Spice Digital*, Spice Group’s  MVAS (Mobile Value Added Services) companies, has launched a new mobile portal, Spice Gang, an off-deck mobile portal, that allows users to access various infotainment, and entertainment services such as Jokes, Greeting cards, News, Songs Cricket scores, among others. The portal also offers premium content  from Coke Studio, Hungama, and other premium brands thus showcasing authenticated content. According to the company, the portal will allow subscribers to pull content, instead of content being pushed to their phones through subscription based services.

(Nikhil adds: It’s rather late in the day for Spice to launch an off-deck portal (outside the operator walled garden); companies like Indiatimes, Indiagames, Mauj, Hungama and Buongiorno, among others have had theirs for quite a while, but we see this also as a sign of things to come: more and more on deck players launching destinations, but with integrated telecom operator billing)

Design

The WAP portal essentially offers a simplistic icon based interface for browsing through content, and is designed majorly for feature phones.  Using it on an iPhone, the site appeared to have far too much blank space, and did not seem to be touch-screen friendly, as the icons are small.

The Coke Studio section offers Coke Studio videos and audio in mobile friendly .3gp and .mp3 file format, and can be downloaded free of charge. It seems like most of the content on the site is free of charge, since there is no specific mention of content costs anywhere.

The Premium section offers Rail Yatra, Entertainment and IVR based services, which are essentially web shortcuts that trigger SMS and calls, similar to USSD or SIM toolkit services. This means that if a user wants to check a particular train’s time table, he can enter the train number in the web app, which would trigger an SMS through the phone’s messaging. The same is also true for entertainment based services. This functionality did not work for SMS services on the iPhone, at the time of writing this post.

Personalization: The user can add or remove services on the mobile portal. This option is available under the Settings menu, however the services that one adds get listed under ‘Subscribed’, giving the impression that paid services might be included in the future.

The Songs section features song videos and audio from Hungama’s content library. This section contains paid content and on a GPRS/3G connection, the user is informed about the pricing. On a WiFi connection, the user is made to input his mobile number and an SMS is sent with the link. We tried the Wifi route, as well but did not receive an SMS.

Suggestions:

– There is a need to make the portal visually appealing. It looks like an early WAP portal deployment from a telco. Perhaps it can take a clue from some operator portals including R-Com’s R-World, which has been deployed by Motricity.

– The same goes for making it more touch/smart phone friendly. In it’s current avatar, it seems to be designed keeping feature phones in mind.

– SMS and IVR triggers in a way are good as they aid content discovery, which is otherwise lost in short codes, but it needs to be ensured that this works across all phones and the user is informed about it on the portal itself. For example we were baffled to see the browser automatically triggering the SMS application.

– Content download costs need to be categorically mentioned. The site also lacks an FAQ link where users can seek answers to their queries.

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