Now and again I just can’t take it. Now and again I do the mental equivalent of pressing pause and sit and examine myself.
This phrase — or words to the effect — run through my mind at these points :
“What the hell am I doing wasting my time with mobile?”
What a piece of rubbish this industry is. Why am I even bothering? I meet lots of entrepreneurs doing their best to crack the marketplace. Almost every one I meet has a decent, sound idea, that, in an ideal world, would work brilliantly.
Apply anything other than a cold, hard reality view of the mobile industry to most of the concepts I see, and it’ll all end in tears. The amount of companies and people I know who are struggling really annoys me. It annoys me no end.
In case you’re not entirely familiar with what’s going on at the coalface of mobile enterprise (and by that I mean ‘entrepreneurs’, not Fortune 500 companies), here’s an illustration with a made up idea.
‘Graham’ is 25 years old and he’s just quit a promising management consultancy role to follow his passion for mobile. He’s done his research. He’s realised that, in the UK, people like gardening. He’s found that Â£800 million is spent on plants each year (made up stat!) and that, even by the longest odds, if just 5% of that revenue could be switched to the mobile medium, that’d be a Â£40m/year market. Further, research indicates that a lot of people would like to order plants, seeds and various plant-related-gear on their mobiles, whilst they are, say, on the train, or in a meeting, or otherwise doing something else. Going to the garden centre to buy plants is ok; but often you just need some compost delivered so you can plant your daffodils.
Stay with me. Even further, he’s knocked-up another series of revenue streams to support e-commerce. First of all, his research indicates people will want to pay for premium video content of famous gardeners showing how to plant daffodils properly. And they’ll want specialised weather and calendar updates (integrated with your mobile calendar) to remind you when you cover up your Strawberries because of the frost.
And, what’s more, his research indicates people will also want to network with other gardeners in their area… and…
Great idea. Great concept. I don’t disagree with the premise. I’m sure some gardeners would use a service like this. But unfortunately, this kind of entrepreneurialism, irrespective of the actual realities, is doomed. It’s Class-F (“F—ed”) before it’s even begun. That’s because ‘Graham’ has made the mistake of basing his concept around a flawed belief in the mobile industry. He’s assuming, or hoping, or simply entirely misguided that the mobile industry is similar to, for example, the PC/internet industry. And it clearly, clearly isn’t. I say ‘clearly’. I sometimes have rather headed conversations with many a budding entrepreneur about the industry. Mostly, appear to be dumbfounded by hearing me telling them ‘not to bother’.
“You’re supposed to be our ultimate fan,” one chap told me after a brusing encounter with me and my laws of reality, “It even says it on your site, that you’re a fan of entrepreneurs. Won’t you even write something about our company?”
“I can do,” I respond, “By all means, but that doesn’t change the fact your concept is good but the market is shite. No one will buy anything from you. I really don’t want you to lose any more money.”
It’s been said — by someone, I can’t recall — that being an entrepreneur is about being naieve, i.e. If you actually knew how difficult it might be, you wouldn’t bother. Most of us don’t. But now and again, a chap or chappess wakes up one morning, sticks a door horizontal on a pile of bricks in his garage and sets up Amazon.
And thank the Capitalist Dieties that he or she does. The world thrives on innovation. Without innovation we’d still be trying to get those square wheels to work. Almost every industry you can name thrives on innovation too. Everyone benefits. It’s nigh on exactly as dependable as the laws of physics.
But — and this, I know, a sweeping statement — generally, most innovation in mobile never actually gets past the starting block.
Because it’s a closed world.
We are all essentially still using devices that can phone other people or send text messages on. In, what, 15 years worth of innovation, we’ve got nowhere.
Yeah, yeah, X billion people connected on GSM. Whoopee-do.
Its not a brilliant achievement. Stick on some rose-tinted glasses and yeah, isn’t it amazing that you can step off a plane in the Maldives and call someone back in London?
Well, no. You can do this, but it’ll cost you an arm and a leg.
Want to send 160 characters of text from your piece of shit device (currently in the Maldives) to another piece of shit device in Central London, United Kingdom? That’ll be a quid, please. Or 50p. Or similar.
Is this how far we’ve come?
I had GPRS years ago. I was checking my emails, on an admittedly snails-pace GPRS connection, via infra-red, back in 1999. It was crap, but it *worked*. It did, actually work. I could get my emails or instant message in the middle of a field.
So fast forward ALMOST ten years and what? Only last week I posted an article delighting in my disbelief that mobile ‘broadband’ (“Bollocks”) does, actually work. For almost 8 hours straight, I surfed away on 3 without interruption.
Ten sodding years that’s taken.
Bill Gates came along on March 24th, 1999, with “Business @ The Speed of Thought” in which, if memory serves, he wrote about being able to do rather wicked things with mobile in the future. Like, for example, being able to put out a live auction for a taxi from Oxford Street, London, to Heathrow Airport and, within 2 minutes, get back a range of bids from interested suppliers. Yeah, forget that. Orange, one of the UK’s biggest mobile operators have only just got data. Vodafone, only recently. And o2 were kicking and screaming well into late 2007 before they got with the programme.
