Innovation not Imitation

David Murphy

Sham Careem, MD of MoMac UK, urges brands to embrace the mobile Internet for real, rather than relying on operators website transcoding solutions


Shampic
Depending on your point of view, the arrival of the iPhone, taken
together with mobile operators latest advertising campaigns signalling
that The Internet is Now Mobile either heralds a new era in making
the Internet truly mobile, or simply creates another closed environment
for content transactions and represents a technological triple-jump
backwards for the real mobile Internet. While the latter is true, the
former is less so.
Simply scaling the Internet down to the mobile
screen is insufficient to claim that you are making the Internet truly
mobile. The lack of in-line Java and Adobe Flash support means only a
very rudimentary web presence can be replicated on the mobile. The true
open mobile Internet entails giving consumers the power to interact
with compelling sites which offer value that compliments the uniqueness
of the mobile proposition. And this means scaling up.
The current
trend by mobile operators is to repurpose Internet sites designed for
desk-based users downwards to suit a mobile browser experience. This
transcoding approach is fundamentally flawed because it does not
address the true requirements of the mobile user. For mobile users, an
Internet experience is about consuming information directly and
immediately, not browsing for it over a period of time so the idea that
what users want to do with their mobile phones is browse exactly the
same content that they would while sat at a PC with time to kill, is
nonsensical.




Poor results
In addition, the results are poor and only serve to disappoint the mobile user because with an automated trans-coding solution, a piece of software decides which parts of a website users should see on their mobile and discards the rest. It reduces that down to plain text, simple links and extra-compressed images before sending it to the mobile device. What actually gets delivered is a far cry from the original site and more often than not, results in a pretty poor user experience and does not reflect the branding and style of the original Internet site. Browsers on mobile devices today are capable of far more than this, and can serve a much more mobile-centric experience.
A good mobile Internet site is one that has been built up with a mobile user in mind. It considers the content that mobile users want to consume and presents it to them in a way that they can use in a practical manner, given the constraints of their device. It takes advantage of the capabilities of modern mobile browsers, and repurposes to more basic devices. Finally, of course, it reflects the brand behind the site, and places the site owner in total control of the content it serves to its users.
The only indisputable facts are that the iPhone and the latest mobile operators advertising has hit the market at a time when a host of conditions are simultaneously coming together to make mobile, truly, the fourth screen (after cinema, TV and PC).
The latest Ofcom Annual Communications Report predicts a surge in mobile Internet usage due to the perfect storm conditions now being created by the lowering of various barriers to consumer usage: widespread 3G network connections; a majority of handsets in the market with full Internet browsing capabilities; better search and discovery applications, and flat rate data pricing plans for as little as 5 per month. These are all factors that have made it possible for any consumer brand to talk directly to its audience via the medium of mobile.
From a consumer perspective this is great news. With the bill-shock fear factor removed, mobile users will be liberated to experiment and consume new mobile Internet services on offer. In addition, other barriers are being removed: cross-operator WAP billing solutions are emerging all over Europe, giving consumers a one-click payment option and rescuing content providers from the messy business of PSMS; European 3G penetration has passed the 10% mark; and search engines are appearing on operator homepages, providing consumers with the freedom, to roam and discover more content off-deck.
The mobile Internet sector can no longer be discharged as merely a subset of the overall telecoms market. It is becoming a market in its own right, both in terms of size and value. These drastic changes are, without doubt, alerting the major consumer brands to the potential of mobile. What now lies before us is a credible channel for media companies, brands and publishers. However, the experience itself has to be relevant.


Mobile strategy
Most of the companies involved in the mobile Internet so far have been those already close to the mobile industry, like ringtone providers or handset manufacturers for example. All products, companies or brands now need a strategy for a digital, mobile phone-based presence one that has the potential to deliver a highly personalised experience for users.  The new wave is being drawn from the mass-market from magazine and newspaper publishers, social networks, broadcasters and mainstream media owners. For these companies, the mobile Internet offers tantalising opportunities to connect and interact with customers.
In terms of usability, mobile is immediate, ubiquitous, personal and spontaneous: get your communication channel wrong and you alienate your customers badly. This means that it is not sufficient to merely rely on transcoding your Internet site. If a brand or media company intends to integrate their mobile offering with an interactive cross-platform digital strategy, it will need to develop a fully functional mobile Internet site. Whats needed is a quick, intuitive and made-for-mobile user interface.
Within four to five years, there will be 3.5 billion mobile users on the planet, versus 1.5 to 2 billion PC Internet users. If you look at the major user trends emerging in countries like Japan and South Korea, the majority of Internet access is already served to mobile devices rather than desk-based browsers. Its clear that the future of Internet connectivity is what used to be called the Martini Principle: anytime, anyplace, anywhere.
Scaling down existing websites to mobile browsers is not the future. Innovation, not imitation is required to build the mobile Internet. The mobile user experience and requirements should be considered above all else. Thats why MoMac is already working with brands such as Conde Naste, EMAP, ITV, the Ministry of Sound and even the Mobo Awards to bring mobile interactivity, mobile advertising opportunities, and m-commerce via integration with Pay Pal, to these brands and their customers.
With so many of the real barriers to usage being removed, the open mobile Internet is finally arriving and the challenge is now on to bring other mainstream media brands to the party.