Mobile industry fundamentals: Will they pay, can they play?

Over the last few weeks and months I’ve sensed an increase in open discussion about the concerns surrounding mobile subscription charging and consumer uptake. A ‘public’ debate within the industry really focusing on the core problems seems to me long overdue. While at 3GSM and other events I have spoken privately with many who recognise and agree about the enormity of these problems for the industry, it’s only in the last few months I’ve seen the press belatedly focus attention on the realworld consumer attitude to mobile commerce. Headlines in New Media Age and other journals, sighting the problems caused by Jamster and other ‘scamsters’ as I might provocatively refer to them, seemed well overdue.

It is good if due attention is finally being placed on the market fundamentals; because let’s be clear, the problems are not rocket science.. Infact, it’s back to basics. The two most crucial issues by far are:

1) delivering on user expectation, and

2) trust of mobile content and services.

Once you begin to discuss all the factors behind these two issues it of course become more complex; but as far as John Smith customer is concerned: trust, swiftly followed by the difficulties associated with downloading and installing content, are prerequisits to everything else. All they want is “it” to work. They care about nothing else. Everything else is secondary.

You cant have a meaningful discussion about price points when two thirds of your market cant even use your service and 50% of the remaining third wont because they are paranoid about being billed a bucket load of cash.

A consistently inconsistent user experience with mobile content, mobiles services and applications (including games) is resulting in confusion. Confusion equals a lack of initial conversion or re-purchase and customer disappointment. Delivering on user expectations is currently a myth.

The vast majority of 1st world mobile consumers are used to the internet. The Web is their benchmark for ease of use: Open a browser, type in the domain name or search term, and the website works. This is simply not the case with mobile applications. Java incompatibilities to filesize limits on MNO tariffs to errors installing – the list is endless.

As for user trust this has been severely damaged by the likes of Jamster and others who have been fined; they have essentially taken advantage of user naivety. The industry only has its self to blame for not taking a more honest and transparent approach to charging with end users – taking instead a short term “pocket the cash” attitude instead.

User trust will recover, but the really big money wont start rolling in, with mass market acceptance and take up, until the learning curve is lowered and obstacles removed. Users simply don’t care about the detail – they just want it to work; and if it doesn’t, the vast majority WONT keep on trying until it does – they will just walk away. And they do.

What is the solution?

I feel the industry – MNO’s, software and operating system vendors, handet manufacturors and developers – need to be more realistic about the scale of this problem and focus more energy in a concerted effort to solve these fundamentals. There is now much talk but for users I see little progress.

To put the issue in perspective, from a customers point of the view the online equivilent is:

a)visiting a website and having a 1 in 10 chance that the website will work on your computer

b) then if it does work, when you come to pay you are expected to enter your credit card details not really understanding if it is secure or not

c) you dont know when you are going to billed or how much for…infact, you dont even know who is actually processing your credit card details.

Some will read this and tell me I am scare mongering or over stating the case. “Look at the increase in mobile commerce” they will say, “Look at all the ringtone sales”. Well I know plenty of people who have been burnt buying ring tones and I know even more people who won’t buy anything via their phone because they are too worried about being ripped off.

In comparison, I don’t know a single person who hasn’t bought something online. That rather imprecise test should be proof enough that there is something wrong and it needs fixing – fast.

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