Universal Mobile Interface
Universal Mobile Interface (UMI) is a software concept designed to overcome key barriers to mass usage of mobile services. By running server-based services “over the top”, the end user always has access to personal content and data irrespective of operator or device. Operator and device independent services increase the users’ willingness to create personalised web interfaces, store contacts, etc. and to share the UMI software itself along with the services themselves. By having many services interlinked through the same user interface the problem of utilising data across applications and running parallel programs is overcome. As all Internet links are available through the server, there is no need to type in URLs. The specific link may be represented graphically in the UI and can be clicked on directly. Any link is easily saved and shared.
A Universal Mobile Interface (UMI) has the following characteristics:
- It acts as the main Internet services interface
- It offers access to the whole Internet on the mobile device
- It is operator and device independent
- It offers full personalization of internet link collections
- It offers easy access to the device’s contact book and messaging
- It enables import of contacts and mail from other applications
- It offers a universal payment solution
- It is graphically adjusted to a small screen
- It offers surfing without typing URLs
- It has viral distribution capabilities
- It is easy to download and install
- It is a freeware
- It enables easy content creation and distribution
- It supports content provider business models
The evolution of the mobile phone as the foremost multi-media device has long been predicted, but take-up has mostly been quite disappointing. The mobile phone has turned out to be a complex distribution platform for non-voice services, both from a technology and a business model point of view, in addition to the physical limitations of its small size. Many attempts have been made to overcome these limitations with limited success. But for various reasons, it has proven difficult to transfer concepts from market to market as well as from one device to the other.
Even so it seems clear that sooner or later, Mobile Internet will be the primary access to the Internet for most people as mobile phones far outnumber PCs. Today there are about 3.5 billion mobile phones, compared to 1 billion PCs. The main advantages of the mobile phone compared to the PC are:
- It is a much more personal device
- It is portable
- It is always on
Barriers to mass usage of Mobile Internet services
However, the mobile phone also has important disadvantages compared to the PC:
- Physical limitations, e.g. small screen, limited keyboard
- The large number of different operating systems as well as different versions of enabling software such as Java.
- Limited memory and bandwidth capabilities which reduces the capacity to run applications in parallel and makes it difficult to switch between different applications.
The business strategies of operators also create important barriers to increased usage. The price of data traffic is one example, even though more and more flat rate offers are introduced. Expensive or complex roaming data pricing is still a major issue for travelers. Aside from pricing constraints, operators often run “walled garden” approaches for value added mobile services, as premium services represent a significant revenue potential for them. This restricts the end user from freely exploring the Mobile Internet. Another barrier has been that phone settings are often not correct, and have not been possible to monitor and manage remotely.
Content providers have mainly been limited to two approaches for mobile distribution due to the content strategies of mobile operators. Firstly, gaining visibility through operator portals at a significant cost for the premium services, or, secondly, running off-portal (off-deck) services where they have to market the services independently. In both cases, the services have to be produced in many versions to fit all phones and operators. In the latter option, the end user usually needs to type in URLs manually and bookmarks are typically lost when the user changes phones. One alternative is to browse ordinary Internet web sites. This typically provides a very poor user experience, and is really just an option for very high-end terminals.
Strategies to overcome barriers
Two types of approaches have emerged to overcome these barriers to mass usage of mobile services. Both work and will co-exist. The first will be limited by hardware penetration and/or operator footprint. The second approach has no real limitations and will eventually reach much higher penetration.
Vertical versus Horizontal approach to overcome barriers to mass usage of Mobile Internet
Vertical approach: Take full control of hardware, OS and application
The user experience and quality is safeguarded by building and optimising the services for one OS/hardware and by applying strict rules on application and content formats. Special solutions can be implemented to guarantee quality, speed and graphics. This approach has been utilised by both operators and device manufacturers, for example i-mode (NTT DoCoMo), Blackberry (RIM) and iPhone (Apple).
Horizontal approach: Service/browser independent of hardware, OS and operator
Another alternative is a customer-centric “over the top” approach. This approach cannot, in the short run, give the same ease-of-use and user experience as the vertical approach but has other advantages that may result in more universal success. In this case, the barriers are overcome by adding a server-based application on top of existing phone systems utilising the mobile phone as a remote window (light client) to server-based mobile-optimised services. The approach thereby becomes customer-centric, giving the same user experience when moving from one handset to the other and also when changing operator. In this category we have services such as Opera Mini, Plusmo, Widsets, and Squace.
The Universal Mobile Interface concept can be categorized as a horizontal approach.