Phones for your thumbs, not ears

Written by Rakesh Raman | Updated: May 31 2008, 03:14am hrs
Your mobile may always be under your thumb. But do you know its sheepishly losing its natural character right under your nose Today, its doing all those jobs that it was not made to do.

From maps to movies, from texting to TV, from navigation to networkingyou name it. And to taste all these new services, you dont need to use your earsthumbs will do.

Mobile marketers intentions are clear. Theyre eyeing half the worlds population, as over 3 billion people use mobiles. Assuming that a majority of them can be enticed to use value-added services, mobile device makers as well as service providers are packing all the bells and whistles in their offerings.

So what are they up to Look at Nokia. The device maker is joining hands with a number of players to grab every inch of the mobile marketplace. For instance, it has just roped in Japanese game developer Konami to offer Konami mobile titlesstarting with Metal Gear Solidon its N-Gage mobile games platform. Similarly, Nokia and France Telecoms brand Orange are to provide mobile services including music, games, advertising, maps, and location-based services on Nokia handsets. To tap the ad market, it has partnered with the mobile content service WidSets through Nokia Media Network (an advertising network having over 100 mobile publishers), saying the tie-up aims to help advertisers reach customers around the globe with a single mobile advertising campaign.

Many other players are trying to pack a crop of services into mobile devices. For example, AT&T and MediaFLO USA have started Mobile TV for handsets. Wireless network operator Verizonalong with a mobile application publisher Vocelhas started offering something called The Pill Phone to help its US customers get drug information and dosage reminders on their mobiles. Apple iPhone is already known more as a fun tool than a phone.

But, why this mad scramble to provide so much on your mobile handset Because the voice-only business model is not really lucrative for the operators. The equation is simple: more airtime, more profits. So they want consumers to use more of their mobile phonesif youre not using mobiles for voice or texting, then you use them for these value-added data services.

Today, the whole mobile business revolves around average revenue per user (ARPU). And ARPU for data services is low. In the global mobile services market of about $700 billion, the share of data services is just around 15%. That means, for every one hour of mobile usage, consumers use data services for less than 10 minutes.

Now, mobile players want to pull off some ultimate convergence, combining a rich crop of applications available on computers, TV entertainment content, and the roving versatility of mobile devices. But thats not going to be a walk in the park. Battery is the first bottleneck. You need days and days of battery life to allow people to use mobiles when theyre on the road for several hours in a day. Plus, the tiny mobile screen will continue to be the biggest irritant for consumers. Let alone a TV serial or a movie, you cant read even a simple e-mail on a mobile screen without getting a severe headache.

If a handful of gullible consumers belonging to the hiphop culture are using mobiles for multimedia content, theyre doing so just for some experimental fun. Theyll soon get bored with this, and use mobiles for calling or at best texting.

Mobile marketers may be bullish today. But theyll soon realise that theyve not yet understood the way this new mobile generation behaves.

The writer runs a blog at