Friday, September 25, 2009

Visual Interactivity at Over The Air 2009

An excellent first day at OTA09 - great to see many of the usual suspects as well as a number of interesting new people! Had a fun hour this afternoon hopefully convincing a roomful of people of the benefits of Mobile Visual Interactivity and Search and as promised here is the presentation:

I also showed a number of groups of videos during the presentation. The first set were focused on visual interaction in brand marketing campaigns:

The second group were to do with automatic blue screening and face extraction:

And finally the last group are AR:

Thanks to those who came along and listened.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

OMTP coming to Mobile Monday Edinburgh

Am delighted that we will be having our first external speakers at Mobile Monday Edinburgh at our next event on 31st August.

OMTP's BONDI has been quietly making progress for a few years now towards defining a standard interface for providing secure access to handset features from inside web apps and widgets. They have suffered from the usual chicken-and-egg problem for such new standards with low developer interest due to small number of supported devices, and low support due to lack of apps, so I was pleased to see recently that a swath of new LIMO devices have been launched with BONDI support, to add to their existing Windows Mobile footprint.

Looking forward to hearing more about their work both at MoMoEdi, and at the mobile barcamp they are running on 3rd September.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Carnival of the Mobilists #179

Following on from Volker's excellent carnival #178 last week, I am delighted to host this week's Carnival of the Mobilists.

I will kick off with a post by a fellow Scottish mobilist, Richard Marshall, who asks who will be the Railroad Barons of Mobile? He considers the development of the mobile apps business and draws an interesting parallel between the opening of the American west during the gold rush and the recent rollout of the mobile app stores. A thought provoking read and my post of the week.

Equally thought provokingly, Mark Kramer on Smart Mobs has posted a link inspired by one of the presentations at Mobile 2.0 on Participatory Sensing, including a link to an excellent video on the subject.

Alternative Reality (AR) is a theme that crops up a number of times this week. Anthony Ashbrook of the Mobile Visual Interactivity blog, carnival newcomer and another Scottish mobilist, starts at a high level and asks So what is augmented reality? Next up is an interesting overview of the use of AR in mobile marketing and apps from Andy Favell on the mobiThinking blog- though he seems to include general visual search within the definition of AR which I am not sure I would agree with.

AR is an interesting area for the technophile due to the sheer range of technologies used to underpin the various services - from image recognition through to location and digital compass. It is also an excellent way to bridge the gap between digital media and the physical world - definitely a technology whose time has come. By way of disclosure I should point out that I work for Mobile Acuity Ltd. and one of our areas of expertise is AR.

Taking a bit of a step back Tomi Ahonen at Communities Dominate Brands has added two more to the list of C's of cellphones - Cyber and Context. The former covers everything from AR on one hand to connected pets and plants the other. He defines the latter as being to do with the "human need to let people know our status" - rather than more technical things such as location, though I am not entirely convinced by that distinction.

One of the key services based on Tomi's definition of Context is obviously twitter, which is also the subject of Ajit Jaokar's contribution from Opengardens this week on The Twitterphone, where he describes a "pure social media co-creation phone", in fact taking it to a point where it is interesting to question whether it is still a phone ...

Looking a little further forward Russell Buckley at MobHappy speculates about Mobile Phones in 10 Year's Time - leading to a conclusion that many of us oldies who can't cope with such a closely integrated future will end up in "sheltered accommodation, which offer largely tech free environments" - nice one to look forward to Russell!

For stat-o-philes there have been a couple of interesting posts this week. Peggy Salz of MSearchGroove expands on a presentation given at Mobile Advertising UK in London last week describing the key findings of a survey of 1000 UK mobile users. This will provide the basis for a Mobile Advertising UK report due in July. She follows this up with an audio interview on the implications with Rory Sutherland of Ogilvy UK. Looking further afield Phil Barrett provides a presentation he gave at Marketing Magazine's Mobile 2.0 conference in Toronto in which he compares the relative merits of downloaded and web applications on mobile based on the stats in the Canadian market.

