porting: The big barrier to entry ..

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The goal of the OpenGardens blog is to discuss channels to market. And currently the marketplace is very fragmented. I found this article fascinating. It shows how fragmented the marketplace is -and how costly it is to get critical mass.

Sameer Bhatia says:

First the potential

• In China, there are 300 million mobile subscribers; this is expected to grow to 500 million within the next two years;

• Carriers such as Sprint and Vodafone report that mobile games and other data services now account for roughly 10 percent of their annual revenues;

• Industry consulting firm Ovum notes that there are now more than 450 million Java-enabled handsets globally, in addition to the 38 million and 15 million BREW- and Symbian-enabled handsets;

• Mobile-game publishers racked up $1.2 billion in global sales in 2004 and expect an even stronger year in 2005 as more and more consumers discover the tiny gaming consoles already in their pockets.

BUT then the pitfalls ..

When a mobile game is developed, it is made for one or two key handsets. In order to get that game to work on any other cell phone, the game has to be ported – adapted to work – on each and every other handset in the market. As the absolute number and type of handsets in the market grows almost exponentially, one can imagine the large-scale problem that game publishers face. The problem of disparate handset specifications is further compounded by different operating systems and programming languages, the most common of which are J2ME and BREW. The result? An overwhelming problem that renders a mobile game useless until it can work on the vast majority of handsets in the market.

Game porting generally requires developers to adapt to differences in screen resolution, processor speed, memory thresholds, and sound capabilities, all of which can vary wildly from device to device. For publishers, this can not only exponentially increase game development and asset creation time, but can also cause them to miss critical time-to-market windows in a hyper-competitive industry.

As an example, imagine that you are a mid-sized game publisher with 30 games in your portfolio. To make your games available worldwide in five languages and on only 50 devices, you would need to create 7,500 different builds. At $2,500 per build, you would require a budget of nearly $19 million simply to handle porting. Spending the money to get the ports done is normally not an issue for most publishers – a successful game will easily make them money. However, finding the time and resources to develop all of these ports is major problem.

I have heard the same feedback from many developers. Porting increases cost base BIG TIME!. But you need to port to reach a large sector of the market

This, sadly – is why I am not so optimistic about single player games. Granted that some branded games are making money – but most players are not. But very few will admit it!

source: mobenta/Sameer Bhatia

Image source: HERE

cellspotting – what a wonderful idea

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This may be the only ‘workable’ location based service I have seen.

Its simple and organic

Saw it on Paul Golding’s weblog HERE

from cellspotting.comThis is what you can use it for:

- Find the name and location information about a place you are at.

- Track your Cellspotting friends, You can find the whereabout of your Cellspotting friends.

- Find the distance and direction to spotted cells!

How do I use it:

Download the Cellspotting Client into your cellphone, (currently Nokia Series60, see Software section). Run the Cellspotting client, select the “Go Cellspotting” menu choice and it will connect to and query the CellSpotting Database. Hopefully the cell is already known and you can get some useful information back. The connection can be dial up or preferably gprs. If you stumble across an unknown cell you become a cell “Discoverer” and can help give additional information about the location!. This way you can help other CellSpotting users when they come to your home town!

and ..

How CellSpotting works:

First some mobile network basics.

A mobile phone is a radio device, when turned on, it is in contact with a “cell”. A cell is the smallest geographic area covered by a base station in the mobile network. The size of a cell can be from 100 meters in urban areas up to a few kilometers in rural areas. Each cell can be identified by a number, the “cellid”. Cells are also grouped into areas and the cells and areas are operated by a Mobile Operator. The cellid,area and operator is known by the mobile phone, and can be read using special applications from many mobile phones. The idea with CellSpotting.com is to read the Cellid information from the phone, use it as a “key” to look up the geographic location of the phone. If the cell is not known to the CellSpotting server then the user can assist, and help to provide with geographic information, it can can be a street address or some other information regarding the location of the cell. Is the cellid really unique, what about areas and operators? True, the Cellid is a number and is only unique within an Area, but together with the areaid and the network code, they form a 3 part key and can uniquely identify the cell.

OpenGardens manifesto: Part two

Following on from OpenGardens Manifesto : Part One Here is part two

Before we start discussing the impact of OpenGardens, lets first see what do we mean by the terms ‘walled gardens’ and ‘OpenGardens’.

