Push To Mobiles Moves Beyond SMS Alerts
By Carlo Longino, Tue Apr 05 22:45:00 GMT 2005

No dot-com business plan circa 1997 was complete without some mention of push technology. A simple form of push data, SMS alerts have been commonplace in mobile for some time, but it looks like mobile push is getting, well, a push.

Tom Hume pointed to a post about Motorola's SCREEN3 software, which pushes data to the idle screen of some of its phones, things like weather and sports scores and the other usual suspects. It's not necessarily a new development, there have been applications like this before (both mobile-specific and things like Microsoft's SPOT system), and it's even being integrated into some mobile OS. With the advent of Flash-based UIs and pervasive applications, it's something that there will likely be plenty more of in the future, too.

Mobile push is a solid idea, if for no other reason that mobile browsing still isn't a great experience -- and for the vast majority of the world's users still on slow data networks, it can be a downright pain. Pre-loading content on a device offers a suitable workaround, and the penetration of RSS on the wired Net means it's already a common idea.

But there are still some obstacles. Tom rightly asks why send data to an idle screen, like on SCREEN3? It is, after all, the screen that comes up when the user isn't using the phone. And it sort of defeats the purpose of pre-loading information if you have to wait for it to scroll to the info you're looking for. But a bigger problem could be operator data pricing: consumers are weary of applications whose data use they can't easily monitor and control, while operators (for their own reasons, usually) are reticent to allow such applications on their networks.

There are two solutions: operators move to affordable, flat-rate pricing, or get involved and offer some type of push system as an all-in-one-price service. Many carriers offer WAP portals with personalized content -- T-Mobile USA, for instance, lets me specify things like movie theaters around me, stocks I want to watch and sports teams I want to follow so they're relatively easy to get to on the portal that's part of their basic package (they also make it pretty easy to add SMS alerts). It's useful, even helpful sometimes, but WAP browsing can still be a pain -- it would be even better if the data was sent to my device.

A favorite ploy of US carriers is to charge high rates for information calls (usually at least $1.50 per call). They do offer many different kinds of information through these services, like driving directions and movie showtimes. But much of this information could be sent through push technology. Users' normal MO is only to call 411 as a last resort, given how expensive it is. But if carriers were to throw all kinds of compelling info into a push service (which could be made through a J2ME or Flash app) and price it reasonably, they could likely earn more from subscription sales than the occasional 411 call. I'd pay $5 a month for a useful push service, whereas I make maybe 3 information calls a year -- that's $60 versus $4.50.

In this age of declining voice ARPU, there are ways carriers can make up the shortfall with data, if only they'd innovate just a little bit.