Most consumers struggle to find a mobile phone that meets their personal needs. Over the past few years, mobile phones have undergone a huge transformation from relatively simple voice-based handsets to multimedia communication devices. For consumers that want the latest feature this has meant continuous upgrading. Ultimately though, most users are stuck with the basic features shipped with their handset for a year or two, with little opportunity to update or personalise it.
Smartphone users are the exception. Adding new applications to these high-end devices is possible, but they account for less than 10% of the market. For the far greater installed base of mid-range mobile phones, so-called ‘feature phones’, personalisation is limited to cosmetic features such as ringtones, games, and wallpapers. The burgeoning market for ringtones alone is but one indicator of the insatiable consumer demand for greater personalisation and functionality.
So what if consumers with feature phones could also upgrade their handset with the most current features and applications? New applications, upgrades and features would no longer be restricted to smartphones, exponentially increasing the size of the mobile applications market.
An emerging technology called embedded feature delivery (EFD) is promising to do just that. In contrast to the small additions necessary for ringtones and wallpaper, EFD can be used to fundamentally modify the basic features of a handset after it has left the factory.
Here are just a few examples of the potential of EFD:
• Users could download and install a new media codec to view a higher quality video clip or to view received images using a previously unsupported content format.
• Camera applications could be upgraded to include a new digital zoom function.
• Operators could offer a custom client portal or a newer games engine. This upgraded custom client version could support a new set of services.
• Handsets could be upgraded to support Voice-over-IP (VoIP) or Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) stacks.
• Operators could customise language support at the point-of-sale by downloading and installing appropriate language packs.
"EFD gives new ways to foster brand loyalty …"
As opposed to firmware over the air updating (FOTA), which updates the entire firmware image, EFD “opens” the firmware so that individual elements can be upgraded or added. While FOTA is a proven solution for cost-effectively fixing bugs, the EFD technology is more flexible and can be used for delivering new features and supporting new services.
EFD will have a dramatic impact on all players in the mobile device industry – manufacturers, operators, and software developers.
EFD will enable manufacturers to exploit a faster time to market, as mobile phones can be updated after they are shipped. EFD also offers opportunities to reinforce brand loyalty, as handset makers can continually offer new features and applications that enable re-engaging with consumers on a more regular basis.
Operators are eagerly embracing ways to boost revenue, reduce customer churn, cut costs, and enhance loyalty. EFD gives operators new revenue streams and new ways to foster brand loyalty, not only by selling feature updates, but also enabling new services.
Software developers could stand to benefit most from the widespread deployment of EFD as it will dramatically increase the addressable market for developers, broadening opportunities for them to sell into the feature phone market. They can deliver firmware applications and components free from the constraints of new handset
Changing Market Dynamics
Today, operators and manufacturers invest great effort in planning feature sets well in advance of handset launch. However, successful applications and services are constantly revised based on market dynamics. Tomorrow’s handsets must be designed from conception to support a dynamic menu of applications and services over the life of the handset.
The growing complexity of embedded software features and the need to manage them as part of the handset life cycle will increase the frequency, granularity and variability of post-factory modifications. This will require the entire value chain – from application/component suppliers, to handset manufacturers and mobile operators – to change their mode of operation to be more efficient and cost-effective.
EFD offers a new model for embedded software management that could ultimately allow consumers to assemble an individual handset to meet their needs and keep up with the latest technology trends, at last.
Yoram Salinger is CEO of Red Bend Software, a leading proponent of over-the-air installation and updating of software for mobile phones and other devices.