SMS is the new black

A review of mass market mobile apps

Archive for January, 2009

“Hello … I’m at Davos”

Posted by Admin on January 30, 2009

Over at the Davos conference of world economic leaders the UK’s Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, was caught in a bit of a Dom Jolly moment as his phone rang twice while he trying to address the audience.

The old-style Nokia ringtone went off twice before Prime Minister Brown realised it was his phone, apologised to the audience and turned it off. He wouldn’t tell the group who it was that had been trying to reach him.

Gordon … ooops!

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Mobile technology to fight truancy

Posted by Admin on January 30, 2009

Did you know that in the UK on a typical school day there are 50,000 children who are not in school and over 8 million school days are lost each year? Me neither. That’s a huge amount. Not only is it bad for the kids’s education (obviously), but can cause worries about safety too.

Well I saw this story about how schools are starting to introduce new mobile technology to help combat this by automatically calling, texting or emailing parents if their child is missing from school. The system, called Truancy Call, keeps trying them until it gets an answer.

Of course, many times the child is away legitimately (illness, holiday etc) and their parent has forgotten to inform the school. In this way it’s quick and easy for them to do so. Sometimes however there can be less savoury reasons for a child missing class:

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Reports of Text Messaging Demise Still Premature

Posted by Admin on January 30, 2009

A number of people have been writing about the growth of Mobile IM and how it is now eating into the numbers of SMS sent and received – although this blog isn’t one of them! William Dudley, the Group Director, Messaging & GRX Products at Sybase 365 has written an article that disproves that. He argues that SMS is still alive and well.

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william-dudley-sybase-365Recently, industry media have been abuzz with headlines, blogs, and articles regarding the imminent demise of SMS due to cannibalisation by Mobile Instant Messaging (MIM). Most often, they were quoting a study from TNS Global Telecoms Insight (GTI) that states that instant messaging will ultimately displace SMS (and to some extent, email) as the primary non-voice P2P communications medium for mobile phones.

While the study and its methodology are both sound, the conclusions drawn may be slightly flawed. MIM has yet to take on the viral attributes of SMS. For those who use MIM frequently—likely within their own community of friends and associates—it may work well, and these particular users may very well use less SMS and more MIM. However, the simple fact is that until MIM and instant messaging overcome their fractured, mass of incompatible communities (e.g. AOL IM, MSN IM, Google Talk, ICQ, and of course the GSMA’s Personal Instant Messaging [PIM]), they will not have the same mass global appeal that SMS has enjoyed for the past few years.

In the United States, SMS continues its solid traffic growth–with a doubling of traffic volumes from first quarter 2007 through first quarter 2008. M:Metrics reports that SMS subscriber usage in the USA has reached approximately 50%. In Western Europe, subscriber usage ranges from the high 70% to mid 80% rate. Mobile Instant Messaging usage rates, on the other hand, are still quite low, averaging less than 5% of the Western European subscriber population, with a better showing at 8% of the US subscriber population. Drilling down even further, one can find that the MIM usage among surveyed subscribers is even lower for operators purported to have launched the GSMA’s PIM, with the highest service usage usually MSN’s instant messaging service.

Still, according to the M:Metrics data, when looking at the growth of the US subscriber population using MIM at least once per month over a one year period, we see a growth rate of 21%, while over the same time period, SMS grew 23% to almost 50% of the subscriber population using it at least once per month. Given the substantially larger base of SMS users, the 23% growth rate is essentially non-comparable to the 21% growth of MIM use with regards to the numbers it represents. Additionally, accounting for a doubling of volume, while the number of subscribers that use SMS only grew 23%, it is evident that the frequent SMS users are sending even more messages. While several other countries have even stronger MIM usage among subscribers (for example, China grew to 11% of their subscribers using MIM in February 2008), this does not show signs of the viral growth patterns that SMS has demonstrated previously and still does in many markets. Consequently, any talk about the demise of SMS as a simple, non-voice medium is speculative at best and misleading at worst.

