Future of Mobile 2008 Round-up

The past few weeks have been very spotty in terms of blogging, with so much of my time being focused on getting stuck in to new projects and flirting with a few more potential ones.

Yesterday, however, was an insightful (and social) day for me, spent at Future of Mobile in London. Future of Mobile is in its second year, organised by the great team at Carsonified. I did a dreadful job of tweeting or blogging the event, being far too busy buzzing around chatting to new people, but many others did a stellar job of documenting what turned out to be a very interesting day.

During my presentation at FOM, photo by Rudy de Waele

The very lovely Tom Hume (who’s excellent presentation teased us all with colourful macaroons right before lunch) posted his review of the event earlier today. Helen Keegan, fellow blogger and geek gal, shocked the crowd with her “There is no future to mobile” (your faces were all priceless when she stated that), James Whatley was (as usual) the most energetic body in the room and – at the risk of potentially getting an ass-kicking for saying this – the younger share of the speakers did a rather stellar job at keeping the audience awake and interested.

I was asked for the slides to my 6 minutes presentation on Why Community Matters throughout the day, so as promised, here they are. (And thanks to Carsonified for being mad enough to let me loose on stage)

Why Community Matters

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: futureofmobile fom)

In summary, I think we all agreed that we’re looking at a fragmented, young and constantly evolving industry and there’s a whole lot of work to do in order to get to a stage where normobs can really make the most of the technology that’s racing ahead, in terms of accessibility, simplicity, pricing and education. But without a challenge, what fun would it be!?

Some more coverage of the event:

Mobile World Congress, Barcelona

Tomorrow morning, really bloody early, I’ll be heading off to Barcelona to attend Mobile World Congress, an event of gargantuan proportions (from what everyone tells me). I’ll be blogging as much as possible on the Taptu blog and twittering away*. If I’m lucky, I should have the time to post a few videos to my Qik profile.

If you’re also attending Mobile World Congress, then pop by and see me at the Taptu stand, 7D42, in hall 7 and join me for a coffee or a beer!

[* Thanks to Alex Payne at Twitter, I now have the username Vero, which uber-rocks!]

Do promotions, coupons and incentive programs have any value on mobile?

[Crossposted from the Taptu blog]

Sitting in my parents’ living room in Canada, I’ve seen just how much unrequested mail they receive, flyers from supermarkets and furniture shops to clothing and hardware stores. Junkmail and couponsEach one is filled with “50% off” claims and coupons. It’s a quaint tradition that is now being shoehorned into new technologies like mobile.

Mike writes about it saying that marketers tend to think of the mobile as a fantastic advertising medium, “always on, highly person, uniquely identifiable users”. That much is true, isn’t it?

“So I end up reading about things that the folks in the industry generally tend to term “The Starbucks Example”. It’s the example where a service could somehow figure out you’re near a Starbucks (whether it be location based services or some kind of near field communication system like Bluetooth) and push you a coupon (”RIGHT THEN!”) for 25 cents off your latte. […] How often do I really want 25 cents off my latte? Is it really worth all the other junk I get in return for it?”

While maybe I’m more of a sucker for Starbucks than Mike may be, in theory, I can quite comfortably see a Bluetoothed voucher for 25p off a latte cause me to detour towards the overpriced coffee store on the way to my destination. However, it’s an extremely slippery slope, and encouraging Bluetooth marketing exercises would probably result in a heavy influx of untargetted marketing messages to my phone, which I definitely would not welcome.

Coming from an email marketing background, I know quite how poorly some “marketers” can choose to understand data protection and user privacy, giving themselves artistic license over what “opt-in” means. Carlo also echo’ed my suspicion that too often, bluespamming is so untargetted that it gets a very poor conversion. So let’s scrap Bluetooth marketing!

An unprompted SMS is even more invasive than Bluetooth marketing, since it can disturb me during a much needed holiday nap, so that’s out too.

