Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Future Looks Bright… SXSW ’09 Trends In Mobile

Is It Just Arrogance?

At SXSW 2009 (South by Southwest) conference in Austin,Texas, the audience was on fire and gave the panellists members on "Emerging Trends in Mobile" food for thought and a run for their money.

In its 22 years, SXSW has grown from a tiny music festival in the Texas capital into a massive, unavoidable media beast that reflects, discusses and showcases trends in culture and media but also often creates them, and draws an even larger international crowd each year (estimated 25 percent non-American attendants) seemed to be, from a show of hands, a well-informed group with a good number of mobile developers in attendance. Basically, proof the world has evolved faster than the Americans understand. Seems the world has embraced technology and their opportunities faster than the Americans and this worries service providers. One major factor is the system access battles and the ongoing battle for "product". One up-manship if you will.

Topics ranged from better device-charging solutions to developing for devices that come closer to standard Internet browsing every year. All in all, it was given that WAP technology is dead, fully Flash-enabled devices are the next step, image recognition capabilities and more detailed location-based information are crucial, and the idea that you'd have to actually plug a device into an outlet for any reason is becoming increasingly laughable.

What does this mean for marketers?

AdRants reported this morning that according to Rob Gonda, Director of Marketing Strategy and Analysis for interactive consultancy Sapient, "Mobile technology is about merging and converging the virtual world with the real world."

Through GPS and image recognition, consumers are able to drill deeper for product information and brands are able to engineer more impactful engagement experiences.

And as Juan-Carlos Morales, Sapient's Creative Director, pointed out, "None of this stuff is new. It's not how new it is that matters, but whether you are leveraging it in a more creative way."

And emerging opportunities for "rehashing and remashing" existing mobile technology are nothing if not creative.

Remember QR codes, which were supposed to change location-based mobile marketing? Yeah, they're ugly; and image recognition is the solution. Gonda gave an example of a shopper at a supermarket aiming a device at a product with image recognition to scan the logo and receiving more information about the brand, the product, online sales for the same product, etc. Any related data would be available for deeper, more qualified "drilling" from consumers, ensuring that marketing is no longer a distraction ripe for consumer tune-out but easily retrievable, relevant, and welcome information. (And from a design perspective, Gonda continued, packaging could become a lot simpler and more aesthetically pleasing, as well.)

In addition to allowing for deeper engagement with a campaign, image recognition and information retrieval could spell the end of assembly manuals for assembling furniture, toys, etc., as consumers are given access to step-by-step instructions and video tutorials on their mobile devices.

What about circumstances where images are not available for information retrieval? Welcome to the world of audio barcodes! Information is embedded in frequencies beyond the limits of human hearing, making radio, television, and even films targets for user-accessible data, from behind-the-scenes gossip to product info.

In the end, both Morales and Gonda concluded that consumers want easily accessible information everywhere they go, and they want it in small, digestible streams; smart brands will succeed by providing data in every possible circumstance.

The iPhone Changed it All

Panelists and audience members agreed that the iPhone has changed the model for mobile monetization. The accessibility of users' credit card information, the perception of security, the trust in the brand, and the ease of purchase have paved the way for money-making apps and music sales. Best of all, mobile hasn't suffered from the Web's "all content is free" paradigm.

One attendant hypothesized that the availability of product information and online alternatives (via mobile devices) combined with greater consumer comfort with mobile commerce would create a market of greater competition than ever before between brick-and-mortar and online retailers.

Also discussed in depth in this session was the trend toward Flash development for mobile devices. Although Flash Lite is already being used on mobile devices, manufacturers are still working toward fully Flash-enabled devices.

It was rumored that Android devices are closer to Flash than the iPhone; having Flash-ready mobiles will mean that companies will no longer need to pay for two sites (one for computers, one for mobiles) as browsing capabilities become identical across all devices.

Futurism aside, a one-brand, one-site world will mean that--until we build the Holodeck on a iPod--creatives and Web developers have to think about the current capabilities of mobile screens when designing full Web sites, as well.

So, what's on mobile's horizons?

"I'm not afraid to say it: I don't know," said Gonda.

"But it's all about mobile devices and human laziness."

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