SMS provides a level of ubiquity that MIM will struggle to achieve. While Internet access from mobile phones is not yet universal (but becoming more so with the greater prevalence of 3G networks), one would assume that this does in fact, bode well for MIM, and badly for SMS. In fact, the TNS GTI press release states:

“The cost of instant messaging is next to nothing, as the only cost is a very small data transfer fee. With consumers being accustomed to instant messaging from their PC from companies like Yahoo and MS, and more mobile operators offering unlimited use of Web browsers, the take up of MIM is going to increase significantly–leaving SMS and fixed email from PC behind.”

However, if one takes a look at some of the 3G-only operators, such as Hutchison-Whampoa in the UK, M:Metrics shows the MIM usage as 11.4%–one of the highest in Western Europe, which appears to support TNS’s conclusion that SMS and email are left behind as MIM increases. We equally see that Hutchinson-Whampoa’s SMS usage by subscribers is also amongst the highest in Western Europe–as are email, MMS and other Internet-driven services–meaning that the 3G-only network subscribers are heavy users of both Internet and traditional mobile messaging services. While the Hutchinson case is only one operator example, this type of higher MIM usage shows that the reality is such that even where MIM is well-used among subscribers, it still hasn’t and will not cannibalise SMS traffic anytime soon.

Finally, as we look to the future, we are already seeing IM-like features creeping into the SMS ecosystem, combining some of the desirable features of IM, such as presence and threaded messages, with the ubiquity, reach, and simplicity of SMS–further discrediting the notion that MIM will displace SMS at any time soon.

William Dudley, Group Director, Messaging & GRX Products – Sybase 365

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Cornish Police to use Bluetooth

Posted by Admin on January 30, 2009

Cornwall seems to be a hive of mobile-related activity at the moment. What with the hospital sending text reminders and now the police to use Bluetooth. The Bluetooth system is, as reported by the thisiscornwall.co.uk website, going to ‘use 21st century technology to get important messages out to young people in certain places, at certain times’.

From what I can see, it’s actually the same system that we reported on being used by Police in North Yorkshire. But that doesn’t mean it is any less worthy an idea.

Inspector Mark Bolt, of West Cornwall Police sees a lot of potential in the system:

“There are so many things we will be able to do. We will be able to issue appeals for information about crimes; we will be able to highlight police campaigns; even to let people know our phone number (08452 777444).” And as he said, “it is aimed at a proportion of the population, such as youngsters, under 24-year-olds, for whom traditional methods don’t normally work.”

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Mobile banking to rise says MMA

Posted by Admin on January 30, 2009

“The MMA is seeing mobile usage rise for personal banking.” That’s what the MMA President and CEO, Mike Wehrs has said about mobile banking.To help promote the growth in the sector the MMA has released the Mobile Banking Overview – which aims to provide more information for the mobile industry on the financial sector.

So this means that more and more of us are likely to access our bank accounts, transfer money and perform other banking functions on our mobile phone.

One of the main reasons for this growth in the sector, according to Wehrs is due to the improvements in mobile phones:

“The improved user experience across handsets and networks and better browsing capabilities associated with the mobile web have resulted in significant growth in the mobile banking market over the past several years.”

If you work in the sector and are keen to find out more, the MMA Mobile Banking Overview can be downloaded here.

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Orange launches Seamless Switch to help companies change provider

Posted by Admin on January 29, 2009

According to recent research from Orange, carried out by Vanson Bourne, one of the main reasons that companies don’t change mobile provider is that the CIO or IT Manager is put off and nervous by all the hassle and potential for disaster that could ensue – you can see it now, in the middle of changing provider the CEO’s number stops working.

Well, Orange is hoping to help out by launching the Seamless Switch service. It means that companies changing provider (presumably to Orange and not away from them!) can benefit from:

– a dedicated account team to help tailor the right solutions for their business;
– any network coverage concerns put to rest, with a full on-site analysis of the Orange network in key locations;
– a dedicated Project Manager to look after the logistics of the entire implementation process;
– device customisation services and tailored training programmes;
– easy account management with flexible billing structures and free web tools to keep on top of payments.

