The Two Sides of Mobile’s Present Value

While working on a slide deck earlier today for the upcoming Biola Digital Minsitry Conference, I wandered over to my friend Tomi Ahonen’s blog Communities Dominate Brands. There, I wanted to pull some metrics for the presentation, as well as get caught up on some of the later writings. Of note, the latest one talked a bit in a different tone than some others, where Tomi pointed to the future of mobile as it continues to disrupt various industries and your/our response to it as time marches forward. Insightful as always, I came away with the thought that I’ve had in times prior once I finished reading it: mobile is the present, the future is…

Given the types of uses that mobile has fostered, and number of people exposed to moblile on some level (over 2/3 of the world’s entire population), one should probably argue similar to myself, mobile is no longer something that you think about for the future, you act on it as it is the present. That doesn’t mean that its the only thing, nor even in all cases that its the primary thing. But, you do consider it no more as something that’s coming but as something that is here and is continuing to disrupt various assumed realities of how we live, work, and play.

My perspective is quite unique though. Since, I first acquired a PDA, my activity filter has been quite mobile. In fact, its such that I can’t even go into many stores these days without thinking and seeing opportunities for mobile to transform aome aspect of the experience either for myself or those running the establishmnet. Its a near obsession at times, and dutifully provokes me to think way outside of my preferences more often than not.

Now, to the title of this piece. The value of mobile and why it has two sides. My analogy is simple, I see and record mobile as being much like a sword with two edges. One edge is sharp, the other is dull. But, in the hands of one who knows what they are doing, both sides are equally profitable. In this analogy, I would present that mobile, at least how mobile should be valued, has two sides – opposed to one another, but also working alongside one another to create this disruption that we’ve been seeing over the past 20+ years.

The first side of mobile’s value lies in time wasted. Well, perhaps the word ‘wasted’ is the wrong way of looking at things, but this site is all about raw thoughts so I’ll go with it. Interest, or sustainability, of mobile efforts can be measured in terms of how often, how long, or how compelling a device or service endears you to spend time heads-down on your mobile. If you will, the more that you are on it, the more those companies that offer those heads-down moments have to gain.

So here, you’ve got folks trying to put as many ads within your apps/on your standby screen, etc. You’ve got game developers. You’ve got media publications who gain revenue not just by how much content you consume, but how long you are in their portals consuming it (here’s the genius of in-app purchases). If you will, how long can this mobile experience keep your attention – regardless of whatever else you have going on outside of that 2.2 – 5in screen?

The second side of mobile is the opposite – time gained. Defined simply as whatever it is that mobile does to put time back into your life. So here, we have those applications or services that automate comms responses based on calendar/location settings, accessories that protect or enhance the device (cases extended batteries, docks, etc.), and infrastructure elements which forward reliability (3G vs 2G, LTE when voice is added in, proxy-based browsers which are faster and use less data, etc.).

There’s also the aspect here of what mobile does that adds time to you life beyond the mobile device or channel itself. For instancce, a SMS service that a woman can use to report rape anonomously or get pregancy information/guidance adds to life. A mobile payments system that is usable w/o unlocking the device then launching the app adds time by decreasing the friction between thought and purchase. A device that has the ability to transform based on where its docked (projector, keyboard, tablet) like the Asus PadPhone is likely to add time (not considering the expense) because creating, editing, or collaboration doesn’t have to be limited to “when I get in a place with the right device,” but that place can be created by what appends to the mobile physically. Simply being able to ignore a call with a flip of the mobile, and then an SMS is sent when you do that says you are not able to take the call adds time to interpersonal moments (and manners). These and I’m sure you have many others are ways in which mobile can add time to you.

But both these aren’t the future of mobile. They are its very present. And everyone who subscribes to any instance of mobile has to grapple with this push and pull of the value chain. If you will the equation might look something like this:

If mobile = high value, then (perception of) time wasted < time gained
If mobile = low value, then (perception of) time wasted is <= time gained
If mobile = no value, then (perception of) time wasted < time gained

And we can be sure of this formula because each decision around mobile has this component:

  • Yes, the cost of the device is low, but how much is the service cost for the contract duration
  • Yes, this is the top/mid/bottom of the line, but is there a history of support/upgrades, and what’s the brand’s resale potential
  • Yes, I can sign up for this service, but is there an opt out, what are my privacy controls, what can’t I control?

If the time to justify the ‘yes’ outweighs what you know or don’t know, then its a good chance that you are easily able to figure out that high/low/no value aspect of mobile. And when you do, its not so much a “when this advance happens then the value will work out for me,” but “can I deal with part of my value met now until something else that I may or may not control comes to pass?”

Mobile is the present. And as such, you’ve got to ask yourself how its valuing the time you have now. You can’t pine for mobile in the future, because today you’ll never get back. What does it do for you now? If it is a waste or drain, then you might want to check your value priorities.

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