Photo messaging services 'baffling' to consumers

Network operators are counting on a revenue boost from multimedia messaging, but they must do more to explain the service to ordinary users, according to a report

Mobile phone network operators may be dreaming of a happy Christmas, in which they rack up premium fees for conveying multimedia messages (MMS) to a new crop of camera phones. But they are in for a rude awakening, according to consultancy 3G Lab.

According to 3G Labs' usability studies, users had trouble sending MMS messages from a range of camera phones because of confusing user interfaces. Network operators have been promoting such services as picture messaging, media messaging and photo messaging, but the phone menus use the term MMS, which is unfamiliar to consumers, 3G Labs said.

"These results suggest that handset manufacturers and operators need to work hard to make MMS easier to use if they are to start building decent revenues," said 3G Lab chief executive Steve Ives in a statement. "Consumers are baffled by the terminology and design of today's MMS-enabled handsets."

MMS will account for $44bn (about £28bn) in annual revenues in Europe alone by 2006, according to the Yankee Group. This represents about 24 percent of the European mobile services market, the analyst company said.

MMS-enabled handsets currently on the UK market include Orange's SPV (Sound Pictures Video) (see a review of the SPV here), Sharp's GX10 and GX1 Nokia's 3510 and 7650, and Sony Ericsson's T68i and T300. Most include built-in or attachable cameras for taking and sending photos. All of the major mobile networks are promoting some form of MMS.

3G Lab noted that the carriers may have succeeded in getting across the idea of sending photos on a mobile phone, but that their branding did not extend to the phone's interface, leading to confusion.

One tester said, "I don't know what MMS means. I've never heard of it before," according to 3G Lab. Another commented, "Multimedia, I haven't got a clue."

Network providers hope that MMS will duplicate the success of text messaging, which has become a major revenue-earner. The networks have paid millions of pounds to buy 3G networks licences, but have still been unable to find an attractive form of data-based revenue other than text messaging.

Another problem currently facing MMS uptake is network incompatibility. It is currently impossible to send a picture message from one network to another, although operators say they are working to improve the situation.

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