Rich connected applications: the evolution of ODPs‾

Back in 2006, ARCchart coined the term On-Device Portal (ODP), identifying a generation of products that deliver content on the mobile phone through the use of a dedicated client application - whether that application was Java, native, or developed in an open OS (such as Symbian or Windows Mobile).

We segmented ODPs into three classes of products - offline portals, on-device storefronts and home-screen replacements. We saw on-device portals as an evolution of the browser-based WAP experience, which suffered from unexciting graphics and aesthetics, and a frustrating user experience owing to the need to connect with a slow 2G network for every step of the WAP journey.

Jump forward two years and today we find ourselves in a more mature market with a host of applications, as well as application frameworks which, in theory, could fall under the ODP moniker. From mobile TV and streaming media applications to Nokia's new Ovi and widget environments: these applications tick all the right ODP boxes but are not traditional "˜portal' type products. So, does the industry require a terminology that encompasses these new rich connected applications that are more like ODPs on steroids‾

Compared with the browser, ODPs substantially improve how users discover and interact with content:
   
* Discoverability - by aggregating content within a single application, users are more easily able to find the content they want.

* Caching - by making background connections to a content server whenever new content is available, the user perceives a latency-free experience.

* Personalisation - by incorporating basic personalisation and customisation features, ODP applications are able to deliver content with a greater degree of relevancy.

ODPs cater directly to the needs of the major industry players involved in the distribution of content and media services to mobile phones - namely the operators, handset manufacturers and media companies. For operators, ODPs drive data ARPU and service usability by delivering content to the device in an easily discoverable, instantly accessible and personalised manner. For example, having distributed the SurfKitchen storefront ODP on all its Signature devices, Orange has witnessed a 40% jump in purchase activity in a like-for-like comparison between devices with and without pre-installed ODP applications.

Most Tier 1 operators worldwide now have an identifiable ODP strategy. Vodafone recently commenced rollout across several of its territories of an ODP solution provided by Ericsson, Cibenix and ikivo.

For content providers, ODPs are able to deliver an immersive user experience beyond the traditional operator deck. ODPs ensure that content is rendered consistently across devices and allows content providers to leverage their advertising inventories, providing more flexible business models beyond the hugely limiting pay-per-view approach.

Examples include the ODP solutions provided by mPortal and UI Evolution to Disney Mobile and EPSN Mobile respectively, until both these MVNOs went kaput. Last month, Sports Illustrated selected Action Engine to deliver its MySI Mobile application, which allows sports enthusiasts to track scores, schedules and standings for their favourite teams and view popular SI photos.

Finally, ODPs cater to handset manufacturers who want to reduce their time-to-market for customised handsets. In the case of Nokia, with its Content Discoverer and Ovi applications, ODPs are acting as the bridge the handset giant as laid down as it attempts to cross the canyon separating the two worlds of manufacturing and internet services.

 

The fact that Nokia is pre-installing these applications on a wide segment of its handset portfolio indicates how prolific ODPs are set to become. In a recent study of the global market, ARCchart estimates that some 458 million ODP and idle screen clients shipped in 2007 and forecasts this it grow to 3 billion by 2012.

It's important to realise that handsets are likely to ship with not just one, but several pre-installed ODPs, although some applications, like Ovi, will deliver a range of functions - like storefront, media streaming and maps - that have each traditionally been offered through a single application. Adding to this will be ODPs offered direct-to-consumer by content owners and media companies, particularly the web majors like Google, Yahoo, AOL and Microsoft, as well as user-generated content and social networking providers.

However, at this stage of the market, it is valid to ask whether the likes of Yahoo Go, Microsoft's MSN Direct, Ovi and a host of other sophisticated location (weather, maps, traffic updates etc.) and media applications should still be classed as ODPs. These meet the ODP definition but go beyond content aggregation, content pre-caching and content personalisation by offering other functionalities. Throw widgets into this mix and the situation in further complicated.

A solution is to identify a new umbrella term that covers these extended applications. Such a term would have to describe their areas of commonality, namely that they provide a visually rich user interface and they require a network connection for retrieving and caching material. So, something along the lines of "Rich Connected Applications" (or RCAPs if we want a sexy acronym) is probably narrow enough to exclude standard handset software such as PIM, games, utilities, media playback and productivity applications, but broad enough to include widgets, ODPs and extended ODP products.

Of course, maybe the industry doesn't need another term. Maybe ODP and widget are enough. Or maybe the lightening pace at which the market is evolving means the industry does need new jargon to take it through the next couple years of development.

Matt Lewis is research director of ARCchart

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