Last week I had the distinct pleasure of hearing some of the world's leaders in mobile talk about the future of the industry - and attempt to one-up each other with product launches, new partnerships, and stunts - at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
Amidst the flurry of new device announcements, some strong themes emerged - themes that will have large implications for marketers in the months and years to come.
The Web Is the Platform
Last week Mozilla launched a new operating system, Firefox OS. "We're not trying to create a new platform," said Mitchell Baker, Mozilla's chairman. "We have the platform; it's the web." Can Firefox OS become a viable alternative to Android and iOS? With 18 operators and loads of vendors lined up around the globe to support Firefox OS, Mozilla certainly thinks so.
But as my friend Derek Snyder, head of mobile marketing for Skype rightly notes, lowering the friction costs for developers is just table stakes for any new platform. "What's fascinating to me is that this may be completely at odds with how operators see Firefox OS: as the chance to finally regain control and push their services on consumers," Derek says. "OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] can win consumers entering the smartphone market with better performance than similarly low-priced Android handsets, but we all know it's about how many over-the-top app players choose to invest, which is almost never congruent with the operators' agendas." Derek's got a point.
Still, worldwide adoption of an HTML5 standard operating system would change the game not just for Google, Apple, and the OEMs, but also for the rest of us - as users and as marketers. No longer would our selection of a device determine the content and applications available to us, or how we pay for them. And as marketers, we'd be able to streamline our workflow for building mobile experiences, with a "write-once, use everywhere" standard that would function across any device. Wouldn't that be great?
In the near-term, the arrival of Firefox OS likely means we simply have to start developing applications and experiences for yet another platform until we see where the mobile market nets out.
The Internet of Everything
Samsung was a big winner again at the Congress, debuting its new "phablet," the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0, and winning the GSMA Awards for both Device Manufacturer of the Year and Outstanding Overall Mobile Technology. For me, however, the most interesting news from the Korean super brand was the launch of its HomeSync Media Hub, a set-top box that lets you stream and store 1TB of media, and program preferences for up to eight users - a profile for everyone in the household, including the dog, I guess. With HomeSync, we are witnessing the realization of the connected home, and the Internet of things.
While Samsung's launch is a direct assault against Apple TV, it has bite: remember that Samsung is the global leader in TV sales, and controls millions of screens across appliances throughout the home. It won't be long now until Samsung connects all these devices, which would be great for consumers, who'll finally be able to watch content seamlessly from their phones to their televisions to their...refrigerators? And as marketers, we'll likely be able to target these users more effectively as they move across devices in real time. Cool.
Protect Your Data, People!
Questions about privacy and data security abounded in Barcelona. What data should be collected? How should it be processed? What notifications should users receive, and when? Does a Connected City give enough benefits to citizens that they should be willing to give up some privacy to ensure it functions optimally? Big data means big questions, indeed.
As marketers, we'll need to be increasingly aware of the data we're collecting, how it's stored, expunged, and kept secure. We've moved far beyond CAN-SPAM laws now, and as the shepherds of our brands, we have an obligation to uphold the highest standards of privacy and security for our clients and users.
Though the jury's still out on many of the admittedly complex issues, one thing is for sure: we're not doing enough to protect ourselves. McAfee released a troubling study at the Mobile World Congress that left my jaw on the floor: one-third of users don't protect their phones or tablets with a password or PIN, and 55 percent of users who do share that information with someone else. Dear readers, I implore you: at the very least, please add a PIN to your devices today.
Mobile Is Big Business...for Brands
Everyone was abuzz about mobile payments and near-field communication (NFC), and for good reason: it's a huge business opportunity, especially in emerging markets where the number of mobile phones can vastly exceed the number of people with bank accounts. Visa and MasterCard in particular made big headlines last week for their newly enhanced mobile payment platforms.
But mobile is becoming an increasingly important business for brands themselves. Per Nielsen, 40 percent-plus of smartphone users in Korea and China use their devices while shopping. And IHG VP of Marketing Michael Menis says that mobile revenue will exceed that of web revenue for his business within the next few years. Regardless of the product or brand you're marketing, we can all use mobile as a channel to drive growth, be it usage, downloads, leads, or processing transactions.
If ever there was a time to ensure your mobile experiences were optimized for e-commerce, it's yesterday.
What do you think? Will Firefox OS become the new standard? Will one player or a handful come to dominate the mobile payments space? Who's doing a good job of e-commerce from the brand and agency side?
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Kristin Kovner is a digital marketing, technology, and media industry veteran. Her firm, K-SQUARED STRATEGIES, helps high-growth media and tech companies develop and execute best-in-class marketing strategies. Prior to opening her own consultancy, Kristin served as the Vice President of Marketing Strategy at AOL, where she managed the AOL and AOL Advertising brands and set and executed the go-to-market strategy for AOL's owned and operated websites, including AOL.com, Moviefone, MapQuest, Engadget, and The Huffington Post.
Prior to joining AOL, Kristin served as the Head of Industry Marketing for YouTube and held various roles on Google's marketing team. Kristin has also worked as a journalist for Newsweek and SmartMoney, The Wall Street Journal's magazine, and as an economic consultant at Bates White LLC.
Kristin graduated Phi Beta Kappa and Magna Cum Laude from Yale College and currently lives in New York City.
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