Smartphones the new frontier?
Mobile phone growth has exceeded even the most optimistic penetration predictions. In the good ol' United States of America, 84% of the population own a mobile phone. Worldwide, mobile phone access is growing by about 30% a year. In Africa, you'll be very hard pressed to come across as fast a growing (legal) industry as mobile phone sales and services.
That's a whole lot of smart, smartish and not-so-dumb phones making their way to people's pockets and the number is sure to remain on an upward trend for a little more than a minute.
When apple launched its first iphone in 2007, they began a new smartphone technology race that has seen mobile phone development competition explode. Google's foray into mobile phone operating systems did a little more than muddy the waters - the creation of a mobile phone specifically designed with Google's almost godlike reach into our lives rewrote every single technology rule ever written. Multi-touch, gloriously large screens, blindingly fast processors, cloud computing and countless other developments have raised the mobile phone bar further and faster than anything else on earth. In fact, the rate at which new technology is emerging in the mobile phone field has even overtaken that of personal computers.
No sooner has HTC unleashed their new monster, the EVO 4G than, barely a few weeks later, Samsung have produced their Galaxy S that all but destroys all of the EVO's bragging rights. And this trend does not seem likely to slow down - which is great for for the average user. With the limited reach of ordinary terrestrial internet, Africa looks poised to connect to the world wide web via what is increasingly becoming a ubiquitous device.
As a direct result of the increasing capabilities of mobile devices and their availability, more people are getting online from their hand held phones. In fact, over the next few years, mobile phone internet connectivity is set to overtake connectivity through desktop computers. And these connected people will be able to do alot more on their mobile devices than just look at information. Mobile phone usage to this site has more than tripled in the last six months pointing toward what can safely be referred to as an emerging market.
So, what does all this interesting turn of events mean for business?
As stated earlier, mobile internet connectivity is growing at an astonishing rate. In a few years, it will have overtaken desktop connectivity in terms of sheer numbers as well as data flow. As a result, mobile sites, or at least mobile versions of websites, will become a necessity for the growing business. And with broadband speeds upwards of 3G, the amount of content that can be fed to mobile phones is virtually unlimited.
The browsing experience on a computer desktop is radically different from that on a mobile phone. In addition, the mobile phone experience offers new challenges and opportunities for user experience as well as interactivity. For example, Loopt offers real time tracking of your friends on Google maps - a fun, interactive feature that is practically impossible on a desktop.
The mobile phone is a lot more personal than, say, a desktop computer or a laptop. A phone owner will go everywhere with their phone. This provides a unique advertising opportunity for businesses. Ads can be targetted with an unprecedented level of activity and whats more, users who view the ads are more likely to interact with them than on traditional media. Furthermore, ads can be location specific. For example, say I'm in Westlands and would like to buy lunch, a quick search on Google can yield results with the most proximal locations at the top of my search results page - which makes perfect sense.
The points for a mobile phone version of the website will continue to stack up for every phone sold out to someone in the world. We really don't need the services of St. Paul the octopus to show us what is obvious. And at the rate with which our esteemed mobile phone carriers are opening up Africa, it would be safe to assume that in the next few months, someone will be looking at your website from their mobile phone.
They've already been looking at mine. And I'm now rethinking my mobile strategy. Which I will begin to implement as soon as I finish writing this article.
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