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No Sale

Sharper minds than mine have pondered (and successfully answered) that ageless marketing question: "What will sell?"

So this Euro-news bit that came over the transom this morning both amused and spoke volumes about mobile applications and what users want from their handhelds, the wireless networks, and the carriers that operate them: Mobile Data Gets Red Card.

The upshot is that subscribers to a variety of services built around content from the recently concluded World Cup were either unhappy with what they got, or so dissatisfied with mobile data they'd never use it again. And just to be clear, the content providers weren't trying to do anything fancy either, if the list of most popular services is any indication: text alerts (22%), video clips (16%), and picture messages (16%).

Only 11% of potential mobile data users would have been interested in mobile TV, just in case anybody thought the ability to view this clip was going to be some kind of mobile cash machine.

This is to reiterate the question we've debated and discussed around Unstrung's virtual water cooler: Why doesn't [fill in the blank] sell? What do Asian consumers know about animated content that leaves their American counterparts shrugging? Will ringtones ever transcend the low-rise jeans crowd? When will some smart application developer crack the nut of specialized business tools that will make wireless as pivotal to business processes as dialtone and electricity?

There's a mass market for wireless voice services and for wireless data. And maybe what equipment vendors, carriers, and app builders have yet to really take in is that users will want way more specialization than current wireless and mobile technologies allow. What two users have exactly the same browser bookmarks?

Everyone's going to use wireless networks and applications a little differently. But vendors are too busy pushing users toward a certain operating system, a particular network interface, or a given terminal type to worry about building in sufficient flexibility that lets users have what they want.

Small wonder, then, that users shun something that should have been as easy to sell as World Cup services. We can debate pricing, formatting issues, the competitive alternatives (the fixed, wired Web anyone?), but this mystery of what content sells – and where, and to whom – will remain at least as much a technology issue as a business one.

— Terry Sweeney, Editor in Chief, Unstrung

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