iTab: it’s an iPhone, only bigger. Much, much bigger.

Presenting iPhone apps to a large audience always presents a problem. Whilst Steve Jobs has a natty cable that projects his iPhone onto a big screen, they don’t make one available to us ordinary folk. The solution? I borrowed an idea from a friend, and made a bracket to mount the iPhone in front of a video camera (held together with gaffer tape). It kind of works, but it’s very shakey and very clunky. And if the projector is ceiling mounted, it’s too high to plug the cable in at all.

I think I’ve found a proper solution though. I was at an exhibiting show a couple of weeks ago and saw the iTab, which looks and works like a giant iPhone. With screen sizes up to 86″ it looks good in front of an audience. Not only that, but having a true touch-screen means the system is also good for exhibition booths. Everyone wants to walk up to it and play with the thing. The Times has just bought one to show off their new app.

Although it’s a fairly large investment to buy it (£5k + depending on the size), the distributor, Touch2View will rent it by the day (and they’ll come and install it to boot). For more information and prices see their site: www.touch2view.com

Creative use of QR codes: QR Film Festival

Whilst I have been somewhat sniffy about brands using QR codes in their marketing (few people know what it is, fewer people can be bothered to scan one), there are one or two good examples of a really creative use of the codes. Here’s one from Korea (a country that does know what a QR code is, and will scan them) – the QR Code Film Festival. Scan the code and it plays a short movie clip or animation.

Note to brands and ad agencies: if you are going to use QR, then do something interesting.

Spam SMS and the Operators: what can they do about it?

All the evidence points to a rise in spam SMS. 42% of people in the UK have had an accident claim spam. Add in the other unsolicited marketing messages and it’s fair to assume that more than half of the population have experience SMS spam. And most people blame their operator for it. So why does it appear that they are doing very little to tackle the problem? Why can’t they just filter out these messages?

Some conspiracy theorists have suggested that the operators have an interest in keeping spam going because:

  1.  They earn money from the messages
  2.  They sell the data in the first place

Unfortunately for these theorists neither of these things are true. The messages are typically sent using PAYG SIMS with an unlimited SMS plan. It is therefore better that messages are not sent – they earn money from the top up, and not the message sending itself. When it comes to their data, it is not in their interests to sell it. This would be a pretty fundamental breach of the Data Protection Act – both the fines and damage to their reputation would be far in excess of any revenue from selling numbers. In fact, when some T-Mobile employees sold customer data out the back door, the company informed the police and two people were prosecuted. The biggest reason though is that dealing with spam costs the operators a lot of money. They need a considerable customer service resource to do this.

So, given that it is far better for the operators to be spam free, why can’t they stop it?

First of all, the spammers don’t make it easy to stop. They use multiple PAYG SIMS in a SIM bank. This allows up to 300 cards to send messages via one server. The spammers even spoof IMEI numbers and handset types to make it look like individual phones are sending the messages. However underlying all of this is the fact that operators cannot view the message content by law. Whilst some nameless organisations were happily hacking into mobile phone voice mails, the operators can neither listen in to calls nor look at a text message.

In spam terms this means they have one hand tied behind their back. Still, they have methods of detecting spam – looking at things like message length, originating and IMEI number ranges all helps identify the spammers, but as these constantly change, it is also not easy. In one case in the US the spammers put their SIM bank in a van and drove around to different areas, ensuring that the base station sending the messages constantly changed.

So is there an operator solution?

There are two ways the spammers can be stopped. The first one is by using software, much the same as email spam software. Whilst a human cannot look at message content, a computer can. A good algorithm can identify spam not just through key works, but a whole series of patterns from the sender ID, to the base station, frequency or IMEI number. The second part of the solution is the one that works the best – get customers to report spam. They are the best at identifying it, and if the process is made easy, they will willingly do it.

If it’s so simple, why don’t the operators filter spam already?

