Expert Insight: The Mobile Generation Gap

Expert Insight: The Mobile Generation Gap
By Kanishka Agarwal

How many times have industry insiders been asked: "What do you think is the next killer app in mobile?"

Every time we are asked that question, we try to come up with the most creative thing we can, but fall quite short of a novel, made-for-mobile, completely innovative "killer app."

The problem is that we--the current generation of industry insiders and mobile business managers--are not the true mobile generation. We did not grow up having access to a mobile phone, but adopted them much later in life.

Sure, maybe our parents owned a cell phone the size of a brick when we were young. Or perhaps we were always the first to get the latest Nokia, Motorola, or Palm phone amongst our group of friends when we finally grew up and were able to buy a phone. Early adopters we are, but our experience does not match the true mobile generation, who most likely have carried a phone since they were pre-teens and who are avid users of data content and mobile media services.

Therefore, when we sit around wondering what the next killer app will be, all we really end up with are incremental ideas that essentially extend what already exists on TV or on our PCs into mobile. According to Nielsen Mobile research, some of the leading Internet brands, such as Yahoo!, Google, The Weather Channel, MSN and AOL are also the leaders on the mobile Web. Same thing goes for video.

Now, don't get me wrong. Much of what the consumer today wants is just that - extensions of content they are already familiar with via their TV or PC. In fact, I always recommend to mobile media clients that they should, today, focus on brand extensions and not novel made-for-mobile content.

However, as we look ahead towards the next generation of breakthrough mobile apps, where will they come from? I argue that they will come from today's kids who are growing up with mobile voice and content completely integrated and inseparable from their lives from the very beginning. Nielsen Mobile research shows that data content services skews young. Across the board, age composition of mobile subscribers by content usage over-index for ages 13-24, as compared to the total mobile subscriber population (see chart). When this truly mobile generation grows up and starts managing a mobile business is when true made-for-mobile innovation will begin.

If you look at the Internet, it really burst into new and innovative "made-for-online" apps once the Internet generation that grew up on the Internet started running Internet businesses. Google, Yahoo! and more recently, MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube are all cases in point. Once this very young, mobile-from-the-get-go generation enters business, get ready for the latest and greatest innovations in "made-for-mobile" apps that are going to be simply eye-opening.

As someone from the previous generation, I can only guess at what that could be (and even then I don't think I am thinking out-of-the-box enough)--a mobile phone that is my credit card and my garage door opener? A mobile phone that is my always-on connection to a global, social community? A mobile phone that broadcasts my preferences wherever I go, creating a "Sling Blade" world of presence-aware services? A mobile phone that works everywhere--yes that would be a new one, too.

Kanishka Agarwal is vice president, mobile media at Nielson Mobile. Formerly Telephia, Nielsen Mobile provides syndicated consumer research to the telecom and mobile media markets.