Recently, much has been written about President-Elect Obama’s love affair with his Blackberry and the security concerns it raises for the Secret Service. It’s been funny to watch the back and forth between a very determined and independent President-elect and the institutions (legal, security and administrative) that have built up a tradition of shielding the President from such personal communication.
President-Elect Obama is not alone. One need only fly any heavily traveled business route (my favorite is New York-Chicago) and watch as the plane touches down. Within minutes, almost every business person has popped out their smart phone and begun digesting the mountains of data that has piled up while the plane was in transit. The smart phone isn’t only for business people, as the stay-at-home moms, students, and young professionals purchase these handsets for their personal use.
As this article suggests, the mobile phone is going to compete with the television and PC to be the dominant technology people spend time with. While the TV and computer will undoubtedly get the most non-interrupted use, the fact that our phones are with us all the time will provide opportunity for quick interaction during brief periods of down time. President-elect Obama is the perfect example, using a few moments of solitude between appearances, in the car or on his campaign plane to stay in touch.
So if the mobile phone is going to be THE technology people spend the most time with, how is your business making plans to be where all the consumers are going to be?
This past week, India experienced one of the worst terrorist attacks in its history. (WSJ has a full recap of the terrorist attacks) As a member of the mobile industry, I couldn’t help but be fascinated by an aspect of the story: the prominence that mobile played as the story unfolded.
It has been widely reported that the terrorists themselves used Blackberry’s to both communicate with each other, as well as monitor world reaction to their attack while also obtaining clues as to the activities of the Indian Commando response teams. This small, portable and contained window to the world provided all the information and access that 5 years ago would have required a laptop, at the very least.
The flip side to the story are the incredible stories of survivors who kept in touch with family and authorities. From the Australian business woman who used her cell phone to communicate, in silence, with her daughter as the terrorists roamed the hallway outside of her room to the Chicago couple who spoke with a CNN reporter by text, and eventually orchestrated their rescue by the Indian Army by text.
As telephone lines, basic utilities and television signals were cut off or destroyed the one common infrastructure element that both sides relied on was their mobile phones. We’ve long known that mobile penetration was growing, but the interesting point in the story was the use of data services (text messaging and mobile internet).
Unfortunately, this incident is a turning point in our history, and in some ways not a positive one. In closing, it may be important to think, in the event of a crisis, (hopefully not a terrorist crisis), would your customers have the ability to get the information they need from your company on their phones?
Saying it had the right to block “controversial or unsavory” text messages, Verizon Wireless last week rejected a request from Naral Pro-Choice America, the abortion rights group, to make Verizon’s mobile network available for a text-message program.
But the company reversed course this morning, saying it had made a mistake.
“The decision to not allow text messaging on an important, though sensitive, public policy issue was incorrect, and we have fixed the process that led to this isolated incident,” Jeffrey Nelson, a company spokesman, said in a statement.
“It was an incorrect interpretation of a dusty internal policy,” Mr. Nelson said. “That policy, developed before text messaging protections such as spam filters adequately protected customers from unwanted messages, was designed to ward against communications such as anonymous hate messaging and adult materials sent to children.”
The other leading wireless carriers had accepted the Naral program, but legal experts said private companies like Verizon probably have the legal right to decide which messages to carry. The laws that forbid common carriers from interfering with voice transmissions on ordinary phone lines do not apply to text messages.
“This is right at the heart of the problem,” said Susan Crawford, a visiting professor at the law school, referring to the treatment of text messages. “The fact that wireless companies can choose to discriminate is very troubling.”
Nancy Keenan, Naral’s president, said Verizon’s initial decision interfered with political speech and activism.
“No company should be allowed to censor the message we want to send to people who have asked us to send it to them,” Ms. Keenan said. “Regardless of people’s political views, Verizon customers should decide what action to take on their phones. Why does Verizon get to make that choice for them?”
Text messaging programs based on five- and six-digit short codes are a popular way to receive updates on news, sports, weather and entertainment. Several of the leading Democratic presidential candidates have used them, as have the Republican National Committee, Save Darfur and Amnesty International.
Texting has proved to be an extraordinarily effective political tool. According to a study released this month by researchers at Princeton and the University of Michigan, young people who received text messages reminding them to vote in November 2006 were more likely to go to the polls. 59% said that the text reminder was beneficial and voter turnout increased by 4% within the test group. The cost per vote generated, the study said, was much smaller than other sorts of get-out-the-vote efforts.
Texting has become one of the easiest and most cost effective ways of reaching large groups of people while simultaneously being able to track the success of individual campaigns. The popularity of SMS has caused even the biggest carriers to limit their interference when it comes to content, and if the current trends continue, that interference will soon disappear. The cost per consumer has become significantly less than traditional marketing methods, and the use of trackable codes has resulted in a level of transparency and accountability that wasn’t possible before. Thus, a well-planned mobile marketing campaign is one of the most efficient and least risky strategies currently available to companies both large and small.
Although most in the wireless industry thought it was inevitable, it is still significant that, according to new data from NPD Group, the iPhone has already become the top-selling handset in the United States. This achievement is all the more remarkable when you consider that Motorola’s Razr, the handset that the iPhone displaced at the top in the third quarter of 2008, has held the top spot for 3 years straight.
NPD analyst Ross Rubin called the ascension of the iPhone over the Razr “a watershed shift.”
While the mobile internet had been a feature that most consumers could live without until recently, it has clearly become such an essential tool for mobile subscribers, along with text messaging and other advanced data features, that even phones as expensive as the iPhone are selling in record numbers.
“Four of the five best-selling handsets in the third quarter were optimized for messaging and other advanced Internet features,” said Rubin.
The analyst said he discerned a growing divide in the handset market between voice-centric phones and those optimized for data and Internet usage. Fully 30% sought a device with a QWERTY keypad, up from 11% in the prior year. U.S. carriers combined now offer 50 models of smartphones, while in Europe that number is nearly 250 models.
Cellit is heeding the call for robust mobile campaigns which incorporate consumer’s new thirst for more interactive mobile experiences. While text-messaging remains the backbone of Cellit’s suite of services, new features, such as WAP sites and custom iPhone apps have been added to their repertoire to engage the consumer in ways that simply weren’t possible until smartphones and other data-enabled devices appeared.