I was at the SmartPipes conference in London this week. It had around 100 people attending at its peak, and was a very interesting couple of days.
Unfortunately I missed the morning of the first day, and that meant I didn’t hear Sean Kane (Bebo) speak. Everyone was commenting about his talk as being “a good one” – so I hope the slides my give me some idea of what he covered when they become available.
When I arrived, Nick Hunn of the Mobile Data Associate (and Ezurio now Laird) was being interviewed and was covering the many scenarios in which money could be made when the user isn’t “on the phone”. He presents a vision of how tiny sensors embedded in everyday equipment will send small quantities of data via your phone to various web services on the internet. So for example, weighing scales could auto-update a fitness or weight-watching service that you use, or a door being opened could tell and home-health service that an elderly person is awake and on the move. And so on.
I happen to be a big believer of this vision. With one of my other hats on (Rococo), I’m aware that low-energy Bluetooth will enable consumer devices to run for up to two years on a single button cell battery, beaming wireless updates intermittently (say once a minute) out via your phone to services on the web. And I think there is an incredible range of potential scenarios in which these things can be used for entrtainment, healthcare, and productivity. Perhaps more on this in a later post.back to the conference.
Steve Glagow, Vice President, Orange Partner, was up next. he valiantly outlined how Orange engages with developers and partners, and how they try to get “oxygen” for applications via their WAP portal, and online presence. I say “valiantly” as he was given a reasonably tough time by some of the developers in the audience. In particular, for example, when he covered how Orange picks the 500 “best” apps to push, he was tacked good naturedly about how they are in a position to pick “winners” in the application space, as opposed to letting users decide what they want from thousands of applications, and just rank them in popularity.
Graham Trickey, Head of the One API initiative was up next. If you’re not aware of the One API initiative, it may be worth a look – especially if you’re looking for signs that the Telecom Industry may improve how it can engage with developers and unleash innovation and application-creation at something closer to “internet” speeds. The aim is simple, the execution is complex: create cross-operator standardised APIs for stuff that developers want to use in their apps, such as messaging, billing, location and more.Well woerth a look – and you can get actual APIs to lay with at their site (courtesy of Aepona).
After lunch, there was a very entertaining developer’s panel, and boy, these lads were in the humour for a scrap 🙂 Or to put in more fairly, they’ve been around the block with operators and carriers, twice! On the panel were Phil Mundy of Creative North, Paul Golding of Wireless Wanders, John Holloway of ZingMagic and Tom Montgomery of Mobiun. They had a constructive list (imho) of things they wanted from carriers. One of which was:
Stay out of my way
Anyway – a very interesting discussion that covered payment (both revenue share, and time-to-receive-funds were high on the agenda), distribution (how can I get my app in front of relevant customers, and enough of them for it to be potentially worthwhile), simplicity of user exprience (especially in payment) and time-to-distribution (my phrase, meaning how long will it take to get my app approved and certified and whatever so that people might actually use it). The latter item is one of the things often cited by people that Apple got right with the store: end users know exactly what the price is (no confusion), apps may take several cycles to be approved, but each cycle is short, and the share of revenue is clear and unambiguous.
This is a session that would be worth expanding and repeating again sometime. Alan Quayle did a great job of nudging the conversation along, and keeping it constructive.
Last up were two talks from Erik de Kroon, Head of Marketing for Internet Discovery at Vodafone Group, UK, and Sune Jakobsson from the Open Services Group at Telenor.
The Vodafone pitch covered some details on an announcement from the 12th May about a global initiative to let developers create standard apps for any of their customers worldwide, and to simplify the process of payment and distribution across the board. They sound like they mean it, and indeed, there’s an early access dev centre where you can get some details on what’s what (from a tchnical perspective) right now. If they follow through on this, then indeed it could be a big deal. Fair play.
Lastly was Telenor. These guys are well known as being one of the main innovators when it comes to “openness” and engaging with third party application providers for their customers. The Q&A was both informative and also, in a way, cautious. I took from it that the barriers to following a “smartpipe” strategy for an operator are many and varied, often more political and financial then technical (no surprise there). Always interesting to hear candid background to the thinking around this from an operator-perspective.
End day one. Time for curry.
Day two opened with James Parton, who heads up the Litmus project at O2. Litmus is a fascinating initiative by O2 to become, well, more “porous” with respect to developers. It’s well though through. On the one hand, developers with an app can register and upload an application and associated descriptive details, and select from pro-forma legals for users to click through, in avery short amount of time (like half an hour).The o2 team will then review and approve the application (having checked it’s not malware) within a week. And you’re done! Your app can now be put in front of O2 users.
But which O2 users? Well, O2 are targeting a subset of their UK user base initially. What they call Aspirational Status Seekers (unfortunate acronym, I know! :-). They’re aiming to have many thousands of people signed up over the next few weeks, who will become willing participants in Litmus.
As someone who’s tried the first stages of this (registring an app, describing it, uploading a jar file, selecting some Ts and Cs, and so on) – I think it’s a great idea. It’s easy to use and get started with, and it offers the very attractive proposition of being able to expose your new app to a specific subset of the O2 user base, veru much under your own control. Kudos to O2.
Andrew Bud of the Mobile Entertainment Forum and MBlox, chaired the next panel session. He’s a master at this stuff – I’ve seen him speak before and he’s always very impressive. I don’t always agree with him, but he’s a great man to get in to a gnarly discussion with! 🙂 Anyway – the panel discussion covered payment models, the difficulty of working with developers who want things for free, as well as users who expect things for free, and so on. Very stimulating. Contained the nugget from Andrew that, according to their studies, it costs 1000 times more to send something (data) on mobile, than on fixed. A consequence is, some business models that work on fixed (with ultra low data distribution costs) just won’t work on mobile. There is a fantastic four-hour pub discussion just in that one sentence 🙂 I’m going to email him to see if I can get access to some of that survey data to which he referred.
I then spoke. I had filled in at late notice from someone else, so my talk was written just in time for the event, and adapted from some other material. Anyway it was called “What we want from Smart Pipes”, and I put it up on slideshare here.
The next sessions that caught my attention were Claude Florin’s, who is Multimedia Marketing Manager with HP and Levi Shapiro, who presented some killer data from the US market.
Claude is a very thoughtful guy, with a broad perspective on the industry as you’d expect from someone with his role at HP. I can’t do justice to his presentation in brief, but suffice to say it covered quite a bit of vision across device innovation, and he related device innovation to potential synergies with truly “open” APIs on the network side of things.
Levi had data. Lots and lots of great Nielsen data. He ran through it with some style and panache. And it contained some fascinating couter-intuitive information. Such as? Such as: 25% of all iPhone users in the US are in just two cities (New York and LA). Or, 45% of Blackberry users have their device strictly for personal use. Or – men are significantly more likely to pay for App Store purchases!! Brilliant stuff – get a copy if you can 🙂
On the home straight at this point, Gus Desbarat, Chairman, TheAlloy, moderated a panel disucssion about, well, everything. But the jumping-off point was about what lessons could be learned from the openess of devices. Panel included Kai Leppanen of Opera Software, Cees van Dok, Frog Design, Phil Northam, from Samsung, and me. One thing I took away was that innovative new Android devices (I mean really innovative, taking full advantage of how much of the OS can be customised and tuned to a specific purpose) are most definitely on the way, according to both Gus and Cees (they help companies design these new devices). So perhaps we will see a Gap Phone, or 50Cent phone, or other single-brand phones later this year? Hope so!
They packed a lot in to the two days. Well done to the team at Informa. Look forward to the next one.