The four holy cows of the Mobile Data industry


I am speaking at the O Reilly Web 2.0 expo next week on Mobile Web 2.0. The Web 2.0 expo is well worth attending for all the latest developments about Web 2.0. If you are attending this event, happy to meet up – please email me at ajit.jaokar at You can buy the book at this link Mobile Web 2.0

My views of the Mobile Data Industry are different from those followed by the industry as a whole. Here are four ‘holy cows’ which I think are not so sacrosanct on reflection. Inbuilt in these ideas is the belief that the Mobile Data Industry is a different incarnation of the Internet. So, here are the four principles, which we take for granted today, but are severely limiting the industry.

a) The obsession with Mobile Youth: I have blogged about the belief that Mobile Youth is a fundamentally flawed strategy . Many in the industry will disagree with this. We have been lulled by the success of the Youth downloading ringtones and simple mobile games. So, we assume that a focus on the Youth is the way to go in future. The IPTV industry does not write reports about ‘IPTV youth’, the fixed line industry does not write reports about ‘Fixed line youth’ – but yet, we, with a gollumesque glint in our eyes, we continue to claim a whole demographic when we talk of the idea of ‘Mobile Youth’. Youth ofcourse don’t care – nor do they want to be owned as such. All they want to do is communicate.

Four years ago, they used text messaging. Today, they use MySpace. In both cases, they are communicating – but in the later case, mainly immobile.

Yet, for those who continue to insist about the long term significance of Mobile Youth, here is a question: Is the Web mainly gay? The answer ofcourse is no. However, in the early days of the Web, the gay community was indeed an early adopter to the Web leading to Kara Swisher(author of the book How Steve Case Beat Bill Gates, Nailed the Netheads, and Made Millions in the War for the Web) to say: “The gay community was a godsend for the company(AOL)”

However, as the Web grew, it became pervasive i.e. for everybody for instance, Online dating has shed its stigma as matchmaker for the awkward and a study showed that 12 percent of engaged or married couples met online

Thus, only by addressing everyone(not just the early adopter segment), can the Mobile Data Industry hope to cross the chasm if we apply Geoffrey Moore’s concepts to the Mobile Data Industry

b) User interface(UI) is the key factors for success: Don’t get me wrong – user interface and usability are indeed important but not to the extent that they cripple the ability to communicate. In other words, if you had something which was difficult to use BUT allowed you to communicate with everyone, it will thrive. SMS is clunky to use. But it connects people. It allows people to communicate. So, UI is not as critical as is the ability for us to communicate using a technology. Think about this when you want to create proprietary clients which have a limited user base(and need new users to download that client)

c) Quality of service(QOS) is a critical factor: Well .. Yes and no. Like UI, QOS is important. It is not critical. Under the guise of QOS, we slow the introduction of new services and hope to charge more for emerging services. Worse, when it suits us, there is no guarantee of service as in SMS (let alone the quality of service!) For instance, when we send an SMS, there is no guarantee it will be received (but we will merrily pocket the money for all SMS messages – whether they are received or not). Until Offcom slapped mobile marketers’ collective wrists , TV shows continued to charge people for voting under very dubious circumstances.

d) The Mobile Data Industry is different from the Internet: This one is the most interesting. As an industry, we want to adopt the growth rates of the Internet – but we are unwilling to adopt the ethos of the Internet. There are a few notable exceptions such as Opera, Three, Soonr and Nokia. Consider the case of Nokia. I was recently on a panel with Jari Hämäläinen, Director Strategic Technologies, Multimedia Strategy and Technology – Nokia at the Visiongain’s fixed to mobile convergence conference . In his presentation, Jari said that Nokia chairman Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo believes that Nokia is going to be an Internet company .

This is very interesting for two reasons: Firstly, If Nokia does succeed in truly becoming an Internet company, then the upside in growth is far greater than it is seeing today. Secondly, the assertion that Nokia is an Internet company is an exception rather than the rule in the Mobile Data Industry. (We don’t want to be known as ‘Internet companies’ – Mobile is ‘different’ remember :) )

But, what does this mean for Nokia? I believe it means: putting the customer/services first and allowing the customer to communicate through ANY network they want. In practise, I believe it will mean allowing the customer to use either 3G, WiFi, WiMax, DVB-H etc. That’s a simple but a powerful mind shift. Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo’s profile says that he is interested in political history. If you read history in general, especially the history of the Internet, this makes perfect sense. I am reading a book called The Internet Galaxy by Manuel Castells (thanks Dr Mark Searle for recommending it to me!). First published in 2001, it provides an interesting insight into the culture of the Internet when Manuel Castells says that: The Internet culture is characterised by four layers: The techno meritocratic culture, the hacker culture, the virtual communitarian culture and the entrepreneurial culture and then goes on to say: The culture of the Internet is a culture made up of a technocratic belief in the progress of humans through technology, enacted by communities of hackers thriving on free and open technological creativity, embedded in virtual networks aimed at reinventing society, and materialised by money-driven entrepreneurs into the workings of the new economy

If we understand those last two sentences from Castells(and that’s where I think Nokia or any company which truly defines itself as an Internet company is coming from), then the upside for whoever can tap on to these ideas on the Mobile Internet is truly enormous.

Finally, let us end up where we started – cows! Genetically modified ones to be precise .. The entire science of Genetics was started by Gregor Mendel – an Austrian priest. So, although these views are different from the norm, an outside/different perspective(as per Mendel’s experiments) could enrich the Industry as a whole.

Two final points

a) Although not religious, I am Hindu by birth – so hopefully no one complains about the reference to Holy cows :)

b) Secondly, I am not always critical of the Industry. In this seminal entry Of OpenGardens, Walled Gardens, Tim Wu, Net Neutrality, Carterfone and IMS I advocate against legislation and for cooperation.

Comments welcome as usual. If you are attending the O Reilly Web 2.0 expo next week, don’t forget to attend my talk and email me at ajit.jaokar at if you want to catch up

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  1. Arvind says:

    I think mobile data applications would go in two direction.
    1. Personal Entertainment
    2. Professional / Business usage.
    We are currently focusing on a small subset of (1). With too much emphasis on ringtones, wallpaper etc. And it is going towards Mobile TV, YouTube/Flickr on mobile etc.
    As far as (2) in concerned we would see many interesting applications but they would be as per principle (6)of Web 2.0. They would just provide one more view of data. Also as mentioned by you they would also create data. But this data would be more of photographic, audio or video then plain text. As typing a 2000 letter blog on mobile is one which people would not love to write. For example, it could be used in places where para-medics can send live condition of patients to doctor in hospital and would take help from the doctor.
    I hope my comments are in context as I am new commer to this blog/web2.0/mobile web 2.0

  2. saran says:

    One more factor I like to add here…
    Mobile industry doesn’t have the Internet ‘Buzz’ factor. The total investment of web 2.0 products is around 600M, (I didn’t include youtbe here). But the Buzz factor is enormous.
    Kind regards