Demand in Europe for the first GSM phone with a full-color screen, the T68 from Ericsson, is strong. “The Ericsson T68 with its color screen was unexpectedly successful,” says Ben Wood, a European telecommunications director at Gartner Group. It has proven to be popular with a “broad market segment” according to Sony-Ericsson spokesperson, Peter Bodor.
It looks like demand for color will soon be met by a range of suppliers as Nokia, Siemens, and Trium are soon to offer phones with color displays across Europe and in other GSM markets by the second quarter of this year.
Executives appear ready to pay a premium for color. So are the young and trendy who, according to Bodor, are choosing to “eat noodles for a few weeks” to be able to afford the high price of color.
Basic human instincts in color
Early reports suggest that new color screens are exciting users because they can customize the screen by downloading full color images (as opposed to the previous generation’s grainy black and grey or green images), the most popular being those depicting sexy, full-color images of partially clad females.
One WAP site manager said that an image of someone named “Jordan” has been downloaded from his site 30,000 times. The next most popular image was a cartoon tiger, reportedly downloaded 12,000 times, followed by brand-name logos (think Nike and Adidas) and sports team logos.
WAP content for consumers has become a bit of a “red light” district anyway and color will just increase its appeal and the types of content possible. Practically every mobile portal in Europe has an “adult” or “erotic” channel. But these channels are just too text-y to be really sexy.
Christina Bock, the spokesperson for popular mobile portal Jamba in Germany says her company’s erotic channels will “take off” when more color phones hit the market.
Echoing Bock’s sentiments is Ulrich Becker, the managing director of WAPJAG, an international WAP content provider. He says that new phones from Nokia and i-Mode are expected to boost the use of WAP and thereby increase his company’s revenues.
For adults only
Adult-oriented soft-core content providers such as Tomorrow Internet, the license holder of Playboy in Germany, and Beate Uhse, a publicly-traded lingerie and sex-toy company, are also expecting a boom in sales to wireless networks. While neither provides details of their wireless strategies, both say that they will be offering images and non hard-core material for mobile terminal downloads.
Private Media Group, a purveyor of hardcore content, has just announced that it is creating material for handheld devices along with Roundpoint Inc with offices in Silicon Valley and Cambridge, UK. Others, such as CDV Software, whose pornographic “Lula Wet Attack” computer game has already been adapted for the Palm market clearly has its eye on the mobile market too.
Conventional wisdom says that capitalizing on sex and the “eye appeal” of color screens spells success for next generation of phones and services. Combining images with messaging, titillation with text, and mixing it all up with basic human instincts could very well be the recipe for data and multimedia success that mobile operators have been looking for.
An example of this kind of combination is WAPJAG's virtual beauty contests. While they may be considered “adult” oriented, they are not necessarily pornographic in nature. WAPJAG’s sites invite people to upload photos of themselves to a WAP server so that other members of the community can view and then vote on their degree of sexiness. The sites called binichsexy.de (am I sexy) and wap.sexy.com are racking up heavy use among mobile subscribers in the region.
Another example could be Hutchison Whampoa’s and Virgin’s flirting and virtual dating messaging services offered as part of their "adult" marketing divisions. Looks like both operators are counting on sex to drive usage, which in turn drives revenues.
But it is too simplistic to conclude that since adult content is one of the few truly profitable services on the fixed Internet, that it will be the only profitable service on the mobile Internet.
Pekka Isosomppi, Communications Manager, Nokia Mobile Phones, points out that the new Nokia color phone will include a digital camera for making and sending still images. Being able to take photos on the fly and send them immediately to friends and family using the MMS feature is going to add a whole new dimension to the way people communicate, he believes.
Besides, there are risks involved in offering adult content, so operators will have to figure out how to offer content that appeals to humanity’s basic instincts in an ethical way. In addition, still to be addressed are a number of issues, according to Wood: How to prevent access by minors and how do operators protect corporations from paying for adult content for their employees who have a company phone?
The pragmatics of color
Color livens up a dull display, making it “sexier”, but the screens are also meant to be practical. Usability features, such as colorful icons, links, and animations help users find their way around the increasing number of features and services available on mobile terminals.
However color displays alone are not going to constitute a boom in the mobile phone market. What it will take is the combination of technology and appropriate content. For example, Java-based content is expected to increase mobile operator revenues this year - but only if the Java phones have color screens.
“It is no coincidence that all Java phones sold in Japan have full color displays,” says Steven Hartley, ARC Group Consultant. “NTT DoCoMo says that availability of color phones was in fact a pre-requisite for the launch of Java content.”
“Color is definitely more than just "nice to have” but it will have to be part of an entire package, including viable business models for content providers," says Siddhartha Arora, a consultant at IBM's e-business Innovation Center in Switzerland.
Arora concludes that color screens are similar to the advent of the color TV. It was a giant leap from black and white to technicolor, but the increase in the installed base of color TVs only took place when there was lots of choice in content and programming, something that took place years after the launch when cable TV services became available.
The combination of color, a new WAP standard, Bluetooth and GPRS and appealing content will make mobile Internet services more palatable. But marketers take note, Gartner’s Wood, say not to use the three and four letter acronyms to sell the services or the phones. “No one is going to buy a phone because it has GPRS,” says Wood. “People will buy based on more compelling reason such as wanting to play games or wanting to be connected to corporate applications.”
Valerie Thompson is a freelance business and technology journalist, specialized in emerging networking and computing topics. She lives in Zurich, Switzerland.