So what about being able to network with other gardeners on your mobile device? Or order some compost whilst sat aboard the 8.22 to London Liverpool Street?
Yeah, stuff that.
Screw that, with bells on. And a little cherry on top.
The sad reality for this mobile world of ours — at least, in the UK, Europe and the States, is that it’s decades away. Sodding decades.
Pick any one person of the street and they’ll tell you they phone people and they text people. If you’re really lucky, you’ll pick someone who’s actually ‘used Google’ on their mobile. Or, if you’re exceptionally lucky, you’ll find a teenager who’s used Facebook Mobile.
But anything else? No. Move along.
Did you say ‘innovation’? Was that you? GUARDS! Arrest that man!
Although my example with ‘Gardeners’ might not be relevant to many reading this, I’m willing to bet that, if you could properly conceive such a service, there would be demand. Demand for the concept.
There’s so much demand for ‘concept’, it’s causing a dull ache between my shoulders.
Last week I was stuck in the middle of Lakeside Shopping Centre waiting for the Apple Store chaps to configure a new Mac Pro. I had to lose myself for an hour. I wondered, as I walked along, if any shops in the shopping centre stocked a wicked semi-pro Canon Video Camera. I brought out my Nokia E90 and…… then I couldn’t be arsed.
What I really wanted to do was query the inventory of the shops in the centre. Then, visit the relevant ones. In the end I was reduced to popping into the shittest ‘Jessops’ camera shop to view the shittest range they could muster. No joy. Then off to House of Fraser’s technology department — appalling.
I’m willing to bet that if your mobile device offered such a seamless facility, you’d use it too. Especially when your wife, girlfriend or significant other is looking for ‘black trousers’ (that necessitates a visit into every sodding shop that might sell trousers — oh, look, that’s a nice bag..)
Would you like to go to the cinema? Shall we see what’s on?
Ok, let’s rephrase.
‘Would you like to go to the cinema? Ok, would you like to waste about 10 minutes whilst we see just how shit our mobile experience is?’
Try it right now. Take our your phone and try and establish what’s playing right now. Then book it. Within 60 seconds.
First of all, your phone is engineered to be just that. A sodding phone. To make 8k/sec voice calls. And then it’s been retrofitted with rubbish-but-it-works data facilities and the most abysmal interfaces you could ever dream of.
So, try and find the sodding web browser.
Open it and wait. Wait. Wait. YES THIS IS 3G. If you’re lucky, you’ll be on 3.5G. And you’re still bloody waiting. What, 10 seconds, 20 seconds before the thing has opened up. To all the monkeyboys reading with a fast device, swap to an LG please. Use an LG Chocolate and you’ll see how shit it all is.
Right you’ve now got the operator’s default homepage. Scroll and screw about to get the cursor to the search window. Pray that your operator has done a deal with Google and not Yahoo, so that your results will at least, make some sense.
Type in cinema listings. Or ‘empire cinema’ or something.
Google’s got cinema listings down to a ‘t’ on the desktop. If you’re lucky enough to guess the correct wording then you can avail yourself of Google’s cinema listings.
If not, then you might be forced to sod about with the Odeon or Empire Cinemas home page. If you’ve got the patience of a saint, you can try using Odeon’s mobile booking service to book some tickets. Take ages.
A minute’s already gone past. I’ve lost patience.
“Let’s have a look in the local paper, it’ll be quicker.”
How should it work?
Pull up your mobile device. Click entertainment. Click cinemas. Get an immediate listing of the <i>available</i> showings (i.e. available, I don’t want to see the ones that are fully booked). Let me manipualte the list easily by location and film choice. Click book. Stick the entry into my purchases wallet and into my device diary. Opionally, let me ‘copy’ this to my friend who’s coming with me. Then prompt me for 50% off my popcorn if I buy a voucher now. Click. Bought it. And when I get to the cinema, I’ll wave my phone at the RFID panel to gain entry.
Now take the cinema technology and make it work for taxis. Piece of piss. Apply it to restaurant bookings. Same thing, only minor changes. Same with dry cleaning, hairdressers, doctors…
Why doesn’t this exist?
Well, I think it’s bollocks. It’s down to bollocks and lack of them. Spineless de-innovators.
Unfortunately the marketplace is ruled by a few mopolistic companies. Look at your handset manufacturers and your mobile operators. The lack of innovation is simply staggering.
It’s at this point that I come to a halt. If I’m ranting like this in front of a mobile operator, they’ll start giving me excuses about cell sites and how difficult it is to blah-de-blah. Indeed, one chap from a mobile operator was moaning about the fact they don’t know what to do next. Voice revenues and text revenues are declining, to the point that the more strategic amongst them are in a huge panic about how to deliver revenue in 5 years time.
This is why I’m still paying 40p a minute to call an 0800 ‘free’ number. Or why 0870 ‘national rate numbers’ aren’t part of my call bundle. Or why, out of bundle, I’m paying 12.5 pence per text.
