I've been collecting the unique aspects of mobile as a mass medium. The first time I listed them we only had four and its grown since to eight as I write in my latest books. Now we have the ninth, discovered by my dear friend Russell Buckley.
EIGHT UNIQUE ASPECTS
The eight unique aspects are specific to mass media, so these eight are not all the same (or not necessarily unique) in other users, such as mobile as a communication device or a payment method etc. But when compared to 'legacy' mass media like print, cinema, TV, radio and the internet - mobile does have 8 unique aspects, which yield unique benefits - and when these eight are used, radically new and innovative media services can be developed for mobile. The eight are:
Mobile is the first personal mass medium
Mobile is permanently carried
Mobile is always connected
Mobile has a built-in payment mechanism
Mobile offers the most accurate audience measurement
Mobile is available at the creative impulse
Mobile captures the social context of our consumption
and Mobile enables Augmented Reality.
Again, to be clear, these are unique benefits only in the context of mass media. Take Augmented Reality for example - we can do AR on stand-alone goggles like the military do on helmets for fighter pilots. But as a mass medium, mobile is the only one that enables AR practically (ie even if your laptop has a camera, it is inward-facing so its not practical for AR uses).
NINTH IS DIGITAL INTERFACE
So Russell Buckley, ie ex Google, ex Admob, ex Chairman of the Mobile Marketing Association and famed author and blogger got in touch with me and said he feels the digital interface is also a unique aspect to mobile as a mass medium. There are plenty of ways mobile can be used for example to turn 'analog' electrical into one with digital interface - look at magazines with QR codes and AR; look at billboards with Bluetooth and NFC; look at TV and radio with SMS interactivity etc.
Very good. But mobile is actually far more than just a method to bring digital benefits to analog media. We can also use mobile as a kind of 'remote control' to manage things, from the farmers in India who can control their irrigation by SMS, to Lemgo, the town in Germany that has street lights on side streets turned off at night for saving electricity, but when a local resident walks home on the street, they can send an SMS to turn on the lights for the short while that they need light (they are then automatically turned off again after 15 minutet delay). Lemgo has a population of about 42,000 and saves 50,000 Euros annually out of this innovation not to mention unnecessary energy waste of lighting up the town at night.
And you might say, 'but then mobile is a remote control' - actually no. Remote control is only a small part of this digital interface benefit. We can have the digital interface without remote control ability. Take the Audi ad for the R8 racing car, when they had enabled billboards with Bluetooth, to let consumers download the ringing tone of the engine sound (this was before anyone had seen the R8, Audi's first supercar, and they were building the buzz about how awesome it would be). So we are not 'controlling' anything, we are just being able to download some media content - from a printed billboard.
Or even more extreme an example. In the Audi billboard there was Bluetooth on the poster, itself a radio and digital connection. But what of the International School of Toulouse France. They did a kind of school project treasure hunt, via QR codes, hidden in the building. Each QR code had info about a specific item that the students could study and offered info on where to find out more. The QR codes were simply links, and the conversion of that info in the QR code into something a human could read - or a mobile phone could use to get to a web link - was all done on the phone.
Think about the light switch in your home. That light switch allows you to control your home light. That is an interface to your home lights. And then we have the electrical outlet - where you can plug in your electrical gadget. That is an electrical interface, allows you to access the electrical grid. Mobile allows us to create many kinds of interfaces that are all digital (at our end, without necessarily being digital at the other end). So mobile allows us to provide a digital interface to the real world, the 'analog world' so to speak. You want to connect to your dog? That already exists, 'Bowlingual which will listen to your dog barking and translate it into human speak and send you an SMS message. We have a digital interface now to our pets. What of the plants? In Japan Agrihouse offers the sensors into your potted plants that will send you alerts when your plants need to be watered. So we can get digital interfaces also to our plants.
In Copenhagen Denmark if you need to use a public toilet, the doors are unlocked using SMS. On airlines we just learned from the SITA Air Traveller World survey of 2,500 airline passengers on four continents that 33% of us already use mobile check-in. So again, mobile allows us to have a digital interface, in this case to our airline check-in system. Without those airport kiosks, and without any airline person having to type endlessly to their computers at the check-in desk. We can do our check-in on mobile even before we are at the airport - typically on the taxi on the way to the airport for example.
Today the main interfaces to use mobile for this ninth unique benefit are SMS, voice IVR, Bluetooth and QR codes. The new emerging technologies are Augmented Reality and Near Field Communication (NFC). They are not the only ones and no doubt we will find more ways. The two big use cases so far are enhanced media experiences and remote control, but again, we will no doubt find many more. But cool. We now have nine unique abilities of mobile (as a mass media channel). Thank you Russell for discovering this one. (Time to update my slides again..)