Apple iPhone Software Store generating sales

According to Apple, sales of software in the iPhone App store were $30 million in July.

“This thing’s going to crest at half a billion, soon,” Jobs told the Wall Street Journal: iPhone Software Sales take off. “Who knows, maybe it will be a $1bn marketplace at some point in time. I’ve never seen anything like this in my career for software.”

With a run rate of around $30 million a month, the App store is certainly showing that making apps easy to find and relatively easy to buy makes business possible.

Interestingly, Apple’s offering has a number of restrictions which if lifted could make it even more successful:
(1) You can’t do single click payments to your phone bill
(2) The range of apps is very limited and subject to many restrictions
(3) Apps are limited to a “one shot” pricing model (subscriptions or on-demand are forbidden)

Just as the iPhone made usability a key factor in new phone design – because customers like it – the success of Apple in selling premium content should do a lot to refocus people’s minds on selling content to users without having to place it in the “Operator Deck” or “Portal”.

We have seen many smaller businesses do very well by opening up mobile content and application stores on the mobile web, collecting payment through mobile operators (via Bango) and marketing through search and mobile ads.

Just imagine how successful Nokia might be if it got serious about an off-deck store!


Transcoding the Truth?

There is an interview with Novarra President and COO, Jayanthi Rangarajan in Mobile Marketing Magazine that really takes the biscuit when it comes to spinning the truth around transcoding – its benefits and drawbacks: Rangarajan, as COO of Novarra is at best badly mis-informed or at worst blatantly transcoding the truth in her interview with the Magazine.


Novarra technology is being used by a few mobile operators to try to transform websites designed for PC’s to work better when viewed on phone browsers that don’t handle HTML pages or large pages well. A noble idea, to deal with the legacy websites that don’t deal with smaller screens and non-PC capabilities, but a process fraught with challenges.

Novarra chose to do this by sitting between the phone browser and the website, and replacing the information provided by the phone to the website with false information: specifically, changing the browser / phone identification to pretend the phone is a PC style browser.  The website, not knowing the user is coming from a phone then sends normal PC pages, which Novarra then “shrinks” and adapts to work better with the phone.   This can work well on sites that have not been designed to adapt to a mobile phone , but is disastrous for the hundreds of thousands of sites which do provide better service to phone users.

Mobile friendly sites identify the phone or browser and provide content best suited to that device. For example, video content, music, games and screen layouts are different on different devices.  Smart sites adapt to the device capabilities. If you are providing images to a phone you might want to fit them to the size of the phone screen for example. 

When Tim Berners Lee designed the Web, he foresaw the explosion in variety of browsers, so he enabled the browser to provide information to the website. The W3C mobile web initiative is the home of this activity: 

It is this information that Novarra hides or corrupts, and which is why Novarra is regarded with such disgust by those closely involved in Web activity and standards as well as among web site builders.

When Vodafone UK launched the Novarra transcoder on the now infamous 7/7/07 , to enable desktop optimised websites to render better on mobile, the result was outcry from thousands of content providers large and small that their sites could no longer be seen, were corrupted, or were destroyed.

Advertisers on mobile sites found their ads were no longer viewed.  People selling mobile content had a surge in customer complaints – content that was sold did not work (the phone type was unknown) or simply not delivered.  

Vodafone UK had not forseen the problem, but reacted very quickly to create a “whitelist” of sites that would bypass the transcoder – and this patch is still in place.  Organizations like the BBC, CNN, SKY, Facebook, Flickr and others had service restored within a few days.  The problem remains however that sites are “adapted” or corrupted unless the website owner knows how to get themselves added to the whitelist.  Estimates of the financial losses to website owners in the UK range from hundreds of thousands of pounds upwards. 

Novarra seems to expect that (a) website owners should be aware of Novarra transcoding stepping in and (b) know how to contact Turkcell and Vodafone UK among others to ask not to be transcoded.  Crazy!

This is all unnecessary.  Novarra’s main competitor, Openwave, can be configured to pass through the browser information to the website unmodified, only stepping in if it detects that the website is not returning correctly formatted web pages to that browser – a much better approach with less “fallout”.

Now lets look at the interview with Mobile Marketing Magazine…

“While there is a community that continues to complain, the facts are that the operators are very happy and the mobile content partners are very happy.”

The facts are that mobile content providers are much happier with the Mobile Operators that are not blocking or corrupting their sites and disappointing their users.  Vodafone UK has put a great deal of effort into working round Novarra’s shortcomings – which is appreciated by many, but the fact remains that while there are short term benefits in mobile users on Vodafine UK being able to browse PC optimized websites, the way ahead is for sites to optimize to device capabilities.  This is being seen with website owners adapting not only to mobile models, but even to teh iphone which has a great browser, and to devices like Nintendo Wii and set-top boxes, and to devices used over WiFi where thankfully Novarra cannot intercede. .

