business, consumer experience, general communication, social media, technologies

Not everybody’s social

frontline gaps can be costly

The following post amounts to little more than a customer service gripe.  Not much, but a little.

It’s well proven that social media is brilliantly effective at rescuing shaky customer experiences when the patience begins to fray, but should it have to?

Continue reading “Not everybody’s social”


Further afield – NFC still missing?

Further afield
still looking further afield?

Rumours are circulating that the iPhone 5 will not now have NFC (Near Field Communication). It’s a big ‘Stand Down’ message for all those excited by the potential which stood to be unleashed by the new over-the-air medium which revolutionised quick payments on London Underground system. You can almost hear the disappointed groan, like children who’d been promised a rise of pocket money.

It would appear that standardising the medium was more problematic than first imagined. Apple is rumoured to be developing its own NFC standard that will link to iTunes and the 200 million-plus consumers who have registered their credit card information with Apple, but this would still be moot point for regulators.

And it stands to reason.

An O2 press release was issued on 28th November 2007 celebrating the first large scale UK pilot of NFC, in collaboration with Nokia, Transport for London, Visa Europe, Barclaycard, Transys and AEG. That’s a while ago now. And the mobile NFC progress in the UK since that pilot?  Um.. after you Apple, whenever you’re ready guys.

To deploy NFC solutions themselves might be a comparative no-brainer and RFID solutions are already enjoying successful use in field enterprise for tasks such as asset management. But to implement secure standards around them in the consumer market appears rather more complex. Not renowned for grasping technically complicated nettles with added regulatory implications (also see age verification), perhaps the networks have stood off and waited for manufacturers to approach them with something that fits better.

With the news that termination rates for voice calls are set to significantly drop, the attention to monetising data and increasing new revenue streams for mobile is increasingly urgent. That’s despite a theory that NFC has stronger value away from payments and transactions, but in virtual currency too. Surely though, revenue share agreements are still there to be had, the NFC wealth would be shared and ripple through the market.

This widely discussed stalling of NFC for the iPhone 5 could be welcomed by Apple’s rivals – particularly the inexorable Android.  Indeed, closely followed the iPhone 5 rumour was news of Google picking up the NFC baton.  But only in the form of yet another mobile payment pilot test, this one with VeriFone in New York and San Francisco.  Who knows how different this is from the O2, Nokia, TfL pilot of 2007/08?

Testing is all well and good, and perhaps this latest Google effort will lead to something, but more high-level tests aren’t what the industry is looking for.  It’s looking for wide-spread, secure implementation through an iPhone or an Android: a full rollout which will see NFC floodgates finally start to creak ajar.   This is what was hoped for in the iPhone 5, so the failure to deliver presents another disappointment for the wider ecosystem, the agency creatives and those ‘nearly’ men of NFC evangelism (pun intended, sorry).

We were excited in 2007 and we’re still excited now, in 2011. Surely there’s a limit to the false dawns and patience and ifs and buts.

Still, here we are. Sorry son, here’s a fiver and a Bluetooth app. Maybe next year.

consumer experience, regulation, technologies

Unlimited mobile data: RIP

traffic congestionO2 announced the end of unlimited mobile data tariffs and left several breathless towards the end of last week. But it was foreseeable and understandable.

Smartphones and predominantly iPhones are the first devices which have properly sold mobile content to a mass audience. As a result, data traffic has scaled leading to congested pipes and considerable performance issues – although only a fraction of users are said to be responsible for this.  Whenever any resources are limited, however limited they are, tight controls are needed and new measures occasionally need to be introduced.  The upshot is often that prices rise.

As the UK network with original iPhone exclusivity, O2 has had the Apple device in its ranks and taken the strain of its data demands for longer than any other network.  So it come as little surprise that they’re the first to do away with unlimited data.

In explaining the  new tiered system, O2’s Chief Executive, Ronan Dunne, likened it to variable speed limits on motorways which are necessary to ease congestion.

Dunne said that 97 per cent of its five million smartphone customers use less than 500 megabits a month, but the remaining 3 per cent, or 150,000 users, take up 30 per cent of network capacity.

O2, and all mobile network operators, need to equally balance the customer experience of the heavy user, the occasional user and the moderate user, with the investment they’re able to plough into their networks and infrastructure.

The rise of riche, consumer-friendly mobile media, added to an audience fraction with an almost insatiable appetite for data, has led to the end of unlimited tariffs. Most O2 customers will pay between £25 and £35 a month when signing new contracts, but heavy users can expect their deals to double to £60 a month for their present mobile internet use.

