Cellphone applications today are often focused on, in some sense simplified, displaying the web page on the cellphone. The web pages are more or less exclusively designed only considering the restrains of a regular work station. This is perhaps one most important challenge in future cellphone solutions and in many ways this is a philosophical challenge rather than a technological challenge. Nevertheless, I will not try to fully address the challenge in this blog post, but indicate what I believe are the key elements of it and sketch the solution.
In the post I will focus on the restrictions on a cellphone application in an emerging market and/or developing country even though it might be applied to the developed markets. We start by looking at some of the differences between the two platforms.
Most cellphones have small screens. (Oh yes, they have.) That means that you have very limited space to present the content. Very few solutions so far have been able to present content in an adequate and appealing way on these screens. The difference in the (graphical) presentation the content between a cellphone and a normal workstation is therefore huge for most content.
For instance, considering the mouse/touchpad of a normal laptop makes the user interaction much simpler than on the cellphone, as the â€œkeyboardâ€ is small. Naturally the user interaction with a cellphone, i.e. texting, is very much linked to how used you are to it. Clearly, in Asia, Africa and Europe people are much more used to it than they are in for instance the US. Thus a clear distinction between possible cellphone applications in these regions has to be made.
Finally the cellular networks are still lagging in bandwidth and the data plans in cellular networks are continuing to be fairly expensive. Both these factors are limiting the amount of data that being sent to and from a cellphone.
What is the proper solution?
For me the obvious solution is to display an extract of information on the cellular platform, but combine that with the proper platform on the web where the full version can be seen. Think of either trailer or an article abstract. If you like the trailer, you want to see more. However in many cases an abstract of an article is enough.
What are the techniques to use?
For emerging countries the right choices are SMS and MMS. In some cases WAP might be an alternative, but in most cases the two first choices are enough. Those techniques fulfill the criteria as presented above. They are simple to use. They are already known to the user. They have a low entry barrier and exist in almost all cellphone out there. Even better, they are normally very cheap.
The available applications in this field usually lack the corresponding web application that completes the content delivered to the cellphone. You have to provide the user with the full version of the content, and this makes even better sense as it will boost the PC-market and need of bandwidth for workstations in those regions.
I think that in many cases these techniques, even though well-known, are underrated. Especially since the emphasis primarily have been to either deliver or submit content via these, but also lacking the proper backbone on the web to support them. Using these techniques to both send and retrieve data and combine them with a web application would be very powerful. Especially when combined with the proper business model and strategic partnerships.
The future cellphone applications in emerging markets and the developing world will need to or to be more direct should address this challenge.