On the eve of CES and as we usher in 2015, I'd like look at some industry sectors where I think mobile could have a greater impact. First though, some context around the concept of 'disrupt': In my view, there are three "types" of impact that mobile has had on business.
Replacement/Displacement. The advent of the smartphone and the continued evolution in its capabilities (processors, camera, sensors, GPS, NFC, broadband wireless networks) has essentially replaced, or displaced certain industries or types of products. Examples: payphones, disposable cameras, after-market navigation systems (Tom Tom, etc.), portable DVD players, and a hefty chunk of the PC and portable gaming market.
Enablement. Companies or industry sectors that would not be possible or anywhere near where they are without mobile. The smartphone essentially enables these types of companies. Examples: Uber, Waze, Instagram, MapMyRun.
Augmentation. These are companies or applications where the mere fact that there are 3 billion more screens has significantly lifted their total addressable market. If Google's main business is still advertising, then the more screens the better. Another way of putting it is that these companies would still be very successful if we just had PCs and the Web. Examples: Google, Twitter, Facebook, Pandora, Evernote.
With that background, below are some industry categories or apps where I think mobile could make a bigger difference over the next few years.
1. Tickets and Inventory. This is a combination of leveraging mobile and big data. Yes, there are apps such as StubHub that started on the Web and work very well on mobile. But I think mobile could take this category a lot further. Consider, for example, how effectively the airlines optimize pricing and inventory to make sure their planes are almost always full. I'm surprised other industries haven't leveraged dmobile devices, inventory, and dynamic pricing more effectively. For example, sports teams, theater companies, museums, popular restaurants, and other 'venues' could provide alerts of available tickets/seating at discount prices during off-peak times or when they have excess inventory. This type of app could be highly personalized and contextualized i.e. let you know when there are non-bleacher seats available for the Red Sox at under $30 (unfortunately, not very often).
2. Educational Content. Online education and MOOCs have been a fast-growing space in recent years. And, there are all sorts of educational apps, especially for tablets, that sort of gamify the learning process. I think there's another opportunity, leveraging the explosion of short form, "snackable' video content into more than just entertainment. My idea would be to take the fabulous content available on sites such as Kahn Academy and Lynda.com and produce shorter-form, digestible educational snippets. Critics will say this is 'dumbing down', or catering to the A.D.D. generation. But the idea is to use substitute some of the idle/snack time on mobile devices traditionally used for games and entertainment with more educational and productive uses of idle and 'snack' time. A quick math problem, language lesson, history or geography factoid, that sort of thing. We could add incentives/rewards, and try to get the schools dialed into the idea for homework credit of some sort. Resolution for 2015: displace some of that idle time spent on "stupid stuff" on your phone with "smart stuff".
3. Nutrition. Simply put, we need the Shazam of food. Mobile has been a huge part of the idea of the quantified self, particularly with wearables, more sensors in devices, and terrific health/fitness apps. But tying this into nutrition and healthy eating has been a challenge. Apps that try to somehow quantify what we eat either require cumbersome data entry or are inaccurate. I predict that over the next couple of years, there will be more viable ways of capturing the image of what we eat and translating it into a more digestible (!), informative view. This information could be used across health and fitness apps. Healthier eating suggestions could also be fed into grocery/shopping apps.
4. OTT Content Search. We are seeing continued growth of alternative forms of content viewing, such as Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Apple TV, and increased willingness of networks to stream online and to mobile devices. But determining what's available, where, and at what price, is still a huge mess. Take that movie you missed seeing in theaters this fall. It would be great to be able to conduct one meta search to discover:
--What 'channels' it is available on: a grid listing pay TV (cable), and various OTT options, all in one place.
--Pricing options: purchase/stream/rental
--Can it be downloaded for offline viewing?
5. Coupons/Gift Cards/Loyalty Cards. In a world where so much has moved to digital and mobile, the world of coupons is still largely stuck in clipping and newspaper circular mode. And with the growth in gift cards and loyalty cards, it would be great if all these could be stored, tracked, and backed up in one digital place. There are myriad coupon apps and loyalty/gift card aggregation apps --- none of them especially successful, helpful, or comprehensive. Somebody, sometime soon, will develop an app that packages coupons/gifts cards/loyalty cards, digitally, and in a more usable, redeemable, trackable, contextualized fashion, all in one place, and tied to popular retail and payment apps. For more, see my December Fierce Wireless column, Grocery Shopping: An Area Ripe for Mobile Innovation.
6. Public Transportation. I think the success of Uber, ride sharing and bike sharing, combined with growing urbanization, and our lack of investment in public infrastructure will lead to private sector solutions to public transportation's inefficiencies over the next ten years. A company called Bridj is an interesting early entry into this arena. In Boston, for example, they provide a "premium bus," providing direct service between points that are currently under-served by the "T" (for example, Brookline to Cambridge). They are sort of a hybrid between a taxi/Uber and the "T." Millenials are driving this. They don't covet cars in the same way as previous generations, and they aren't prepared to wait for the government to "solve the problem."
7. The App Industry Itself. We've entered a period of app overload. There's data that shows that the average smartphone user only regularly uses about 20 percent of the apps that they've downloaded. Plus, many app categories, from weather to note-taking, contain a plethora of look-alike apps, few of which are actually making money. I think there is going to be a consolidation in the app world, especially in popular categories, into a smaller number of "super apps." These apps are going to do a better job of talking to each other, pulling data in from related apps, and linking to buy buttons and premium opportunities. Running/fitness apps such as MapMyRun and RunKeeper could pull in real-time weather data, which would provide a lot more information about performance under different conditions. Entertainment apps such as IMDB and Flixter could do a better job of tying into programming guides and other OTT content apps such as Netflix and Amazon. For example, when you search for a movie on IMDB, up pops a list of where it can be viewed/streamed/downloaded across the network, cable, and OTT landscape.
I'm pleased to report we'll be continuing the Lowenstein's View columns for 2015. I thank FierceWireless for the continued partnership, and wish you all a healthy and productive year.
Mark Lowenstein, a leading industry analyst, consultant, and commentator, is Managing Director of Mobile Ecosystem. Click here to subscribe to his free Lens on Wireless monthly newsletter, or follow him on Twitter at @marklowenstein.