Andrew Walmsley on Digital: Upwardly Mobile

Marketing, October 28, 2009 | Go to article overview

Andrew Walmsley on Digital: Upwardly Mobile


While the UK still waits for mobile to achieve its potential, the platform has taken off elsewhere.

As the evenings draw in and the weather cools, our thoughts turn once more to The Year of Mobile. In a tradition that dates back to ancient times (about five years in digital), pundits, journalists and commentators reach deep into their prediction bag and prophesy that the coming year will be The Year.

The iPhone has changed everything: finally, a mobile device you can actually use for the web. Coupled to an all-you-can-eat data package, it has been a hit with web-hungry road warriors. All we really needed was something to look at, and the thousands of apps available for the device have given it to us.

Like the web before it, the mobile market has been in search of a killer app - that single application that will stun all the naysayers into acceptance, and flip the world over into the joys of mobile internet However, like the web before it, there hasn't been one.

The web became successful because for each of the millions of people who got online, there was something different to interest them.

Of course, there were particularly popular applications like online banking, email and porn, but these were not why people adopted online (well, maybe for some); typically, they gradually became aware of an accretion of applications that appealed to their personal interest. For each person there was one use that finally tipped them over, but that use would not have been enough in isolation.

Yet, as social media has grown (Facebook is now the fourth-biggest country in the world), it has become almost universal among web users in one form or another. And, as mobile has grown, it has become widely seen as the next big platform for social media.

This is more than ambition on the part of social networks; there are particular qualities to mobile-phone use that make it uniquely powerful as a social tool beyond simply telling people you are running late for the pub.

A mobile phone is directly attached to an account, an individual and that person's geographic location. Typically, it is also with them all the time, bringing 'always on' to social networking.

So, while all the brands familiar to UK users have launched mobile applications (MySpace's debuted in 2006), it is a more complex territory than that, as they have been joined by dozens of start-ups eager to ride the wave of expected growth.

However, it's in Asia that the real explosion has happened, driven by high mobile penetration. …

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