A new era for mobile?

Mobile phones on a train in Japan

I’ve been speaking to a lot of people about mobile recently – partially because I have finally got an iPhone, but primarily because I am working on a project around how mobile phones fit into the media landscape.

Mobile phones as a technology are unquestionably mainstream, and have been so for about a decade. There are currently more mobile phones than people in Europe, and a recent study suggested that children get their first mobile when they are eight years old.

However, mobile as a media has taken a lot longer to infiltrate mainstream behaviour. There have been numerous false dawns in the past – notably around mobile TV – but the time for mobile does finally seem to have arrived.

And the driver for that is the mobile internet.

SIDENOTE: The mobile phone has found some exceptionally important uses in the developing world – Mo Ibrahim‘s work is a good place to start in this respect – but my research is focusing upon the West, and primarily the UK.

The four factors that have been influencing take-up of the mobile internet (in the UK at least) are

  • Faster network/connection speeds
  • Emphasis on unlimited data packages (even on pay as you go tariffs)
  • Greater choice of content
  • Better (in functionality and usability) handsets

In my opinion, the third and fourth points are a result of the iPhone. Relative penetration of the iPhone may still be low, and few of its functions may actually be “new”, but both the iPhone and the App store have changed the public’s conception of what a phone is and what it is used for.

To indicate how revolutionary it is, consider how many other phones are referred to by their brand name? Only BlackBerry, and that is arguably because it the initial emphasis was on email rather than telephony. The iPhone managed to set itself far apart from all other handsets on the market. It is aspirational and has caused other manufacturers to fundamentally change the way they design and market their handsets.

Furthermore, the iPhone has disrupted the mobile market. I believe iterative upgrading of handsets is still the most prevalent form of changing phones, but a significant minority are abandoning the previously well-formed “upgrade curve” and converging around high-end smartphones.

By changing the perception of what a phone is, a new coalition of users can be persuaded to change their willingness to pay. A person may have been willing to pay £20 per month for their mobile subscription to make calls and texts. However, that person may be willing to pay £35 per month for a smartphone subscription that gives them email, games, maps, videos and so on in addition to calls and texts.

These people may still have different levels of comfort with technology, and thus usage of the different features will vary, but the capability is there for all to engage in this new behaviour.

And that is quite exciting.

Not just in itself, but also in the effect this behaviour has on consumption of other media channels. The mobile extends the PC behaviour in complementary and competing ways, and it is important to understand the relationship that the two platforms have with one another (in addition to the other media channels – this remote record tool from Sky is a great example on how mobile can feed into the core business).

The environment is fast-moving and volatile, but it does appear that mobile is finally emerging as a media channel to be reckoned with.

I anticipate this a topic I’ll be returning to on numerous occasions – both here and on the Essential Research blog where I hope to update on the progress we are making on this project. In the meantime, I’m bookmarking all relevant articles and blogs here.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cocoarmani/

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2 Responses

  1. I used to think mobile phones were overated. For example, why use a blackberry when you can use a nokia 3310? lol. anyway that question was answered when i finally used a blackberry

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