The future of mobile is personalisation, says fast-moving software player

31 Oct 2008

Widgets, mash-ups but fundamentally personalisation will be the future of mobile, as operators strive to corner market share in a business profoundly changed by the iPhone and BlackBerry Storm.

Nick Stirk, chief executive of SLA Mobile, a Northern Ireland-headquartered firm listed at No 78 in the Sunday Times top 100 list of UK tech companies, says that mobile operators are moving from proscribing technology to realising that individuals have different needs and preferences when it comes to mobile.

SLA Mobile’s main client is mobile phone giant Vodafone, and it provides the technology platform which runs the operator’s Live! service. The company employs over 100 people worldwide, including 30 people in Malaysia.

“To us, the future of mobile data services is all about personalisation,” Stirk explained. “The ability for content to be able to get to the device and the subscriber is more important than it ever has been. We’re going to see more use of widgets, mash-ups and the ability to bring in sources of information from a variety of places.

“The ability to access social networks and blogs more readily than now will be a driving force going forward. The issue is that mobile devices are limited by screen size and battery power. But as they are improved, release after release will result in a much easier but richer experience.”

Stirk started SLA Mobile in 2003 with telecoms veteran and serial entrepreneur Owen Lamont, former head of NTL Ireland and Scotland.

While he believes personalisation will be a driving force, Stirk does not believe that the killer app for mobile has been identified yet.

“The key is to identify that one app that will sit alongside others to increase the mobile experience. But I’m not sure that has been identified yet. Mobile TV – the ability to stream video to mobiles – has been heralded as the possible killer app, but I’m not so sure. I do think the concept of the long tail and the number of applications as a bundle that are going to be of real value to the end consumer will matter.

“User experience will matter going forward. The interface on mobile devices will be at the heart of this. No one wants to be clicking their phone five or six times just to get Hull City results. They want to get Giovanni’s goal against Arsenal straigh away, and view it on demand. If experience is poor, they won’t search for that content.

“Putting together content and experience are what mobile operators are consumed with at the moment, with more widgets, applications and mash-ups at the heart of it. Users will also want to access content and go into their social networking sites with one click,” Stirk said.

SLA Mobile, which has offices in London, Calgary, Dusseldorf and Kuala Lumpur, is keen to expand its presence in Asia, where it plans to open a second office.

“We see Asia as a growing region for mobile data, with Japan and South Korea as the countries with the most advanced data services markets.

“As phones become more advanced, the demand for data will continue to rise.

“The iPhone has changed the game, but it is not a cheap phone to buy or use, so there’s major opportunities to fill this gap, and we still see a strong market for traditional service delivery platforms.

“What Nokia has done, and what Google has done with its Android operating system, they have both opened up and offered the developer community an opportunity to build and sell their own apps. However, Nokia and Apple’s phones are expensive to buy and run. If you look at the disposable income their users have, you’ll realise those people are in the minority.

“But the majority of mobile users who really drive operators’ revenues will still want to download content and access services, and the early movers are working on ways that allow other markets and other demographics to enjoy the mobile revolution in an affordable way,” Stirk said.

By John Kennedy

Pictured:Philip Stanfield, international business director, SLA Mobile, and Nic Stirk, managing director, SLA Mobile

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years