October 09, 2001, 12:00 AM — 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.