Had operators being paying attention, they’d have seen the writing on the wall and developed an open framework to support entrepreneurial innovation in all sectors of the mobile industry. For instance, would you like to find out where my phone is? That’ll cost you, wholesale, 12p. Buy in bulk and it’ll cost you 12p. Or, speak to someone and you might be able to work out a deal. But, if you want to locate a phone, it’ll cost you more or less the price of a text message. Tons of entrepreneurs poured into the industry to try and make mobile location services work. But they couldn’t. There wasn’t a model that worked for those providing the money.
Want to capture 5% of the gardening industry on your mobile? Well, take a look. It’s a horrible world out there. Make an application for Symbian and it’ll work on most Nokias. But not LGs. Or Sony Ericssons. Or Windows Mobile. So, er triple your development budget. No wait, multiply it by 10.
Right, actually, did you say gardening? Well, aren’t they all over 35? At least? Ok, well they probably don’t know how to run an application on their phone. So… er… let’s close that busine…. No wait! We could do a mobile portal? Right, you know, you won’t need to worry about an application. They can just get it on their browser! Wicked!
Er. No. Because the experience is shite that you’ll spend all your marketing dollars getting them to your mobile site. Once. Then you’ll need to spend the same amount again, reminding them how to get to gardenersareus.mobi (or m.gardenersareus.com?) via the piece of shit handset browser they’re using.
What the hell went wrong?
Where did all the innovation go?
By hook or by crook, some companies are being successful. And that’s excellent. But there’s so much lacking. So many exciting, exciting opportunities that are yet to be realised.
I think my mistake with this industry — with SMS Text News — is trying to view your average Nokia in this light.
With a mobile device you should be able to:
- Get to your bank account screen in 5 seconds and transfer money around or send a note to your bank regarding a failed transaction.
- Be in New York yet be able to schedule flowers for mum to arrive the next day. Not have to specify her address or put in any banking details.
- Be talking to your friend and find out they’ve just read a great book and get a ‘I recommend you buy this’ link from them from Amazon. Simply click ‘yes’ and have the book delivered tomorrow.
- Schedule a British Gas visit to your house next week.
- Conduct instant messaging conversations with friends
- Find out if a friend or business contact is nearby with a pop-up notification
- Hunt for the best pizza place in North Beach, San Francisco, and get recommendations FIRST from your friends, then from others. Connect to the restaurant and book a table.
- Extend you hotel booking by another night, and query their inventory to see they’ve got a Suite with a jacuzzi available — and make a real-time offer since it’s after 10pm and get the room for an extra $50 over the rate you paid last night
- Travel the New York subway with the same global account that you use for London’s underground and Japan’s subway.
- Browse the photo gallery of your friend’s visit to Nigeria complete with google maps mashup.
- Buy some shares in BARR Plc after tasting Irn Bru for the first time.
- Commission some computer development work via elance.com whilst you’re having pizza in North Beach.
- Video conference with your two brothers. When you initiate the invite to conference, your machine tells you that Fraser is busy and has requested a 5 minute rain-check but Martin’s free now. So start the call, then 3 minutes later, Fraser joins in. And he real-time-mixes some video of his new Benz.
- Open a bid to the Mercedes dealers across the UK soliciting offers on a new S320 model. Check the ‘I’m interested in other offers’ button and forward your wife a solicitation that just came in from Bentley asking if you’d be interested in an older Continental GT they’re trying to shift. You get a face back, full screen, from her. No need to prod further.
- That light in the hallway is still arsed. Get a guy to fix it. Ask the Marylebone community, crowd-source style, if anyone’s got some handyman recommendations. Pick the top guy in the results and read through his feedback. Query his diary and find that he’s only available on Wednesday. Re-query with the ’50 pound surcharge’ option checked and book a slot on Monday instead. That’s gone into your diary — and the wife’s, automatically.
- Listen to some Vivaldi while you’re doing this. Actually, who conducts the best Vivaldi pieces? Woosh. Query. Results. Listen for 30 seconds. Ok. Add this to my locker and take Â£.50 from my account. When I get in the car, Vivaldi’s at the top of the list ready to be played.
My mistake, I think, is to evaluate your N90s, your N82s, your LG Secrets, based on the above ideals. I need to get wit’da’programme.
I’ll stop now. It’s far too depressing.
Why don’t we have this now?
The technology exists. We can more or less do this on one’s desktop. We’re almost there with the desktop.
Saldy, we’re years, years and years away in the mobile industry.
Well yes. There are some shining lights. Apple’s iPhone Application Store is leading the way there. Finally there’s an outlet for Graham and his Gardening idea. He can easily develop, deploy and monetise his offerings. What’s more, his audience can, thanks to Apple’s end-to-end deep thought, probably learn to use Graham’s service in a few moments.
But what of the LG users? The Samsung users? The Orange users…
I’ll stop there.
You just can’t think too much on this or it gets far too depressing to even comprehend how far away we are from this.
I just visited my parents the other week. When I arrived in the door, mum was sat showing my dad the Picasa Album of the SMS Text News Desert Island pictures. She was flicking through them. Like a pro.
… if only everything was as good as it was for Tom Cruise in his movie, Minority Report!