Making Phones Smart

I’d call it Mobile 3.0 but you’d accuse me of band- wagoneering. Maybe the Year of Mobile, but you’d say I was writing cliches. Describe it as you will, we’re on the brink of a new wave of innovation in mobile that, for the first time, will start to deliver services that adapt themselves to changes in place, mode and context. This new wave of services will put the smart into smartphone.

Mobile 1.0 was about communications, and its successor about apps. But the apps were little more than services designed for a desktop computer, yet squeezed onto a mobile. No surprise that it took a while to start to see the potential of mobile – new content forms always lag behind technological innovation. The first television broadcasts were nothing more than a camera placed in front of a radio announcer. The first films ever made were shot through a proscenium arch to replicate the theatre experience.

But now mobile is ready to come into its own. The next generation of services will combine understanding of place (where I am) with mode (work mode or relaxing mode, parenting or playing) and context (knowing what information is urgent in the mode I am in). They won’t just be apps that I need to direct my requirements at, they will be services that start to help me with my life without even being asked.

Imagine a service that amends my voicemail message according to what’s in my diary (telling callers that I am in a meeting now but am due to finish in 40 minutes). Or one that looks at transport congestion data periodically when my diary states that I have a short time to get across town for my next meeting (so it can warn me I need to leave my current meeting early to get to the next one on time). Could a smartphone service assess the outside temperature on a winter’s morning and know what time I always leave home, so turn on the car heater three minutes before I go out to get in the car? Or figure out which tweets or IMs are important enough to come through to me when I am in relaxing mode in the pub on a Friday?

Apps have transformed the way we regard the computer in our pocket. It’s time now to put that together with the increasing power of the smartphone to combine existing data sources with location, voice control and an ability for the phone to learn from feedback. And then watch as innovation allows the smartphone to become the intelligent agent that we probably all (and I certainly do) want it to be. The Third Age of Mobile is dawning and we could be in for an exciting 18 months.

Life on the Move

Tweet. Buy. Sell. Watch TV. Play games. Take pictures. Upload pictures. Read a book. Play chess. There was a time when your mobile phone was about voice calls and texts. Now it’s about every form of media in your pocket. And every form of marketing.

This week the great and good of the mobile world gathered for the annual Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. During the week we heard that: smartphones had outsold PCs for the first time; the tectonic plates of Nokia and Microsoft moved together; and the facebook phone launched.

That last point is important because on mobile, as everywhere else, it’s all about social media. 50% of UK mobile internet traffic is for facebook. Stop – read again – that’s 50%! And this is where marketers will increasingly focus their thinking. The overlap between social and mobile.

It was only recently that mobile marketing moved out of the innovation labs. But today there are 75m mobile subscriptions in the UK – for just 60m people. Even today, 24% of those are smartphones, but by 2015, 75% will be smartphones – mobile computers capable of doing more than a 1980s supercomputer the size of a factory.

“Mobile will become a powerful advertising medium”, said Sir Martin Sorrell in Barcelona earlier this week, with the apps market alone tripling in size to $15bn in a year. I think we all recognize the immense power of the medium – now we need to find ways of engaging with the mood, mode and context of mobile users in a way which makes messages relevant. We need to do no less than re-invent marketing for a mobile world.

2010 in Words, Numbers (and Laughs)


Sex is down, Justin Bieber is in, Chilean miners are up and out, vuvuzelas are forgotten. More than any year before, what we Googled for in 2010 tells us what sort of society we are.

The three most searched-for terms in the UK were the big sites – Facebook, BBC and YouTube. But underneath that lies a vivid picture of Britons online -Chatroulette was the UK’s fastest rising search term, swine flu the fastest falling. Justin Bieber dominates entertainment searches in the UK as he does worldwide.

YouTube celebrated its fifth birthday this year – and, you guessed it, Justin Bieber gets the cake – his ‘Baby” video was the most viewed of all time with 400 million views achieved last week.  But more interesting – ‘Charlie Bit My Finger’ reached a staggering 259 million as the highest rated non-music, followed by my own favourite ‘hahaha’ which should accompany any festive goodwill message.

Social networking has been the next big story of the year. More than 50% of the UK’s 44-million strong online base are now regular social network contributors. What’s probably more surprising is that 45% of 18-24s access their social network via mobile.

Which of course isn’t surprising at all. Because 2010 hasn’t just been the year of Bieber and babies on YouTube, it’s been all about getting mobile: 5 billion apps downloaded (just 300 million in 2009); the iPhone became the most popular camera for Flickr users; and last week Vodafone UK chief executive Guy Laurence told senior retailers they had “lost control of their shoppers”. He said a fifth of young shoppers browsing in Oxford Street London, on a Saturday were online at the same time, looking at Facebook and checking rivals’ prices. If you want an indication of the peaks which mobile has reached in 2010, climbers on Mount Everest can, since this summer, access the mobile internet from eight new 3G base stations dotted up the mountain.

Where does the internet go from here? Well that would be 2011. I’ll be back in the New Year with my predictions.