Mobile: Closing in on the Right Form Factor

This AdAge piece (reg. req'd) talks about the buzz/rumor at CTIA being an imminent launch of an Apple cellphone (MVNO) service with Helio, a joint-venture between South Korea's SK Telecom and Earthlink. (If it comes to pass, could a similar GooglePhone be far behind? :))

An iPod phone from Apple, with iTunes + video, might be the thing that drives a lot more usage of mobile data because of the existing mainstream appeal of the iPod. We'll see if the rumor is true. Most Apple rumors turn out to be true it seems.

Here's the Sony eBook Reader. This isn't a Web access device, but neither was the Sony PSP, which became one. And then there's the Ultra-Mobile PC (Origami) from Samsung and Microsoft. And there's the T-Mobile SideKick and a host of other so-called smartphones (Treo, etc.)

All of these devices are imperfect as mobile Web access platforms, but they're starting to close in on a form factor that will drive meaningful usage of wireless data and help realize the potential of Mobile Local Search and content services such as video, etc.

Three things need to come together to make this all work:

  • Network speeds
  • Devices (and software) that provide a good user experience
  • Pricing plans that allow people unlimited access to really grow usage

I had previously thought we were about 5-7 years from all these pieces coming together, but there's so much energy, attention and anticipation focused on mobile (and mobile video, etc.) that it may well happen sooner. The carriers, however, are the bottleneck in the US. But a host of market dynamics and competitive pressures may motivate them to accelerate network upgrades, new plans and devices, etc.

But there's a question about what consumers really want (or don't want) on mobile devices. The Royal Bank of Canada's RBC Capital Markets did a survey recently that found US mobile users don't really want or care about TV and/or music on mobile phones and generally don't want ads on those devices. (But a question here is what's an "ad"?) According to the survey, 75% of respondents said they didn't want to watch TV on a mobile device and 69% said they didn't anticipate listening to music on cellphones. And 43% were so opposed to advertising on their phones that they would be willing to pay more for phones that could entirely block it.

According to Pew, only 14% of US wireless users want TV on their mobile phones and only 19% want music. Still, those could be relatively large numbers given the totality of the wireless user population. (There are 207.9 million mobile phone users in the US or 69% of the U.S. population vs. almost 400 million in China.)

By contrast, in Japan, mobile TV is starting to take off. However, one must be cautious in assuming that simply because something is happening in Asia or Europe it will necessarily happen in the US. The cultures and market structures may be different enough (especially in Asia) that one cannot make the leap.

Right now, mobile TV in the US is really about the youth market (18-24) where there's a 3.3 penetration rate according to Telephia. But if the pieces come together and the user experience is good, it will drive more adoption and usage of wireless data/Internet and content services like video and audio.

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Here's a Walter Mossberg review of competing smartphones in the WSJ (sub. req'd). He likes the Treo 650 best. 

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4 Responses to “Mobile: Closing in on the Right Form Factor”

  1. Screenwerk » Blog Archive » Mainstreaming of Mobile? Says:

    [...] I think the pace of mobile is greatly accelerating, but I think we need to be cautious about how quickly we expect things like Mobile Local (Mo-Lo) Search to develop. I wrote about some of the issues and questions surrounding mobile previously in this post.   [...]

  2. Search Engine Journal » Google Talk & Nokia’s 770 Internet Browsing Device Says:

    [...] The device will be based on the Nokia 770 “Internet tablet,” which didn’t have a phone. But with Wi-Fi and Google Talk (which they will eventually expand to out-of-network calling), it could become one in addition to the other stuff it does. The development of the right “form factor” is one of the keys to mobile Internet usage. [...]

  3. Screenwerk » Blog Archive » Microcomputers and Mobile Says:

    [...] I wrote previously that the right “form factor” was one of the essential components of making mobile work as a mainstream opportunity for everyone. [...]

  4. Will Says:

    This is a great move for earthlink and apple, google is getting to involved in peoples private lives with their technology. I bet their product will be a hit with consumers.

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