Today's Economist (May 14, 2005) and today's Business Week both run a story about the "future" of mobile e-mail. By comparing to the success of RIM's Blackberry (which being a "major success" has achieved 3 million paying users worldwide in four years of commercial operation, whoop-te-doo, am so not impressed. In the same time 3G phones alone have achieved 30 million paying users all of who also have access to e-mail on their 3G phone and a billion users worldwide are active users of SMS text messaging on the cellphone) the articles go on to paint a scenario of a major shift of messaging traffic to mobile e-mail with such providers as Visto, etc.
Just because some American analyst (Andrew Odlyzko) has found e-mail more useful to web users than web content (but ignoring mobile phone based services and messaging), the San Francisco based unnamed totally clueless journalist therefore concludes mobile e-mail is to become big. This is like saying just because steam-powered carriages are better than horse-drawn carriages, that is why steam-powered carriages will dominate over gasoline powered automobiles! What idiotic logic is this? The Economist actually quotes this Mr Pip Coburn of UBS promising us that mobile e-mail is going to be a "killer application!"
What utter nonsense. If only these reporters had bothered to study the issue to a small degree they would find how utterly out-of-date is this Pip's opinion. We went through those discussions at the turn of the decade, as we were researching my first book, Services for UMTS: Creating Killer Applications in 3G. No, all mobile telecoms experts in mature markets agree mobile e-mail is not going to be a killer application.
Just go to any markets and customers who have used both. What is the messaging killer app in mobile? Even West Coast American telecoms journalists already know that it is SMS text messaging. 8% of all person-to-person messaging traffic is SMS text messaging, which delivers over 20 times more revenues worldwide than e-mail in all its forms, on fixed and mobile networks. At 50 billion dollars in service revenues, SMS text messaging is bigger than Hollywood. Bigger than videogaming. No, bigger than Hollywood and gaming, combined !! SMS delivers 15% of mobile operator revenues in Western Europe and 55% of total profits. The most profitable service or product in the history of mankind. Lets not dismiss it without at least examining those kinds of customers and markets who have used both.
There are more users. The number of users grows faster. The access devices are more prevalent. The speed of communication throughput is faster by several orders of magnitude. Most of all, where they have access to both, young users in study after study after study confirm the same conclusion - even though e-mail is free and SMS text messaging costs, all young users PREFER text messaging on SMS over e-mail. Korean young adults put it so well - e-mail is outdated, it is not used between friends, and not between colleagues. The only people you would use mobile e-mail with is the older generation at work, ie your boss. e-Mail? Its so 1990s.
But American analysts and writers just don't get it. They look at their Blackberries and think this is somehow radical and futuristic. If they bothered to analyse the world behaviour, they would discover that fully mobile fully querty-keyboard cellphone mobile e-mail was introduced not by Blackberry, but by Nokia with its original Communicator back in 1998. The world's most prevalent line of PDA/smartphone, the various generations of the Communicator all have Blackberry-type functionality to access all e-mail and attachments on the go (as well as full access to all internet content, not only "WAP").
There are millions upon millions of users on the various Communicators. But guess what? Do they use their e-mail more or their SMS text messaging more? They love the functionality of SMS on a solid keyboard rather than the more clumsy typical keypad of most cellphones. Communicator owners prefer SMS to mobile e-mail. The identical pattern. Yes, Communicator users do use mobile e-mail. But they use SMS text messaging much more.
How about those Blackberry users who have learned to send SMS? Suddenly the same pattern appears. They diminish their use of mobile e-mail, and constantly shift traffic to ever more SMS use ! Why? Because it is so much faster. The OTHER person is not necessarily at his/her e-mail device. But the other person ALWAYS carries his/her cellphone and thus SMS messaging device everywhere. And by everywhere studies show people take phones to the bathroom, and take it to bed with them.
Don't get me wrong. Yes, e-mail itself will migrate to more mobile devices. To laptops. To Blackberries. To smartphones. But the notion only held onto by the Americans, a notion dismissed as utterly faulty by all in Asia and Europe, is that mobile e-mail would grow to dominate over SMS text messaging. No, it will be the other way. SMS is the messaging method of choice for Generation-C. It is the inevitable winner in the messaging wars.
Ask your 14 year old child, whatever the country. SMS wins hands down. When the kids are told to quit on the Playstation and no more DVDs and turn off the music and get off the PC and IM, they turn off their lights and go to bed. What do they do? They send secret SMS text messages still way past bedtime. They would not think of using a Blackberry and try to send mobile e-mail. The other friend in his/her bed would not be connected to e-mail anymore at this late hour. But they will have their cellphones and their SMS text messaging in bed with them. Only SMS has this power.
80% of British business executives use SMS messaging daily, according to a study by the Mobile Data Association. After face-to-face meetings, SMS communication already comes second in preference of all forms of communication, ahead of phone calls AND yes, ahead of e-mail, according to another study of British executives by the MDA. A mass e-mail is expected to be read in 48 hours. A mass-mailed SMS text message is expected to be read within the hour. The numbers, stats, studies and customer feedback are irrefutable. But still today, the American West Coast IT industry clings onto hopeless expectations that e-mail on the mobile will somehow change this world. Grow up!