Friday, March 2, 2012

Mobile Devices from Investors and Innovators Viewpoints

Connolly Bove Lodge & Hutz, a nationwide law firm which specializes in corporate development and intellectual property ( put together a very informative mobile device forum which consisted of two panels on mobile device investment and mobile device innovation. The panels were made up of investors, executives from start ups, leaders from successful mobile applications companies, an IP executive from RIM. The panelists included:

Bob Moul, Philly Startup Leaders, President
Philip Moyer, Safeguard Scientific, Technology Group Managing Director
Saul Richter, Emerald Stage 2 Ventures, Managing Partner
Chuck Sacco, Mobile Monday Mid-Atlantic, President
Jonathan Darcy, RIM, Director of Licensing
Scott Snyder, Ph.D., Mobiquity, President, Chief Strategy Office and Co-Founder
Scott Wasserman, appRenaissance, Founder and President

The discussion revolved around what is shaping the mobile market, and where to put investment dollars and build businesses. The exchange of ideas took many interesting turns but revolved around the user experience, and the flood of data that comes from ubiquitous computing. The general takeaway is that companies need to fundamentally rethink the way they are interacting with customers, and be able to effectively manage and profit from the size and speed of data.

The two shoulders of tablet demographics will make tablets mainstream:

The panelist in the Investment Panel exposed the idea that there are three generations using electronics: the younger generation, the PC generation, and the older generation. The younger generation is likely to use a tablet for content creation and viewing, the PC generation feels most comfortable creating content on a PC, and the older generation which had not really taken to the PC is in love with the tablet. The tablet’s appeal for non-technical people is very strong and that group includes Doctors. One panelist stated that 70% of doctors use iPads.

The appeal of the tablet to younger generations and to people who were disinterested in the PC will also bleed over to the PC generation in different degrees. I believe the tablet will be a near universal device because of its ease of use, intimacy, universal application capability, and mobility. In the US we have a TV in every room, well in less than 10 years we will have a tablet in everyone’s hands.

There are still hurdles to overcome with the universal use of tablets. The same study from Spyglass Consulting Group that found 70% of Doctors own iPads stated that very few use them at their practice. One of the main reasons is that applications are not transferrable to the iPad. The full utilization of this tremendous user experience via mobile devices (Tablets and Smartphones) is being held back by the lack of integration to and responsiveness from mature backend systems and databases. These two worlds are going to have coalesce and the panelist believed standardization and efficiency between these two worlds needs to happen.

HTML 5 Tug of War:

The panelist brought up that there are two competing groups in the mobile space. One group is the browser based companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon who are promoting the use of HTML 5 because it allows for the universality of service across devices and allows them to be the center of the user experience as they are in the PC world. One of the examples given was that the Kindle Fire is primarily a browser based device.

Then there are the device centric companies that introduce interfaces that make the device both more usable and more relevant. These newer interfaces and capabilities only work with the native application. Device companies need to continue to innovate and bring useful and enjoyable interfaces to the customer. One of the panelist believed that for the time being the device will be the most relevant piece of the consumer experience. This is certainly proving out in Apple’s explosive growth.

The carriers were discussed in passing do not have a major stake these ecosystems, which was a far cry from what the discussion may have been 5 years ago. The carriers are a pipe and the customer appeal characteristics have to do with quality of service, and customer service. However the carriers, I believe are more likely to support the device centric view of the world because it allows them product differentiation.

The panelist from the innovations panel believe that HTML 5 in its current state was good for brochure wear but companies that needed to provide a better user experience should look to native applications. As businesses evaluate different mobile options, it really depends how the company wants to engage with customers and the customer wants to engage with a company. Both HMTL 5 and native applications may be needed to engage the customer on their terms.

Big Data is a Game Changer:

To the panelist data is paramount trend and doing predictive analytics is an area that will highly impact business. The precision that some companies like Target can use information is astounding and in one case the panelist stated Target knew a girl was pregnant before her Father did.

This can provide tremendous marketing advantages. In addition the number of devices is growing and can throw off 200 or more indicators of the person’s interaction with the device and the user’s environment. The current need for data analytics to remain competitive, the explosion of the devices, and the capability of those devices are driving cloud economics. The current data flood has already outgrown existing database capabilities according to one panelist. We live in a world of high data capacity and traffic demands will only grow. Cisco predicts that by 2013 the annual traffic on the Internet will be 667 exabytes.

Cloud computing with its scalability of storage and processing power, and flexibility via virtualization are the back office systems of this century. The panelists believe that providing the connectors between the devices and cloud are a key area of opportunity. These connectors will allow legacy databases to react with devices users that are expecting instantaneous feedback.

Other key points on mobile devices:

Human Interaction:

Human interaction changes with mobile devices. This can lead to both better customer responsiveness in stores, and in our personal lives less direct personal interaction. One panelist stated that each generation must deal with the predominate technology of their generation.

We live in an App World:

The moderator for the Mobile Device Innovation panel stated that they choose a dog kennel company because they could watch their dog on their iPad while they were vacation. Use of a smartphone and tablet are clearly differentiators for business and this trend will only get stronger.

Privacy is lurking as a defining issue:

People do not have full control over the data that is being collected on them, and this data may impact their lives and how companies want to interact with you. One of the attendees brought up if people had control over their data, they might be able to use it for sale or barter. This is essentially what Facebook is doing via advertising, and users are getting community and engagement in return.

Is Social the new .Com?

One of the panelists brought up this point in reference to articles that question Facebook’s revenue capability. This point was in contrast to some member of the innovation panel that highlighted the value of Facebook in developing applications and the power that Facebook had in creating interest in applications. Clearly social networks have value. Monetizing that value is the challenge. Giving social network users the needed benefits will keep the personal information exchange open provided the user feels they have appropriate control of the information. The monetizing of social networks is likely to be around allowing businesses to foster better, more comprehensive and efficient relationships with their customers.

I wanted to thank Connolly Bove Lodge and Hutz LLP and the panelists for putting on this informative event. It gave a great overview of the mobile and data markets.

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