Last week I attended Forum Oxford, an annual conference on new trends in mobile technology. Delegates ranged from mobile technology and strategy writers and researchers, to representatives from the large brands to smaller companies offering mobile products and services. Because the conference was quite small, it allowed for good Q&A sessions and a lot of thought-provoking conversation in the breaks.
It was extremely interesting to hear about emerging trends from a largely technology focused group of people and to think about what this means for the users of these technologies. There were three areas of focus that I found particularly interesting:
The wealth of information about their customers that retailers could get from mobile devices opens up a whole new range of opportunities:
So what does this mean for us as the customers? Providing rich information in-store can bring together the best of both worlds: the wealth of information accessible on the Internet together with the tangibility of products and physical store environment. However, I think this experience could turn slightly annoying as well. We are used to seeing targeted advertising on the Internet based on our past behaviour, but do we want to be greeted on our phone by every Apple shop that we walk by just because we have bought an ipod once?
Mobile money was a big topic. Inbuilt NFC chips enable a mobile phone to act as a virtual debit or credit card, and it also means that phones can act as a POS (point of sale) terminal to receive card or phone payments. Essentially this means that every shopkeeper who owns a smartphone also has a card terminal.
This opens up big opportunities both for businesses and consumers.
It is obvious why businesses and advertisers would like to have this extra information about us. But how comfortable are we as consumers with this? Do we want to be open about everything we pay for?
The big vision – a cashless society – is already closer in some African countries, e.g. the M-PESA system in Kenya, where mobile payments not only give citizens access to banking services in a country with a poor banking infrastructure, but can also reduce the number of robberies by reducing the amount of cash carried and corruption by cutting out the middlemen in cash transactions. An example given was that in Sweden robberies of bus drivers were significantly reduced when cashless payments were introduced. We heard that in fact Sweden is starting to think about getting rid of cash altogether!
Taking the mobile payment idea a step further the next role for the mobile phone could be mobile identity management. The phone would become not only your debit card but your passport as well. Similar to the POS terminal function it would allow secure authentication between two phones without the recipient actually needing to be able to verify the validity of the document. It would mean the end of utility bills as proof of address.
In this way the phone could become our one device that holds all important information and enables us to lead our lives. Will we be comfortable constantly carrying around a device which is so incredibly valuable? Will we ever dare to take it out of our pockets for fear of having it stolen?
The third big area of discussion was a bit more tactical but still extremely interesting. It concerned the relative merits and the future of mobile websites versus mobile apps.
The opinion of delegates at the conference was divided but my impression was that the majority thought that apps have provided a way to get a nice and usable mobile presence “out there” at a time when mobile web technology was not very mature, but that once browser standards have been established, more businesses will switch from apps to mobile websites, because they are easier to create and maintain.
Again what does this mean for users? Most apps that are downloaded today are only used a few times and then discarded. A mobile website can be accessed as needed wherever and whenever and it will always be up to date. On the other hand apps today can provide a much richer experience, and it is hard to imagine how this can be fully matched by a browser in the future.
What are your thoughts on this? Do you think there will be a role for both mobile websites and apps in the future and what will they be?