The Cannes Doctrine: The Future of Mobile

The Cannes Doctrine…. or why the industry is still controlled by idiots.

[This editorial was originally published in the Mobile Industry Review newsletter on the 4th December 2009. Make sure you get the editorials ahead of time by subscribing here — free. View other recent newsletter editorials.]

There is a fundamental misunderstanding in the mobile industry about the future and about what consumers want. It drives me nuts.

I am consistently shocked by how much this misunderstanding is institutionalised from the top. How many more years do we have to wait before broad sections of the population are going to be able to do more than send text messages? In a few days time the Mobile Data Association has arranged a ‘free MMS’ campaign with UK Radio Station, “Radio 1”, to try and educate and encourage the population about how to use MMS. We’re past that. We’ve done that. We get it. The vast majority of normobs don’t bother using MMS because it:

a) Costs 20p a go (or similar, on most price plans)
b) The experience was sh1t last time they tried it — it never worked, it arrived as a 50×40 pixel image, and they were charged 50p for it
c) Their phones don’t have the right settings

At what point will we be able to do things with our mobile handsets? More than just send text messages, make calls and occasionally take a picture? Whilst 50 odd million are thoroughly enjoying the possibilities of applications on the iPhone, the rest of the market is left languishing with limpwristed offerings from confused, panicked and neolithic mobile operators and manufacturers. Many an industry executive that I’ve met simply doesn’t have a clue. Further more, he/she doesn’t care. Until, that is, they get a flaming rant from Mobile Industry Review slammed on their desk by their PR supremo advising that, ‘er, I think the best policy is silence’.

I know of some self-aware executives seek out opinion and perspective to widen their horizons and understand where things are going and why. This is laudable. But the vast majority are too busy approving rubbish interfaces, rubbish sub-calibre me-too services that, we all recognise, are going to go nowhere. In this age of markets-within-markets (the app stores are a good example), the mobile operator business is no longer about shifting boxes, network towers and call minutes.

It’s about ‘enablement‘. Enabling the consumer to do what they want through the medium of mobile. Enabling the market to test and refine it’s offerings to the consumer — at it’s own expense — via your platforms. Getting that right means getting the platform and infrastructure right, of course.

But the mobile operators in particular don’t stop there. If they did, we’d be ok. But no. They meddle away with committees that deliver total unmitigated arse products and services in the vain hope of at least confusing the end-consumer into not wanting an Apple product. I’m sick and tired of having to point to Apple as if no one on the planet can compete with them. The sad reality is that almost everything I’ve seen from the mobile marketplace sucks, compared. And that is a shocking state of affairs. The market has the capability to be much, much, MUCH more than just about competing with (and delivering slightly sh1tter services to) the iPhone.

But let’s move on from there — it’s very easy to get bogged down in this kind of territory when I’m talking in broad sweeps. My broad sweeps are, however, 100% correct. Here’s why.

A long time ago I posted a description of an evening and how mobile should fit within it. Long term readers will know it as The Cannes Doctrine (I was in Cannes when I wrote it). Well, here’s an updated version.

I’m in Cannes, South of France, supervising the implementation of our online networking service, Eventscope, for a very popular financial conference. The nature of the work requires me on-site ’til 4pm. I exit the building and, as I walk along the boulevard admiring the beach, I snap a few photos with my mobile device. They’re automatically distributed to my sites and services as necessary. Indeed I tag one of the photos as ‘mum’ and another and ‘gran’. Both are queued for sending as physical ‘postcards‘ for delivery in the UK tomorrow morning. The service already has addresses and credit card details registered so the transaction is as seamless as a tag. I see that — unexpectedly — I’ve got a notification top right on my device. There’s a beer icon flashing away. I select it and find out that Mike Stead of INQ is five minutes away at the Grand Hotel. He’s activated his ‘bored and up for a beer‘ status which automatically broadcasted his availability to those nearby. Turns out he’s in Cannes too!

