Will the iPhone invigorate the lagging MMS market?

I've been scratching my head this past week wondering why multimedia messaging service (MMS) and the lack thereof on the iPhone is such a big deal. MMS--the ability to send pictures, videos, audio recordings and other multimedia messages--in general has been a big flop ever since it came to market many years ago (email works pretty well, after all). No one really cared it seems until disgruntled AT&T iPhone users couldn't have it--something that AT&T rectified at about midday on Friday. Someone even filed a lawsuit over the fact that AT&T hadn't enabled it but was misleading users about its availability.

I remember writing a report for a research firm back in 2003, detailing why MMS hadn't taken off like SMS. Some of the problems included interoperability between carriers, complexity of use and the plethora of devices out there that have different formats. A video or picture sent from one device might not be viewable on another device because of different screen sizes.

I did some research to see if anyone else picked up on the irony of MMS on the iPhone. Lo and behold I found an article from Network World that had some statistics from ABI Research. In 2008, MMS made up only 2.5 percent of all messages sent from phones globally. ABI expects MMS traffic to grow to just 4.5 percent by 2014.

So the question is: Will MMS on the iPhone jump-start the MMS market like it changed browsing and application consumption on smartphones?

Incidentally, VeriSign's Messaging and Mobile Media division reached out to me right before the weekend about this very issue. Sonali Shah, director of corporate development and strategy for the division, expects to see an uptick in MMS volume as iPhone users discover the service and use it. But she expects the short-term impact to be small due to the relatively limited penetration of the iPhone. Indeed, sending an MMS messaging is an easy process over the iPhone. It's not so much so on other devices. How many of those iPhone messages sent to non iPhones are being properly rendered? (Perhaps we'll see many complaints in this area that erroneously place the blame on AT&T).

Will it just be a case of iPhone users sending MMS messages to each other? Maybe so, but we know how powerful of a proposition that could be in the long run. Shah believes that "iPhone users serve as a leading indicator of the future of mobile. If these campaigns are successful, brands will increasingly use MMS in innovative ways to drive consumers in stores and online."

In short, other smartphone makers could mimic iPhone's ease-of-use MMS capabilities, or, now that iPhone users have MMS, the novelty soon could wear off. --Lynnette