Mobile phone operators may be planning to reap the rewards from the much-hyped MMS (multimedia messaging service) this festive season, but according to a report from multimedia software developer 3G Labs they are going to be bitterly disappointed.

The Cambridge-based company conducted a usability test with members of the public, giving them the opportunity to play with a variety of MMS-enabled phones. While users found taking photos relatively easy, sending the image to another mobile was a different matter altogether.

"Clearly, picture messaging is set to be a major part of the operators' revenue streams for the next few years," said Steve Ives, CEO at 3G Labs. "But our usability tests show that consumers are baffled by the terminology and design of today's MMS-enabled handsets.

Phone manufacturers have been touting the benefits of MMS heavily and pushing related hardware to consumers.

But of the two handsets tested, Nokia's 7650 and Sony Ericsson's T68i, users found interfaces and menus extremely difficult to understand. One problem concerned terminology: while the phones' menus described picture messaging as 'multimedia', UK operators market such services as photo- and picture-messaging.

"I don’t know what MMS means. I've never heard of it before," said one of the testers.

Nokia's 3510 and 7650, Sony Ericsson's T68i, Sharp's GX10 and Orange's SPV are just some of the MMS phones available in the UK.

One of the things that has made SMS (text messaging) such a huge, even unexpected, success is its ease of use. The fewer the complications, the more likely it is operators will achieve mass-market adoption.

The full report can be viewed here.