We're likely to be waiting for some years yet for a killer application for wireless mobile internet, says PricewaterhouseCoopers Sydney-based management consultant Fred Balboni.
Meanwhile, though, “I think we are seeing a straight-line extension of the stuff we already know is popular on the internet – email [the wired internet’s classic “killer” app] is happening in the mobile space,” he says. Microsoft is launching a wireless version of its MSN and Hotmail services, so mail can be received through suitably enabled phones and personal digital assistants.
Balboni was in New Zealand for the local launch of PwC’s Technology Forecast 2001-2003, which places heavy emphasis on the potential of mobile internet.
Email is not really a killer application, but “an easy comfortable extension” of current mobile phone messaging capabilties, he says.
Financial services, however, are shaping up to be a major player. US stockbroker Charles Schwab supplies a Blackberry wireless email device to all clients who do more than 50 trades a year. With this, they can keep track of pertinent stock movements while on the move.
“I’ll grant you a professional day-trader doesn’t need that kind of service,” says Balboni; “they have their fixed terminal.” But someone who earns their living otherwise and trades a few stocks will benefit from alerts.
The health sector is “another potentially rich fishing hole”, Balboni says. In Australia, optical companies are providing mobile connections to optometrists, allowing them to specify and order spectacles immediately for a customer, and persuade the optomtrist at the same time to be “loyal” to that supplier.
“We see power utilities, airlines, anyone with a large asset base that requires maintenance using portable terminals to track and register completion of maintenance jobs on site and inquire what parts are in stock.”
While the emphasis in many discussions of mobile-commerce – including a lot of the PwC forecast – is in B2C, the real potential is in B2B or B2E (business to employee) transactions, Balboni suggests.
There will be a number of rival technologies – wideband CDMA, GSM and GPRS, to name the more prominent ones – for the foreseeable future, and for a year or two the user will be acutely aware that they have a certain technology and can only do certain things with it. But eventually, the communications technology will be hidden behind an applications-oriented interface, he says.
The mobile digital connection, PwC says, has a number of unique selling points: it gives immediate access; no need to boot up the machine or connection; and it confers potential for productive use of “niche time”, such as when waiting for a flight or a doctor’s appointment.
Constant presence of the user on the network is a strength; though in practice this is an unattainable ideal. The suppliers of handsets and services have to recognise that there will never be a fail-safe network, Balboni says, and design accordingly so the state of a transaction can be preserved and some useful work be done locally if the connection temporarily goes down.
A mobile phone belongs to one person more than a PC does, and will be able to be tailored to provide only information that they require. This includes shutting out unwanted messages. One of the biggest spin-off markets from mobile data is likely to be effective filtering software to screen out the spam and prioritise messages.
The much-vaunted ability of some phones to broadcast their location is particularly open to abuse with advertising messages, but the positive aspects should not be ignored, he says. Consumer applications like ‘where’s the nearest ATM?’ are less important than the B2E and personal organisation sphere. Here, for example, a worker out on a series of tasks can have them prioritised according to his or her location to achieve maximum travelling efficiency; or the maintenance engineer can ask “where is the nearest shed housing the part I need for this job?”