Mobile Phones: Frontier of Possibility

Mobile telephony represents the single biggest opportunity for new business while at the same time being one of the most significant enablers for growth available today. One of the more interesting aspects of the market is how the the law of unintended consequences comes into play. Text function was originally an afterthought and was only left in as an expensive option for business. It is now the world’s most widespread data service. Developing world mobile banking systems not only helped to give the world’s poorest and most ill-served people the opportunity to access the benefits of having a bank account but the technology has proven to be so effective that we may start seeing it in more technically developed societies.

It is a reminder that we are all living globally now and that changes and developments in one part of the network whether it is social or technical, have ramifications for all parts of the network.

(1) Most important fact about mobile phones – there are billions of them!

The figures are phenomenal. There are over 4.426 billion subscribers to mobile services around the world. China Mobile is the largest with 500 million subscribers. Since there are just over 6bn people on the planet it would seem we would be close to saturation point but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Nokia and Apple, for instance, are shipping their devices by the millions and there is no sign at all of a let up in demand. According to Gartner mobile sales grew 35% in the last financial quarter. Over 417 million units were sold worldwide in a three month period. 81 million of those handsets were smartphones.

(2) Smartphones are very popular but regular phones still sell very well.

According to these figures only roughly twenty percent of phones being sold are smart. That is that they can be used in the way a computer can be used to run applications that are more advanced than can be found on a phones with regular features.

Cost is one inhibitor but access to wifi is another. Even in the developed countries many rural areas have difficulty accessing broadband and consequently a lot of the capability of a smartphone is reduced. 3G works but most times it is much slower than wifi. Some apple iphone apps are inhibited from downloading on the network due to their size and wifi has to be accessed. In the remoter areas of the world which includes large parts of Europe and America this can be a problem.

Smartphones are built on smart platforms.

  • Symbian OS: is used mainly by Nokia and has the largest footprint by far.
  • Android: Which is owned by Google and is probably the most developer friendly.
  • Windows Phone: Microsoft software which has been retargeted at the consumer market.
  • Blackberry OS: Which originally targeted its phones at corporate use but is slow in finding a wider appeal.
  • iOS: The Apple platform and is highly integrated into many other Apple products.

Combining the opportunity for development apps for different platforms and across different platforms with the variety of handsets available all sorts or permutations and possibilities exist.

Although most of these operating systems are quite tied in tightly with manufacturers the scope for third party developers to make a contribution is huge.

(3) All sorts of opportunities to play for

With such a variety of devices and platforms the opportunity for the “killer app” to arise is very limited. But the opportunity to create niche apps that do specific tasks very well. Apple has over 300,000 apps available in its store now with Android having over 100,000 apps available for download.

In a previous article “The Collective Brain App” we described how by bypassing the browser and allowing users to directly access what they specifically want a whole new network of interactions becomes possible. We can become genuinely networked as individuals with our own array of apps reflecting how we see the world and what we want from it.

(4) There is still plenty of change to come

For the entrepreneurial opportunity exists in growing chaotic markets. The mobile telephony market is far from reaching maturity and there are still some massive game changing possibilities around the corner.

One such is the possible introduction of embedded SIMs. This means that companies like Apple or Nokia can take over the billing and service responsibilities from the main carriers and establish a direct an intimate relationship with the customer. This would leave the carriers as the providers of ‘dumb pipes.’

Embedded SIM technology also allows the smartphone to act as a wallet by allowing users to pay with their handsets.

The carriers are not going to cede easily but whatever the outcome the mobile phone market will have shifted in its space and with that there will come even more opportunities.

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