Some do, but not all of them. In the UK the amount of spam you get will very much depend on your operator (I won’t name names). However, as one of them put it to me; ‘we didn’t think spam would be a problem’. Naïve? Certainly. But welcome to the world of mobile operators. They are focussed on running big engineering operations for calls, SMS and data and on provider customer service. They can also work at a glacial pace. It’s hard to implement things quickly within these vast organisations. Whilst the spam software can be implemented in a few weeks, it will take an operator years to put it in place.

The other side of this is consumer reporting: if customers tell them when they get an unsolicited SMS it is possible to close the spamming numbers quickly. The timescale to stop the SIM banks is within an hour as around 85% of people respond within that time. Unfortunately at the moment there are two problems with this: firstly consumers don’t know how to report spam. There is a shortcode number for all the operators, but it’s hard to find it. Secondly, the current systems in the operators means that it takes a minimum of three days to close down a number (and typically one week).

In Korea there was a similar problem with spam. They solved it by getting the handset manufacturers to add a ‘this is spam’ link to all of the phone messaging menus. Simple and effective.

Why aren’t they working together?

The biggest issue preventing an operator solution in the UK is that the operators don’t want to publicly admit there is a problem. The primary reason is competition. If one operator puts spam high on their priorities, they are worried that others will simply say they don’t have a problem with it. In many ways, that doesn’t make sense. Most customers are aware of receiving spam, but it would seem that this competitive fear is stopping them from tackling the problem in the best possible way – with the help of their customers. In the end though, they are on a hiding to nothing. At some point, the government will want to legislate. They may happen sooner rather than later if someone in the government gets one of the infamous messages. And when governments legislate around technology, the outcomes are far worse and more draconian that industry legislation. In Canada there is now a fine of $1 million PER MESSAGE for unsolicited SMS. Whilst there are initiatives from the GSMA to monitor and stop spam, it is optional for operators (and they need to pay for the service).

Hopefully that problem will end soon. Representatives from all the UK operators have both discussed the spam problem around accident claims messages, and agreed to give their customers the same advice. I say hopefully because in spite of giving that information to the operators, as yet none of them have updated their site, or publicly admitted to unsolicited messages being a problem. Things move slowly in the world of mobile networks. Very slowly.

Smartphone ownership: it’s not about income, it’s about age

A rather obvious photo of an older person using a phone

A new study from YouGov in the UK has found that it is age, rather than salary that has the greatest bearing on smartphone ownership. Currently 35% of UK adults own a smartphone (depending on how you define one), yet only 14% of 55 years + have one. I previously blogged about some key UK smartphone demographics. This new research confirms that the higher end phones are concentrated in the 25-45 year old demographic. Brands often tend to assume that their audience is a smartphone one (especially where they have middle to high income), yet rarely consider consumer age groups as part of their strategy.

For the older demographic, decisions on technology are much more about the perceived benefits than technology for the sake of it. However, that does not mean they will never use smartphones. Look at what happened with the internet. When older people realised they could buy cheap flights and compare insurance costs they got online and the sliver surfer became the second biggest user demographic. When it comes to mobile, they use SMS (close to 90%). Perhaps they don’t send as many messages as the younger age groups, but they use it when it is useful. Similarly, 1/3rd of grandparents are using social media. Facebook is the biggest picture sharing site in the world, and for grandparents it offers a good way to keep up with their grandchildren.

If mobile becomes as useful as online for travel, money or photo sharing then expect to see a large uptake by the over 55s.

Another interesting finding of the study is that the current 35% saturation is up just 33% from the previous quarter. This could indicate a slow down in smartphone buying. Perhaps most people who want one, have already bought it?

What’s The Future of Bulk and Premium SMS?

When it comes to brand marketing, messaging still has an important role to play. When many marketers are thinking about fancy apps or mobile sites, many are overlooking the ability of SMS to drive users in a cheap and universal channel. Whilst free to user SMS is growing, premium SMS (PSMS) has a less optimistic future.

Both short codes and bulk SMS have been the mainstay of mobile marketing and
mCommerce for over a decade. With the advent of smartphones, new communication
channels and new payment systems are their days numbered?