Walled Gardens

What is a walled garden? What are the ‘bricks in the wall’ i.e. the elements that make up a walled garden?

A walled garden is any mechanism for a provider (not just a Mobile operator) to restrict the user experience by confining the user to a specific region / space as defined by the provider. The rationale is – the user is served better and the service is more profitable for the provider. In an Internet/Mobile environment, this can often take the guise of restricted browsing but has other facets as we see below.

From a developer perspective, a walled garden could mean ‘restricted access’, i.e. – your application in some way cannot access all customers OR the provider’s application has access to some features that you cannot access. These restrictions can be commercial or technical.

Thus, walled gardens can be a set of restrictions created by a provider and placed on users or applications. These are aimed at confining the user to a set of features controlled by the provider.

Walled gardens are not new. One of the best-known instances was the early AOL (www.aol.com). On an extreme case, in the early days, users could not email others outside AOL! (remember this was only about eight years ago). However, the early users liked these restrictions since there was the perception of ‘the big bad world out there’ and AOL was deemed to be a trusted provider. As users matured, they realised that the restrictions were often a hindrance and ultimately, there are lot less restrictions now on AOL. However, even today, AOL users have a different experience of the World Wide Web. It’s debatable if it’s better of not – but it’s certainly different.

In the mobile data industry, walled gardens have been associated with the Mobile Network Operator. The Mobile Network Operator has some elements that lend it considerable power. These include

a) A large customer base

b) Knowledge of the subscriber’s location

c) Billing relationship to the customer and

d) Customer services and marketing reach

There are others especially on the voice side but these elements are critical for data applications. In addition, on the Operator’s portal, the Operator has the ability to control the positioning of the application on the menu, which is yet another ‘Brick in the wall’.

Extending the concept even further – Operators are not the only ones in the walled gardens game. Brands are often in collusion. A friend uses the colourful and insightful expression ‘Elephants mate with elephants’. This means the large content providers of the world may well have done deals with the large Mobile operators leaving little scope for the smaller player. There is already evidence of this with some content deals in Europe. Many in the industry blame the Mobile Operators for creating a walled garden. Walled gardens restrict the potential slew of applications that could be possible if everyone were allowed to create any application and users of a system had total freedom to choose any service inside or outside that system.

The issue of walled gardens first arose with WAP (Wireless access protocol) phones, which are used to “browse” content. It arose due to a specific legal situation with a European Mobile operator who prevented users from changing the default settings on their phone. This means, users always started with a specific WAP site (i.e. home page) as directed by the Mobile Operator and further they could not change the home page itself. While this model was commercially appealing to the Mobile Operator and also the advertisers, it was not conducive to the small developer. A developer successfully appealed against the Mobile operator and won. In retrospect, the whole issue seems irrelevant in the case of WAP – because for various reasons, consumers never used WAP sites in large numbers.

So, do walled gardens exist? While the ‘hardcoded WAP home page’ does not, there are indeed other ways to create restrictions. A true OpenGardens(the philosophical opposite of the walled garden – as we shall see below) ecosystem would exist if ‘all applications had a level playing field’. Where ‘menu positioning’ seems to be the most obvious ‘choke point’, there are other ways to cripple applications belonging to external developers specifically if they are denied equal access to certain resources for example location information.

Finally, as we leave the topic of walled gardens it’s important to remember that even when they do exist – they do not stand the test of time. Coming back to AOL, it appears that walled gardens become irrelevant as the medium matures. We believe this will happen in the Mobile data industry, i.e. it is not possible to predict in advance as to what content/applications a user may want. Not forgetting, of course, that user preferences change over time.

OpenGardens

OpenGardens is the philosophical opposite of a walled garden. The phrase covers more than the ‘on portal/off portal’ issue. Rather, we define OpenGardens as a ‘level playing field’ or a ‘viable ecosystem’ for all providers in the industry.

