Don't Treat Smartphones Like 'Little PCs'

Why? Because Mobile Apps Have Way More Potential Than the Web

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Mobile hype has reached a feverish level. There appear to be two poles: "You have to do mobile!" and "Mobile is just a fad." But smartphones are certainly no fad. Forrester forecasts 100 million smartphones in the U.S. by the end of 2011; worldwide Google activates 400,000 Android devices a day.

What's different here for marketers is not just mobile devices, but the context-based experiences they deliver -- as described in Forrester analyst Julie Ask's just-released report "The Future Of Mobile Is User Context."

Too many apps built today treat the smartphone as a little PC. That's the wrong way to think about it. Mobile experiences make up for their interface limitations with knowledge. When a phone knows where you are, what you're doing, your identity and history, and even potentially your attitudes -- based on what you've done in the past year and the past five minutes -- it can help predict and deliver what you want right now. This is the context that makes mobile devices more intimate and completely different from traditional web experiences.

Jump ahead a few years. Based on our interviews with device manufacturers, it has come clear that what's in today's iPhone or Android phone -- GPS, accelerometers and compasses to detect orientation, high-res displays -- will be in everybody's phones very soon. The advanced phones will know if you're indoors, what other connected devices are nearby, and (with dual cameras now coming) what your surroundings are like in three dimensions. Combined with interface improvements based on voice and gesture, these advances will make smart mobile devices even smarter about what you want -- a development marketers must anticipate.

Rather than chase this technology, marketers should build a roadmap to integrate with it in four stages.

1. Master the basics. Half the companies we interviewed for the report haven't gotten beyond the "help you find the nearest store" type apps. If you've got products or services to deliver, build up the data around those items to make it easier to deliver them based on context.

2. Layer in intelligence. Use data and context to create more engaging experiences, like reminding you when a flight is late and suggesting things to do while you wait.

3. Break from PC contexts. Create experiences that are distinctly un-Weblike, based on knowledge of who the customer is , her history, and her complete context (like who else is with her right now).

4. Embrace motion as a control mechanism. The most engaging apps right now respond to actions like shaking and bumping phones. What's the appropriate action for your customer?

Where you are on this path depends on your company. If you're competing by differentiating, have retail locations, or work in mobile-forward industries like gaming and media, you must move aggressively to deliver these new levels of mobile experience -- your customers will demand it, and your competitors are already working to deliver it. If you compete based on cost in a slower-moving industry like insurance or business services, start with stage 1 and know where you're headed. Focus on your consumers' pain points and behavior, not just on what information you can fling into a mobile app. But failing to get on this path -- or failing to notice it at all -- is a big mistakes right now. Mobile is the future of interactivity -- you'd better prepare for the future of mobile.

Josh Bernoff is senior vice president, idea development, at Forrester Research and the co-author of "Empowered: Unleash Your Employees, Energize Your Customers, and Transform Your Business," a management book that teaches you how to transform your business by empowering employees to solve customer problems. He blogs at
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