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Are We Really Addicted to Mobile Phones?

The short answer is “Yes, we are.”   Very much so.

In many speaking roles that I have had over the past year, I like to use the slide illustrated to the right.  The reason that I use this (and I have to acknowledge that I got the slide from renowned mobilist, author, and speaker Tomi Ahonen) is that our part of the industry counts on subscribers being heavy users of the services that we support and influence:  messaging, mobile data, and soonMobile as Addictive As Smoking mobile commerce.  This also illustrates that mobile devices are becoming increasingly extensions of ourselves – it is now more than a communications tool – it is portable office, organizer, and entertainment devices (music, video player, gaming device), among other things.

If you think people are not emotionally addicted, simply watch them at an airport.  Standing in the security line, recently, I would estimate that 4 out 5, if not more, were engaged with their mobile devices in one way or another – either through a voice conversation or with IM/email/texting typing actions .  Actually at least three-quarters of them were manually interacting with their mobile and not speaking.  Also, look at what people do, as soon as it is permissible to, after a plane lands.  Turn on their mobile and review messages/email/voice mail.    Like a smoker, they want that first mobile “fix” as soon as it is permissible.

While today, this mobile interaction is primarily communications:  messaging, email, voice, and increasingly video, there are many of us in the industry that would like to further this dependence on the mobile device – by making it the go-to payment mechanism.   In the last year or two, we’ve all heard about the promise of mobile payments – but that is certainly not ubiquitous.  But, I predict, that well before the end of this decade, our mobile devices will be the primary payment mechanism that we have and they will be significantly more secure than any payment mechanism that we utilize today. 

Because many markets are consumer-driven, end-users will flock toward the solution where the players enable them to pay for goods and services in the easiest, most secure method—regardless of technology. Many think that NFC will be the prevailing mechanism. Others think it will be something else. Today, the most popular payment methods are still cash, credit or debit card. The mobile payment option exists only for a few services and goods (such as Starbucks, for example) and on limited platforms. Google and Apple claim that their platforms will ultimately support mPayment capabilities—either through a mobile wallet or NFC.

Mobile payment adoption will also have regional aspects. Gartner noted that the Asia-Pacific region should have 63 million mobile payment users by the end of 2010. This clearly puts Asia as the worldwide leader in mobile payments. Gartner notes that much of this growth is driven by the “unbanked” or “under-banked.” In many areas, SMS-based mobile payment solutions are still the predominant technology. NFC and other smartphone technologies do not have the financial backing and infrastructure needed to gain a foothold in developing markets compared to more highly developed markets, where point-of-sale terminals and equipment could be easier for retailers to upgrade and support.

But will adding payment capabilities to our devices  in some form or another: NFC, SMS, mobile wallet, linked to bank accounts or lines of credit be all there is in addition to entertainment, business and communications?  Not by a long shot.

The industry is just now lining up to engage subscribers as consumers – in the next decade you will see a plethora of new consumer engagement schemes and services such as couponing, outreach, discounts, targeted advertising and much more.   And it will behoove the consumer to participate if at all possible, as I think they will benefit.   After, much of the world is consumer-driven and merchants all want us to buy from them.  The mobile is and moreso will be the primary means for those merchants and enterprises to reach the consumer.

So while you just think we are addicted today, just watch and wait… this may be an addiction that becomes a necessity.  But fear not,  it is not a bad thing.

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Mobile as Addictive As Smoking
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