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Top Mobile Technology Trends – A Moving Target

CellphoneThe SIIA Conference marked its 10th year of bringing together an audience of senior executives to address important strategic issues and to network. The theme was”Moving from Wired to Wireless”. My role was to moderate a panel named Top Mobile Technology Trends – A Moving Target. The distinguished panelists were Bill Godfrey, Executive Vice President, Chief Information Officer and Head of Global Electronic Product Development at Elsevier, Oke Okaro, General Manager and Global Head of Mobile, Multimedia at Bloomberg L.P., John Paris, Sr. Director, Mobile Strategy at Time, Inc., and Bob Sutor, VP, Open Systems and Linux at IBM’s Software Group. See their bios on the speaker’s page. It was an honor to lead the discussion.

I set the stage with a few comments about the big picture. The mobile Internet is taking off because of a supporting takeoff in three areas. First, the smartphone is becomine a bigger share of mobile phones. It is still mostly dumb phones out there but the mix is changing and soon smartphones will be in the majority. Seondly, the Cloud is gaining a lot of momentum as an efficient way to store information. Dropbox is an interesting model to follow as it allows replication of your data from the cloud to all your devices. The third factor I cited is the explosion in social media. The comgination of these three areas is resulting in an Internet that is where you are, not where your PC is Lastly, the mobile environment is very personal. Power to the people! More on my big picture view from the Genesys Partners dinner that was held on Monday evening.

The panelists offered the audience a lot of insight. Although they were not able to provide specifics of time and price, it was clear that there is a strong commitment to get magazines on the iPad and other mobile tablets. There are magazines there now but not in a desirable way. The obvious change coming is the subscription model instead of paying $4.99 per copy. More profound is the commitment I heard to make tablet magazines compelling by merging the social media experience with the e-zine content. Imagine reading a Time Magazine story about electric cars and simultaneously see how many other people are currently reading the story, how many have read it and liked it or did not like it, and how many of them own an electric car. In the case of a Business Week story, imagine seeing live data about the industry or company you are reading about. When it comes to Elsevier professional and research journals, we can expect big changes with them also. Tablets are ideal for reading journals with the ability to take notes and add bookmarks. You can also imagine drilling down from a Google search to a Wikipedia article to a medical journal to a particular intervention to live data from a clinical trial that may be underway. All these things can be done in a browser on a PC or Mac but the experience is not as real or personal. The mobile Internet lets you have your content with you wherever you are and with whatever device you may want to use. You may read on the train with your iPad and then read with your iPhone or Droid phone while you are in line at the deli waiting for a sandwich.

Bill, John, and Oke were all bullish about the potential for the mobile Internet to extend the reach of their content and all are actively working on their delivery mechanisms and business models. Some say information wants to be free but good content developers and journalists and subject matter experts need to get paid. Advertising may continue to foot a significiant part of the bill, but the upcoming subscription model may be preferable to readers who prefer not to be tracked or blitzed with advertising. Bob was not as optimistic about an end to the format wars as the publishers were about their business models. It looks like HTML5, the new standard for web content, including video, that has the potential to subsume all the competing formats. Bob said the odds of Microsoft, Apple, Firefox, Adobe, and Google all agreeing on a single standards based approach are slim. The good news is that the technology for developing the content is getting sophisticated enough that the publishers will be able to create compelling content and then push the button to produce multiple versions of the content so that it can be consumed on all the various mobile platforms.

All in all, it was an enlightening conversation with four very knowledgeable experts. There was a consensus throughout the conference that 2011 will be the year that the mobile Internet reaches the tipping point.