App-Store-War: Apple, Google, Microsoft, Nokia, RIM and now: Vodafone

App-StoreVodafone announced Vodafone 360, a new suite of web services that will be rolled out internationally across its footprint. The service is based around Vodafone People, a connected address book, and also includes Maps, Music, Search and Apps. While Vodafone 360 will be available on a variety of handsets, the operator will also launch two Vodafone 360-branded „hero“ devices, built by Samsung, which will run custom Vodafone software and are fully integrated with Vodafone 360 to offer the best possible experience.

IDC analysts John Delaney and Jonathan Arber comment:

You could be forgiven for feeling a nagging sense of déjà vu upon hearing this announcement, as superficially it recalls Nokia‘ first Ovi announcement in 2007. However, there are some key differences here, the key one being that social networking is being firmly positioned as the core of Vodafone 360. Indeed, for many Vodafone customers, Vodafone People is the only portion of the new service they will be able to access at launch. Given the speed with which consumers are realising the potential of the mobile handset as a social networking platform, Vodafone has clearly seen an opportunity to use its network assets to offer its customers an enhanced experience.

With Vodafone 360, we think Vodafone is right to position itself as an aggregator as well as a service provider. Rather than attempting to position this as an entirely new social network, as Nokia did with Share on Ovi, it is instead focusing on allowing users to bring together contacts and content from their existing social networks, and to share content to these networks. This focus on enhancing, rather than replacing, customers‘ social networks and services is something we expect to see more of from other operators in the coming months.
Vodafone has stated that it will be focusing on LiMo-based devices as it looks to expand its range of Vodafone 360-branded „hero“ devices. While this fits with the open platforms strategy announced at mobile world congress, it does seem somewhat of a limitation, given that only a handful of manufacturers are currently deploying LiMo. The question is whether consumers will consider the enhanced Vodafone 360 experience enough reason to choose a Vodafone handset over the current „hot“ devices. Given the increasingly fierce competition in the mid-to-high end touchscreen space, we think Vodafone will have something of a fight on its hands.

In addition to competitive positioning within its handset range, Vodafone will also need to handle the positioning of Vodafone 360 within a range of competing service portals. Though there are other examples, the one that springs immediately to mind is the Google/Android suite. Vodafone has been featuring this in its marketing of late, with an exclusive on the second Android phone, HTC’s Magic. Clearly, Vodafone will be promoting its own Vodafone 360 suite strongly. As a corollary of that, will it also start to reduce its promotion of Google/Android and other contending service suites? Doubtless, Vodafone will say that intends to offer its customers a range of options, and leave the choice to them. But marketing is all about guiding customers‘ choices in the direction you want them to go – and Vodafone’s „smart pipe“ strategy demands control over the user experience for as many of its customers as possible.

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