13 Nov 2011

Write Up: Mobile Monday London – Now we are Six ... 6th Anniversary Celebration – 7 November 2011

Many thanks to Viji Pathy of Mokaadu for her round up of our 6th Anniversary (67th) event, as follows.

Martyn Warwick, TelecomTV

Mark Curtis, Fjord (and formerly Flirtomatic)
Mike Short, Telefonica Europe (and current IET President)
David Wood, Accenture (and formerly Symbian and Psion)
Russell Buckley, Eagle Eye Solutions(and formerly AdMob)

Martyn asked the panel to introduce themselves and highlight what they saw as the biggest or most surprising change over the last 6 years, and what they thought might be the “next big thing” over the coming years.
  • Mike was most surprised at the recent Microsoft/Nokia collaboration which would have seemed unlikely 6years ago, he also thought the arrival of the iPhone had been the biggest change, which had created new services and industries around mobile.
  • Russell thought the biggest change was the growth of mobile advertising which was very small 6 years ago, and now a huge industry dominated by Google. This had allowed many new and smaller players to enter a market that used to be available only by collaborating with network operators or directly monetising solutions. He predicted the next big area for mobile solutions was mobile payments,but this is moving rapidly so interested parties need to act fast.
  • David thought the decline of previous industry giants such as Nokia and Motorola was the biggest shock, the biggest innovation had been the growth of the iPad which proved smartphone technology could be used on different types of devices. Any innovation which could become used in every day technology could prove the next big thing.
  • Mark thought the biggest innovation had been the vertically integrated system introduced by Apple which fully integrated devices,services and billing. The future could see the growth of the Kindle Fire backed by a similar system from Amazon and others like it.

Martyn then posed some questions to the panel.

Will the massive pace of change continue and even accelerate?

Mike thought yes with mobile subscribers expected to double from 3bn and the volume of traffic increasing through M2M interaction as well. The growth of the mobile internet would also push services even into new sectors such as health, automotive and energy. David agreed that there would be greater supply as more users subscribed and more companies entered the market with wider global influence. There would also be greater demand as smartphone technology was combined with other technology such as sensors, which could provide many innovations in fields such as health care. There would be increased complexity moving forward,but the players who met this challenge could do well. Russell agreed that the pace of change would only accelerate, especially in the developing world, even in currently closed regimes as more information became accessible. Mark also agreed yes but pointed out some potential roadblocks; increased complexity and fragmentation,lack of app discovery and optimisations, and the user experience,especially as we moved into an “Internet of Things”.

Would AI really take off?

Russell pointed out that AI projects had in the past proved challenging and been abandoned, the concept of “Technological Singularity”proposed ever increasing AI developments but ones which were hard to predict. David argued that there had been huge AI advances even in the last few years, such as the auto-detection of facial expressions by camera software, and the huge optimised datasets used by Google which could predict a users’ searches, these could become more personalised in time as devices and networks became more able to predict a user’s interests; how users felt about this might vary. Mike wanted more public data available in the public domain in order to encourage innovation using this data. Mark noted that there was still some way to go in AI matching the subtle understanding of human communication, so building the human element into the UX is key to the growth of AI.

Is the trend of new companies emerging and big companies declining in this industry going to continue?

Mike thought this was likely as global companies competed and sector specialists moved into mobile as the industry expanded to different sectors. Large companies have the advantage of reach and scale, but partnering with smaller specialists was key,especially in the emerging markets. Mark noted that resellers and retailers might have less of a role, he thought companies utilising location based services still had more potential, especially utilising spatial graphs. David agreed this trend would continue as established companies sometimes found adapting to disruptive technologies an unattractive proposition until they were over taken by more innovative companies. Russell agreed, as an example many retailers in particular had not embraced mobile digital marketing as part of their in-store strategy, whereas consumers were starting to use their mobile in-store.

The panel then considered questions from the audience.

Are the deeply embedded players like Google, Facebook, eBay etc too difficult to unseat due to their role in creating the service infrastructure?

Mark thought it would be hard but not impossible, especially looking at the controlling players in the past such as Microsoft, who have had to reinvent themselves to stay in the mobile market. Russell thought not,especially if they didn’t embrace mobile fully.

Is trust important in mobile, and if so who did the panel trust?

