I was messing with my Virgin Mobile Flasher phone this evening and as I was browsing around their (essentially useless) VXL WAP2 walled-garden, I realized I could email myself a URL using OpenWave's built-in browser. Virgin is smart enough to block off outside access to their main home page, but the *MTV and Comedy Central mobile minisites are happily wide open.
There's lots to learn here. First, this phone is a $150 pre-pay phone. Though it's top-end in terms of pre-pay phones, it's not out of reach for many consumers and is a nice phone with a camera, email support and a XHTML-MP capable minibrowser. This to me signals, once again, that you shouldn't be thinking about WML any more for new mobile services. It's dead and gone. It always comes up when talking about new services because there are still so many WML phones out there, but forget about it. It's dead.
Okay, as I've bitched about before, Virgin Mobile runs behind a walled garden. I've complained to them in email and here's what they wrote back:
Thanks for your email and for giving us the opportunity to answer your Virgin Mobile question. Unfortunately, we do not offer full WAP access at this time. However, we're always looking for ways to give you more of what you want. Your comments and suggestions are very valuable to us and we welcome them. We are quite flexible and are constantly looking for ways to improve, so we appreciate you taking the time to contact us.
Hope this email was helpful. If you have any other questions or would like more info, remember we're available 24/7 for all your Virgin Mobile At Your Service needs!
Virgin Mobile USA
I think there should be a national campaign for Virgin Mobile to open up their walled-garden, but that's just me.
Okay, so Virgin's VXL home page is pretty scarce, which is a shame since browsing on CDMA2000 1x is a pretty reasonable experience. Basically, all VirginMobile wants to do right now is to sell graphics, ringtones and induce you to send more text messages. How short-sighted can they possibly be when it comes to mobile data services? Even if they kept their walled garden, there's no content on the site! There's no news or even sports. How many kids in the Virgin demographic want to know the sports scores, etc.? Boost mobile is *much* more aware of these opportunities with their 25 cents a day mobile access charge and decent content on the back end. Small charge, but I'm sure they're making a ton from it: If someone uses the browser every other day for a month, that's an extra $3.75 in revenue for Boost. Seems a no-brainer to me.
Now MTV and Comedy Central (they're both Viacomm properties, right?) have prime screen real estate on these phones, but are also missing out on tons of opportunities. I mean, really, where's the freakin' content?!?! Where's the mobile apps? They could be doing so much more with their minisites. I can think of 50 things to put on their sites without trying.
Not only are they not providing any real content, this wallpaper in particular struck me as insanely expensive. $1.50 for a 2kb GIF?!!? That's unreal. I copied the images above from the *MTV site (I have *no* idea who those kids are in the images at the top, by the way) - I can't believe they would want so much money just for the privilege of having it on my phone.
I find it very amusing that web-access to their mobile site is so open, yet MTV has gone to great lengths to put SAMPLE across the thumbnails on this page. Morons. I mean, really, if you're going to create artificial scarcity and over-charge like crazy for some ridiculous piece of fluff you need to remember to wall that stuff off, no? Honestly, I have a hard time believing that there are enough kids out there that will pay $1.50 for dumb-ass graphics like this to make it worth while, and I find it harder to believe that anyone with this phone hasn't already found these URLs as well. I mean, come on. The kids are more hip with technology than anyone... did Viacomm forget that?
Anyways, I see lots of lost opportunities here. Why? Because neither Virgin nor Viacomm respect the mobile web yet. There's lots of companies out there in the same boat, I think. They got burned by the WAP hype of a few years ago, and now they're just not paying attention to shifting technologies.
I guess it's a great vacuum that entrepeneurs can race to fill...
P.S. Looks like Virgin Mobile USA is getting closer to an IPO (WSJ, available for 7 days). Pretty neat.