ANALYSIS: Weekly Web Watch - A wireless Web - can anyone come up with the reason why?

Everybody’s talking about wireless. I get more press releases about wireless platforms, solutions, services, applications and anything in between these days than I do about the plain old Internet. At least, that’s the way it feels.

Everybody’s talking about wireless. I get more press releases about wireless platforms, solutions, services, applications and anything in between these days than I do about the plain old Internet. At least, that’s the way it feels.

Everybody’s talking about wireless. I get more press releases about

wireless platforms, solutions, services, applications and anything in

between these days than I do about the plain old Internet. At least,

that’s the way it feels.



If you go to Internet industry conferences you could easily be left

thinking the entire US will by next week be buying its books, reserving

rental cars, managing retirement plans and finding Chinese restaurants

with the humble mobile phone. Oh, and all of this is going to attract

such a big ’audience’ that it will fuel a whole new industry.



Of course, you’d expect that kind of hype from the people selling those

things. Their scenarios are based on the capabilities of the technology,

combined with projections like the one by research firm Jupiter

Communications predicting 94 million Internet-enabled mobile handsets in

use by 2004, and their own wishful thinking.



Wishful, because none of this answers the question: ’Why would anybody

want an Internet-enabled cellular handset?’ Network operators like

Sprint PCS obviously think the wireless Web will be a sufficient

attraction in itself. And Sprint and AT&T are busily signing up all

sorts of nifty content and services like news updates, buying books and

trading stocks.



But none of it is particularly convincing. Most of these services are

designed for people just like the people designing the services. And

most ordinary people will say: ’But I already have the Web on my PC. On

a 17-inch screen. In color.’ Besides, most Web sites, even when

optimized for presentation as four-line chunks of text, are not very

pleasant to use in this way. Even if they were, there is no compelling

reason why anybody would want to access them on phones.



So what would work? In Japan, the national telco NTT Docomo has signed

up more than eight million users for its Imode wireless interactive

service in under a year, without ever using the words Web or Internet

(or their Japanese equivalents). It has built a service that is simple

and open.



Like the Web, it’s easy for pretty much anybody to publish content, if

only in a rudimentary way. Popular applications include interactive

games, cyber pets that live in your phone and downloading novelty ring

tones.



The same pattern is emerging in Europe, where a company called Your

Mobile has signed up 2.6 million users in four months for a service

whose main content appears to be ringing tones and quirky logos for your

phone’s screen.



The point is, while the early adopters of mobile phones have been

business people and professionals using it to boost productivity, for

the mass market (in other words most users), the mobile phone is a

social device.



It’s about communication with friends and peer groups. It’s about

fashion.



It’s about being part of the in-crowd. It’s as much, as Jupiter analyst

Seamus McAteer has pointed out, to do with wasting time as saving

time.



In short, if wireless interactive services are to take off in the US as

they have elsewhere, then the message has to change. It has to appeal to

different people - primarily teens and young adults - who will use

data-enabled phones for purposes quite different from services currently

offered.



Make it ’cool’ rather than ’useful,’ and you’ll see the kind of usage

that will drive another communications revolution



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