What Does Mobile’s Future Look Like?

I spent the better part of last week with my two nephews, ages 3 months and 2 years, in Chicago while they were visiting Nana with their parents and more baby gear than I’ve ever seen. The beauty for me is that Nana now lives only about 12 large city blocks from me. I had the luxury of coming and going and spending as much time as I wanted with the kids, but stepping easily away when my older sister started to grate on my nerves.

I realized about halfway through the week that my older nephew associates me with one major thing: my cell phone. What started as a simple means of distraction when he was about a year old has turned into my calling card. It didn’t fail all week; each time I’d walk in the door and set my bag down in the front hall, he’d make a beeline for me — not for hugs and kisses, but to my bag to dig for my phone.

He’d pull it out and push the roller ball and make it light up, each time causing the little man to laugh or make some funny face. And with that he was off on an imaginary conversation while wandering from room to room. Admittedly, he sometimes grew bored with it, but he never abandoned it in some random corner of the house for me to hunt down. Instead, he’d bring it back to me (with a few more smudges and sometimes a film I’d rather not try to identify) exclaiming, “Aunt C phone.”

Some day soon, he’ll have a phone of his own, a device that will certainly be faster and more advanced than today’s phones. It will still do all the things he so loves about mine: enable conversation (real or imagined), take pictures, and make noises when text messages are received. But I wonder about his tomorrow. What will advertising’s role be for the mobile platform 10 or so years down the road? How will his digital world be experienced from one device to the next? What mobile applications will he deem as must-haves?

I don’t have a crystal ball to foretell answers to these questions, but they’re worth asking as we think about the wireless industry’s longevity and the role marketers have to play in it. Each active member of the ecosystem wields some influence in the eventual outcome. And though I could dedicated an entire column to just one of those questions, a big part of ensuring marketplace longevity actually already exists: content and industry guidelines.

While those two things might seem like an odd pairing, they actually go hand in hand.

Content is the machine of the mobile industry today, a machine that has recently been reinvented with the launch of the Apple App Store. The mobile content marketplace was in need of an evolution. The introduction of the store shows what the future of mobile content can be in terms of accessibility, breadth of options, and price points, resulting in yet another shift in consumer behavior. Tomorrow’s consumers won’t look to their carrier decks to access the mobile content they desire. With that statement comes the realization that ensuring consumer privacy and protection will be paramount if we’re to move the marketplace forward.

Consider that the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) releases its “Consumer Best Practices Guidelines” twice annually. How many of you are familiar with the document in its entirety? These guidelines are from every facet of the wireless industry, representing each of the tier-one and -two carriers, leading aggregators, content providers, and agencies. The document serves as a foundation for content providers, publishers, and marketers, a foundation that is in jeopardy if the principles aren’t adhered to across the board and in partnership with each of the carriers.

It’s up to us to work together to ensure that those principles remain a cornerstone of the implementation of all mobile programs. Sitting idly by and thinking that the aggregators or content providers have it covered won’t give my nephew a tomorrow that has benefited from the experience and progress of the today.

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