Looking back--2006 in review
Mobile advertising hype was certainly a major theme of 2006. Verizon and Nextel kicked off the year with a plan to test mobile video advertisements, though it doesn't seem like much came from the test. Google dipped a toe into mobile web advertising, as scrappy upstarts like AdMob and Mobileplay struggle to make a name for themselves.
And then there is advergaming. Ad-supported mobile games are a clever way for developers to make money without having to cut the carrier or a middleman into the revenue stream. Unfortunately, the economics don't quite work out just yet.
Luckily, carriers' walled garden is crumbling, slowly but surely. The failure of ESPN's MVNO was due, at least in a small part, to ESPN's fanatical control over what users could and could not do with their phones.
Multiplayer gaming was hot issue in 2006. I still think mobile multiplayer is a huge untapped market (just look at the popularity of Yahoo's simple, PC-based games), but the release of several long-awaited multiplayer titles from Nokia's SNAP Mobile unit didn't turn many heads. Multiplayer gaming suffers from data network reliability issues and inconsistent pricing for mobile data across carriers, or even across different plans on the same carrier. Nobody is going to want to play snooker with a stranger if they have to pay per kilobyte.
On the hardware front, Motorola's RAZR peaked in popularity in 2006, though now it has clearly lost its cool factor. Microsoft was the only big winner among the closely-matched handsets that followed: the Moto Q, HTC Excalibur, Cingular 8525 and Samsung Blackjack. Blackberry and Palm tried to shake their enterprisey image with the Pearl and the Treo 680, two consumer-centric products. 2006 also saw its fair share of iPhone rumors, the near-mythical iPod-like handset. (FierceWireless' Brian Dolan put together an excellent timeline of iPhone rumors, 1999 to present.) An "iPhone" was released, but it sure wasn't the one we were expecting.
Device fragmentation remains the biggest technical hurdle for mobile developers in 2006, especially for Java developers. The rise of Flash Lite may be an option for some developers, but there's no magic bullet here. At least Sun admits that there is a problem.
Also Noted: Ringtones become commoditized, female gamers are driving revenue, Scott McNealy steps down at Sun and the rise and fall of SavaJe.
Reminder: FierceDeveloper is off next week. Enjoy the holiday, I'll be back in January with my predictions for 2007! - Eli