Why, ironically, you can't move for predictions about mobility…

Over the last few weeks, I’ve lost count of the number of ‘predictions’ posts, lists, presentations and twitterings there have been…

…it’s like it’s everyone’s New Year’s Resolution; “I must predict more things”.

Of course, there are lot of good ones, some hit and miss ones, and some also rans. 

And naturally, there’s a lot of overlap, as this little wordle from Darren shows… it’s drawn from 25 or so different predictions posts:



(via Wilding)

Of course, the big word in the middle is ‘Mobile’… oh yes, yet another YEAR OF THE MOBILE (as Peter Sells correctly lampooned in his excellent Battle of Big Thinking presentation).

But you know, this time it’s likely to be a little different. 

It’s the year of mobility, not just of mobile. 

2010 looks like being all about devices you carry around, hooking into t’internet wherever and whenever you like, be they a mobile phone or not.

The rise of the Apple iPhone of course continues… as speculated would happen in the previous post, Christmas 2009 represented a phenomenally busy period for the App Store…

…though it was interesting to see that it was driven not predominantly by the iPhone, but by the iPod Touch (the same unit without the phone function):



(via Scott Seaborn / Techcrunch)

It’s much more of a ‘gifting’ present, of course – a one off cost rather than an 18 month subscription to a service.  And if you’ve got (increasingly available) wi-fi access, it doesn’t need the phone signal to access the interweb, so can pull all the same tricks.

That’s not all Apple’s got up it’s sleeve of course… the much rumoured ‘tablet’ (let’s hope to god the rumour it’s called the ‘iSlate’ is a cruel trick by someone).  You can do no better than read John Gruber’s brilliant post (via BBHLabs) on what it may come to pass with that…

It’s not all the Apple show this year though.  Google’s first phone, the Nexus One, looks like being launched later today (I should have waited a day with this post, it appears)… whether it’s the true iPhone challenger everyone’s been waiting for we’ll have to wait and see, but there’s a sneak preview here from Engadget who’ve got their mitts on one.



Then Motorola have the Droid, Nokia are fighting back to find some mobile magic, there’s the Palm Pre…

…there’s an increasing array of smartphones being developed, built and shipped out, in the hope that they’ll find their way into your pocket.  The more that are made, the more will eventually be discounted, offered free even, so that increasingly everyone’s phone becomes ‘smart’.

Why is this important for us who work in media, advertising, ‘digital’ and so on?

I reckon the most important function of this generation of mobile devices is that they are not so much ‘smart’, but simply ‘aware’… they know where they are.



The combination of GPS, compass & accelerometer means that a smartphone can orientate itself in three directions… it knows where it is, at what angle, facing which direction, within the same 3-dimensional world in which we live.



But beyond awareness, it’s pretty dumb of course… it doesn’t do anything until you, the owner of the phone, ask it to. 

“Get me to here, find me this, what about this, I’m hungry, I need some snow shoes”… you decide you need or want something, and use the locationally aware computer you carry to help find it.

Of course, this is something we’ve being trying to do on behalf of our clients for years… point of sale advertising that directs people to our client’s store, or another store in which folk can buy a particular product… like the ‘Golf Sale’ sign…



(If you like, read a quick Golf Sale sign diversion from Stewart Lee…)

Or we’d get people at the right time of day… ‘modal targeting’.  Commuters on the way in to, or home from, work.  People popping out for lunch.  Mums doing the school run.

We would use research, intuition, and personal experience to make a best guess of where to intersect people in the right place at the right time.  And then advertise in that place, or at that time, and hope that the conversion rate from all the people who saw or heard the ad would be high enough to make it worthwhile.

We did this though because there was no way of knowing where everyone was, what they were looking for, and delivering them a relevant offer as a result.

However… if everyone increasingly carries around a device which knows when and where they are, and use it to ask for offers, then we’ll increasingly see more services which help them navigate the choice available, at the best price.

I’ve talked a lot about FourSquare (see the second point here) before, and how it’s set to provide a really interesting ‘local offers’ service for people, augmented by recommendations from your social group…



Over the holidays, I saw that lastminute.com have launched an interesting app called Snaffle which looks like rivalling some of the FourSquare features…

It doesn’t have the community & game aspect (which for me is the important differentiator for FourSquare), but if it can tap into the lastminute.com list of existing clients, it’s got enough of a presence in the ‘deals’ market to make waves.

So there’s clearly potential in this area for companies to reach people at the right place and right time with an attractive offer , and I think we’ll see a lot more people trying things out this year as the ‘smartphone’ population increases.  But there’s two things that are important to think about.

i) Locational/modal advertising efficiency



Previously, this type of advertising would pull in two types of people; those who were ‘in the market’ for something to eat/drink/wear, and those who were brought into the market by the advertising. 

In future, more and more people ‘in the market’ will use mobile devices to find offers and deals, and so the advertising will no longer be the thing.  Which increasingly leaves the role of locational/modal advertising to be just to bring people into the market from cold.  The question is whether it does that half of the job well enough to be cost efficient?

ii) Sold… to the cheapest bidder

I’ve talked about perfect competition before, and have a monster post brewing on it, but it’s relevant here too. 

It’s the (hypothetical) economic theory of when customers have complete, instant information about the price and quality of every good in a market, it makes it very hard for any company to make a profit, as to get an additional customer they must offer their products at a very low price to match the competition.  Here’s a graph that explains it to people who understand economics…



For everyone else, think about this.  You’re standing in Covent Garden with your mobile device, and look around for a lunch offer.  Now, all the sandwich shops in the area would like to get you in their shop, as they’ve invested lots in the setup, staff wages etc, and need to make some money back. 

But in an ecosystem like that of Snaffle, their offers will have to be increasingly appealing (i.e. cheap) to pull you away from competitors. 

Over time, they will continually undercut each other to the point that it makes sense for them, where they can just meet the cost of them of ingredients, staff, and some of the fixed costs.  It’s enough money for them to keep going as a business, but not enough for them to make a decent profit.

More on Perfect Competition soon…

So it’s a big year for mobile, which means that it’s a big year for everyone in the ‘connecting companies to people’ business.  Especially if ‘knowing where folk are’ is a factor.

(BTW – happy new year and that, good to be back, innit?)