Thanks to everybody for providing such an interesting and stimulating collection of thoughts and ideas. Next week's carnival will be hosted by Rudy de Waele over at mTrends.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Why would anybody ever use iPhone tethering?

Following the live feed from WWDC provided by Mac Rumors I was delighted to see that the new iPhone would allow tethering on O2 in the UK. I was less pleased to find out, when looking at the details on the O2 site the next day, that users will have to pay an *extra* £15pm for the privilege of using it!

I have been tethering on various Nokia S60 handsets first on T-mobile and then on 3 for the last 3 years. It is not something I do very regularly - more a fallback - and relatively low volumes of data involved, but it is an important safety net.

While I am still very tempted to go for the new iPhone for other reasons, though still intrigued by the Android based Samsung i7500 if they would get on and launch it, I am now seriously questioning whether tethering will be part of my future at all.

All of the handsets I am now looking at provide pretty good access to web and email, and have a wide selection of apps which can handle a lot of the tasks I used to use my laptop for, but there will still be times when I need to get online with my laptop urgently so what to do?

This has led to me having a look round at the various PAYG 3G dongle options available. I had expected them to be fairly similar to each other give or take the usual demographic differences in the operators typical users, but I was pleasantly surprised by the range of options out there:
  • Vodafone. £39 upfront with 1Gb data included. Dongle doubles as 4Gb memory stick. No time limits on using the data at all - but need to use once every 180 days to keep live. Once it runs out £15 to topup with another 1GB. Possible to use on a Mac at a push but not yet officially or well supported which is a pity!
  • T-Mobile. £24.46 for the dongle. Pay to use: £2 per day, £7 per week, or £15 per month. 3Gb per month fair use policy. Mac is supported.
  • O2. Dongle costs £29.99. Pay to use: £2 per day (500Mb), £7 per week (1Gb), £15 per month (3Gb). Unlimited wifi use via the Cloud - assume during usage periods! Mac is supported.
  • 3. £29.99 for the dongle. Buy and convert a topup into a mobile broadband addon for a months access: £10 for 1Gb, £15 for 3Gb, or £25 for 7Gb. Mac is supported.
Quite a few different takes on how to price this sort of thing here - with the "right" choice very much dependent on your pattern of use. Of course for higher volume and/or regular use a contract makes more sense.

So in summary the pricing offered by O2 would only potentially make sense for people who need high volume data access while out and about very regularly, and it has to be said that in simple usability terms a seperate contract 3G dongle would make a *lot* more sense for that sort of user as opposed to having to wire their handset to their laptop all the time.

The way O2 have priced tethering simply doesn't make sense - but perhaps that is their intention. Doing it as they have they have the headline feature (unlike AT&T!) but won't have to support any large scale use of it.

PS. The latest carnival is up over at a consuming experience.

MoMo Edinburgh: App stores and mobile payment

An excellent turnout of 18 people (causing issues with getting extra tables - but a nice problem to have ;-) gathered in the downstairs private room of Centotre in Edinburgh last Monday for a pleasant lunch with lots of mobile chat. Some more photos were taken were taken to add to the MoMo Edinburgh group on flickr.

Richard Marshall of Rapid Mobile kicked off an interesting discussion about mobile App stores, initially looking for thoughts about the Nokia Ovi store. This broadened into a more general debate about whether the other stores could replicate Apple's success, supported as it is by the public trust in their brand, the existing billing relationship created by iTunes, and the advantage of minimal hardware fragmentation.

It was noted that the rash of new store launches has created a conflict between operator focused stores on one hand, and platform focused stores on the other. Also, while fragmentation is still a hard problem, the huge numbers of Nokia java phones in the market, addressable via Ovi, represent a huge commercial opportunity.

Gavin Dutch of Hedout then moved the discussion on to the problems of taking conventional credit card payments in mobile apps and web services. It was noted that APIs intended for webapps, e.g. from paypal and the like, could often be used, though security systems like 3D secure can be a problem in some cases.

Discussion then moved on to contactless and mobile payments, and it was noted that the major credit card networks are now rolling out NFC readers in the UK.

