iPhone as media platform: chicken or egg?

March 19, 2008

The positive buzz continues for Apple as a new study by m:metrics shows that iPhone users are significantly more likely to use every type of media on their phones when compared to other “smart phone” users.  This includes watching mobile TV/video, accessing social networking sites (e.g., Facebook), and performing a search or viewing news/other Web content.  And, iPhone users are more than 3 times as likely to use their phone to listen to music when compared to other smart phone users.

While this should generally be no surprise to anyone on the planet that has read about, heard about, seen, or used Apple’s “must have” appliance, it does raise some interesting questions that aren’t really answered by the press release (competitors take note).

The author of the press release casually passes over the contribution of “the attributes of the device itself” and emphasizes AT&T’s unlimited data plan as a key contributer to the increased use of media content …

“While the demographics of iPhone users are very similar to all smartphone owners, the iPhone is outpacing other smartphones in driving mobile content consumption by a significant margin,” said Donovan. “In addition to the attributes of the device itself, another important factor to consider is the fact that all iPhones on AT&T are attached to an unlimited data plan. Our data shows that once the fear of surprise data charges is eliminated, mobile content consumption increases dramatically, regardless of device.”

While it makes sense that the unlimited data plan could contribute to increased use (who passes up the all you can eat buffet?), the recent New York Times article nor the press release really mention much about the interface or user experience other than the fact that widgets for Google Maps and YouTube seem to drive usage of those apps. 

It would have been great to know more about the “why’s,” for example:
1) How much of iPhone’s media usage can be attributed to the user-interface itself? Not just the content widgets but the unique aspects of iPhone’s touch screen, screen size, etc.?
2) Conversely, is the lower incidence of usage by other smart phone users related to problems/issues with their phones’ interface?
3) How much of this usage is driven by self described “early adopters,” i.e., those who are predisposed to using rich media in the first place?
4) Is the iPhone driving usage or the other way around: what percentage of users are “first timers” – i.e., their iPhone usage is the first time they’ve used some of these media applications on a smart phone? 
5) How much is attributable to users accessing content via WiFi vs. AT&T’s network (many users have complained about the slowness of AT&T’s network)?

6) And, importantly, do these numbers represent claimed usage or as m:metrics promises in its About section, “actual mobile content consumption?” (According to The New York Times the results are from a survey of more than 10,000 adults.  Did the researchers sit over the shoulders of all 10,000 people to make sure they were using the applications claimed?)  How much of claimed usage can be attributable to overstated usage?  Look, if I shelled out $500 for a phone and someone asked me if I was using all the cool stuff that came with it I might be embarrased to admit that besides the music, I haven’t really gotten around to using all that other cool stuff.  

Claimed usage or not, these are impressive numbers and represent a cold slap to Apple’s competitors.  Now if they can just open up the phone to other wireless providers …

iPhone videos:

You can always listen to “Blender” (the Collective Soul album) but will the iPhone blend?:
 http://youtube.com/watch?v=qg1ckCkm8YI

Fun with iPhone’s SDK (just released in Feb):
http://youtube.com/watch?v=u5xA8-XvjNk

Can you use it as a hot plate too?
http://youtube.com/watch?v=jihVOLrZ4UA

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A mobile app to help speed your trip

March 18, 2008

Kudos to Continental airlines for being the first to test their mobile boarding pass (Houston departures only for now).  But why are they keeping this on the down low?

 

According the New York Times, Continental is the first airline to test electronic boarding passes that replaces the usual paper boarding pass.  Their system creates a unique two-dimensional bar code (versus the more easily hackable one dimensional bar code used for paper) that can be downloaded and then scanned by airport personnel from your mobile device/cellphone.  Athough Forrester Research is claiming only “42% interest in using mobile phones as a boarding pass” (42% of whom?  mobile users who travel? Business travelers?), I think this is going to be in wide use once the airlines work out the standards with the T.S.A. and FAA.

The easy part is just letting users know about it, right?  Hmm.  You’d think that Continental would be making a big deal about this since they are first to market (since December ’07), so let’s go find out more about it.  Here is their home page:

It’s nice to see the BlackBerry icon although there is no specific mention on the home page re: this amazing breakthrough (only mentions of getting “flight updates”).  And, just a nit, the icon is located just below the fold on my browser.  Well, at least it gives me a good visual to start off  …

Now that I’m on the “Wireless Tools” landing page I have to do some real scanning to find the link (see above).  And note: although this new technology is considered a “special offer” by the company, the featured ads here (on right of page) are generic pitches for “low fares” and frequent flier miles.  A real missed opportunity.  Let’s click on that link under “Mobile Boarding Pass” …

 

Made it!  They provide a pretty good overview of how to get set up to start using your mobile device for check in.  And the benefit is right in the title: “truly paperless check in.” But, look at the breadcrumbs at top: why are they burying this page within the “OnePass News and Offers?”  This is real news for everybody – why isn’t Continental featuring this across the site — and especially within their own “Wireless Tools” section?  This new check-in solution represents a real opportunity to communicate to savvy fliers that Continental is a true leader in technology.  When another airline starts their own mobile check in service and does a better job marketing it, they could take away a lot of the mojo from Continental.

To wrap up:
Overall usability score: 7/10
Content score: 8/10
Markeing/branding score: 4/10

Some suggestions for Continental and other airlines once they get this going:
-Prominently feature a BlackBerry-type icon/link on the home page
-When users land on the mobile-related page make sure to feature this new technology, perhaps with a visual showing someone using it at the airport
–Make ad space contextual — i.e., lose those generic ads when you are only talking to mobile users and cross sell something specific to mobile technology
-Don’t bury the link so deep within a proprietary “offers” sequence/area.  Users are likley to pass it over within a section reserved for “specials” and “price off” promises. 

We weary travelers just want to get on that plane and move on with our lives.   Now the airlines can help us do it even faster.