As a mobile marketing consultant I’m often asked if we’ll have SMS in the future. Given
that most people can get emails on their phone, message through Facebook or access
instant messenger, why would they use SMS at all? Many teenagers have switched to
BlackBerry’s IM system, BBM. They can use it even if they have no phone credit, have group
conversations and forward messages anonymously. And surely what teenagers are doing
today, the rest of us will be doing tomorrow?

In spite of all of that SMS is still growing each year. In 2010 there were 6.1 trillion messages
sent globally by 4 billion individuals. That’s more messages sent than voice calls made from
mobiles, not only that, but SMS is growing by nearly 30% each year. It’s not just consumers,
brands are using SMS more and more for communications from service to marketing. So
why does SMS remain the ‘killer app’ for mobile? The answer is, in short, that nothing
comes close in terms of immediacy, speed, discretion and most of all, universality. Everyone
has SMS and everyone knows how to use it. BBM, for example remains niche and there’s
no evidence of wide adoption beyond anyone other than teenagers. A recent study by the
DMA and IAB into brand messaging found that SMS opening rates were above 92%. That
is consistent with other studies into messaging. That’s good, but even better when you
consider that less than 25% of brand emails are opened or read. What’s more, people read
text messages quickly. In the study we found that 65% were read within 5 minutes and 85%
within an hour.

In the last few years many brands have been developing apps and within the last 12 months,
many retailers have created fully transactional mobile sites. In spite of these new exciting
channels, SMS is still the driver for brand activity. They use it because they know it works.
The UK retailer Marks and Spencer have a very successful mobile site, yet text messaging is
an important element of their mobile strategy. They have over 1 million people who have
opted in to receive weekly offers by SMS. Argos use SMS as a service tool with their ‘Text to
Take Home Service’. In Australia, the IT retailer, Leading Edge Computers found that they
tripled their response rate over print advertising when they switched to SMS . In the US,
men’s retailer K&G created an SMS-based coupon channel for their customers. 93% of them
used a coupon during a three month period. Whilst these are all large, well-known brands,
many smaller businesses have benefitted in a similar way by using SMS to send promotions,
support their service or just allow customers to engage with their brand.

Whilst SMS is on the rise, it would appear that Premium SMS has fared less well. A few years
ago, mobile content in the form of games and ringtones was largely billed through PSMS.
However, figures now show a dramatic drop in revenue. When it comes to content, these
days most of it is delivered through app stores, such as iTunes, where payment is made by
registered cards, not a phone-based payment. When it comes to shopping, mobile users
are also using their credit cards and one-click payment by the likes of Amazon and M&S
have shown that we trust brands enough to buy through our phones. Looking a little further
ahead, contactless payments or NFC is rolling out on a global scale. BlackBerry launched a
handset earlier this year, Google have been trialling NFC and there are strong rumours that
Apple will include contactless in their next major handset.

This leaves PSMS as something of the poor relation when it comes to payment. That
isn’t a great surprise. From a merchant perspective, whilst the credit card companies
take a small fee, up to 35% of the value of a Premium SMS is taken by the operators. For
customers there is considerable distrust. Numerous scams and errors with premium SMS
that have led most people to believe that they will be charged unexpectedly. However,
many people are still cautious, and in the UK the BBC no longer uses premium rate services.
SMS plays an important role in mobile banking. There are 2 billion people without a bank
account globally, yet most of them have a mobile phone. SMS is now becoming a means
of transferring payment or phone credit. In the Philippines for example, SMS has replaced
wire-transfer as a means of moving money between individuals. But this is not Premium
Rate Messaging, this is SMS as the trigger for the transaction. Perhaps the only exceptions
where PSMS is on the rise are the charity campaigns. Both the Haiti campaign in the US
and the UK’s Comic Relief have raised considerable sums through text-based donations.
However, these are the exception to the trend. These charities have achieved 100% out-
payment from the operators and have been backed by massive media coverage. Smaller
charities and most brands don’t have the same luxuries.

When it comes to free-to-user SMS, the future looks very bright. It gives brands a universal
and immediate call to action that no other channel can create. It drives other campaigns
both on and off mobile phones. However, as a means of payment, issues of cost and trust
means that PSMS has a much less optimistic future.