Will Mobile Disappoint Yet Again In 2008?

It's the second day of the year and it seems almost everyone is finalizing their schedules for CES next week. Filling the news void, bloggers are busy rehashing the big news from last year and pontificating on the new year. So, I decided to add my own thoughts to the mix. What does mobile promise in 2008?

Stephen Wellman, Contributor

January 2, 2008

7 Min Read

It's the second day of the year and it seems almost everyone is finalizing their schedules for CES next week. Filling the news void, bloggers are busy rehashing the big news from last year and pontificating on the new year. So, I decided to add my own thoughts to the mix. What does mobile promise in 2008?Before I tear into my top six predictions for 2008, I want to say that 2007 was honestly the most exciting year in wireless that I have seen in my time as a telecom journalist and blogger. The innovations and game-changing announcements just didn't stop, from the early iPhone rumors in January to Google's Android to Verizon's decision to embrace LTE in November, it seemed as if all the long-time rules of wireless fell to the wayside.

I think 2008, however, will be a less exciting year. This will be the year the market struggles to make all of 2007's innovation work. And while there will be more big disruptions to come, I think 2009, not 2008, will be the break-out year that everyone has been waiting for. That doesn't mean 2008 won't be exciting -- it will be -- it just won't be as exciting as many of us want it to be.

Now, here are my predictions for 2008.

6. Advertisers rush to the third screen, but don't know how to use it.

I think 2008 will be the year many advertisers try to get deeper with mobile. I expect lots of agencies to experiment and I predict lots of traditional big-name brands will try bigger, broader, and deeper campaigns. 2007 was the year of mobile ad experimentation, but 2008 will be the year of serious ad buys.

Google's continued push into mobile -- especially with mobile search -- will be one of the catalysts for this. But, no one seems to know what the metrics are for a successful mobile ad campaign. At least yet. I've seen numbers all over the map. And I have seen ad formats all over the map, too. Given how precious screen space is on the third screen, I have a hard time believing that banner ads will have a long shelf life on mobile devices. I also don't think that SMS-based campaigns are going to fly in the long run until carriers make SMS a standard, free part of wireless service, and even then, it's going to have to become less obtrusive. Right now, most SMS ads are even more annoying than e-mail spam, and that's saying something.

As online advertising shifts to an engagement model and away from old-school interruption, the question of how to extend the engagement to mobile in a meaningful way will cloud the market. I don't think 2008 is the year we will answer this question.

5. WiMax, RIP.

I am going to go out on a limb on this one and predict that WiMax -- let me qualify this and say the mobile flavor of WiMax -- may die in 2008. Sprint, traditionally the big WiMax backer, pulled back its commitment to WiMax last year. Right now Sprint can be described as lukewarm about the technology.

Let's face it, if no major wireless carrier backs mobile WiMax, the technology will not survive. And right now, I don't see any champions out there that can lead WiMax to long-term success, unless Sprint regains its enthusiasm or Google decides to back some WiMax upstart. This could be especially ironic as WiMax's traditional selling point was that it was an open technology. Just as the market opens up, the open wireless network technology could flounder.

4. Carriers struggle to learn the definition of "open."

It's time for a good, old-fashioned semantic sandbox throw down as the wireless carriers, the world of the desktop Web, and the blogosphere get ready to rumble over the definition of "open." Some industry insiders have gone so far to claim that the move by Verizon Wireless and others to open their networks is little more than an empty PR gesture. I won't go that far, but I will say that I think the carriers have a different idea of open than the folks in the desktop Web world and I think we're going to see more tension over this definition this year.

Google in particular will continue to stamp its feet at the carriers, but the carriers will drag their feet. They'll make progress, but don't count on the service providers to run at breakneck speed, either. It's not certain to me that the carriers have figured out yet how to re-adjust their business models for a more open market. Trust me, they'll take their sweet time opening their networks all the way up until they find their answer.

3. The iPhone continues to disrupt the market.

The it smartphone of 2008 will likely be the same as the it smartphone of 2007, Apple's iPhone. We're well into a year of the iPhone as concept and over six months into its reality as a device and enthusiasm for the iPhone only seems to grow.

While we've seen a number of successful iPhone clones, including HTC's Touch, none of them has captured the public's imagination. There was hope that RIM's newest BlackBerry, the 9000, might copy the iPhone with a cool touch screen interface, but right now that looks unlikely and the much-anticipated 9000 looks like a simple upgrade to the Curve.

I think Nokia will have a few tricks up its sleeve this year, but I still think the new, upcoming 3G Apple iPhone will be the smartphone of 2008. I also expect Apple to introduce some more key innovations on the newest iPhone that will keep the established handset makers frustrated as they scramble to catch up.

2. Google makes lots of sound, but achieves less than expected.

Google could be in for a rough year in 2008. The company is betting the farm on mobility, but it may not achieve that much success this year. While Google will likely participate in the spectrum auction, it's not clear what the search company will do with it. Yes, Google will continue to push for more openness from the carriers, but the carriers will drag their feet, frustrating Google as well as Google's investors, who are anxious for Google to show the next big thing.

I think Google will meet success with many of its new applications, but will the company see any real profit from them? If not, watch Wall Street and Google's investors begin to lose interest in Google's mobile ambitions.

Google's foray into the mobile OS market, Android, also could hit some snags this year. I expect Google to quickly learn the definition of device fragmentation in a few months as Android applications and handsets get closer to market. Google has its work cut out for it and I don't expect the company to achieve much in the next 12 months. We'll see a few new cool devices and lots of (beta) applications, but the applications also will be available on other phones, so I'm not sure if Android phones will have much appeal with consumers.

Google is trying to do too much in mobile at once. It may pull it all off, but I have to think that some of these experiments will flop.

1. Location, location, location: Users can't get enough of GPS and location services.

Alright, I'll admit it, I am bullish on GPS and location-based services. And for good reason. Consumers and business users want GPS and location on their smartphones more than all other features, including touch screens.

I think location and GPS are the breakout features that will allow the mobile Web to evolve from the disappointing offspring of the desktop into something cool that adds real value. I expect to see lots of interest from both consumers and businesses, especially as the number of GPS-enabled smartphones grows this year. I also think you can look for vertically specific location applications this year, from business-specific vertical apps to things like social networking sites that also use GPS in their mobile versions.

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