I’m automatically shown turn-by-turn mapping to the exact location of the hotel. But I know the way. Crossing the road, my device vibrates to remind me to make that transfer to Inland Revenue. I curse. Doesn’t everyone? But it’s important to keep the taxman happy. So I click the banking app and in two taps, find the planned transaction. I click approve. I also see that another payment has arrived in – that gives me an idea! I’ve been after a radio-controlled helicopter. Another one. After I crashed a ‘beginners’ version spectacularly a few months ago.

I can see the bright lights of the Grand Hotel in the distance as I walk along the boulevard browsing helicopters from eBay. I find my favourite supplier and hit ‘buy’. Done. The delivery status is automatically added into my device consciousness. Speaking of which, I wonder if my new backpack from America has arrived. I see there’s a ‘star’ on the delivery status icon so I click. The package is marked as ‘in customs: action required’. I click on the UPS icon and scan through their update: Turns out there is £15.94 worth of import duties required. I hit the pay button and move on. I notice a confirmation mail arrive with an electronic receipt that’s automatically added into my device consciousness (like an Evernote on steroids).

I check on my wife’s status and see that — yes — she’s with her friends this evening in London. I browse through a few of the photos she’s already taken and smile at one of the comments that’s already been added by one of her friends in America. I tap on the heartbeat icon. It sends a knock to her device and lets her know I’m thinking of her — without having to specifically send any text. It also lets her know I’m OK. A few moments later, I receive a knock back from her. All is good.

As the Grand Hotel approaches, I do a quick query for an article I read in The Week that I think will make Mike chuckle. I retrieve the article and zap it over to Mike. I see he’s already opened it as I flick into my todo list. There was something on my mind. Ah yes. It’s my friend Jo’s birthday tomorrow. My device has already pre-selected some appropriate gift choices. I flip through them and eventually decide that it’s very difficult to go wrong with some flowers — especially if they’re from www.realfowers.co.uk. I choose a size option and hit send. That’s done. It’s going to be sent with the default message that I’ve defined but later on I’ll change the greeting to something more personalised.

I walk into the Hotel lobby and get a buzz from my friend Ed. Turns out he’s in Nice on business and only 30 minutes away. I check that Ed’s status is marked as ‘available to you’ so I know I can talk to him real-time. I hold up my device to my ear and press the speak button.

“Get a cab man! Come and have a drink!” I say. I wait 2 seconds and I hear Ed’s confirmation.

Ed, standing in his client’s office reception, thanks the receptionist.

“Do you need a taxi, Sir?” she asks.

“Ah no, that’s kind of you, thank you,” says Ed, thinking back to the times when this wasn’t just a polite offer, but a necessary requirement when in a foreign country — even France.

Ed tells his device to locate a cab to the Grand Hotel in Cannes. An auction immediately takes place. In near real time, Ed’s device begins to receive automatic bids from an array of taxis all <2 minutes away. He picks the one that’s marked with ‘group approval’. That is, I’ve used them and five of our collective friends have had good experiences with this chap in the last 6 months. He also selects the Mercedes Benz with Air Con and pays a slight premium for that choice. The cab arrives in 60 seconds.

Ed doesn’t need to know directions or anything else. He just swipes his device on the taxi’s RFID style reader and he’s done. The taxi driver smiles and nods as Ed sits back and relaxes.

I walk into the Grand Hotel bar and say hi to Mike.

“Got the article,” he says, “Genius! And… Ed’s joining us? Let’s get a drink?”

Brilliant.

I’m not sure what to have to drink so I consult my device. It’s picked up the fact I’ve been in the bar three times in the last four years and it’s got a note of everything I’ve ordered along with my satisfaction levels. As I peruse the menu options I see one drink has a flashing note next to it. I click and see it’s from my wife.

“If you’re having one of these, remember to ask them to put a twist of lime in.”

Ah yes. Useful. I decide to ‘go commando’ and make a choice without my device assistance as Mike peruses the wine list.

Both our devices buzz as Ed arrives — letting us know he’s in the area. We look up and there he is. I get a note from Dan, currently in San Francisco. He’s seen Ed and I are meeting and reckons we should hook up in London. I hit ‘yes’ and get the cloud to fix a good time between us all.

