BOSTON- One of the most difficult questions asked during panel discussions at the Mobile Internet World 2008 event was “What is a mobile Internet device?” Answers ranged from something bigger than a smartphone to something smaller than a portable personal computer, with just about everything in between considered worthy of that mythical MID tag.
While the question returned only vague responses, the market has shown that it’s a question worth answering. Recent data has shown that three of the five top-selling mobile handsets are smartphones, which – despite their increased cost and complexity compared to feature-packed handsets – proves that people are interested in devices that blur the line.
During a session looking at the evolution of the MID space, panelists were full of ideas of what those devices were, but most came back to the basic idea that simplicity is essential for adoption rates to ramp up.
“Ease of use is essential to devices,” said Michael Wehrs, VP of evangelism at Nuance Communications. “If devices are too complicated, people will go to simpler devices.”
While enterprise users are often the early target for MID sales, Paul Brody, partner at IBM’s Global Business Services, said carriers have erected too many hurdles to drive meaningful adoption of more advanced devices. Those hurdles included pricing models for text messaging and data roaming that are out of whack with what those services actually cost and usage caps that make it almost impossible for I.T. departments to look seriously at most mobile solutions.
“These will inhibit growth among business users,” Brody said.
Pricing models were a recurring target. Brody predicted that current pricing models for 3G services would fall by the wayside following the evolution to 4G.
“Why provide a large pipe with a five gigabyte cap?,” Brody asked rhetorically.
Wehrs agreed, adding that one bright spot in today’s pricing is Amazon.com’s model for its Kindle device, which downloads electronic books using Sprint Nextel Corp.’s CDMA network. Data charges for the service are embedded in the price of the device so consumers are not even aware of the data connection or what network it’s accessing.
Despite pricing concerns, service providers must drive network evolution.
“If we are waiting for customers to tell us what they want, 4G deployments are going to be in trouble,” Wehrs said.
Ravi Kalavakunta, Qualcomm Inc.’s director of technical marketing, added that while 3G networks provide sufficient capacity to handle most mobile enterprise needs, the main benefit for 4G would be to allow carriers to provide a true ubiquitous user experience for customers that would break down the wall between the wired and wireless segments.
Panelists also provided a mixed view on operating systems, highlighting the need for an open model to allow for innovation, but noting that to date, only rigidly controlled models have proven successful.
“Two companies are showing how it’s done, RIM and Apple,” Brody said. “And they are doing it with a relatively closed model. People making money are using closed systems and charging a premium.”
Panelists warned that handset makers relying on Microsoft Corp.’s mobile OS may fall behind.
“HTC is putting lipstick on a pig,” said IBM’s Brody in reference to HTC Corp.’s reliance on Microsoft’s OS for its devices.
The tone toward Microsoft softened as the session progressed, but there were still questions regarding the company’s inability to further penetrate the mobile market despite its huge investment in mobile-specific apps.
“If only two out of 50 apps are being used, then you wasted a lot of money developing the other 48 apps,” Brody said.