Java portals, yet again
Yet more on Java portals: "The ability of mobile Java portals to sidestep the operator-owned portals is becoming very attractive to media brands, many of which are close to launching."
So you think that you'd like to go it alone with a Java portal. You buy in or implement some technology to do this. You distribute it yourself to your customers. You integrate with appropriate billing systems (Bango, mPay, premium SMS, credit cards, or others).
Even if we presume that you gain more by doing all these things yourself or through a third party than you lose from avoiding the operators and missing out on the distribution opportunities that they offer (and IMHO that's a big "if"), what then?
Well, then you have to persuade me that I want your brand on my phone - either at the top-level menu which is already pretty cluttered, or buried deep under "Java applications" or similar... and that you are so useful that I want to keep you there forever.
I've just had a look at the advertising for Opera's MyFone service (referenced in the article above), and from a consumer point of view it looks awful. It's a shop-front for ringtones and logos that sits on my phone. Err... why? How many consumers are out there right now wanting to browse a store of ringtones, but can't be bothered to start up their WAP browser (usually 1-click from the idle screen of their phone these days)?
Anyhow, I downloaded the free trial, installed it (hmm... "untrusted" eh?) and gave it a whirl. First time I run it, it hangs. Second time I get through to a screen where I'm invited to give the app to a friend, and have the option of "exit" or "cancel". I cancel and get a NullPointerException. Third time lucky I sit around for a bit (15 seconds - I timed it) and eventually get through to the main menu. OK, let's look at java games... puzzles... hmm, "footrix", I wonder what this is. Click on "footrix" and I'm told that the handset needs to connect to the network. I can't cancel this - I have to either OK it or exit the whole application. So I select an access point and go online, wait a while, and download my "free preview of footrix". Ah, the free preview is actually a picture - a shrunk version of the games splash screen, which doesn't really help me make a purchase decision. I suspect most game purchasers won't spend £4.50 on the basis of a pretty splash screen either.
According to Opera blurb, branded WAP sites "lack speed, ease of use and are generally considered unintuitive". You could make a case for that being true... but at least the WAP experience is consistent between sites and integrated into handsets at a fundamental level. The MyFone experience is no faster than going onto your operator portal (13 seconds for me to get to Orange World, vs 15 seconds to start up MyFone), it's frequently much less intuitive, doesn't add any value to my mobile, and just feels like a cheap attempt to squeeze out cash.
Some of this is forgiveable: building easy-to-use Java apps for the mass market is difficult, and certainly involves much more than just bashing out the code. But some of it seems like cynical cashing in on the intersection of the ringtone and Java portal bandwagons.
Disclaimer: my company builds mobile applications (though we're not a competitor to Opera)