The next event is planned for the 6th of July and anybody interested should make sure they are signed up to the google group.

PS. Thanks to Vero at Taptu for giving a mention of my previous post about MoMo Edinburgh in her recent carnival of the mobilists.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Mobile Monday Edinburgh

Way back in Autumn 2005 I sat in a pub with Jim Black of MX Alliance and Michael Ewins of I-Play chatting about the lack of a technical focused gathering for the mobile and wireless folks in Scotland, and came up with the MX Techtalk event.

These ran with moderate success from then until the end of 2007 by which time they more or less fizzled out. Key learning from it was that the initial focus had been a little too narrow, and that the best events had been when the focus was a little less exclusively technical, more about what we can do with it as opposed to just what we can do and how.

Since then I have been humming and hawing about kicking off something new, and after a number of visits to the excellent Mobile Monday London specifically about running something under the Mobile Monday banner up here, but as often happens it never quite made it to the top of the heap!

During February I became aware of several other folks who were thinking along similar lines. Two of the regular attendees of the techtalks, Steve Brown and Justfone and Gary Irvine of ConnectedDay, the latter also one of the original founders of MX Alliance, were talking to the MoMo London committee about starting up a Scottish satalite of that event. In addition Ben Hounsell of Tenbu was talking to the Wireless Innovation team at Hillington about a mobile focussed event for Scotland.

This all resulted in a group of us getting together in the ETTC conference room to chat about what form of event would make sense, both in terms of appeal and sustainability, and also simply fitting into the existing landscape of technical and business events in Edinburgh which has become considerably more crowded since I started the techtalks in 2005! Present were:
The formula we decided to run with (taking seeds of inspiration from Mike Coulter's excellent new media coffee morning - see pages on facebook and 38minutes) initially at least is a gathering around an inexpensive and informal networking lunch at Centotre on George Street in Edinburgh on the first working Monday of each month, with mainly informal discussion around topics provided by the attendees, but with the potential for specific after lunch speakers as well in due course. This will almost certainly develop over time!

Our first event on 11th May was semi-closed, with each of us inviting a couple of guests. In the end 12 of us got together in the downstairs boardroom at Centotre and a good lunch and even better discussion was had - and photographed by Richard.

We have now created a google group in support of the event so please do join that to keep in touch with what we are doing! The next meet on 1st June will be open to all - with booking via Amiando by Wednesday 27th. I am looking forward to it!

PS. The latest Carnival is up over at the Mobile Broadband Blog.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Blyk's journey from MVNO to network service

UPDATE2: It now turns out that the previous story may have been more late than wrong, at least so says NMA and This is also obliquely supported by Jonathan MacDonald's latest blog on the subject!

UPDATE: Looks like New Media Age might have got it a bit wrong in their article that kicked all this off! According to Mobile Marketing magazine the original story is a lot of tosh. This is backed by a blog post by Jonathan MacDonald on the subject. Perhaps, following along some of the lines of thought below, it is what they should be doing though?

Was interested to read this morning that Blyk had taken the second step in what has become their transition from an MVNO to a network service provider. When they announced their last round of investment part of the story was a new "partnering strategy" - one aspect of which was direct partnering with MNOs.

They have now taken the next step down this road and announced that they will no longer operate as a consumer facing MVNO, and will rely entirely on partnership arrangements with operators to get to the consumer.

From an extreme helicopter level view the overall pattern of relationships remains the same. The MNO provides access to the consumers to Blyk who then partners with brands to engage those consumers. The brand pays for this engagement and the consumer is rewarded by call credits etc.

That said there are obviously a large number of practical differences between the two shapes:
  • Blyk end up with a massively reduced operational overhead - being a small MVNO is not cheap - as many have found to their cost before.
  • the users now "belong" to the operator, not to Blyk. This shifts the balance of power, but also makes the partnering concept a more appealing one to the operators since it increases their number of subscribers, and for subscribers in Blyk's current demographic likely increases ARPU.
  • Blyk are now much more dependent on the operator for effective communication with the customers - but then conversely the operator is now more of a partner than simply a paid conduit.
  • Blyk can now offer their service to any operator who is willing to take it worldwide - much more flexible.
Looking at all of this retrospectively (or using "post rationalisation" as Russell put it ;-) using an initial MVNO phase to prove the model works - and with 25% response rates to show to brands and healthy ARPUs to show to operators they have certainly done that - might have always been the plan.

