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Guest Column

Simplifying the Mobile Messaging Experience - an Integrated Approach

Columnist:
Francisco Kattan
Director of Product Marketing
Openwave

When it comes to messaging these days, the user experience is often a mess. With so many applications launched in silos, users are struggling to figure out how the technology works rather than simply sending messages to anyone they want, whenever they want. Users are forced to understand technical terms like SMS and MMS before they can send a simple message. MMS usage has been unduly constrained by the poor user experience of initial deployments.

This became big news with the launch of photo messaging. Subscribers quickly realized they couldn’t exchange pictures the way they show on TV commercials. New users of the service with the latest camera phone can’t send pictures to users that aren’t in their network and to those with older phones. And it gets worse as value-added services like albums and printing are often difficult to use because they require short codes or email addresses.

With the convergence of the Internet and mobile communications, the use of messaging, mobile data and wireless telecommunications has grown rapidly in the past few years according to industry sources: sales of camera phones rose from 25 million units in 2002 to 88 million units in 2003. And the number of networks deploying MMS has also gained rapid traction, growing from 135 in March 2003 to 210 in March 2004. And with 3G IMS/MMD services on the horizon, there is an increased sense of urgency with regard to improving the user experience.

It’s time to launch services, actually an integrated messaging experience, that works for all subscribers and maximizes the potential of their device.

What is an Integrated Messaging Experience?

An integrated messaging experience improves the user experience. If operators focus on the user experience, subscribers are likely to be happier with the service. Subscribers that remain loyal to your brand help you build bigger communities on your networks. And the more connections you have with your subscribers, the greater their long-term commitment to your service. An integrated messaging experience allows operators to maximize their revenue opportunities by embracing both new and legacy users with a deployment strategy that works.

Accelerate the adoption of new services. Integrated Messaging means improved usability and improved adoption for services like voice messaging, video messaging and push-to-talk while shortening how long it takes for them to become mass-market applications. Integrated messaging allows new users to access services in an intuitive manner that improves the overall service, allows for differentiation and increases brand loyalty.

The solution lies within an intelligent design of new services: choosing a best-of-breed client that allows an intuitive messaging experience, a scalable server that adapts the multimedia content in the best possible way, and compelling applications that will induce people to communicate. Only by combining these three layers together can the operator create an optimal user experience that will result in quicker adoption by the early adopters and their followers. Rather than treating these three elements separately, the operator should consider what the best option is for a customizable and flexible three-tier solution that can allow quick time-to-market and brand differentiation.

Increase revenue and usage from existing mobile messaging applications. Legacy users present another opportunity. The penetration of MMS handsets in Europe today is around 20%, which means that about 80% of the people still own “standard” non-MMS devices. The MMS penetration rate in the US is even lower. For legacy users, an integrated messaging experience means they have access to applications like MMS, Mobile e-mail, and Mobile IM. By allowing legacy users to participate in these services, operators can generate additional revenue.

There is great value in designing services that are backward compatible, allowing the whole customer base to access these services and be part of the messaging community. By providing a user experience that is adequate on legacy devices, operators can charge for delivered content, and accelerate adoption by benefiting from the network effect of a larger community. An added benefit: once legacy users adopt the new service, they will be motivated to purchase the newer devices (e.g., color phones, camera phones, video and 3G handsets, etc.) to enjoy the best possible experience.

Creating an Integrated Messaging Experience

An integrated experience requires three key components:

• An Integrated Messaging Client that eliminates the need for users to know about technology – all they need to do is create a message and send to their friends. The client has the necessary intelligence to send the message using the appropriate bearer (SMS, MMS, or email, for example).

• An integrated IP-based infrastructure based on common components across multiple services (for example – a single directory, a central address book and a unified message store) and superb legacy support to extend new services to all subscribers. Advanced content adaptation is also a critical part of the infrastructure to enable good interoperability between different device types (i.e., different handset models, PCs, PDAs).

• Integrated content and applications that are exposed in the client user interface. For example, a picture messaging service would have an album and printing capability to enable users to save and print their pictures. These services would be available via the client (say as a “print” menu option) so that users don’t have to rely on short codes or email addresses to access these services. Future services, such as blogging, would follow the same approach.

When planning and implementing integrated messaging services, it is key for operators to ensure all bases are covered – from the client, to the server infrastructure to the applications and content. It is important for operators to work with vendors who have experience across all three tiers to offer the best user experience and to accelerate time-to-market.

In the last few years, the Japanese have made this an art, creating compelling integrated messaging services, such as picture messaging, that are broadly adopted. They were successful because they:

Designed handsets that give subscribers a easy transition between text, voice and video services

Implemented IP-based messaging platforms that enabled them to quickly launch new services and re-use backend components for an integrated experience

Partnered with content providers through business models that give content providers incentives to develop the best content for end-users.

Additional Ingredients for Success

When designing integrated messaging solutions, the aim is to create a rich and complete experience for the subscriber. The goal is to encourage the subscriber to use more services while keeping the subscriber engaged with the messaging environment for as long as possible. The way to keep the subscriber engaged is to allow smooth transitions between messaging screens, menus and options.

To achieve this, the system should be as reliable as possible and end-user messages like “Unable to Send Message,” “System Down: Please Try Later” and others, should be eliminated from the operator’s dictionary. The user should not be limited or prevented from trying to communicate in any way, regardless of their activity (e.g., voice, pictures, text, video, etc.). The more the subscriber is engaged with the system, sending and receiving messages, the richer the user experience and the higher the operator’s revenues.

Integrated Messaging Leads to Success

Operators need to make sure that when a consumer adopts a new service (often by buying a new handset), it will always be possible for the new subscriber to communicate with the largest community possible: the 80-95% of current subscribers who own non-MMS, non-3G, non-IP devices. When TELUS Mobility rolled out their photo messaging solution last fall, that is just what they did.

TELUS Mobility Picture Messaging launched in October 2003. By creating a true integrated messaging experience, they made sure the handset, the infrastructure and the applications worked well together. And they also made sure legacy users could participate. Just six weeks after its introduction, TELUS Mobility clients had used Picture Messaging to send more than 250,000 multimedia messages from their wireless camera phones directly to business colleagues, friends and family across Canada and around the globe (http://www.openwave.com/us/openwave_iq/inside_the_wave/2004/may/telus.htm.)

With the future of mobile messaging moving to 3G IMS/MMD, the opportunity to creating an intuitive user experience is even greater. Committing to creating an integrated messaging experience lets operators get ahead of the challenges now before even more services come to market.

About the Author


As director of product marketing, Francisco Kattan oversees Openwave’s worldwide marketing and overall product direction for its Multimedia Messaging Services products. Kattan is instrumental to the successful implementation, design and strategy of next generation MMS-enabled applications that help propel revenue-generation for communication service providers. Prior to Openwave, Kattan held positions at a number of corporations, including Edify and Siemens. With more than 15 years of experience in messaging, telecommunications and CRM, Kattan holds Master of Science degrees in Electrical Engineering and Engineering Management, both from Stanford University.

(9/3/2004)

 


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