In the context of the mobile data industry, ‘Openness’ can mean many things

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a) Openness of access for the customer (i.e. the ability to access any content from their Mobile device).

b) Openness of platforms (for example a level playing field for third party applications as compared to the provider’s applications) or

c) ‘Open source’ as defined by http://www.opensource.org/

These three aspects are inter-related. In its ultimate form, this approach can be viewed as ‘API enabling’ a Telecoms network. API (Applications Programming Interface) is the software that enables service provision by the Mobile operator. The external application can make a software call via the published API, thereby creating a ‘plug and play’ ecosystem. The API model is also called by other names such as ‘networked model’, ‘Bazaar model’ or ‘web services model’.

OpenGardens – Not a subsidy model

While OpenGardens leads to a ‘viable ecosystem’ – it is not an altruistic venture. There is a view that Mobile Network Operators should fund emerging content companies/creative media companies developing content for mobile phones. Indeed any investment in this industry is good and the idea thus has some merit.

But .. we don’t believe ‘Beatles to BT’ would work i.e. if the Beatles had been starting out – would they have approached BT(British Telecom i.e. an Operator) to sell their music? What would happen if they did? Would there be a Beatles – in the first place?

‘Beatles to BT’ would produce a flat,corporate ‘anthem’ rather than a vibrant, rich symphony. Thus, we don’t believe that any business entity should be forced to fund(subsidise) another entity.

Running a Mobile network is a business – not a charity. The Operator is in the business of making money – not in altruistic pursuits. Any form of ‘grant’ to emerging companies leads to a dependent companies. Such companies are rarely creative and rarely break free from the mother ship.

So, what’s the right thing to do? Our suggestion is to simply ‘create a viable ecosystem’ i.e. create an ecosystem where a thousand flowers bloom. No one knows which one will succeed but at the outset they need a fertile plot of land. This means doing less. Making technology cheaper. Making partnerships easier to set up. Picking up the ‘Amazon’(www.amazon.com) model of being a ‘marketplace’ (which is not the same as a ‘pipe’).

So, OpenGardens is really nothing more than a ‘level playing field’. Crucially, the revenue and partnership models are such that they benefit all players in the ecosystem.

One would argue – why should the providers create a ‘fair’ ecosystem? Is it in their interest to do so? We say emphatically – ‘yes’!. Look no further than the most important element in the value chain – she who pays the bill – the customer. The customers want more choice. Greater the familiarity with technology, more the aversion to be patronised (AOL being the case in point).

aggregators v.s. operators – pros and cons

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Aggregators are an important channel to market. In some ways, because they reach more than one operator, they can have a wider reach than working with a single operator.

In simplest terms, an aggregator takes applications from more than one developers and distributes it to one or more operators.

I have been looking at aggregators for the next version of OpenGardens and I am discussing the pros and cons of working with an aggregator vs. working with multiple operators.

Conventional wisdom suggests that – an aggregator clearly serves some purpose. In some cases, the operator does not want to speak to developers directly. This means the developer is forced to go through an aggregator

Potentially, anyone could be an aggregator – for example in the games industry, some publishers are both developers and aggregators.

From what I have seen so far, an aggregator performs some or all of these functions

a) Distributing content to one or more operators

b) Distributing content from their own portal

c) Billing and invoicing

d) Packaging and bundling of applications

e) Sometimes testing etc

Even within the content space, most appear to cater for games only. Infospace, Digitalgridges and mforma seem to be content aggregators(perhaps more focussed on games) as opposed to application aggregators

Some companies like bango and end2end are aggregating applications and content

Questions I seek answers to are:

a) What do aggregators do other than the above?

b) Any recommended aggregators?

c) Pros and cons – aggregators vs. operators

d) Why are so many aggregators focussed on gaming?

e) Are there any good application aggregators?

f) Any experiences(good or bad) with aggregators?

Final word .. the whole aggregator model may be a red herring. With mobile search on the rise, I think that’s the way to go(but that’s another blog)!

Image source:

http://www.blytheco.com/images/misc_distribution.jpg

Tomi Ahonen’s crystal ball – 20 years into the future

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My good friend Tomi Ahonen has created this forecast. Makes fascinating reading!. Fascinating stuff. Not much to add really .. enjoy!

