Mobile: A + m2 = S
(A = Android, m2 = mobile marketing, S = Success)
The smartphone wars have been reignited, with Google and Apple now going head to head. Trevor Clawson asks what these and other next-generation handsets can do for you.
The launch of Google's G1 mobile handset has made waves around the world. It is the first device to be powered by Google's very-own Android operating system, which along with a complementary applications store, promises to open the door to a flood of exciting new mobile software.
Inevitably, comparisons have already been made with Apple's iPhone - a device that has recently been reinvigorated in the UK by a redesign, the addition of 3G data speeds and a pretty hefty price reduction. Both machines boast touch screens and aim to make surfing the mobile internet a joy, rather than a chore.
According to Russell Buckley, European managing director at Admob, the usability of these devices will encourage consumers to spend much more time accessing the mobile internet. "If you look at the iPhone, uptake is relatively small, but we're already seeing that it's generating an enormous amount of internet browsing," he says.
The statistics tell the story. According to research from M:Metrics, around 80 per cent of iPhone users in France, Germany and Britain use the device to browse online, compared with an average of 10 per cent in the mobile phone market as a whole. Not surprisingly O2, the telecoms operator with exclusive rights to the device in the UK, is delighted. "The whole mobile internet space has been transformed by the introduction of the iPhone," says Simon Dean, head of UK content at the mobile company. "It has set the benchmark for browsing, and it proves that if you get the experience right, people will use mobile internet services."
That ought to be good news for T-Mobile. When it launches the G1 into the UK market, it will be tapping into a renewed appetite for the mobile internet that the iPhone has played no small part in creating. Equally, it should be music to the ears of Nokia and Sony Ericsson as they launch their own internet-friendly handsets: the N96 and Xperia, respectively.
Marketers have cause to be excited too. In theory at least, the new generation of smartphones provides a means to deliver compelling, interactive experiences on a par with what consumers expect from the PC internet, and you can't deny there is already a buzz. Mick Rigby, chairman of Yodel, a media planning company focused on the mobile space, says the iPhone effect is noticeable when he meets brand managers. "Everyone seems to have one, he says, and it means that marketers are now really engaging with the mobile internet."
Marco Bertozzi is a case in point. As director of media and digital at recruitment communications agency TMP, he is responsible for placing job ads across a range of digital channels. He sees the impact of the iPhone and G1 as extremely positive for marketers seeking to engage with the mobile audience. "By making the mobile internet easy to use, the iPhone has been driving activity online," he says. "This clearly does present opportunities for advertisers."
Both the iPhone and the G1 come armed with local maps, courtesy of Google, and the ability to deliver location-based services using GPS. Third-party developers are free to develop applications that take advantage of this functionality, and a quick glance at the iTunes App Store reveals there is no shortage of developers. What's more, both Apple and Google have gone out of their way to make it easy to download the software.
This is an area in which the G1 could well steal a march on Apple. As Andrew Hunter, UK managing director of reviews-focused social network Qype, notes, Apple retains an effective veto on any software submitted to its App Store. "You need to have a good relationship with Apple or else you don't get on," he says. Google, on the other hand, imposes no such restrictions. Once developers familiarise themselves with the Android operating system, we can expect to see a torrent of new applications vying for the attention of G1, and the barriers to entry are low. "You don't have to spend an enormous amount of time developing applications for either the iPhone or the G1," adds Hunter. "You can bring something onto the market within a matter of weeks rather than months."
Regardless of the platform, Phillip Edlin, a consultant at Wolf Olins, predicts that applications will provide brands with a highly targeted means with which to connect to their customers, either through providing services or entertainment. "There's going to be a lot of scope for applications that entertain people when they have a few moments to spare", he says.
Andy Wasef, emerging platforms director at MEC Interaction, is more circumspect. "It is very difficult to create branded applications that will be popular with consumers," he says. Wasef also doubts whether consumer appetite for software will run to more than a few items. "The storage capacity on handsets is limited," he adds. "I don't think we're going to see people downloading hundreds of applications."
At this point, it's worth remembering that the G1, iPhone or indeed the new Nokia and Sony Ericsson offer very little unique functionality. Yes, all these devices may offer bigger screens and enhanced usability, but the basics of web browsers and messaging are shared by just about every other active phone in Europe, North America and Asia, while relatively new developments such as MP3 functionality, cameras, video replay and application download are also common. Even GPS is not unusual.
