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THOUGHT: Who is using MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service)?
Posted by PPCW.Net Editori - on Wednesday, 18.02.04 - 20:00:51 CET under 09 - Thoughts - Viewed 7879x
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Contributed by Dr. Wolfgang Irber, PPCW.Net Reader and Business Professional

When I was recently playing with the modified MMS composer of the xda II, I wondered: who is actually using MMS in Europe? The news says, operators report a rapid growth rate, but from which basis and with whom? I'm not using it, and even though most of my tech-savvy friends have a MMS capable phone, none of them is using it too. Some say they have played with it when they got their new phones, but could not find it appealing enough for ongoing use. I also asked teenagers what they think about MMS: too expensive was the common answer. Regardless who is now using MMS, after playing a bit with it, I found five reasons why people may not be too much interested in using MMS:

#1 - Too Complicated
I had played with the MMS composer of the xda I and the xda II. The first one was a nightmare, and even though the recent one is a major improvement, I still don't really like it. I am missing automated options to fit a MMS into the common prizing scheme of either covering 30 KB or 100 KB. Of course, I have the prize in mind when composing a MMS, so I want to get the most out of the KB blocks.

Others confirm to me that the MMS composer on their phones appear not well designed: compared to writing a SMS (text message) the composer is not providing the same level of convenience. Only the very recent models appear to do better. Friends also complain about the time it takes to send a MMS. They expect the same performance as what they experience with text messaging. But since MMS is sent over GPRS based WAP, the upload is limited to one channel which is ranging from about 9 to 13 kbit/sec: sending a 100 KB MMS may take about one and a half minutes, compared to a few seconds for sending SMS! Even the receiver has to wait for about 15 seconds to get it downloaded. If you don't know this, you suspect something is wrong with your phone.

By the way, you may have heard about the options of MMS to postcard or MMS to sticker. So far, I have only tried the postcard and thought that's a great idea. It still think it is, but when I received my first postcard 10 days later (!), I was heavily disappointed. Even though the picture has been made with a digital camera, and was reduced in size to fit better, the postcard displayed a fuzzy, hard to recognize myself with lots of block artifacts. Later I found out that it was the MMS client that made the photos look that bad and I could do nothing about it. Since then, I haven't tried it again. Maybe I should with the new MMS client of the xda II? A well working MMS to postcard service, that's something I could love!

The composing of a MMS strongly reminds me of creating PowerPoint slides. It's quite complex compared to writing a SMS. To make a MMS look good, you can spend lots of time, but can you be sure that you are not running into the next issue, the reason number 2:

#2 - Incompatibility Issues
Friends told me that they experienced annoying MMS incompatibility issues between phones: pictures looked different, or were not shown at all, voice recordings disappeared, and the slide show did not run. When sending a 0,99 € MMS, they expect it to be seen at the friend's phone like when it was composed. So what's the fun of composing a MMS if you don't know what to expect on the receiver's side? These incompatibility issues are surely fixed in the future. But in order to overcome this issue now I thought, well, let's send it to an E-Mail address. But this did not help at all: my E-Mail client Outlook 2002 got the E-Mail but did not display the picture. I later found out that I need an update for Outlook to display MMS properly. Of course, stupid I, MMS is an unknown format to the E-Mail client!

#3: Too Expensive
The common MMS prizing in Germany is 0,39 € for up to 30 KB and 0,99 € for up to 100 KB. But that's only within the operator's network. It's even more expensive with 0,59 € and 1,29 € for teenagers, who commonly use prepaid, or if you send MMS to different networks. Honestly, that's a lot of money for something that was supposed to replace text messaging in volume. And did you ever send it from your holiday spot abroad? Due to additionally billed GPRS-roaming traffic, you easily end up with total costs of 1 € or 2,5 € per 30 KB or 100 KB, respectively. If you then compare the traditional high-quality postcard with a low-quality picture MMS: what would you prefer, even though the traditional postcard takes much longer to reach the destination?

As I understand it, the major point for sending MMS is the picture. But, why not to send it via E-Mail?

The standard picture format of camera phones is 160 x 120 (= default MMS size), 320 x 240, or 640 x 480. These pictures have on average 15 KB, 30 KB, or 70 KB, respectively. If I send these pictures as an E-Mail attachment, I will end with a total GPRS transfer of about 30KB, 70 KB, or 150 KB. You always have to take some significant overhead into consideration with GPRS: based on my experience, it is about 100% for sending, and about 60% for receiving data. You are always billed for the overhead as well!

But back to the example. If you subscribed to a GPRS data package, you may pay on average about 2 € per MB or 0,02 € per 10 KB. Please note that some operators may bill 100 KB blocks. The small 15 KB E-Mail with a total data transfer of 30 KB would then cost 0,06 €, the middle one 0,14 € and the large one 0,30 €. Since most cell phones have screens that are only able to display 160 x 120, there is no point of sending larger pictures to a cell phone. Which means we have to compare the 0,06 € sent via E-Mail with 0,30 € sent via MMS. We save over 70%. But even if we send an E-Mail with attachment of 30 KB which is comparable in volume to the smaller MMS default size, we end up with 0,14 € which is still 65% cheaper! But be careful, the calculation is obsolete if you use non-subscribed GPRS with 5 to 10 € per MB. In this case, MMS would be cheaper! And there is another contra to the E-Mail model: it only works well when sent to a PC connected to the Internet via a 'wireline' ISP. Otherwise two people are paying a significant amount of money: the sender and the receiver, whereas with MMS only the sender pays.

With many new phones having E-Mail clients in these days, I can imagine that people familiar with E-Mail would skip the MMS and send pictures as an E-Mail attachment. At least I am doing it this way. I like it, and my girlfriend too! Of course, it is often not an instant delivery as with MMS from phone to phone, but has the advantage that the pictures look so much better on a computer screen. That leads us to reason number 4:

#4 - Insufficient Display Quality of many Cell Phones
Who of us were not disappointed when we first looked at photographs on a cell phone screen: grainy pictures with fade colors. Only recently I noticed a change to significantly higher resolution rates and color depths of 24 bit. But how long will it take until the majority of us are having these phones? So, if I want to be sure that the picture I send is properly displayed, sending it to an E-Mail address is currently the only option for me.

#5 - Competition with E-Mail Attachments
Using E-Mail for sending pictures is simply they way we are used to. And I know there are no incompatibility issues, the picture is properly displayed, it is easy to handle, and I don't need to worry about the sizing, for instance, to keep the MMS within 39 KB or 100 KB. And as described above, it is so much cheaper for me too.

Final conclusion

After playing a bit with MMS, I identified five reasons for me why not to use MMS on a regular basis, at least not for now. Even though I was a bit excited when I first heard about sending pictures from cell phones, I am now much less excited about it. Initially I thought it must be great to send my loved ones pictures from my travels using MMS. I still like the idea but use E-Mail instead. The clumsy MMS clients, incompatibility issues, prizing, insufficient display qualities of cell phone screens and the competition with E-Mail attachments prevent my friends and me from using MMS. So, I'm not really sure about a bright future for MMS in the short term; as long as the prize and the technical issues stay the same, even though the latter is getting significantly better. I could imagine that the growth rate seen by the operators is only the reflection of an increasing replacement of old by new MMS capable phones. People try a couple of times with it, and then give up. At least that's what I observe. I may be wrong and would be glad to see MMS taking a different turn. Then after all, MMS is a very nice little idea!

Cheers ~ Wolfgang


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