Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Offline Mobile Content

Have you tried Google Maps Mobile? It's the most useful application I've ever seen on my cell phone. Still, at least here in Europe, few people are using mobile services. Since telcos are competing on the price per talk minute and price per SMS, they are still charging extremely high fees for GPRS. With my current plan, I pay a whopping CHF 2.50 ($ 2) per MB! Most people don't even know what GPRS costs, so they are hesitant about using it.

Still there is so much content you'd want to have access to on your phone: Aside from the maps, I'd love to have mobile access to tour guides, restaurant reviews, business listings, movie ratings (for next time I'm at the video rental place without a clue of what to get).

Almost every new mobile phone today comes with a memory card with ample capacity: My Nokia 6280 came with a 64 MB card. Its successor comes with 512 MB.

For the time being, this creates kind of an arbitrage opportunity for content providers: While GPRS data rates remain high, they could offer downloadable packages of offline content instead of a web service. A map of Zurich to download on the web and store on my cell phone via Blueooth? All for CHF 5? I would certainly pay for that.

This model will be viable unless data service becomes practically free: Most would probably rather pay a small flat free than put themselves at the mercy of intransparent price plans. Once data is free, it's better to use the online service as it is more up-to-date. But I doubt this will happen soon: Making data service free endangers the telcos' core business – Mobile Skype, anyone?

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