If you were at 3GSM a couple of weeks ago, you would have noticed that the term ODP has become quite widely used. Unlike other unfortunate terms (3G or user experience), on-device portals are used to signify something quite specific and meaningful: the use of specialised device software to deliver portal content and store-front capability (hint: it’s not the browser).
ODPs excel compared to WAP browsers on several counts: caching content for zero-wait browsing, integration with handset capabilities and functions (such as graphics and messaging), reducing the click-distance to content, and streamlining content purchasing. On-device portals address the need for increased data revenues not through bigger pipes (read: 3G) or bigger content (read: $20M-content deals), but by improving the user experience in content browsing and purchasing. Content may be king, but the user experience is queen as the mobile industry is finding out.
However, the ODP space is literally crammed today. I can count 30 providers of ODP client or client-server products today: Access Netfront Dynamic Menu, Action Engine (still around?), Adobe (FlashCast), Airmedia, Cibenix, Communology (mobile catalogue), Comverse, Crisp Wireless (mLogic platform), Everypoint, Geniem (MediaCast and Superstore), Handmark (Pocket Express), InFusio (nMap), ITfinitiny (2Go), mPortal, MobiComp, Mobinex, Nellymoser (ASAO platform), Nokia (Content Discoverer), Opera Platform, Qualcomm (uiOne), Reporo, RefreshMobile (Mobizines), Streamezzo, SurfKitchen (SurfKit series), Tricastmedia (TWUIK), U-Turn, Volantis (BuzzCast), weComm (wave), Yahoo! Go and UIActive.
What a crowded market this is ! If you are an operator shopping for an ODP solution, you can go very far for your money (if you know where to look that is, and this list is certainly a good starting point).
So how do ODP vendors differentiate ? Every angle in the book of the-hitchhikers-guide-to-routes-to-market has been tried. You have regional plays (MobiComp in Turkey and Onskreen in India), mobile operator propositions (SurfKitchen, Cibenix, and Comverse), content provider D2C propositions (Refresh Mobile and Nellymoser), MVNO plays (mPortal) and real-time video or data (Streamezzo and Everypoint).
With maturity comes wisdom. Most ODP players now realise that they are just offering another content distribution channel (albeit an appealing one), and that value lies on how you integrate handset functionality and personalise the content served. Operator Optus in Australia for example has customised the uiActive client to integrate messaging, presence information and location awareness, serving different content based on the user’s location.
More interestingly a nearby value area is emerging; not just selling content, but discovering content through the handset home screen.
Introducing Desktop UIs
There are a few players in this space which I ‘d call Desktop UI, and it’s heating up pretty quickly. Abaxia’s Mobile portal, Celltick’s LiveScreen and Zi’s Qix are the incumbent desktop UI products, helping the user (and the operator) discover handset features and operator services from the idle screen. But as of the last 3GSM, you can add several more products to this list: Abaxia and Tegic separately announced solutions for finding content and features from the home screen through T9-ish predictive matching (much like Qix). Then you have Korean IntroMobile’s IntroPad, Vocel, Aditon (a PA Consulting spinoff that shows adds on your mobile) and of course FlashHome, the reincarnation of FlashCast with home screen replacement features. You can naturally add the usual suspects to this list – ODP players who also provide homescreen replacement features (Cibenix, SurfKitchen, uiOne, MobiComp, et al).
What’s important to understand is that Desktop UI products are fundamentally different to ODPs. DUIs are technically complex (hint: handsets are not designed to have their home screen replaced, because OEMs did not think that was a good idea in the first place). Feature-wise, DUIs are about discovering content, not browsing or selling it. DUIs can also be used to discover common handset functionality (e.g. type R-I-N-G-T from a Qix-like application and you have the options for changing the ringtone or buying a new one. Sames goes for bluetooth, camera.. the list goes on).
Last and certainly not least, DUIs are about controlling the most valuable real-estate that ever has and ever will exist on mobile handsets. It’s the primary shelf space (advertisers call it inventory) that content providers are keen to get their hands on. Inventory is the reason Google paid such a ridiculously large sum of money for YouTube. Naturally, manufacturers are not staying out of the game; Nokia has Active Idle, Motorola has Screen 3 and Sony Ericsson is rumoured to be baking it’s own Screen 3 variant.