MaryLou: Voda content play looks for fuller control


Whose hands will customers put their digital lives in? This is the question that Vodafone is effectively asking surrounding the announcement of its new 360 web service proposition.

Through 360 it is throwing a challenge to handset manufacturers Nokia, Motorola and INQ, who have also developed connected social network services for the handset, not to mention LG and Sony Ericsson who are also concentrating on producing social network-friendly devices. It is unclear where Samsung sits on this as it has offered no comment towards its creation of ‘Vodafone 360′ branded flagship handsets and whether it poses a threat to its own recently launched applications store.

And, uniquely, in the same fell swoop, Vodafone is one-upping itself against rival networks; particularly Orange, who announced a single social network log in function for its handsets last month after launching an applications store earlier this year; O2 who established its ‘Litmus’ application development programme in 2007 but has yet to release an applications store; and T-Mobile, who has aligned itself with Google and its Android Market applications store.

Vodafone 360, as the name implies, is Vodafone’s attempt to take full circle control of the customer in what is probably the most intense and at the same time subtle customer recruitment/retention drive yet. On the surface it appears to be an innovative brand refresh with a wider strategy of driving data revenues, but the production of the branded ‘Vodafone 360′ Samsung handsets demonstrates that Vodafone wants to become a handset provider and developer of its own making.

But the other question is will manufacturers allow their handsets to be compatible with 360 – particularly Apple – most of which have sought to develop their own applications stores and content portals? Vodafone claims its ‘People’ connected address book application is currently being developed for the iPhone, but surely this device won’t become one of the “wide range of popular phones” that Vodafone has said will support its new apps shop from launch.

Despite claiming that it is open to customers choosing where they source their content, Vodafone is asking, no, demanding, that customers put their digital lives solely in its hands. Perhaps Vodafone is paving the future, for the next form of convergence to take shape across handsets and networks.

Certainly Nokia has considered becoming an MVNO in India, so this doesn’t seem impossible.