A week ago Facebook announced it will acquire Snaptu, an Israeli startup providing a solution for developing, deploying and maintaining online services on mobile phones. Other than serving as yet another great proof Israeli hi-tech is innovative and significant on a global scale, I think this acquisition also provides a great lesson in terms of technology reach, especially when it comes to communications.
As a (too) long time user of Nokia dumbphones I’ve been a big fan of Snaptu’s solution, which basically supplies the functionality of popular apps (Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, LinkedIn – to name a few) to the less fortunate who are not enjoying a smartphone. After all, smartphones are all about apps, not features, and so I was able to enjoy a pretty neat experience using my Snaptu application.
Snaptu on a Nokia X3-02 Touch & Type. Photo: Micky Aldridge
So why would Facebook, leading social network and one of, if not the, most visited website bother with Snaptu? That’s because Facebook’s mission is to provide a platform for communications everyone uses everywhere. Everywhere means mobile, and everyone means it should support many platforms so that anyone can use Facebook no matter where they are.
And while Android and iPhone make a lot of noise, especially in this blog, feature phones (aka “dumbphones”) are outselling them by far, especially in emerging markets. If you want to make Facebook, or any communications platform, a real means of communications it should be available on any phone. Just like voice calls.
Think about e-mails, and how popular they have become since they went mobile, with mobile e-mail applications and “e-mail devices” like BlackBerry. You now send an e-mail and assume the other side will be able to receive it in (almost) real-time no matter where they are. Same goes for instant messaging. If Facebook wants to be the communications protocol of choice, and it does, then it has no other choice than support feature phones.
It’s About People, Not Devices
The headline above is taken from a great presentation by Yiibu titled “Rethinking the Mobile Web”. This conclusion from this presentation is that there is more to mobile than just iPhone (and Android and BlackBerry). VisionMobile had similar stats, showing that “despite the hype” smartphones accounted for less than 20% of the +620M handsets shipped in the first half of 2010.
Would you use a phone for voice calling if it would only connect to 20% of your contacts? Would you use, for video conferencing, just FaceTime and settle for Apple fanboys only?! The name of the game in communications has always been to “connect the islands” and make the experience as seamless as possible for the user, who doesn’t need to know anything about their devices, their network, etc. That same experience should be true for mobile web and mobile services, such as facebook.
And Snaptu, in the case of Facebook, solves this issue by providing feature phones with access to the service. It may be less amazing, it may be with reduced functionality, but in its essence it is the same. For more than a year Snaptu was my mobile Twitter client, and at least for my tweeting experience, I was very pleased with my “dumb” Nokia phone. It allowed me to connect to people in ways that are more than just voice, and that what matters.
Mobile phones work everywhere. by carrieteicher
So what’s the moral here? We need to focus on providing access to all communications “protocols”, video calling included, to more people using more devices. Be it smartphones, tablets, desktops or video conferencing endpoints. Be it through Wi-Fi, 4G, ADSL or MPLS. Be it using this UC vendor or that – everything eventually has to be connected and available, so that the experience would connect people one to another, regardless of the devices or the applications.
Facebook understands that, and have just their money where their vision is. Hopefully others will follow suit.