Mobile’s success will come about through the convergence of new hardware technologies and new software development that makes the most of them.
The iPhone has achieved just this and is acting as a catalyst for the growth of the overall market. Trend commentators have been proclaiming that this is the year of mobile for the past five or so years.
We believe we’ve arrived and here’s why...
The iPhone user interface
The iPhone arrived in October 2007, with a 3G version launched in June 2008. This was an important launch for three main reasons. Firstly, the revolutionary User Interface (or UI) really accelerated the use of mobile devices beyond voice and text by making it easy and intuitive.
This UI made it easier to use software such as mobile applications (which had previously been around for a few years on other handsets such as the Nokia N95). As more consumers started using these applications a snowball effect of application development and adoption took place.
Secondly, barriers around the pricing of usage were blown away by O2’s ‘what you see is what you get’ iPhone pricing. The iPhone has started to show consumers in the market what mobile phones can do beyond voice and text services and has shown handset manufacturers and mobile operators the commercial opportunities available.
And thirdly, the introduction of the iPhone’s apps store has revolutionized the use of a mobile phone as well as creating a brand new revenue stream (as of October 2009 there have been 2 billion app downloads from the Apple store).
Everyone is now quickly playing catch-up, (Nokia’s app store opened in early 2009 and crashed on its first day, such was the demand) but what is interesting at this point is how convergence will be driven further by technological developments in both hardware and software.
Supercharged convergence in the palm of your hand
The co-founder of Intel, Gordon E. Moore theorised in 1965 that the number of processors that can be placed for a given price on a circuit board will double every two years. This means speed doubles every two years.
This will be heightened in mobile devices with the imminent release of multi-core processors, which have been present in desktop PCs for the last five years. Mobile devices are set to get much quicker very soon, automatically meaning the experience gets much closer to that of a desktop PC.
Apple’s Gesture Dictionary
The most important hardware feature in driving mass adoption is the user interface. This is one of the key features of the iPhone, with the touchscreen now becoming the ‘must have’ in mobile devices.
The development of the UI doesn’t stop here though. Apple is going one step further in recently patenting a ‘Gesture Dictionary’, enabling users to quickly access key features in their phone with different finger gestures on the screen.
UI innovation goes way beyond the Google ‘hand-on-device’ experience. Advances are being made in ‘reality augmentation’ – the visual layering of virtual environments over the real world around us, unsurprisingly being led by Japan.
The user is able to view the world around them through their mobile camera, with extra information layered over it. It’s easy to imagine the marketing applications of this sort of technology; contextual placement of brands and networking of communities could all come to life. This is all enabled by the increasing inclusion of GPS in mobile devices – not as a standalone application, but as a facilitator of other functions.
‘Logic Bolt’ Pico projector phone
Pico projectors are simply very small digital projectors; small enough to fit into a mobile device. This technology was announced at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and at a basic level will allow mobile devices to become multimedia players; for example projecting YouTube clips or brand content for viewing anywhere.
In a more converged context this could be linked to GPS data meaning users can only play certain content in certain locations; for example, sneak previews of new products that can only be played in proximity to a brand’s retail network.
Near Field Communication (NFC)
This is the technology that powers Oyster cards (Oyster cards use RFID chips which are a subset of NFC) and more recently the Oyster-enabled Barclaycard, and the ‘O2 Wallet’ system. As the names suggest for now the focus is on cashless payment, making the mobile phone even more indispensable.
This could easily translate into broader application though, using the NFC technology to deliver bespoke messages through digital billboards, give people trials of products or encourage people to literally group together to receive a bigger reward. Indeed they could be encouraged to do this for a viewing from one of the group’s Pico Projectors!
The usefulness of GPS through locative application has already been demonstrated with Google Maps Mobile which shows how the basic functionality of GPS can be supercharged through the depth of information Google can add. There are a huge range of locative services and applications now available, a number of which are now part of major commercial enterprises.
The internet of things
The final innovation in mobile device hardware is within the devices literally ‘on the end of the line’ – i.e a device with a SIM card in it or with WiFi chips in them. Arguably a lot of these are relatively immobile, but their inclusion in a network makes the network more powerful.
Examples include SIM enabled digital photo frames with their own phone number to text images to and household appliances such as fridges, or ovens coming online, or for advertisers posters or installations that can respond to mobile phones or other WiFi devices. All this is leading to a more converged and connected society. Brands should consider how their properties could become connected on any level.
As mentioned, whilst notable steps are being made in hardware and so the potential that mobile devices have to offer, equally lots of smaller steps are being made in software and networks that support the devices and facilitate true innovation.