This is also a move which indicates the success of mobile content on smartphones. That such steps are necessary, and are likely to be followed by other mobile network operators, reflects well on mobile content providers who are evidently providing a broad range of services consumers want.

For developers and consumers

In the wake of tiered pricing the data requirements of these services – mainly mobile applications found on smartphones – need to be scrutinised in greater depth by both the providers and the consumers.

– What sort of product and service uses most data?
– What elements do I need and what is dispensable?
– Is the video element vital to this app? Is it why our consumers like it or is it merely a nice-to-have add on which most don’t have the patience to use?
– Can my target audience afford to use that data on a regular basis?
– Should we introduce data ‘lite’ and rich versions?

For the networks

iPlayer and iPlayer-like applications used on mobile devices squeeze bandwidth to an extreme, using months of ordinary mobile data consumption in one video play, and hogging network space as they do so.

The mobile networks are not banning this behaviour, but making heavy consumers aware that they will have to pay for the privilege of such consumption, using what are commercially owned and ultimately finite resources.

After helping to nurture a consumer appetite for sophisticated data services, networks should also make efforts to educate less frequent users about data intensive services. A quickly comprehensible and discreet certification system could be employed, visible or flagged upon download, which helps to counter potential consumer paranoia and encourage use from a broader audience.

Networks don’t wish to breed paranoia and fear of using data on their networks. They make money from it. Nor is there anything to be gained by misleading consumers into using more data than necessary – if caps are exceeded, data will continue to be delivered but at a reduced speed.

A world of tiered pricing is a simple necessity due to significant data congestion, the high quality range of mobile content products, and the consumption habits of the hungriest ‘all you can eat’ers.

Tiered data pricing means a step back and a moment to appreciate that resources are often limited. We should breathe easy, decide how much we need, how much we want, how much we’re willing to pay, and eat accordingly. Is that so unreasonable?

consumer experience, regulation, technologies

0870 app breaks into top 5*

(*number 5 in on-device App Store; 6 in iTunes)

Last Friday saw the end of a 429 day wait for Simon Maddox’s 0870 application to be approved by Apple – during which time it’s saved UK-based Android customers over £84,000.

Launched back in January on Android, Simon’s 0870 app converts numbers beginning with 08 — such as 0870, 0845 and 0800 which can cost up to 35p per minute to call, on top of already contracted minutes – into standard rate 01* or 02* numbers, which come out of your allowance, or are cheap on Pay As You Go.

0870 in action, saving cash
0870 in action, saving cash

Download link (opens in iTunes) – or search for 0870 in the App Store

During those 429 days when 0870 knocked humbly, yet persistently on the door to Apple’s magical kingdom, only occasional mumblings were received back, mentioning concerns that it circumvented carrier policies.

There’s speculation, still ongoing, that 0870 was rejected because O2 and BT were troubled by allowing iPhone users to make phone calls to 08* numbers, using subscribers’ existing call allowances. This is despite the fact that the application depends on dynamic access to a database of openly available numbers.

Or perhaps Apple wanted to check, and it took a while to get a definitive answer. But getting a simple yes/no definitive and unified answer out of O2 and BT couldn’t possibly take that long, could it..?

Simon was originally told by O2 and BT wouldn’t be happy with the service, but after further abstract exchanges, it appears they relented. And once this happened, Apple approved the app within hours.

However, Guardian reporting states that O2 denied outright that it was the blocker. So it WAS just sitting in Apple’s queue all the while? The issue is clearly a muddy one. But now thankfully academic.

When it eventually came to launch last Friday, 0870 was propelled by commentary from The Telegraph and The Guardian’s technology blogs, helping it to land a whopping 3,140 downloads by the end of that day alone. The weekend saw it surge up the free apps charts into the top ten, and by Monday morning it had rocketed to number 5. And having slapped some trusty admob advertising onto the app, it’s not without a revenue stream.

It’s also supported on other platforms. Thanks to collaborator, Kieran Gutteridge, 0870 is now also available on Sony Ericsson, Nokia, Samsung, LG and Blackberry devices as a JavaME app.

Known as one of the most talented and amiable chaps on London’s mobile developer scene, patience has certainly been a virtue for Simon, and his understandably glowing jubilance was there for all to see as he delivered a session at Over The Air, a mobile developer conference at Imperial College last Friday. Nobody would begrudge him this success.

Well, apart from O2 and BT perhaps.