i-mode is SO 2000

19 Jul 2007
00:00

phasing out its i-mode service

discontinue i-mode in December

The Telstra announcement is no surprise - it reportedly lost interest in i-mode around the time it launched "Next-G" last October. But elsewhere, the numbers are telling. Japan has over 50 million i-moders, but out of 17 markets where i-mode has been exported, less than eight million have signed up.

So what's the deal‾

Traditionally the blame has been put on user confusion and - crucially - pitiful handset selection. Asking users to sign up for a service that requires them to buy a whole new handset is never an easy sell, let alone giving them barely a handful to choose from. There's also the notion that DoCoMo could make it work because it built it own ecosystem for it, an alien concept for most GSM operators (and notice how well Qualcomm's BREW has been doing ).

My favorite theory is the more simple one: that i-mode is, well, outmoded as a mobile Internet service.

Think of it this way: DoCoMo invented i-mode in the late 90s because the only other alternative for Web-like mobile data was WAP, which, as we all know now, sucked in 1999. DoCoMo figured that compact HTML made more sense because the Web speaks HTML. And they were right.

But i-mode isn't the Web. It just acts like it. That's fine in a market like Japan, where mobile is not only the preferred mode of access to online stuff, it was also the channel that introduced many Japanese users to the Net. And it might have been fine elsewhere back when mobile boffins thought of mobile and the Internets as two different things.

However, here in 2007, that's evidently not the case. Look at the rush by cellcos and handset makers to replicate the Web experience on mobile - which means being able to get your Web mail, your MySpace page, your Skype account, your IM service, etc - and you start to see why i-mode is losing its shine.

It was a great idea, i-mode was - a proof of concept showing the world that people will in fact use their mobile as a Web access tool. But now that users' expectations are being shaped by Web 2.0 and want their Web-based services to follow them on their handsets, cellcos who want to stand by i-mode need to sort out where it fits in the bigger picture.

And get more handsets, obviously.

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