Consider 20 year into the past. I should be forecasting mobile telecoms. 20 years ago obviously the mobile phone was not particularly mobile as in personal – the phones were carphones. The batteries were literally the size of briefcases and weighed as much. But consider the IT industry overall. Modems ran at 1,024 or 2,048 bit/s (current 3G modems run 384 kbit/s, WiFi and broadband modems at several Mbit/s). There were no PC digital cameras, no DVD players. Music was shifting from vinyl and c-cassette to music CD. There was no Kazaa, there was no Napster, there were no MP3 players, there was hardly any digital music whatsoever!

And what of the computer? The top line PC in 1985 was what was generally called the “Turbo PC” by IBM, the AT, or the first of the 286 systems with the CPU running at 6 MHz. With 512K RAM, an EGA (640 x 350) standard colour screen, a 20 MB hard drive, and one 5.25″ floppy drive which was really those original FLOPPY diskettes. No mouse, no windows, no internet, no multimedia, no CD drive.

Then there was the “rebel” computer, the Apple Macintosh. The very first Mac was unveiled in 1984 and this introduced the graphical user interface (GUI) ie what then was copied by Microsoft and called Windows. The Mac brought us the mouse and hypertext (allowing us eventually to have HTML based web pages on the internet).

Finally, for all of us “road warriers” 1985 gave us the world’s first laptop computer, by Toshiba. You couldn’t get it here in Europe or in Canada or the USA in 1985 the only country you could buy this weird expensive gadget was in Japan. Check out these specs of the original T1000: 8088 processor at 4.77 MHz and 512K of RAM memory, CGA monochrome display at 640 x 200 (yes a letter-box style display more wide than high), with a total of one 720 kb diskette drive – and NO hard drive. (But it did run 5 hours on one battery charge – the great benefit from not having a hard drive..)

With that in mind, now I was asked to look 20 years into the future. But I was honoured to do so, and did my very best. I decided to break down the forecast into parts, 5 years, 10 years, 15 years and 20 years into the future.

In 2010 the typical mainstream mobile phone will be 3.5G phone with a 5 Megapixel optical zoom cameraphone with WiFi type speeds and built-in TV tuners, and a gigabyte size hard drive (like today’s i-Pods). The smallest phones are the size of a thick credit card. Credit cards merge with the mobile phone. Music and videgaming industries earn more from direct downloads to mobile phones that from sales of CD/DVD/gaming CDs in record stores/video stores. Mobile payments are commonplace for parking, vending machines, public transportation, lotteries, movies.

For 2015, I projected that the typical mobile phone will be the 4G phone. The optical and digital zoom has brought us “spy scopes” and telescope functionality to some cameraphones with 50x zooms and beyond. Speech recognition and synthesis introduces the sentence translator as a regular feature – from any language to any language. At this stage it is still cumbersome as we have to speak the sentences and wait for the translation, so this is not quite the Star Trek “universal translator” concept, but slowly getting there. Our phone will have so much storage ability that we can store every moving image and sound we experience around us for the past 15 minutes, and “rewind” live LIFE, much like today’s PVRs like TiVo and Sky+ can rewind live TV. The small phones are of the size of a large matchbox. Obviously there are no keys on this phone and we don’t hold it to our ear. Those interface matters are resolved.

As to services ten years from now in 2015 all major stores will accept payment by mobile phone, from petrol stations to supermarkets to hotels to convenience stores to restaurants etc. The total money transactions will shift where more money goes through mobile phones than stand-alone credit cards. m-Key applications become popular from our home and office keys being imbedded to our mobile phone, to hotels, car rentals etc issuing our keys directly to the mobile phone. A “virtual secretary” function appears to the phone, which handles accepting incoming calls and messages and we train the digital assistant to handle the calls and messages just like a real person – and the virtual secretatry is so realistic the other person does not know it is only software in our phone. By this time some major newspapers have stopped printing on paper.

By 2020 I forecasted that we get the 4.5G phone with 100 Mbit/s transmission speeds. By now the high end smartphones have built-in video projectors, like used at offices and conferences today to project large screen images. In that way we just place the phone on the table and can view any movie or videocall etc projected at any reasonably white wall. Storage ability is at the terabyte range, meaning that essentially “all recorded music” can be pre-loaded to the phone even before it is sold. The form factor of the smallest phones is a thick postage stamp.

