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Friday 15 February 2008

It's The User Experience, Stupid

I haven't used an iPhone yet but it's pretty clear that at least in terms of its internet browsing experience that it does deliver on the user experience that it promised. Having had a lot of experience with the alternatives - Palm, Windows Mobile, Symbian and a shed load of other minor hand held platforms - I don't find it in the least bit surprising that Google has found that the iPhone crops up in their access logs 50 times more than the next most popular mobile platform. The browsers on all of the other mobile phones are awful and users are simply not using them because the experience is unpleasant.

The other problem is that with the vast majority of carriers your average Joe Public user hasn't a hope in hell of figuring out what "browsing" will actually cost. That situation is one where the US is now significantly further ahead than the rest of the world - it's still a poor service by comparison with full blown broadband but at least flat rate data contracts are available and understood there - those of us in our highly regulated European markets are not generally as lucky as I've ranted on about before.

So I'm amazed when the industry say they are surprised when an outsider manages to create a device that users actually choose to use despite realising that its success is almost certainly due to it's intuitive usability and transparent cost.

It's also hardly surprising that other mobile phones don't get a look in when (for example) you can't even get to Google's home page directly on a Vodafone* consumer phone that is configured for their "mobile internet". You can get to it but you have to switch over to their ISP internet service and then you will pay handsomely for the privilege. Switching over isn't hard per se but it requires a non trivial amount of research that effectively prevents the vast majority of their subscribers from ever even trying.

O2 Ireland's recent announcement of a partnership with Bebo joyfully proclaims that their users can now get to Bebo for Free! (up until November 30th after which it will cost €1.50 per week, offer subject to conditions, the value of your investment may fall as well as rise, yadda yadda yadda). What's clear here is that the absence of anything like network neutrality in the mobile sphere means that the providers are determined to ensure that they will get to retain ultra fine levels of control over traffic and will certainly charge more to carry traffic to more popular web sites. Vodafone do something similar for Exchange push e-mail and I'm certain that they all do - the ability to differentially manage traffic is seen as a huge revenue spinner. I don't particularly blame them for making money from it but I think that in choosing to do things this way they are seriously limiting the size of their market and they are acting as a major roadblock in the development of new mobile data services.

This could be fixed fairly easily and I think the end result would be increased revenues (and far happier customers) for the mobile providers that chose to do it right, it certainly should be a windfall for those that chose to jump first. Make it easy for users to understand their costs (ie make data access flat rate), abandon the walled gardens and optimise your networks for the stuff that is popular (Google, YouTube, myspace, bebo, facebook, IM, Flash games ...) and then get hammering on at the handset manufacturers to make kit that has a good user experience for those things. You will get a flood of new customers once they actually begin to see real people using them in the wild - they have been duped by claims of "Mobile Internet" that is in reality no such thing for so long that all such marketing claims from Cellular companies are now simply ignored and almost nobody buys a phone yet for its internet data capabilities. The exception to this is, of course, the iPhone which has continued to succeed past its over-hyped launch because it actually delivers those type of capabilities to real people. Deliver something like that and a cellular provider will have a compelling feature that will give them a good enough reason move and they will abandon their existing providers.

That's obvious right? You'd think so but the fact that I can't buy a phone today with a half decent browser and a data plan that allows me to browse YouTube today that will also let me use tomorrows next new thing just as well tells me that the providers don't want that to happen. Not yet at any rate and their surprise at Google's iPhone usage stats is not very convincing.

* Vodafone Ireland at any rate.

1 comment:

Pat C said...

Joe - While I agree with your points about UI, experience etc, One thing Im curious about in the iPhone stats - are they purely iPhone??? the ipod touch uses essentially the same cut down OsX version of Safari, and with the wifi access so easy to configure, I wonder what % has been added since this model launched?