Application Developer Perspective: Part 4: Personalisation


This is the last in a series of posts describing what I see as some issues affecting the current and future user experience.

In my previous post on Testing, I commented how excessive OEM hardware personalisation has created a situation where the combinations of things to be tested has become expensive and in some cases unmanageable. I concluded that the solution might come with standardisation of internal hardware and phone operating systems rather than more elaborate testing. Leading on from this, loss of some hardware personalisation might be balanced with more innovative software or service personalisation.

Personalisation is important. To appear attractive, mass produced items need to appear to be tailor made. Network operators like to measure themselves in terms of Average Revenue per User (ARPU) and the rate people leave and join (the churn rate). 3G and the latest services provide an opportunity for network operators to use personalisation to increase ARPU and decrease churn. Personalisation can be used to make it easier for the user to use services. Personalisation can increase Simplicity. A side effect is that personalisation often acts to dissuade the user from changing service provider.

Take an example from the real world. I have a bank account with a big UK high street bank. I know I should move bank account to gain better services and interest rates. I don’t because I have another linked business account with same bank and many regular automatic payments to third parties. I don’t want the hassle of changing even though other providers say they can transfer me with minimal interruption. Somehow I don’t trust they can and don’t want the fallout when it all goes wrong. It’s the same for mobile services. The current low levels of personalisation make it easy to leave. Network operator utopia is a place where subscribers are deeply personalised so it’s a disincentive to move even if it is costing them more.

What does this mean for developers of mobile applications and services? Current personalisation is limited to ring tones and graphics. Current 3G providers are extending this to music and videos. But this isn’t the type of personalisation that will keep users loyal. People can easily obtain these services from other network operators or even 3rd parties.

Applications and services are required that embed as much personalisation as possible. This ranges from saved settings (on the phone) to linked services and data seemingly held by network operator. An example is image sharing/printing where camera phone images are uploaded and held by the network operator. From here they can be backed up, viewed and printed by yourself, friends and family. It becomes a disincentive to leave if you have to move all your images and notify your friends and family that everything has moved.

At the extreme end it’s possible to link totally unrelated services. For example, network operators in Japan are adding automatic contactless payment services to phones so that you can quickly pay by phone when you purchase a travel ticket. If it’s much more convenient then people will keep their network operator just to be able to pay this way.

Areas I currently see as ripe for taking advantage of personalisation include…

  • Upload, backup and sharing of any phone data (photos, sms messages, email) e.g. Nokia LifeBlog
  • m-commerce. Linking of phone to popular payment methods.
  • Customised user interfaces (e.g. PIM replacements).
  • More vertical information services (e.g. regional, news by keyword, location dependent, maps).
  • Suggestion services for existing media and services (e.g Music, Restaurant offers).

However, implementations need to be simple for the user to set up. Ideally, some services might not need to be set up but just monitor what the user does and provide adaptive future services based on past usage.

Incentives may also need to be offered by network operators to get people to try these services. They might even be offered ‘free-of-charge’ in order to tie the user into staying with the network operator and consuming chargeable data.

One note of caution. Care needs to be taken with the security and privacy of data, especially in Europe, where there are extra costs in giving users options as to how their personal data is used.

Successful personalisation can be a win-win situation for the consumer and network operator. The customer gets a better user experience and the network operator decreases their churn and increases their ARPU. This success depends on us changing our thinking from ‘Products and Services’ to ‘Experiences and Solutions’ .

This post was written by Simon Judge, Freelance Mobile Developer.

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