Standardization will be key for real growth in mobile
It’s hackneyed these days to complain how Japan and Korea–and even the UK, to some extent–are so far ahead of the U.S. with their mobile technology. In downtown Tokyo, for instance, you can use your cameraphone to snap a picture of a billboard with a QR code (or quick response code, which is like a traditional barcode, but can store a massive amount of data), and immediately book a summer vacation to Bali–including payment.
This is possible only because the wireless operators, the handset makers, and the financial institutions have all agreed on how to do things. The hardware, the software–and, by extension, the marketing–all work together seamlessly. Whereas the story in the U.S. is much akin to trying to build the web while still debating on whether it should be in HTML or some other language.
Now, some of the lag is understandable: America is a far bigger, diverse, and more complicated market. Plus our infrastructure supported good penetration of broadband access in the home–which meant that we didn’t have to build out as complete or sophisticated a cellular network. Still, we can’t use these points to excuse the players in the mobile ecosystem from finally getting in synch.
The net effect when this happens will not only be rocketship-speed growth for the industry as a whole (read: bigger pie, instead of fighting to guard your slice), but an acceleration of WiMAX-enabled, always-connected devices–including cameras, electronic book readers, GPS devices, and even television sets–that will expand the universe of mobile opportunities and business models. (Only thing left after that is just solving the battery life problem, so these devices don’t die after 20 minutes)!
Mobile search isn’t about reproducing the web model
When we do a search on our phone, not only is it a fundamentally different experience than the web, but our intentions and motivations are typically different: Mobile searches generally aren’t browsing experiences of discovery; rather, they’re directed and targeted to the immediate needs you have at that moment, out in the world.
So while you “can’t compete with Google,” says Brian Dunphy of Qualcomm, you don’t necessarily have to if you can give users better search results for food or drycleaners or pet groomers within four blocks of where they’re standing. Because at the moment, most users don’t ‘feel lucky’ when they mobile searchâ€¦
This is why LBS, or “location-based services,” will be key for mobile search in 2008. Sometimes powered by GPS and sometimes not–as there are some really interesting voice- and text-based services that allow you to input a question and get back a human response–the players who get this right will be able to carve out a valuable and lucrative niche early on in the market. Because simply trying to return standard results tied to ads is a limited market; you’re not fielding as broad a range of searches on mobile. Plus you’re not going to beat Google and Yahoo at their own game. You’re just not.
So that’s it, those are the biggies at the start of 2008. What kind of progress we’ll make–or if these will even be the same questions we’re asking next time this year–remains to be seen. But what’s assured is that mobile will only get bigger, smarter, and more interesting for marketers. Keep on reading, then, and be sure you keep on innovating. We’re always here at the Lab when you’re ready for help with your next project!