Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Second day at CTIA

The second day of CTIA is usually the busy one. The day nobody misses (some come late, most leave early). However, it was still slow, like yesterday... When the door opened this morning, there were few dozen people waiting, not the hundreds of 3GSM. Being CTIA, I would rethink having the show here again in 2009...

The other buzz of the show, together with mobile advertising, is mobile payments. Visa said that it would become an investor in dotMobi and that it was working with Qualcomm to create phones that allow you to swipe the phone, instead of your credit card. They added that Kyocera agreed to support the Visa mobile payments platform on its phones. Yesterday, at&t announced that its customers will be allowed to manage bills and bank accounts through their service.

Mobile payments have been a success in Japan, as many other technologies that never saw the light outside Tokyo. This one, though, has the numbers to be a great success also in the US. Fast food chains are trying to find a way to move out of cash transactions. Not everybody has a credit card, but everybody has a phone. Link it to your phone bill (postpaid or prepaid) and you have millions walking around with a debit card in their pocket.

The issue: you can put the chip in the phone but you also need a reader in the shop... Apart of some original but bizarre ideas (like using the infrared chip on the device to simulate the swiping of the card on the reader), I have not seen anything practical that would not require all the shops on the planet to change their card readers (or add a wireless one). That will require time. We are talking years, not months. But it is going to happen and it will be a huge market.

Another trend (but not really a buzz) is that device manufacturers are adding Yahoo or Google in their phones. LG announced they will have some phones with the Google apps (search, maps, email) pre-installed. Nothing crazy, but it would not require you to download anything, which is great for consumers.

Few problems here (sorry to turn everything down):
1. At least in the US, the carrier will took the apps off. Sorry, they control the market here, not the device manufacturer (unless you are Apple, of course). They want their brand to be visible to the consumer, not Google or Yahoo.
2. You still have to configure the application on the device. I know it is easy on a PC, but typing an email address (the @ symbol in particular) is an unsurmountable obstacle for many.
3. If you are not a Google user, or if you have more than one email address (for example, if you have a job...), you will need something else. Luckily, I am seeing the device manufacturers adding support for open standards as well. That is the way to go. We just need to force Google to provide open standard support for devices. That will happen, let's just keep pushing. We have enough proprietary email standards in mobile and they are not what the world is needing and asking for (nor the carriers...)

That's it for me at CTIA. I am flying out tomorrow at dawn. Unfortunately, I am going to miss the Clinton/Bush keynote, which is probably the only reason for many to stay. Too bad. I'll check it on YouTube tomorrow on my PC. But not on my cell phone: yep, the buzz for mobile TV is dramatically diminishing, the mobiTV booth was in the furthest corner of the show and always deserted. Apparently, it is uncool to talk about something that works but nobody uses. That's what happens after the buzz is gone.