Mobile: the next big thing?

Mobile Marketing: Is It Really the Next Big Thing?

You’ve probably read recently that mobile marketing is next big thing. More than one executive, seeing the cell phone as the key to a portable, omnipresent one-to-one relationship, has called it the “most powerful marketing tool in history.” That day may come, but make no mistake: We’re not there yet–not even close.

The above quote, from, seems to accurately sum up the current state of affairs: we are on the edge of a dramatic shift, the introduction of a powerful new platform that will fundamentally change the relationship between consumer and brand.

The article was written in 2005.

At the Thin Air Summit this weekend, I had the pleasure of listening to Kim Dushinski, author of the upcoming “Mobile Marketer’s Handbook” speak on “Why Mobile Matters When Using New Media”. I am really fascinated by this subject and am eager to learn all I can about it.

Kim mentioned that mobile is considered by some to be the seventh mass media channel, which struck me as odd. What is “mobile”, really?

Coming from a development background, I see it as a platform. We can build applications to run on the platform, and we can leverage its portable nature.

In her presentation, Kim specifically mentioned tools (text messaging – SMS, MMS), mobile web (advertising, SEO, pay-per-click), proximity marketing (bluetooth), mCommerce (physical goods) and mobile apps (software, widgets). She also drew a distinction between the mobile web and the Internet.

I have plenty of thoughts on this matter, so I’m going to limit this post to the mobile web: Internet on phones.

With the iPhone and Android, many seem to think that the mobile web is available and ubiquitous. Yet I would argue that mobile development may actually be stunted by the “fully-featured Safari browser” of the iPhone. It is possible that developers will cease to consider the intricacies of designing for this portable device. Yet the simple fact that the iPhone does not support Flash should be enough of an indication that designing for mobile is still a valued skill.

Although I don’t have statistics to support this, it has been suggested that people search, rather than browse, while on their mobile phones. Based on different visitor needs, therefore, a different user interface may be preferable. A simple example? If I’m accessing the website of a retail establishment on my phone, I am likely looking for store hours, a phone number, or an address. I’d like to access that information quickly and easily, rather than having to scroll past slowly loading images (or worse, be met with nothing, as all the content is in Flash!)

Beyond the iPhone not supporting Flash, there are MANY more challenges associated with developing for the mobile web. In fact, I’d argue that mobile development in 2008 is similar to web development in 2000. Do you develop in WAP, XHTML Mobile Profile or XHTML Basic? What browsers are you supporting, what resolution?

Some services like mofuse can take your content and make it “mobile-accessible”, but this does not mean the user experience is ideal; this is akin to those automatic translation programs like babelfish. The content may be translated, but are ‘cultural’ distinctions accounted for?

Is the mobile web the next big thing? To differentiate it from the plain ole Internet, we need to consider the differences we can capitalize upon: the location of the site visitor and the implications to their desired tasks and outcomes. Only then can we hope to design an optimal experience that will signal a true change.

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