During the last 15 years, the real innovation on the internet in terms of applications, technology, and business model have primarily come out of the US. It’s not surprising that’s the case, as the Internet was started there and the US had more internet users than any other country in the world. (Although China recently passed the US in terms of internet users in 2008)
However, for the mobile internet and mobile media in general, the US is far from being the key source of innovation the way it has been on the internet. It was a fairly late comer in terms of 3G and MVAS adoption compared to many parts of Asia and Europe. In fact, I might hypothesized that the widespread availability of computers and broadband made Americans less interested/dependent on mobile that other markets.
Some people will ask me if I think China or India will be driving mobile media going forward given they are the fastest growing markets in the world and China having about 3x the number of mobile users of the US and 6X of Japan. My long term answer is maybe, after about 6-10 years, but my short term answer is definitely not. Most new fundamental innovation happens when a critical mass of conditions exists between the maturity of network, user scale, advanced devices and willingness of users to pay.
The Chinese and Indian network infrastructure is WAY behind Japan, much of EU and even the US. 3G licenses just got issued in China this year…and widespread adoption of the new network and 3G devices won’t happen for 3-5 years. There are three 3G networks and 3 2-2.5G networks in the market and lots of legacy handsets to support (over 3000 active models in China). The wide gap in income ranges also means that there will need to be a wide range of price range and capabilities of phones in the market for a long time to come. This also means that the newest/latest technologies and devices won’t be able to get broadly adopted on a ubiquitous basis as other wealthier and smaller countries.
Lastly, there will continue to be an issue with Chinese users paying a high price for mobile content/apps. There was a real abuse of mobile value added services in the past by service providers who took advantage of users and the government/carriers have really cracked down on them in the last few years with polices that makes it very difficult for any company to survive, let alone thrive in the current mobile SP industry environment. Chinese entrepreneurs have also been trained to be very practical and limit cost of long term research but instead opt for winning via faster execution than competitors. So there is no real advantage to being innovative…the real winners are those that copy and get to scale first.
This type of management philosophy is not conducive to creating some revolutionary innovation. I wish I could be more optimistic, but the current state of the Chinese (and Indian) markets just don’t support it. However this could all change in 5+ years as the network matures, the 3G users grow, smart phones become the norm, and buying power rises with the strong overall growth of these markets (relative to western markets). So the future is bright, but don’t expect too much leadership or innovation from the emerging markets in the near term in terms.