You’ve just sat back to watch Top Gun for the 19th time this year when the doorbell rings.
You head over to the door and, as you recognise the form of a ‘salesman’ through the glass, you mentally curse yourself for getting off the sofa. You’re committed. He’s seen you. It’s polite to at least open the door.
“Good evening, Sir,” the chap says, thrusting out his identification, “I’m Graham and I’m from Vodafone.”
“Hello,” you say, slightly bemused by the chap’s enthusiasm.
“Are you missing something in your life, Sir?”
Oh no. He’s begun his pitch. You respond with a, “Errr,” but before you can form a decent sentence, he’s right in there again.
“I think you look like a gentleman who’s missing a wholly encompassing communications experience, Sir.”
You stare back, waiting for the ‘rhetorical’ moment to pass and for him to continue.
Graham takes a deep breath and thrusts a leaflet forward, “I’d like to talk to you this evening about our radical new suite of services to help you get the best out of your life.”
You decide to summon the courage to interrupt his flow.
“Look, Graham, I’m actually quite happ…”
“No you’re not!” shoots Graham, “We here at Vodafone have defined a 16-step happiness plan integrated with an exhaustive suite of entertainment and interactivity services designed to give you exactly what you want.”
“How do you know what I want, Graham?”
“We do Sir. We just do. We’re you’re operator, Sir.”
“Well, I’ll play your game, Graham. I’d like to use Facebook on my mobile.”
Graham’s eyes light up, “Of course you would Sir, of COURSE you would. That’s why we’ve integrated it right into the core of the Samsung H1 device, Sir. It’s part of the phone!”
Faster than Mister Miyagi in the Karate Kid, Graham flicks the leaflet open to the ‘Facebook’ page.
“Oh that’s pretty cool,” you find yourself saying.
“Right, Sir!” Graham says, nodding with glee.
You pause for a moment, thinking, before issuing a guarded statement/question, “I use instant messaging a lot when I’m mobile,”
“GOOD, Sir! GOOD!” continues Graham, “We’ve built in support for Windows Live Messenger and Google Talk. Right INTO the device, Sir. We know what you’re about, you see. We KNOW what we’re doing, Sir.”
“Ah, I use AOL instant messenger all the time, so I could still use that?”
Graham’s eyes glaze over slightly.
“Doesn’t use AIM, Sir?”
“Right, but you’ll support that, though?”
Graham’s not looking well.
“Doesn’t use AIM, Sir.”
“Not, I mean, there’s a ton of people using AIM, surely you could..”
“Doesn’t use AIM, Sir,” repeats Graham, as he visibly rocks back and forth on his heels.
“Errrr, Ok, but I can book cinema tickets though?”
“Doooooesn’t do that either, Sir, but you can find your nearest cinema with our services. See. We thought of that.”
It’s getting a bit cold so you try to wrap things up.
“Ok, can I get it on Android?”
“Nnnnnoooo, Sir, it’s…”
You cut in, “But, Graham, I’m a big Android fan.”
Graham’s face stretches into a tired smile.
“Nnnnnooo Sir, you don’t like Android.”
“Well, I do…, I like the..”
“Our research shows, Sir, that you’ll take what you’re given, Sir.”
“Well now here, wait a minute…”
“Plus, Sir, we’ve done a deal with Samsung and that’s what you’re getting, Sir…”
“Alright then. Have you got FlightControl? You know that wicked iPhone app that allows you to be an air traffic controller?”
Graham pauses to keep his patience in check, before issuing a slightly firm and rather quiet, “Noooo Sir.”
You try again.
“What about that drinking app, you know, the one where you tip the iPhone back and it looks like you’re drinking a pint?”
“Noooo Sir,” says Graham, pursed lips deployed.
You run through a list of your favourite apps with Graham getting increasingly restless.
You try one final app, “What about the Tube Exits one, you know, shows you where to stand on the tube?”
Graham’s eyes light up, “Oh, we have that one, Sir!”
– – – – –
I’ve got a real problem with mobile operators trying to define an entire end-to-end service segment from hardware to software — trying to do an Apple. There’s a lot of sense in doing this. If you do it properly, you can create an amazing ecosystem that offers real value.
If you do it by committee, without strong leadership, you end up delivering a set of limp-wristed almost-good services that aren’t actually any good — and, when you look closely — are 6-18 months behind the rest of the marketplace. The nightmare scenario, for me, is having an experience like that of Graham knocking on my door (or, more likely, in a Vodafone shop) trying to sell me the restrictive benefits of a poorly conceived half-hearted suite of hardware and services from an operator.
For instance, Nokia Maps is brilliant if you want turn-by-turn navigation. Because that’s what it was designed to do. But the average consumer wants to use their mobile to find the nearest Starbucks. Or, standing in Trafalgar Square, see where the Leicester Square tube station is. Using Nokia Maps for this is like pulling teeth.
When technology and tech fashion is moving so fast, iterating on a weekly basis, the average mobile operator (or handset manufacturer) infrastructure simply can’t cope.
The good news is that they’ve got the Vodafone Shop up and operational with a reported 1,000+ apps already in store. This is good. The LiMo operating system that supports the 360 UI looks promising.
360 isn’t a drop in the ocean:
The 2009 launch in Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and the UK will be followed by launches in a number of other countries in 2010, including India, Turkey, South Africa, New Zealand and Romania and in France through SFR. through MTS in Russia, and through Vodafone Hutchison Australia.
That’s a lot of countries. That’s a lot of upgrade customers all migrating (whether some like it or not!) on to the 360 platform. The fact you can get ‘Vodafone People’, their proprietary personal address book synched with Facebook (and others) on over 100 Vodafone devices by, let’s say, the end of the year, is brilliant, brilliant news for Facebook. And for the end users who’d LOVE to have a simple method of accessing their contacts and social networks in this manner.
My problem is what happens when Facebok2 comes along. Or Facebook+. Or when Twitter v2 hits the market and we all want to try it out — on the iPhone platform, when a new ‘thing’ is introduced, you simply upgrade. Bish bash bosh. You’re done.
Likewise on Android — want the ‘new stuff’? Simply upgrade. 30 seconds later, you’re done.
I hope there’s some kind of upgrade and update facility for 360. And I hope it’s been designed by some passionate people who really know their stuff.
I’ve no idea. It’s too early to make a judgement. I just hope that 360 isn’t another damp squid a la Vizzavi. The time is right for this kind of move and if Vodafone can begin moving their 300+ million customers over to a standard user interface framework like 360, then the implications for the mobile industry, for mobile developers, for the end user, are very, very exciting.
Meanwhile let’s take a look.