The mobile phone market is one of the most exciting tech segments to watch due to the rapid rate of change. The devices themselves are evolving to new heights, and the ways in which they are used are changing. However, with change, comes resistance: Washington is currently debating policies that could have major repercussions for the industry. Here are seven notable changes to the mobile industry from the past six months.
Arguably the most significant development over the past six months, Google is throwing all its weight behind making the mobile wallet happen in the U.S. -- this is a trend that has been around in Asia (particularly Japan) for years. The bottleneck preventing the trend from taking off here has been a "chicken and the egg" scenario: Phones didn't have the NFC chip built in, and POS systems don't support it. Google's new Wallet service is aiming to tackle both at the same time; it is a major investment for Google and involves partnerships with numerous companies, allowing Google to close the loop on ads. Link: Google Wallet.
Mobile tries to do it all
The Motorola Atrix marks the first of the smartphones to act as an "uber device," reducing the need of other hardware from "systems" to "inputs and outputs." The phone itself is just a high-end Android handset -- it is the accessories that make the phone special. From a laptop shell allowing the phone to act as a netbook, to an HDMI dock turning the phone into a quasi-settop box, the accessories allow the phone to take center stage. This device is the first of (likely) many that attempt this. Link: Atrix flash demo.
The cloud ties it together
Apple's iOS has finally enabled cloud syncing and updates for its devices. Now both iOS and Android devices sync centrally with the cloud (though, arguably, the recent iOS implementation is more thorough) allowing for multi-device use. iOS also has AirPlay, which allows one device to stream content wirelessly to another. Like with the Atrix above, the goal with cloud syncing is a seamless experience across devices. Links: iCloud and AirPlay.
AT&T buying T-Mobile
AT&T is in the process of trying to buy T-mobile for $39 billion. The deal will ultimately require a green light from the FTC and, considering the degree to which it could reduce competition, might not pass. In part AT&T claims the purchase is necessary to acquire enough spectrum to support a 4G LTE roll-out, but the argument isn't that solid on closer inspection. If successful, this will dramatically reshape the mobile landscape in the U.S. Links: announcement and Spectrum shortage analyzed.
Speaking of LTE, Verizon's been living up to its "best network" marketing with the launch of its LTE network and the phones that can finally use it. Unfortunately, all the other carriers jumped on the "4G" marketing bandwagon (even when not entirely true), leaving consumers a bit confused. Verizon's network boasts speeds several times faster than competitors and on par with high-end DSL service. Unfortunately, Verizon's bandwidth caps for the service are set competitively with 3G, which led one early reviewer to note that at his max speed on the network, he'd have hit the monthly cap in under a half an hour. Still, the service is expanding, and faster speeds nationwide are certainly a welcome thing. Link: Verizon current and planned LTE markets.
Don't track me, bro
Over the past year, the U.S. legislative bodies have been giving a lot of lip service to the notion of a bill designed around consumer privacy in a digital age. One of the controversial topics within these discussions is the potential for a "do not track" clause. Beyond the technical difficulties to execute this, it also has major implications to the ad-centric business models of the web. With the recent stories revealing how both the iPhone and Android phones track user location, mobile has landed squarely in the cross-hairs. Depending on how this legislation plays out, it could really hurt the growth of the mobile advertising sector. Link: Mobile Marketer on latest Rockerfeller bill.
This month marks the launch of the HTC Evo 3D -- a smartphone that employs a glasses-free 3D screen, just like in the Nintendo 3DS. Though the 3D hype has decreased since last year, the technology investments will continue to play out. If the HTC Evo 3D sells well, these screens are going to be appearing on a lot more devices. Link: HTC Evo 3D.
Josh Lovison is a digital strategy consultant.
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