MMS Coming of Age….Finally

After the huge hopes for MMS around its launch back in 2001, interest quietly waned as the market failed to deliver. This is pretty much what often happens with a new technology and it’s well described by the Gartner Hype Cycle. Essentially, this says that when a new technology is introduced it gets overhyped by vendors, but users don’t really take much notice. After a period of time though, it finally takes off, while vendors have move on to the new, new thing to hype, with predictably disappointing short-term results.

This has certainly been true of WAP, MMS and MP3 players within phones.

However, around 30% of people in Europe currently use MMS, according to M:Metrics, so it’s certainly passed its tipping point.

In my view, there have been a few problems with MMS in the past, if we ignore the blindingly obvious interoperability issue. I remember attending the launch of MMS by O2 and the marketing manager showing research that clearly indicated that being able to send MMS between different operators was a “must have”. Of course, it was – blindingly obvious really – but that didn’t stop the launch going ahead without it.

Cost was also a cause for concern initially, but pricing has got much more reasonable, usability much improved, interoperability cracked and finally, people started to use it.

These factors are pretty obvious really. Make the technology easy to use and reasonably priced and lo and behold, it gets used.

But there’s still a missing piece of the jigsaw if MMS is to really reach its potential. Today, most MMS is used to send and share photos. A quick snap and maybe a caption, hit send and there you have it.

But MMS is capable of a lot more – think a little slide show, with the option of graphics, video and audio. The problem with this from a usability point of view is that it requires some investment in time and commitment, as well as an element of skill, to produce something that looks great. It’s just far easier to snap a photo and send it off – or not bother at all.

I’ve long argued that templates might be a key to unlocking more sophisticated usage of MMS and significantly boosting usage. But one company I met in San Francisco, Hook Mobile, has come up with another elegant solution and one that appears to be working really well.

Hook are a technology enabler, rather than a brand, so work with social network applications and media owners to power MMS services. It’s a complete solution, including interfaces and prices for all the US (currently) carriers, which means that it’s a complete out-of-the-box solution.

An example of a service that they enable is Pic2Phone, running on Facebook. People currently upload their photos to Facebook anyway. So Pic2Phone allows them to create a little slideshow of the latest photos and send them via MMS to their invited friends’ mobiles.

Similarly, VooZoo allows people to send clips from favourite Paramount Pictures’ movies, like Braveheart and Clueless, on a subscription basis – $3.99 a month for unlimited usage and messages.

Once you start thinking about the possibilities offered by Hook’s service, it’s pretty easy to identify loads of potential uses, with Hook doing all the heavy lifting in the background.

If MMS is to start to be anything more that the odd P2P photo sharing message, similar enabling services need to emerge and receive the support of the carrier community in the way of promotion and publicity. Which will mean that MMS will finally come of age and start to generate real revenue for the mobile ecosystem.

Back in 2001, I wrote a book on MMS with Open Garden’s Ajit Jaokar – years ahead of my time, which you might notice is a recurring theme for me. It’s a bad thing, incidentally, as great timing is one of the most important, as well as underestimated, business skills around.

The book unsurprisingly didn’t sell well and would now be hopelessly out of date, so don’t buy it! But maybe we should update and revise it to take advantage of the renewed interest in this area. Having said that, it would be doubly depressing to invest more time and effort, only to have a renewed failure on our hands!

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