Three big ideas from Mobilize 2010

This week's Mobilize 2010 conference in San Francisco was a jam-packed day of discussion, analysis and, yes, argument about the vast market that mobile and wireless technology is opening up worldwide. Here are a few ideas that I found especially intriguing at the event:

Give your mobile workers what they want

Evan Kaplan doesn't think the "millennial workforce" has anything to do with age. Instead, the president and CEO of iPass, which provides mobile network services to enterprises, thinks "millennial" refers to attitude and style of work -- people who are connected all the time, are highly social and have permeable work/life boundaries.

Today these workers are more productive and more connected than most, but they show us where the rest of the workforce is headed, he says. For these always-on workers, Kaplan introduced what he calls "The enterprise mobility bill of rights," which includes:

  • The right to stay connected -- everywhere, by whatever means are available
  • The right to access the best networks and services
  • The right to choose what device to use
  • The ability to personalize it
  • The right to be free from security threats
  • The right to have IT support (even under unconventional circumstances)
  • The right to have a single account for all devices
This call to arms is aimed at both mobile service providers and IT departments. Giving these users what they want, Kaplan argues, will bring providers fiercely loyal customers and enterprises an amazingly productive workforce.

Location + social = the killer app

Ted Morgan is the CEO of Skyhook, which provides location technology to mobile app makers. Not surprisingly, he's a big believer in location-based services, noting the explosion of smartphone apps that use location services in the past two years. "Local is what makes mobile different from the regular Web," he says.

But he's also a big believer in social networking, and he gets really excited about apps that integrate location and social elements. He notes that the use of mobile apps tends to drop off after 30 days, but social features keep people coming back over the long haul.

Morgan mentioned several specific apps in his talk, including Fare/Share, which helps New Yorkers find people nearby to share taxis with, and SoundTrckr, which lets you discover what music people near you are listening to. I was also reminded of Foound, which was launched at the DEMO Fall 2010 conference a couple weeks back; it helps you organize quick real-world get-togethers with nearby friends.

For sheer stickiness, location and social networking do seem to be a hard-to-beat combo.

Design experiences, not devices

Mike Kuniavsky, the CEO of design studio ThingM and author of the book Smart Things, posits that as processing power and other technologies improve and costs inevitably go down, hardware and software moves from being generic, with many capabilities (e.g., a computer or a Web browser) to being specialized, with a much narrower purpose (an e-reader or a mobile app). He calls such highly specialized devices "appliances."

At the same time, the rise of the Web has brought a shift from local to remote (online) interaction. Kuniavsky calls devices that exist to connect us to online services in the form factor that's appropriate to their context (e.g., TVs, iPads) "terminals."

What's happening today is that hardware and software are becoming simultaneously specific and tied to online services. In this model, he says, the service provides most of the value and the devices and apps become secondary. He calls these devices and apps "service avatars" -- in other words, something that allows users to interact with the service, which is what they're really interested in.

Take the streaming video service Netflix. These days you can watch Netflix on many different terminals -- TVs, computers, iPads and so on, sometimes with the aid of specialized devices like the Roku. But the user doesn't care what they're using to watch Netflix. "To the Netflix customer, any device used to watch a movie on Netflix is just a hole in space to the Netflix service," he contends. "The value, the brand loyalty and the focus is on the service, not on the frame around it." Of course, the better the avatar, the better the user's experience of the service.

Kuniavsky urges manufacturers and developers to stop making apps, sites, devices and platforms, and to instead start making services and avatars. Of course, we'll always need apps, sites, devices and platforms. But he wants designers to think first about how they want users to experience their services, and then design avatars -- devices, apps and so on -- around how they want deliver those services.

Granted, all three of these speakers have a vested interest in bringing us around to their way of thinking: Kaplan wants enterprises to buy his company's enterprise mobility services, Morgan wants app developers to buy his company's location services, and Kuniavsky wants us to buy his book. Nevertheless, they provide interesting food for thought as we explore this brave new mobile world.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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