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French Version

The revolution that didn't happen: m-Commerce puts on hold

Mobile commerce, known as m-commerce, has failed to make the impact expected. In fact, many corporations are stopping their m-commerce activities, or postponing their plans.

The problem is quite simple: Mobile, and Handheld PC users, are not utilizing their devices for m-commerce. Having determined the problem, the solution, as you would expect, is rather complicated.

Users want lower phone call costs, a guarantee that putting their credit card number on mobile networks is safe and most users just don't feel it's easy enough to conduct electronic commerce on their tiny mobile screens!

Skepticism is the prevailing sentiment among users and it doesn't look like that will change soon. Banks in Europe and North America are already reporting very low interest among clients to utilize mobile banking, opting to use the banks' websites as more effective means of electronic commerce. Banks in the Middle East are expecting similar user response, but the mobile banking services have only been around for a year or so, making it premature, at this stage, to close them down.

On the other hand, all banks have experienced high user interest in receiving SMS alerts about their account, and a high percentage of users are utilizing SMS-request information. So, it's not completely gloomy for m-commerce, but the messaging component of m-commerce is only the tip of the iceberg. For now, it seems like the only component that is successful.

Some of the failures in m-commerce have been due to the absurdity of the services on offer. In Japan, for example, Pepsi and Coca-Cola have a service by which mobile users can point their phones at a vending machine, press a few buttons and charge a soda to their phone bills! It's Ridiculous. Why would anyone go through that process!

There is an obvious lack of clear vision on what m-Commerce is about. Is it purely the utilization of Wireless Application Protocol (WAP), or the ability to the use of existing e-commerce applications and services on mobile phones, or something else we are yet to embark on?

At this point, this confusion is due to the lack of technology standards and the fast-changing nature of what you can, or can't, do on a mobile device. The user interface has to improve enough for users to feel it's as easy as using the Internet. Until technology catches up with that user requirement, we'll see very little m-commerce success. The potential for success can only be realized once that, and other issues, are sorted out.

Some industry analysts think that it's easy for everyone to blame the technology, but they site the inability to 'sell' the concept to users, as the main reason m-Commerce hasn't picked up.

Research firm International Data Corporation (IDC), usually on top of these developments, is now leading the way in providing some sensibility to the previously outlandish estimates.

Last year, IDC said mobile commerce sales would amount to $2 billion. This year, they have seen the error in that judgment, and putting it a lower $500 million estimate for the year 2002. At the height of the m-commerce phase, some people even went far enough to suggest that we need to think in terms of u-Commerce, meaning the universal, around-the-clock connectivity that can be achieved from mobile commerce!

Looking back now, it seems we've got some way to go before we get the 'm' working. The 'u', well, now seems like another one of those dot-com/tech-bubble phrases that no one will dare use again!

Zeid Nasser
The Star

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