Thursday 6 January 2011

2010: The Year (in Mobile) That Was Part 2 – When Mobile grew up

In my last post I talked about the moving-and-shaking in the smartphone market in 2010.  I lead with this topic because, although smartphones still account for the minority of devices (vs. feature phones) in the UK and global market, it is (basically speaking) the space where all the interesting stuff happens.  In this post, I want to take a slightly wider look at a few of the things that I’ve picked out as being of interest or relevance in 2010.  As this is my personal look and given the year that has passed, I will no doubt have omitted any number of other comment-worthy happenings, please feel free to add comment if any of these omissions are too glaring...

An SMS mechanic was awarded a D&AD Yellow Pencil
Produced by Isobar agency Farfar of Sweden for Nokia Maps, and not massively trumpeted (at least in the mobile space) at the time, this may seem pretty innocuous but I think it’s fantastic.  This is the ultimate demonstration that doing something innovative in mobile isn’t about using the latest technology, it’s about doing something new – and that could just as easily be using something as simple and basic as SMS.

Near Field Communications (NFC) started to take a peek around the corner
NFC will be the technology that brings mobile payment into retail stores (as opposed to being via an mCommerce site).  The carriers want it; the device manufacturers want it; the financial institutions want it; and the retailers want it.  The key question in my mind is who will “own” it, because I suspect that there may be a little bit of a jostling for position going on right now to establish the value-chain behind mobile payments as none of the groups I’ve mentioned want to be left out.
However that aside, think about what else you can do once NFC is fully integrated into devices and peripherals – TopUp by swiping your phone across an operators poster; unlock your car, house, computer etc.; gain entry to member-only locations, such as gyms or football grounds.  The list goes on and NFC will eventually be massive. 
But what will happen when you lose your phone or change it...?

Location based services (LBS) become de rigueur 
So Foursquare, Gowalla and, latterly, Facebook Places have been the media and (to a lesser extent) consumer darlings of the LBS space but, as with NFC, there is so much more to it than that. 
One of the principle differentiators that mobile holds over other channels is its ability to tell you, and allow you to share, where you are.  Location takes contextual to a new level – be that in search, social networking or other applications.  And it was in 2010 that location, with the advent of GPS-enabled smartphones, became mainstream.  And it is in 2011 that the questions around privacy relating to location will need to be answered...

Twitter started to find its niche
Of course Twitter has been around for a few years now (launched in 2006), but although the number of active users and tweets has increased significantly over the last few years, and whilst its users have been pretty happy following and tweeting away, it’s not really been that clear what the point of it was for brands and businesses.  I’m not saying that the answer in necessarily clear right now, but what we have seen in 2010 is brands gaining a greater understanding of Twitter and stating to utilise it for their own purposes – this post from Murat is a great example. 
Word-of-mouth has always been regarded as important by businesses given its impact on brand reputation and subsequently repeat and new business.  It is also often quoted that is a consumer has a good experience they will tell 2 friends, but if they have a bad experience they will tell 10 (or something like that).
Given the speed with which news spreads on Twitter it is not surprising that brands have their feelers pointed at the Twitterverse.
But, with some high profile #fails already, can Twitter be widely and effectively used as a marketing tool.  For me, the question is still out on that...

Brands still (mostly) failed to crack how to use Facebook
Not really a specific event, more the lack of one but given the recent $50 billion valuation of Facebook, I’ve been thinking about how that can be justified by the Social Networks revenue stream.  Obviously advertisers are a significant (more likely the significant) part of that revenue for Facebook.  But as an advertiser, how do you make Facebook work?  Currently the options available are pretty simple – bought or earned. 
Bought, is currently display ads on the site – which is pretty uninspiring so will certainly need some evolution for the sake of the brands and Facebook’s valuation. 
Earned, is the ground the brands are still trying to crack effectively.  There have been some good examples of the use of Facebook in brand activity but for the most part, do users follow or interact with brands on Facebook for a reason other than possibly getting free stuff? 

mCommerce started to become a meaningful retail option
In the back-end of 2010, there was an undeniable movement, highlighting the opportunities that exist within mobile commerce.  There is a slew of stats demonstrating the opportunity and an increasing number of examples of retailers (both digital and traditional and in some cases high-profile) that are either dipping their toes in the water or, in some cases, diving into the deep end with transactional mobisites and/or applications.
This is all pretty sensible - consumers are using their phones more and more, phones are getting ‘smarter’ and digital in general is becoming a significant retail channel.  I fully expect to see this run and run through 2011 and beyond.

Tablets hit the ground running
The iPad was released at the start of the year and not long after I blogged about how it has, in many ways, both created and started to fill a new gap in the market.  2010 saw a number of other tablet devices released, announced or rumoured as Apple’s competitors try and avoid being left in the wake of the iPad as they were for the iPhone.  Retail volumes for the year have shown that tablet devices are being purchased by consumers and although the way that the market will shape itself over the coming months and years – in terms of users, services, capability and price – is still for anyone to predict, what is clear is that they will only become more prevalent.

Having been in mobile for coming on 6 years now (which feels like longer than it sounds), 2010 really has been the most interesting in terms of the way the market has evolved, the technological advances that were made and the way that consumers and brands have engaged with the medium. 

And I’ll be mighty disappointed if 2011 isn’t better.

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