We recently researched and authored an extensive research paper on the subject of active idle screens; that is, the technology that turns the ‘front page’ of the phone into an ‘active’ real-estate for discovering, searching, promoting and advertising services. I expect the market value of this real-estate to rise very quickly. Why ? Put simply, the idle screen is the start and end of each and every user journey and as such is the prime inventory in the phone. This is uncharted and relatively virgin territory for mobile operators, manufacturers, content providers and newcomer advertisers who are keen to exploit the 1-billion-a-year piece of a real-estate that is more personal than most other consumer electronics toys. Active idle screens (AIS) is a busy market, too. Some 15 vendors are now offering AIS solutions, deployed by over 10 mobile operators to date, with Alltel, Orange, T-Mobile US and Vimpelcom being behind the most innovative and aggressive deployments.
The research paper, Activating the Idle Screen: Uncharted Territory was commissioned and published by Informa Telecoms & Media at last month’s Handsets World conference. Before I dig into the findings of the research, here’s some more teasers. Over 1.5 months, George Voulgaris and I interviewed nearly 20 companies: Abaxia, Acrodea, Aditon, Adobe, Amobee, Celltick, Ikivo, IntroMobile, Motorola, Nokia, Onskreen, Openwave, Orange, Qualcomm, Tegic, Webwag, and Zi Corp. Our favourites? Finding out about Nokia’s Ad Connector (Nokia’s big push into advertising) as well as Alltel’s Celltop, and T-Mobile’s MyFaves (the most innovative uses of handset customisation by operators today). Next are some excerpts from this research paper – you can download the full paper here.
Why the Idle Screen ?
“The idle screen is the starting and finishing point for all tasks associated with a mobile phone; whether making a call, sending a text, checking to see if a voicemail has arrived or downloading a ringtone, the idle screen precedes and concludes the user journey involved in performing each task. As a result, the idle screen has two important properties. Firstly, it is the application within the handset that is visible most often or that is active for the vast majority of the handset s lifetime. Secondly, the idle screen is the least intrusive medium on the handset for presenting informational or promotional messages. As a result, the idle screen has been widely used by mobile operators and handset manufacturers to provide branding elements and static links to mobile services, such as a WAP portal.
However, the idle screen need not necessarily be static; In fact, adding interactivity elements into idle screen makes it anything but idle. Indeed, active idle screen solutions can address three real challenges that mobile services and handsets are currently facing, namely:
– Handset complexity and featuritis which impacts the ease of use of handsets
– Poor access and discovery of mobile services, due to the long click-distances associated with the location of these services.
– Inadequate means for service promotion and advertisement”
Some history: the idle screen past and present
“The active idle screen market has come a long way in the last few years. The market has been led by Abaxia in 2002 and IntroMobile in 2004 who deployed handset-based AIS with operators Orange and SKT respectively. Zi s Qix and Qualcomm s uiOne products were announced in 2005, but only achieved customer wins with idle screen products in 2007. In early 2006, SCREEN3 was first shipped as part of Motorola handsets and later in the year Onskreen secured a deployment with operator Airtel in India. In the SIM-based active idle screen market, Celltick first launched its LiveScreen Media solution with Hutch India in 2002.
2007 is clearly the year when a wave of vendor announcements have hallmarked the establishment of the active idle screen market. Aditon U-Daily, Adobe Flash Home, Nokia Advertising Connector, MobiComp s ActiveTicker, Openwave Mobile Widgets, Tegic T9 Discovery Tool and Webwag s Mobifindit and Mobidgets were all announced in early 2007.”
The vendor shoot-out
“There are nearly 15 software vendors today who specialise in active idle screen solutions; Abaxia Mobile Desktop, Aditon U-Daily, Adobe Flash Home, Celltick LiveScreen Media, IntroMobile IntroPad, Nokia Ad Connector, Onskreen Fusion, Openwave Mobile Widgets, Qualcomm uiOne (on idle screen), Tegic T9 Discovery Tool, Webwag Mobifindit / Mobidgets and Zi Qix. Access Netfront Dynamic Menu and MobiComp s Active Ticker are further AIS solutions. Last but not least, Amobee produces the Handset API (HAPI) SDK for insertion of interstitial and banner advertisements into handset applications, including the idle screen.”
The next table taken from the report compares AIS solutions in terms of deployment track record and features (platform, access method, and promotion capabilities). Each one of these vendors is reviewed in detail in the paper. In this environment it is important to understand the boundaries of the AIS solution space, i.e. which purposes it is best suited for and which it does not address. To accomplish this, it is important to establish a frame of reference across other customisation solutions, namely on-device portals, AIS and skinning solutions, and ascertain what are the defining traits and distinguishing characteristics of each solution space, and last but not least, the points of parity between them.Very few software vendors cover more than one solution space. For example, uiOne can be used to implement deep skinning, on-device store-fronts or idle screen-based promotion solutions. A few on-device portal vendors offer idle screen replacement capabilities, most notably mPortal, whose Springboard ODP client sits on the idle screen of Disney Mobile handsets and Cibenix who had launched an idle screen-based dashboard on some handsets launched by operator ONE in Austria.”
The next table compares and contrasts the use cases, revenue sources, technology and other distinguishing characteristics of three approaches: Active Idle Screens vs On-Device Portals vs Themes & Skins.
“To date, Alltel, Vodafone Germany, Orange UK, SKT, T-Mobile US, TMN Portugal and Vimpelcom have deployed some form of AIS products. Of these deployments, it is worth crediting Orange with the highest number of handset shipments with embedded clients, Vimpelcom with the highest number of deployed on-SIM clients, Alltel with the most personalisable active idle screen product and T-Mobile US with the first AIS product designed to boost voice ARPU.”
See the research paper for case studies of seven active idle screen product deployments, namely Alltel Celltop, Motorola SCREEN3, Orange Homescreen, S60 Active Idle, SKT 1mm, T-Mobile MyFaves and Vodafone Live! Cast. These case studies cover both manufacturer and operator led AIS deployments, spanning North American, European and Korean markets.
The challenges ahead
“Despite the flurry of announcements, AIS products are still part of a nascent market, both in terms of technology maturity and the commercial route to market. There are four fundamental challenges all AIS products will have to address:
– Idle screen replacement requires integration of the AIS software with tens of relatively inaccessible APIs (application programming interfaces) which are only available to third parties subject to manufacturer approval. This implies that the AIS technology is mostly accessible to companies with strong relationships with handset and operating system vendors.
– Deployment remains a challenge for all handset applications. As such AIS solutions will rely on operator backing or manufacturer consent in order to secure distribution volumes.
– Any form of pre-sales handset customisation can easily impact the time-to-market. Since active idle screen products imply significant modifications to handset software, AIS solutions have to constantly trade-off the scope of customisation against the time-to-customise.
– The idle screen represents the cardinal touch point of the end user with the handset manufacturer brand. As such, handset OEMs are particularly wary of the risk of brand dilution and third party control points that can devalue their business proposition.”
“As for the future, there is no doubt that the idle screen represents the primary real-estate for service search and promotion. It lies at the confluence of mobile operators, handset manufacturers and media publishers. Within such highly prized territory, it is clear that plenty of opportunities exist, but execution will be challenged by many turf wars. The commercial solutions that will be most successful will be those that reconcile manufacturer interests with those of operators and extend into service providers and media publishers for lucrative revenue share agreements. Moreover, unlike on-device portals, the idle screen will also be used to increase voice ARPU, rather than pure data or advertising revenue.”