Editor's Corner

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In a recent Editor's Corner I compared the relatively slow adoption of MMS to the resounding success of SMS and cited a survey that shows many users don't even want MMS in the first place. Now John White of Portio Research offers his take:

Since its launch in 2002 MMS has consistently failed to live up to expectations, but it is unfair to blame MMS for this. We do not think MMS has failed, we think that the industry had totally unrealistic expectations of MMS in the first place. MMS was hyped as the natural replacement for SMS, and numerous studies and industry experts told us that MMS would follow the growth of SMS and eventually take over as the first-choice messaging format. However, this shows a misunderstanding of SMS and the reasons why SMS has been such a massive worldwide success in the first place. MMS, as a service in its own right, is not a failure, it has simply failed to follow the widespread success of SMS, which everyone insists on comparing it to. This comparison is where the mistake lies. MMS should never have been seen as the natural successor of SMS. They are different services offering the end user entirely different levels of utility, and hence they have experienced different levels of consumer take-up.

The simplicity of SMS has been the key. SMS owes its success to its simplicity.  It is the quickest, easier and cheapest way for two people to communicate a short and simple message and it serves as an extremely useful communications option that is affordable universally, in almost every country. Indeed, in some of the least wealthy markets of Asia and Latin America SMS has actually become the communication medium of choice, as it is so cheap compared to the cost of making voice calls. MMS, on the other hand, has been misunderstood from the start. MMS is more complex and expensive than SMS, so consumers are unlikely to use MMS to communicate a simple message, when SMS does the job so quickly and easily and costs so little. Therefore, if SMS remains the first choice for communicating a straightforward message, MMS is then reserved for less essential activities; in essence, MMS becomes a fun activity, not an important communication.

MMS becomes a message you send for fun, not for utility, and therefore it is primarily a form of entertainment, and secondarily an essential message. We believe that viewed as a mobile entertainment application, MMS is a massive success, used more widely than game downloads, music downloads and similar entertainment applications. MMS will always look like a failure stood next to SMS, as SMS has been such a runaway global phenomenon, but viewed next to games, ringtone downloads, infotainment services and more, as an entertainment application MMS can be seen as a very popular and successful service. Here in Europe, current adoption levels for MMS are higher than for any other application except voice and SMS. MMS has achieved higher penetration than games and ringtones (not counting those pre-installed); MMS must be congratulated on this level of success.

John White is Business Development Director for Portio Research, a UK-based independent research firm. Portio's report, "Mobile Messaging Futures 2005-2010," is available here.

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