The On Device Portal Landscape

As part of the SDP (Service Delivery Platform) workshop a run, I have a section on the ODP (On Device Portal), where I run through the ODP landscape.  I maintain a table of companies I consider relevant to the ODP Landscape, if you see any gaps or errors let me know, thanks.  During the years ’05-’07 it’s been a table that was becoming shorter, as start-ups in this space either ran out of cash, merged, or where acquired.  However, over the passed 6 months the table has nearly doubled in size, and more importantly the number of operator deployments is about 140 (some operators use multiple ODP suppliers so there is some double counting in that number).  This is a technology that has achieved mainstream deployment by stealth when you consider how little analyst and press coverage it receives, yet it’s in the customers’ face much more than iPhone, Android, WiMax, femtocell, or UMA.

In building up this landscape there are a number of categories I include:

  • Traditional ODPs that sell or work with operators, e.g. Cibenix, Nokia (MOSH, Download! and Catalogs), Surf Kitchen and Yahoo! Go: a client and a back-end designed to streamline and improve the presentation of specific content services to address the ‘3 Ls’ of Latency, Look and feel, and Lack of availability.
  • Media focused ODPs, e.g. Mippin (previously RefreshMobile) and WeComm, which target brands and content owners with a solution.
  • Technology providers, e.g. Adobe with its suite of Flashlite, Flashcast, Flex, and AIR (Adobe Integrated Runtime), and as the originator of the RIA (Rich Internet Application) concept which was coined by Macromedia back in ’02, but more on that later.
  • Browser based ODPs, e.g. Openwave (Midas) and Opera.
  • Home screen replacements, e.g. Abaxia and Zi, that focus an just making the functions of the phone easier to use.  As an example VoiceSMS is possible today on most phones by sending voice notes over MMS without the need for a network based service.  Samsung have made the UI (User Interface) easy on most of their phones, but try sending and replying with voice notes using a Moto phone.  Its no wonder Samsung in now the #2 phone supplier worldwide, taking Moto’s spot. But this difference in experience is the problem such clients solve.
  • Mobile Widgets, e.g. Plusmo and netBiscuits: a new area and rapidly growing category that has an interesting overlap with PC based widgets that create some innovative experiences and business models.

The ODP market has been slow to take off for a variety of reasons including:

  • Handset coverage, operators (excluding NTT DoCoMo, SKT and to a lesser extent Verizon Wireless) lack control on software build in the phone without incurring significant cost;
  • Confusion on ODP’s role as it’s a client-server architecture not just a client so it must be intrinsic to the portal architecture;
  • Lack of integrated end to end solutions; and
  • Lack of standards and implementation norms.

However, the factors that are now driving deployment are:

  • On mobile phones MIDP2 (Mobile Information Device Profile) has become more prevalent, which is essential for creating slick experiences and enabling the application to run from start-up and not require the user to do something.
  • Operators realizing that not all phones need to have the ODP.  The classic mistake was to force fit the ODP onto all current portfolio phones, which generally ensured at the lower-end there was a poor experience on phones that did not have the horse-power, which further encouraged customers not to adopt mobile data services.  Three and its X-Series campaign, demonstrated the power of restricting premium experiences to premium phones, so the user experience was cool.
  • iPhone demonstrated to operators that user experience as well as look and feel are more important than price.  The “Cult of Apple” is a great example of where people pay a premium for the laptops, MP3 players, and now their phones (and it’s a phone that does not have Flash so most of the cool sites do not work).

ODP is evolving, with the emergence of mobile widgets which are analogous to RIA (Rich Internet Applications), e.g. Google Earth, its becoming RMA (Rich Mobile Applications), which opens the mind to a vast array of potential applications, not just making the phone easier to use, or making purchasing content easier.  Over the next 3 years as feature phones get more horse-power we’re likely to see the ODP/RMA market evolve into a standards based browser that is either AJAX-enabled browser, Flash-lite and/or script-based ‘widget engines.’

In this emerging environment important operator considerations include: the software already being on the handset, client-based so the back-end is not closed; an open and large developer ecosystem using the technology; and focus upon cross-platform services, i.e. mobile is not an island RMAs must also inter-working with RIAs in Western markets.  In developing countries where most people will experience the internet through their mobile handset, then RMA/RIA inter-working is not as critical.

One thought on “The On Device Portal Landscape

  1. Vasco Elvas

    Hi, very nice post and great work with the ODP landscape spreadsheet. I do think ODP will emerge specially because mobile phones and getting pretty boosted with features and current technology trends will help to ease user’s life when it come to discover rich mobile (or internet) content. Nevertheless, i guess there’s still a business case that requires definition for all players. Also, there isn’t a unique or standard regarding a mobile widget / ODP framework for mobile.
    Let me also add two ODP containers you haven’t mentioned:
    1 – Opera Mini a J2ME browser that replicated very well desktop internet experience. Opera already did something in the Japanese market with mobile widgets (http://www.operamini.com/)
    2 – Mokia Widsets widget platform (http://www.widsets.com/). J2ME dowloaded application that also acts has a ODP application.

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