At the YPulse Mashup conference in San Francisco this week, a lunchtime discussion about mobile marketing among representatives from Microsoft, Disney, Viz Media and teen cause group YouthNoise provided an inside glance on the mobile of today (think early AOL) and the mobile of tomorrow (kiss your laptop good-bye).Microsoft in particular betrayed an odd preoccupation with size, foretelling the death of the laptop "as we know it" in favor of ever-more-sophisticated smartphones that double as sync-able remotes for big screen TV/computers. (Think revival of Microsoft Media Center.)
So in the future of communications technology, there is no room for middle ground. Portables go into pockets, and at-home interfaces are wall-sized.
But mobile's not quite there yet. Like email use pre-AOL, the market is segmented by carriers that are disinclined to work too closely together, forcing marketers and corporate communicators to choose from limited platform-neutral options.
One major problem keeping mobile in the realms of antiquity is that of carrier division. Diane Dohm of Viz noted that Japanese investors are reluctant to license manga, Japanese animation comic products, for American mobile dissemination because of high carrier royalty usage rates, disorganized infrastructure and the country's refusal to use GSM.
Carriers are also very possessive about consumer data, making it difficult to track business campaigns and gauge the quality of mobile platform communication efforts.
The only type of message that's sure to proliferate any mobile platform is SMS, which is understandably limited. But new offerings such as the iPhone are beginning to "revolutionize" the industry, according to Ginger Thomson of YouthNoise. Suddenly colors are more vivid, and browsing is a slightly less painful endeavor, despite laggage issues and the device's weak battery life.
In part because of the shiny new standard set by the iPhone, a Microsoft representative expressed that use of handsets will slowly phase laptops out of the picture. And as people begin to save more data into "the cloud" -- known to mere mortals as the internet -- instead of on hard drives, there will be less need to tote around a larger device.
One discussion group member pointed out that laptops are made in a specific size to accommodate our conception of the 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper. People need to see their work in context.
Waxing poetic, Microsoft replied, "Why keep structuring PCs around 8.5 x 11? We need to get away from designing the software world like the real world. Mobile is teaching us that."
Consider the aggressive adoption of SaaS options, tailored to remote users, in the past year. Microsoft's vision may not be too far from the truth.
And with broad dissemination of smartphones and major software players like Sun Microsystems leveraging Java for the future of wireless, we don't imagine it will take much time before mobile catches up to the rest of the digital age.
In the meantime, according to Microsoft, carriers need to learn they're providing a utility, not just a service. In the collabo-crazed world of Web 2.0, there is simply no room for a refusal to play nicely with other teams.
(Really. No room.)
For software developers to innovate the mobile mix, the "unique snowflake" attitude upheld by mobile's gatekeepers must go.