This leaves us with user-initiated promotion. This is like the mobile equivalent of double opt-in in email marketing – Far tougher to achieve user participation but cream of the crop conversion rates as a result, since you’re only reaching those who are actively showing interest. The best example I can think of for this is Orange Wednesdays, a promotion that’s been running successfully for over 3 years, launched by Orange and Flytxt in the UK. Orange customers get a 2 for 1 discount on movie tickets on Wednesday nights, feeling they’re getting a great deal at 50% the usual ticket price, while cinemas get a fresh influx of visitors in an age where the big screen is suffering from lower footfall every year. Brilliant deal!

Using a word which needs to be texted to a shortcode is a reasonably low-effort option for the mass market, while QR codes scanning is only a suitable solution if uber-nerds are the target market. Ask anyone else what that stamp-sized black and white garble means and you’ll get an uninterested shrug.

The bottom line is that it’s got to be simple and non-intrusive, something that not all marketers can achieve successfully!

What are some of the best mobile marketing campaigns you’ve seen? What’s the wildest ideas you’d like to see using mobiles? At what point is a discount, a promotion or an incentive good enough that it should be allowed to interrupt our life?

RAC Traffic report: More technology isn't always better

I love tech. I truly do. In fact, I’ve got a severe condition called “gadgetitis”, which becomes particularly acute around tech expos and Christmas time where all sorts of new techy goodies are released. And I love beta versions, even though they’re flakier than Paris Hilton. I love sneak previews, even if the app turns out to only be worthy of the TechCrunch deadpool. It’s a terrible addiction and as far as I know, there are no cures.

By the same logic, I almost always say that the more technology, the better. Almost.

Today’s an exception. This is my plea to the RAC, once my most reliable source of up-to-date traffic news, to step away from the Flash animations and return to this old technology called text. The wonderful thing about text is that it’s clear, succint and doesn’t require any fancy plugins. It’s easy to use when on the road with only a phone at hand.

RAC Traffic website goes Flash - ack!

This new animation completely fails from a usability point of view:

  1. It doesn’t respect the KISS rule: Keeping it simple means it’s more widely accessible. Not everyone has Flash enabled. My iPhone certainly doesn’t. :S
  2. It’s utterly useless to someone who isn’t local. Very few cities, towns and villages are identified, no matter how close you zoom in. Why aren’t the primary non-motorway roads identified? It’s certainly not because the map is too cluttered!
  3. The usefulness of the information displayed is questionable, especially in comparison to the detailed alternative that used to be available. Is the slowdown due to sheer traffic density or are we dealing with a 6 car pile-up where the motorway might get closed? That’s far more likely to affect my decision of what to do next than telling me vehicles are travelling at 10mph.
  4. The colours, which represent severity of traffic, aren’t accompanied by a legend, so the user has to guess what the scale is!

With the holidays coming and more people on motorways driving long distances to see family and friends, it can be a lifeline, helping us make a quick decision on whether a detour is needed. I’m afraid that the RAC designers didn’t do their homework here. Back to the drawing board, guys!

[Crossposted to the Taptu blog here!]

So I thought I'd talked myself out of getting an iPhone

The iPhone Pros and Cons list

When the iPhone came out in the US, I was drooling at the thought of getting one myself. When the UK contract deals were announced, and I started hearing about the difficulties people were having as far as upgrading to 1.1.1 while keeping their hacks, I got cold feet. I convinced myself that while I’m entirely unhappy with my N95’s performance, the iPhone wasn’t the solution to my phone woes.

I listened to friends reminding me that the iPhone was so much more limited than S60 phones, and that I’d miss the freedom if I took the plunge. I heeded their warnings and thought I’d make a personal short (very short) list of my drop-dead minimum requirements for a phone and try to take a level-headed look at the situation. Cost issues aside, the iPhone meets all my requirements.