By 2020 the personal secretary function evolves into a personality synthesizer – ie there will be software on my phone, that when you call it, you don’t even know that you did not talk to me, you talked to my phone, which then makes necessary adjustments to my calendar, informs me briefly what was talked about etc. And the translator? by 2020 the bugs are fixed, and we have real-time translation, any language to any language.

By 2020 all payments go directly to the mobile phone account (ie it is the same as our bank account and our credit card account). We pay all relevant payments by mobile phone, from taxes to rents to monthly car payments etc. Most daily newspapers have stopped printing paper versions. Music CDs and movie DVDs are no longer made. And the “free” non-Mobile phone based “old-fashioned” internet has all but vanished.

Finally in 2025 we have the 5G phone. It is totally unfair to call this a phone and it certainly won’t be called that. The form factor is more like a sugar cube or less, can easily be built into a ring for example. People will have these communication devices built into the body, into perhaps a tooth etc., With multi-multi terabyte hard drives these “phones” can ship with all the worlds’ movies, or all the world’s TV shows, or all the worlds’ existing videogames, etc already preloaded, depending on what is your preference of entertainment. And of course mainstream phones come with the top 1000 fave movies, TV shows, videogames AND all existing music preloaded.

Perhaps the best forecast was that 20 years from now I will be 65 years old, and will be able to retire. I forecasted that I’d return to Ottawa in 2025 to celebrate 40 years of cellular telecoms in Canada, and laugh at all the silly predictions I made in 2005.

There is more at my full posting, so please visit the blogsite at www.communities-dominate.blogs.com

And for all you other pundits here at Ecademy, lets hear YOUR thoughts of what will mobile telecoms be like 20 years from now ha-ha

You can see more on his weblog HERE.

skype making inroads into mobile?

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Two news articles today that link skype(and VOIP) to mobile.

Thats good news since it broadens the market!

imode strategy(a good sounce of all things imode and Japanses mobility) says ..

The newest team-up pairs Japan’s Fusion Communications with Skype Technologies. Fusion takes incoming number-based calls and works with Skype’s database to route them to Skype IP telephony subscribers using the 050- prefix, similar to NTT Communications’ Click-2-Connect IP phone service, also using the 050 designation.

and a thread from the mobile apps club by Julian Bond

is about a similar product from ipdrum

I am watching this space with interest

ipdrum does not say a lot but I expect it will be a similar product like Fusion.

Its nice to see this space hotting up!

Do mobile applications have an ROI?

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I am often asked this question – Do mobile apps have an ROI? (return on investment). Coming from a background of large scale consultancy and project management – ROI is a familiar concept to me – but I have rarely seen it been used in the mobile data industry

here is my view on why that’s the case ..

Firstly, ROI is a concept much more applicable to the corporate sector than to the consumer sector. In other words, you can quantify ROI by measuring against an existing cost or some other metric(ideally a ‘hard’ metric based on a numerical value).Even measures like ‘customer satisfaction’ can be quantified

However, the mobile data industry is predominantly(at least currently) based around consumer entertainment. And consumer entertainment has no ROI

In other words, in most cases, the model is ‘product based’ as opposed to ‘project based’. A project based model lends itself much more easily to ROI.

Of course, the notable exception is corporate rollout of a technology(for example RIM Blackberry devices). In that case, we can speak of ROI in terms of increased productivity for the user.

Thus, in general, the mobile data industry has no ROI. IMHO.

Image source: http://www.foundation.uconn.edu

the significance of casual gamers ..

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Earlier this week, I blogged about the lessons we could learn from the mogi mogi game.

One of the unique aspects in the mogi game was the use of casual gamers who complement the hardcore gamers. There is a nice article linked from Tom Hume’s blog which in turn links to scottkim‘s article

Casual game developers tend to be small agile companies that can operate on small budgets. Many are single-person operations, and few have more than ten employees. Development times are rarely more than a few months, and can be as short as a week. Most casual game developers are pursuing a business strategy that includes a mixture of venues. For instance, veteran web game developer Clevermedia, founded in 1995, started by developing its own destination site and making money off ad revenues. As ad revenues started drying up, it shifted toward customizing its games for paying clients. Now Clevermedia offers enhanced versions of its games for paid download. All of these strategies support one another. The web site attracts first-time players and generates ad revenues. Some visitors to the web site go on to purchase downloaded games. The web site acts as a portfolio that attracts companies that want custom games. Other strategies include syndicating games to web sites (yellowbrix.com), charging players a subscription fee (upuzzles.com), and selling games through traditional retail channels. Of course the web is not the only platform for casual games. Gameboy, Palm and PocketPC are big markets, and mobile phone games loom on the horizon as an enormous opportunity. Many casual game developers offer their games on several of these platforms

Some of the principles outlined in this article apply to mobile game development – especially if you are innovative

The channels to market already exist(especially for single player games). Thus, one could start small and evolve from there.

