Virtually every firm has been burned in the past by failed mobile initiatives that launched before the market, consumers, or technology were ready. This time is different. Why? There's now the critical mix of great devices; widely available fast mobile networks; often unlimited data tariffs; a shift in mobile carrier attitudes; and a focus from US-based firms placing mobile as a core part of their strategy, this raises the amount of mobile services and content available and in so doing boosts the value of mobile to every consumer.
The spectre of Apple's innovation has driven every mobile handset maker, every mobile operator, and every media or entertainment firm to raise their game. It's taken a while for those new smartphones and service plans to come to market. Now they are, and it is changing everything.
We're in the process of ramping up our research around mobile product strategy to help all types of companies — in essence every firm that has an Internet presence — to determine when and how to embrace mobile. We've published numerous recent reports, some are referenced here.
And, to pull together in a little more depth why mobile and why now, and set out how we can help different types of firms with their mobile strategy, we've put together a short document. Anyone can read this, whether or not you are a Forrester client:- Forrester's CPS Mobile Consulting capabilities
For the cynics out there, especially those too lazy to follow that link, here's my take on why mobile's time really has come:
Fast broadband mobile networks have good coverage. Not only is first-generation 3G widely available, but most operators have upgraded with HSDPA to boost speeds to 3.5 Mbps, 7 Mbps, or even, in the case of Australia's Telstra, to 21 Mbps (and even to 42Mbps with dual channel). While 3G is strong in Europe, the situation in the US is not as good; for example, T-Mobile US only began its initial 3G rollout in 2008. But globally, there are over 267 networks offering HSDPA — sometimes called 3G+ or 3.5G — in 114 countries, and 125 of those networks are in Europe.
Mobile handsets are finally delivering a competent Internet experience. Large touchscreen handsets are becoming common. Even midrange handsets, such as Samsung's Jet and SonyEricsson's Aino and Yari, are gaining touchscreens and full HTML Web browsers. All new phones are becoming smart. At the high end, Apple's iPhone has triggered counterstrikes by other handset makers, such as Nokia's N97 and N900, HTC's Sense interface for Android and Windows Phones, as well as the Google-inspired Android handsets like the Nexus One, Legend and Droid. There are still plenty of handsets in use that offer an indifferent Internet experience, but among the new handsets launching, there's been a step change in quality from the previous generation.
US Internet brands are taking mobile innovation seriously. While the US lagged Asia and Europe in mobile, many of the leading Internet brands necessary to make mobile data and the mobile Internet attractive to consumers saw mobile as a sidestory. Now, everything has changed: The US mobile market is no longer such a laggard, and most of the major recent mobile handset innovations have actually originated in North American companies like Apple, Google, and RIM. The Internet big-hitters like Amazon.com, AOL, eBay, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo! are embracing mobile with multiple optimized-for-mobile offerings. This dramatically raises the quality and quantity of mobile services and content and makes the mobile Internet much more compelling to consumers.
Mobile operator mindsets have changed and become Internet-centric. Just like the fully walled gardens of AOL and CompuServe in the early 1990s, mobile operators used to focus almost exclusively on "on-deck" content. Most consumers browsing on their phones were accessing these portals, like Vodafone Live!. Now, most providers realize that Internet brands and Internet access are a key part of their packages that they must use to add additional revenues. T-Mobile's Web'n'walk flat-rate Internet access model is now one that almost all operators that offer the iPhone — or that are competing with the iPhone — have adopted. There are exceptions to this new mindset — most notably in North America — but the tide has turned toward a more open Internet model.