  1. Faster camera than on my current phone: Well, that’s not hard to beat… To take the picture above and transfer it to my computer, the N95 took a couple of minutes. So much for catching that popstar driving by or a friend’s silly face at the pub. They’ll have finished their pint and gone home before the camera wakes up. Of course, the camera isn’t as high-quality, but then if I want quality, I’ll take the Canon 350D along instead!
  2. Better battery life than on my current phone: Again, an easy box to tick. My N95, with relatively heavy use, died in just over two hours last Friday. About 30-45 minutes were spent using the Jaiku application, a few emails were checked and a few phone calls made. But TWO HOURS? I need to be confident that I can go out on my own, and still have a way to ring home if something goes wrong.
  3. Jaiku works fine: This one could be debated, seeing as there is no iPhone variant of Jaiku available at the moment. However, the m.jaiku.com version works fine, albeit without the flashiness of iPhone-specific sites. [Note: I used Jaiku more as an example rather than a specific must-have. Social network sites in general need to work well for me]
  4. WordPress admin area works – comment moderation in particular: While my blog doesn’t get masses of comments, I like to know I can moderate them as needed. I’ve only had a limited opportunity to play with my WordPress admin section, but everything seems to be in working order. Doubt I’ll ever do much actual blogging from my phone, but moderating, correcting and updating entries does matter to me.
  5. Comfortably does email and hitchlessly syncs with iCal: No question there, box totally ticked.
  6. Painless upload of pics to Flickr: That’s one area where I have to admit the N95 does a fantastic job – if a bit slowly. The integrated Flickr uploader is one of my current phone’s best features, and I use it nearly daily. As I currently understand it, the iPhone would require me to email the photo over to Flickr, rather than do a web upload, but I can cope with that.

Conclusion: I want one. I really do.

I’m thankful that I don’t live in Canada anymore, as the contract with Rogers is a three year one, which is pants-on-head retarded and batshit insane, to put it simply. A three year contract is like… being married! And god knows I have no interest in marrying either Rogers, AT&T, or O2 in the UK for that matter.

So aside from the price issue – O2’s contracts aren’t exactly a bargain – the iPhone meets my requirements. I’m damn tempted to get one but I’m currently tied into a T-Mobile contract, so headaches ahead if I want to move my phone number over.

Ugh, it’s a hard life being such a gadget whore sometimes…

Tell me what you think of the mobile web

Do you work in mobile? Do you have questions about mobile phones? Do you have an opinion on mobile phones of today? (Who doesn’t!)

Tomorrow, I’ll be hosting the 94th Carnival of the Mobilists, a big roundup of news and posts in the week about the mobile world, over on Taptology, the Taptu blog.

I would love to get some fresh blood into the Carnival, so if you want to contribute, send a link to a post about mobile you’ve written recently to mobilists at gmail dot com before midnight PST tonight and I’ll include you in the roundup.

mobileCamp London

I’m spending the weekend in London for mobileCamp, a sort of ad-hoc gathering of people who work with mobile, or just outright love them. I’ve already posted a few pics on Flickr, and will add more throughout the weekend.

The first panel was on the topic of S60 Web Widgets, which was a bit on the geeky side for me, but this second one is on Digital Kids and Disruption is looking interesting. More later once I find somewhere to plug my laptop in!

Cozy beanbags, interesting presentations

A day in the life of a mobile tester

Testing screens on many mobile phonesIt’s a work thing but I wanted to crosspost my entry on testing for mobile, because I just love the screenshot. Neil, our testing dude, is a god of focus and dedication.

I can’t imagine doing all this thumb-RSI-inducing testing without getting distracted to death… Oooh look a butterfly, ooh I wonder what’s happening in San Francisco this weekend… Ooh I wonder what that scribble on paper was supposed to mean…

Along with the rest of the team, I’ve been searching, clicking, browsing and trying to break the search, and I really can’t wait for us to go live with the beta so that I can show off what we’ve done to everyone. But patience, still a bit of testing to be done!