Is the On Device Portal (ODP) Evolving to Rich Mobile Applications (RMA)?

The term ‘on-device portal’ (ODP) describes ‘thin client’ software that provides a graphical user interface to improve the presentation of content on mobile devices,  addressing the ‘3 Ls:’ Latency, Look-and-feel, and Lack of availability (not always connected).

The ODP market remains nascent.  However, we’ve seen this year some significant steps forward with the selection of a java-based ODP by a global mobile operator, and that same ODP vendor being used in the 3 X-Series devices that enable eBay, Skype, Orb, Sling Media, etc. to be used from the mobile phone.  And additional rounds of funding coming into some ODP companies such as Action Engine.

In 2004 there was successful ODP experimentation by One (Austria) and O2 (UK), both experiments demonstrated >100% increase in content sales.  However, this initial success did not kick-start the market for reasons such as handset coverage, portal integration, market confusion, lack of end-to-end solutions, and the ODP’s location within the mobile phone’s menu.  This left the suppliers, of which there are at least 23 (Abaxia, Action Engine, Adobe (Macromedia), Cibenix, Geniem, Handmark, Motion Bridge, Motorola (Screen 3), mPortal, MSX, Nellymoser, Nokia (Preminet), Onskreen, Opera, Openwave, Qualcomm, Refresh Mobile, Silk, Streamezzo, Surf Kitchen, V-Enable, weComm), searching for ways to ‘cross the chasm.’

Over the intervening three years a number of paths have been explored:

  • The ODP was extended beyond embedded content consumption, home-screen and discovery; into search, personalization, back-up, lifecycle management and advertising;
  • Proprietary solutions (non-java) and handset vendor specific solutions have extended handset coverage;
  • The operator has been bypassed with a direct to consumer approach; and
  • Some suppliers with a portal platform (back-end) have focused upon providing content delivery as a managed service.

One of the challenges with ODP is it created a device focus, the analogy to RIA (Rich Internet Applications) is better, because the back-end is equally as important.  The term RMA (Rich Mobile Applications) may be more appropriate than ODP.  The RIA term was created by Macromedia back in ’02; Google Maps is a good example.  In the longer-term it’s likely the market will evolve into add-ons to a browser on the phone, e.g. AJAX-enabled browser, flash-lite, or script-based ‘widget engines.’  However, start-ups such as Zenzui are attempting to go head-to-head with this model.

But what about the here and now?  Some suggestions are:

  • Move away from the term ODP, instead focus upon RIA/RMA, drawing analogies to Internet successes.
  • Position ODP more clearly in the value chain.  An ODP by itself is as much use as a cart with no wheels.  Cibenix’s positioning within the SDP Alliance is a good example of demonstrating the total solution.
  • Focus on a specific application, e.g. Voice2.0/Web2.0 mobilization.  The market is highly fragmented beyond voice and messaging, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ RMA.  Some customers will want anytime-anywhere access to Facebook, some will want to play Second Life, some will want to use their office’s unified comms services, and some will only want to talk.
  • Target retailers / ASPs (Application Service Providers) as operators open up their networks.  This is critical because customers’ content relationships already exist beyond the mobile operator.