As Russell promised, here are my predictions for 2007 following my stellar performance last year. You get all ten of mine in one go, though. Be sure to add your own predictions, or link to them elsewhere, in the comments.
1. Lots of mobile TV hype, but little in the way of actual success.
CES saw some high-profile mobile TV from US operators and providers, and the news of launches will continue around the world this year. However, the actual results won’t match the hype, particularly in the US. Long-form content on a set schedule doesn’t match up to the mobile lifestyle. Consumers are already moving away from set TV schedules in their homes, thanks to DVRs, online video and downloading, so why would they accept it on their mobile device? Obviously there are some exceptions to this, such as live sports, but for the most part, it doesn’t seem to fit. Think about casual games: they offer users short, self-contained experiences that fit into brief periods of downtime during the day. Having a few free moments and tuning in halfway through a TV show and watching five minutes of it doesn’t provide the same experience.
There have been plenty of widget-style platforms for mobile already, but 2007 will see them take off as web content providers look for ways to offer easy access to their content and services, while users demand it. This, of course, will be followed by the widespread problem of widget incompatibility, since, of course, nothing can be easy in mobile.
3. Mobile data services for automobiles will take off.
For some time, automakers have been toying with building mobile data connections into cars — for instance, I remember seeing a BMW at CeBIT a few years back that could get traffic data and other info. But 2007 will see these services blow up. Already in the US, Ford and Microsoft are working on integrating mobile phones and cars, the Dash mobile-connected GPS announced a deal with Yahoo for local content, and satellite radio companies XM and Sirius are beefing up their data offerings. Adding data into GPS navigation units is a natural progression, and this year will see a lot of mobile data efforts targeted at cars.
4. Mobile social networking doesn’t do much, but the action’s in mobile social media.
Big social-networking sites like Facebook continue to announce mobile features, but most of them seem to be focused on sending as many messages as possible to mobile users, which isn’t all that compelling. That, or they go the MySpace route and go after operator-exclusive deals — is it just me, or are deals that limit who can use your services a little antithetical to building social networks? Anyhow, all these moves by the big companies seem to ignore the fact that mobile phones are intrinsically social-networking tools, and their services should be made to fit mobile, not the other way around. In any case, I’m not convinced that people necessarily want or need access to their MySpace account from their phone; they’re more interested in sharing their experiences, and the media they make from them, particularly to other mobile devices. So watch for media sharing apps and services to thrive this year, while big-name social-networking stutters on mobile.
5. Full-track music downloads over mobile will largely fail, leading operators and content providers to finally realize there are other aspects to mobile music.
It’s not hard to understand why users avoid most mobile music stores: they’re overpriced and unappealing. That doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon, really, but operators will this year begin broadening their music offerings on a larger scale. They’ll embrace podcasts (though they’ll probably find another name for it), streaming audio and other types of music services. Whether they’ll be overpriced and unappealing remains another matter.
Mobile search, mobile search, mobile search. So many people agree it’s going to be huge, but nobody seems to agree on what it really is. Operators think it’s just a way for users to more easily find content they can buy; search engines tend to focus on pointing you to the nearest pizza parlor; companies like 4INFO focus on delivering snippets of information. I think all the apparent interest in mobile search is little more than a manifestation of the poor usability of so much of the mobile web. People try to find information, services or content they want, but get stymied by one obstacle or another. This turns into a “wouldn’t it be great if… you could just type in what you wanted on your phone, and something would send you there?” thought — but I’m not sure that necessarily would be so great. It’s almost as search becomes an excuse to develop crappy sites and services — after all, why bother making something easy to use if Google mobile will take users exactly to what they need? Search is one way to get people to content, but it’s not always the best way — and I think that’s definitely the case on mobile.
7. More flat-rate data — and hopefully affordable flat-rate data — in Europe.
3′s X-Series will show that affordable, easy-to-understand pricing coupled with attractive services leads to success in mobile data. More and more European operators will begin to realize this in 2007, and abandon their shocking, stupid and incomprehensible data charges.
8. VoWi-Fi’s real impact will be limited to some pricing pressure on certain types of calls.
Sure, there will be more WiFi hotspots built in 2007, and more cities will build out hotzones and muni Wi-Fi deployments. But that’s going to be matched by a realization of the flaws of many of these networks, and further proof that they’re far, far away from being anywhere near capable of replacing cellular networks for voice service. There will certainly be more fixed-mobile convergence launches that make use of Wi-Fi, but standalone VoWi-Fi services will continue to have only niche attraction. The biggest reason for this is they’re, for the most part, price plays that are useful to a relatively small chunk of users (those that make international calls, or travel outside their home country frequently). When the price operators charge for those calls drops (as it will, due mainly to EU roaming-rate intervention, but also because of market pressure), the need for many of these mobile VoIP services will dry up. Those that will be left standing will be the ones for which price is just an additional benefit to the rest of their services, not the central one.
9. There will be plenty of launches of WiMAX networks and others based on non-traditional or new mobile broadband technologies, but their largest impact will be felt by fixed-line broadband providers.
2007 will be a bit early for WiMAX or other new mobile broadband technologies to take a bite out of existing mobile operators. There will be uptake in fixed-line replacement markets, and in existing markets where these wireless networks represent the only available means of broadband, but as far as handset-based services for the mass market, let’s check back in 2008.
10. Mobile payments will struggle in the west, but they’ll be supplanted by other RFID applications in handsets.
There’s little reason for mobile payments to take off in the west, particularly in the US where operators will make somebody — payment processors, banks, merchants, perhaps even consumers — pay for them. Plenty of convenient payment methods exist, primarily credit and debit cards, and replacing them with a contactless payment from a mobile phone offers only marginal benefits. I’ve used one of MasterCard’s PayPass RFID key fobs, and I’m hard pressed to find it any better than swiping my credit card at a POS reader. However, payments aren’t the only contactless transaction application out there. For instance, the Oyster cards in use on public transport in London use RFID, highlighting one area where contactless technology could come into widespread use. These types of applications, not mobile payments, will what makes contactless transactions take off in the west.