Mobile's swinging pendulum

As we reflect on the highlights of the 2019 Mobile World Congress, including buzz around 5G, foldables, non-touch devices, robotic holograms and more, we have to wonder about where the mobile device is headed. And, is anyone focused on solving the discovery problem? Over the years, as we’ve become more reliant on our mobile devices, how we use our phones has evolved. As the phone evolves, the pendulum always swings between hardware and software improvements. But while hardware had its day in the sun at Mobile World Congress, it’s time for the software to catch up.

Hardware versus software

Phone manufacturers continue to improve camera capabilities as people keep using their phones to take selfies and capture (and share) memories. Storage continues to increase. Also, screens and resolutions get better to catch up with video consumption. With the advent of unlimited data increasing our daily usage, memory and battery life improve. As 5G approaches, along with it looms the promise of even more reliance on our devices, and we can see that hardware continues to shift to accommodate our evolving demands.

But what about the software? In response to these innovations, software will have to move forward as well. OEMs, carriers and app developers have all fought to add value to the mobile device, which we’ve seen with Siri, Bixby, Alexa and Google. However, it’s time for the next software battle - and at its core, it will be a fight for the smartest phone that actually predicts what you want.

That moment, the “OMG – your smartphone is so smart!” is on the horizon now, but what will it look like and how it will improve the content discovery experience?

More importantly: Making the phone easier versus better

Let’s face it: We’ve probably taken hardware about as far as it can go. Yes, wireless charging and earbuds are great, but beyond that, there’s only so much bigger, smaller, thinner or more foldable you can make a sheet of glass, right? Size and shape can make the phone more convenient, but it’s software that will change the real functionality of a mobile device.

The goal of the most innovative software today is making the phone easier to use. That’s why voice assistants and biometrics are catching on so quickly. They add even more convenience to our favorite devices - they make our smartphones smarter.

And yet, content discovery remains the final frontier. No one seems to have gotten this piece sorted out, all while we’re increasingly using our phones merely to discover interesting content. Today, to get the content one is looking for in idle moments, it may require navigating, loading and engaging with several apps – Facebook for what’s important to friends, Reuters or AP for actual news, and then the NHL or MLB for one’s favorite teams’ sports scores – not to mention our quest for knowing the weather in the next hour or what’s being tweeted. Impossibly, the code for providing that just-right content in those brief in-between moments has yet to be cracked.

The truth is that at the times when people are just looking for something to occupy their minds for a few minutes, they’re not looking for any one app in particular. They are, shall we say, “appnostic.” That means there’s a huge opportunity for an experience that serves personalized content quickly and easily to engage and entertain these consumers when they’re most open to it.

Apple News doesn’t say this about themselves, but that’s really what they’re trying to do – leveraging their hardware AND software control of the device to make it easier to find the content we love. But there’s room for more than one player here. Carriers and OEMs (e.g., the industry stakeholders who hold influence over the software on our devices) should make a play against Apple by offering a better (and hopefully free) experience that serves up high-quality, user-guided content that’s available with a single touch – right at the moment the phone is unlocked or with a simple swipe. That would allow users to get to the content they crave sooner – and give other OEMs (and carriers) an opportunity to build better relationships with their subscribers by delivering something people want, right when they want it. Simple, intuitive content discovery could be exactly the innovation that truly makes one smartphone smarter than all the others.

Smartphones today have a million bells and whistles. Many we want, such as better screen resolution and longer-lived batteries, and many we never thought we’d need, like five cameras on a single phone. But the conundrum of making content discovery easier remains unsolved.

Hopefully, we won’t be waiting until the next Mobile World Congress to find a solution.  

Greg Wester is the chief marketing officer at Mobile Posse and a 20+ year veteran of interactive marketing and advertising. He has held leadership roles in areas spanning the areas of business development, corporate strategy, campaign optimization, research, and advertising sales. Prior to Mobile Posse, Greg was COO at VoodooVox where he led advertising sales and all sales, marketing and PR operating functions.

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