One small fly in the ointment is that now Blyk have spent a large amount of their investors money proving their model works, other players might start muscling in and taking market share from them. It is early days yet but Russell Buckley recently blogged about a Croatian company Out There Media which had launched a comparable service called Tomato Plus with some success.

On one hand you might ask if giving up the MVNO angle has reduced Blyk's differentiation and thus made them more vulnerable to smaller newcomers, but on the other perhaps it was never a sustainable mode of operation but it has given them first mover advantage (which they must now maintain) and an established brand identity. Only time will tell!

PS. Very pleased to have got a mention in the latest Carnival which is up over at VoIP Survivor.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

3's brave new world!

3 in the UK are heavily promoting that they are changing mobile forever by offering unlimited free calls. At a slightly closer glance this is all based around their relationship with Skype - and what they are really saying is that people on a 3 contract or on PAYG for 90 days after activating a top-up, will be able to make unlimited free Skype calls to other skype users and landlines and mobiles abroad.

There are some small flies in the ointment however:
  • you need a handset that can run the three Skype client. My E61i I use on 3 isn't supported which is a pity, especially snce other equivalent handsets are. All the current handsets being sold are compatible which is good.
  • you must use the special 3 skype client. If you use some other skype clinet (e.g. Fring) you will rack up significant data traffic which could end up costing you a lot. Can't help feeling that this is going to be confusing for the normob and will lead to a Daily Mail headline or two. Usual mobile industry problem of lack of simple predictability of cost.
  • According to the support site "3 doesn’t support Skype video calling (known as SkypeIn), Skype SMS (texting) or Skype voicemail" (sic) so if you use anything beyond the basics of Skype you are out of luck.
  • SkypeOut only works outside the UK - if you want to make calls to UK numbers you have to use a conventional mobile voice call.
While it would be easy to throw our hands up in horror at some of these restrictions they do make some sense in terms of making it possible for 3 to do it at all - and provide a usefully different view on mobile service provision in the process. Distinctly disruptive!

At a more strategic level this is one one hand fairly brave and on the other playing to their strengths. The obvious risk of any operator doing this sort of thing is that they canibalise their voice revenues, but given 3's demographic are not likely to be massively voice-centric this is far less of a risk for them than it would be for the likes of Vodafone - who are thus unlikely to feel able to follow giving 3 a useful point of differentiation.

Three have been doing this for a while now - since the X series came out - but they seem to be now pushing it as the defining difference of being with 3. Will be interesting to see how the other operators respond!

PS. This week's carnival is up over at mobilestance.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

BarCamp Scotland 2009

I spent a fun day on Saturday at BarCamp Scotland meeting lots of interesting people (old and new) from the software community in Scotland. After a very amusing and typically Scottish first 20 mins with everybody milling around a safe few paces away from the sign-up boards not wishing to be first, an excellent program of talks and discussions came into being which kept the six presentation zones running for the vast majority of the day.

One of the early speakers was Ewan Mcintosh from 4IP, a major sponsor of the event, who gave an interesting 30 minute outline of what 4IP was supporting and some key tips on how to effectively engage with them. He described how he sees media being divided into a series of spaces: watching, participating, performing, publishing, group, and secret.

The next talk I saw, and at the other end of the corporate scale, was by Cole Henley who in his spare time has created tinyadr, a system for effectively publishing contact details over the web in place of traditional printed and static business cards. It uses the hCard HTML microformat to embed semantic information into the markup which was new to me.

The ever entertaining Mike Masnick of Floor64 and Techdirt fame was in town for the week visiting Informatics and the Business School. On previous days I had heard him speak on the history of Silicon Valley and how they had created floor64. This time he spoke about one of his pet subjects - the danger of protectionism and why giving things away for free can make sense.

