Above the Static — Communicating with Emergent Mobile Tech


by Christian Smith


The way infor­ma­tion is broad­cast deter­mi­nes how peo­ple listen.

Throughout his­tory, the big­gest tech­no­lo­gi­cal advan­ce­ments have all been ways to com­mu­ni­cate more infor­ma­tion to more peo­ple. Star­ting with the prin­ting press, the tele­graph, the telephone, tele­vi­sion and the inter­net were all giant leaps in our abi­lity to com­mu­ni­cate more effectively.

The world is a vir­tual infor­ma­tion fast food joint. And today, the ways to broad­cast infor­ma­tion out­num­ber the stars. It’s impor­tant to know what your cus­to­mers are lis­te­ning to and how they are tuning in to hear.

Mobile is here to stay

Nielsen Mobile StatisticsAs time goes on, tech­no­logy is tren­ding toward mobile. Niel­sen reports that smartpho­nes now make up 40% of mobile pho­nes in the US. Research firm SNL Kagan pro­jects 100% satu­ra­tion in the US by 2013. With num­bers like these, it’s down­right foo­lish to ignore the mobile market.

But what does that mean? New apps? QR codes?

I was just at CTIA – Enter­prise and Appli­ca­tions in San Diego, wal­king the trenches of the wire­less world lear­ning what is new with com­mu­ni­ca­tion. From new iPho­nes, to apps that help you navi­gate the gro­cery store, to color­ful QR codes the mobile mar­ket­place is explo­ding with new ideas and new potential.

Oppor­tu­nity Arising

While cha­sing the “next big thing” may be exhaus­tive, new tech­no­lo­gies in mobile offer a new com­mu­ni­ca­tion chan­nels. Currently there are 3 realms of phy­si­cal to digi­tal short-range com­mu­ni­ca­tion that are gai­ning traction.


The idea behind ini­tia­ted com­mu­ni­ca­tion, like QR codes, is a phy­si­cal hyper­link for the real world. Prac­ti­cally, imple­men­ta­tions of QR codes are bar­ba­ric because it requi­res the user to take the effort, press a few but­tons, and wait for a down­load. Also, con­ver­sion rates are dif­fi­cult to mea­sure. Yet QR codes are being used in new ways, howe­ver use is most likely when the user is bored to tears or incen­ti­vi­zed by a chance to win. QR codes are most effec­tive when a cap­tive audience desi­res an online expe­rience, such as at a bus stop.


Pas­sive com­mu­ni­ca­tion, such as NFC, is a way to push and pull infor­ma­tion. NFC (or ‘Near Field Com­mu­ni­ca­tion’) is close pro­xi­mity com­mu­ni­ca­tion, ie. within 10 cm. NFC touts power saving advan­ta­ges; howe­ver users need to be very close to the sen­sor sur­face to acti­vate com­mu­ni­ca­tion. In rea­lity for NFC to work, you have to rub your phone on the sen­sor, simi­lar to this Pay­Pal video. Goo­gle Wallet is an exam­ple of NFC tech­no­logy in action. Nokia Research Group launched an NFC game that inte­racts with an appli­ca­tion run­ning on the smartphone. As you can ima­gine, there are plenty of un-realized oppor­tu­ni­ties that could uti­lize this form of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, espe­cially in commerce.


Have you ever ima­gi­ned what items would say if they could talk? Blue­tooth 4.0 will give items a voice for years. A Blue­tooth 4.0 device can run for 2 years on a coin cell bat­tery. The con­cept is Blue­tooth rein­ven­ted, remo­ving all the pro­blems with nor­mal Blue­tooth.  Blue­tooth 4.0 is not made for voice or audio – it is pri­med for com­mu­ni­ca­ting small bits of infor­ma­tion within a range of 60 feet. It does require a bat­tery and chip which means higher costs, but will inte­ract seam­lessly with pho­nes. Blue­tooth 4.0 will broad­cast infor­ma­tion to pho­nes and apps with set­tings that will allow you to deter­mine what you see and what you don’t. Blue­tooth 4.0 has the most oppor­tu­nity for opt in expe­rience and rich inte­rac­tion. The best part is no effort is requi­red on the users part.

Appli­ca­tions of Blue­tooth 4.0 will reach health and fit­ness “smart sen­sors” (Nike+ is a great exam­ple). Many other appli­ca­tions remain untap­ped, ima­gine your phone notif­ying you of sales and spe­cials of your favo­rite sto­res and res­tau­rants as you walk by. Also to note, the latest Apple and Nokia pho­nes imple­ment Blue­tooth 4.0 not NFC as the low power wire­less standard.

The advan­ces we see in mobile today will allow us to com­mu­ni­cate with our cus­to­mers in new and bet­ter ways. While it may be hard to know exactly which thing will be the next big one, mass adop­tion of new tech­no­logy usually comes with ease of use and draw to use the tech­no­logy. Tech­no­lo­gies, espe­cially in mobile, that emerge will allow us to make things easier and more con­ve­nient for con­su­mers. Watch for signs of early adop­ters edu­ca­ting their less tech­ni­cal friends as a key sign for tech­no­logy pro­li­fe­ra­tion.   As a sur­fer, I enjoy seeing the simi­la­rity bet­ween new tech­no­logy and waves. See the oppor­tu­nity on the hori­zon and get into posi­tion.  Ride the wave and see where it goes.

Post by Christian Smith

My background is in Mechanical Engineering with a focus on MEMS and other tiny sensor. Bachelor degree in Mech. Engr. from UCSB. Most recently, co-founded Phone Halo. An app to remember your phone and prevent misplacing your keys. I'm excited to see the world become more connected and intelligent. Let me know if you have questions via Twitter: @cjohansmith

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