After ploughing the best part of £7 billion into 3G you would have thought that Vodafone would have come up with a killer application for its new phone service. Apparently not, for at the launch of its Live! 3G service for consumers yesterday Vodafone’s bosses conceded that there isn’t actually a single killer app. Instead, Chief Marketing Officer Peter Bamford argued that 3G in its totality was a killer application for phone users – which sounds like areal cop out to us.
Overall though it was a good day for Vodafone with the new services, handsets and even tariffs getting a warm reception. The only really cynical comments came from the Notebook column in The Guardian, which argued that the launch fell between an all out attack on both 3 and the UK market with heavily subsided headsets and services (the city certainly wouldn’t like this) and a softly softly launch which would fall flat.
Anyhow, here are a few of our thoughts on the launch. The Guardian has a really good round-up here.
The handsets 8/10 – Overall a very strong line up. We were particularly pleased to note that the first two-mega pixel camera phone, the Sharp V902sh would be in the stores by Christmas. Vodafone is however launching with a trio of handsets, the key one for us is the excellent Sony Ericsson V800. This undertakes all the 3G basics yet features an superb mega pixel camera and is housed in a reasonably sized and compact frame. Our choice however would be the Nokia 6630, which will launch in the second brace of handsets just before Christmas. It might look a bit of a turkey, and because of where the camera is sited you can’t actually use it to make video calls. Nevertheless it is easy to use, sports a great still image camera and will feature all our favourite Series 60 (its interface) compatible facilities such as Opera’s wonderful web browser and Cognima (via BonusPrint) instant image upload to website facility.
The content 7/10 – You can’t argue with Voda’s content which includes Premiership football highlights, 3G games and lots of news and magazine content. Trouble is that line up is eerily reminiscent of what 3’s customers have been enjoying for a while. Voda is also offering full music downloads (same as T-Mobile, O2 and Orange) and has mini TV episodes, which it is billing as Mobisodes. To be honest we would have been far more excited had Voda stuck an analogue TV tuner in one of its handsets. It would certainly deliver a compelling reason to upgrade to a 3G device even if it has nothing to do with 3G. Suspect battery life might have been an issue here.
The tariffs 6/10 – For all Voda’s bluster about how they are reinventing the charges for data, the actual costs of 3GLive! are similar to 3’s. While Voda has been very generous with voice minutes, and free browsing of its Live portal is a plus, does it really expect anyone to use all those video calling minutes? Given how much of a damp squib it has been for 3 it seems like users will end up paying for bandwidth they will never use.
Business users 5/10 – Asked whether business users would gain anything from the new 3G handsets, the best answer the gathered Vodafone execs could come up with was along the lines of estate agents using video calling to show customers properties. While the phones are squarely aimed at consumers, some business users would appreciate the browsing speeds of handsets like the Nokia 6630. However, while browsing of Voda’s 3G Live! website if free, go anywhere lese and users start paying the GPRS data rates of a £1 per 100 pages for the privilege. Connect the mobile to a laptop and use it a 3G modem and you pay GPRS download fees for everything you download. With the large emails 3G is capable of grabbing that fee (£2.35 per MB) could soon add up. It does seem a little churlish that this wasn’t included in the bundles. I am sure there are consumers and businesses who would gladly swap video call for data downloads.
Pay as you go 3/10 – Voda’s cheapest pay as you go handset is likely to be £200 at launch. How it expected to compete with 3 which offers the similarly specified handset for around a quarter of that figure remains to be seen. Those prices are likely to tumble though next year.
Great handsets, great content and hopefully a great network. Yet you can’t help feeling a that many of the YAF (young active fun) people Voda is chasing are more likely to be pay as you go customers than monthly payers, and that by ceding that market to 3 means Voda will struggle to establish 3G early on.
In addition, there really is no compelling reason for most consumers to upgrade. The services are attractive, but that lack of as killer application (it is essentially offering a similar service to 3) could mean 3G gets a little ignored while consumers stick with what they know and continue to snap up smaller, and in many instances sexier 2.5g handsets.
10 million 3G customers worldwide by 2006 isn’t much of a target, but if Voda struggles in key markets, like the UK and Italy, that figure could come back to haunt it.