160 Characters


I have to admit that I'm a bit guilty of thinking too far ahead when it comes to mobiles. Right now the sweet spot for next generation mobile phones is not anywhere near the smart phones that I'm focusing on, but really its closer to what I call Multimedia Mobiles which are roughly defined as phones with color screens, Java, polyphonic ringtones, WAP 1.2 and the ability to send/receive MMS. Maybe not even that high - but just phones that are SMS friendly, really - in the U.S. even that basic capability is pretty new.

The fact is, these types of phones for most of the population are really the cutting edge. Even if you have a Nokia 3650 which is a much more advanced phone, both Nokia and the telecoms aren't marketing it as such. To most people having a color phone that plays some fun games and sounds like Britney Spears when they get a call is more than they'll ever wish for. Sending MMS for these folks is just too complex and won't happen until there's lots of marketing and education campaigns. Seriously.

So I'm a guilty of looking too-far forward to higher-bandwidth and more pumped up mobile devices, when there's *so much* opportunity for more basic mobile services. And when I say that, what I'm really talking about is SMS. Though sending/receiving 160 characters doesn't excite me all that much nowadays maybe that's because I've been doing it daily for the past 3.5 years. Back in 2000 when I arrived in Europe I was pretty gee-whiz about the ability to send and receive little messages to and from everyone I knew instantly. It's important to remember that this sort of thing is still a pretty new experience to most people.

A perusal on Textually.org this morning shows two important stories from this weekend which brought all this to mind. The first is that Americans sent 1 billion text messages in June, 2003. Yeah, baby! We're coming up to speed on this mobile stuff finally! And today this blurb:

The SMS Gold Rush

The mobile content gold rush is far from over. 10% of Europe?s SMS traffic now comes from value-added services and content such as ringtones, quizzes and mobile chat. The opportunities are there, the infrastructure is in place and mobile users are willing to pay for content, according to startups.co.uk.

"The European market for ringtones alone is estimated to be worth over 1billion euros per year. So what does it take to make money from SMS? Craig Barrack, UK country manager for Netsize explains some of the dos and don?ts of launching a successful SMS service".

It there's still opportunity in Europe, then there's bound to be massive amounts of opportunities in the U.S. right now, if even just to duplicate services which are commonplace in Europe. I think that many people's original assumption that we were going to "skip over" SMSing is just wrong. (Well, I don't know about "many people" but that's sorta what I thought. :-)) SMS has unique attributes which speed adoption that no other technology right now offers: It's easy to use and relatively cheap. The fact that the U.S. is starting to send SMS messages in the billions right now shows that the technology isn't going to be bypassed.

Even though there's more and more neat services out there like TextAmerica for moblogging and the like, and SMS competitors like Danger's hiptop and Java chat, the percentage of users that will utilize something like these more advanced services really aren't anywhere *near* the number of users who will be interested in more basic capabilities like SMS messages, ringtones and alerts. I'm not actually *in* the U.S. right now to see it for myself, but until you're watching late night TV and every third commercial is for a new ring tone or SMS dating service, there's a lot more room to grow.

Anyways, I'm just pointing out the fact that there *is* in fact opportunity in this space. I don't think I would want to try to start offering SMS message services right now, maybe just because I sorta think they're boring. 160 characters just doesn't jazz me like streaming mobile multimedia or something like that. But I think the lesson is not to over estimate the pace that non-cutting edge people will move to new technology. I guess like everything in life, timing is everything in this regards...


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