of open platforms allowing innovative development. Google's Chrome to Phone which allowed better interoperability between PC and phone was also a great innovation. Hit devices included the iPad from Apple with its superior synchronisation, the iPad also included a great browser experience. Some of the 2010 games such as Angry Birds were popular downloads though it was thought that most users only used a very small proportion of the apps they downloaded on a regular basis.
Moving on to specific winners and losers during the year, although quite a few launches had taken place such as Windows Phone 7 platform, and devices such as the Nokia N8 and the Blackberry Torch, the panel thought the iPad and the Samsung Galaxy showcased the transformative power of tablets to optimise communication technologies with a great reading and browsing experience, although it was considered still early days for tablets.
Where were phones going in the future? One observation was that most phones now used similar hardware and the main selling point would be the end-to-end experience including software features such as the UI/UX and provision of services, companies like Apple and platforms like Android which had succeeded in providing better experience to developers and consumers had done well.
Innovation could grow via opensource systems like Android, although it was possible that proprietary systems like RIM's Blackberry had some advantages controlling the whole end-to-end experience.
Winning devices were the HTC Desire, Samsung Galaxy and Android as a platform. Losers were Nokia and Sony Ericsson as well as RIM, whose closed Blackberry platform made interoperability difficult.
The panel were asked if featurephones still had a role or did most consumers now want a smartphone? Especially in the West, consumers were increasing expecting the computing power of smartphones and tablets in their mobile devices. Even in the emerging markets where featurephones currently sell very well, the market will start to shrink as smartphones start to sell for $100 or less. The distinction between smartphones and featurephones was also starting to blur because of the price-points getting closer and because you can do many of the same things in terms of mobile web and applications in both kinds of devices. Although some services are far more popular in emerging markets with predominantly featurephones, such as mobile payments in Africa and services such as Badoo whose main market is Latin America, this may be partly due to better marketing and collaboration in those markets.
Additionally the cost of data, or at least the perceived cost of data, is still and issue for smartphone technologies, many users were unclear on what a MB of data actually meant for them in terms of actual UX on their mobile? Although flat rate tariffs have helped user take-up of data services, bandwidth can still be a real issue for users considering access to mobile services. Although high data usage is often consumed via WiFi (e.g. 80% of data usage on iPhone), genuine mobile access can still be impossible for some services when universal coverage is not available on the move, often when they are most needed!
The panel considered some of the 2010 service launches by network operators. Vodafone 360 for instance had not been a great success, with the devices not selling and the services not used – should the network operators even be delivering these kind of services? Network operators can have a complacent view of 'owning' their customers but trying to force users to do everything via operator controlled channels is generally a bad idea. For instance by not providing user with access to app stores other than the operators, which generally did not include many apps! Operators should perhaps concentrate on their provision of carrier technologies, such as analysing and providing consistent coverage, rather than trying to own the app space as different competencies were required for each. Users generally preferred open handsets without any restricting operator customisations. Where operators had been successful was through marketing strategies such as Orange Wednesdays cinema tickets and O2 Priority tickets, they could perhaps even enhance these with LBS solutions etc.
Next the panel considered questions from the audience. The first question was whether the WAC (Wholesale Applications Community) initiative was going to be a hit next year? There were some challenges for operators in terms of keeping pace with operator customisations of platforms, even OEMs have found this a challenge, and pointless operator platform differentiation rather than standardised platforms was probably unhelpful. It could however be a good initiative to support app developers, especially with unified payment gateways which are still an issue for developers outside of the Apple ecosystem.
The next question asked what the panel thought of Windows Phone 7. It has some good points such as great UI which used interesting technologies such as transition effects, but it didn't multitask well (yet). Microsoft hasn't been able to flood the market in the same way they did with their desktop OS, despite massive investment in mobile, due the range of other open mobile platforms being used including Android, Symbian and Meego. Although WP7 has some great features, there was doubt that Microsoft have provided any unique enough draws which would entice users from other platforms, so the jury was out on whether it would ultimately be successful. The questioner thought the unique features were perhaps the PC integration for business users.
The panel then considered a question on whether the media, who have launched a lot of mobile apps in 2010, will do better in 2011? There were mixed views, although there have been a lot of media apps, generally these have only been for the iPhone. Media companies are still unsure of how to really innovate and create a business model with services on mobile, e.g. publishers needed to create more innovation in apps rather than just creating glorified RSS readers. There were also the on-going questions of mobile web versus native apps and support for the range of platforms. Generally, there was still a lot of learning to be done on what users wanted from apps, for instance whether users sought something resembling the hardcopy format, and IP issues may become increasingly important, as often the rights to publish in non print based media needs to be clarified. Finally the payment model is still an issue for publishers, which free, advertising or subscription models being tested. These issues might take longer than a year to satisfactorily resolve.
The last question the panel were asked by the chair was what they would like to see in 2011? Answers included a range of interesting devices with genuine differentiation, more cooperation between stakeholders to provide innovate solutions for end users, effective mobile payment mechanisms, better search and discovery mechanisms for apps and services on all platforms, and investment for the range of highly innovate small mobile companies starting up.