“The problem only arose on mobile sites that were not .wap or .mobi. – but there were a lot of people who didn’t address their mobile sites as .wap or .mobi. They addressed them as .com, because in the world they were used to, it wasn’t possible for their regular website to be rendered on a phone. ”

Er, yes.  I have no idea what a “.wap” site is, but of course most sites will be .com, .net, .de or or whatever.  They will be in peoples bookmarks, sent to users in messages etc., why should a person have to change their site address to stop Novarra breaking their site?

“We were screwing up some sites, and one of them, which was a Bango site, made a huge fuss. We had not tested some of these Bango sites, just as we have not tested all of the 1 billion websites.”

I have no idea which “Bango site” made a huge fuss. There are more than 10,000 mobile websites that use Bango services, most with their own web sites, some hosted on servers where they can’t change their domain name.  Many not even aware of what was going on in the UK.  Bango made a great effort to help these people who included companies like Disney, Paramount, EMI, Cosmopolitan, WWE, SKY, FIFA, NBA, Warner Bros, CocaCola, Maxim, and many others whose Vodafone UK connected users were harmed by Novarra’s lack of foresight and sensitivity.  Vodafone was very responsive – Novarra went into hiding.
“there’s one guy still going on about it.”

Perhaps Novarra  really believe there is just one complainer left. They must think that this “one guy” has hundreds of bogus identities on the mobile forums and somehow has many disguises to appear at trade-shows pretending to come from many of the world’s top mobile content companies…   More likely they are trying to hide the downside of their flawed system – rather than honestly acknowledging the problems they cause and addressing them.

Can you imaging if Novarra were able to stick themselves between iPhone users and their iPhone optimized websites – forcing them to deliver PC content?  What would Steve Jobs say?

“There are other people out there making a lot of noise, but they don’t have the people or the technology that we have.”

So, should they stop making a noise?

“If you look at the service that Sprint has launched with Openwave, it takes 60-70 seconds to load. That would take Novarra five seconds.”

This statement could be technically represented by the formula: B*LL()CK5
Bango sees traffic from millions of users across Vodafone UK and Sprint.
Both have deployed transcoders. Neither have a speed problem.

Talking of speed, if Novarra wants to become more than a temporary “speed bump” in the roll out of web to mobile users, I suspect they should listen more to the people who are already serving many times more users than them and who seem to want to innovate to solve problems rather than innovating
in the science of excuses and bluster.

Free My Phone

Veteran Technical Reporter / Guru Walt Mossberg wrote a great article in the Wall Street Journal on Monday.  Full of great info and a call to action to get carriers to open up their walled gardens.


Free My Phone

A shortsighted and often just plain stupid federal government has allowed itself to be bullied and fooled by a handful of big wireless phone operators for decades now. And the result has been a mobile phone system that is the direct opposite of the PC model. It severely limits consumer choice, stifles innovation, crushes entrepreneurship, and has made the U.S. the laughingstock of the mobile-technology world, just as the cellphone is morphing into a powerful hand-held computer.

Whether you are a consumer, a hardware maker, a software developer or a provider of cool new services, it’s hard to make a move in the American cellphone world without the permission of the companies that own the pipes. While power in other technology sectors flows to consumers and nimble entrepreneurs, in the cellphone arena it remains squarely in the hands of the giant carriers.

The Soviet Ministry Model

That’s why I refer to the big cellphone carriers as the “Soviet ministries.” Like the old bureaucracies of communism, they sit athwart the market, breaking the link between the producers of goods and services and the people who use them.

To some extent, they try to replace the market system, and, like the real Soviet ministries, they are a lousy substitute. They decide what phones can be used on their networks and what software and services can be offered on those phones. They require the hardware and software makers to tailor their products to meet the carriers’ specifications, not just so they work properly on the network, but so they promote the carriers’ brands and their various add-on services.



Hassle: Portuguese Taxes

Here’s another “single market” one:
Bango deals with three mobile operators in Portugal.  Each of them requires various documentation, in physical form, with the appropriate notarization, stamping, and authentication by local tax offices, before they can remit funds outside Portugal – to avoid double taxation.  In addition they require various VAT documentation and clearances. 

Hassle watch

Acting for thousands of content providers, collecting payments from over 100 countries through many different payment channels gives Bango a great view into the byzantine complexities of tax and financial laws around the world.  We are going to start blogging some of the hassle we encounter, ranging from odd local practices to mobile carriers who make illegal demands on us, and to so called “anti-terror” laws which make it really difficult to pay content provider sbased in certain countries.