The mobile trap

Much has been written on how big the mobile audience is, and how it offers an opportunity to appeal to a mass audience. Even better, it’s an environment where consumers will more readily pay via micro-payments for “Freemium Services“. It’s a dream come true. Or is it?

But here’s the challenge: There are, so to speak, a couple of rather large gorillas in the room. They go by the names of the mobile networks and the mobile handset manufacturers. Building your mobile site or service is but 30% of the job done. To really capitalise on the big mobile audiences you, the independent mobile site builder, need a relationship with a Nokia or a Vodafone. It’s the on-deck phone presence that really matters. That’s what allows you to participate in the mobile traffic fiesta.

The mobile web business environment is just not the same open, free-for-all environment that the traditional web is. It’s an environment dominated by networks and handsets, and if you have an independent mobile site or brand, you need to take cognisance of that.

Of course there are exceptions. The local instant IM success story MXIT, with its outrageous 9-million users, didn’t need a relationship for its stellar growth. There are other examples too. The point is however that its the networks and the handset makers that are closest to the consumers, and you need to be in bed with them to participate. An interesting twist is that many handset makers and networks are beginning to build their own social media and social network properties with vigour, some on their own, some in partnership with others.

One wonders if it will ever get legal. I’ve heard this argument before, and I have my doubts. The argument points to how the Microsoft antitrust legal battles played out. The company was accused of acting unfairly by pushing its own software on Windows to the detriment of outside software makers. Would a cellphone network or handset maker pushing its own web properties to the detriment of outside players constitute a similar such practice?

Whether or not you think the cases are comparable or not, my feeling is that its better to form partnerships than speak to lawyers.

Comments (4)

  1. Adrian wrote::

    This is how the web started out too. If you wanted to get content to web users circa 1995 you’d have to get it into the walled gardens of AOL or Compuserve. When AOL et al bowed to competitive pressure and allowed their flock to see the WWW, they still retained a hugely privileged position as traffic wardens, directing the flow to where they thought best. But over time this position of power waned too, mainly brought about by the advent of Google and the ease of finding stuff that Google introduced to the market.

    The same is happening on mobile. Walled gardens are coming down rapidly and people are rapidly figuring out how to find stuff without the good graces of operators or handset makers.

    So ja, operators are an important route to market, and handset makers less so, but don’t fall into the trap of giving them more than their due. The times they are a-changing.

    Thursday, March 19, 2009 at 5:50 pm #
  2. matt wrote::

    @Adrian I wonder if the mobile web will develop, grow and open up in the same way the desktop web did. I still think there are different variables and the two won’t necessarily find themselves on the same path. I hope you’re right though. My feeling is that the networks will take an aggregation and search approach… ie be the engines of the mobile web as opposed to content providers. Strategically that would place them well.

    Wednesday, March 25, 2009 at 9:03 am #
  3. Neal wrote::

    Use the networks to prop up your mobi site strategy and what I mean by that is – give them content they can monetise that promotes your brand and ultimately pushes back to your mobi site. Work with everyone and don’t be prescious about what you have. Remember that users want it when they want it where they want it so unlike web – put it everywhere provided you get eyeballs or money in return. And don’t forget there is no substitute for great content…

    Wednesday, March 25, 2009 at 3:37 pm #
  4. Justin wrote::

    Hola Mat. Looks like you’ve come round to my argument over breakfast a couple of weeks ago. I agree that aggregation and search are both going to be key, with the added dimension of hyper-localisation shaping search results. But, in addition, the networks also appear to be monopolising ad sales. So while they’re the engines on which we build our content, they’re also doing a Google & looking to serve ads onto mobi sites + search results.

    Wednesday, March 25, 2009 at 7:17 pm #