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The great killer app enigma

Posted: 17 Nov 2003 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:camera phone? killer app? consumer disappointment? 2.5g phone? 4g technology?

Malcolm Penn berates the mobile phone industry's shortcomings in providing quality products and services to consumers.

Malcolm Penn is CEO of industry analyst Future Horizons.
With the semiconductor market still gripped in recession, all the talk is focused on the next "silver bullets" - the applications that will provide the fuel for market growth. At the beginning of this year, you may recall, much of the hope (hype?) centered on the latest generation 2.5G multimedia camera phones, using the latest packet-switching GPRS technology bootstrapped onto the existing GSM network.

Many of the handsets had attractive housings and thus, were especially appealing to the fashion-conscious consumer. With TV advertisements showing people from all walks of life receiving pictures snapped and sent by fun-loving friends in remote places, camera phones seemed the next best thing to being there. Sales took off like a rocketship.

Enter reality. There was no interoperability among service providers; sometimes, the models themselves had to be identical for successful transmission.

Worse still, there were no intercountry roaming agreements (one of the key factors that made GSM the world's largest network), so if you were abroad and wanted to send a picture back home - a blindingly obvious, seemingly tailor-made application for photo messaging - you were promptly denied access to the network.

Soon, consumers had discovered that while taking a picture with a cellphone was easy enough, sending the image was another matter entirely. In most cases, the process was far from intuitive at the handset level; even the network setup and registration procedures were complex.

Lousy handset software, lack of simple instructions and non-existent interoperability proved the kiss of death for what ought to have been a booming market.

Had it had all worked as advertised, by now, at $0.60 a picture, network providers would have been rolling in revenues, handset makers struggling to keep up with demand, handset subsidies cut to the bone and the semiconductor industry building chips as if there was no tomorrow.

I've picked on the camera phone, but the message goes much deeper. Today's consumer is fed up with poorly executed technology that promises the world and falls well short on delivery. There's a host of killer-app candidates, but they are dead in the water without plug-and-play.

Then again, why bother to fix today's 2.5G problems? After all, the first rumblings of 4G are already on the horizon.

- Malcolm Penn

Chief Executive Officer

Future Horizons

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