Mobile entertainment is hot. ESPN launched a slick new MVNO complete with a slick new phone and streaming sports updates. Old-school hardware company Sandisk found a way to position itself as a content distributor by bundling content (and DRM) with its flash cards. VeriSign, a company that was once synonymous with Internet infrastructure, has recently been pushing ringtones and SMS alerts. Incidentally, eBay just bought VeriSign's Internet payment unit for $370 million.
Despite the practically dot-com level of hype surrounding mobile entertainment, I'm not yet ready to call it The Next Big Thing for the cellphone industry. First, there are some very obvious problems with mobile gaming. To paraphrase legendary Nintendo designer Shigero Miyamoto, why would anyone want to play games on a cell phone when they buy Game Boy Micro? The pocket-sized Game Boy costs $100 and plays games much better than an $800 smartphone. Most cell phones simply lack the battery life and user interface necessary to play quality games.
Likewise, I think the cellphone industry is overestimating the demand for mobile TV. MediaFLO, MobiTV, goTV, and all the other mobile streaming video solutions look very cool and are technically very impressive; but once the "gee whiz" factor wears off, all you're left with is a pocket-sized TV. Pocket TVs have been around for a long time--Radio Shack sells them for under $100--but few people buy them aside from truckers and sports fanatics. One reason for this: Americans love big TVs, and few of them will voluntarily watch their favorite program on a 1.5-inch cell phone screen. Mobile video may well become huge in the next few years, but it will be driven by user-created content and, if certain ad agencies have their way, humorous viral commercials.
So where is the real innovation going to take place? Mobile enterprise applications, RAD, mobile commerce, and new communications and networking paradigms. Read next week's column to find out why. - Eli