Talk About a Smart Phone

As spatial boundaries and modes of communication converge, disruptive new technologies emerge to give people the experience of being connected with content from anywhere. But ubiquitous access is no longer just about seamless content portability; it's about empowering individuals to access content on their terms and across devices. Granted, the connected content experience has generated more than its share of column inches, but the vision of facilitating a kind of seamless media experience that flows like oxygen across different devices and locations is closer to reality than we think.

Handset makers have introduced sophisticated mobile phones that allow users to capture videos or photos and publish them to the web with a single click. Software vendors have developed the digital glue that enables users to experience content across a range of devices and platforms. Mobile network operators offer services that provide users access to a mix of premium or homemade content anywhere, anytime.

Indeed, the pieces of a converged content experience have been around for years, but now the industry has established an entry point: the mobile phone. No other device is as privy to individual consumer data. A PC or a set-top box can be used by many members of a household, but a mobile phone is inextricably linked to its owner. What's more, advances in technologies and techniques—including search, recommendation engines, and dynamic personalization—mean mobile devices not only expertly gather data, but also leverage it to predict content preferences. And through connectivity mobile devices can collect similar information stored in PCs, set-top boxes, and more.

For the vast majority of consumers, the mobile phone sits squarely at the center of the content experience, where it collects: detailed personal profiles (based on demographic information contained in billing records); content preferences (as indicated by consumers' click patterns and purchases); interests and passions (deduced from mobile search queries and thumbs-up/thumbs-down ratings); and location (enabled by GPS).

The power of personal mobility and its pivotal role in a converged content experience is perhaps best illustrated by a path-breaking prototype service developed by Motorola. The service, code-named MediaNET, empowers consumers to create and consume content across devices and platforms. In the demo I saw at Motorola's Innovation Day in Paris, the entry point was a mobile phone equipped with SCREEN3, a Motorola software client that collects clues users leave on their mobile phone in order to better understand and recommend content that users are likely to want.

In the demo, users explore a brave new world of converged content. Imagine a consumer named Ashley exiting a plane. She turns on her phone and sees a breaking news alert. She clicks to read more, sending a signal to MediaNET that she finds this information interesting. Ashley gets home and turns on the TV, at which point MediaNET checks for associations between the content and the device and then decides to deliver a news network program reporting the breaking news on the TV. As Ashley moves around the home, MediaNET uses what it knows about her and her interests to consistently match the device and the content, delivering a news site to the PC, an audio feed to the radio, and so on. To date Motorola is in discussions with a variety of companies, including network operators and content companies, eager to lay the groundwork for a seamless and connected content experience.

MediaNET does more than orchestrate the flow of content to the consumer; it presents the content industry with a viable business model that abides by the dictates of digital rights management (DRM). Because MediaNET only points users to where the content resides—without actually delivering the content—it easily overcomes the DRM hurdles that have stalled so many other media delivery ventures. MediaNET also overcomes interoperability problems because it does not shoehorn content onto the mobile device. Instead, it enables content to be delivered on the device and in its original format as part of a seamless content experience.

As Fred Kitson, VP of applications research at Motorola Labs, says, "It's all about combining content and communications to put people in charge of their experiences." It's also about customizing that content experience so it's tailored to the individual. Such advances make consumers masters of their own content destiny, and the advance of projects like MediaNET bring us one quantum step closer to the day when the right content can be delivered right away to the right device in the right format.