Guardian Mobile Summit 2011

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Innovating Mobile Business

The Guardian Mobile Business Summit brought together a slew of industry leaders addressing the subjects of mobile, social and creativity. Did you hear, for example, of the farmer who has assigned a QR code and a corresponding web page to each of his cows? This was one of the examples delivered by Olaf Swantee the CEO of Everything Everywhere whose passion for mobile was evident throughout his speech.


You may ask, why a farmer would do this? The simple answer is engagement. From a practical perspective, should a person fall ill, it now becomes possible to track the source of the milk they drank. From an entertainment perspective, particularly given the growth of farm related gaming, just imagine children sitting at the table with their bowl of cereal now being able to interact with a virtual game based around the actual cow that provided their milk.


Think that sounds silly? If so consider Blippar whose CEO Ambarish Mitra illustrated their augmented reality application. Here a phone is placed over a chocolate bar launching a short 20 second game allowing you to interact with the product. Of course there exists a practical element as well, where, as you walk through a supermarket, spot an item of interest then place your phone over it, you are greeted with two options: (1) recipes for that product and better (2) an instant voucher for redemption.


Innovation isn’t however restricted to creative apps, rather, as the CEO of Wapple, Rich Holdsworth opined, a huge opportunity is being sidelined as a result of me-too marketing: the mobile web. While mobile apps today do offer a rich interactive experience, one of the biggest hurdles facing organisations are the diversity of platforms impacting the cost to build. All the while, the mobile web requires just a single iteration that will work across multiple devices. And while I found his argument compelling, I do believe there still exists opportunity for mobile apps, though am of the opinion that with the adoption of HTML5 they may move away from being a tool-service for the mass market to being something more niche.


A significant element of the on-line experience is advertising. Rob Jonas of InMobi stated that they received between 50 and 60 billion ad impressions per month. Of course conversion rates are less than 1%: on Apple, there is one click for every 270 adverts, on Android one click for every 714 and on Blackberry, one click for every 1428. This shows a number of things (1) adverts are often irrelevant and (2) there are too many adverts. Moreover far too many people like me may be playing a game or scrolling the internet on our phones only to inadvertently click on the advert. This is perhaps why the SVP of YuMe, Ed Haslam, observed that there is a $50 billion difference between mobile usage and mobile ad spend. Plying the consumer with more of the same will not solve the problem, instead, when the correct mobile advertising model is created that gap will diminish.


It is often thought that success in mobile requires a controlled environment. The network operators adopted this approach many years ago and failed. Conversely, Apple created their own eco-system, one which incubated innovation allowing them to deliver a market leading proposition. And while Apple will continue to go from strength to strength addressing their niche market, for the rest of us, particularly those uninterested in giving 30% to Apple, as Rob Grimshaw, the MD of the Financial Times observed, outside iTunes is not a cold desolate place where people cannot find your content, it’s warm and friendly, and it’s called the browser.


The continued success of mobile remains however to be struck by a thorn in the side. Olaf Swantee provided an example from Kenya where remote villagers had no problem in going on-line via their mobile phones – a truly miracle of the modern era. But the problem was power. To recharge their phones they had to travel 20 miles and use a diesel powered generator. This was one of the key points raised by Warren East, CEO of ARM who said that the rate of battery capacity cannot keep up with data, processes and demands for services. He continued to say that for too long phones have been designed by engineers for engineers.


Similarly, JP Rangaswami, Chief Scientist at illustrated this point with a lady buying a car. She wanted a white vehicle but the salesman being good at his job managed to sell her a green one instead.  He sends a request to head office for more white cars, but an MBA educated executive observes increased sales in green cars sending him more green instead! Despite the sale, the customer wasn’t actually able to chose what they wanted i.e. design, offering wasn’t by need.


Tom Johnson, head of strategy at Betfair observed that at peak moments they receive 50,000+ data requests every second. Thus, ensuring the customer’s expectation is met both in terms of product and service is fundamental to building a business model to scale. This is something understood by Sony Ericsson whose UK MD, Pierre Perron observed that 75% of games downloaded onto their Experia Play mobile phone are premium. That is to say that when you deliver a product that the consumer actually wants, in this case the Playstation mobile phone, as well as delivering goodwill, you create platform on top of which to cross-sell you other items in your portfolio, in this case, games.


But the rate of change and message of expectation is no better highlighted than by Angus McCarey, head of retail for eBay UK. He gave the example of his young daughter who pokes at tv and laptop screens asking why they broken? For her, a touchscreen is a basic expectation; functional design is no longer sufficient.


It is said that 25% of people would prefer to share their toothbrush over sharing their mobile phone. While disturbing to some of us, it shows that this highly personalised tool is a unique proposition that relies on network operators, device manufacturers and service/app providers to work together so as to deliver better forms of interaction and engagement.


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