The core of his argument is that goods are broken down into two groups - those which can be reproduced at no cost which he describes as "infinite", and those which have real costs to reproduce/create and are thus "scarce". He states that to maximise your market you should give infinite goods away for free and seek to monetize based on associated scarce goods. Creating artificial scarcity in infinite goods - i.e. protectionism of various sorts simply inhibits growth of the overall market.

Next up Michael Clauser of Gadder (amongst many other places!) talked a little about their automatic prospect data-mining solution, which combines automated search of the public internet with sophisticated natural language analysis in order to assist researchers find relevant background on individual prospective partners quickly and effectively.

I then had my turn to speak. The Appleton Tower lecture theatres have great projectors for doing demos of mobile apps which is nice. My slideset is on slideshare:

After a coffee to recover I listened to Fred Howell of Textensor present their new cooperative document review/annotation system. This web based system allows users to upload documents in a number of standard formats. Representations of the document can then be viewed by the user as well as any other users they choose to invite and comments and discussions can be attached to sections of the text using a postIt like metaphor.

Finally Jonathan Brown of Blue Droplet Media presented on his Drupal Openpackage Video module - which handles upload, transoding and serving video within Drupal based web applications.

The day finished in the Library Bar in Edinburgh University's Teviot House where I had an interesting chat with Andrew Williams about the progress and direction of Maven in general, and his own headsupdevelopment project in particular.

All in all it was an excellent event - and look forward to going again next year!

ps. The latest carnival is up over at Vision Mobile.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Technical, Internet and mobile events in Scotland

There are a wide range of interesting events being hosted in Scotland at the moment, and on Saturday I went along to the annual Barcamp Scotland hosted by Edinburgh University Informatics Ventures and 4IP.

I will write up what caught my eye at Barcamp in my next post, but there are many other events worth going to in Scotland:
  • A series of interesting speakers visit the Business School and/or Informatics, and their events are incorporated into The Edinburgh Internet Marketing Meetup etc.
  • On more of a technical theme there is the techmeetup which provides that unbeatable mix of a strong technical theme along with free beer and pizza!
  • On a wireless/mobile theme Wireless Innovation run a series of interesting events at Hillington Park Innovation Centre.
  • For the Rubyists there is the wonderfully successful (and now sold out!) Scotland on Rails at the end of the month. I understand there are still places for the charity tutorial day - learn Ruby and Rails from Chad Fowler and Marcel Molina no less!
  • There are various rumblings about a new mobile group starting up picking up the baton from where I left off with MX Techtalk, possible under the Mobile Monday banner.
  • And finally for those in need of caffeine in less formal circumstances a new Edinburgh OpenCoffee series is kicking off these week (pity about the slightly impractical timing :-<) to join the existing Edinburgh Coffee Morning.
The latest carnival is up over at Ubiquitous Thought. There should be a new one later today over at Vision Mobile but it isn't up at the time of writing.

UPDATE: Mike Coulter has posted an excellent video montage about what goes on at the Edinburgh Coffee Morning.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Eclipse Pulsar: Defragmenting fragmented development???

Read an interesting story on el reg this morning about the Pulsar project which is slated to be part of the next major release of Eclipse. This is the new name for the Mobile Application Development Kit project from the Eclipse Mobile Industry Working Group.

The core idea seems to be a cross manufacturer development environment for J2ME incorporating the SDK tooling from all the supporting manufacturers in a single environment which is a welcome improvement.

Interestingly Sun don't seem to be welcome at this party - with JavaFX specifically not a part of the roadmap.

Of course while this does help a little in reducing the fragmentation of development tools when developing J2ME it doesn't reduce the inherent fragmentation of the platform itself - the phones themselves are as diverse as ever!

From this focussed and pretty sensible core idea things start to smack of design by committee with stated intentions to incorporate mobile webapp and native app development within the same environment.

