Emeka Obiodu, principal analyst of Ovum’s industries, communications & broadband (ICB) team, presents the winners:
During the year, Ovum tracked, reported on, and analyzed thousands of innovations within the mobile telecoms industry. Many of these innovations made it into our Telco Services Innovation Radar, which now has over 3,000 entries. However, many innovations and industry events also gave us reason to groan. We reviewed many mobile tariffs claiming to offer unlimited data that offered anything but, while mobile apps continued to present a rich vein of interesting material. Among vendors, device makers, and large over-the-top players, the patent wars are looking increasingly self-defeating. However, from our shortlist of seven finalists, the overall winner in the 2012 Wireless Turkey Awards was Apple Maps for its ability to get such an important service so incredibly wrong.
A smartphone-based map shouldn’t lead you astray in 2012
The seemingly incongruous reality is that the telecoms industry’s best-regarded brand is our 2012 Wireless Turkey Awards winner. That Apple could get its maps app so wrong means that the Apple Maps fiasco takes this years “prize”. As Apple and Google bluffed over why Apple had to drop Google Maps from its latest smartphones, Apple’s efforts to go it alone became a major source of embarrassment. Google has even rubbed salt in the wounds with a revamped, improved map app for the iPhone.
Among humorous websites lambasting misplaced, mislabeled, and disturbingly morphed towns and sites, police in Victoria, Australia issued a more somber warning to Apple Maps users. The police highlighted the app’s life-threatening potential after having to rescue several people from searing temperatures in the Murray Sunset National Park when they became stranded after following incorrect directions from Apple Maps. It is testimony to the trust in which the Apple brand is held that people followed these directions in good faith. The episode highlights the heightened responsibility that players must take for user safety when entering the location space.
Tariff plans ought to be simple
Sifting through our database of new telco service launches revealed that telcos played it very safe in 2012. We sought innovatively wacky services, but found none. However, our recently compiled database of unlimited mobile data tariffs returned a number of interesting results relating to “unlimited” mobile data plans. Users should expect mobile data plans labeled as unlimited to at least offer something close to unlimited data. However, the reality is different, with most so-called unlimited plans offering far from unlimited data.
T-Mobile Netherland’s “Unlimited Internet Plan” left us asking: why bother? The €5.08 per month bolt-on allows users to have their mobile Internet connection throttled if they exceed their monthly allowance, rather than face excess usage charges. The plan may help users control spending, but in order to return to a “usable” downlink speed users must pay a further €5.08, which still only limits them to their original data allowance.
The proliferation of apps and app platform battles is mind-boggling
There is no way that we could evaluate the more than 1.5 million mobile applications that are now available across multiple platforms. While many apps can claim to be genuinely useful and helpful, we consistently came across apps that are simply baffling. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in the quest to create an app for every possible occasion. And for this, the iPoo iPhone app captured our imagination, offering users a social network that they can use while in the “smallest room”. Its description sums up the app’s lack of subtlety: “write messages, draw graffiti, earn points and badges, see what others are posting – all while dropping a deuce!”
If app developers have been creative, the owners of the platforms and device manufacturers have been zealously creative too, albeit in a legal sense. A multitude of patent lawsuits involving the likes of Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Samsung, HTC, Nokia, and RIM dominated the news during the year. Somehow, it all seems like a conspiracy to prove the academics – Baumol, and then Murphy, Shleifer, and Vishny – right when they argued that too many lawyers in a market leads to unproductive rent-seeking entrepreneurship. Here’s hoping that 2013 sees the briefcases put away and innovation making the headlines.