In researching some upcoming pieces for Media magazine's big Future of Media issue in September, I have been spending time discussing mobile's near and long-term prospects with executives throughout the value chain. As the director of interactive at Nokia, Tom Henriksson has a unique perspective coming from the dominant handset hardware as well as one of the largest mobile ad networks. Tom helped start the ad business at Nokia and engineered the acquisition of enPocket. In a couple of interviews lately I asked him to speculate forward five or more years about which technologies and usage models to watch.
Q: Which mobile handset features do you expect to be ubiquitous in five years that we may not expect right now?
Henriksson: Location-based technologies are going to be important. After all the hype, there's real hope that location-aware advertising will be widely available within the near term. This will also open opportunities, particularly for the long tail advertisers who only want to target customers in specific locations. I'm also a believer in NFC [Near Field Communications], which is already in play.
In London, there are trials between Nokia and O2 that enable a consumer to use his or her phone as a tube pass. The mobile can almost act as a payment terminal right now with mobile coupons, etc., but NFC will make it much easier and take us to the next level. Longer term, we can see the mobile handset becoming the hub for a number of sensors, giving rich information about the user and his physical & virtual environments.
Q: Media buyers crave standardization, and mobile clearly is the most fragmented and ever-evolving platform they have had to manage. Within the next five to ten years, do you foresee wireless technologies coalescing around a narrower set of standards: WiMax, 4G, mobile TV protocols, handset operating systems?
Henriksson: To ease the pain of mobile application development and mobile service adoption, which also will drive mobile advertising growth, one would hope to see this happen. As an example, Nokia's decision to "open source" the Symbian OS will benefit the market from this perspective. In reality, there will likely be multiple competing standards and fragmentation in the market for years to come.
Q: Will users start offloading substantial parts of Web-based activities to mobile devices?
Henriksson: In the near future, I see mobile serving as a supplement to the traditional Web. People have become really dependent on the self-service capabilities of the Internet -- being able to locate a store, find a phone number, shop, check out the menu for a new restaurant, etc. -- mobile is allowing people to stay connected in this useful way without having to be sitting in front of a computer. Mobile will also offer its own unique aspects, like the most contextually relevant services & targeting.
Q: Will the move to mobile entail a serious shift in business and marketing models for companies currently devoted to the Web?
Henriksson: The entrance of some of the bigger technology and online firms into the market, like Nokia, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft, is proving to be interesting. These companies have the resources to really make mobile advertising come to fruition. Again, to me, this is going to be a supplement to their traditional Web activity.
Mobile search is already taking off, and mobile advertising is proving to be, in some cases, even more successful than traditional Web advertising; the click-through rates and other engagement measures for some of these mobile campaigns are often much better than what they are on the traditional Web. For a few years forward, I believe mobile will still be the new kid on the block, requiring specific expertise to sell, create, and implement successful campaigns in the medium.
Q: What role will advertising and marketing have in the future eco-system of mobile?
Henriksson: Certainly the recent surge in mobile Web usage is good news for the mobile advertising industry. Advertisers are looking for wide audience reach, and as mobile data services improve and pricing models change, mobile will become stronger and stronger as an advertising medium.
Just like with the traditional Internet, advertising will help fuel mobile Web development. Publishers know that if they are going to attract advertisers, they need to attract eyeballs. They certainly are not going to build audiences with dull, text-based content. The unique aspects of mobile, like the personal nature of the device, the uncluttered marketing space it offers, and the highly contextually relevant services and targeting, when utilized in the right way, will ensure that mobile will become a major medium for advertisers and marketers.
Q: Arguably, the Internet has had a great cultural effect on accelerating globalization. Does the penetration of mobile telecommunications and information also come with cultural impact we may not foresee?
Henriksson: Definitely. In some parts of the world, like India, for example, many people will be ‘connected' for the first time via a mobile phone. In fact, the mobile penetration in India is five times that of landline and is also higher than that of the personal computer, raising the expectation that more people in the region will have their first Internet experience on a mobile handset.
Mobile handsets are generally a less expensive way to connect to the Web, and as more and more publishers put content on the mobile Web, more people will get information from the mobile Web. Mobile technology enables people to live, connect, and do business in new ways, creating value in areas that could not have been imagined 10-20 years ago.