The Mobilized Internet and the Mainstream

This week, the winning post of ‘krisse’ in the Carnival of the Mobilists has spawned some interesting thoughts over here. In the post, ‘krisse’ reports about entry level phones such as the Nokia 5000, which are around 100 euros without a contract, now come with OperaMini pre-installed. With a screen resolution of 320×240 pixels, the viewing experience is as good as with much more expensive feature phones. He didn’t say anything about how fast the browser runs on the phone but I assume processors have become fast enough even on S40 phones for the purpose.

So while Nseries devices and the iPhone might push the mobilized Internet revolution from the top, they won’t bring the real breakthrough as they are too expensive for a broad audience. But with phones for 100 euros now supporting feature rich mobile web browsers, that’s a different thing entirely. I would say that such phones are used by the majority of people in Europe, North America and many Asian countries.

From a hardware price point of view, mobile Internet access for the masses is now possible. Problem solved. From a software point of view, Opera Mini and other browsers have also reached a level of maturity that make them mass market usable. Hardware and software, however, is not all that it takes. In addition, I think the following things need to be put in place:

  • Prepaid data plans, either ‘fair use’ or a reasonable price per megabyte. Such plans are in place now in many countries now, but one can argue about the many ‘if’s, ‘buts’ and ‘must nots’ though. If marketed well and if they are simple enough to understand without a law and computer science degree, such offers should reduce the fear of only knowing one month later what mobile browsing sessions have cost.
  • Training of sales people: Absolutely essential! The average normob (normal mobile user) doesn’t want to figure it out himself. Currently, most sales people in shops are just clueless. This has to change.
  • Autoconfiguration / Pre-configuration: Devices must work out of the box, normob’s don’t configure anything. Again, a chance for operators to stay valuable in the value chain. 
  • Advertise compelling services: Also, good progress seen here nowadays with Vodafone and others advertising Facebook, Google and eBay on mobile devices.

Any other requirements I have missed for mass market mobilization of the Internet?

3 thoughts on “The Mobilized Internet and the Mainstream”

  1. “Devices must work out of the box, normob’s don’t configure anything. Again, a chance for operators to stay valuable in the value chain.”

    Actually this isn’t really anything to do with operators at all.

    Most sim-free unlocked phones have all the configurations for all the local network operators built into them, so they DO work out of the box.

    The 5000 I reviewed was a retail phone, I put my SIM card in it and everything worked straight away without any operator involvement.

    The operators aren’t really needed for anything except providing the service. They have no other useful role to play, and here in Finland they don’t play any other role. You don’t need to activate a device, you don’t need to buy a phone from a particular operator (most don’t), there are no restrictions on what you can put your SIM card in.

    “I assume processors have become fast enough even on S40 phones for the purpose.”

    This is the slight catch, the 5000’s browser is slower than a smartphone, though I thought it was still fast enough to be practical.

    We’ve got to bear in mind the 5000 is intended as a bottom end device, with the 90 euro launch price likely to drop closer to the 60 euros or so over the next twelve months. 60 euros is approximately one tenth the non-contract price of an iPhone 3G or N95 8GB.

    At that kind of price difference (a 90% reduction) even people in the rich world would think about going for the cheaper alternative.

    And in the developing world, which is where most phones are sold and where phone markets are growing fastest, the 5000 would be the only viable option for most people wanting to surf the web. Many people around the world may discover the web for the first time through devices like this.

    You can see a video of the 5000’s web browser in action on my Nokia Duck blog, along with a general review of the phone:

  2. Incidentally, I should add that this isn’t just the 5000 or just Nokia. We will probably see things like Opera Mini becoming the standard browser on bottom-end phones from most of the manufacutrers of such devices. Budget phones are going up in the world! 🙂

    Even more interesting though is that Nokia intends to add the WebKit browser as standard to its latest Series 40 models coming this Winter. WebKit is the open source core used by the browser in Nokia’s S60 smartphones and Apple’s Safari (in the Mac and iPhone). Because WebKit is open source, we could expect other manufacturers to use it too.

    This time next year, it’s possible that budget phones will not just have a similar browser to S60 and iPhone, they might have (technically) the same browser.

  3. Hi Krisse,

    Thanks for the very detailed comments! I think the operator still has an important role for delivering a good out of the box experience. Yes, in many countries prepaid SIM cards with data options are available and phones often detect the right settings based on the network operator identification on the SIM card. But for most users, even the easy step of activating a data option is not easy and does not enter their mind. This is why I think operators have a good chance to sell both the mobile, the SIM card, Internet access and a voice subscription if they manage to put a good package together and if they have sales people that understand the complete deal.

    Interesting to see the latest version of S40. Amazing how the look and feel of S40 and S60 come together these days.

    Thanks for the link to the video on your blog. It’s difficult to tell from the video how fast the browser reacts on user input. Maybe I should get a 5000 and find out for myself.

    Yes, I agree with you the Nokia 5000 will certainly not remain the only low end phone with these capabilities. And in two years time, processor speeds will again have jumped.

    Concerning Webkit, I am very sceptical. To me loading full web pages to phones is still not a good idea. The processors are too small to load and render full web pages quickly, even on high end phones such as the N95. That’s why I like OperaMini so much!


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