photo credit: doryexmachina
So MobileCamp NYC2 was held last Saturday in lower Manhattan with at least 200 people in attendance or about double last years event.
I wanted to hold off for a few days before blogging about it to collect my thoughts. I hope I don't offend anyone with my comments below but I've come away from this event with some very strong opinions that I'm sure not everyone will agree with but I'm happy to 'bet' money on these conclusions.
If you've been reading my blog for a while then you'll know that I've worked commercially on a number of different mobile projects and posted about my own personal interest in the mobile space regularly (search mobile posts) so i think I've got a fairly good grasp on whats going on.
I also think that I tend to concentrate on the more commercial aspects of startups and technology so I might be coming at problems from a different way.
So I've broken down my comments about the event into 3 parts;
So firstly the good news, Developer Enthusiasm for mobile computing and the positive value it can deliver to our daily lives through persistent full time communication/computing applications is really high. It's one of the things that sets the USA apart from other countries I've lived in (it's also something I'm going to blog about later this week - check out my post on the US dollar/exchange rate in a few days).
It's also amazing the physical output a single lone developer can deliver on as well. For example Peter Nofelt and his Mogoso Mobile Search application. This kid has a day job full time working in the financial space and no budget but is delivering better mobile search results than Yahoo etc because he has a real eye for perspective and for whats really important in a successful mobile application.
It never ceases to amaze me when I go to a barcamp or similar the amazing ideas and concepts individual developers come up with.
If you run a non IT business and want to find ways for IT to help your business, ignore your tech department and go and hang out at your local BarCamp for a weekend, you'll find 10 different ways you can take advantage of changes and help your business out.
Ok now for the not so good news;
- Carriers. There were more than a few carriers at the event, from the "trying to be progressive" Orange to the ....ex data service product manager from Nextel now off running a new startup so secretive that she got up to talk for 30 minutes but couldn't tell us anything about her new company AirArts .
Mary raised the point that new applications don't always deliver the end user customer numbers that they are often predicted to deliver...and the example she used was at CTIA last year everyone was all hyped up on Mobile TV being the guiding light and yet just 12 months later everyone is wondering what happened.
That if your application cant survive on 20% revenue (eg after the carrier takes their 50% and then the aggregator takes their 30%) then maybe your product wasn't meant to survive in the first place as it's not commercial enough.
What can I say but I was depressed after the session that Mary ran, the summary of her position on why mobile carriers aren't moving as efficiently as I want is that ...they want to bill you for services but they just don't want you to use much in the way of data.
(Now for those of you who haven't been to a barcamp please understand it is a very 2 way 'discussion'. You are meant to be honest and contribute freely to the point that one of the 'rules' of barcamp is that if you dont feel you are contributing to the discussion then the rule of two feet apply and you are meant to get up and walk out of the room).
Ok well my response to this one was easy, and I think might have shocked some first time attendees but afterwards a few people came up and said I was right on the money with "......carrier marketing/product development teams blow chunks".
My response to Mobile TV was, Yes Mobile TV is available on my handset (HTC 8525) but do you think I received a single email, letter, viral video or other informational contact from Cingular that it was available?
That's a pretty piss poor sales endeavour for a technology that probably had more than several million dollars invested in the upfront technical implementation.
And just to make sure I wasn't the only one who didn't receive something from the sales team at Cingular I asked the other 50 people in the room....1 guy said he saw something once - so 49 to 1 for no sales calls. Probably why you are on target for your 2% adoption rate.
Now for the next point about revenue share.
Everyone marvels at Doccomo i-mode and says that it's purely a Japanese 'phenomenon' with the successful adoption of broadband mobile data and a full and exciting ecosystem of content providers and application developers.
The reason Doccomo is highly successful and the USA carriers are crying poor is because Doccomo isn't greedy and they made a smart commercial decision that all content providers/application developers get to keep 90% of all billing revenue (and I mean all, regardless of how big or small you are).