Unsurprisingly there is no sign of iPhone, Android or Palm WebOS support!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

metaTXT: Aiming for one web and gaining discoverability!

One particularly interesting new contact I made at MWC last week was Sinead Quealy of visibility mobile - the mobile SEO company founded by Bena Roberts. As well as telling me about their work on mobile SEO she mentioned they were involved with pushing the "metaTXT" spec through W3C in order to improve discoverability of mobile sites.

Now I have got back and the dust has settled I have had a look at the metaTXT white paper and it seems to be promising stuff. Fundamentally it is an attempt to solve the problem of supporting multiple versions of a site for different classes of device in a way that is transparent to the user - creating a practical step towards the one web ideal I have blogged about before.

What is interesting is it does this by adding a small file (meta.txt) alongside the existing robots.txt at the top of the site providing metainformation about the site. The primary use of this is to provide different paths for the root page for various different device classes - which is all well and good though one webbers may quibble about not driving them via the same markup.

Perhaps more interesting is the ability to provide further meta information about the site within meta.txt - in a standard form independent of any device and/or markup specifics. This can include the usual title and keywords, and intriguingly things like the location the site is related to which opens interesting possibilities for the return of context specific results for the mobile user.

The primary challange they will face with all this is obviously the usual chicken and egg one of convincing sites to publish meta.txt files, and convincing search engines to look for and use them. That said they have already got a couple of mobile search providers deeply involved in the associated working group which is a good sign.

Discovery is one of the key problems that needs to be solved in mobile and this may be one part of the solution to that problem.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Truphone's new "intelligent SIM" at #mwc

Every now and again as you wander around the halls of the Fira you trip over something which is clearly a bit of a game changer - something deliciously disruptive. Truphone themselves seem to think so. They are brimming with excitement about it!

The new product - whose availability is still to be confirmed - is based around a combination of two key things:
  • In April 2008 Truphone acquired roaming operator SIM4travel.
  • They have now developed a SIM card sporting an ARM core and 2MB of flash storage.
This combination gives them the ability to issue SIMs which can use the intrinsic SIM signalling capability normally used to setup roaming connections etc to communicate between their little embedded device and their core network.

I will say up front that I am not very clear on the specifics of SIM signalling but as I understand it this effectively this gives them a ~256kbps data channel to the device which is both free and exists whether or not the SIM has been able to formally bind to the host network.

Clearly this opens up many interesting possibilities and I understand that beyond using it to help support their existing voip/roaming products (e.g. intelligence to allow incoming calls to be recived as if local) they are also looking at expanding into situational services - with a continuous location feed being the first element of that.

Of course there is the question of how the more conventional mobile operators will react to this since it will clearly cut into their juicy roaming revenues, and takes a step beyond their control of what happens on their network that they are unlikely to be 100% comfortable with.

This is my first really exciting product (baring our own of course ;-) of the show this year. Look forward to hearing more about it when it is officially released tomorrow.

UPDATE: On reflection I was a little loose in my use of the term data channel above. It is of course a channel that Truphone can use for their own signalling to and from the cpu on the SIM card in order to implement their services - NOT a channel for user IP data.

Truphone have now formally announced their first service built on this kit.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Barcelona here we come

As I made my final source control commit of the day at midnight last night I reflected briefly on the less glamorous side of the run-up to the four days of frenetic activity that makes up Mobile World Congress. The past week or so has been mayhem and this week is even worse, but now the various demos, graphics and materials are coming together and things are falling into place and it is time to focus on the event itself.

There are many sites out there (and m-trends is a good starting point) listing all the many parties and events striving to gain your attention and your footfall around the conference proper so I won't try to list them here - but there are a couple which deserve a special mention.

Longtime mobile marketeer, blogger, and MoMo London co-organizer Helen Keegan has worked up her usual magic to create not one, but three different events this year. Swedish Beers has moved onto the Wednesday night and into a bigger venue - that being a really good thing after the crush at Belchica last year! Not satisfied with that she is also working with UKTI to organise a fascinating lunch event focussed on the Future of Mobile, and I understand will be announcing a third and final event "for the ladies of mobile" tomorrow.