After drinks, I bid farewell to the chaps and walk back to my hotel. I stick in my headphones and get the latest mobile industry briefing read to me. I flick through some of the latest entertainment headlines and watch a video published 50 seconds ago by CNN showing Tiger Woods making yet another heartfelt apology.

In my hotel room I curse as I’ve completely forgotten to extend my check-out. I think about fumbling with the rubbish system on the television and then remember I can now interface directly with my hotel from my device. I select ‘extend until 5pm’ and see there’s a fee of 50 Euro. But it’s been discounted to 20 Euro because of my status as an elite member. Nice. I select it. All done in 10 seconds. Quicker than having to work out what the number is for reception on the telephone by the hotel bed.

Tired, I flip on the entertainment section on my device and watch two episodes of Dollhouse on the giant screen in my hotel room. My device obviously integrates nicely.

Then I remember I need to buy some shoelaces. Flippin’ shoe laces. The most boring things in the world to buy. I flip up Amazon and type ‘shoelaces’. Fantastic. They’re a quid! But 3 quid for delivery. Heh. I click ‘buy with one click’ and that’s another task done…

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And let me stop there. This is just a small glint into the world that I’m looking forward to embracing. It is, of course, not all about mobile. I don’t want to use ‘mobile’ for everything. But when I’m out and about, I want it to be a central pillar supporting my existence.

We’re getting there. Indeed many of the situations or examples I’ve mentioned are actually ‘doable’ right now with some applications and services available today. That shoelaces example is one I actually used this week at about 2am on Monday morning. I’d been meaning to buy some sodding laces when I’ve been out and about, but never managed to do so. Thanks to Amazon, the laces actually arrived on Wednesday morning.

My point in outlining what I’d like from my mobile device is that… well, it’s going to be decades, isn’t it? When you look at the total rubbish being sent out the door by the likes of Vodafone 360 — the stuff doesn’t even SYNC contacts. I mean, what is the point of launching something that is sub-standard from the get-go? I *know* it can be improved… but is this the best the industry can muster? The best that Vodafone can offer it’s 280m customers?

How massively depressing.

It’s not just Vodafone of course. Don’t get me started on Nokia. Or Microsoft and their Windows Phone, guaranteed to pause, jerk and hang-up on calls randomly every day of the week.

It’s sad, very sad, that a lot of the examples I’ve mentioned can actually be done on an iPhone only. A few readers of MIR seem to think I’ve got a thing for iPhone — that I’m far too biased in favour of it. The reality is that I am pleased I can now tap-tap-tap and order boring shoelaces without having to think. That actually makes my life better. I can’t stand the inefficiency of having to go to an actual shop — you know — and actually have to invest 20 minutes acquiring something as mundane as a pair of shoelaces. I’m pleased I can do that on the iPhone. But there are a ton of issues with the iPhone — chief amongst them the fact it does one thing at a time, no background processing. At all. Very, very limiting.

I am absolutely horrified with the rest of marketplace as it stands though.

Why can I not order shoelaces in three clicks from a Nokia? I mean, can you IMAGINE the hassle you have to go through to do this on an N97? I haven’t looked to see if there’s an Amazon app — not a sh1te widget or anything — an ACTUAL app that actually works as I expect — for the Symbian or Maemo platform. I can’t bring myself to look and see. Because if the answer is no… dear me.

We’re almost in 2010.

Ten years ago I was tentatively messing around with GPRS trying to check my email and IM on-the-go.

How long is it going to be before we can all enjoy meaningful services via our mobile device? I mean to the extent that if you buy a laptop from PC World, you can do decent stuff with it.

I can’t stand bumping into really enthusiastic normob friends who want to know how to ‘buy flights on their LG Chocolate.’ Just… I feel like grabbing the Chocolate and slamming it into the wall in frustration. And then handing over my iPhone so that they can actually DO something meaningful with their technology.

Every other device requires lots of buts. “Yes, but you need to use the rubbish browser.”

“Yes but it doesn’t quite work.”

