Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Mobile IM vs SMS or the 'My community's bigger than yours' wars

The morning at Global Messaging is given over to keynotes and broader strategic presentations while the afternoon gets a little more down and dirty.

John Delaney from Ovum was the first session I caught. One of the key aspects of mobile messaging he was predicting was the abstraction of the user from the decision about bearer.

He attests that someone wants to send a message to someone and they don't really care about, or shouldn't have to care, how it gets there. I may be a committed techie but I think we make decisions about the types of messages we send according to the type of information we're sending and the capabilities of the recipient. I've blogged about this previously in The BlackBerry Threat.

AOL and Microsoft were next up saying how much they loved mobile and that they were doing deals with operators left right and centre to bring the IM experience to Mobile.

The man from Microsoft and the brass neck to say they weren't interested in monetisation and were thinking purely about the user experience. This clashed somewhat with Paulo Simões of Portugal Telecom who was talking of the 'draconian' contract approaches from the big global ISPs.

Portugal Telecom have looked at their market and partnered with the national leaders in IM, who are not MSN, AOL, Yahoo or Google. They are taking the approach that anything really does go. They provide a unified IM client but are happy for their users to user other 3rd party IM clients.

This was during a panel session and at this point the MS and AOL guys started shifting uneasily in their seats and talking about carrots and sticks. They really wanted to encourage developers of these 'unlicensed' clients to be part of their development programs. MS in particular were quite clear that they were happy to use the big legal stick for all those who corrupted the brand.

Enter Steven van Zanen of Acision, the newly divested mobile products division of LogicaCMG.

The thrust of his presentation was that the mobile operators were acting like rabbits in headlights in the face of the Mobile IM hype. Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL where playing the ‘my community’s bigger than yours’ game and trying to wade into the mobile market by essentially replicating the IM experience in mobile.

This went down well with the operator crowd, at least those who have resisted the advances of the 'global' ISPs. I quote global because I think the problem is these companies are used to a pre-eminent position in the US. The US carriers have welcomed them with open arms because they've never got SMS to work. So they've come to Europe expecting the same treatment and some operators have given it to them.

They seem to have forgotten why SMS has been successful. It's not because it's a sub-IM experience and people have learned to make do, it's because it's a great service that ticks all the boxes.

  • It works on every handset, apparently 25,000 handsets are sold every hour in Asia that only support text or voice
  • It works cross-network, one community the global MSISDN community
  • It doesn't require a seperate client. I don't download Java clients can't be bothered with the hassles of getting it working and I'm one of the techies.
  • It works when someone is online or is not. Forget presence if someone responds I know they're online if not I know they'll get back to me, meanwhile I can get on with my life.

Good news is, if I'm right, Mobile IM will not cannablise SMS revenues. It will appeal to some people, but most will prefer the SMS experience to the Mobile IM alternative.

Interestingly enough Mathieu Saccharin of Bouygues Telecom reports that in their trial with launching MSN, voice and SMS traffic actually went up for the users with Mobile IM. Though he put this down to two reasons

  1. Texting your buddy to tell them to login to MSN, and
  2. Calling your buddy because you couldn't be bothered typing anymore

Couple of quotes to end this post with, both from Stefan van Zanen:

SMS is the biggest brand in the world
SMS is the only mobile data service that has been successful

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