It is interesting and encouraging to see that despite the economic troubles of the world at large that sponsorship for so many events is still forthcoming. That said it will be interesting to see what the overall visitor numbers end up being. Many of the "usual suspects" to turn up to the whisky reception are taking a year off MWC - the Americans in particular.

Of course within the exhibition itself there are also interesting events - and none more so than the traditional whisky reception run by Scottish Development International on whose stand we are based:

If you are in the exhibition do come along and enjoy a dram or two. This year there is competition though with Rapid Mobile having branched out onto a stand of their own in hall 7 and running their own whisky tasting starting at 5.30pm on Wednesday evening!

Of course beyond the networking and socialising there will be a *lot* of new devices and services to absorb and evaluate. Will be great to get hands on the new Palm Pre in particular!

One new experience this year is that we are delighted to have been invited to contribute to the mobile advertising sessions on Thursday afternoon in the conference proper - with Chris taking part in the panel on "The New Enablers" and then both of us putting various of our services through their paces in the "Entertainment & Advertising Demonstration & Networking Session". Looking forward to it!

Now time to get back to eclipse and get the next chunk of that demo sorted out!

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Use your loaf - anonymised sms messaging

"Never give out your mobile number again use your The safe anonymous way to send sms txt messages from your UK mobile phone."

That is how loaf introduced themselves to the world on 19th December and at first glance it makes a very appealing proposition for the youth dating and small advertising demographics which appear to be the key markets they had identified.

The core idea is very simple. Instead of being identified by your real mobile phone number when sending or receiving text messages you use your loaf name instead. All messages are sent to and from the loaf 25p MO premium shortcode - 88845.

Recipients can control access to their loaf name by blocking particular senders if they so wish.

To succeed the service will need to generate a relatively large volume of traffic. The rev share on a 25p premium message will barely cover the cost of the resulting bulk MT message. The tiny remaining margin will have to be multiplied up a *lot* of times to cover the company's overheads.

This will be improved slightly by the "mobile-to-email" feature - sold as a bonus feature for the users but in reality a bit of a business model saver since it will reduce their bulk SMS costs and increase the revenue generated from users who take it up by at least a factor fo five!

There are some potential rough edges:
  • To reply via the service requires the user to manually transcribe the senders loaf name from the end of the incoming SMS to the start of the reply - this is error prone and reduces the usability of the service for the typical user.
  • The premium messaging cost is collected on the MO which potentially creates complications for using the service since every user who publishes their loaf name is effectively advertising a premium messaging service which may raise a few eyebrows down and PhonePayPlus!
  • In addition if the recipient has blocked that particular sender (or as below if the sender is not a loaf member!) the sender still pays the premium charge but gets nothing for it.
The biggest problem with the whole thing is that both sender and recipient need to have signed up as loaf members via the website in order to communicate. If you try to send when not a member you get a rather unhelpful text response simply directing you to the website.

This is a huge and possibly terminal problem for service uptake since if you give out your loaf id to someone who is not on loaf they must choose to go to the website and sign up in order to send you a message - and any mobile service that requires the user to go to their PC has little chance of success.

If they could handle signup interactively on mobile that would improve the experience hugely. Hard to see why the bounce message doesn't simply push the user into a mobile internet signup page.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Progress of the artist formally known as mixipix

Having spent a fair chunk of my career in mobile involved with mixipix it is really great to see Zamsana Media, who are now developing that IP, succeed in rolling out products based on that expertise in animated emotional communicontent and messaging services on mobile.

They had already provided the core content for FunText, a rich messaging service which has been launched on a number of operators including 3 in the UK and Sprint in the US.

Now they have launched their first service in their own right - PixMe - which has been initially lanched on Dialog in Sri Lanka as noted by local bloggers. I have no doubt we will be hearing of further launches in other parts of Asia in due course!

Zamsana itself is an interesting company with a creative and corporate core in the UK, backed up by a technical team in Sri Lanka, perfect for providing services into the Asian market and beyond.