Yep you read that right, USA you keep 20-30% - Japan you keep 90%. And yet they wonder why the USA lags in mobile application and mobile content development.
When I was consulting to Traction Platform last year helping them expand into the USA I met with some people from Verizon and they asked...how come Australia is smaller and so far ahead in SMS marketing, my reply was well you make it so difficult and expensive to implement in the USA what do you expect. Their answer was well we need to cover costs, not understanding the laws of supply and demand lower barriers to entry and there will be more users to cover the costs....It's not rocket science I swear.
Ok Finally to 2D codes.
So this was the area of MobileCampNYC2 that I was most interested in participating in. last year it was SMS marketing and talking about the Traction Platform but this year it was the area I wanted to see most what was going on.
Some interesting sessions mainly from individuals but check out people like Brian House at http://www.knifeandfork.org/ who had 2 amazing projects (and makes a living from artistic commissions and commercial consulting).
Pretty much what I did see confirmed my understanding that 2d codes are a fractured market with many different open source and private versions.
QR codes as you already know is the leading open standard. Denso who developed the technology were smart in the in the 80's they released all rights to the technology and allowed anyone to adopt this technology without patents or licensing. (in fact check out smart companies like http://www.winksite.com/ that incorporate automatic encoding into their application).
It was good to understand why the various closed/private 2d code companies felt their way was better, mainly around size of the output code (check out www.cognation.net/contact as an example QR code with a very big vcf file) and the ability to operate with older mobile camera lens .
Totally understandable however the rep from Nextcode decided to push the limits...a lot, and basically said that QR codes would never work and that the only way for widespread adoption was to for everyone to come together and agree on a standard and that the sooner everyone gave up on QR codes the better.
His comments around the reason QR codes wouldn't succeed was there needed to be a central 'clearing house'. That Nextcode was the technology to move forward with and that without this revenue stream any 2d code was doomed to fail.
Unfortunately this is where I decided to poke the bear.
As some of you know I have a long history with the Asterisk open source technology.
One of the reasons this now fantastic software is one of the most widely adopted pieces of open source software is good stewardship. Digium whilst a commercial company has been masterfully guided through it's embryonic years by Mark Spencer and now during it's growth years by Danny Windham.
The reason Asterisk has bloomed when a number of similar closed and open source technologies have failed is that from the very beginning Mark Spencer stated Digium was NOT required in order to implement Asterisk.
Yes they made money if you purchased their cards but if you used a competitors card like Sangnoma then it would work just as well. (in fact probably less than half of the 60,000 Asterisk pabx's globally use Digium cards.
By giving up this 'choke point' Digium is now responsible for a far bigger pie.
I also provided the example of Salesforce.com and the statements made by Mark Benioff and the Sforce ecosystem 2 years ago where no one believe he/Salesforce was going to be just one small partner and that it was open for everyone to participate.
I'm not sure if Nextcode felt I was taking the mickey out of him and antagonising him or being serious, he suggested we take this offline but I didn't hear back from him...(offer is still there)...so I assume they are off to file another patent and spend more money suing other closed/private 2d bar code companies like ScanBuy (who were in the session but kept a low profile in the back).
My take on it is this, yes the older camera phones don't have the resolution required but wait 6-12 months. With an average replacement rate of handsets in the USA of 18 months, 80% of the market will have 2mb+ camera phones by the mid/end of 2008.
There was also a lengthy discussion about advertising agencies and QR marketing campaigns and ondeck readers versus post installation adoption rates but that is a discussion for another time - I'm always happy to come in and run 4 hour workshops for advertising agencies to understand why you don't need to wait.
Finally a quick thank you for the organisers Indira, Ritwik, Andy, Alexis, David, Jose etc. Without you their would be no meeting of the minds and exchanges of ideas so to you my biggest thanks.
Looking forward to peoples comments, I'm sure there will be more than a few for this post.