Locative Lab

researching locative media

2007 Predictions


As Russell promised, here are my predictions for 2007 following my stellar performance
last year. You get all ten of mine in one go, though. Be sure to add
your own predictions, or link to them elsewhere, in the comments.

1. Lots of mobile TV hype, but little in the way of actual success.

CES saw some high-profile mobile TV from US operators and providers,
and the news of launches will continue around the world this year.
However, the actual results won’t match the hype, particularly in the
US. Long-form content on a set schedule doesn’t match up to the mobile
lifestyle. Consumers are already moving away from set TV schedules in
their homes, thanks to DVRs, online video and downloading, so why would
they accept it on their mobile device? Obviously there are some
exceptions to this, such as live sports, but for the most part, it
doesn’t seem to fit. Think about casual games: they offer users short,
self-contained experiences that fit into brief periods of downtime
during the day. Having a few free moments and tuning in halfway through
a TV show and watching five minutes of it doesn’t provide the same
experience.

2. Widgetization

There have been plenty of widget-style platforms for mobile already,
but 2007 will see them take off as web content providers look for ways
to offer easy access to their content and services, while users demand
it. This, of course, will be followed by the widespread problem of
widget incompatibility, since, of course, nothing can be easy in mobile.

3. Mobile data services for automobiles will take off.

For some time, automakers have been toying with building mobile data
connections into cars — for instance, I remember seeing a BMW at CeBIT
a few years back that could get traffic data and other info. But 2007
will see these services blow up. Already in the US, Ford and Microsoft are working on integrating mobile phones and cars, the Dash mobile-connected GPS announced a deal with Yahoo for local content, and satellite radio companies XM and Sirius
are beefing up their data offerings. Adding data into GPS navigation
units is a natural progression, and this year will see a lot of mobile
data efforts targeted at cars.

4. Mobile social networking doesn’t do much, but the action’s in mobile social media.

Big social-networking sites like Facebook continue to announce mobile features,
but most of them seem to be focused on sending as many messages as
possible to mobile users, which isn’t all that compelling. That, or
they go the MySpace route and go after operator-exclusive deals — is it
just me, or are deals that limit who can use your services a little
antithetical to building social networks? Anyhow, all these moves by
the big companies seem to ignore the fact that mobile phones are
intrinsically social-networking tools, and their services should be
made to fit mobile, not the other way around. In any case, I’m not
convinced that people necessarily want or need access to their MySpace
account from their phone; they’re more interested in sharing their
experiences, and the media they make from them, particularly to other
mobile devices. So watch for media sharing apps and services to thrive
this year, while big-name social-networking stutters on mobile.

5. Full-track music downloads over mobile will largely fail,
leading operators and content providers to finally realize there are
other aspects to mobile music.

It’s not hard to understand why users avoid most mobile music
stores: they’re overpriced and unappealing. That doesn’t look like it’s
going to change anytime soon, really, but operators will this year
begin broadening their music offerings on a larger scale. They’ll
embrace podcasts (though they’ll probably find another name for it),
streaming audio and other types of music services. Whether they’ll be
overpriced and unappealing remains another matter.

6. Mobile search will continue to run in place.

Mobile search, mobile search, mobile search. So many people agree
it’s going to be huge, but nobody seems to agree on what it really is.
Operators think it’s just a way for users to more easily find content
they can buy; search engines tend to focus on pointing you to the
nearest pizza parlor; companies like 4INFO focus on delivering snippets
of information. I think all the apparent interest in mobile search is
little more than a manifestation of the poor usability of so much of
the mobile web. People try to find information, services or content
they want, but get stymied by one obstacle or another. This turns into
a “wouldn’t it be great if… you could just type in what you wanted on
your phone, and something would send you there?” thought — but I’m not
sure that necessarily would be so great. It’s almost as search becomes
an excuse to develop crappy sites and services — after all, why bother
making something easy to use if Google mobile will take users exactly
to what they need? Search is one way to get people to content, but it’s
not always the best way — and I think that’s definitely the case on
mobile.

7. More flat-rate data — and hopefully affordable flat-rate data — in Europe.

3’s X-Series will show that affordable, easy-to-understand pricing
coupled with attractive services leads to success in mobile data. More
and more European operators will begin to realize this in 2007, and
abandon their shocking, stupid and incomprehensible data charges.

8. VoWi-Fi’s real impact will be limited to some pricing pressure on certain types of calls.

Sure, there will be more WiFi hotspots built in 2007, and more
cities will build out hotzones and muni Wi-Fi deployments. But that’s
going to be matched by a realization of the flaws of many of these
networks, and further proof that they’re far, far away from being
anywhere near capable of replacing cellular networks for voice service.
There will certainly be more fixed-mobile convergence launches that
make use of Wi-Fi, but standalone VoWi-Fi services will continue to
have only niche attraction. The biggest reason for this is they’re, for
the most part, price plays that are useful to a relatively small chunk
of users (those that make international calls, or travel outside their
home country frequently). When the price operators charge for those
calls drops (as it will, due mainly to EU roaming-rate intervention,
but also because of market pressure), the need for many of these mobile
VoIP services will dry up. Those that will be left standing will be the
ones for which price is just an additional benefit to the rest of their
services, not the central one.

9. There will be plenty of launches of WiMAX networks and others
based on non-traditional or new mobile broadband technologies, but
their largest impact will be felt by fixed-line broadband providers.

2007 will be a bit early for WiMAX or other new mobile broadband
technologies to take a bite out of existing mobile operators. There
will be uptake in fixed-line replacement markets, and in existing
markets where these wireless networks represent the only available
means of broadband, but as far as handset-based services for the mass
market, let’s check back in 2008.

10. Mobile payments will struggle in the west, but they’ll be supplanted by other RFID applications in handsets.

There’s little reason for mobile payments to take off in the west,
particularly in the US where operators will make somebody — payment
processors, banks, merchants, perhaps even consumers — pay for them.
Plenty of convenient payment methods exist, primarily credit and debit
cards, and replacing them with a contactless payment from a mobile
phone offers only marginal benefits. I’ve used one of MasterCard’s
PayPass RFID key fobs, and I’m hard pressed to find it any better than
swiping my credit card at a POS reader. However, payments aren’t the
only contactless transaction application out there. For instance, the
Oyster cards in use on public transport in London use RFID,
highlighting one area where contactless technology could come into
widespread use. These types of applications, not mobile payments, will
what makes contactless transactions take off in the west.

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About

Cityscape LocativeLab.org is Ronald Lenz's research website on locative & mobile media. This is mostly an archive of blogposts I find inspiring and interesting and an overview of my work. I'm a strategist, technologist and researcher in the field of Location-Based Mobile Services and work at Waag Society, a medialab in Amsterdam, The Netherlands where I head the Locative Media research program and at 7scenes, a platform for GPS games and tours as creative director. Picture 4 Find me at Twitter, LinkedIn or via ronald [at] waag [dot] org.

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