March 16th, 2007

IM Phone


I had this idea while having dinner with Marc in Bali a few weeks ago. I am sure a lot of other people already thought of it but I think the timing for the idea is perfect right now.

The premise is that kids who grow up in the 90s on IM are now in the lates teens or early twenty entering the workforce. Email is dead as far as they are concern.

Do you think a phone like blackberry will appeal to them?

No, what they want is a cheap mass-market phone that specialized in Instant Messaging. Phones like Nokia, Sony Ericsson and even Blackberry have IM, either build-in or third-party software. The problem are

(1) they are mobile proprietary – no sorry, I want to talk to my friends on MSN, Yahoo, AIM/ICQ, not Wireless Village where none of my buddies is on.

(2) those that do okay for IM are very high-end phones, ie too expensive for mass market.

(3) IM is an afterthought for most phone – they dont work well on the phone such as unable to function in the background properly. A phone specialized in IM would have design from ground-up for IM would have an appropriate keyboard suitable for IM – buttons for buddies, multi-chat sessions, etc etc.

(4) The UI on IM software suck and believe me, I tried almost all of them. Agile Messager is close but still far from ideal.

(5) Most important of all, none of IM on phone I tried are able to withstand the (current) unstable mobile network, ie, you go online then offline very often as you roam around in the city.

Email gives birth to Blackberry right under mobile manufacturers nose. Today, Nokia are still playing catch up. So while mobile manufacturers are focusing on adding features to the phones, first camera and then video and now MP3, I havent seen any that focus on IM or doing a decent job at it.

Technically, none of these are rocket science. All the technology needed to build this is already here and all is the appropriate user-interface packaging. Overcoming the unstable mobile network can be resolve by a customized server installed within the mobile operator network to maintain the active sessions.

Business-wise, mobile operator could customize a package for the phone (ie, unlimited IM for X dollars per month). IM don’t consume a lot of bandwidth. A typical user might consume between 5mb to 20mb a month, perfectly ideal for mobile operator who is worried about data consumption on their network*. Revenue will come from phone sales but mostly from subscriptions (e.g. US$1/month/subs).

What about mobile operators who will resist IM, worried IM eating into their SMS profit margin? The smart one already knows the SMS profit margin is not sustainable (and they have milk the cashcow for a many years now) and the rest will realized they cannot stop customer from doing IM on their network, with them or without them.

* Most mobile network aren’t designed for data so most operators are concern overloading it with raw Internet traffic, >80% peer-to-peer.

This Business Idea is release under the condition “No need for permission nor do I ask for anything in return”. Good luck!

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