Tim Green: "What the hell were we thinking?" | Mobile Entertainment

Tim Green: "What the hell were we thinking?"

Tim Green:
Tim Green


General / April 4th 2013 at 2:17PM

On-device portals? Made-for-mobile movies? Mobile TV? Let's spool back to the days when mobile content was young and stupid.

I got a bit of a shock when wandering the halls of MWC this year. There it was in Hall 8, plain as the nose on my face...

The Celltick stand.

Surely not. Mentally, I'd filed Celltick alongside all the other relics of the pre-iPhone era in a part of my brain marked 'too early and a bit shit'.

But there it was. Made me think of the old Woody Allen line: "My wife's dead. Well, not technically dead. We're just not dating."

Because it seems that Celltick, the company that pioneered the idle screen ad ticker, is still going strong; it's not even slightly dead, it's just stopped sending me press releases. (FYI it's kind of pivoted into mobile coupons).

Anyway, the sight sent me back down memory lane, to a time in the early days of ME when my erstwhile colleague Stuart O'Brien and I would excitedly write about what, in retrospect, was a load of old cack.

Some of the big ideas from 2005-7 mutated into something else. Some disappeared altogether – rendered laughably irrelevant by the iOS/Android tsunami.

History and experience make our breathless enthusiasm look rather quaint now. But how were we to know? Or our readers? Or the investors who threw more than $100m at MobiTV?

Anyhow, I've trawled my memory for other examples of things I wasted so many hours writing about. Here they are:

* On device portals

Hours? More like months. Yes, months and months writing about this stuff. Thinking about this stuff. Trying to understand this fucking stuff. We even had an ME Award for it, for God's sake. The big idea behind the ODP was to turn web content into a client on the screen – mostly for operators who wanted to make their fantastic portals even more fantastic. Companies like SurfKitchen and Action Engine raised tens of millions to develop ODPs that showcased content that nobody cared about and never worked because, er, GPRS wasn't quite fast enough. Still, there was something in the idea. You've heard of apps…

* Mobile Search

With hindsight, why would anyone think that mobile search was going to be substantially different from desktop search and that Google wouldn't eventually spray its musk all over the small screen? Well, plenty thought exactly that. I remember being quite convinced by Medio and Jumptap execs who argued that operator-centric search configured around mobile content products would prevail. It didn't.

* Mobile TV

How many times did I write the letters DVB-H in 2006? Hundreds, probably. How many times in the last two years? Once - just now. DVB-H was the digital TV standard for handheld devices that was supposed to prevail in Europe. But there was also ISDB-T, MediaFLO, DMB… oh God, don't depress me. So many standards, and so little interest from punters. The low point came when BT Movio launched a TV phone called the Lobster in 2006. It was hideous, with a kind of 'arm in a sling' kink on one side. The head of BT Movio – the lovely Emma Lloyd – is now a big deal at Sky. She hates me mentioning this episode, so obviously I won't.

* Content MVNOs

Amp'd, Disney, ESPN…let's give people what they want – a mobile network built around ringtones and wallpapers. On second thoughts, let's not.

* 3D

There are many ways to be sick at MWC. You can try reading the corporate literature of any OSS firm, for example. But in 2011, LG triumphed in the nausea department by introducing the LG Optimus 3D phone. Those lucky enough to have two functioning eyes (ie not me) gravitated to the vomitorium/stand to try their luck. It was like any friday night in a small town in England after the pubs close. Can't recall any more 3D phones being launched since.

* Aggregators

Oh, the fun we had with Player X when it was taking content from dozens of games developers and hosting them for the world's operators so that about 17 consumers could try unsuccessfully to download them. Not just Player X, but Connect2Media and Zed and Bounjourno and Infospace and loads of others. The app stores closed them down or forced them in a different direction. Still, thanks for all the beer.

* Mobile social networks

Who remembers FunkySexyCool? How about Peperonity? I do. And I also recall others like Mocospace and GoFresh, who flew the flag for mobile-only social networking. It seemed like such a great idea in 2006/7. After all, the phone's brilliant for sharing, has a camera, knows your location etc etc. But there was this juggernaut called Facebook revving up in the background, ready to trample all over their dreams. Shame, we had such great LOLZ.

* Made for mobile films

In a way, made for mobile films have been a massive success. For example, the other day my daughter liked the plastic palm trees at the O2 so much, she filmed them. But commercial 'made for mobile' films? What were we thinking? More specifically, what was Nokia thinking when it hired Gary Oldman to shoot his own movie for Nseries Studio? Especially when the result was Donut, which comprised a rubber ring floating in a swimming pool for a few minutes. Of course, some of the output from those heady days was great. Fun Little Movies did a brilliant series called Turbo Dates. But there was no viable commercial model to support it. Well, there was. It was called YouTube and if you can live on a few quid a month, you're golden.

So there's my hall of shame, although I could have mentioned BREW, SeeMeeTV, widgets, projectors, high-capacity SIMs and more.

Later today, Facebook might be announcing a phone. Won't I look a twat if it has an Action Engine on-device portal on the front...