Dial the Web

The year was 2003 and I was thrilled with the latest addition to my collection of gadgets, a gorgeously-designed Nokia camera phone. At that point in time, a mere eight years ago, the idea of owning a mobile that doubled up as a camera was as exciting as the latest Lord of the Rings movie release. I remember going over the possibilities of all the things I would take pictures of, regardless of where I was, thanks to my new pocket contraption.

My third Nokia, which I bought in 2003. It was one of the first camera phones.

Eight years ago, the mobile landscape was a different world. The concept that any user, regardless of tech savviness, could easily download a bunch of applications to personalize his or her mobile device was science fiction. The iPhone, which would be released in 2007 and change the very order of how the mobile industry integrates with the web, was years away from birth. That’s not to mention abysmal mobile Internet technology, with download speeds of around 8 bytes per second. Who wants to surf the web with that, even before YouTube?

The very first iPhone.

Consider these numbers, today: there will be 5.3 billion mobile subscriptions by the end of 2010, equivalent to 77 percent of the world, as estimated by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU, October 2010). That is a 15% increase from 2009, when mobile subscribers peaked at 4.6 billion. By 2011, over 85 percent of new handsets will be able to access the mobile web.

That’s not all, folks! The Internet and cellphones are actually a match made in dollar-heaven.Google now makes US $1 billion in annual mobile ad revenues. There are more than 150 million active users currently accessing Facebook through their mobile devices. In the past twelve months, customers around the world have ordered more than US $1 billion of products from Amazon using a mobile device.

Obviously, we are witnessing an explosive growth in mobile Internet communications. This translates into new behavioral patterns changing right before our eyes. The technological advancements mean that we no longer have to wait until we are in front of a computer to do our work. We have access to the Internet with all its glory regardless of where we happen to be. These pocket-sized gadgets can accomplish tasks that we couldn’t do with a desktop computer 10 years ago. The mobile trend is expected to peak in 2015, when the ITU projects that there will be more mobile Internet users than desktop Internet users.

In fact, consumers have already stopped thinking of their handsets as basic communication devices for telephonic calls and SMS messaging. According to research, today’s consumers are looking to buy phones that allow them to transfer money, access location based services, browse the web, monitor their health, and pay their bills. We’re right in the middle of a growing integration of the mobile web into every aspect of life; home, office, home office, family, car and recreation. This new interconnectivity presents risks, but more importantly, it represents opportunities for corporations and entrepreneurs.

Consider augmented reality (AR) and mobile payment solutions. While the concept of AR is still in its infancy, the possibilities it brings in mobile marketing, discovery, and communication are mostly unimaginable at this point. A simple mobile device can use sensors, online applications, and GPS to gauge your setting, your surroundings, and your needs. The result is a mish-mash of data from the Internet combined with what you’re doing in the physical world. For example, with an AR application, your phone’s camera can overlay a restaurant’s storefront with its menu, peer reviews, as well as pictures of the food. With mobile payment solutions, the experience is even more complete. If you decide to treat yourself to the restaurant in question, you can order from a menu that pops up on your phone’s screen and then pay the bill automatically using your mobile billing software.

My excitement in 2003 over the ability of taking pictures with my phone is so… 2003. The mobile phone is not just a phone anymore. It is the ultimate convergence of communication and media consumption, combining voice and data, telecoms and internet, and push and pull content delivery. And if your website isn’t mobile friendly yet, well, that should be your next project.

Originally published in Venture magazine

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