MMS Is (Like) a Joke
By Eric Lin, Mon Sep 20 23:30:00 GMT 2004

Even though MMS is now cross-network compatible and reasonably priced, usage is still waning in the UK. There is still at least one more barrier to knock down -- usability.

High cost as well as a lack of interoperability have often been blamed as the main culprits behind the slow uptake of MMS. A spring-time survey had shown that despite an increase in cameraphones, UK interest in MMS was not picking up. At the time it was easy to point to the lack of compatibility, but even then additional factors were suspected. Now, even though MMS interop is fairly complete between UK carriers, MMS usage is still falling. The number of UK cameraphone owners who have never sent an MMS increased from 27 percent last year to 36 percent this year. Those who do send MMS now send fewer -- an average of 3.7 messages per month this year compared to 6.1 last year.

Carriers have offered a period of free or low cost MMS messaging in hopes of getting users addicted -- a sort of "first hit's free" program to create message addicts. TeliaSonera was successful at boosting its MMS traffic with a free weekend MMS promotion. Vodafone Australia just announced it has met its goal, increasing MMS traffic 1000 percent during a free MMS period that started in July. However Vodafone spokeswoman Kelly Smith does not wax poetic about her company's free introduction as much as she talks about creating a comfort zone. (Link from Picturephoning)"We recognise that this is a new technology, and at 75c a message, some people may be too worried about making a mistake," she says. Vodafone has extended the free promotion until January 2005 to be sure subscribers have a chance to get comfortable, or even adept, at composing MMS.

The process of creating an MMS, in many cases just a message with a photo attached, is still too difficult. Carriers have to offer users a free adjustment period -- a time for them to learn how to work within the handset's interface. However a good interface is one that fits the user, not that the user has to fit himself to. On Mobitopia, Russell Buckley likens creating an MMS on today's handsets to writing a joke. It's difficult to make a joke, not many people can write a good one. However far more people can re-tell a joke than can write them. Composing a quality MMS with images, background, text, even sound is a difficult skill that takes an artistic talent. He suggests what are needed, at least until MMS software catches up with the rest of a phone's interface, are high quality templates and canned messages.

The idea of templates are not that different from how MMS has been successful so far - namely as a delivery device for multimedia content. It will be up to the manufacturers and carriers to decide whether MMS will just be the new WAP Push, or whether it will succeed as a peer to peer message protocol.