By Atiq Hashmi
According to industry reports from online data research firms like Pew Internet and Nielsen, the mobile growth story will achieve another milestone soon. While the reports slightly differ on the numbers, the trend suggests that the number of smartphone owners among the US population will match or exceed the number of traditional cell phone owners in the next couple of months.
This bodes well for cell phone manufacturers and wireless carriers. But it is also important for SME’s (Small and Medium sized Enterprises). Businesses benefit when innovations create a more productive lifestyle. In the 90’s, the Internet provided a new means to have business presence online with products and contact information. Consumers did not have to wait for the weekend flyers anymore to compare and buy products – the buying process became easier and faster. With online search engines, we did not need to open yellow pages and spend time to find service providers or look up their contact information.
Remember that press release on Jan. 9, 2007 by Apple about introducing the iPhone? Since then, iPhone, Android, RIM and other notable smartphones have given rise to a whole new phenomenon. The consumer communication, entertainment and business productivity landscape has changed. You see people using it everywhere–on city streets, on the subways and buses, on a plane, at a gas station.
Why the meteoric rise in this adoption? A common user cannot do much with any hardware unless it has meaningful and convenient ways to put it to good use. In the case of the smartphones, there were several. Hardware features like tapping/pinching, and accelerometer gave it the ‘cool’ effect. Other features like GPS and camera provided practical uses. Another game-changing capability was the App development by anyone willing to dabble in the arcane world of SDKs and APIs. And the list would be incomplete without mentioning the rich HTML browsing (coupled with faster processor and higher data speeds). These phones allow users to use the familiar web-like interface on many daily use tools like mail (Yahoo/Gmail etc. and corporate email), News sites, sports sites etc.
The last 50 years have seen great advances in electronics and communications driven by demand in users wanting better, faster and feature-rich products. However the innovation, production, marketing and delivery model traditionally has been that a set of niche companies produced them. What is different now is that recent developments in mobile technologies have created a long tail-like model. And new opportunities arising from on-the-go needs and new monetization models, enabled by the open App development platforms have attracted many small and even individual players to participate and thrive.
According to Cisco’s Visual Networking Index, by 2015, the wireless devices like Wi-Fi and mobile will generate more than half of the IP traffic compared to wired devices. That suggests that even more daily consumer activities will be done via these devices at personal, professional and social level.
As more consumers are looking up information online, there are opportunities for SMEs to gain. The first thing they can start with is a mobile presence. The regular websites many have were developed for the desktop PCs. While they can be opened and viewed on the smartphones, they appear too small and difficult to read. As a result, the consumers have a poor experience and may not be incented for another visit. This can impact marketing and selling opportunities.
For certain businesses whose sales depend on customers walking into the door (restaurants, auto-repair services etc.), location-based search drives sales. These types of businesses could utilize local online marketing tools like Google Places and based social review sites etc.
If a business can afford, a custom App like iPhone, Android Apps could be a marketing and useful tool for customers. It is a bit more involved and you may need implementations on multiple phone brands.
As the mobile trends become more and more part of our lifestyle, businesses, particularly larger ones, have been adopting mobile channel as part of their overall strategy. SMEs, due to the lack of expertise and investment, typically lag in adoption of new platforms. However, they can start at a smaller scale and leverage various solutions like a few mentioned above to help marketing and sales.
Atiq Hashmi is the President of Inspirity, which focuses on mobile and Web solutions. www.inspiritysoft.com