Mike thought most user relied on trusted brands they already knew, even if they were not currently in a particular mobile space. But Russell thought trust could be established very quickly for new brands entering the industry, looking at how quickly companies like eBay and Amazon had established online trust. David pointed out that trust depended on both character and competence, and it could be lost as easily as gained so companies had to work hard at continually building trust from their users.

Can network operators move beyond an utility provider role?

Mike thought they could as long as they moved beyond their core role operating networks, for example,Telefonica has been looking at several different mobile initiatives around sectors like health and M2M businesses. David noted that this question was a common one over the last few years, he thought some operators would transform themselves and innovate to make this move,others may not, however successful operators still needed to concentrate on providing the essential network infrastructure.

Martyn posed some additional questions to the panel.

How should the industry handle privacy issues for users, are we witnessing the death of privacy?

Mark thought we were but mainly because users were embracing the removal of privacy boundaries, though there was a difference between trusted networks and the wider cyberspace. Russell also agreed that the new generation viewed privacy in a completely different way from older generations. David noted that “Mark Zuckerberg’s Law” of social sharing that users shared twice as much information every year, mainly because they saw benefits in being connected in this way. But Mike noted that the young people he had spoken to were also concerned about identity management and control online, they valued away to protect themselves with adequate privacy controls. Audience members had a range of opinions questioning whether privacy really was not an issue for most users or agreeing younger generations saw something desirable in sharing everything, though having to “opt out” of no privacy could be an issue for some people, also noting from a technical point of view once material is online it is available to anyone who can view it in the public domain, as viewers have effectively downloaded their own copy, education on this was important to making informed decisions. The panel agreed that there were still issues as some users shared everything and others opted out of social networking completely, and noted that even government ministers often did not understand the nature of the internet and their ability to control it.

What is happening with Location, has it fulfilled its potential?

Russell thought that location based services were still not doing so, especially as the location information needed to be used as part of a more contextualised service. Mike disagreed saying that location could serve as the basis for everything on mobile and personalised location services would increase. David noted that some companies like Tom Tom had done very well in the navigation field, and there was potential for applications in large buildings and complexes. Mark noted that the convergence of location and time, with services such as check in, for new applications in this area.

Has the breakthrough in device form factors such as tablets made a difference?

Mark agreed,especially now that different human interactions such as gestures and swiping were possible to incorporate into applications such as Flirtomatic’s. David also noted that after iPhone had already broken the rules of smartphones at the time with its large screen,the iPad and other tablets were increasing this trend for form factor variety, in the future there might be flexible bendy screens,keyboards which could be rolled up etc. Mike also agreed that we talked of devices rather than phones these days, and this could include medical devices, wearable devices etc in the future, so form factors would only multiply.

What do the panel think about the current “Mobile Patent Wars”?

Russell thought that the patent issue was becoming a problem, especially when companies did not know whether a technology they had developed might be the subject of a patent action, defensive patenting was becoming increasingly common. David agreed that no one would design the patent system as it currently is, where patents are sought for very obvious things and defensive patenting is common, it should be improved but vested interests had to agree this. Mike said solutions were being proposed like the EC mediating between companies with opposing claims.

The last 6 years have seen a huge improvement in dealing with green issues by the mobile industry, will this trend continue?

Mike thought the increasing cost of networks had been a driver in implementing cleaner solutions for base stations using renewable energy and improving recharging units for networks. Telefonica have adopted an eco-rating scheme, partly in response to customer queries. Russell noted his company’s business was based on replacing paper with digital coupons. David pointed out that in addition to the energy used by the network infrastructure,phone battery life was also an issue, and innovations in recharging via kinetic motion and sunlight would bring improvements here which would also be beneficial to users.

The final question was around the status of the mobile web with the impact of connectivity, capacity and content issues?

David disagreed noting the iPhone proved successful by focusing on the browsing experience at a time when the browser was only considered one of many applications, and the advent of HTML5 is also improving the mobile web. Russell noted AdMob had done well focusing on mobile web solutions and that mobile web browsing has now overtaken desktop browsing. Mark also agreed and thought the “live” experience available on mobile web could be superior to native apps. Mike pointed out that mobile web would continue to become more significant as the emerging markets with their huge numbers of subscribers became more and more important in the debate. The panel also thought that increasingly the mobile web would be funded by advertising, especially personalised ads, and mobile would soon become the biggest medium for advertising.