I am attending the InfoPresse Mobile Day today. It's a half-day conference featuring many people talking up the merits of the mobile space and, more specifically, how mobile marketing (or making money through advertising on mobile devices) is rolling on.
I don't take the mobile channel lightly. I ran the marketing for Airborne Entertainment back when the company was under ten people (they now have over one hundred) and back when there were no revenues (they recently sold eighty-five percent of the company for over one hundred million dollars) and long before the carriers knew (or cared) about data (they were worried about two things - voice and customer churn).
So first off, I believe in mobile. I believe in the notion that your "cell" or "phone" is going bye-bye. I believe that your mobile device will be your personal life remote control. Handling everything from money transactions to managing every aspect of your business (and personal) life. Because of this, people like you and I will want to personalize it and humanize it (look at how popular ringtones and backgrounds are). I also long for the day when I have one "connected" device. Enough with the phone, laptop, BlackBerry, camera, iPod, recording device, etc... one device... all encompassing... bring it on.
That being said, I am seeing nothing new here today (granted Airborne Entertainment dude - and buddy - Andy Nulman has yet to hit the stage and drop his non-standard, jaw-dropping shtick and awe). The future of mobile is the exact same as it was over five years ago. You will soon be able to pay your parking meter by SMS. You will soon be able to by a can of Pepsi through a vending machine by just passing your phone near the dispenser. You will soon be able to go to a hockey game and take part in a SMS contest during intermission. The future, Dear Reader, is plastics.
It's going to take more than millions of people voting for their favorite American Idol for SMS marketing to take, and I don't think we can look at the growth of SMS as an indication of the mobile space's growth, mostly because SMS is simply an easier way for people to tell each other that they are being stood up.
What will it take for mobile to work?
Two components. One, better usability. The wireless web still sucks. You can't find anything and most of us are trapped in our carriers walled gardens with slow connections that usually return interruption errors instead of what we clicked on. So we need great search and great speed.
Two, a reason to want ads and to be marketed to on mobile devices. We presently have a whore/nun relationship with our mobile devices (I don't - I love my Blackberry, but this is what I commonly hear). On one hand, we love being connected, on the other hand, we can't deal with how reachable we always are (go off the grid). This point is more psychological than anything else. Just like Google democratized the web by making search friendly, easy and effective, someone will come along and make the mobile device (either through the handset or through the software) so engaging that we'll no longer see it as a shackle around our collective necks, but rather the hammer and nail that will free us all from cubicle, desk or home office slavery.