Over the past week or so, the most talked about announcement in the global mobile world has been 3’s announcement of the X-Series.
What is the X-Series? Well, it’s a new pricing plan for broadband mobile. It’s new “cutting edge” handsets. And, perhaps most importantly, it’s a bundle of disruptive applications.
Mostly, folks are talking about the pricing plan. 3 isn’t yet saying what the price will be, although speculation is that it will be “just over 10GBP.” By my calculations, that would be around $19 or so. But that’s not the big news. The big news is flat rate data pricing - no usage charges. Others are making a big deal out of the “Open Gardens” approach that 3 is taking - not limiting what subscribers can access. This is in conflict with the approach that 3 has taken in the past - an approach often referred to as a “Walled Garden.” In a walled garden, the mobile operator limits what web content the customer can access through the service in hopes that they can charge a premium for something that others might give away, and by so doing, maintain an overall profitable service.
The problem with this whole discussion is that it’s nothing new. Some carriers already offer flat rate pricing with no usage charges and already less than $20. Some carriers already provide their customers with open access to anything on the web.
Cutting edge handsets are nothing new either. Wait a month and 3’s new handsets will be as dated as everything currently on the market.
No, the real story is the bundling of disruptive applications.
As Oliver Starr notes at MobileCrunch, “…I have NEVER seen an application that was not on a single carrier deck get the kind of massive broad based adoption that would make it a success…” The disruptive apps that 3 has bundled are nothing new - they’ve been freely available to mobile customers for some time.
The problem is that it’s intimidating to find, install, configure, and troubleshoot applications. For almost everyone, it’s just not worth the trouble. Skype, Sling, Orb, eBay, Google, Yahoo, MSN - they’re all really cool capabilities, but that doesn’t mean I want to invest hours trying to find them and get them to work on my device over my service provider. Mobile apps are simply not yet as user friendly and plug and play as the standardized Windows world.
So, maybe 3 really will have a big impact on the mobile industry. But not in the form of a new pricing model (that model already exists). And not in the form of opening the walled garden (access to the web has already opened that wall). In fact, it is specifically the bringing of applications that previously were outside the wall into the garden so folks can actually enjoy them that is breaking new ground.
But, I wouldn’t call this revolutionary. Many of the commentators have referenced 3’s move as “finally taking the Internet mobile.” And that’s really all that it is. These moves are merely an incremental improvement on the fixed web. The applications are nothing different from what already exists on the fixed web.
The real mobile revolution is happening with applications that do things that are impossible with the fixed web. Specifically, applications that leverage contextual information (where am I, who am I with, what’s on my calendar, etc.) create revolutionary value.
Don’t get me wrong - I’m thrilled with the excitement that 3 has generated and the increasing adoption of these applications in a mobile world.
But let’s not take our eye off of driving a true mobility revolution.