The question of whether the mobile industry is leaving the mobile consumer behind is a curious one. Last night, London based Diffusion PR held a panel discussion seeking to answer it with Yannick Barrioal from Hotels.com, Andrew Hoyle from CNET, Jon Mew from the IAB and Andrew Smith from CloudZync.
The panel argued that manufacturers such as Samsung include too much technology that doesn’t necessarily benefit consumers, such as eye tracking to read pages. Hoyle (CNET) pointed out that many of CNETs readers – a tech savvy crowd – comment that features such as those aren’t interesting to them. Part of this is due to the technology not always working but also because it can be obtrusive. Whilst I personally agree that a lot of technology may be superfluous and distracting, some consumers will find niche technology very useful. Eye tracking, for example, could be extremely helpful for people with reduced mobility, or those holding bags whilst out shopping.
Smith (CloudZync) argued rightly that technology for technology’s sake is bad. If it solves a real need, that’s when it becomes useful. Whether people love or hate Apple, virtually anyone who understands technology agrees Apple has a talent in simplifying technology and making it work in a way that consumers embrace. Before the iPhone, there were smartphones. Before the iPad, there were tablets. It’s just that the way they were implemented didn’t provide the mass consumer with enough of a reason to adopt them.
Near Field, long tail
NFC became a focal point of the discussion. Many phone manufacturers use NFC as a selling point, with Sony using it to pair bluetooth headphones or Samsung using it to share content between devices. Outside of smartphones, NFC is widely used in London for Oyster and increasingly on bank cards for quick, small payments. There is a fight for the mobile wallet ensuing, but like any new technology, NFC requires infrastructure change across a vast number of businesses. Whilst this is feasible for large firms, the panel pointed out that it could be crippling for smaller ones.
During the conversation about NFC, I couldn’t help but think about an episode of Tomorrow’s World I’d seen 15 or so years ago. NFC was being used on a phone with a touchscreen in Japan to pay for a drink at a dispenser and then to get onto the Subway. I remember thinking how amazing it would be to just use a phone to touch and pay for products, or to get onto trains. Whilst there are going to be concerns around security (NFC on a mobile should be more secure if the phone requires a password, finger print or facial recognition to access it) and battery life, it still remains a technology that it would be good to see in widespread use. One wallet that collects receipts, helps people to manage their personal finances and becomes beneficial.
Despite some of the panel feeling that mobile companies are moving too fast for consumers, one area that virtually everyone agreed on was that battery life is a real concern. Some of the panel argued that not enough has been poured into battery research to get them lasting longer. The truth is though, a huge amount has been poured into the technology but it hasn’t been able to keep pace with technology. Energy is always the most difficult part of any innovation. Companies working in the space have done a huge amount to make sure that smartphones last as long as they do, whilst getting smaller. Anyone who ever turns data off when on holiday will know how much longer their phones will last.
To get to the point where power supply matches up with power demands (namely via wireless charging technology) the infrastructure in every house, office, shop, restaurant and anywhere else you’d care to be would need to change. This would not be cheap. The technology is there though. It just needs to be standardised and built into enough products from desks (pads) to devices (receivers) for it to become mass market.
Leaving Consumers Behind?
With technology, there will always be a battle for standards when a new technology comes out. We saw this with VHS vs Betamax, MiniDisk vs MP3, WiMax vs LTE and so on.
With smartphones, we are in an interesting place. The devices have been adopted faster than almost any other technology in human history and have swallowed up numerous industries along the way. It isn’t really the case though that mobile technology companies are leaving consumers behind. There will always be consumers who will try the next new thing.
More often than not though, it isn’t consumers who are lagging behind technology companies but other companies. Consumers can act in an agile manner and respond to technology quickly. For a large company to do so requires a large amount of investment in new infrastructure, in new devices and new systems. Understandably, that isn’t always feasible. When looking at mobility though, there are still a vast majority of companies who lack a proper roadmap.
According to Business Insider, 73% of companies don’t have any form of mobile optimised website. Despite this, Mew (IAB) pointed out that mobile web traffic will overtake desktop for the first time this year. Responsive website design is, at the very least, the basic step all companies need to take. With more screen sizes – from TVs to smartphones – it’s important that websites work no matter where people access them from.
The panel almost all categorically agreed that when it comes to new technology, it’s the development community that has proven to help find a use for technology and popularise it.
Over the coming years, there will be even more devices all with smart attributes – be it TVs, Fridges, watches, glasses, cars and so on. The core device to link all of these together will be the smartphone. Because the smartphone is always with us, it is the easiest way to interact with other technology in an intelligent way, that makes the most sense to the user and provides the best value.
By Robert Haslam, PR manager