On-Device Portals: What's After WAP

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On-Device Portals: What's After WAP

By Jason Ankeny

If operators could monetize clicks, the mobile content market would be a far more lucrative place. Instead, the sheer volume of clicks required to access and purchase ringtones, wallpapers and games actually robs carriers and their content partners of revenue. Faced with the complexities and frustrations of downloading premium content to their handsets, many subscribers simply give up midway through the process, or steer clear of mobile content altogether.

But the primitive experience of carrier WAP decks is now giving way to on-device portals, a new generation of mobile applications optimized for data access that deliver a more intuitive user experience and streamlined content acquisition protocols. ODPs evolve the WAP model in multiple ways, caching content to accelerate browsing, integrating with handset functions to offer rich graphics and menu interaction, and reducing service access to a single click. 

"In the past, the only method for the content provider or operator to provide data services was WAP, which brought with it some very well-documented challenges like performance and discovery," said Dave Evans, chief technology officer with on-device portal solutions provider SurfKitchen. "With on-device portals, we've improved the content experience on the phone by removing barriers to usage. ODPs lead the customer through the purchase process step-by-step. Most users have never bought anything on the phone, or been concerned about all the scare stories--it's important to create an easy-to-use and intuitive way to purchase content."

According to Scott Silk, CEO with on-device portal solutions developer Action Engine, ODPs promise to reduce the number of clicks required to access content by as much as 80 percent. "With our ODP, users are selecting content from downloaded pick lists, not keystroking," Silk said. "They also have the ability to download big chunks of data on the phone, so they're not going back to the network all the time. When you can eliminate the majority of keystrokes and multiple trips to the network, you're empowering the user."

On-device portals don't only simplify the user experience--they also personalize it. "The problem facing operators is discovery--how do I get people to engage, view and experience mobile content?" said Frank Dickson, market analysis firm MultiMedia Intelligence's co-founder and chief research officer. "WAP pages are too tough, so you have to create customized executions that get you to the content you want fast. Operators need to present it in way that facilitates the speed at which you select."

That personalization extends beyond how subscribers access mobile services to what they access. "In the past core services like content catalogs, TV and music drove revenue, but it was a broad-brush experience where everyone got the same ringtones, games and wallpapers,"  Evans said. "Now we can offer a more focused approach and deliver an experience segmented to a particular time and audience." Earlier this year, SurfKitchen announced its first U.S. operator deal with Cincinnati Bell, offering the carrier's postpaid and prepaid segments different content menus. For example, only postpaid subscribers may purchase ringtones.

SurfKitchen's existing clients include overseas operators such as Orange, Telefónica and Telstra. "ODPs evolved much faster in the GSM market, where operators have historically faced greater complexity, more devices and channels to market, and less opportunity to control what is on the device," Evans said. "In the U.S., we've seen operators take more direct control of their devices and focus on a branded WAP experience. That's changed in the last 12 months, and the driver behind that change is the new focus on the user experience, especially on iPhone and BlackBerry. We're also now seeing U.S. operators merging on-deck and off-deck, which means we're seeing a huge amount of interest from them to target a segmented experience."

As the mobile data experience shifts from entertainment content to user-generated media and other more interactive applications, ODPs are poised to evolve in step. "The opportunity in mobile is developing applications that lend themselves to people on the go," Silk said. "That's navigation applications that are GPS or location-based, or social networking applications. We think we're close to providing solutions like this."

The challenge now facing on-device portal providers is something of a Catch-22: Operators and content providers won't fully invest in ODP solutions until their mobile data revenues grow...but their data revenues will likely remain lackluster without ODPs to kickstart the consumer experience. "On-device portals become mass market when mobile data usage becomes something people do daily, instead of two or three times a month," Evans said. "When you get the experience right, people use data services."

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