Open source: the fall of the wall
The very fabric of a mobile operating system is changing to become more reflective of people’s needs. Again Google are one of the main change agents in this field. Back in October 2008 they launched Google Android, a new open source software platform for mobile devices.
As part of the launch Google held the Android Developer Challenge; a competition to encourage people to get hands-on with the operating system and develop their own software to run on it. The sheer number of responses to this demonstrated the hunger for such open source access.
Spurred on by this, Nokia announced they were taking full ownership of Symbian, a company which builds the operating system for a majority of their handsets. Importantly, in doing so they intend to make this also an open source community, arguably in defence of their own devices.
Apple have also been a change agent in this field, encouraging software development through their ‘app store’. However, they have been criticised for being opaque, rather than open in their approval of applications, highlighting how brands must ‘walk the talk’ in this field.
This ‘fall of the wall’ really helps devices operate to the maximum of their capabilities, throwing open the development opportunity to the masses to create what they want to use, rather than use what the telcos develop. There are thousands of examples of these open source applications.
A few really demonstrate why open source is an important development for the marketing community.
Locale and Geo Life are a great demonstration of the potential for ‘sleeping’ locative services. Your mobile always tracks where you are and what you are doing, allowing you to make it perform certain actions at certain points in time. For example a trigger to purchase in proximity to a retail outlet; or trigger a reward once a number of locations have been visited.
Biowallet uses a camera phone as an iris reader to allow only the user access to secure information. This is built around security but could be adapted to deliver guaranteed one-to-one communications, for example to identify very high value customers.
Shopsavvy, CompareEverywhere and Gocart use a mobile camera and image recognition software to allow people to get an instant best price on an item wherever they are. The threat to the high street is palpable, but could this be taken further – for example snap an outfit on someone to get the look through ASOS.com?
Sportstracker is a Nokia application that uses GPS to track and measure movement – primarily used for sports training. Users can build a training diary and share with others online.
Brands such as Nike have already taken advantage of this with proprietary versions, but if an application like Sportstracker was to become more widely used, brands would be able to communicate based on physical activity, or indeed inactivity!
FourSquare is a location based social networking game for mobile devices where people are awarded points or ‘badges’ for ‘checking in’ to venues around a city. Users can also add ‘tips’ to venues that other users can read.
The networks of the future?
On the most basic level, data charges are becoming cheaper, and in some cases free. The elephant in the room for most mobile operators is the ever present threat of alternate ‘over the air’ data networks.
The main current threat is WiFi networks (for example through established networks like The Cloud and BT Openzone which offer over 100,000 UK WiFi hubs between them) and in the longer-term also WiMAX. However, the biggest outlying threat is Google’s ambition in the mobile space.
As an advertising-led business it is in their interest to see mobile internet use rise in general; meaning more advertising revenue. They have already been lobbying the Federal Communications Commission in the US around the auction of the soon-to-be-redundant analogue TV spectrum.
Whether this is a tactical bid or whether they will actually try and build their own data network remains to be seen, but what is clear is that the status quo will not remain and data use is to become cheaper and more ubiquitous.
It’s clear that the ways in which people, communities and brands connect are changing. One of the key parts of this is the way in which the mobile devices category is evolving to bring together an incredible range of life-enhancing functionalities with a thriving developer community. All of this will only be supercharged by imminent advances in processing power.
It is likely that the lead player in mobile innovation will be a truly multi-platform brand which is able to leverage its resources and expertise across the increasingly converged hardware.
A good example of this would be Google with their march onwards into the mobile category, built on their depth of experience and data from search. The marketing implication is a double-edged sword; getting it right in this connected world will reap great rewards. Getting it wrong or doing nothing will see brands fall behind any more forward thinking competitors.
To avoid this, OMD UK have five principles for success:
1. Absolute connectivity is going to be created by increasingly smart devices. This offers opportunity but perhaps more threatens brands which do not evolve. Permanent and easy access to total information is a risk for brands which are not market-leading.
2. Paths to purchase will change as has already happened through the standard internet. Evolved mobile evices will become people’s invaluable guides down this path. Brands must continue to allow for this.
3. Mode and mood become increasingly trackable and so targeted through a constant data dialogue. Time arguably will become much less relevant as a constant in communications planning. At the same time,
Brands will need to be mindful of the style of communication or risk being seen as intrusive.
4. Influentials become superconnected as they’re likely to be at the adoptive end of the technology curve.
More than ever it is vital for brands to understand connective technology, if they are to
communicate with and recruit Influential groups.
5. Beta becomes common practice, certainly in technology but perhaps in other categories. People become used to and indeed welcome being part of the NPD process.
Insight Manager OMD
Direct: +44 (0)20 74705482
Mobile: +44 (0)7798 630564
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