An army of content providers are entering the market as handsets continue to become more sophisticated.
The boom in smartphone sales and the emergence of several key platforms from which consumers can pick and choose from a wide variety of information and services has led to a change in what customers expect from their handsets – and even from the operators.
Content and services has been an area of interest for operators and manufacturers for several years as the long-running battle over who owns the customer intensifies.
The emergence of mobile internet on handsets has seen operators launching their own portals with key pieces of information on sports, news and the weather – effectively a one-stop shop.
These portals are now expanding as operators increasingly create applications in connection with the services they provide. The networks say this is ‘enhancing the customer experience’ – effectively gaining loyalty from consumers.
But what do mobile operators gain from developing applications for specific platforms.
O2 currently offers two applications, My O2 and O2 Priority, for its customers on the iPhone, which will soon launch on Android.
O2 head of content Glyn Povah says: ‘What we are really interested in doing is helping our customers. The applications we are offering are about helping our customers get more value. We sell a wide range of different handsets and we are going to see a proliferation of platforms. We are platform agnostic.’
And O2 is not the only operator that sees benefits in providing a service to improve customer experience.
Virgin Media has a clear strategy around the applications it offers its customers, with differentiation a key element.
The operator recently launched the preloaded ‘Virgin Media Player’ app on the Nokia N8, allowing customers to watch content from media channels 4oD, MTV and Nickelodeon.
Virgin Media director of mobile Jonathan Kini says: ‘The approach that we have to apps is that they have to be unique and different. There are two different areas that are really important for us. We are focusing on solutions so that customers can help themselves. We also want to be leading the way forward in bringing the three screens experience to customers.’
Meanwhile, Orange’s approach continues the theme of enhancing customer experience. Everything Everywhere director of product management Paul Jevons
says: ‘We know that with hundreds of thousands of applications and services out there, discovering the right ones for you can sometimes be a challenge and so we want to make it easy for customers to get to the types of content and services they want the most.
‘We also know that the quality of the customer experience is important and so by working with service providers, as well as developing services ourselves, we can ensure the customer gets a service that delivers what they expect.’
Orange has also embedded its own-brand services – which include Orange Maps, Orange 241 Wednesdays and Orange daily (a selection of news, sports and weather), onto the new Windows Phone 7 operating system.
Embedded services and portals
However, despite the increase in applications running on different platforms, the operators are all keen to emphasise that they are ‘platform agnostic’.
O2’s platform, O2 Active, has been established for ten years and since its launch investment has been made to continually refresh it.
Povah says: ‘The other great platform that we are big supporter of is mobile internet. O2 Active is a portal that is available to access from any handset and any platform.’
O2 has recently launched a train time service on it portal similar to the National Rail application available for the iPhone and Android.
‘I don’t think that customers care about how the information gets to them.
It is about driving loyalty and also using your asset. It is all about providing content our customers expect to be provided on our portal’, explains Povah.
He adds: ‘We should not forget that the majority of our base is still on a feature phone rather than a smartphone.’
Operators have become increasingly interested in their own-branded content and services in a bid to create more loyalty and ‘own’ customers.
Jevons disagrees. He says: ‘We don’t think it’s about owning the customer, it’s about enhancing the way a customer uses their device, making it easy for them to have access to high quality services that are relevant to them and the way they live their lives.’
However, the own-brand strategy can backfire. Vodafone’s own branded portal and services have led to protest from customers in recent months after Vodafone 360 updates were pushed out with Android updates.
But there is still a place for operator branded content and services – and it doesn’t necessarily have to come in the form of applications. Operators’
strategy remains firmly around customer service.
The launch of applications on different platforms is not a reflection of operators embedding themselves with specific platforms, but of continued investment in customer service.
And in this ever competitive landscape, retention is key to maintaining control.