Image source: http://www.searchamateur.com/corkboard/crossword-puzzle-track.jpg

OpenGardens change this manifesto – draft – part 1

As some of you know, Tony Fish and I have been accepted to create a manifesto at changethis. Considering other acceptees include Tom Peters, Seth Godin, Mark Cuban, Amnesty International and Al Gore – we are quite happy

I am syndicating the manifesto here in draft form for any comments feedback

Overview

We first advocated the philosophy of OpenGardens in our book ‘OpenGardens.

In this article, we discuss the philosophy of OpenGardens from the perspective of the mobile data industry. The mobile data industry is primarily concerned with the deployment of applications and content to a consumer audience over a wireless network. In a majority of the cases, that wireless network is managed by the telecoms operator (also known synonymously as the ‘carrier’ or ‘Mobile Network Operator’). Examples of a Mobile Network Operator are Vodafone, Verizon, NTT DoCoMo, T-mobile etc.

For consistency, we will use the phrase ‘Mobile Network Operator’ or ‘Operator’ in this document.

The central idea we are advocating here is – the industry as a whole – should work together to remove walls(both commercial and technical). This will unleash innovation and reduce fragmentation leading to more choice for the customer and increased revenue for all players in the industry.

On first glance, it seems an ‘idealistic’ proposition which could be realised only in the distant future. But it’s not as futuristic as it first sounds. We believe that it’s an idea whose time has come.

Market forces are conspiring with savvy customers to breach arcane revenue models. Inbuilt within the walled gardens argument is the belief that the customer is ‘dumb’(docile/resistant to change/ill informed about choices). In reality, the customer has a choice and she will take it – whether the industry likes it or not!

There are three reasons why OpenGardens is the ideal model for the industry:

a) With the rapidly changing competitive landscape, customers have a choice and customers will take the best option. In other words, OpenGardens will happen anyway.

b) The mobile device is ideally placed to become the focal point of digital convergence. The more open the industry is – the more it can benefit from the emergence of digital convergence.

c) OpenGardens overcomes the problem of fragmentation in the industry leading to more services, greater innovation, happier customers and increased revenue for all players in the industry.

It’s later than we think ..

On the surface, the industry seems structured, regimented and sometimes arcane. But, the tectonic plates are shifting. It’s later than we think.

Ironically, change is perhaps more visible and urgent in a relatively isolated country – than it is for us in mainland Europe.

Take the case of Greenland. With a landmass more than three times the size of Texas, two thirds of the country is permanently frozen. One look at the map below shows that settlements are based only around the coasts – with hostile terrain separating the cities. The entire population is only around 50,000 people!

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source: http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/gl.html

The sheer size and a relatively low population spread over a geographically hostile terrain – means that operator has a tough job on their hand in building and maintaining the infrastructure.

Everything in Greenland is costly(and house prices are comparable to London because its so expensive to build – i.e. all components have to shipped in). But try telling the telecom customers to accept higher prices! As everywhere else, the increasing use of VOIP(Voice over IP) is chipping into voice revenue. There is a strong push for flat rate data charges – which are being resisted (in a losing battle). Customers want more for less .. in a place where clearly the infrastructure is very expensive.

Note that, one can perfectly sympathise with the mobile operator’s predicament. But sympathy does not equate to commercial reality. The only choice is to evolve, embrace the new and profit from it.

Here is another sign of change – from a warmer climate(Barcelona – Spain). On May 23,2005 the mobile content direct to consumer conference was held in hotel Hilton in Barcelona. Presenters included among others – Disney and Vodafone. It’s indicative of interest among content providers for reaching the customer directly. Thus, OpenGardens is already happening.