Monday, 11 June 2007

Mobile Phone Applications, when will they ever take off?

Mobile phone apps are not successful. I have no doubt that there are exceptions to this assertion but I would suggest they're only in a niche context. Successful among a set of tech-savvy early adopters but not in the subscriber base as a whole. Is it that mobile phone apps are not providing a compelling user experience or are the barriers to using the applications too great?

A lot has been written and talked about the issues of downloading applications to the phone. Once I've managed to get over the hurdles of downloading and installing the application, I've then got to start it up.

First I have to remember where the app is installed. probably somwhere deep in the phone's menu system in obscurely named folders. Secondly if this application is going to be monitoring or waiting for an event before alerting me, I've got to remember to start it up when I switch on my phone.

I realised writing this that it's been ages since I've downloaded a phone app and things could have moved on, I thought I should probably try again. So I downloaded one of the IP-based mobile messaging applications, it was the first application I could think of I would want it starting up when I started the phone.

It was a nightmare, it didn't work. I think I selected the wrong GPRS settings on my Sony Ericsson K800i. But really who knows and if I was interested in the application before, I certainly wasn't now.

As for launching the application, it's hidden in an Applications folder under the Organiser menu option. The shortcut facility should have been my saviour but it would appear that you can't save links to individual applications.

PC operating systems provide all sorts of hooks and facilities to make it easier for me to use my applications and get them ready for me. Startup menu, system tray, quick launch bar are all in place to support me and get the PC ready for me to use. Is it too much to ask that my phone does the same?

So why has it come to this? I think it's down to the operating systems.

For a start their are lot's of them, Nokia, Motorola, Sony Ericsson all ship their devices with proprietary operating systems. In the PC world for better or worse we've got Windows, well for the most part. Windows provides an essentially standard platform that developers can leverage to provide applications.

In the mobile phone world the only standard is really Java and that sits on top of the OS with variable support of base functions because of the variety of devices. It certainly doesn't provide facilities to change menus or automatic startup facilities.

The device manufacturers could make their OSs more flexible but I suspect their biggest customers, the network operators, may be less keen. Their desire to control the experience for their subscribers will probably constrain the experience for a while to come.

Enter Apple, soon to enter the market with a typically disruptive device. The support for Widgets in the iPhone looks especially interesting. Applications able to interact with web services that are available as part of the OS. Further, Apple is providing a developer program to enable 3rd party developers to build innovative new services for the phone.

As I commented in Innovation at the speed of Telecoms they face a real choice as they face up to the demand for the mobile Internet: innovation or control.

Apple may not get it right first time with the iPhone but if it is in any way successful, I hope it drives the other manufacturers to open up their devices so we can see some real innovation.

No comments: