On device portals – walled-gardens with better user experience but no exit

ODPs have been around since around 2000. They seemed to be one of the stars of the Mobile World Congress 10 days ago in Barcelona but I have my doubts about whether they represent a good investment for VCs. On closer examination ODPs seem to be solving the user experience problem – they are placing fatter clients on the phone and pre-loading a lot of content – this improves the customer experience. It also allows mobile service providers to control and track the user to a far greater extent. Mobile service provider love it and I even heard that Vodafone Live was going to be dumped for an ODP approach.

Why are they not good investments for VCs? Two reasons, firstly ODPs are not purchased by users but bought by operators – therefore there is no “facebook” factor. Secondly, who will buy the ODPs when they are so controlled by the operator channel?

I, Android

Last week at Future of Mobile in London, David Burke from Google (http://www.future-of-mobile.com/speakers.html#DaveBurke) gave a great presentation on Android. My perspective that such an initiative will be successful because it’s Google pushing it.

Google have to win in search on the mobile for the obvious reasons (briefly, mobiles are more pervasive than PCs, always with us, very personal) and can gain massively if the search/advertising market on mobile is brought forward in time. This initiative, if successful (success being that they are in I would say 60% of mobile phones) in maybe 3 to 5 years, will give Google the platform to deliver mobile search and at the same time have provide a massive boost to take-up of the mobile internet.

Investing even what is a very large amount of money in such an initative  is nothing when compared to the size of the gain for Google and the huge sums that they have available.

Vodafone’s walled-garden

Vodafone has implemented a reformatting proxy within its mobile content delivery stack that enables normal web sites to be reformtatted for phones. The issue is that they now no longer allow information regarding the user’s phone to be sent to third-party content providers. This means that the user experience on mobile sites that are not part of the Vodafone Live portal (are therefore what we call “off-portal”) can be severly impacted to the point where the service does not work.

Is this a conspiracy or a cock-up? I, like others, can’t help feeling that Vodafone is seeking to provide an advantage to its own mobile internet services. This is big-telco thinking and a possible abuse of their position. To be followed with interest!