Mobile Demystified at untether.talks

Nicholle McGill reports out on mobile’s next steps

Mobile. Image by Kevin Harber, Flickr. Illustration by Jeff Stevens.“Mobile” is the buzzword of the day — and the topic of choice at the inaugural untether.talks conference, held June 26 and 27 in Toronto.

The two-day brainchild of Canadians Rob Woodbridge, mobile advocate and founder of, and Douglas Solytys, was strong on well-honed provocative speakers. Attendees were afforded the opportunity to talk speakers who included Amber Mac, whurley, Doug Stephens, and Asif Khan.

For those who didn’t attend, there are e-rumours of a second untether-talks taking place in the fall of 2012.

My top ten takeaways:

1. “Mobile is not an industry; it is a pervasive technology.” (repeat)

This drives home the disruption that mobile technologies will continue to cause in the near future, quite possible taking over a few industries (see points seven to nine).

If the Web 1.0 revolution (c. 1998 – 2004) was about establishing an online global village, and Web 2.0 (2005 to present) was the wired village going social, the next disruption (Web 3.0 or Mobile 3.0) will be the untethering of the Web – rather than being an other you connect into, the Web will be ubiquitous, following you everywhere.

Disquieting, yet very cool.

2. Search is dying

Forget about search. Search is dead. Google is no longer your home page, thanks to mobile.
Mobile users don’t use search to the degree of their Web counterparts and content within mobile apps is not searchable.

“Find” is the new “search”. How does this work?

In a “find” world, opined CEO Damien Patton, you will speak to your device and it will push you or send you the answer. The “system” will know what you want due to your (already well-known) social graph.

3. Location, location, location

As Asif Khan, Location Based Marketing Association Founder and Canadian flag-waver, pointed out: “When it comes to location, we are in the first half of the first period of the hockey game.”

Translation: lots of play is still to be had. (True of mobile, in general)

When we think about location, we have to think beyond foursquare, the gamification location app where fans “check-in” to cool bars and restaurants in the hopes of getting a deal or a badge.

In fact, according to Patton in a separate talk, the conscious check-in has reached its apex and is now dead. Future check-ins will be “unconscious” (i.e. one won’t be aware that one’s location is being given away.)

3b. Stalker 1, Privacy 0

To add to this, Khan opined that in the future every person, place or thing will have a geo-location. Witness in 2012, 1.1 billion people accessed 2.4 billion “places”. In 2016, it’s estimated that 4 billion people will access nearly 54 billion “things” that will have a geo-location, representing in Khan’s words, “a big bang of people, places and media.”

4. The Internet of Things

We think of people going online, but more and more “things” are going online to interact with other “things”. According to Deloitte’s Kelly McDonald, about 4% of Web traffic in 2016 will be machine to machine (M2M).

What this means to you, is that in the near future your fridge may note that you’re out of milk, and it will send that message to your wired car who communicates with you the driver about this while also pointing out nearby grocery stores where there also happens to be a sale on milk. Or your fridge will proactively order the milk “online” from your grocery provider and one day, just as you’re musing, “I wonder if we have enough milk?” it will show up in your grocery delivery, just like magic. In the Arthur C. Clarke sense.

5. The competition is for your 5th and 6th app

Okay, people – take out your smartphone and count the number of apps you have. Now, ask how many of those do you actually use?

Apparently, the answer is four to five. It seems a growing number of apps fall into the use-once-and-abandon category.

Conclusion: the app market is saturated and if you’re aiming for that prized 5th or 6th spot, you better offer a utilitarian solution.

6. Read Clay Shirky

Quoting from collaborative guru and writer Clay Shirky is always a good move at a tech conference. This is what self-ascribed “retail prophet” Doug Stephens did in his mesmerizing talk on “Mobile Retail”.

“Communications tools don’t get socially interesting until they get technologically boring… It’s when a technology becomes normal, then ubiquitous, and finally so pervasive as to be invisible, that the really profound changes happen.”
Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations

We are presently too aware of the Web for it to truly transform us. Once it ceases being an “other” that you log into, and more like your second brain, then the revolution will begin. (At which time, it will be much too late to do much about it, so if you are going to wail and despair over anticipated losses of privacy, identity and “good ole ways of doing things”, now would be the time to do it.)

Memorize Clay’s quote. Repeat at parties. Unnerve your friends.

7. Retail, prepare to be disrupted

According to Stephens, for more than 2,000 years retail = store = destination. If we want to buy something, we’ve had to go somewhere else to do it.

However, armed with my phone, I can shop anywhere. Therefore, I (helped by the ubiquitous Web) become the destination and I, the consumer, am in control.

Stores better become remarkable, warns Stephens. Otherwise the consumer will get their products direct online and from anywhere.

8. Research, prepare to be disrupted

Higher education was on the day two agenda and the discussion did not disappoint.

First up was Yasser Ansari of Project Noah, a crowdsourcing wildlife identification site, who talked about the rise of citizen science.

According to Ansari, mobile technologies have enabled the general public to participate in academic research in these realms:

  • Data collection
  • Data analysis: Having amateurs take a first stab at classification, say for, galaxies
  • Directly funding research via crowdsourcing fund sites like PetriDish or, to a lesser degree, KickStarter

Exciting for its endless potential. But, such models hinge on the altruistic participation of the public, a fact that the education panel glossed over afterwards.

The fact is if you’re freely volunteering your time, you can also as easily choose to stop and if contributors aren’t enticed to keep contributing, these tech ecosystems can fall as quickly as they rise.

9. Education, prepare to be disrupted

Next up was Sidneyeve Matrix, an Associate Professor at Queen’s University, who illuminated both the challenges and the opportunities in mobile learning in her aptly titled talk, “How smartphones have changed everything. And not.”

Some challenges:
Professors need to learn as quickly as the rest of us, and also continue with the business of teaching. This leads to digital divides.
Some professors report inadequate tech support to help them bridge this divide.
An uneven landscape of platforms and channels.

Some opportunities
Students are Web-first so you can engage them in their arena.
One of Sidneyeve’s classes has 1,400 registered students, but only 700 lecture seats. The online
Encouraging real-time feedback which in turn increases retention

Still, the current cohort is not entirely digitized.

The printed word proves to be the medium of choice for studying and the mlearning potential of the tablet remains untapped.

10. Um … we still don’t know how to monetize this thing

There was phenomenal energy around the potential of mobile but at the end of the day, there are question marks around getting paid. This was most evident in the final panel discussion on how media and journalism will survive the post-PC environment.

Business models appear to be built on the goodwill of Internauts who will happily do the aggregation work for companies, which is like building on loose sand.

Looking forward to untether.talks 2.


Mobile Image by Kevin Harber, Flickr. Illustration by Jeff Stevens.

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