Commentary

CTIA: The Home Game

Call me jaded, but I have an aversion to CTIA. I went to the shows for years before mobile became a content play, let alone a marketing platform. I spent a lot of time surfing through (usually over) the tidal wave of acronyms tied to wireless technology, the protocols and back end technologies, the dizzyingly complex supply chain, and the dense terminology. Wireless tech pitches always sounded to me like parody sketches from Professor Irwin Corey. The show, and wireless telephony culture itself, out-geeked even me. And as my family will tell you, that is saying something. When an entire convention can make even me feel cool and hip, loose and well-socialized by comparison, that is geeky.

Scheduling kept me away from this week's show anyway, so I got to monitor the affair from a safe distance. CTIA cast off several toys that any of us can play with at home. Everyone in the mobile marketing arena should first try Sprint and ScanLife's new visual 2D code system. A feature and promotional section in Billboard this week shows off the scannable 2D code attached to Universal Music artists' material and Billboard content. Text "scan" to 70734 to get the necessary downloadable ScanLife app, which ties into your phone's camera. Aim the cam at the 2D code on the Billboard page and hit Scan. The app processes the image and opens the Web browser to a page. It can pull down a wallpaper, a WAP page likeBillboard's top ten lists, links to music or videos or other applications.

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My first impression is that ScanLife it is sexier but a tad more efficient than entering a short code. Because it is an application, you have to navigate and load the app to take the image, which in total keystrokes and focusing time is more of a chore than just sending a text cue to a shortcode. Yes, it eliminates the step of receiving a message back, and it certainly seems cooler than using SMS. Still, the application only underscores the importance of having a solution like this fully interoperable across carriers and baked into the phone cam. Ideally, you want to be able to turn your phone cam on, snap the 2D code and have the phone recognize you are shooting a code that needs to be processed.

There are other technical issues. Ever try to focus a phone cam on a printed page and get the 2D code large enough to register properly? There were a lot of false starts and unintelligible snaps in my quick test of the technology.

Also worth checking out is AOL's major relaunch of its mobile services. The new AOL WAP page, accessible by phone at AOL.com, seems more tightly woven than Yahoo's Go service, in that applications like the MapQuest, CityGuide and email are nicely contoured to mobile. It is very uncluttered and icon-driven. You can drill deep into this portal and most of the tools and information are nicely formatted for phones and customized for on-the-go use.

AOL has quietly assembled a number of good mobile assets over the past couple of years, and they may be a force in the market. Obviously, its purchase of Third Screen Media puts the company into the mobile ad market in a big way. But its new partnership with off-deck content provider ThumbPlay gives it a range of content. If AOL actually can distribute these services and gain traction, then it may have a way to use mobile to get the brand back into users' hearts and minds. Between Yahoo's mobile search play and AOL's mobile portal play, it seems as if also-ran brands are using mobile as a kind of comeback platform.

Speaking of which, an older AOL acquisition actually comes in with one of the least discussed but most impressive applications to come out of CTIA. Winamp (when was the last time you heard that brand?) offers a new remote access tool that keeps your mobile phone connected specifically to you music and video libraries. Other applications have done this sort of thing in the past, but I have not seen it done this easily and seamlessly. The Winamp bug sits in your desktop tray and lets you log into any music directories you designate. I had my MP3 and video libraries available to my phone in minutes. If sharing and showing off musical tastes and video clips is new distribution mechanism, then this is the kind of tool users like me will want.

Now if only Winamp can manage to access the next CTIA remotely for me.

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