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Walking With Normobs No1: The Skype’s the limit

Terry is the name that I’ve assigned to the author of the following set of features. Terry can’t use his real name publicly because, if he did, many readers may be shocked and the people that Terry works for would probably be severely unimpressed.

Terry works in London’s mobile industry and, specifically, occupies an influential marketing position that makes it very difficult for him to talk on the record, at all. I asked him to consider writing for SMS Text News and I’m delighted that he has agreed. Work commitments prohibit him from delivering ultra regular copy so, for now, expect semi regular updates from him.

He’s going to comment on normobs (“normal mobile users”) and their use of mobile technology and we’ve named the segment, Walking With Normobs.

In his inaugural piece, Terry focuses on Skype on mobile.

– – –

Thank god I made THAT tube. Thank god I spent THAT five minutes with my nose deep in a Polish man’s armpit, listening to the tinny sound of hip hop barely escaping from a mobile so sound-proofed by human mass it was mostly inaudible. Might not sound like much to be thankful for to you, but to me it means I made the 6:23 to Little Stantonbury, which is a fast train and the difference between a nice bath and a hot meal and crusty water and tepid food.

On the train I was sitting opposite a group of young people. Being 30-odd there are two types of young people in my life, firstly those sponsored by Addidas who hang around Budgens drinking cider and secondly those who wear the bizarre t-shirt/jeans and suit jacket combo currently doing the rounds
in Soho. These were of the second category. Listening in to their conversation there seemed to be one topic of conversation that was getting this travelling corner of Dean Street excited – Skype on mobile. I recognised them at once as a particularly obvious example of what marketing people like to call ‘early adopters,’ otherwise known as fellow geeks.

To me when the chattering classes start chattering about a particular technology it’s a sign of that most precious of things for every device manufacturer or app developer the world over: mainstream take-up. These two words are at the ‘trade sale’ end of every investors business-plan and at the peak of every marketing man’s curve. There are two ways to achieve this in the mobile world, full on marketing bulldozer (30 second ads during Britain’s Got Ant and Dec’s Idol, ala Apple) or gradual viral growth using devious silky online marketing assasins.

Skype is a good example of the latter. Every time I login to my account it tells me that Skype has infected a billion more people, upping my chances of a plasterer from Albania random calling me using the name Sexy_sex99 and trying to chat dirty with me before stealing all my personal information. Skype is a technology that people really need, free phone calls straight from a computer. Hell, my dad even uses it and he thought he had to take his handset into Boots to get his pictures developed. Fact.

So surely Skype on mobile is a natural transition and something which will burn brightly amongst the masses? The marketing people would certainly like you to believe this, free phone calls, your contact list on your mobile, even free IM if Skype Chat can be used, but will the balding man with body odour who bags fruit in Budgens use it?

Weeellll, no, not yet. Firstly it’s not free, that’s actually a marketing bullshitism and whilst those lovely chaps at Skype don’t put their hands directly into your pocket, the operators will mug you with varying degrees of seriousness depending on what data plan you are on. Bugger. That means when I tell my dad that it’s free and all part of a brave new social mobile web, where your class and financial standing mean nothing, he will then ask me what the catch is, and the catch is that you have to pay. To make phone calls. Anyone heard this one before? Imagine in the good old days of dial up asking people to use Skype whilst clocking and charging for every precious MB used. Now imagine this on the antique data packages that most normobs have, expensive.

Secondly my old man has to navigate away from his usual favourite mobile haunts, the phonebook and the text messagey bit, to use it. That’s like asking Paris Hilton to spend a month living with the bears. Never going to happen. The 3 Skypephone addressed this a bit by having that MASSIVE BUTTON SAYING SKYPE – but even that still launches a scary looking application screen that would have signified to my dad that a hacker was breaking directly into his phone and using it to launch Nukes against the civilised world. An exagerration, but you get my point.

I think the answer is that it will take time. The early adopters on the train are one target audience, but to get scores of Daily Mail reading, marmalade eating normobs using Skype mobile needs two things, cheap data and the ease of use of a rock. You never know, give it time and I mightjust get a Skype mobile call from my old man. Hopefully not trying to talk sexytime and then steal all my bank details.

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