Greetings from the past! I’m writing this column on June 26, about a week in advance of you reading it. Normally, I wouldn’t point this out. However, we’re on the cusp of the next pop-culture technology revolution.
By the time you read this, you’ll likely be recovering from your (or an annoying friend’s) iPhone hangover, as I’m sure every major media outlet has inundated you with iPhone launch minutiae: from early adopters standing in line, pending riots (let’s hope not), eBay auction mania, and possible scarcity issues. Or you may still be rejoicing over the winnings you realized. Regardless of the outcome, let’s remember this was an important weekend. Our industry has a lot riding on the so-called “Jesus” (or maybe “Moses”) phone.
Sometimes it takes pop culture to kick-start an emerging industry or media category. It seems like only a few years ago when Eiger Labs launched the MPMan F10 portable music player as the industry’s first digital music player in 1998. When it was first announced, it appealed to a small community of digital enthusiasts. It wasn’t until the fall of 2001 when Apple introduced the first iPod as the ultimate conclusion of Apple’s “rip, mix, burn” digital music strategy. Apple carefully led American consumers through the new digital music ecosystem, ending with the iPod’s powerful crescendo. Before this, only a handful of people understood what an MP3 player was. Now, you wouldn’t be caught dead with a CD (unless you burned it yourself), and Apple is the number three music retailer in the United States. Go figure.
At the end of the day, the one thing we can rely on the iPhone to do is to wake up American mobile consumers and get them to realize what their phones can do. Hopefully, this awareness will finally transform the mobile platform into a true media channel. While writing this, I asked my friend Greg Clayman, general manager of mobile media at MTV Networks, what he hopes the iPhone will do for the millions of mobile phone users in the United States.
“It will teach people what a mobile phone can do — from the oversized touch screen to the music and video player integration to the Web browser,” Clayman told me. “The iPhone isn’t the first phone to have these features, but it’s certainly the most exciting presentation of them. I expect its release will lead to any number of people reexamining their current phones and discovering that they, too, can do many of these things as well. MTV is the largest provider of mobile video content in the world, so we’re thrilled about all the general mobile media excitement that this launch is generating. And we’re working ever-closer with our brand partners to help them engage consumers in this space.”
So now that the iPhone has launched, what should we expect? There are two categories of customers you should think about: the haves and the have-nots.
Who they are: The haves are a lucky bunch. They’ve shelled out about $500 to $600 dollars for the iPhone and basically committed themselves to AT&T and Apple for the next two years for approximately $1,974.76 (not including taxes). The haves will be power users who will wrap their iPhones around their lives. They’ll take and share photos and use optimized Web sites and consumer content. They’ll exhaust this phone for the next few weeks and show everyone what they have.
What they want: The haves want access and content. Whether they admit it or not, they want to show off their new toy.
What you can do: Why not take advantage of this Trojan horse? Provide these users with branded content. If they think it’s relevant, they’ll use it on the iPhone. Consider optimizing your Web site and Web services for the iPhone. Syndicate your podcasts via iTunes. Develop Web applications for these users. Ride the wave. And if you don’t know how, find developers who can help you by attending the various development conferences that are popping up across the country.
Who they are: The have-nots aren’t as lucky. Some wanted an iPhone and couldn’t get it. Others, like John Dvorak, feel the iPhone isn’t up to snuff. They want to wait for the next version or for the price to come down. Some are locked into agreements with rival carriers, others are content with what they have.
What they want: They know they don’t have an iPhone, but they’d like the next best thing. The have-nots will look at what they currently own and want to get the most out of it. They may secretly envy iPhone features and try to emulate them: “You know, my phone can play music.”
What you can do: The one thing the iPhone will do for everyone is finally convince them you can do more on your phone than talk and text. There’s never been a better time to launch new mobile services. Have you considered optimizing your site for mobile Web readers? Have you explored sponsorship of mobile content offerings? Launched a smart SMS (define) campaign that supports an in-market program with mobile reminders?
Like it or not, the iPhone is a good thing. Personally, I’m disappointed by the lack of exchange support, a tactile keyboard, and a 3G connection. However, I’m willing to trade all of that for the possibility that the mobile marketplace will heat up with innovation and consumer interest.