top of page
  • Writer's pictureSlashData Team

What if handset features could shape and evolve with the user? the user side of mobile software mana

Today s mobile handsets are highly underutilized; beyond calling and texting, tens of typical handset features go unused. Are handsets over-featured, crammed with capabilities that leave most users indifferent ?

Why can t the user today pick a handset based on style and then choose the features they would like to include, much like choosing the extras for a new car? Why are today s handsets most limited; why can t you transfer a game from a friend s handset? Why can t you get FM radio functionality on a new 400 smartphone?

The answers lie in how the handset software is designed, built and managed through the handset lifetime. Whereas software inside most phones is highly sophisticated, at the same time it is practically shaped into a rigid monolith.

In a sense, the phone software from birth to retirement suffers from chronic arteriosclerosis; for all its PC similarities, the software is mostly immutable and unmanageable, only fit for the narrowly-defined purpose for which it was designed two years before being sold.

At the same time, the user is little interested on how the handset menus can be coloured red, orange, blue or magenta by the mobile operator, but how the phone could be made a bit more friendly and a bit more personalised.

A shallow dive into mobile software management Mobile software management (MSM) is a new wave of technologies that allow the handset software to be turned from a monolith into soft clay. MSM technologies treat the software as malleable from the design stage and embedding on the device, to configuring at the point of sale, installing features post-sale and prolonging its use until the handset is retired .

From a technical perspective MSM enables the management (deployment, installation, activation, update, de-activation and removal) of software components (applications, handset features and their dependencies) on any device, throughout the software lifecycle (from architectural design, to manufacturing and post sale).

The umbrella of MSM technologies encompasses firmware over-the-air (FOTA), user interface management and enterprise device management, (traditionally applications considered within the scope of mobile device management, MDM) and extends into software variant development, service lifecycle management, feature customization and dependency management. The next diagram shows the taxonomy of technologies under the umbrella of MSM and the relationship with mobile device management.

Mobile software management taxonomy

Figure: Taxonomy of MSM and MDM applications (source: VisionMobile research)

One fundamental difference beyond MDM and MSM is that, while MDM offers control of the higher-level functionality of the device (e.g. skins, ringtones, contacts backup, antivirus and device detection), MSM extends far deeper into the handset, allowing any part of the internal device software to be manipulated.

MSM is a much more powerful and much more complex set of technologies, especially for mass-market (non open OS) handsets; The deeper you go into the handset to manage software components, the more surgery you need to perform. Adding or removing software is like performing organ surgery where each organ is highly interconnected, making interventions a highly complex operation.

Mobile software management is a relatively new and still emerging market, both technically and with regard to commercial deployments. But demand and supply are both ramping up to exploit the benefits that MSM brings to both the user and the mobile industry.

What does all this mean for the user ? The MSM umbrella of technologies brings several distinct, welcome and newfound benefits to the user:

– Buy, pick & mix. MSM goes far beyond installing ringtones at the time of handset purchase. At the operator retail shop, the user can personalise the handset features, for example adding FM radio functionality, upgrading the camera resolution or adding a stereo enhancer feature to the built-in mp3 player.

– Accessorise me. A month after handset purchase, the user can log in to the manufacturer s website and accessorise their phone with an automatic photo panorama function or a real-camera upgrade for instant click-to-shoot experience. The features are automagically downloaded and installed on the handset in a matter of seconds.

– Dress me up. MSM goes far beyond changing wallpapers. Through a dedicated on-device portal the user can preview and buy complete UI themes; themes that change the way the phone looks and feels, from dialing up a contact to texting and taking pictures. Purchasing a new real-theme morphs the user experience from a pink Barbie look to a sleek, silver BMW look; and themes can change to reflect the user s mood.

– Fix me. Operator Telefonica use MSM technologies like firmware OTA to offer customer reassurance; the user does not need to be go into a repair shop when there s something wrong with their handset; instead they can call up customer services and have the software fixed over the air in a matter of minutes. In the near future, handset software will be able to be fixed or upgraded in a matter of seconds.

– Check me up Automatic, proactive fault detection means that the user can rest assured that their contract includes a monthly health status check-up and monitoring. Like a car regular check-up, only that in the case of handsets it happens overnight, and without an inconvenient visit to the car service centre.

– Supersize me With MSM the user can get the latest and best features and exclusive promotions on the handset before his friends do. Supersizing can be bundled or offered as part of an add-on monthly subscription.

Easing the industry s headaches Naturally, mobile software management aims primarily to solve many challenges facing handset manufacturers, mobile operators, service providers and software developers; As such, MSM technologies enable a range of scenarios and associated revenue opportunities for industry players: – Configuration of the handset software as part of 1-to-1 just-in-time customer segmentation at the point of sale, installing, removing and updating features based on the specific customer profile. – Ability to install and update a new application environment like Java MIDP3 or Flash Lite on the existing handset installed base. – Ability to personalise the handset user interface twice a month as part of the user s subscription package. – Upgrade of the handset installed base to support a new 4G network technology and associated data services introduced by the operator. – Granular monitoring and management of the services supported by handsets in the field by an enterprise. – Repurposing of handsets for a new channel and customisation for a specific market segment, after the handset has left the factory. – Component-based software integration and testing as the handset parts move along the value chain, reducing cost and time-to-market for the handset OEM.

Behind the industry scenes: deployments and vendors Based on 20+ interviews with software vendors, network operators and handset manufacturers that we conducted for our VisionMobile report on Mobile Software Management, we understand that at least eight trials of mobile software management technologies are underway as of H1 2007.

The supply part of the MSM market is in a nascent stage. An evolving puzzle of 10s of vendors principally active in MDM and handset software development are moving to exploit the revenue opportunities in MSM. The next diagram shows how vendors from multiple solution categories are participating in mobile software management.

MDM incumbents HP, InnoPath, mFormation, Nokia, Sicap, SmartTrust, Smith Micro, Synchronica, and WDS Global are introducing applications that are increasingly extending into MSM such as service lifecycle management and user interface management.

Software platform providers Nokia (S60), Symbian, Microsoft (Windows Mobile), EMP, Qualcomm (BREW) and Mentor Graphics (Nucleus) are enhancing their platform modularity, reshaping the software architecture into configurable, updatable building blocks. SIM card manufacturers like Gemalto are showcasing SIM-driven software configuration. Software houses like Abaxia and Cibenix are launching SIM-based software configuration and on-device portals for browsing & buying software, respectively.

Vendors Red Bend and Open Plug are offering solutions for granular feature customization at the software platform level throughout the software lifecycle and across phone tiers.

This amalgam of MSM technology and service vendors will be continuously expanding and evolving over the next three years, to exploit the revenue opportunities ingrained in the many user and industry scenarios opening up.

– Andreas

Coming next: a detailed view of the technologies, players and benefits of mobile software management from the industry perspective.

The VisionMobile research report Mobile Software Management: Advances and Opportunities in Service Delivery dissects the complex array MSM technologies, reviews eight major vendors, presents several operator case studies and uncovers key market trends within mobile software management. The paper is available as a free download from


bottom of page