Notes from GigaOm’s Mobilize 2011

It’s quite a daunting task to summarize an 11+ hour day of mobile technology conference in a single blog post. Instead, here are some of the ideas and discussion points I found most compelling and relevant to the mobile creative/creator space that is home to us at Isobar.

Uncanny Valley

Olof Schybergson, CEO of design firm Fjord who spoke about smart service design, emphasizing that a smarter app is not always better. Detecting location and sensing things do not infer a better user experience: increasing context awareness while ignoring natural human traits like mood, etiquette, and present mind state – all lead to negative responses. Think of Microsoft Office Clip and how you felt seeing trying to help…

Schybergson also spoke of consumes’ awareness of their new currency – personal information. People are willing to trade that currency, losing privacy, adding distraction – if the benefit is clear. With mobile apps increasingly learning more information about us, it appears we are approaching the point robotics scientists termed ‘The Uncanny Valley’. Apps risk knowing enough to scare people off and not enough to make that knowledge truly useful and meaningful. Slightly context aware apps are more acceptable to users than ones that try too hard. Things naturally get worse with apps that do not share or ask for permission to collect behavior-related data. Avoiding the uncanny valley demands that developer transition from slightly context-aware apps to extremely context-aware without an intermediate step. It is also key to have in advance deep understanding of what users do in detail and how they behave.

100 million users, devices everywhere

Pandora CTO Tom Conrad discussed the challenges facing the company in its 11-year history. 70% of Pandora’s 100 million registered users consume music on mobile devices, with Android devices showing the most drastic growth. Technically, Pandora looks to HTML5, which it transitioned its website to, as a way to simplify the listening experience while increasing social aspects. While not meant to displace Pandora’s native mobile applications, Pandora’s native apps will transition to use more partial HTML5 elements while retaining device-native capabilities.
Pandora discovered that musical-taste influencers are not necessarily part of one’s social graph. They may be a step or two away – not a close friend but someone we occasionally talk to. These musical mentors are now the focus of Pandora’s social integration with Facebook, finding ways to surface their ‘guidance’ to their followers.
A major challenge for the company is to retain the user experience and simplicity of its website and mobile device apps as more and more dedicated devices use Pandora. Blu-Ray DVD players, cars and dedicated Pandora ‘radios’ are coming out and Pandora sees HTML5 as the underlying core for developing their user interface.

Tablets and smartphones by the numbers

Nielsen’s Jonathan Carson presented the measurement company’s mobile and device trend research. Nielsen sees the transition to tablets as profound, changing the way people behave and indeed replacing desktop and laptop computers place in people’s lives. Smartphones are will soon be owned by 50% of mobile subscribers in the US. Android is the clear sales leader – growing significantly to over 50% of devices sold in the last 3 months. Despite the wait for new devices – iPhone 5 or 4s – Apple is still doing extremely well, with new users buying iPhones and iPads to replace their Blackberry devices or feature phones. Within the Android environment, users spend 65% of their time with the 50 top downloaded Android apps. That actual top 50 app list is rapidly changing, week to week.

As a company best know for measuring viewership for primetime television, Nielsen sought to explore user mobile usage behaviors around the clock. Device usage is generally similar during the day to TV consumption, peaking during primetime hours. The content consumed during those hours diverges between tablets and eReader and smartphones. With their larger screens, tablets are the choice device for longform content like books, magazines, TV shows and movies. Tablets appear to replace the laptop as the go-to device while watching television. This state of distraction holds opportunity for more immersion

Also fascinating was the finding that the iPhone is emerging as purely app device. On the other hand, the iPad is significantly more of web device – with Facebook taking much of the traffic. Consumers use the iPad at home, at night while the iPhone is the go-to device during the daytime.

The future of payments and NFC

Two sessions – one with with payment startup Square’s COO Keith Rabois, the other – titled “Mobile Payments 2012: Will This Be the Year?” explored the future of the payment industry in the US. Rabois said Square was emphasizing the user and merchant experience, democratizing the ability to process payments using existing means. With a device augmenting iPhones and iPads, Square is not a big believer in the need for NFC: “Credit card transactions are part of embedded consumer behavior. NFC It’s a technology in search of application.”

The mobile payment panel that followed had representatives of PayPal, Visa, Intuit and payment device maker Verifone. Visa’s Brad Greene had the most interesting statement, declaring Visa’s powerful backing NFC payment technology. Visa will be taking a carrot and stick approach: the company will subsidize NFC-enabled payment systems to merchants, hoping to increase their share from currently paltry 2% of systems. By 2015, merchants who did not move to NFC will have to take on the liability for fraud, presently assumed by Visa. Verifone’s Dave Talach also shared a positive outlook on NFC, saying that the payment experience never evolved away from paper, expressing a belief the NFC experience will be easy for consumers to understand. PayPal’s Laura Chambers expressed skepticism, in line with her company’s cautious approach to the technology. All panelists felt the transition to NFC will require at least 2-3 years.