Good user experience, not choice, matters

Too many devices and too different features are complicating the ability of mobile service providers to deliver good Internet experience for consumers.

COMMUNICASIA, SINGAPORE--Serving up a great experience for mobile phone users, such as helping them to easily connect to friends through social networking or instant messaging applications, is important for further development in the mobile entertainment industry.

Part of that experience, said Stefan Rust, managing director and founder of Catalist Mobile, involves helping consumers to search and discover "all the content out there".

He said: "How do we help users to figure it out, on their sophisticated smart phones that are packed with features?" In town to moderate a panel discussion on "Developing A Good Mobile Internet Experience" at this week's imbX show, Rust is also the chairman of the Mobile Entertainment Forum (MEF) Asia, which is a trade association for companies in the industry.

He noted that fragmentation in the mobile devices space, particularly in Asia where the use of independent retailers has resulted in a proliferation of devices among users, posed a challenge.

Game developers, for example, that create mobile game titles have to build multiple SKUs (starter kit units) in order to cater to thousands of different device types. This complicates their efforts to deliver a good user experience, Rust said, because the devices have different features, operating systems and display screen sizes.

Paul Meyers, chief executive officer of ACME Mobile noted that while mobile operators know what mobile phones their subscribers use, and what kinds of content they consume, the operators "don't always share that subscriber information".

Meyers said it is vital companies that offer mobile content for sale, such as Java- or Symbian-based games, know the device a particular consumer is using since "there are different builds for different handsets".

Panel member Jane Wilding, director of portals and propositions at iO Global, suggested industry players find a way to manage choices for consumers, "so that they do not get overwhelmed".

Rust noted that in Europe, some carriers are already limiting the choice of handsets consumers can pick.

Wilding cited the Apple iPhone as an example of how "a beautiful user experience can triumph over connectivity and choice".

"To engage consumers, we need to give them the full Internet experience. We need products and services that work on their devices," she said.

Meyers predicted that things might improve soon. "The iPhone and Google Android are game changers. Six months later, everything might change."

Content matters, networks don't
Apart from user experience, the types of content offered and how much it cost to consume such content also matter to consumers.

Mobile TV, for instance, is not taking off in most markets, said Blums Pineda, managing director of management consultancy firm Exicon, and is currently only offered in a smattering of countries, with success stories cited mostly in South Korea and Japan.

Participants on another panel discussion focusing on mobile TV and video, agreed that the backend networking technology--be it DVB-H, 3G or Wi-Fi--was not as important as the content being delivered, such as movies, TV shows and social networking tools.

Marie-Therese Wolf, international sales and trade marketing director of 3 Power, said: "End users of mobile TV services don't care about what technology is being used to deliver the TV channels to their mobile phones. They just want to watch what they want, on their own terms." 3 Power is the international business unit of 3 Italia, which is a subsidiary under the Hutchinson 3G group.

As Pawan Gandhi, Nokia's Asia-Pacific head of mobile and TV experience, noted: "The technology is agnostic, but the content is king. If nobody wants to watch the shows, mobile TV services won't take off even if you have the best networks and devices."

He also advocated a flat data rate for consumers, saying: "Keeping data rates affordable is important, since consumers won't have to keep track their own usage and worry about paying too much."

In July, TV Digitale Mobile in Italy began offering six free-to-air channels to subscribers with a DVB-H receiver, with another six premium channels available to customers willing to pay for the content.

The company, also part of Hutchison 3G, launched the service in 2006 with two free channels. It now has 830,000 mobile TV subscribers.

Wolf said: "We had a significant pick-up in [mobile TV] subscribers, when we offered four premium channels as free channels."

Blum Pineda said: "[The industry has overcome] technical challenges facing mobile TV for the most part. The major issues now are pricing and content, and the industry needs to ensure that both areas match what consumers want."

Billy Teo is a freelance IT writer based in Singapore.

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