The upshot is that while only 10 per cent of handset owners regularly use their phones for anything other than voice calls and messaging, there is a lot of functionality at hand.
According to Richard Holdsworth, chief operating officer of Wapple, a company that specialises in designing sites optimised for mobile browsers, there is a danger that the arrival of the G1 and iPhone will encourage marketers and advertisers to think about the mobile internet as if it was a subset of what is available through the PC rather than a medium in its own right.
"Many people see the iPhone as a means to access the full internet, but it has some pretty big limitations," he says. "The browser doesn't support Flash and it doesn't handle all Java applications and when you access a conventional internet site, you have to zoom in on sections of the page. The truth is that it doesn't deliver the kind of experience of the internet that you would have on the PC."
In Holdsworth's view, the way forward for the mobile internet is to create bespoke sites that look good and function effectively on all browser-equipped handsets, rather than focusing on high-end devices."
Equally, he believes that marketing and advertising strategies should play to the strengths of the mobile medium, rather than trying to ape the banners and rich media displays that are so much a feature of life on PCs. "The type of advertising we see on PCs isn't really suited to mobile users," he says.
It may be that the greatest contribution made by Apple and Google is the form of raised consumer awareness. Once people know there is a mobile internet that can provide useful services and entertainment, they'll be more likely to seek it out on their own handsets. And if the mobile internet is seen as a place for consumers to play in - and a lot of that depends on telecoms operators' pricing - the long-awaited age of the mobile marketer may at last be about to dawn.
Its detractors say it's not as sexy as the iPhone, but fans would dispute this. Like its high-profile rival, it's web-friendly, with navigation enabled through both a touch screen and a Qwerty keyboard. It comes with software including Google Maps and GPS functionality.
The G1 runs on Android and Google has thrown the door wide open to software developers. It's early days yet, but expect a torrent of applications for this device.
It has 3G connectivity and a bar code reader that enables comparison shopping via Shopsavvy. Music downloads are available (only in the US just now) from Amazon.
However, it can't manage Flash animation and the camera has megapixel resolution of just 3.0. Available in the UK soon via T-Mobile.
Verdict: 4 out of 5
After an uncertain start in the UK, the iPhone is now the one other smartphones have to beat. The second release has 3G connectivity and is much cheaper than its predecessor. Add to that innovations such as Apple's accelerometer and you have a very sexy device.
But the major selling point is its touch screen. Fans say it's a thing of wonder that allows users to navigate its features intuitively. Its zoom feature is also a boon when using the iPhone to access conventional web pages. It also boasts Wi-Fi, enabling high-speed surfing at home or in hot spots. A wide range of applications are available from Apple's iTunes App Store.
It's not perfect, though. The camera is just 2.0 megapixels and doesn't have auto-focus or a video capture move. And if you're not an 02 customer, forget it.
Verdict: 5 out of 5
While perhaps lacking the cachet of Apple and Google, Sony's X1 seems likely to build on the appeal of its internet and Walkman phones. It has a touch-sensitive screen, but navigation is also possible with a Qwerty keyboard that slides out. No slouch with regards connectivity, the X1 is UTMS-, GPRS-, Edge- and HSDPA-compatible, and offers Wi-Fi access. The operating system is Microsoft Mobile with a WAP and HTML browser.
Beyond internet access, the X1 arguably outperforms the G1 and iPhone. For instance, while its camera only runs to 3.3 megapixels, it shoots video and boasts an electronic zoom. The screen size of 800 x 480 means the X1 is comparable with its Google and Apple rivals when it comes to web surfing, and quality is excellent.
Verdict: 3 out of 5
With a huge 16GB of memory, the Nokia N96 looks more like a conventional handset, and while internet access is an important part of the device, the company is positioning it as a video and entertainment centre. Users can access video content, including news feeds, and Nokia's music store.
Running on Symbian, it has 3G and GPRS connectivity, and Wi-Fi and DVB-H-enabled TV. Maps and GPS are included, plus a 5.2 megapixel camera that shoots video.
The N96 is an effective web-accessing tool that doubles as an in-the-pocket home entertainment hub.
Verdict: 3 out of 5.
This article was first published on revolutionmagazine.com
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