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February 05, 2010


Lucas Warat

hey tom, great stuff! I would really appreciate if you send me those stats!
I am trying to understand this trend and I totally agree with you in every single point except one.
why do you thing apps are silly and not worthy??
dont you think that they are like the SMS services that you describe but only with more capabilities?? for ex (in the case of the airline, an app not only will tell you if your flight is late, but whats your seat, hows the weather, the meal on bord, etc)
Thanks for your time
from Argentina
Lucas Warat

Tomi Ahonen

Hi Lucas

Thanks for the comments. Obviously please send me the email so I can respond to that with the attachment and you'll get the Cheat Sheet by return email.

About apps - sorry about that. I meant to include the link, that was why I didn't really explain it in the blog. After reading your comment, I rememberd the missing link and posted it now (as well as the one about the futility of location-based services)

But let me give you the quick version here. First, the apps story today is overblown to unbelievable degree. The money in it is pitiful and very few companies even on Apple's App Store are able to make profits out of the idea. Sounds great, looks great on an iPhone, 3 billion downloads is great - but the business is pitiful. (Read the long blog explanations if you want the details). So today, the hype and hysteria about apps stores is totally out of proportion. That is my big gripe, it is drowning out honest real opportunities in 'less sexy' but very lucrative SMS, MMS and WAP - each of which reaches at least 20x larger audiences in the USA than Apple's Apps Store, and outside of the USA, reach at least 50x bigger audiences..

With that, apps are good and apps stores are good. Very good developments for the industry, with promise. They are so tiny, they will not budge the rounding off error in the industry, but they are promising nonetheless. Over time, in about 3-5 years, they can be of equivalent magnitude to say mobile music today (mostly ringing tones). Nothing nearly like MMS or SMS obviously but in the class of ringing tones yeah, why not, if they continue great growth (which I doubt, once the hysteria subsides and sanity returns and managers start to look at real budgets and real returns...)

Apps can be far better in some cases, and hideously wrong in other cases. But in most normal 'digital' service/proposition instances, the solution could be delivered by app, or by browser service. And here I do believe the cloud and browser-based services will totally trunmp apps in the long run. But even then, Apps will grow to be a multi-multi-billion dollar market - in many years from now, not today.

By the way, that airline example - the world's first airline mobile check in was Finnair of course back in 2001 (Norwegian was the first total mobile solution) - and they did it initially all by SMS including your seat selection, meal choice etc. So you don't need an app for those either, can be done even on SMS (today Finnair does it on SMS, WAP, 'real web' xTML, and 2D Barcode).

Thanks for writing, you may want to go check out those 2 links to the apps story to really understand what I mean..

Tomi Ahonen :-)


Hi Tomi,

Great stuff, as usual... you really awesome.

I was wondering if the number of one time user (a user that buy a prepaid card while traveling to some country to avoid roaming charges) really small in mobile industry that you miss to mention, or it's not very usual. I'm asking this because I have lots of foreign card such as Singapore (both Singtel and M1), HK (CSL), China (Unicom, china mobile), Thailand (I forgot the operator name). For each of the operator I mention here, I might own more than 1 card because sometimes it expired before I'm returning to that country.

Tomi Ahonen

Hi cygnus

Yes, good point. I have done occasional 'spot checks' on the sanity level of that stat, to see how many might be frequent travellers but while the number is in the dozens or perhaps hundred even million, it is too small to register in the overall subscriber stats. Take air travel. They transport a total of about a billion air journeys per year. So with round trips thats about 500 individual paid travellers going and coming back. Now lets assume in round terms that half is business travel and half is leisure (I don't have exact breakdowns, am not a travel expert but this will help give the scale) we get 250 million business trips per year. Then lets say the average business traveller makes 3 trips per year, we are at 83 million unique business traveller persons. Of those, what, if a third would get a second SIM card subscription at their destination, we're at about 28 million. Even if they had 2 foreign SIM cards on average, thats 50 million total 'frequent traveller' second subscriptions per year. Yes, its a giant number compared to say Kindle ebook readers or Playstation Portables but totally lost in the rounding off error of mobile phone subscriptions.

Also the mobile operators generally in most markets, will stop counting unused SIM cards after about half a year of non-use. But they usually won't kill off their balances until long after that, so there is some 'fluff' in the numbers, where a given infrequent traveller may have an active SIM card in another country that the person will still use later in the year, but local operator has already stopped counting it as an active subscription.

Thank you for writing

Tomi Ahonen :-)

Wolfram Kriesing

Thanks for all this useful information.
I just have one question.
What is "xTML"? Do you mean HTML, HTML5 and XHTML? Or others too?



Tomi Ahonen

Hi Wolfram

yes, you undestood exactly

Tomi :-)

Madelin Manley

Hey Tomi,

Really interesting post!

I'm currently doing a project in college on the mobile telephone industry and my head is wrecked from trying to find current (free) data on the facts and figures of the industry, like what you have reported, but what I can use for harvard referencing.

Would you mind supplying me with the data sheets or advising me as to where I can get this information on line.




this is a very wonderful reference. i would also love to receive the fact sheet. we have develop a little sms app.


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Now lets assume in round terms that half is business travel and half is leisure

James Pearce

I still think you're a little confused with your markup acronyms (and I'm on a mission :-) )

"Classic WAP" would mean sites written in WML, a long-forgotten markup language of, shall we say, 'telco' heritage. There are still some sites out there - particularly in China for various top-down reasons - but rarely seen otherwise, and certainly not for new sites.

Nearly all mid-range and low-end mobile sites (including Flirtomatic's it seems) now use XHTML-MP, the mobile subset of the W3C's XHTML specification, more or less a successor to HTML4.

Although the OMA (once known as the WAP Forum) took it and badged it as part of their "WAP 2" suite of specs, XHTML-MP really has a web heritage, and is familiar enough to HTML developers to hardly warrant your confusing and nostalgic WAP badge.

Pretty much all mobile browsers (particularly with assistance from a gateway when required) will have no problem with this, and so it's the reason that it forms the basis of the W3C's own 'Mobile Web Best Practices' and the .mobi compliance rules.

Now... in the last 2-3 years, browsers have certainly started to claim (and even occasionally deliver!) support for 'full desktop sites', and operators have scrambled to promote the transcoding abilities of their network to vainly assist in this regard.

But at this point the argument sort of diverges from the technical specs of the markup languages themselves: it's more about browsers "taking whatever's thrown at them" and more importantly providing a UI that means the sites can at least be visited and navigated. This is done well by an iPhone, for example, but poorly by most operator-hosted gateways.

But in a way this all misses the real point... the markup specs and browser capabilities are all a means to an end, and whether a user can or cannot see a full web site designed for a desktop PC is not that relevant. Do they want to?

The real 'mobile web revolution' is about designing sites and services that are appropriate to the context of the mobile human (timely, location-based, efficient etc) rather than a sedentary one (blessed with time, a screen and a comfortable seat).

And *that's* why we're seeing an explosion in made-for-mobile web sites - even for iOS and Android handsets - not because browsers give much of a damn about this markup tag or that markup tag any more, but because people appear to want a subtly different web when they are on the move.


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The average mobile phone user when counted as total subscriptions on the planet pays 15.70 dollars per month for mobile telecoms services

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