Robert Ainger, Director, Corporate Marketing, Orange UK said of the service:

“Swapping providers is a big deal for any business. It takes time and organisation … The Seamless Switch portfolio of services ensures that all our customers can move to a better, more cost effective solution without any trouble. This gives them time to concentrate on their business rather than worrying about whether their new phones will work!”

This has been launched mainly for larger organisations, but a spokesperson for Orange confirmed that SMEs can benefit from a similar service that is telephone and web-based.

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Chat with James Wanless of Talkster

Posted by Admin on January 29, 2009

Just before Christmas I had a chat with James Wanless of Talkster. To give you another chance to see it, I’ve re-posted the article here.

– – –

I  recently wrote about the launch of a service called talki. As it was launching I was lucky enough to be able to chat with James Wanless the COO of Talkster, the company behing talki.

We had a really interesting, although quite short, chat and although I’d not heard of either talki or Talkster before, both sound like they’re worth following.

James, a Brit, living and working mainly in Canada, wants to introduce a service offering cheaper or free international calls and messaging that everyone can use. So the service is designed to be not techy or complicated and doesn’t use Wi-Fi to access VoIP services. In fact in the subject of Wi-Fi, James said:

“I believe that’s a limiting factor in being able to offer a broad service.”

And I agree with him. If regular users need to understand how to access Wi-Fi on their phone before they can use a service then they won’t do it. They have to alter the phone’s settings, find a Wi-Fi location, login … and then use the service. Of course there’s a market of people who are capable / willing to do that, but as James says it’s not a ‘broad’ market.

Now, I’ve not compared the talki Java app and its interface with all of the other services and apps offering mobile VoIP or cheaper calls, but James claims that the talki service was designed to be:
1 – Easier to download
2 – Easier to use
3 – Cheaper
If they’ve got all three of those right then it can’t be bad.

James’s view about all of this is that “technology is a means to an end”. All the user needs to do is dial a local landline number to be able to enter the call – so you can give your mum a number which is a local number for her to call and she can reach you wherever you happen to be. And the ‘replacement’ numbers are issued as permanent numbers, so they can be entered into your contacts.

As well as voice calls talki also offers cheaper texts and MMS. The talki service treats your text message as simply a packet of data and not an SMS, which means that, outside of your bundle, it’s a much cheaper way to send messages. James also believes that talki should and is capable of offering “functionality beyond just lower cost.”

You can see a bit more on his blog here.

Thanks for your time James.

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Mobile Club Manager now launched

Posted by Admin on January 29, 2009

UPDATE -I recently posted that Mobile Club Manager (MCM) from SANCO is launching soon – well, I was right as it has now launched! Just go here to register and find out more.

– – –

A new football manager game is being launched soon for the mobile called, appropriately enough, Mobile Club Manager (MCM). It has been specifically designed for Java-enable phones (so pretty much all of them then) by SANCO.

If you’re an eagle-eyed mobile gamer you might have seen it before and that’s because a beta version was released over the summer to test out the game (here’s a review from PocketGamer). I’m hoping to get chance to play it before the full release and review in a bit more detail. But for now, I was lucky enough to be able to ask a few questions of Shahid Mohamed, the head of gaming at SANCO. The first question I asked him was to describe the game.

“Mobile Club Manager is the first-ever massively multi-player football management simulation game within a persistent world that you can take with you anywhere via a Java-enabled mobile phone. Just as in the Premiership, ‘managers’ (users) play a 38-game season, with the aim of doing as well as they can in the ‘MCM League’.”

I then asked Shahid if his mum played the game (always my test for how targeted at the mass market an application is). His answer was quite simple: “No. However, that is simply because she cannot see the point of football!” to be fair to him, I think that would be the same for my mum.

If she did want to play, there is a demo that can be downloaded from the MCM website here.

But back to the questions:

What needs to happen in the future to make games like this played by everyone?
shahid1– The barrier is as much cultural as technical. Mobile phones are some years behind the internet in terms of breadth of customer usage: so, just as shopping online, for example, has now become universally accepted, it will similarly be just a question of time before mobile phones are used for a number of applications currently meeting user resistance.

