It is the strangest thing. The iPod and podcasting have proven that users will gladly overcome complex routines in order to take their entertainment with them when they are on the go. Some of us transfer MP3 files from the PC and enjoy music. Others subscribe to podcasts. Both usages requires a user to actively connect a media device to a PC and transfer content – an action which I personally find technically challenging. Yet people do it. Over 100,000,000 iPods have been sold so far.

On the other hand, the cellular industry has repeatedly tried to get us to use data entertainment services on our phones. Internet became Mobile Internet. Television became Mobile TV. Despite the investment of billions of dollars in data networks, spectrum, devices and marketing campaigns, users have not adopted these services.

Can the mobile phone compete with the iPod as the user's device of choice? For example, can podcasting become a service enjoyed on mobile phones? Clearly, podcasting is very suitable for the mobile phone. First, it is an “on-the-go” experience. Second, audio content is not effected by the handset’s small screen. Third, mobile phones already support video and high-quality audio. Four, content can be delivery directly to the handset with superb user experience.

If podcasting on the mobile fails, the mobile industry will have difficulty explaining why. Indeed, one may argue that such a failure is final proof that the phone is simply not a media devices, and that convergence is just hype.

This series of articles analyzes the critical issues that must be addressed if mobile podcasting is to succeed and prove that the phone has worth as a media device. In this first article, we now address fundamental user issues:

First, is there a clear scenario where users will consume podcasts/content on the mobile phone? The answer is yes. If the service is user friendly, compelling and affordable, people will do what many already do on with iPod. Many of us have clearly definable windows of dead time where we are a captive audience, such as while commuting to and from work. Also, enjoying audio content can be done in parellel to other activities.

Second, will people use their phones for media consumption? The experts say yes. "So the split where the phone world and this Windows PC world have been two separate worlds - that's changing utterly," says Bill Gates. "You'll have the PC and then you'll have your mobile phone. And the mobile phone and that PC will be working together in a rich way."

All of us carry our phones with us everywhere. We like our phones. Phones are getting smarter, with better user experience. The iPod is great, if you have one. Most do not. An iPod also means carrying around two devices. I do not. Given a compelling user experience and fair and clear pricing, many will gladly listen to great audio content during dead-time.

Third, will people pay for a mobile podcast service? After all, most content (including podcasts) is free on the web, with the perception being that content (even if pirated) should remain free.

Whether people will pay for a mobile service depends of factors such as easy of use, content quality, and price. True, Podcasts are available free on-line. But I personally would pay a small premium to receive unique Brand content on my mobile phone rather than buy an iPod and have to bother with transferring podcasts from my computer every day. Sure.

Finally, as will be discussed in the following articles, there is one more critical factor on which the success of mobile podcasting depends. Mobile operator involvement. Issues of easy of use, compelling content and price are all under the operator's control. Major mobile operators are designing and will soon launch podcast applications with great client expereince. As to content, Vodafone, T-Mobile and Orange are closing deals with Brand new media – the recent announcements of Vodafone with YouTube and My Space to name a few. As to price, operators control the cost of data on their networks. Adopting clear flat monthly fees for mobile podcasting services is mandatory to attract the mass-market user.

Will operators commit to mobile podcasting? They must. The success of the iPod is a strategic threat to them for several reasons: (a) If iPod becomes the user's mobile media device of choice, the phone will remain only a voice-only device. (b) iPhone will allow Apple to work one operator against another, such as by entering into an exclusivity deal with Vodafone at the exclusion of others - see Apple and ATT in the US. (c) Once iPod goes WIFI, the operator is out of the loop altogether.

Monte Silver
World Podcast Forum