“Yes but…”

But, but, but. If you’re a total geek, you can wrap yourself around the hardware, software and systems and make things work.

Apple proved that if you provide a reasonably nice, attractive stable mobile platform, folk will innovate and very quickly, we’re all presented with an ecosystem that is bigger than the sum of its parts. The iPhone is no longer a device — it’s a (potential) gateway to a (potential) next generation lifestyle.

And you at the back — don’t scoff. Make no mistake, there are millions out there realising and recognising just how nice it is to have an iPhone. NOT because of the fancy screen, the fancy graphics or the little menu animations — because you can get stuff done. Because you can order shoelaces at 2am in the morning. Because you can sort out your car insurance claim in 10 minutes. Because you can order toilet rolls on the train. Because you can order a taxi in San Francisco with 3 taps. Because you can do stuff.

Meanwhile back in sh1tsville — back in the non-iPhone world, folk are still having to choose their price plan. And decide how many text messages they’d like. Everyone else is having to choose between a slightly rubbish and a really rubbish handset with a platform that offers nothing but a bit of Facebook and the occasional game because the people running the respective companies and service providers can’t get their act together to enable the market.

Dire.

Absolutely dire.

Until the mobile operators finally recognise and accept that they are data-pipes and transaction engines, the vast majority of us are going to be stuck in this ‘MMS messages are charged at just 20p each’ purgatory — with the only choice of exit being an iPhone. It’s good but it’s not that good.

Please, please, please let’s have some innovation.

By Ewan

Ewan is Founder and Editor of Mobile Industry Review. He writes about a wide variety of industry issues and is usually active on Twitter most days. You can read more about him or reach him with these details.

5 replies on “The Cannes Doctrine: The Future of Mobile”

i'd stand up and clap and shout with you, but i know the reality of the situation is operators are still stuck with the “owning the customer” mindset. they don't understand that they're a service in the same way that the corner store is a service, providing snacks and pints to both locals and strangers alike.

you've got the banks who want to own every transaction you make, you've got the operator who would like nothing more than for you to use operator billing on the 3 websites that support it that you've never heard of, you've got the handset makers who is trying to shove their services on to you because they have to differentiate themselves from handset maker x, y, z.

we're not in a service economy. we're in real estate. get people to sign up for a mortgage and then let them figure out how to do all the annoying bits themselves.

it's painful, and i don't really see it changing for at least another 2 generations (4 years), and even then the situation is going to be dire.

oh and one more thing: fucking facebook is trying to own your photos, your locations, your transactions, your witty, sexy and sorry messages to your wife, and ever other part of your life.

owning the customer, when that stops being mission #1, you'll see change.

i'd stand up and clap and shout with you, but i know the reality of the situation is operators are still stuck with the “owning the customer” mindset. they don't understand that they're a service in the same way that the corner store is a service, providing snacks and pints to both locals and strangers alike.

you've got the banks who want to own every transaction you make, you've got the operator who would like nothing more than for you to use operator billing on the 3 websites that support it that you've never heard of, you've got the handset makers who is trying to shove their services on to you because they have to differentiate themselves from handset maker x, y, z.

we're not in a service economy. we're in real estate. get people to sign up for a mortgage and then let them figure out how to do all the annoying bits themselves.

it's painful, and i don't really see it changing for at least another 2 generations (4 years), and even then the situation is going to be dire.

oh and one more thing: fucking facebook is trying to own your photos, your locations, your transactions, your witty, sexy and sorry messages to your wife, and ever other part of your life.

owning the customer, when that stops being mission #1, you'll see change.

“Until the mobile operators finally recognise and accept that they are data-pipes and transaction engines, the vast majority of us are going to be stuck in this ‘MMS messages are charged at just 20p each’ purgatory — with the only choice of exit being an iPhone. It’s good but it’s not that good.”

well said! the situation is even more dire in north america and japan, where the carriers have a far more tighter deathgrip on the market than in europe. just try using ANY type of unauthorised, unlocked smartphone in japan, for instance, where you are basically stuck with the carriers' limited selection of hobbled devices. damn near impossible…

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