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Why you need to focus on mobile right now

I recently switched smartphones (now representing 50% of the worldwide cell phone market) from RIM‘s Blackberry Storm to Apple’s iPhone 3GS. Why did I do it, and more importantly why should you care?

The first reason is simple. On November 5th, 2009 Telus released the iPhone, finally taking the Canadian network monopoly away from Rogers (i.e. not my provider of choice to put it lightly).

The second reason is a bit more elaborate. Contrary to popular belief, the iPhone is not just another toy for the “personal use” consumer segment. When people ask me why I switched from a “business” phone, I tell them that on the contrary, I switched because I could no longer efficiently conduct business communication on my BB. How is that possible you may ask? The BB is supposed to be a business machine! True, however the majority of my business is no longer conducted via email (the BB’s USP). Instead, my business requires the constant use of interactive social platforms and user-generated applications. Simply having access to a mobile website is not enough.

Let’s start with the social platforms. For the first time ever, the majority of my online business communication this year (or conversation rather), occurred on channels other than email. My big three channels are now Twitter , LinkedIn and my Blog. To navigate these effectively as a consultant who is always on the go, I need an intuitive mobile platform. So not just the ability to open websites designed for mainstream screens, but rather specific applications designed purely for the few visible inches of screen real estate that I have. Further still, ones that specifically cater to mobile from a user interface perspective.

Now let’s talk apps. To date, no one has come close to the 2 billion iPhone application downloads, many of which become more effective the more people use them (especially the social ones). While it is true that many new platforms are on the horizon with tremendous potential to take the crown away from Apple (i.e. Google Android for one), that’s not the point, the tools will change, however the concept of community-powered niche applications is here to stay.

Let me explain.

The device that I now have in my pocket can be turned into almost any tool that I can imagine, in an instant, at exactly the moment I need it.

At first glance, the above sentence may force you to say “so what?”. If that’s the case, read it again.

Can we truly even begin to imagine the implications of this? The change in consumer behaviour? In citizen engagement? In governance? Forget one-size-fits-all and even segmented solutions (i.e. the website), enter the era of micro niche service delivery (i.e. The Long Tail) catering to individual exact needs. I’ve only had the iPhone a few weeks and already I’ve used it to solve very specific niche problems that surely wouldn’t be useful to everyone. That’s exactly my point though! Everyone has unique needs that need to be solved in a unique way. The concept of applications designed and developed by niche communities for niche communities at micro-costs (99 cents on average) is too profound for any of us to fully comprehend at the moment. Here are some top-of-mind issues I solved so far:

  • I was in another city the other week and I wanted to located the nearest RBC atm. Sure enough I reached into my pocket, searched the AppStore and found the “RBC ATM Locator” app free of charge. Ten seconds later it downloaded, talked to my device’s GPS and mapped out a path for me to walk (since I was on foot).
  • A client had a question about one of their website conversion goals. I was on the go and was unable to effectively navigate my Google Analytics program from my mobile device, since even the mobile friendly website was not designed with an interface catering to efficiency. I reached into my pocket and you know the drill… A minute later I had setup the “Google Analyticator” app and could now browse all of my client’s web stats in real-time on an app designed solely for my touchscreen.
  • I was walking with a business colleague looking for a place to eat in another city. My colleague was vegan. You’ve seen this one before on TV…I downloaded the “Urban Spoon” app and located the nearest vegan restaurant based on our GPS location with the click of a button.
  • I was curious if the travel power adapter I had found in Staples was available for a better price somewhere else. This one’s my favourite…I downloaded the “RedLaser” application, scanned the barcode, and was informed of three other nearby locations selling the same device, two of which had it listed at a better price.
  • I needed an effective mobile way to manage the numerous government and client department back-channel Twitter conversations that I had set-up on my laptop using Tweetdeck. Sure enough, “Tweetdeck” has a mobile app by the same name, with the exact same functionality and ability to quickly scan through various conversation columns.
  • I was always amazed at the powerful concept behind TwitScoop (i.e. the pulse of the collective human conversation) but annoyed that I could not access this unless I was in front of a laptop or desktop computer. Sure enough, the “Twitscoop” app let’s you track this pulse on-the-go.
  • I needed a new process of quickly creating invoices and tracking billable hours while on the go. Sure enough an application called FreshBooks came to the rescue.
  • I was unhappy with all the paper waste coming from printing out my travel itineraries. I remembered that my BB had an app called WorldMate. It let’s you forward your text itineraries to an email address (or wizard rather) that immediately syncs them to this application in a highly visual , very easy to understand format. What’s the difference between the BB app and iPhone app of the same name? Functionality. The iPhone version wins with absolutely no contest. Why? It was desinged with only the iPhone in mind. The BB version was designed with numerous different kinds of BB’s in mind, most of which, as explained before, have hardware designed for email navigation.

At this point I know I sound like the Apple ad “there’s an app for that”. What you need to remember though is that this is much bigger than Apple. As I already mentioned, the platforms and brands will probably change, however the trend of niche applications solving niche problems is what you simply cannot afford to ignore. Have you even begun to think about how you will catch up to this? I hate to single out Canadian government departments, but Service Canada, I sure hope that “mobile” is on your immediate agenda, especially given your name and the potential that this channel has for a federal organization with “people serving people” as their slogan.

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  1. Good article with (1) real examples and (2) numbers to back up what you’re saying. Too often in social and new media, the “evangelical” message of “it’s great!” isn’t supported with facts.

    I agree that the time is now (actually, it was a few years ago when CSS enabled the “mobile” media type) because right now the barrier to entry is the cost of mobile browsing. A lot of firms (and gov’t) monitor mobile browsing use. Once that cost comes down (remember when hi-speed Internet was super expensive), the game will change.

  2. Just one question, what is this “Red Line” application you talked about? Sounds pretty awesome, but when I search the app store – no love.

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