Remote Control

For the second consecutive year, I have researched and written the Netsize Guide, a mobile industry almanac that draws from news, reports, and exclusive interviews to document the ongoing impact of mobile on industry sectors ranging from content to commerce. This year, while working on the book (published by Netsize, a French mobile communications and commerce enabler), I noticed increased interest among the 35 senior executives in making content truly interactive. Only now, the focus is on moving beyond the mere convergence of platforms and devices (mobile, internet, TV, print) to creating content experiences that transcend the barriers that separate the virtual (digital) and physical worlds.

The mobile phone, a personal device we have on us at all times, has gained a new importance at this intersection. As Alan Moore, author and independent consultant, points out, "We are inevitably moving towards the Mobile Society, where our mobile devices become the remote control of our daily lives." (The quote, which I chose to open the Guide with, comes from Moore’s November 2008 white paper, "The Glittering Allure of the Mobile Society.")

While it may sound futuristic, we know from examples in Japan and South Korea that this future is now. In fact, this new interactive world is the topic of Personal, Portable, Pedestrian, a milestone book from 2005 with views on how mobile and digital media are changing relationships, identities, and communities that are now more pertinent than ever. In the book, Mizuko Ito, co-author and cultural anthropologist, explores these observations, providing an essential read for the content companies that need to adapt to an audience of digital natives who have grown up with the internet.

In this work, Ito and her colleagues outline the pivotal importance of the mobile phone based on the fact that it is personal (we customize and personalize mobile devices and consider them an extension of our personal identities), portable (even the Japanese name for mobile, keitai, which roughly translates to "something you carry with you," stresses the relation between the user and the device and not between the technology and its function), and pedestrian (because it is portable it’s a perfect fit with life as it happens and with activities that require partial or sporadic attention).

Indeed, almost 5 years since the book’s publication, we find mobile devices brimming with features and functionality, including a personal navigation system, a bar code scanner, a camera, a radio, a walkie-talkie, a TV, an electronic programming guide, a remote control, a digital music player, a photo album, and more. This allows us to live, work, and play in a new state of hyperconnectedness. We no longer alert others to when we are online; that’s our new default state.

So what is the impact of our always-on existence on industries that rely on the web for communications, business growth, and interactive marketing? In a word: profound.

A prime example is the proliferation of pilots and projects that harness mobile to hyperlink images and items, enabling consumers to access information, make purchases, or just browse the web for similar cool content by simply snapping a picture using their camera phones.

Against this backdrop, visual search providers are gaining new popularity in providing the technology glue that holds this all together. One company to watch is SnapNow, a U.S.-based company employing image-recognition technology to allow any consumer with a camera phone to snap an image, send it via MMS or email, and receive a response that links to a relevant webpage and any number of options, including call-to-action, comparative-pricing information, or the chance to enter a contest. As Tony Keaveny, head of sales for SnapNow U.K., put it in an interview, "Your phone becomes your mouse and the world around us becomes the web. It’s about transforming print, packaging, video, outdoor, or just about any other advertising into a portal enabling communication and—more importantly—commerce."

SnapNow’s growing client base ranges from Woman’s Day to Manchester United (a British soccer team) to Madonna, allowing them to "snap-enable" their content. The company’s patented technology, which literally turns any image into a URL, allows content companies to engage with consumers using their existing content. In the case of Madonna, SnapNow "snap-enabled" a music video, making every frame interactive and allowing consumers (who capture an image from it on their camera phones) to access consumer content related to the music video on the mobile phones.

Mobile devices have insinuated themselves into all aspects of our lives. Savvy publishers will leverage this near-omnipresence to deliver interactivity and interaction that increases the density of this mobile web of interconnectivity.