Mobile Commerce -- What's in Store, and What's Not?

Imagine being able to buy a book from Amazon.com while standing in line

at a movie theater using your cell phone and a graphical interface. But

then again, who would really want to do that? Mobile commerce

proponents have trotted out images of consumers so anxious to buy, they

won't even wait to get in front of their computer to place an order. In

reality, practical B2C applications just don't exist for mobile

commerce, and most of us won't bother with navigating a one-square-inch

display to buy the latest best seller when we can just walk into any

neighborhood bookstore. (Yes, even industry folks still go into

bookstores and buy books the old fashioned way.)

So what are consumers going to use their cell phones for in the future?

Well, duh, for talking to other people, mostly. Most cell phone users,

especially ordinary consumers, don't want or need wireless data

services. Even the i-Mode, which has become wildly popular in Japan,

has very few commercial applications. Beyond voice service, e-mail is

likely the biggest use of the cell phone although gaming has been held

out as a prospective application.

The idea of playing a game on your cell phone is attractive. Sitting in

a waiting room with nothing to do? Left your Gameboy at home? Just whip

out your cell phone for a quick game session. But when you're paying

for airtime by the minute, this idea is a big loser. QUALCOMM's Binary

Runtime Environment for Wireless (BREW) environment may be the

solution. BREW lets you download applications to your phone and run

them offline. The most obvious market for BREW is gaming and Sega, in

fact, has already gotten into the act by bringing game content to the

BREW platform. BREW could be used as a platform for some very useful

enterprise applications as well. Currently, cell phone functionality is

hard-wired in -- you can't add to it. BREW overcomes that by making the

cell phone programmable. In so doing, QUALCOMM has created a whole new

paradigm for mobile phones and may well spawn a whole new industry.

(Entrepreneurs: I'm giving you fair warning, get in on this one now and

start developing useful apps before it's too late.)

Things look more promising on the B2B side, and m-commerce is a very

practical way to implement sales force automation (SFA) tools to a

mobile workforce. An example is GE Global eXchange Services, which just

made a deal with a wireless services provider to create a service that

lets wireless devices communicate with enterprise systems, such as CRM.

Seems to me that BREW could be the ideal platform for implementing

remote SFA, and keeping people out in the field connected to the

enterprise back home.

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