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No 2000/6 - Paris, October 30, 2000


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  The traps of the wireless : Voice Centric versus Data Centric  

Travelocity, Expedia, Sabre, Galileo, Amadeus : wireless applications are about to change websurfers's lives; they will now be able to do everything from their mobile phones or PDAs.

But very few things are happening yet and in my opinion, when the websites and the technological actors in the eTourism sector make announcements to the press, it is more a way for them to generate press articles and, at the same time, cheap advertisement than to offer really interesting services to their users.

ll the Cyber-retailers say the same thing, at least in private, their WAP experience is a disaster.

Some sites dedicated to the eTourism business have even decided to stop investing in WAP developments altogether.

And yet, new announcements are being made every week regarding the new kinds of services offered by the WAP and wireless.

Let's be frank, the WAP will never be successful.

The screen is too small, the keys on mobile phones are so unpractical that you need to press them dozens of time just to type in the letters, and the poor ergonomics of the WAP has totally ruined a possible success.

This failure can also be explained by an error of judgment : how many websurfers are ready to book a flight, or a hotel room using their mobile phone given all the difficulties implied in using WAP services.

The answer is easy : none or hardly anyone.

When you consider that out of all the bookings generated on a site in the eTourism sector nearly 40% end up being made on the phone, how on earth can you expect your customer, deprived of his PC, to dial for minutes on end on his phone which is so very unpractical for this kind of use in order to make a booking instead of calling you straight from the same tool when this is so much easier?

My feeling is that the bookings via the WAP system will never represent more than 1 or 2% of the total of the online bookings on the eTourism sites. In fact, I even think that this is a very optimistic figure. As for the figures given by the site site, I am not quite sure they are totally accurate.

So should wireless services be condemned ?

As we wait for the forthcoming arrival of the GPRS and a bit later, of the UMTS, I think that we should only use the wireless for alert services (when your flight is running late or has been cancelled) or for information to do with your geographical situation (car…).

It is a dream to even consider that you could use your mobile phone as an interactive tool that would be as powerful as your PC when you take into account the present state of the technology, since the WAP does not only present very poor ergonomics, but it also has a very weak bandwidth which adds to its bad points.

So, if you consider that you can compensate the weakness of the wireless services by using simultaneously your PDA (which is mainly used by business customers), this won't affect the slowness of the connection which is a real flaw for most of its users.


In my opinion, the only intelligent way of using wireless services is for sending alert messages to a customer's mobile phone, allowing him to call you back "on the phone" in order to give you his instructions about the piece of information you just gave him.

All this means that the immediate future belongs to the SMS and maybe in a few months, to the voice recognition (as long as it is generated at the server's level if we consider the weak abilities of the present mobile phones).

So, I think the future of wireless services lies more in the Voice-Centric than in the Data-Centric (use of the keyboard).

The best thing to do would be to let announcements such as "First Mobile Flight Booking Tool" and other Wireless "Rebooking" opportunities be and not forget that what websurfers want is "Quickness and Efficiency".

If you keep on offering your customers complicated services, the only thing you will manage to generate is a feeling of frustration, which is not the best way to establish customer loyalty, which is what you're looking for.


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