Above the Static – Communicating with Emergent Mobile Tech

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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.

Initiated

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

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.

Interactive

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.

Author: 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