Interview: Dave Evans, SurfKitchen


Dave Evans is CTO at SurfKitchen, provider of on-device portals for operators such as Orange, TIM and Telefonica. He joined SurfKitchen from network operator O2, where he was Vice President of Product Platform and Architecture.

Marek Pawlowski: How did you become involved in the mobile business and what’s your role at the moment?

Dave Evans: I first became involved in the mobile business in 1999, developing WAP based directories, for a web-based directory company called LookSmart. I am currently CTO of SurfKitchen responsible for the development of SurfKitchen’s market leading on-device portal solutions.

What does the term ‘mobile user experience’ mean to you?

Mobile user experience means the interaction a subscriber has through the mobile device with a service or product. This covers everything from how the subscriber gains access to the service, through the actual daily usage, to final termination of the service. The breadth of experience covers the service wrap – for example, the pricing and marketing – along with the actual interaction with service and the underlying device.

That overall experience can be fulfilling, resulting in a satisfied customer, or frustrating.

How important do you think it is to have direct exposure to end customers when developing new mobile services? Is this something you do when you’re building your own products?

I think this is critical, as there are many assumptions or myths in the mobile space, and until you experience the service, or better still observe other people experiencing the service, you can not deliver a truly great product. The danger is that people within the industry tend to be too forgiving of the technology, whereas mass market consumers are not – they just want stuff to work. SurfKitchen invest in usability studies where we video end customers to improve the product development, and share these learning’s with our customers.

Who do you think has overall responsibility for user experience in the mobile telecoms industry – operators, handset manufacturers, application developers..?

Ultimately it is the brand which stands behind the service – in many cases the operators. More frequently now device vendors also offers service direct to the consumer, as do content providers. While consumers are relatively comfortable with multiple brand relationships, they do not benefit from the device becoming a battleground of services. I think the industry as a whole has a responsibility to find a solution to providing a usable framework to enable services from the device vendor, operator and independent service providers to co-exist.

What was your first mobile handset and what do you use these days?

My first handset was a Nokia classical GSM device. I now change handsets on a regular basis – apparently I have been quoted as saying ‘handset x – that is so last week’. I am currently using a Sony Ericsson K800i.

Which services do you use most often on your mobile?

Voice! And a great off-line newsreader built internally at SurfKitchen.

Do you think the industry should be moving towards a business model which enables each user to feel as if their handset has been designed for them as an individual?

SurfKitchen’s vision is to enable the subscriber to mix and match services from a variety of providers on the device of their choice. I would expect that over time we will see clusters or niches of services – and many subscribers will continue to choose the operator’s service portfolio.

Subscribers will then personalise from this starting point – maybe adding services specific to their interests such as sport, or theatre, and also potentially changing those services over time. For example, a business and home personality.

Such a vision requires a number of components to be in place – for example shared billing, permissions, presence services probably provided by the operator, for third party services to make use of – to become more
relevant to the subscriber.

What combination of handset design, mobile services and customer support would represent your ideal user experience?

Handset physical design is very important. In particular, reasonable processing power, good screen resolution, good enough camera – 2-3 megapixels – and extensible memory. Ideally 2G, 3G and Wi-Fi connectivity. Great UI, that is easy to use – particularly for handling voice calls and texting.

A wide range of mobile services – this would require a device with an OS capable of downloading and running applications – with integration into the device UI.

Customer Service is a key area of potential differentiation by the operator – I would like to see on-device self care services for device top-up and viewing my bill.

What’s the most bizarre use of a mobile device you’ve discovered recently?

Controlling a car, using the Bluetooth module of a phone – central locking, opening the boot, starting the engine – pretty cool until the battery runs out.

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