ODP vs. Browser

THERES A DILEMMA faced by mobile operators, their wireless dealers and, ultimately, their customers: Long-distance is essentially free, and competitive pressures are driving the rest of voice revenue toward zero margins even as the mobile network infrastructure demands another round of multibillion-dollar investment. When margins suffer, everyone suffers. Thats why reducing churn, making data plans stickier and increasing data ARPU benefits the entire value chain.

Enter mobile data. From the full-QWERTY mobile professional to the triple-tap typing teen, its now obvious that text messaging through e-mail and SMS is as important as voice for a third or more of the market. These data-driven transactions drive the opening for an on-device portal (ODP) to expand the value of the data-connected handset. Research and consulting firm ARCchart Ltd. estimates the ODP market will have a value of $1.4 billion by 2009.

Handmarks intuitive PageOne interface serves up content with a fraction of the clicks required by mobile browsing.

ARCchart defines an ODP as a product that delivers content on mobile phones through a client application rather than through a Web interface. Its important to make a clear distinction between ODP and the desktop portals like those from AOL, Yahoo! and MSN. These Web portals are only access points to the larger Internet available via a Web browser. The ODP application actually lives on the mobile phone, rather than being accessed via a browser. Unlike a browser page, it can access the core functionality of the device. And, it can be integrated deeply into the handset experience and tie back to voice, SMS and e-mail functions. Its analogous to the difference between Outlook on your computer and Hotmail in your browser. An ODP can exploit the unique characteristics of the mobile device in a way that a browser cannot.

The proliferation of ODPs comes just when mobile Web browsing is in the midst of a major marketing push, looking to redeem WAPbased micro-browsings bad rap. But, the attempts to bring a desktop Web site to a mobile device all too often equate to nothing more than looking at the world through a keyhole. Adoption of mobile browsing isnt happening because of the inherent qualities of the handset. M:Metrics Inc. in a fall 2006 study estimates only 16.6 percent of users actually deploy the browser despite the fact that 88 percent of mobile phones have Web-browsing capabilities.

David Wood, the U.K. visionary and wireless guru of Symbian fame, laid out a few predictions in his fall 2005 book Symbian for Software Leaders and reiterated them in a presentation at 3GSM World Congress this past February. Wood reminded attendees of the compromises a mobile browser must make to fit the dimensions of the mobile screen, predicting for important mobile applications, you can expect to see specific nonbrowser interfaces to Internet services. The ODP explicitly delivers on this vision.

Handmarks mobile consumer portal, as one example of an ODP, presents a three-by-three grid of tiles connecting users to pertinent information (e.g., news, weather, travel, etc.) they need while on the go (see screenshot below). Theres no need for users to click through several menus to find what they need.

In some cases, the ODP comes embedded with the handset by either the operator or manufacturer, but it also might be offered to the subscriber by the wireless dealer. The dealer can show it, sell it, install it and be paid a bounty.

There is an advantage to using the ODP as a tool in the show-andsell tool kit. ODPs easy access to information and services becomes part of sales demonstrations designed to upsell business users to more feature-rich devices and lock them into generous data plans. It can pay additional dividends when the ODP also features a store option that allows users to purchase ringtones, games and productivity applications, such as tools to view and edit word processing and spreadsheet files. Sales of these applications and other digital content can trigger a cascade of ongoing revenue for the entire value chain.

Operator-owned stores already have learned they can close on a data sale by using the ODP to show how easy it is to access information and extend the usefulness of a BlackBerry, Treo or Moto Q device. Independent resellers need to learn the same lesson.

A well-executed ODP actually can change user behavior encouraging business users to depend on expanded data services in their daily activities. It changes behavior because, like a daily newspaper, it presents wanted information services in a predictable and reliable format that the device user easily self-trains to consume in snack-size chunks. It changes behavior by elevating the access to other digital content via a store icon, discoverable without premeditated search, allowing for more frequent and spontaneous purchases.

And most importantly, it raises data usage and, thus, data revenue, which can be shared across the entire value chain, restoring the balance in favor of a healthy economic prospect that benefits manufacturers, operators and dealers.

Douglas Edwards is co-founder and chief strategist for Handmark Inc., a provider of mobile media content and the creator of the Pocket Express smart portal, which powers Sprint On Demand on the operators EV-DO handsets.

3GSM World Congress
ARCchart Ltd.
Handmark Inc.
M:Metrics Inc.

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