A Few Of My Favorite Mobile Things

"You have no Christmas spirit," my partner says for the tenth time during this dash through the local mall. "You are a Grinch... a Scrooge... the Burgermeister Meisterberger." Wow, she must mean it. Digging that deep into the back catalog of Rankin Bass Christmas specials is pretty impressive.


Regardless, I want out of the mall. "You're Professor Hinkle!" she yells from the Pottery Barn. Yikes --  a "Frosty the Snowman" reference.

"Ever wonder why we have to invent so many holiday villains?" I ask. "Did you ever think that they are onto something about how many of us resist being dragged into merriment on a strict schedule?"

"You're, your're that lawyer guy in that Macy's Santa Claus movie."

Okay, I better buck up and get with the program before she starts scraping up grouches from the "VeggieTales Christmas Spectacular."

In fact, there is some holiday cheer to be found on my mobile phone this year. As we wind our way towards 2010, I am heartened by some shards of creativity.

To wit...

Local is getting real. A number of the models that emerged earlier this year like couponing and user-generated reviews have built up their databases. As I revisit services like Yelp! and Yowza, there is enough localized content to make these tools worthwhile references. When I travel now I usually pop them up on the phone to get a unique perspective on the immediate vicinity, what deals are here and what the locals says about nearby services.

I am keeping my eye on the aggregators on mobile because I am seeing some real innovation here. How many individual branded media icons do I want to press to get my news when I know I can pop up the excellent Fleunt News, which pulls in the mobile-optimized pages from the major news sources?

I am also enthused by some of the ways in which aggregators are starting to present their collections. One app, Zeitgeist, renders tops stories in different-sized panels to indicate popularity and then has pop-up bubbles that offer an image and the top graph from the story itself. This is great for news scraping.

I have never been a big fan of video aggregation, if only because I am not convinced that people really seek out platform-specific experiences on a phone ("hey, I want to see some video right about now"). But Babelgum Mobile is making the video experience more YouTube-like than YouTube. Its scroll of video frames click into nice descriptions and a set of pass-along tools. Also, for the business information hounds, the SmartBrief e-letter publisher has a fascinating app that uses a tag cloud to organize hot topics. The twist is that clicking on a tag then lets you navigate into sub-branches of the tag, so you can filter the business news at a granular level.

Speaking of b2b, we are starting to see business publishers think harder about the armies of BlackBerry addicts out there and how they should be leveraging mobile for business information. InformationWeek just launched a Media Snaps format available at its mobile Web site and via email subscription. These are three-minute videos that render practical business advice stories into bullet points and brief slide shows. The user can then download a PDF version of the full article. I like the way the format works from the mobile Web browser and maps so well against the business user's reliance on mobile email.

Gift guides finally grew up a bit this Christmas. After the terrible line of gift finders and mobile retail experiences last year, the merchants upped their game this year. Walmart, Target, Overstock, and Best Buy have credible mobile Web sites that give us easy access to large chunks of their inventory and help us streamline the in-store retail experience. The gift guides now are more editorially driven. Media brands like ELLE, Brides, and Runners World have discovered that dead-tree-and-ink media really still matter to users when a publication's editorial expertise is taken off the page and put where we need it most -- when we make choices.

The renaissance and the rethink of the mobile game market is one of my favorite 2009 things. After years of bemoaning the horridly overdeveloped titles that tried to squeeze console experiences onto a phone, we finally get titles worth playing. It is not just that the larger, lusher touch screen made gaming more enjoyable, but that the manufacturers shrank their ambitions to target the mobile use case. Even better, the designers realized they didn't have to reinvent fun.

The reemergence of classics like the tilt-puzzle Labyrinth, the LucasArts Monkey Island adventures, a turn-based, RPG re-imagining of Wolfenstein, and the loads of simple Boggle knock-offs are all good enough. Mobile game developers finally are taking pages from the Nintendo GameBoy/DS success story and recognizing that simple core gameplay with loads of personality is good enough for a handheld. Even more fascinating is the way in which the app model is proliferating back onto the handhelds. Both Nintendo's DSiWare store and the Playstation Network store for PSP now offer low-priced mini-games, some of which are being crafted by the same developers that are working in the iPhone App Store.

In fact, overall, I think that my favorite development vis-à-vis mobile is the way it is starting to give direction to other digital media. In some sense, mobile is teaching other media about new models for content and distribution. Less is more. Fewer ads create better share of voice and better response. Smaller, more munchable bits of content often resonate better with users than the information tsunami the Web has caused.

Social media, weather and news in many ways are better experiences now on mobile than they are on the Web. The mobile apps have identified what I really want and need rather than what the publishers want me to want. And yes, we will pay -- when the package is attractive, the price is trivial, the experience immediately rewarding and the payment system truly seamless.

The mobile platform learned a lot of valuable lessons in 2009. What is the rest of media going to learn now from mobile?

But what are your favorite developments and positive trends from mobile in 2009? Don't be a Burgermeister Meisterburger. Share below.

2 comments about "A Few Of My Favorite Mobile Things".
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  1. Marti Funk from Sportgenic (Formerly Active Athlete), December 10, 2009 at 7:01 p.m.

    Steve, great article and great insights. As a marketing professional and current senior consultant to a number of companies, mobile apps have really changed how I manage my personal time and businesses. I use a Palm Pre App Time Spent from OrgOrganization (

    I am not a current iPhone user (primarily due to the fact that I rely so heavily on my phone and need confidence of coverage). No, I have no vested interest in the app, rather think it's indicative of the direction and potential in simplifying "life".

  2. Elle Mahoney from We Take You Everywhere., LLC, December 14, 2009 at 12:58 p.m.

    I want to thank you for your breezy writing style coupled with useful impressions and responses to mobile developments. I get a lot from your perspective and inclusiveness. Merry Christmas and good mobil'ing in 2010, Steve.

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