By Lori Sylvia
Red Bend Software
As we head into the Independence Day weekend, I wanted to share some thoughts on the mobile industry’s own move toward independence. Remember Will Smith’s blockbuster movie from the summer of 1996? Thanks to mobile consumers, our own version of this movie is playing out before our eyes. I’m referring to the independence of software from hardware.
Consumer demand for new applications and services is “opening up” the mobile phone and creating a separation between the software that drives the user experience and the hardware it runs on. Software has become more important than it used to be, driven by consumer interest in downloading applications. But we know that software is much more than just apps. It’s also responsible for the core functions of the phone like browsing and messaging, and for the key enablers that power mobile services like navigation and music.
Consumers are forcing us in the mobile industry to think differently and act differently if we are to meet their needs for a personalized user experience. And software is at the core. For the mobile phone to truly be personalized, the software must become independent of the hardware, so that it can continuously evolve to meet consumer’s changing needs.
In the current model, there are multiple software creators that make up a phone, and the OEM serves as the systems integrator. All too often though, the OEM as systems integrator has the unintended consequence of serving as a bottleneck for new innovation and enhancements that come from the software creators and service providers.
Once the phone has shipped, the OEM uses firmware over-the-air (FOTA) updating to deliver a new version of software. To do this, the OEM must aggregate software updates from all of the software creators that contributed to the phone. Most OEMs will use FOTA to update the phone’s software from 1-3 times during the phone’s lifetime. This usually happens within the first year of launching the phone. After that, the OEM reassigns the engineering team to develop a new device.
Don’t get me wrong—I’m the first to tout the benefits of FOTA. Red Bend is the leader in FOTA with more than half a billion FOTA-enabled devices shipped. FOTA is extremely good at what it was designed to do, and that is to provide a more efficient and cost-effective way of performing software maintenance.
It’s not that FOTA has become less valuable to the mobile industry. It’s that software has become more valuable than it used to be. Therefore, the need to manage the software assets both discretely and dynamically throughout the phone’s lifetime has become critical to meeting consumer demand. The paradigm must change.
Mobile Software Management (MSM) changes the paradigm. With MSM, each player in the mobile industry—OEM, operator and ISV—can independently control its own software assets on the mobile device, and can break the bottleneck of the current model.
The way to achieve this is for the mobile phone to have multiple software owners, not one. The OEM can own the phone’s core functionality, the operator can own the key service enablers and the ISVs can own the applications. So, while the OEM serves as the systems integrator, it can then leverage the other players to be responsible for their software assets after the phone ships. This will result in a phone that is constantly evolving and whose software features, services and applications can be personalized to the consumer’s preferences.
The OEM can even delegate some or all of its responsibility for the phone’s core functionality to the individual software creators. For example, the OEM can enable the web browser provider to update and manage its browser without affecting the other software on the phone.
The technology to enable this level of software independence exists today with Red Bend’s vRapid Mobile solution for managing software components over the air (SCOTA). Several mobile industry leaders including DOCOMO are already moving to adopt the technology. With a SCOTA-enabled phone, consumers can subscribe to new data services or download the latest applications regardless of the phone’s pre-existing capabilities. The result is that more revenue is generated per subscriber throughout the phone’s lifetime. And at the end of the phone’s lifetime, the consumer has been delighted and grown loyal to the experience she received.
There is a legitimate question to be asked: why would the OEM share or delegate its responsibility for managing the phone? The answer: to stay competitive. OEMs can leverage their supply chain (ISVs) and retail channel (MNOs) to share in the responsibility to keep the consumer satisfied, and ultimately keep their phone actively used and generating new revenues. The current status quo is a losing proposition, where OEMs generate nearly all their revenue once every two years when a new phone is purchased. If the OEM wants to stay relevant as the systems integrator, it should take a dynamic approach to this role, where software creators can update their software during the phone’s lifecycle. If not, OEMs will struggle to keep up with consumer-demanded Internet services and new applications, and will face eroding brand loyalty when the consumer grows dissatisfied and buys a new phone from a competitor.
Let’s be truthful: the replacement cycle has not shortened, and in some markets it has even lengthened due to the economy or regulatory changes that have caused consumers to spread their investments over longer periods. Let’s be truthful on another point: phone hardware doesn’t last that long. And the OEMs will always encourage new purchases with their latest designs. Today it’s the touch screen. Next year it will be something else.
Independence Day is coming to the mobile industry. Consumers are driving this change with their increasing demand for software. The technologies are ready to enable a truly personalized mobile phone whose software is continuously enhanced and dynamically personalized. Those players in the mobile industry who embrace this new model will win with loyal consumers and new revenue streams.