Having said that, advances in technology will also help make user acceptance easier. And here, designing applications ‘from the ground up’ using mobile technology – such as Mobile Club Manager in the gaming world – will be essential in making this happen more quickly.

What do you think is the future of mobile applications?
– Mobile applications will become more connected – ‘pushed’ and ‘pulled’ according to user convenience. This shift is already underway as a result of the success of the iPhone, offering natural connectivity.

At the same time, pricing is an issue. Prices will come down as the technology becomes more established. However, this will also depend on the strategies of mobile carriers, as they look to diversify into new revenue streams such as SMS and internet connectivity in order to maintain revenues and profitability.

Have you got anything else in the pipeline?
– We have just launched a major new ‘Friendlies’ option which enables users to play any other MCM manager of their choice at any time, so putting control as to when they play fully in their hands.

Looking ahead, we will soon be launching six more training games, enabling ‘managers’ to improve key aspects of player and team performance. And, with the flexibility of the underlying Parallel Worlds platform, we are looking to extend into Europe just like the Champions League – perhaps as early as next season. Watch this space!

Thanks Shahid. And hopefully there’ll be more on Mobile Club Manager soon.

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Text reminders sent to hospital patients

Posted by Admin on January 29, 2009

A new service has been set up by the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro that sends out a text message to remind patients of their appointment. The texts, sent to patients’ mobile phones, list the date, time and location of appointments and include a number to call if there is a problem.

Apparently a total of 37,289 outpatient appointments were missed in 2008 – which is just under 9% of all appointments – costing the hospital thousands of pounds.

The service has been set up as a month-long pilot for now. But two weeks in it is being seen as a success.

Karen Murray, project lead, said:

“Even if we just prevent 20 missed appointments we have had a success and it will pay for the setting up of the service. Once the trial is over the service will be reviewed and could be rolled out across other departments. We view this as a long term exercise – it could be used for other things such as letting people know that their results are available.”

Originally from BBC News.

Posted in Health, Texts work | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Twitter – an opinion

Posted by Admin on January 28, 2009

Another chance to read this Christmas post on Twitter.

– – –

This blog was set up to kinda be the antithesis of Twitter (“I know for a fact that my mum will never Tweet – yet her demographic still makes up a huge percentage of an operator’s core subscriber base.”), so I thought that it’s probably about time that I said something about it.

The first thing to point out is that I don’t actually have anything against Twitter itself – you can even find me @patrickjpr (although I don’t tweet much). No, it’s not the service itself … it’s the rabid following it has gained from people in the industry and the fact that it was deemed (by some, many, all?) to be the saviour of the world and the best thing since sliced bread. Someone may even have said it was the new black!

And that’s my issue with it. Simply put, it’s that everyone else seemed to love it so much.

Part of it is certainly down to my contrary nature – ‘if they all love it, I’m just going to hate it to be different’. But once I’d grown up and got over that I realised that it was actually do with the fact that yet again the people at the heart of this [mobile] industry were in danger of making it a club for themselves and not making this something that a) everyone can benefit from and b) an industry can make some real profits.

At this point I’m going to highlight Helen Keegan’s excellent post, following her excellent speech, after the Future of Mobile conference. Check it out here and in particular look at point 3 – ‘We create applications and services for people like us’. To my mind, that sums up Twitter.

Of course, not that there is anything wrong with that – as long we understand those limitations.

Ewan (@Ew4n) at Mobile Industry Review has recently written a really interesting post about this subject. In the comments Ben Smith gave a perfect description of Twitter:

“Twitter is the crap pub you keep going to because that’s where your mates hang-out. It isn’t the place to go if you want to focus on conversations that are all interesting to you, but neither’s the pub.”

What we have to realise is that Twitter is about socialising with mates, overhearing conversations from Stephen Fry or other celebs (but let’s not pretend they are really our friends), talking rubbish and maybe the occassional nugget – just like a night down the pub (without the celeb in my local).

It’s good fun, but it’s not the future … or at least not a future that will include the masses.

That said, there’s a good article here about the kind of people you’ll find (and should avoid) on Twitter.

Posted in Opinion, Twitter | Tagged: | 2 Comments »